Crucial Cars: Mazda RX-7, Part Two

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, Street Talk continues to shine the spotlight on a sports car with a strong, well-deserved fan base – the Mazda RX-7.

Back in the fall of 1978 when Mazda’s RX-7 sports car debuted (for the ‘79 model year), new wave music began shoving disco aside on radio, Space Invaders had kids shoving each other aside in video game centers, and Japanese cars accounted for about half of all new car sales in the U.S.

With its rotary engine and lightweight and agile chassis, the RX-7 was as big a hit with driving enthusiasts as those video games were with teenagers. We’ve already covered the first two generations of the Mazda RX-7, so now with Part Two of this retrospective, we pick up where we left off.

Crucial Cars 1993 Mazda RX-7

1993 Mazda RX-7

Sleek, Sophisticated, and Speedy

Unveiled for the 1993 model year, the third generation of the Mazda RX-7 was a leap forward in sophistication. With its low, flowing body stretched out over the wheels, the organic form of the newest rotary rocket was a study in how form following function can yield something bordering on motorized sculpture. Mazda had the goal of making the car lighter and more powerful, and it was emphatically met. At about 2,800 pounds, the new Mazda RX-7 weighed over 200 pounds less than a comparably-equipped previous-generation RX-7. And the rotary engine, still measuring just 1.3 liters—but now sporting twin turbochargers—spun out 255 eager horsepower.

This RX-7 was initially offered in three trim levels: the well-equipped base, the luxury-themed Touring, and the hard-core performance R1. For most folks, the base or leather-lined Touring version was ideal, while the stiffly-sprung R1 (and its successor, the R2) was geared towards track-day enthusiasts willing to put up with a harsh ride in exchange for maximum handling performance. In any event, the cockpit was all business, if a little tight for larger folks.

The numbers generated by the third-gen RX-7 were nothing short of stunning. With the ability to hit 60 mph in the low-five-second range and rip down the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat, this Mazda was as speedy as a Ferrari 348. Yet true to its heritage, the RX-7 really came into its own on a twisty road, where its lightweight, superb balance, athletic chassis and communicative steering made it a blast.

Available in the States for just three model years (1993 through 1995), due to the car’s ever increasing price (the result of a strong yen and weak dollar) and resultant decreasing demand, the third-gen RX-7 nonetheless made a big impact on enthusiasts, as well as Mazda’s history book.

The numbers generated by the third-gen RX-7 were nothing short of stunning, with the ability to hit 60 mph in the low-five-second range and rip down the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat.

Mazda’s Rotary Car Takes a Different Road

After a nearly 10-year hiatus in the states, Mazda’s rotary-powered sports car returned for 2004 with a slightly different name and slightly different mission. Now called the RX-8, the latest version of Mazda’s flagship performance car dropped the turbochargers, gained a functional back seat and emerged as a considerably more practical, if less elegant, sports car choice.

Crucial Cars 2004 Mazda RX-8

2004 Mazda RX-8

With its higher roofline and bigger cabin, the RX-8 lost much of its former visual pizzazz. But the benefit of its bulkier physique was a much larger interior that allowed a pair of adult-rated seats in the back. Accessed by a pair of reverse-opening rear doors, that rear compartment could comfortably carry a pair of six-footers, an unheard of feat in a genuine sports car.

The complex twin-turbo rotary engine of the previous generation gave way to a redesigned, simpler, naturally-aspirated rotary dubbed “Renesis”. It made a solid 238 hp when matched to the six-speed manual gearbox, and 197 hp when running through the available four-speed automatic. The tach’s redline was marked at an impressive 9,000 rpm.

Although it expectedly gained weight compared to the RX-7, the RX-8 at around 3,030 pounds was still respectably light, especially for a genuine four-seater. Naturally, its acceleration wasn’t quite as thrilling as before. But with a 6.6-second 60 mph time and a 15.1 second quarter-mile performance, it was still swift enough to induce grins, especially once the tach’s needle swung past 5,000 rpm.

Available through 2011, the mostly unchanged RX-8 enjoyed a long run that spanned eight model years. And make no mistake, even with its ability to transport four full-size adults, Mazda’s rotary-powered sports machine was still plenty of fun to drive as it retained the loveable, light-on-its-feet and connected to the driver personality it had since day one.

Mazda RX-7 enthusiasts looking for advice, upcoming events, and classifieds should check out rx7club.comas well as rx7.org.

The Tantalizing New Shelby Mustang Terlingua

Shelby Mustang Terlingua

What does Terlingua mean?
It’s pretty much common knowledge that Carroll Shelby was a fun-loving son-of-a-gun. Back in the 1960s, when he fielded a racing team with his buddies Bill Neale and Jerry Titus, Shelby and his Mustang mates would unwind at a large ranch in Terlingua, Texas. Hunting, riding dirt bikes and general hell-raising were the “R and R” activities of choice for these merrymaking men.

Jackrabbits were a common sight around the 200,000-acre ranch and gave rise to a mascot designed by Bill Neale for the racing team. And so the Jackrabbit logo, seemingly in a “Stop right there—you really don’t think you can beat us, do you?” pose, was born.

What’s a Shelby Mustang Terlingua?
In short, the Terlingua is the most track-focused Shelby Mustang you can get, that also pays tribute to that great 1960s racing team which won the 1967 Trans-Am championship. Sporting the iconic Jackrabbit on its fenders, the modern Terlingua is dressed in the black and yellow color scheme that the team primarily used back in the days when Sergeant Pepper and Pet Sounds were climbing the Billboard charts.

Shelby Mustang Terlingua Racing Team

Nostalgia aside, this ‘stang is chock-full of the latest race goodies. There are carbon fiber components aplenty, such as the hood, front splitter, rocker panels, rear spoiler, and rear diffuser.

Under that vented hood sits a supercharged, 5.0-liter V8, shared with the Shelby Super Snake Mustang, which sends “over 750 horsepower” to the pavement via either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Suspension tweaks include adjustable Eibach coil-overs, camber/caster plates, and lightweight 20-inch Weld wheels. Stopping power is adequately fortified with 6-piston front/4-piston rear Brembo brakes.

Shelby Mustang Terlingua
Interior highlights include added gauges for boost and oil pressure, unique headrests, and a plaque signed by Shelby, Neile, and Titus. Racing seats are optional.

Under that vented hood sits a supercharged, 5.0-liter V8, shared with the Shelby Super Snake Mustang, which sends “over 750 horsepower” to the pavement.

Track time
We put the Terlingua through its paces at Spring Mountain Ranch race track, which is about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. For comparison purposes (and to show off the rest of their fun-loving Mustang lineup), the Shelby folks also had a couple of Super Snake Mustangs on hand, on which the Terlingua is based, as well as a Shelby GT Mustang EcoBoost. Keep in mind these are all ultra-high performance versions of Ford’s already capable Mustang, with plenty of power underfoot and sharpened-up handling to go with it. And yet the Terlingua quickly showed itself to be the top track jock of the group.

Once we were comfortable with the circuit, the pace quickened, and we found that the Terlingua was very well-planted and confident when being caned around the track. The well-weighted, communicative steering and buttoned-down suspension allowed us to consistently pick off apexes with surgical precision. Even when running through a slight rise and dip in the track while approaching one of the first turns, this Shelby didn’t wiggle or waver off line.

Blasting out of the corners and down the straights in this well-behaved beast was effortless, thanks to the linear delivery of the tidal-wave of thrust on tap. Those brawny Brembos chipped in as well, allowing us to brake late and hard, time and again with no fade, as we dove aggressively into the turns.

Shelby Mustang Terlingua
Want one?
With a production run of just 75 total cars, of which 50 are slated for the U.S., the Shelby Terlingua Mustang will be a rare sight indeed. Pricing starts at $65,999, but that’s on top of the cost of a new 2015/2016 Mustang GT, meaning you’re at about $100 grand minimum.

For those lucky few who pony up (sorry) for a Mustang that can go head to head on a road course with European thoroughbreds that are three times the price, we salute you. The rest of us will be watching videos of your epic track days on YouTube.