1988-’91 Mazda RX-7 Convertible | Hemmings Motor News

29 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 1988-’91 Mazda RX-7 Convertible | Hemmings Motor News
Mazda RX-7

Sophomore Soft-Top

Buyer’s Guide from Hemmings Sports Exotic Car

We can’t really make the case that the 1988 to 1991 Mazda RX-7 Convertible is a sports car in the traditional sense of the word. Its rather languid 9.7-second zero to 60 MPH time, brought to you by a normally aspirated, 160hp twin-rotor engine and a relatively porky 3,030-pound curb weight, made sure of that. The second-generation FC RX-7 is much more of a grand touring car than the raucous little featherweight it preceded.

That’s not a negative, necessarily. Remember that at the time the second-generation cars were introduced, nearly every car the RX-7 competed with was growing larger, often adding a second row of seats, sound deadening and comfy interiors to make the cars more pleasant to use on a daily basis. The FC cars were a logical continuation of what the original RX-7 was all about.

They weren’t necessarily engineered to lure in new customers the way the original car was; they were designed to keep their RX-7 customers from being lured away by more luxurious products offered by competing manufacturers.

Provided you understand what the 1988 to 1991 Mazda RX-7 Convertible’s job was, these cars are a joy to drive and own. Their production was rather limited, making them a collector’s item from the get-go, and–as you’ll read–they were incredibly well constructed, especially when compared to competitive convertibles on the market at the time. Prices are reasonable, if not downright cheap, but as is the case with all older cars, you’re advised to buy the best one you can find.

The second-generation RX-7 was launched in 1986, following an amazingly successful run of the first-generation cars. Between 1979 and 1985, over 415,000 RX-7s found owners, a staggering figure considering the car’s unique rotary engine. For the second generation, Mazda focused on the Porsche 944 as inspiration, which is immediately evident when you see the cars side-by-side. America was the target audience for the FC, since the lion’s share of first-generation cars were sold here.

And because the 944 proved so popular here, Mazda set out to use the Porsche as a template for what the more mature American was looking for in a sporting automobile.

Aside from the obvious design changes, the FC RX-7 was a completely new automobile. Rack and pinion steering replaced the original car’s recirculating ball setup, four-wheel disc brakes (with four-piston front calipers on most trim levels) became standard, and a completely revised rear suspension system included a limited degree of passive rear steering during cornering.

The convertible came along two years after the successful launch of the hatchback coupe. Remember that this was a period in which the convertible was making a resurgence. You could buy sporty convertibles from almost every manufacturer that offered a competitive car.

The difference, though, was that Mazda engineers seemed to be thinking about a convertible during the design phase, rather than shipping coupes to an aftermarket supplier to hack the roofs off and try to make soft tops fit. The RX-7 Convertible was conceived and built in-house, and therefore the quality of the materials used, and the fit 20 years later, are light years ahead of some of Mazda’s competition.

The design itself was forward-thinking. Mazda engineers wanted a removable top, but weren’t going to accept just a removable glass sunroof or Targa/T-tops, as were used in the primary competition from Toyota and Nissan. It had to be a convertible. But a leaky, noisy top was unacceptable, too.

The answer was a sort of hybrid top that combined the best attributes of a hard roof (lower noise level, water-tight construction) with those of a convertible (open air driving). The construction of the roof was such that the entire top assembly was simply dropped into place in a single unit on the assembly line.

Torsional rigidity is the kiss of death for all coupes made to be convertibles, especially if sporty driving is on the punch list. The first uneven patch of asphalt reveals a floppy convertible’s Achilles heel when the entire dashboard and cowl threaten to shake off the car. Mazda engineers retained 70 percent of the torsional rigidity of the hardtop by using thicker steel in the rocker panels, A-pillar and drivetrain tunnel, as well as installing crossbeams behind the engine, rear seats, and between the rear strut towers.

Naturally, all this additional strengthening will add additional weight, and it’s true that the Convertible is about 240 pounds heavier than its hardtop counterpart. But Mazda attempted to keep the weight down by raiding the parts shelf from the RX-7 Turbo, most obviously in the form of the Convertible’s aluminum hood.

It also got the Turbo’s 10.9-inch ventilated brake discs up front, pinched by aluminum four-pot calipers.

The RX-7 Convertible’s roof immediately over the passenger cabin is a rigid panel. Behind that is a more traditional vinyl soft top. The driver releases latches on the header that keep the top firmly in place, and then electrically retracts the top to a halfway point. He then folds the targa panel under the soft top, and powers it the rest of the way down.

The rigid panel can also be used like a Targa roof, removed and stowed in the trunk with the rest of the roof up.

One of the other complaints about convertibles was wind turbulence, so Mazda engineers set out to reduce it by testing the car–top down–in the wind tunnel. In doing so, they found that buffeting was caused not by wind passing over the windshield, but ricocheting off the rear deck. To combat the buffeting, Mazda developed the Windblocker anti-turbulence panel, which flips up unobtrusively and blocks some of the turbulence that intrudes into the passenger cabin.

It seems like a gimmick, but in the January 1988 Road Track road test of the new Convertible, the article stated that Mazda claims that with a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the RX-7 traveling at 50 MPH, the temperature around the driver’s right knee increases from 60 to 90 degrees, thanks to the Windblocker and a helpful heater.

The rest of the interior cabin was nearly identical to that of the hardtop. That is to say, it screams, I’m from the 1980s!! You’ll either like that, or you won’t.

If the squared-off styling of the instrument binnacle, or the odd rotary switches for the headlamps, or the difficult-to-read orange-on-black gauge faces, or the squared-off speaker enclosures on the headrests aren’t your cup of tea, then we suggest you look for something a little more classically styled. Set that aside, though, and the cabin is comfortable, all the controls are well-positioned (though the audio system is typically 1980s busy), and roomy for you and your single passenger.

Home market cars were available with rear seats, but you’re unlikely to find one so equipped in the States. There are two lockable storage boxes in the rear bulkhead, which is good because storage space is at a premium. The hatchback allowed for a generous 19.1-cu.ft. of cargo, but the soft top trims that to a weekend bag-sized 6.9-cu.ft.

Other than the convertible top and the few Turbo pieces that came along with it, Convertibles were standard RX-7 fare. Except for 1988, they were all equipped with the standard 160hp, normally aspirated 13B twin rotor engine from the lower RX-7 trims. These cars also lacked anti-lock brakes and Mazda’s Auto Adjusting Suspension.

There’s a bright side to all of those notable deletions, though. The anti-lock brake sensors and all the rudimentary electronics that ran the Auto Adjusting Suspension would now be 20 years old, and would be two more potentially costly repairs as the cars move into their third decade.

Mazda RX-7

There was essentially one major change to the RX-7 Convertible throughout its lifetime, and it oddly occurred in the second year of production. The entire line received a minor facelift in 1989. RX-7 cognoscenti refer to the 1986 to 1988 cars as Series 4, and the 1989 to 1991 cars as Series 5. The most obvious change from outside the car, according to David Deep (an owner of a 1988 RX7 GTU and a frequent poster on the RX7Club.com ‘s Second Generation Specific forum) is that the Series 4 cars have black bodyside moldings, versus the Series 5’s body color moldings. Inside, most Series 5 cars featured a driver’s side airbag as standard equipment.

Mazda sent approximately 5,000 RX-7 Convertibles to the United States in 1988. Every year thereafter, they sent fewer. By 1991, when our featured car ended up at Campbell Mazda in Costa Mesa, California, that number had dwindled significantly, making the Convertible the lowest production trim of all the RX-7’s variants. Later RX-7 Convertibles were essentially loaded to the gills with equipment. Earlier years charged for air conditioning, but in 1991, that was a standard feature.

The sticker price, including floor mats and a console armrest lid, came to $28,620. That, and the fact that they featured the normally aspirated engine and the heaviest curb weight, meant that these cars were often purchased by older, more affluent customers, rather than boy racers, which is a boon to anyone interested in owning one.

Unlike Mazda’s Miata, which came out in 1990, the RX-7 and Convertible don’t seem to suffer from the critical paint delamination that caused so many Miatas to be repainted. Flaking clearcoat should tip you off that the car’s had paint work at one point or another. While they were galvanized, 20-year-old RX-7 Convertibles subjected to salt and snow will rust.

It’s cheap enough to find one in unrusted condition. There’s really no good reason to buy a rusty RX-7. Gaskets around the taillamps could fail and cause minor rust. Driver’s door locks were notorious for failing.

If the lock has been replaced, the car will have a key for the door and another for the ignition. The soft top is delicate, but Mazda still stocks replacements.


Aside from normal wear, there are some things to look out for in the RX-7’s passenger cabin. The plastic trim that makes up most of the car’s instrument panel is brittle and quite fragile. It’s not unheard of to see any of the hard plastic that makes up the radio surround, the clock trim or vents cracked or broken.

According to Aaron Cake’s great Buyer’s Guide at www.aaroncake.net/RX-7/buy1.htm. the interior parts in the convertibles (or any 1988 to 1992 RX-7) seem to be of higher quality and durability than those of the 1986 and 1987 RX-7s. The friction mount on the sunvisors that keeps them in place can crack, causing the sun visor to hang down in your line of sight.


If it overheats, walk away. On 1986 to 1988 RX-7s, there’s a pulsation damper at the front of the primary fuel rail. They are known to leak and spray fuel on the exhaust manifold, leading to engine fires. All non-turbo 13B engines have six-port induction. The fifth and sixth ports remain closed until engine speed reaches 3,500 RPM.

If these ports don’t open properly, you’ll lose 25hp in a car that can use every horse at its disposal. Actuators can be removed and lubricated, but if the ports themselves are stuck, the intake manifold needs to be removed. Similarly, 1989 to 1991 cars have a Variable Dynamic Effect Intake or VDI. This valve opens at 5,000 RPM, forcing more of the intake charge into the rotor. Actuators can stick, but can be lubricated.

The car was available with an automatic, but you don’t want it.


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