A new beginning

20121117_110508_50e966e8d4c5e-lightboxNo computer-controlled 4wd here, but it did feature obsessive weight reduction and two turbochargers that worked in sequence. How did they get the turbo valves to open and close at the right time? My 12-year-old brain struggled to work it all out. The brand new and very curvy Mazda RX-7 FD was beautiful, focused and super-cool.

Eleven years later in rural Japan, I got a passenger ride in one. While it wasn’t as dramatic as a flame-spitting Skyline, it felt smooth, planted and very, very right. Moreover, the styling was incredible close-up – all subtly defined bulging forms melding purposefully one into another, with the classic double-bubble roof. That it felt cramped inside compared to my own Silvia only made it seem more special. Later I visited Mazda HQ in Hiroshima, saw the green-and-orange 787B, and felt how the quest to productionise the rotary engine is intimately tied up with the resurrection of this elegant, beautifully sited city.

Then a fellow Nissan-owner spoke with the enthusiasm of a convert, about just how special his new FD made him feel, how comparing numbers with S-bodies tells you nothing of what it feels like to drive. I looked, noted the fuel consumption and reliability challenges, admired from afar and continued with my economical four-pot turbo Nissan.

More recently, a combination of modestly rising pay and falling annual mileage allowed me to think I might be able to run a rotary. When I close my eyes and imagine my dream car, it is a curvaceous coupe, with a short, powerful engine nestled behind the front wheels, driving the rears. A Corvette was LHD and too expensive, a Cerbera even more scary to own, while a test drive in a GT86 proved that I couldn’t go cold turkey on torque. The RX-7 FD was looking like the one.

A little research suggested that I should look for a fairly standard later-model car owned by a knowledgeable enthusiast, with good compression results. I just missed out on a rather nice blue ’99-spec fresh import at £7,750, then saw a black ’96 up for £4,750. Rebuilt five years ago and with nice high, even compression results, this car had been with the same guy for years, serviced twice a year at a rotary specialist. The seller took me for a drive (I couldn’t sort insurance to test drive a modified car, albeit just catback and panel filter). He apologised for not being able to really push it in the wet, then promptly ran us up to over the ton on a sweeping A-road, car feeling totally planted. Everything seemed to check out, so we agreed on £4,500 and I paid over the cash on the spot – lucky really, since we’d barely finished counting the fifties when his phone rang with another buyer offering to take it.

Now I’m finally behind the wheel of my very own FD, and it is every bit as special as I’d been told. The 13B motor knows neither vibration nor harshness, only how to pull and pull with such ready willingness that the 7k beep comes as a rude surprise. The whole car moves instantly and linearly with the steering, with no delay – the sense of absolute control is similar to holding a toy car under the palm of your hand. The brakes, larger ones on my Type RS, reassure instantly. The smooth power and seemingly-invincible chassis make 100mph feel like the natural cruising gait (this may yet turn out to be a problem). While it makes speed natural, it never feels boring – you are intimately connected to the car.

I’ve already ruled out body kits, coilovers, or messing with the sequential turbo operation that blew my mind twenty years ago. Future plans are basically reliability mods so that I can take her on trackdays without fearing blowing the engine – I can’t wait to see how this chassis feels at Cadwell Park.

So yes, I have a new love.

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Tom Westmacott