Post clay-polish-wax, showing off its half-size and half-weight compared to the Crown Vic.

Three weeks ago, I drove home a new-to-me 1985 Mazda RX-7 from New York, purchased from a fellow Oppo user. I haven’t had the opportunity to drive it a ton, but when I have, it’s so good.

Taken day 2 of ownership on return from the BMV to get the out-of-state title paperwork

So what have I been doing, you may ask? Both working a lot, spending a day practically drowning and the next frying in the sun at the Zip-Tie drags, and, well, this:

  • The carb on the car when I got it was not happy on decel and wouldn’t idle right. There was another carb in the back which was described to work, but flood. I replaced an upside-down and torn gasket, did some tests and vent-cleaning, replaced a couple gaskets on the engine, and swapped that carb on. Runs like a top!
  • The driver’s weatherstrip was non-sealing (puddles inside when you wash it!) and the passenger’s isn’t great. I’ve replaced the driver’s weatherstrip with new Mazda parts and have the passenger’s one, which will be done soon.
  • The locks on the doors were totally jammed. After much fiddling, the driver’s would unlock with any key, the passenger’s wouldn’t unlock, and neither would let you lock it. Those got replaced (though I’d like to find someone to repair the originals). While I was at it, I replaced the falling-apart door handle cups with amazingly-readily-available OEM replacements.
At $12 a piece, replacing these was a no-brainer. The old ones were very unpleasant to touch when opening the doors and would crumble off bits of dry, baked plastic.
  • The air pump has been removed, so I installed an appropriate little belt from the crank to the second groove on the waterpump pulley. Can’t hurt.
  • I cleaned the old adhesive off the wheel openings where there used to be trim (I made a post about this a while ago).
  • There was an old GA inspection and a NY inspection and registration sticker on the windshield, which put up a bit of a fight but are gone now.
  • The car got a good clay, quick top-layer polish, and some wax. It needs one more coat of wax, I think. Other than the roof, which is totally sun-baked, it cleaned up pretty well. I can confidently say this car spent a lot of time under a pine sort of tree with about 3-inch soft needles.
  • I noticed that the battery cables got magma-hot when you cranked the engine and generally weren’t in great shape. Those got replaced a couple days ago.
  • The trim/molding on the driver’s side fender fell off while washing, it was re-attached with some 3M trim tape. All that’s missing now is the piece which goes on the driver’s rear, under the gas door.
  • If you didn’t baby the turn signal level, the whole mechanism (including the wiper arm) would rotate around the column. Tightening a screw solved that one, thankfully.
Base model - manual locks, windows, mirrors, steering, no options other than, of course, A/C (which doesn’t work)
  • I changed the air filter, motor oil and filter, topped off the coolant (after cleaning the expansion tank, which was full of crap), and changed the trans fluid to some fresh MT-90 - normal maintenance stuff.
  • I discovered the differential was leaking horribly and very very low on oil. Tightening the bolts which were finger-tight at best seems to have solved that one, so I’ll change that oil out to some nice synthetic soon. (There’s some cheap GL5 in there since I wasn’t sure if it’d all end up on the floor or not).
  • I topped off the steering box oil, which is again just gear oil. It needs adjusted - the box feels its age/mileage for sure. I checked the wheel bearings, tie rods, etc. and found no slop (though the tie rod boots are torn so those eventually need done).
  • I made a ‘backboard’ from some aluminum stock to help support the front license plate, which otherwise would probably have bent as soon as I hit highway speeds.
  • I replaced a dim brake light bulb (resolving a ‘BRAKE LAMP’ light on the dash), a burnt-out corner marker, and plugged the reverse lights back in (?) to make those work too.
  • I secured the battery so it didn’t flop around, lubed door hinges, etc. I also replaced the rear struts, so you no longer need to prop open the hatch! Also did the front brakes (more normal maintenance stuff).
The Chevelle, in the middle of a 4-speed swap,sadly watches from its blocks as the ‘new guy’ gets all the attention for a while.
  • The driver’s sun visor bracket was broken, so I epoxied it, put it in, and it broke again, so I glued it, epoxied over the glue, and just today put it back in the car. Hopefully it holds up.
  • The windshield wipers are slow. I lubed the linkage and motor, and such, and they run fine - until you set the blades down on the glass, at which point it will stall out after a wipe and a half. I have a reman motor that I picked up after work today to go in later and hopefully fix this.

It’s a lot, but the goal is to have a car to daily drive the rest of the summer - and it’s very well on its way to that. What’s left, you may ask?

  • The oil cooler (known as the beehive) is leaking. I got o-rings to fix it, then realized the coolant lines it connects to are pretty rotten. I need to order those still.
  • The ‘new’ wiper motor needs installed, hoping to get to that tonight. This is really the only thing it needs to take over daily duty. The windshield is super chipped and abused, honestly a new one may be in the works eventually.
  • Once I’m confident the differential is done doing its best impression of a sieve, I’ll drain out the store-brand gear oil and put in some synthetic (and hope my bearings aren’t shot from how low it had been).
  • The steering box really, really, really needs adjusted. The little protective cap is still on the one adjuster, so I’m going with it’s never been done. It shows in the on-center slop in the manual steering.
  • The big one - I mentioned earlier the air pump had been removed, and you may notice in the pictures that the (factory) exhaust is in pretty rough shape. Currently, somewhere between CA and OH on a truck, is a complete Racing Beat exhaust system, which will not only look better, but also won’t have clogged cats, will sound better (and not leak), and should pick up noticeable power.

Some overall thoughts on working on this car

Much like the Chevelle is nice in that every bolt is one of 4 sizes (English), every bolt seems to be one of about 6 sizes (Metric). Those bolts also, being a Georgia car, aren’t seized in place - in fact I’m either not used to working on not-rusty-junk, or most of this car is not held together all that tight.

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I’m also amazed at the Mazda parts availability - OEM weatherstrip? Sure! The plastic things behind the door handles? No problem, $12 a piece. The molded rubber lines for the oil cooler? Sure those are still out there too.

In Conclusion

This car is fantastic to drive. The steering box may need adjusted, the tires are no-name junk, and the suspension is probably long overdue for a refresh, but it’s just so good. It is incredibly balanced (I think the old shocks and crap tires match up pretty well) and is a thrill in a slow-car-fast sort of way.

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The 12a makes adequate power and is fantastic to wring out to the redline (at which point the car buzzes at you, since the engine clearly wants to keep going). The transmission is definitely Mazda, with distinct notchy shifts. Even with the miles piled on, it has no trouble synching up and going into gear. Tires chirp into second. The steering is delightfully heavy and responsive, once off-center.

Plus, it smells like the 80s inside.