The original Mazda RX-7 was a masterpiece. The final Mazda RX-7 was a work of art, and remains one of the most exciting sports cars you can buy. (I drove one!) But the FC Mazda RX-7, the middle child, is still cherished and hunted after. There’s something—something particular—about it.

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(Welcome back to Carspotting! We’re back with The Worst Walking Tour of New York City, headed by me, a hack who is barely qualified to tell you how to get to the Empire State Building from here. We’re out to find the best cars of the Big Apple. We shot a handful of episodes before New York City really started to shut down under coronavirus, and a putting them out now.)

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We happened upon this FC in Brooklyn, just down the street from the Alfa Romeo GTV6 that has parked in Gowanus for years. It was a useful pairing. Both are boxy, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-door, import sports cars, reasonably priced, with liftback rears or added practicality and smoother aerodynamics.

It’s fair to say that the two were different in that they were made by very different companies. One was the product of a vaunted Italian carmaker trying to stay relevant as its 1960s golden years faded into the rear view. The other was from a Japanese upstart building up to its absolute apex just a few years away. It was a product of the Bubble Era.

But the more of the similarities that you see, the more you notice the one main difference. While both of these cars have exciting engines, responsive engines, engines that make good power. The difference is that one is a conventional V6, and the other is a rotary engine. In the case of this particular RX-7, it’s a single-turbo built 13B two-rotor swapped in place of the stock non-turbo version.

It’s not that the rotary engine is better or worse than the piston engine, it’s that it’s different. Rare. Particular. There are specialists, people who stay in business just building and tuning these things. Hell, Mazda itself was sort of in the same category, the last company still invested in rotaries at the time the FC was built.

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So while the Alfa GTV6 is a charming old import sports car, the FC is an entry into an entire rotary world. Take a look at this car, at its stickers, and the pride of its owner, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s more than a car.

Oh, and they they are very different in one other way. Alfa Romeo built a bit more than 22,000 GTV6s, per Hemmings. (Total sales of this general design, with either a four-cylinder or six totaled around 120,000, per AlfaBB.) By contrast, Mazda sold around 150,000 FC RX-7s in the United States alone, per the RX-7 Club.

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Both are something of cult classics, but the more you look at how similar the two are generally, the more you see what it is that makes the RX-7 a tuner icon to this day and the GTV6 something of a niche sports car.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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