RX7 Rally car with its unique rotary engine and rear-wheel drive layout, the Mazda RX-7 sports car seems an unlikely choice for the demands of professional rally racing. But in national and international events throughout the 1980s and 1990s, specially prepped RX-7s became giant slayers besting more powerful rivals. Through extensive modifications and smart driving, Mazda proved the unconventional RX-7 had serious rally potential given proper development time. Let’s examine the history and feats that made the rotary-powered RX-7 a surprise force among rally underdogs.
Early Promise Shown in Africa
The RX-7’s first major rally miles came courtesy of the 1978 South African championships. Prepared by legendary racing outfit Conlan Racing, RX-7s showed promise right away. Driven by South African champion Sarel van der Merwe, an RX-7 claimed victory in its opening events – a positive debut.
Quickly the nimble, lightweight Mazda became the car to beat in South African rallying, winning championships and famous events like the Sasol Rally outright into the 1980s. This early success gained global attention, proving the RX-7’s giant-killing potential.
FIA Group B Evolution in Japan
With Group B rules allowing significant modifications, Mazda’s Takao Wada Racing team in Japan campaigned a series of highly developed Group B RX-7s from 1983 to 1985. Engine output increased to over 400 horsepower thanks to an enlarged 13J Rotary coupled with 2-stage turbocharging pressure.
The Group B RX-7s claimed podiums at Fuji’s Rally of the Sound event and victory at the Hokkaido Rally. Despite lacking all-wheel drive unlike most Group B cars, the RX-7 showed impressive speed when the fragile rotary held together.
Australian and Pikes Peak Success
In Australian rallying, privateer Garry Stewart Motorsports campaigned RX-7s from 1986 through the 1990s, tuning the rotary engine to reliability while keeping horsepower around 400. The effort paid off with back-to-back victories for Ross Dunkerton at Targa Tasmania from 1994-95.
Meanwhile, in America, BFGoodrich sponsored the drift racing legend Keiichi Tsuchiya driving a heavily modified RX-7 at the 1988 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. There, the 600 hp Mazda took an incredible class victory over rival Audi Quattros. The RX-7 could clearly succeed even at high altitudes.
Why The RX7 Rally Car Worked as a Rally Car
Several attributes made the RX-7 a solid rally platform:
The lightweight chassis and compact size provided excellent agility.
A low center of gravity benefitted high-speed stability and quick transitions.
Tuned suspension and limited slip differentials enhanced traction despite RWD.
Smooth, high-revving rotary loved being extended to 9,000 rpm rally usage.
Good weight distribution maintained rear grip under acceleration.
When expertly dialed in, the RX-7 overachieved as a usable rally weapon thanks to smart engineering and development.
RX7 Rally car Legacy as a Rally
The RX-7 claimed over 50 international rally podiums and victories, establishing its giant killer reputation against heavier and more expensive rivals. For Mazda, it validated the rotary engine as capable of durability given attention.
In many ways, the RX-7 presaged the rally success of later Japanese sports cars like the Toyota MR2 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution by maximizing momentum and suspension tuning. Smart engineering could overcome budgets. The RX-7 punched far above its weight class thanks to precision and remarkable development.