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Cleanest Rotary Around: 1979 Mazda RX-7


It’s amazing the impact your very first car can have on your entire automotive life. My very first car was an ’87 Mazda RX-7 and I’ve had a strange on again off again relationship with these rotary powered oddballs ever since! I have some extremely fun memories with my RX-7, especially it’s handling prowess, and subsequently I have an RX-8 today. I’ve yet to own a first generation RX-7, but it’s on my long list of cars I would like to own. From my experiences with these cars I’ve learned one thing, always buy the nicest example you can find. And I don’t think you’ll find a ’79 that is much nicer than the example that’s currently hiding under that car cover! This one owner RX can be found here on eBay in Philo, California with a current bid of $1k.


As amazing as the rotary engine is, they can be rather problematic. The idea behind it is brilliant, but the apex seals are a weak point that often fail. This car has over 112k miles on it and is almost 40 years old, so it’s no surprise that the apex seals have already failed. Thankfully, it has a factory rebuilt engine with brand new seals!


This engine has about 9k miles on it, but currently isn’t running, having set for 10 years. I would bet that the engine is alright, it just needs some work. If fuel and oil has leaked down into the rotors, getting it to start can be a challenge. I learned a few tricks when I revived my RX-7 from the back of a used car lot. Disconnect the fuel supply, crank the engine over for a few seconds, reattach the fuel and fire it up. This will flush old fuel flushed out and some oil moved around.


If I was in the market right now for a first gen RX-7, I would be seriously tempted to bid on this one! Yes the mileage is a bit high, but it’s in beautiful shape inside and out. If you can go take a look at it, it would be worth getting a rotary specific compression tester and make sure the engine is good. So am I the only one here to have fond memories of the RX-7?


  1. Randall

    I bought my wife a 1976 Mazda Cosmo with the rotary engine. When if ever have you heard or seen one of those lately?

    • wade

      randall, don’t look up what cosmo’s go for now, it will make you sick you ever got rid of it!

    • Tre Deuce

      Occasionally I see an early 70’s Cosmo for sale, but they are usually very rough or priced out of my continued interest. But, there are Cosmo’s that are very nice and we can finally import some of them. These would be the later ‘JC’ series Cosmo’s from the early 90’s to mid 90’s. They are elegant, sophisticated, powerful vehicles, but are all right hand drive.


      NHTSA. Importing a vehicle that is at least 25 years old.

      A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable FMVSS. Such a vehicle would be entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation. You should note that the 25 year period runs from the date of the vehicle’s manufacture. If the date of manufacture is not identified on a label permanently affixed to the vehicle by its original manufacturer, to establish the age of the vehicle, you should have documentation available such as an invoice showing the date the vehicle was first sold or a registration document showing that the vehicle was registered at least 25 years ago. Absent such information, a statement from a recognized vehicle historical society identifying the age of the vehicle could be used.

      EPA – Vehicles over 21 years old.

      If the vehicle is at least 21 years old, there are no EPA compliance requirements upon importation. The age of the vehicle is determined by subtracting the calendar year of manufacture from the calendar year of importation. If the calendar year of manufacture is unavailable, the importer may substitute the model year or year of first registration. For instance, to qualify in 2001, the vehicle must have been manufactured in 1980 or earlier. The vehicle must be in its original unmodified configuration. Vehicles at least 21 years old with replacement engines are not eligible for this exemption unless they contain equivalent or newer EPA certified engines.

      No approval or Customs bond is required by EPA. The importer must also prove to Customs, as required, that the vehicle or engine was manufactured prior to EPA regulation. Documents such as a title, or letter from the original manufacturer may be used for this purpose.The importer must file with Customs, upon entry, an EPA Form 3520-1 and declare code “E” on that form.

      Right Hand Drive – In order to be lawfully manufactured or imported for sale in the U.S., a motor vehicle must comply with all applicable FMVSS issued by NHTSA(unless it is 25 years old, in that case it is exempt from FMVSS). It is possible for a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle to be manufactured in compliance with the FMVSS.

      California –

      Direct Import(or Gray Market) vehicles are vehicles that were manufactured outside the United States for which the original manufacturer did not obtain California or Federal certification(1975 or newer vehicles). The EPA normally covers direct import vehicles under the ICI program, but if a vehicle is going to be registered in California, it needs to meet the California Direct Import requirements.

      California has its own EPA called the ARB. Direct Import(or Gray Market) vehicles are vehicles, 1975 or newer, that were manufactured outside the United States for which the original manufacturer did not obtain California or Federal certification. The EPA normally covers direct import vehicles under the ICI program, but if a vehicle is going to be registered in California, it needs to meet the California Direct Import requirements. Any vehicle 1975 or newer needs to meet these standards otherwise it is not legal to register it in California. A vehicle model year 1975 or older doesn’t need a smog(in use test) in California. 1975 would need to meet direct import requirements(FTP testing), but then would not need to be smogged after the initial direct import requirements are met. 1974 or older non USA spec vehicles need to meet EPA requirements per 40CFR Title 85, Subpart P on the date of 11/15/1972.

      1976 or newer needs to be smogged in California every 2 years

      1975 or newer must meet Direct Import requirements(FTP testing)

      1974 or older exempt from smog

      1968-1974 Vehicles need to meet EPA requirements per 40CFR Title 85, Subpart P 11/15/1972

      1967 or older are exempt from testing/import requirements

  2. grant

    I too have fond memories of an 87 rx7, red with a grey interior. I bought it as a 19 year old army PFC because I couldn’t afford the insurance on the red Porsche 944 that was on the same used car lot. Ironically the Porsche was priced about $1000 less than the Mazda. Insurance was the issue but Geico was willing to cover me on the Mazda so I bought it and my sergeant bought the Porsche.

  3. Luki

    Slush box?
    I’m out.
    Best way to know its time to downshift, the rev limit buzzer finally shuts off.

    • Warren Land

      Automatic? No.

  4. ccrvtt

    I had a ’79 that was starting to lose a bit of compression, but the power delivery was so linear and the rotary felt like it would wind out forever. What a fun car to drive – the Poor Man’s Porsche. The build quality was actually pretty good, the gas mileage was pretty bad, but damn it was a cool car.

    It needed a repaint so my wife chose lipstick red and her brother did a fabulous job making it look brand new. This is one of those cars that I would love to own again. It would also not be that exorbitant to rebuild one to ‘dream car’ status.

    Great find.

  5. Glen

    Two problems; first , it’s an auto, second, he says excellent overall mechanical running condition, …but it doesn’t run!

  6. Al Member

    Had one got it for $400 with bad seals. Got a motor from Harry’s U Pull for $69 put it together with all the same parts that I took off it. Lasted another 125,000 miles till I sold it to a kid who rolled it two weeks later. Wouldn’t mind having one again.

  7. Another Bob

    We had an 82 RX-7. I was very impressed with the build quality of the body, engine and gearbox and rock solid electrical system.. The steering was a little sloppy on ours, but could have been tightened up. This car will need some attention because the seals don’t like sitting there unused. Great durable cars when maintained and driven.

  8. Lostboy

    Ah that wonderful smell of gear oil that you won’t get in the auto.

  9. Mr. TKD

    The automatic transmission could be a blessing because the car may not have been abused. That said, a manual transmission swap would be in order.

  10. Eric Dashman

    I’ve owned a 1984 GSL since 1988 (bought with 5K true miles in Chapel Hill) and now have 188K on it. I did replace the engine at 158K, but discovered that I didn’t need to do so later (oh well). I’ve attached a picture of it. I put Racing Beat springs on it long ago that lowered it 2 inches. It came with a 5-speed, the brown leather interior and all the options, including a bit of chrome trim around the wheel wells, a moon roof and regular sunroof. I personally think that the beige goes the best with the smoked windows and I never fail to get compliments on the car whenever I drive it. The 12A engine in its standard state is very under powered, but it is definitely a smooth and quiet engine. The issue with rotor seals was largely with the much earlier rotaries of the early 70s. They had sorted this problem out by the time of the RX7, and as long as you changed the oil regularly (2000 miles for me) and made sure it was always full, the seals were fine. Since it’s designed to burn a little oil to help lubricate the seals, careful attention to that is important. I had a 1979 that I got for $500 from a guy at work. In comparison to my 84, I found the 79 to be much more primitive, but also much faster….sort of like going from a 280ZX to a 240Z.

  11. Billy

    Drove a new 1986 from a dealer lot. Almost bought that one, the salesman thought he had me hooked, but being the cheapskate that I am, I finally decided not too, but soon after made a very poor 87 Shelby Turbo Daytona. That car was very unreliable. The rotary was just too alien for me despite being so slick and smooth, was worried about the rotary reputation.

  12. Charles Ortiz

    Hey Josh, I have a 1979 SA with 37k original miles for sale! 100% 0 rust and fully functional with manual transmission. From the easy cold start choke to the original air engine pump with all it piping all the way to the back!

  13. healeydays

    Wow does this bring back memories. I use to be a big Rx7 lover and was even president of a local chapter of the Rx7 club of America in the early days.

    I bought my 1st in October 1978 and it was a flying banana just like this one. I was told at the time it was the 3rd registered Rx7 in Massachusetts.

    I had 2 buddies that they and I would go to hillclimbs and autocrosses and win everything in sight as they had no idea what class to put us in. What a blast.

    If that car has been sitting for 10+ years, that motor will need to be rebuilt as the seals in the engine will be dried out, and it will start blowing clouds of smoke within 100+ miles. You will also have major loss of power as compression would be lacking due to those seals.

    Fun low cost project, even though it’s an automatic.

    Over the years, I owned a 79S, 82GS, 85GSL-SE, 88GTU,88 convert and a 91 Convert. I’d say I miss them, but I’m happy with my 59 Healey and 97 Z3…

  14. Mark

    I had a ’79 that a guy sold me for $150 because he couldn’t get it started- come to find out it was out of gas! Fun little cars, with the power of a larger 4 cylinder, but the gas mileage of a V-8. I used to shift at the buzzer too. Also had a ’91 convertible- very substantial cars! About twice the price of a Miata at that time. Bucket list would be ’93 twin turbo…

  15. Ben T. Spanner

    I had a 1981 GS? Fun car especially in the snow, as the even weight distribution made sliding fun.

    I was in a junkyard and the owner showed me his 1979 JDM, right hand drive, ivory with brown interior, and those wild Japanese market mirrors.

  16. Cary

    First new car I ever bought new was a 79 RX7. Had a 5speed and it would love to rev high and go! Sadly as a young single male in his early 20’s, I found my insurance payments soon matched my car payment. That had me selling after 2 years, but fast years with that car. Lot,s of odd features like the fact that the engine sprays coolant into the throttle body to “de-ice” I guess and assure no hang ups with the throttle. Or that the rear compartment carpet was made for Mazda by VW.

  17. Brian

    I had a brand spanking new black/black RX7 in 1980. They were so popular back then that I had to go to a dealer 500-miles away to find a black one. Everybody did a double-take when they saw that car … I loved it! I never drove it in the winter and it was like new with about 80,000 miles when I gave it to my nephew in 2008. I rarely drove it and had too many cars clogging the garage. Dumbest thing I ever did … the idiot blew the engine two months later – probably never checked the oil. That car was great … I’d love to find another one – and a bigger garage!

  18. Rustytech Member

    These were fun cars to drive, and not difficult to work on, this is a very nice example, but I would want the third pedal in there, the color sure isn’t a turn on though.

  19. Rolf Poncho 455

    What a nice pocket rocket my RX7 was 81 model
    with series4 turbo engine series5 transmission disc
    brakes all round 13.7sec on the 1/4 mile for a street
    car! Damn I miss my RX

  20. Tre Deuce

    Love RX7’s & 8’s, Cosmo’s and the pick-up, and a Cosmo, the Pick-up, and a gen-3 RX7 should be in my collection.

    My first introduction to the rotary Mazda’s was when I was traveling south on I-5 from Vancouver, BC, in my 69′ SS El Camino powered by a 396″/375-hp. I saw a yellow spec in my rear view mirror that was coming up fast, very fast, and asked a buddy who was traveling with me to take a look out the back window to see if he could tell what it was. He reported that he couldn’t identify it, it was snowing lightly, but whatever it was, it was sure moving.

    When the yellow spec was about 4-500 ft behind us and about to overtake us, I floored the 396. Too late, the yellow spec blew past us like we sitting still. I tried to catch it, but floated the valves in the attempt and never caught it.

    Down the road we pulled into a rest area and the little yellow missile was sitting in there. I pulled up next to it as the owner was coming out of the restroom. We got out to look at the car and talk to the owner who had a grin on. It was a new RX2. Impressed by its performance, I have been a fan of Mazda’s and Rotaries ever since. Never owned an RX, but have put thousands of miles on MX5’s and MPV’s. My favorite rotary is the gen-3, but everyone should take an RX8 for a spirited spin on a curvy mountain road. Great cars, all.

  21. OhU8one2

    Drove a 10th Anniversary around for close to 2 years. Nice car,had decent get up and go. I remember thinking that it used oil up rather quickly. Maybe a quart on second fuel fill up. Lots of white paint though.

  22. foosman

    Just rebuilt the engine in my 1984 GSL-SE – only 83K miles, but after 30+ years, it developed the dreaded dowel pin oil leak on both housings. Love the seemingly endless power band – couldn’t imagine it without the 5-speed, though.

    • Eric Dashman

      Yes, the GSL-SE is really more desirable with the 13B engine and FI. My 4 barrel in the 12A is really finicky and has so much piping around it to make it a nuisance to get right. Still trying to figure out why my secondary doesn’t provide as much oomph as it should. I wouldn’t mind finding a 1985 GSL-SE with all the options and 5 speed.
      I have my old 12A engine and have been thinking about rebuilding it with a street port. Could be a fun project…among my many.

  23. Al Member

    Eric probably dumping too much fuel for the engine to handle low rpm. Everything has to match tuned headers and exhaust. Guy near me had a Z-28 he put 2 fours on a high rise and it had problems at low rpms since everything else was stock.

  24. Eric Dashman

    Good thought, Al. However, the problem is really at higher RPMs, from 2500 upward. It just doesn’t accelerate the way I think it should. From 50 to 70+ (3500 up) it lugs. Downshifting from 5th to 4th doesn’t do much good either. I’m wondering if the shutter valve is not pulled all the way open (it’s there with the coasting valve for deceleration). Testing the solenoid for that is easy. I also have to check that the pump piston is dumping fuel the way it should, and that the 2ndary jets are not clogged. Any ideas are most welcome.

  25. Al Member

    Eric a couple other possibilities, Guy who raced RX-7s in hill climbs in Pa., had a problem we got underneath and the fuel filter was clogged New one in and he was gone. Weak fuel line can collapse and restrict flow. Right now since out of work thanks to the VA I’m trying to keep a 97 Monte Carlo Z-34 running although I am considering modifying it with some C-4. Joking, sort of! If I can remember anything else the guys did on their 7’s I’ll pass them on. Start simple.

  26. rich voss

    Fond memories here too. Bought a brand new ’83 RX7-GS in “Aztec Gold”, basically same brown interior as the featured car. NOT an automatic. I just don’t get that. Why buy an automatic sports car ? Anyway, loved my car. I was 6’3″ when I bought it and could take out the sunroof and put in the back storage area while stopped in traffic. Without getting out. When it was time for a new clutch and some transmission work in ’95 I had a lightened clutch and flywheel assembly put in along with a “semi” racing 5 speed. Even nicer when done. Only other mechanical issue was a starter motor that ate it’s teeth & I replaced at the end of my driveway. NOT a MidWest snow car. Took 3 1/2 hours to get home one night as the backend “creeped” sideways on snowy crowned roads.

  27. Mark-A

    Only thing that spoils the whole car is the American people’s love of an Automatic transmission! In a big V8 I totally understand but a lower powered car it just robs performance from an already Tepid hatch (definitely not a Hot Hatch!) just my thoughts, so please no hate!

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