My Classic Car shows you can fall in love more than once

The first Mazda RX-7 one rusted away, but 40 years later we found another

RX7
Jody and John and their first 1979 RX-7 | Wittnebel archives

In 1979, I brought a copy of  Road & Track into a Mazda dealer and asked if they were expecting any of the new RX-7s; up until that point, I had only seen the car in magazines. I left that day with a contract to buy one of the first 13 that shipped to Minneapolis (at MSRP – no dealer markup!). I was told I could choose between  silver or red, either with air conditioning or a sunroof, but not both. 

I took delivery of a Sunbeam Silver ’79, and it was the greatest day of my life to that point.

The happy couple with their second RX7

I met a girl in the spring of 1980, and picked her up for our first date. She looked at the car and said, “Wow. I’ve never seen an RX-7 before,” This was at a time when people at gas pumps were asking me if it was a Ferrari. I was in love for the second time in six months.

Jody and I drove the wheels off that car and camped out every summer weekend spent skydiving with the mates of our youth. Two seats and a hatchback were all we needed.  Later, as a birthday present, she bought me flying lessons.

Eventually, the Minnesota winters took their toll, and the car rusted out from under me. I had to let that Mazda go, but I kept the girl.

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Four children and 39 years later, we’re still together, and that flying lesson led to a career as a 737 a captain for American Airlines. Two seaters gave way to minivans, but I never stopped daydreaming about my first love with 4 wheels, and last fall, lightning struck again.

The second RX7 arrives from Phoenix

I always noticed when a first-generation RX-7 hit the market, but nothing came close to my ’79 until I saw a pristine example on the internet. Jody immediately got on board and egged me on as we bid for and won the car. The only difference between my first and second RX-7 is the fan switch for the a/c and 40 years.

The old photo (top of story) was taken at Brainerd International Raceway at the Pepsi Challenge in 1980.  We camped at Turn 5 and cheered Paul Newman as he raced a Datsun for Bob Sharp. This was the only time I ever wished a Datsun driver well. The 280Z was my nemesis, and I never missed a chance to show off the RX-7’s 7000 rpm redline.

The TR6 and the RX7

The other two are of Jody and I on the day the car arrived fromPhoenix, where it was lovingly cared for by a new friend, the seller and RX-7 guru Tim Eull.

I have a Triumph TR6 that I drive about 10k miles a year in the Wisconsin summertime, but the RX-7 will only be driven on special occasions, such as the anniversary of that first date.

RELATED:  My Classic Car: Dad’s 7-year restoration project

— John Wittnebel, Beloit WS

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Such a great story. I graduated high school in ‘82 and I remember the RX7 well. I was a Z driver though (‘77 280 and then an ‘81 280ZX) and the RX7 was the car of choice for several of the cutest girls in my high school. I remember asking the girls how they liked their high revving rotary engine, and them looking at me like I was from another planet.

    • Nah, it was Corvettes for me, a 65, 66 and an 87. Loved the 60s but hated the 80s. The 65 was a red convertible and it was fuel injected. Nothing like that old Rochester Fuel Injection Unit & Air Cleaner. Those things are selling for $17,000 on ebay.

  2. I agree, great story. My first new (vice used) car was a 1979 yellow RX-7 GLX with removable moon-roof and A/C that I bought just before being transferred to California as I did not want a CA- smogged version.

    Loved that car and modified the dash to install an aftermarket cruise computer/cruise control and an upgraded stereo from Crutchfield. Also converted the ask-tray to a cup holder and eventually installed a front air dam painted to match.

    Never had any trouble with that car, was never in the shop except when I spun it on a freeway on-ramp and crushed the right front suspension against the curb. Limped home and drove it to the dealer the next day. Luckily no damage to the frame and it was repaired with no issues.

    Saw the same yellow first generation RX-7 model, modified for racing w/ roll cage etc. at Hershey last Oct.

    Sold my RX-7 with 125K miles on it. Everything worked when I sold it and I bought the first RX-7 Turbo (Black) sold in the DC area.

  3. Mine was an RX 3 in 1972. They were sold only in California/Arizona at first. It was fire engine red. I drove it home to Ohio on a months leave (I was a Navy Aviation squid) and amazed everyone due to it having that “new fangled” (Ohio Speak) rotary (Wankel) engine. The Mazda dealer in Dayton was just setting up parts for the rotary cars….and loved looking it over. It ran like a top…….I put 100,000 miles on it before I sold it because we were in a “family way” and needed a newer vehicle and newer car dependability. I wished I’d had the money to keep it….I didn’t…and had to trade it in. I regret this to this day……..that car ran like a scalded animal and would surprise V8 equipped people I drag raced a Pontiac 421 Bonneville down Camelback Rd, in Phoenix on New Years Eve (1972 to 1973) and pulled him to 110 MPH and had no more……..he blew by but turned around and stopped at the 7-11 I pulled into and had not seen under the hood of a Mazda Rotary. He about crapped and fell back into i once he saw how tiny that rotary engine was ! Good memories !

  4. My friend purchased a brand new Blue 1979 RX-7 with a 5 speed. But he didn’t know how to drive a stock shift, so I had the pleasure of driving home a brand new RX-7. Moreover, after the new RX-7 was broken in, I recall that a bell rang when the car’s tachometer redlined at 7 000 RPM.

  5. My friend purchased a brand new Blue 1979 RX-7 with a 5 speed. But he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so I had the pleasure of driving home a brand new RX-7. Moreover, after the new RX-7 was broken in, I recall that a bell rang when the car’s tachometer redlined at 7,000 RPM.

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