There are several unique things about this issue’s featured car. First, it’s a 37-year-old Mazda RX7 with the famous Wankel Rotary engine paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Second, it has belonged to its original owner since new. Third, the owner is a 95 year old woman who drives it daily.
Mazda started as Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. in 1920. It was rescued from bankruptcy in the late 1920s by Hiroshima Saving Bank and a group of local business leaders. In 1931, the company built its first motor vehicle, a three-wheeled truck, and called it the Mazda-Go auto rickshaw. Unlike many car brands named after their founders, there was no Mr. Mazda. According to official company documents, “the name was associated with Ahura Mazda (God of Light), in the hope that it would enlighten the image of these corporate vehicles”.
During World War II, the company produced weapons for the Japanese military, including various types of rifles. Even though every vehicle made by the company bore the Mazda brand, they didn’t officially change their name to Mazda until 1984. In 2017, Mazda was ranked as the 17th largest automaker in the world.
The most unusual thing about this 1985 Mazda RX7 is the engine. The rotary engine was designed by German engineer Felix Wankel, who received his first patent in 1929. He did not complete an acceptable working model of the engine until 1957. Wankel worked with German manufacturer NSU, a car and motorcycle manufacturer that was founded in 1873 and acquired by Volkswagen in 1969. VW later merged NSU with another of their acquisitions, Auto Union, to create Audi.
In 1964, the very first Wankel-powered car was introduced by NSU as the Wankel Spider. This very different internal combustion engine has attracted the interest of various car manufacturers around the world, including Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Mazda. The main advantages of the engine included lower weight and good power compared to conventional piston engines.
Like most automakers, Mazda wanted to prove it was a top contender. They entered the RX7 in the 1979 24-hour endurance race at Daytona, with the car finishing first and second in class. In 1982, the Mazda RX7 finished 1-2-3-4-5-6 at Daytona and Road & Track Magazine unanimously voted the RX7 “Best Car of the 80s” in its class. Over 800,000 Mazda RX7 models were sold from 1978 to 2002.
The proud owner of the 1985 Mazda RX7 in this edition is Walnut Creek resident Connie Marks, and it’s her only car. She loves everything about the car: the engine, the manual transmission, the styling and the color.
“I’m at an age where there won’t be another,” she said.
Marks isn’t exactly the type of customer automakers are fond of, as this is only the third car she’s owned. The owner drove this car 91,000 miles in its 37 years of ownership. The car is a mid-engined two-seater, with the engine installed behind the front axle, giving the car better balance and a low center of gravity. It also does well on fuel economy, rated at 29 mpg on the highway and 19 in the city.
Speaking about her early ownership, she said, “I used to take a lot of trips to LA. I would wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, maybe a trip to LA would be fun.” I liked all the back roads.
Now her travels are local – in Lafayette, downtown Walnut Creek and, of course, around the residential neighborhood of Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, where she plays bocce and golf twice a week. Given her age and that of the car, however, she doesn’t think long drives score well on the good idea counter.
When she first saw an RX7 in a parking lot, she thought “this is what I want” and negotiated with two dealers before buying this one. She paid $11,000 for the car when it was new, or about $30,440 in 2022 dollars. She traded in the second car she’s ever owned, a VW Bug, to get the RX7. Other than routine maintenance and painting the car, there were no major expenses.
“I love the look of the car,” she said. “I’m so proud to come here and know it’s mine. Every once in a while someone gives me a thumbs up or comes up to me asking if I want to sell my car. I have nine people who want to buy it. So I have all their names if I ever stop driving.
And if she sells it, chances are she’ll get her $11,000 back and more. Marks offered me a ride, which I eagerly accepted. We took a short drive through Rossmoor and she shifted the five-speed transmission like a seasoned NASCAR driver. It was a treat.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected] To see more photos of this and other vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.