The Mazda RX-7 wasn't the company's first product to use a rotary engine – that honour falls upon the Cosmo – but with production spanning three generations and 24 years, the RX-7 did more than any other to show the power of the Wankel engine to the international motoring world.
The advantage of the Felix Wankel's rotary is the compact size, relative simplicity, and impressive power output for the tiny footprint. Rather than a traditional combustion engine's reciprocating pistons, a roughly triangle-shaped hunk of metal – called a rotor – turns inside of a housing. There isn't a valvetrain, instead ports in the combustion chamber allow air to enter and exit during the course of the rotor's movement.
First launched in 1978, the RX-7 took Mazda into even sportier territory that it had already explored with performance models like the RX-3. The original RX-7s used a two-rotor engine with a displacement of 1.1 litres that produced 100 bhp. Later, the first-gen was also available with a turbocharged mill and a larger 1.3-litre naturally aspirated, two-rotor engine.
The second-generation arrived in 1985 and featured a wedge-shaped design that cribbed a lot from the Porsche 944. A turbocharged variant was also available, and some markets even got a convertible – the only droptop variant of the RX-7.
Finally, the third-gen hit the scene in 1992 and was only sold in the United Kingdom until 1996. Limited numbers, impressive performance, and a prominent appearance in The Fast and the Furious has made these coupes sought-after machines. Prices are only growing on the used market.
Mazda is not quite ready to bury the rotary engine yet. The company intends to use one as a range-extender for an electric vehicle. Plus, there's at least a chance of a future Wankel-powered sports car. Spy shots in late 2017 showed the company evaluating a hacked up RX-8 with pipes sticking out the front that hinted at a new engine under the bonnet. However, one of the automaker's top execs said that the firm didn't have the money to launch such a niche product until 2020 at the earliest.
Thankfully, there are a ton of used RX-7s on the market to satiate the desires of rotary-loving drivers.