A Car Restoration Story: 1984 RX7

As a car enthusiast you always have the dream to buy a project car. There is something to be said about having a sense of deep satisfaction of sourcing parts, disassembly, reassembly and completion of such a dream. Usually it’s a car that has always been desired with dreams of one day driving it off into the sunset. Here is my journey of my project car: a 1984 Mazda RX7 GLS-SE.

My facination with the RX7, like many, revolved around the Wankel motor. To start learning how this mysterious motor worked, I bought a blown 13b from an FC (second generation RX7, 6port NA). The tear down was a good challenge and facinating no doubt. Once the block was dissembled, it was clear why the motor had nearly zero compression. This motor certainly didn’t go to waste: it was turned into a coffee table.

At this point the bug had bitten hard: time to go out and find an RX7. I looked at a few 3rd Gen’s and a few 1st Gen’s. I always had a real love for the 1 Gen’s as I remembered them growing up. So after searching forums for some time, I ended up buying a 1984 GSL-SE out of Portland Oregon.

The car looked pretty clean for having 214k original miles and had a recent repaint. Once I saw the car in person, it wasn’t real clean and had a few areas with rust as well as a minor accident to the front end. Despite a few issues, the car was still a good deal. The purchase was made and we headed back home to Utah.

The RX7 drove well all the way home – it had decent acceleration up steep hills and was very rev happy. It really was a good time driving home while listening to such a great sound track (Racing Beat headers back).

I drove the RX7 for the remainder of that summer and into the fall season. It had a few issues such as a high and or occilating idle, flooding and a badly leaking power steering pump. The worst of all the issues started happening when the car had a hard time getting to the top of Trappers Loop. The motor was loosing compression in one of the rotors. This was when a good friend and I decided to pull the motor and rebuild it.

The rebuild process was facinating, as it clearly showed the issues the motor was having. One of the rotors had virtually nothing left of it’s apex seals. We were both surprised it had any compression as all. The damage however was significant – it ruined one of the housings. A rebuild kit was ordered and I sourced out another GSL-SE housing.

As the motor was all apart, I had another good friend do a large street port. This port was significantly larger vs stock. I also ended up media blasting and ceramic coating both the irons and housings – which ended up being several months of a very long drawn out process. I honestly wouldn’t ceramic coat the motor again, as the cost, time and poor customer service really wasn’t worth it.

As the motor was being put back together, a few debates started arising quicky. Should I do a complete restoration on the body and should I also go with a turbo motor? The debate of going through the body was a short lived debate – the flaking paint had at least 10 layers (including the original OEM paint). It was the worst paint job and was driving me nuts. That was the beginning to a very long road of getting the paint and body done.

I had another good friend who had been in the automotive paint and body world for many years take on the project. As hind sight is always 20/20, we should have gotten the car media blasted. The pain staking route of sanding it down via orbital Sanders was expensive and very labor intensive.

Once the body was sanded, we found a few small rust spots. One was in the drain in the lower right hatch, passenger side floor board, rear wheel wells and sunroof drain. All rust areas were cut out and a steal patch was welded in. Over all the car was in good shape as you really don’t know what you will find untill the body is completely stripped down. Pur15 was extensively used to prevent any future corrosion to the body. The minimal rust is also surprising because records of the car show that it lived in Hawaii and Portland Oregon for many years.

As several years pass by, the debate of staying with the original naturally aspirated 13b motor vs going with a turbo 13b motor really never ended. The hesitation was really in cost as well as complexity. Going turbo entailed finding a T2 motor, transmission, custom drive shaft, standalone ECU, intercooler, clutch & flywheel, wiring, fabrication, etc. Staying with the original motor had minimal additional requirements: ideally should go standalone ECU and wiring. The cost of the ECU would really start to justify going down the turbo path. So after I got home from a three year job relocation in Hawaii, I committed to going all in and boosting the RX7.

Once I came back home to Utah, life became extremely busy. To name a few of the goals that were in motion: get a Chiropractor & Massage office off the ground, continue the house hacking project, purchase a daily driver and get the RX7 project moving. Unfortunately the RX7 project didn’t really get picked back up till nearly a year after I came back home.

As I started to reach out to a few local RX7 resources, I was given an opportunity to buy an old autocross 1st Gen RX7. This old school racer had the sought after S5 T2 motor and transmission (originally sourced from a 1988 RX7 T2 with 30,000 KM) as well as a number of good parts. I made the purchase and started to tear the car down. Once the motor was pulled and disassembled – it was clear that this motor was a fantastic candidate for my build.


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