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My First Wankel: Mazda RX-7 Elford Turbo

I saw this car for sale in Sweden earlier this winter, but before I got my act together it was sold. Two weeks ago it came up for sale again – and this time I managed to snap it up!

Or rather, we snapped it up – as I’m sharing it with Anders.

There are several reasons why the Swedish RX-7 ended up in a seemingly bizarre setup of being shared between Denmark where I live and England where Anders lives. In short it can be summarized as follows: None of us really needed more cars, but we were both drawn in by the RX-7 and it was even reasonably priced. Therefore we simply decided to share it. We have furthermore given ourselves a time-limited agreement, so to speak: The plan is to sell it again this fall – basically in an attempt to prevent our respective garages from overflowing. And the thing that makes at least some sense to the geographical setup is this: Our new RX-7 is right hand drive and sort of belongs over there. BAM! We have a plan – and both Anders and I are convinced that it’s a brilliant plan.

This advertisement for the RX-7 expresses our shared feelings: If not this time, when?

The first thing which could potentially go wrong was of course if the car was not as described in the advertisement. Therefore, I kindly asked the seller for more information and he sent everything I asked for quickly and willingly – including video clips that I hadn’t even mentioned. It all seemed genuine. Nevertheless, I’m too  cautious to buy unseen (I’ve done so three times and only once with luck), so last week I asked openly on Facebook whether I knew anyone who could assist me in having a look at a car in Mjölby, Sweden: Unbelievably, several good people offered their services, so an appointment was setup between the seller and my scout, whom I emailed a RX-7 Buyer’s Guide. After the inspection, he reported back with more photos as well as his honest description of the shortcomings of the car. Only then I was ready for the big decision: Did I really want this RX-7?

The answer was yes. The Mazda RX-7 is one of those cars that I remember from the wall in my teenage room. OK, I had many cars on that wall, but the RX-7 held a special status because it was equipped with an engine like none of the others: The Wankel rotary engine. I was already at that time aware that the engine was both famous and notorious, but I was severely fascinated by its exotic engineering and brilliant simplicity. Even with adulthood, that fascination has never faded. Sure I have also dreamt about the similary equipped NSU Ro80 (and so has Anders …), but in recent years my dreams have focused on the Japanese sports car. Over the last few years I’ve confessed to my interests and wishes with both specialists and clubs – but without results.

This coincided with prices of the RX-7 starting to increase. Mind you, it’s hardly an expensive car and probably never will be, but it has became more expensive. One should bear in mind that the RX-7 was indeed a huge success for Mazda, and that they built 471,000 of the first generation. That’s around three times as many as the very comparabe Porsche 924, so in it’s time the RX-7 was never really rare. But many have died since – so it’s on its way to rarity! Here in Denmark I haven’t seen many for sale (besides quite recently when a complete wreck of a project turned up and was sold in one day!), but at the recent Retro Classica in Stuttgart I observed a very nice 1985 model for 9,000 Euro – which I actually think the car was easily worth. And I have also seen a few seemingly good examples selling in America – although importing a car from that far away seems perhaps a bit far-fetched for a humble RX-7.

And then there is also the not insignificant fact that this RX-7 is an Elford Turbo. And what, you may ask, is that? Well, turbocharging was pretty hot in the early eighties, remember? As the most serious criticism of the otherwise highly acclaimed RX-7 was of its relatively modest engine power of 105 horsepower, it seemed well-suited for turbocharging – to which Mazda dealer Elford Engineering was only happy to oblige. With an incredibly simple turbo installation, the RX-7 suddenly boasted an impressive 160 horsepower. Not only that, but it was all so well thought out and executed that Mazda agreed that cars so equipped retained the factory warranty. Those Elford Turbos became quite a success, and it is claimed that Elford built around 500 of these. That’s quite a lot considering only around 4000 first-generation RX-7s were imported into England. Time has however been extremely merciless on both variants, as 2012 figures said there were 60 RX-7s registered in the UK and that only 12 of them were Elford Turbos. There are surely more cars around, but not road registered and maybe not even roadworthy. The numbers meant that both Anders and I felt we’d have good odds when it came to bringing the Elford Turbo back onto the British turf.

While it was entirely possible to order your Elford Turbo without the bodykit, they are probably better known and recognised with them, as this was also how it was presented in the brochure (as shown above). Luckily, ours has it: With this you got a lot of hot air aerodynamics to which I can’t help but wonder whether it actually works. At least it changes the light and elegant RX-7 shape to something more brutal. Which is perhaps somewhat paradoxical as it is in fact those clean and unadorned curves which I really like about the RX-7 – especially the earliest incarnation from the seventies which is lacking the small rear spoiler. Having said that, I actually feel that Elford’s bodywork works rather well for this RX-7: It’s from 1983, after all – and it shows. In fact, it can barely get anymore eighties than white paint, pop up headlights, huge spoilers, white wheels – and then that turbocharger. In performance figures this should equate to a 0-100 km/h sprint in less than 8 seconds and just shy of a 220 km/h topspeed. It’s very similar to my Alpine A310 V6 – just at a fraction of the price.

And here it is – every bit as eighties as graffiti: Our white 1983 RX-7 Elford Turbo.

So, of course it was meant to be: This Swedish car was reasonably priced and up for sale again only because the seller had just found out he was about to become a father. It was of course quite important to us that it was not because the new owner had found that the car was dying! On the contrary, he had driven it 250 kilometers home when he bought it. However, even in the first email he had explained that the engine did hesitate a little at light throttle, and that the clutch did not disengage completely – but that the car could easily be driven nonetheless. Such honest information is always valuable – not least because it was all true. Besides these problems everything else works: Both electric windows, the electric rear hatch and petrol tank cover and even the electric side mirrors. Electrically adjustable side mirrors on a car from 1983? Yes, I was rather surprised too. The sunroof is manual, but most importantly – it also works perfectly.

Completely Elford-equipped and still presented as in period: Brought to Sweden by an Englishman working there, and then sold to a Swede as he left and returned to England via Denmark…

Sure, it’s not perfect: With that I am not referring to the rather dull paint – I know I can sort that myself. But a small crack in the front spoiler, a minimal dent in one of the front wings and paint chipping on both of them, cracked seat covers, missing rear ashtray (!), missing fog lights and so on – a lot of small details which really ought to be rectified. But essentially it is a sound car: After all, it’s not missing ashtrays which led to 3,940 RX-7s going missing from the British roads.

The rotary engine defines the RX-7.

Or rather – the most important thing is in fact that it’s a super hot car. I knew that the second I turned the key and started that magical and wonderful Wankel machine. Every variation of the “like a turbine” hyperbole which I’ve ever heard or read. About the smoothness. About the eternal willingness – eagerness even – to rev. Actually, it’s all true. And coupled to a five-speed gearbox that’s precise and easy as only a Japanese ´box can be after 35 years of use. It’s just a thoroughly good and sound piece of engineering to be sat behind the wheel of. The lack of torque which the engine was initially criticized for – Elford solved that with the turbo. It now simply does all you want.

It’s difficult to beat in the “Bang for the buck”-category.

At least I think so. Admittedly, I drove very carefully home: Primarily because the carburettor cleary needs adjusting, but also because I didn’t know the car nor its condition very well. A wankel is critical of regular oil changes and cooling, and these fluids will be the first thing I change. Even though I checked them before departure, I didn’t want to push my luck: The first success criteria was to complete the 270 kilometers to the Varberg Ferry. Once over on the other side, at Grenå port, I’d almost be home.

And so it went: The RX-7 drove with typical Japanese precision and reliability all the way to the ferry, started willingly whether cold or hot (the last one is important with a Wankel), and everything worked at departure – as it did when I pulled into my courtyard Sunday around midnight. Only problem was a slightly sticky right front caliper. So I was happy and I hope Anders will be too.

So what’s next, now that it’s safe in my garage? Excellent question. Simultaneously with the price increases of the RX-7, the Danish assessments of the import tax have followed. The last RX-7 of similar vintage which was taxed in Denmark cost 40,000 DKK (5,300 Euro) in tax, so it’s completely out of the question to register it here. Instead, I expect my trips to workshops (on test plates and fully legal of course) to satisfy my driving needs until the very big trip: At some point I’ll have to hand it over to Anders in England. Then it’ll be his turn to enjoy our RX-7 in its proper element before selling it later in the year.

I guess this whole arrangement might sound strange to some. But it actually seemed perfectly sensible when we conceived it: We would both like an RX-7, and now we’ve got one. Now we both just need to refrain from feeling deeply in love with it.

And regarding the roadtrip to Anders: Well, I still have to figure out transportation back home to Denmark again…

4 Responses

  1. Dave Leadbetter

    So, the Swedish Elford Turbo surfaces at last… just when I was beginning to think it was all a myth. I look forward to meeting it in the metal.

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    And where else than on ViaRETRO, @dave-leadbetter? It’s a small world, and I guess you can’t miss it when Anders takes over.

  3. Anders Bilidt

    Ouuuu…. this is so exciting!
    I obviously haven’t seen our Elford RX-7 yet, and I can barely wait…
    I’ve always really liked the first generation RX-7. In fact, back in 2012 I almost bought a very early dark red metallic example, but instead ended up purchasing my ’77 Toyota Trueno 1600GT. Now its finally happened!
    Claus, I’m sure we can find some sort of interesting LHD classic here in the UK which we can do the same with (only opposite of course). And presto! – you have a drive back to Denmark after dropping off the RX-7… ;-)

  4. Claus Ebberfeld

    Patience, my good man! I know your standards, @anders-bilidt, and I just hope it will not dissapoint you. I’m mostly looking forward to the trip, actually!

    Regarding the car swap that is of course the ideal plan, Anders: Could you please start looking for a Fiat 124 Spider? Always wanted one of those.

    But actually it need not necessarily be a LHD car, as I would happily take a British car with RHD: If you just happen to stumble upon a Jaguar Mk1, an XJ-S, MG Magnette that could work as well. Let’s see what comes up.


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