In the summer of 2013 I found an ad on Craigslist for an Rx-7. This is not surprising, I have a CL search saved just like the you all have for ‘manual+wagon+paneling+miata’. In the ad there wasn’t much to note other than the overall condition was ‘exists’. The seller was asking $600 which I did not have, however, the seller was open to trades so I opened a chatty wishful dialogue like I have with
hundreds thousands of rx-7 sellers before him. I started sending him photos every random thing in a 500 foot radius that my wife wouldn’t notice were gone.
After some back and forth, I learned that the owner had points on his license that would have been a good football score. The car was suspected to have blown a coolant seal and wasn’t his primary car, so his dad wanted it gone yester-now. The seller was willing to trade the car to me for a motorized bicycle I built and my well-maintained workhorse, a 2007 MacBook Pro. It’s not quite Paperclip for a Porsche but It felt like a solid trade for both of us. The Macbook runs, after all. The kind sir’s relieved father would unload his yard art on me via trailer before I had a change of heart.
This was lucky because I really had no way of moving it.
August 2013: The Honeymoon
I was initially feeling very lucky. On first inspection the car started! It only puked coolant and couldn’t idle! Turning on the a/c or even holding the brakes would bring the RPMs down and kill the car. The coolant bulimia turned out to be a hole in the coolant neck right where the thermostat was. This was keeping the thermostat from opening correctly. I was able to JB weld the coolant neck to get it drivable, gave the car a basic fluids belts and filters tune-up and hit the streets. I eventually found an all-aluminum coolant neck …my first reliability upgrade!
The idle issue…well, it wasn’t too bad if I held the throttle at stoplights. I learned quite a bit of blipping and heel-toeing could get me around town. The idle issues came out to be a Throttle Position Sensor that would stick in its travel (thanks Ebay). Now that the car ran, however, there were some other things to put into place. Like the exhaust. Mine had both ends, but no middle. The answer to the exhaust problem was having my local muffler shop patch in new pipe. These were quick, confidence building fixes only requiring small money and an hour or so.
Oh yes, only a last minor detail to fix…when I brought up the RPMs it turned my yard into a haunted house with a huge oil-burning SMOKESCREEN™! The burning oil issues was my oil control rings…an inexpensive 6” rubber o-ring…that would only require a complete rebuild to replace. Like so many Rx7 owner’s before me, eventually I’d have to put in the hard work.
I’m not going to pretend to be proud of what I did next. I added heavier weight oil and I just drove the car sparingly. I saved secretly for rebuild parts. In the meantime, It worked well for me. During this honeymoon period I was able to warp my idea of this burning oil into a distinct advantage. It has a high rpm SMOKESCREEN™!
For two glorious years I could pull around some bro-truck hit 5000 rpms and roll that coal right back in their face. Are you following too closely? SMOKESCREEN™!!! Need a dramatic exit? SMOKESCREEN™!!! Engine Braking? SMOKESCREEN™!
The only repair I made during this time was to software-delete a bad oil-metering pump (it puts oil right into the combustion chamber to lube it. when it fails it will
kill BURN the cars main ECU.) I chose to edit out the pump and premix oil. RTEK re-chipped the ECU to ignore errors related to this pump. I Premix, I have a sicker.
Yes this car has to have SPECIAL gas, just like a yard sale weed eater.
August 2016 “Whatever you did not do.”
During one of my smokescreen banzai runs I had a failure of some kind. I know what it is NOW, but at the time all that I knew was that the car stopped responding to anything but very moderated throttle and the SMOKESCREEN™ was on all of the time now. I jumped to the conclusion that the oil rings had finally given out enough to foul up combustion. It was time to do the rebuild I had been deferring for years.
I resigned to rebuilding and pulled the ‘keg’. I dove in headfirst with a printed FSM, instructions from rotaryresurrection.com and a lot of dollars the breakdown of which is below. I also planned to replace the clutch parts, refresh the trans fluids and update every cooling component with new parts. On teardown I found that the engine’s front plate (rotaries are stacked like cakes or sandwiches) had corroded and wouldn’t likely hold coolant again so I found a used replacement for that too(thanks Ebay!). Once the motor was in place, however, it would start, but idled roughly and generally sounded like garbage. ). I’d love to say that this is when I discovered the MAF was bad, but I misdiagnosed it as a twisted water seal. Now, 8 months later, I know that this latest symptom was… Hindsight: 20:20.
I wouldn’t know that yet, so I took the motor out again. I fastidiously rebuilt it in its entirety, again. I mean just look at my apex seal template in that lower shot. ORGANIZED. I then re-installed the motor… only to wind up with the same exact symptoms,yes, again. Also I dropped the whole mess on my foot. If anyone asks, Get the 4 leg engine stand.
PART OUT! PART OUT! PART OUT! Rang in my ears as I calculated any emotional or financial reserves I had left. The parts would go a long way towards that v8, 1jz, or a b234r from a fwd Saab. Its obvious I’m hitting desperation mode.
“A livingbody suffers from stress. I did my best. I lost all my teeth and l had to wear full dentures when I was stillyoung.” -Kenichi Yamamoto, rotary’s godfather.
That was when the water pump died on my daily driver a 2010 A3. The kicker: this water pump is mechanically identical to a GTI’s, for which there is a factory recall for this exact issue. But Audi just totally ignores this is happening.
I took a snack break.
scummy inconvenient as that was, The water pump went in flawlessly and it inched up my confidence. Maybe I hadn’t screwed this wankel up twice. Unlike Yamamoto, I may limp a little but I still have all of my teeth. I tried again.
Some honest snark to my lament on the RX7 forums basically said “it’s whatever you didn’t do”. Those 5 words are revelatory. I rechecked my work and while I did find a misrouted vacuum line…no changes resulted. Maybe my injectors?…they were still old?…I ordered injectors, injector clips, etc and installed them all. No dice. Shit. I seethed over it. I wrote a heated 5000 word response about every part I replaced along the way… Web Forum Sirs…Every seal cataloged, Every nook was nookied! Then, of course, I deleted it.
“it’s whatever you didn’t do”. It rang in my ears…when I was on the toilet… making dinner…the words held me hostage all day… running through my many possible mistakes. Eventually it provided clarity. If I have replaced everything internal, it had to be something else. Something I didn’t do ...yet.
The Rx7 was using about 6 gallons of gas to “idle” for an hour, so I was paying substantially more than minimum wage for it to sit there chuffing. With the very last fibers of my threadbare
pocketbook sanity I made a chart of possible culprits and methodically removed each as a source or error. Lots of troubleshooting and cussing. I was feeling more defeated as each item checked out perfectly, yet the car continued to belch and smoke angrily.
At least I had stopped running in circles. If I’d never rebuilt the car, the top categories for error on my checklist, the service manual would be shouting at me that the Air Flow Meter was the place to look first. Here’s my troubleshooting ‘chart’.
It checked out with my multimeter. Damnit. Perfect readings. I was desperate, but maintained logic. “Maybe something crawled in there and died”, ponderously ,graspingly, desperately. I knew I had bagged it up on both ends. It was not likely. But that’s where logic and the FSM carried me, and when I took the AFM off it didn’t look especially suspicious if you’re used to a hot wire MAF. But this ISN’T a hot wire MAF. It has a moving cone inside of it, and my cone was seized. Smoking gun.
It took me longer to find a good AFM than it took for it to arrive and be installed. New, this part sells for upwards of $1200. Bold money. Used parts on ebay are 100$ or so, but 20 year old electronics do not breathe confidence. My hunt brought me to a single big box store that had access to warrantied, rebuilt units. For a fair $200 It was on my doorstep in less than 24 hours, shipping gratis. The part took about half an hour to install, and immediately the car smoothed out, smartened up and was ready for Sonic on a Friday night.
2017 and The Future
As of the writing of this article I have accumulated 100 flawless miles under 4000rpms, and the odometer read 120,432. If you think break-ups are tough- try 1000 miles of break-in at less than half of the 8250 rpm fuel cut.
There is no such thing as a free ride. I have enjoyed, rebuilt and maintained an Rx-7 for 4 years and have gone no more than 6000 miles. With almost $2000 in rebuild parts and $1500 in maintenance, so far each of those miles has cost me dearly. It is roughly 75 cents per mile not counting fuel! My hope at this point is to have sorted out any major flaws and given the car a totally fresh start in its next 60-80k miles of service. I think most can agree that a fully vetted car for between $3000 and $5000 isn’t a terrible deal at all. It’s roughly the price of 150,000 mile Toyota Camry that needs front end work.
The Hard Numbers
Here is a break down of what I did give up, the money part anyway. Line items in blue are from the rebuild(s). Many items listed are personal choices, so I could have avoided spending money there. I didn’t NEED a matching mirror or a premix sticker. I didn’t have to do the trans, etc. A lot of it came down to my personal philosophy about what made this car ‘complete’.
Next stop, 7's Day.