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The RX-7 Story, Part I: Black

September 19, 2012 by Matt

Black RX-7

Acquired mid-October 1999, this was my first real project car. It also doubled as my first eBay purchase. On a whim while at the State Fair in Raleigh that fall, I decided to really go for this car. Aaron owned an ’86 model, the first year of the 2nd generation and a very different machine, albeit with the same “heart”—a rotary engine. I bought it in the days before eBay had a separate section of their site devoted solely to cars, so killer deals (read: bad listings) could be found by trolling the search fields regularly. Aaron happened upon the listing for the black RX-7 and tipped me off to it. There were no pictures and a very terse description of the car.

I won the auction with a bid of around $500. The car was in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania. I talked my friend Jonathan into driving up there with me to retrieve the car. It wasn’t that difficult, seeing as how a friend of his (and unbeknownst to him at the time, his future wife) attended Messiah college nearby and he was eager to visit her. We drove the family minivan north through the night, stopping only for dinner at a roadside Blimpie’s. I left him at the college and drove back down the highway to a motel near Shrewsbury, intent on picking up the car the next day.

The following morning, after a few wrong turns I found the house and the car. The actual owner of the car (a student) wasn’t present, so I did the title transfer with his parents, who were a little perturbed at having to sacrifice part of their Saturday morning to get rid of a front yard eyesore.

Paperwork squared away, I turned my attention to the car. It hadn’t moved in a year or so and was a bit rough, with a mismatched silver front right fender. Amazingly, it started well enough and ran, at least until I got the car about 50 feet out of the driveway, at which point it went completely dead. No cranking, no dash lights; nothing. I panicked for about 10 seconds and set about trying to solve the problem. I wasn’t keen on having to tow the car from PA to central NC, so there certainly was a sense of urgency. I knew it was an electrical problem, so I rooted through the minivan to see what I could find to aid diagnosis. After some searching I came up with a spare taillight bulb and a pair of twist-ties. I rigged these together to function as a test light and poked around the engine bay of the RX-7 looking for the break in the system. Turns out a fusible link, one of the main fuses protecting the electrical system, had broken from the strain of not having had current flowing through it in some time, so I twisted the two halves of the link together, tried the car again and it fired right up. I drove the minivan back up the highway, picked up Jonathan from Messiah, and we booked it back down I95 and I85, going 80+ mph the whole way. We made excellent time, and returned home that night.

At the time, I was 20 and had very little experience working on cars, though I had a considerable amount of “theoretical” knowledge. With Aaron’s assistance and encouragement, though, I started to tear into the RX-7. A project day at his house cured a couple of electrical bugs, and he showed me how to prep and paint the fender to match the rest of the car (though I later “got happy” with a can of spray paint and ruined the day’s work). I bought a high-flow downpipe and catalytic converter to install as well, and while we were able to get it on, the rest of the exhaust system crumbled as we unbolted it, having been exposed to many northern winters. I drove it home with no catback, and marveled that such a little engine could make so much noise…

Continue reading with “Part II: Red.”

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from a “car history” post I wrote on an older blog of mine some years ago. The photo above does not depict the actual car; the only image I have of it resides in one of my parents’ photo albums and will be added once scanned.

Filed under: Car Stories, Mazda, Our Cars, Rotary


  1. Aaron says:

    Good memories! Lucky for you, the rusty roadster held together at 80 mph.

    • Matt says:

      Haha true. The bottom of the silver fender wasn’t even bolted on; just flapping in the 80 mph breeze. And Jonathan in the old’ Grand Voyager “Sport Wagon” kept up with me as I wove in and out of traffic. Dumb, but…yeah. :)

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