Early Rotary Find: 1973 Mazda RX2

The younger readers we have may not even be aware that Mazda produced rotary-engined vehicles before the RX7 — surprise! One of their first little cars was the RX2, produced from 1970 to 1978 in both coupe and sedan form. Trivia tidbit: the car was offered both with a conventional piston engine as the 616 and 618 in the US as well as the RX2 rotary version. This one is listed for sale here on eBay, where bidding started very low and there’s no reserve. As I write, it’s up to $256. Despite having a North Carolina title, the car is located in Meriden, Connecticut.

The seller says they took this on as a project and have it running and driving decently, albeit with a fuel cell in place of the old gas tank. I hope they kept the old tank — there’s a shop local to me that has performed miracles cleaning and coating the interior of corroded tanks, so I know it can be done. We’re also told that the sellers put a basic paint job on the car, which they rate as a 6 out of 10. It actually looks pretty nice in the pictures, but I know white can hide a lot from a distance.

I do like the period stripes on the sides, and the ad states that the wheel trim rings and centers are all intact. The only trim missing is the lower windshield trim (how the heck did that happen?) and although the trunk has some rust issues, that is apparently the only rust in place.

While the interior looks a little rough for a 54,000 mile car, it doesn’t look like a 154,000 mile car either (to me, at least). Also, given the longevity of those early rotaries, I would be surprised if the car had made it to 154,000. The door panels have been cut for speakers.

The 12A engine and automatic transmission have not been modified and look pretty darned original. To sum up, this looks like a relatively rare, somewhat unusual car you could drive now and improve as time passed. Do you agree with me?

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Comments

  1. RayT Member

    Had a ’73 RX-3. Nifty cars, and really, really quick for small cars back then. Bought it new, but sold it three years later after the engine, like many of the earlier ones, burped up its rotor seals. Repaired under warranty (mostly; mine was out of warranty, and the dealer charged me labor). Never felt the same about it after that.

    Jamie, the condition of the interior in these cars is not a good way to judge claimed mileage. The materials deteriorated quickly, even when cared for. After three years and roughly 100K miles, the seats in mine were starting to split at the seams, and some of the plastic bits were definitely looking shopworn.

    5+

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Always good to hear from the person who’s been there! Thanks for sharing RayT 🙂

      2+

    • Ray Smith

      I too had a 73 RX3. It was smurf blue with white stripes. I got it cheap because it didn’t have antifreeze in the engine and it froze. I had a place called JLC Racing in Kent, WA build a street ported engine for it. That car was a terror after that. It was scary fast. At about 120mph you could feel it getting light in the front end. It’s a wonder I’m still alive. At the time I knew I was lacking self control so I sold it. Now I wish I had it back. It was fun and certainly a sleeper at the time.

      5+

      • ROTAG999

        I know Jerry @ Jerry Little Cars he worked on some stuff for me knew Mazda’s inside out.

        1+

    • Oingo

      Pal had same in 76 seals lasted about 20k miles.

      1+

  2. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Staff

    Nice fine, Jamie! It’s already over $6,000, dang.

    1+

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Wow, that climbed fast!

      2+

      • Bmac Bmac Member

        Drove one in the mid 70’s man was it a quick little car & could take the roads here in MI. like a larger car, traded for an Audi mistake!

        1+

    • whippeteer

      $8600 now…

      0

  3. John M.

    The bidding jumped to over $7 grand and there’s still more than three days left before the auction ends.

    0

  4. grant

    I have a dim memory of driving over a bridge with my parents and being terrified, my mother tells me this was when I was about 3 1/2 and in a blue RX-3. This is neat. Haven’t seen one in years.

    1+

  5. ed the welder

    I would love to have this in yellow with a sunroof but not quite as much as a ’73 opel manta which did battle with these back in the SCCA…

    1+

  6. douglas mckinnon

    I own one of the first ones imported into the country was in the shop more than out of the shop but when it was out of the shop it was a fast little car period also had one of the neatest convenience items that when you pulled the lever when you were running the heat you could have a stream of air shoot right up your face over the steering column

    0

  7. Martin Sparkes

    I have a friend with a nice one. It was an SCCA racecar that he put back on the road. It is very fast. As in hard to believe how quick it is. And the noise is unreal. Hurts my ears.

    1+

  8. Howard A Member

    Yeah, I’ll admit, this is an unusual find indeed. I think this was the “cheapie”. In the midwest, we didn’t see many RX2’s, or RX4’s, mostly RX3’s. Not sure why. Aside from some rotary quirks, and SERIOUS rust issues, they were good cars. I think you could order a RX2 with a piston engine, anybody? Anyway, I think with today’s technology, you could get the rotary running quite dependably, although, it may just be easier to graft in a piston engine of your choice. It was a nicely styled car, all the RX’s were. Got to be the only one in existence.

    0

    • RayT Member

      Howard, you could get an RX3 with a piston engine, too. It was called the “606,” I think.

      Having previously driven a friend’s R100, I was hot for rotary power. My father and I went to the Mazda dealer and managed to borrow an RX2 and RX3 which we took on a nearby mountain road. The RX3, with its rear leaf springs and generally stiffer suspension, was quicker on the winding road than the coil-sprung RX2. So I want for the 3, even though I preferred the looks of the 2.

      Later rotary engines were much more reliable. Mazda really worked at getting the design right. I only wish I could have afforded an RX7 when the first-generation car came out. I still think it was the coolest of them all.

      1+

      • Derek

        It wasn’t that you could buy RX3s with a piston engine as much as you could buy any Mazda style with a rotary. The stock cars were 818s and 616s at the time. The RX-6 was a 929 coupé variant, I believe.

        3+

      • Joe Berk

        The Piston engine Mazdas were 808s. My first car was a 1976 808 coupe with​ the 1308cc engine. My family used up 3 or 4 808 station wagons on a large newspaper delivery route. Only one of them had A/C, it sapped so much horsepower it nearly made the car undrivable when the compressor was kicked in. My first new car that I ever bought on my own was a 1982 RX-7 GS. What a hoot to drive. It wasn’t blazingly fast but handled like a go kart and taught me a great deal about oversteer😂😂😂. I’m still amazed that I survived those days. Dumbass kids, anyway…..

        2+

    • Howard A Member

      Thanks all, IIRC, the early Mazda rotaries had an antifreeze injector, that in very cold climates, a small amount of AF was injected into the crankcase, to prevent icing in the bottom “lobe”.( or something) I don’t think it worked very well, and you saw very few rotaries in the frigid cold.
      Also, I remember people thought “Mazda=rotary”, and I knew people, that knew nothing about cars, that thought their piston engined Mazda WAS a rotary. The GLC changed all that.

      0

      • Mike H

        Howard, I believe that all of the carbureted rotaries had the “cold start fluid” injector; my 1985 GS with the 12A did, and that was the last of the first generation and last of the 12A’s. It had a separate little reservoir for ethylene glycol, and while I don’t know whether it genuinely worked or not, I will say that my 12A started and ran just fine through the (2) Minnesota winters I owned it (the car also had well over 150,000 miles on it and ran beautifully without any oil consumption, but it was on the line when it came to emissions testing every year).

        0

  9. Royal

    When I was five years old, my parents bought a brand new 1973 Mazda RX-2 Four Door from the dealership on Staten Island as there were no dealers up here in Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie) at the time. It was white like this one with the black interior. It was intended to be for my mother to use, but she really didn’t like to drive much and so it sat in our damp garage and began to rust. My Dad then started to use it for his job with IBM servicing outside commercial accounts as a customer service engineer. I literally grew up in the back of this car and eventually we took it off the road in 1983 when the uni frame became so bad that we would get soaked riding in the rain for several hours.

    I literally grew up in the back of this car. One of the first things to crap out was the factory clarion radio. We took this car the first summer we had it on a trip to Oshkosh Wisconsin for the EAA fly in. This car had real balls (can I say Balls?) as it was fast as lightning even with the automatic transmission. My Dad loved it so much that when we went back to Staten Island a year later he disappeared with my Uncle and called several hours later to tell my mother he bought a Blue Rotary Powered Pickup with a four speed. Apparently it was sitting at the dealer and my Dad decided to show off his savvy negotiation skills with the sales manager and spent several hours wearing him down to the point where they agreed to his price basically because it was closing time. Now the pickup with the four speed had real balls and could lay down rubber at the drop of the gas. Matter of fact when he dropped the sign for my HS drama production off at the high school, he showed off what this could do making all my friends with V-8’s grin from ear to ear.

    Going back to the RX2, there was an issie with the seals on the 12A which would cause it to fire up with just one rotor before the second one would kick in about a half mile down the road. Sometimes it would throw up a cloud of white smoke so bad you couldn’t see anything, typically on cold winter/fall mornings. I guess he was able to get either a new or rebuilt motor put in which he decided to do via the new local dealership here (Tara Motors) before we went up to Canada to Toronto where he had to attend classes for IBM. He didn’t want to pollute the parking garage with the white smoke.

    In all we put about 130K on this little Japanese beast before we laid it up in our back yard in the fall of 1983. He was afraid to sell it nor would he let me put it back on the road a couple years later for fear I would kill myself and probably that was with good reason as most teens do stupid stuff behind the wheel. The road salt took its toll on this car. I don’t think we ever had to do anything with the transmission, but the car left us and then my Dad stranded a couple of times due to the electric fuel pump giving out.

    I have always had a fondness of these cars. I learned how to parallel park in the truck which we took off the road in 1991 due to a sticky caliper. We only had 39K on the truck as it was a third vehicle that barely got used. It had the single distributor rotary and never gave us a problem except for the nasty backfire it would make when you shut it down driving in hot weather. It was something like out of the film Uncle Buck. Was never allowed to take that on the road either. Although the sedan is beyond repair, I still have hope for the truck yet by the time I have the cash and time to do this, it will probably be too late. (Sigh)

    2+

  10. Bob C.

    I remember seeing these tricked out with straight pipes. They sounded like chain saws.

    1+

  11. MrB

    Has any rotary ever seen 154k miles without a rebuild? My friends 05 RX8 is under 100k and on its 3rd engine.

    1+

    • Mike H

      Yes. I owned one that did.

      0

  12. Neal

    Wow, haven’t seen one of these since I was about ten. My uncle brought a brand new one back from Japan when he was transferred back stateside in the Air Force. My grandmother was driving the kids around while she was home visiting. I remember the new car smell when she pulled out into traffic when she should have waited a few moments longer. I can’t remember if it was a 4 or a 5 speed,but she revved 1st gear that high that she skipped 2nd and blasted down the road. Me being too young to know better,asked if that was the right way to shift, she said,shhhhhhh don’t tell your uncle! I don’t know whatever happened to that gunmetal blue little coupe, but I knew I wanted one!

    2+

  13. Rolf Poncho 455

    Hade a 83 RX7 with a series 4 13b turbo motor run a 13.7sec
    on the 1/4 mile. Damn i miss that car

    1+

  14. Paul R.

    I owned a 1972 RX2 with a 4 speed. An extremely fast and great handling car.
    It made zero torque but loved to rev.. really rev!
    It had an un-godly complicated Japanese 4 bbl carb. Many were replaced with a small Holley 4 bbl.
    2 distributors, a leading that had 2 sets of points, and a trailing that had another set of points. 4 spark plugs but it would run on just 2 plugs. A strange set up, but wicked quick car when it ran.

    0

  15. Steve Park

    These were fun little cars. I put Grose Jets in it & the mpg went up quite a bit.The tach had a buzzer that went off when you hit redline.My ex wife bought it new. I still have the car, but it’s been sitting a long time.

    1+

  16. Rentalbarn

    Back in 1980 when someone offered me more than my 72 240z was worth, I needed another car overnight. I found a 74 Mazda rotary truck (Ford Courier with the rotary) in a dealers back lot. It recently had new rotors put in but the interior was a little rough for the front lot. That Tire spinning rocket could get rubber out of 3 gears. I ended up holding onto that truck for a few years. At my age I purchased lots of rear tires. Not great on gas or oil it made the all time top 5 of the 50+ vehicle’s I have owned

    1+

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