I don’t know if you know this, but Jalopnik’s Jeep-fanatic David Tracy actually has a huge soft spot for a certain small, retro Japanese import. I respected his love for the first-gen Mazda RX-7, but I never truly understood it until I drove one myself very recently. And I walked away truly sad that we don’t have more options today in terms of small, light, analog-feeling sports cars.
We have some, sure. The Mazda Miata is pretty outstanding. We’ve enjoyed its Italian cousin the Fiat 124 Spider, as well as the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ. Lotus always delivers, even if it’s perpetually one bad month away from having its lights turned off. But there’s no getting around the general dearth of cars like the first RX-7 today, or how the future prospects for such a machine feel more and more limited with each year.
When we went out this past summer to drive a 1980 RX-7 that a reader very generously offered to us, I do think it changed our lives. It did for me, at least. I realized that I’d gotten too comfortable with driving thanks to today’s cars. Even ones that advertise themselves as “driver’s cars”—cars that are smaller, lighter and have manual transmissions.
That was the problem, I learned. What passes for small and light today isn’t actually that small or light. And even if a car has a manual, it also comes with a whole host of other digital assistance systems, like steering.
And I get why. I get safety and tech features and the need for eventual electrification and the fact that lots of buyers have trouble even getting into their cars these days. I get all that. Some of those things are even good. But I don’t have to go and throw a fucking parade about what we’ve lost in the process.
The RX-7 was a revelation because it was a true lightweight and analog sports car. Blistering performance wasn’t its thing, fun was. Still is. And at just over $20,000 in today’s money, it was cheap to buy when it was new.
We know that, in the face of the SUV-buying craze that we currently find ourselves in, an analog sports car would not sell in high numbers. That’s a shame. But driving the RX-7 made me realize what we’re all missing in that world—and I can’t be the only person who feels that way.