Live Auctions

Nicest One Left? 1973 Mazda RX-3

Rotary-powered vehicles are few and far between these days, but at one time they were seen as modern and a way to have a more powerful car with lower road tax fees. This unbelievably nice 1973 Mazda RX-3 can be found here on eBay in Kent, Washington. The current bid price is – are you sitting down? – $21,100 and the reserve isn’t met yet! This car is rotary gold, Jerry!

At first glance, this appears to be a totally restored car, but the seller doesn’t really mention anything about that, or about it being original paint or anything like that. There are a couple of tiny dings and they do say that there is no rust in the rockers, the trunk, the battery tray under the hood, or the bottoms of the doors.

This car is beautiful, at least in condition. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but it’s hard to argue with the general overall condition of this car. The wheels are original and they say that there is a bit of fading on some of the paint so it must be original?

The RX-3 was known as the Mazda Savanna in Japan and the RX-3 was sold here in the US from 1972 until 1978. This interior looks as perfect as the exterior does, can this be original? With only 100,000 miles on this Mazda, it seems like there should be more wear than there appears to be, but maybe it’s just been very well cared for.

The seller is only the second owner of this well-preserved and/or nicely-restored RX-3. One photo throws me off a bit, this one with the blue tape, what’s going on there? The engine is Mazda’s two-rotor 12A, an 1,146 cc rotary with around 110 hp. This has to be one of the nicest RX-3s left on the planet. Have any of you owned one?

Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Whoa,,,( sound of tires screeching) again, the ONLY one left. Of all the cars that have come through here, this has got to be one the most rare. Mazda rotaries couldn’t have come at a worse time. People were just being introduced to Asian cars from their LTD’s, and what’s this rotary stuff? I thought the Mazdas were the nicest styled Asian cars. In ’74, I had my MGB and went to a Mazda dealer to check one out. I liked the RX4, so arranged a test drive. It was a comfy car, neat dash, started it up, huge cloud of smoke filled the parking lot ( brand new, mind you) “That’s normal”, assured the salesman. Ok,,,out onto the highway, 1st thing I did, was mash the gas pedal ( I suppose maybe that’s why it smoked, everybody else did the same thing) It took off with gust, winding freely to it’s redline, when a buzzer went off. It was actually kind of annoying. In short, I passed on the car. It’s dismal gas mileage ( 15 mpg) was the clincher, plus the rotary was too unconventional for me. The RX2 and RX3 were smaller cars, and a bit better on mileage, but the rotary always held me back. Incredible example here. I’m sure the motor has been worked on. I don’t think they got 50K miles out of these. Always thought they would have been a neat car with a piston engine.

    Like 11
    • Chas H

      Gas is very cheap. A great time to drive a rotary!

      Like 6
    • Country Joe

      Howard A.
      Mazda did make one of these with a piston engine. My first car was a Mazda 808 coupe with the 1300 cc 4 cylinder. Once I swapped a Cherry Bomb muffler with a chrome tip, I was good to go…😁😁😁 It really was a fun little car, but it met its demise when a guy ran a red light in a F250 and I nailed him right behind the cab. 😭😭😭

      Like 5
      • Ron Johnson

        I had 808 Coupe in Lime Green. I blacked out most chrome.
        White Interior wore pretty well. Nice lines for sure!

  2. RayT Member

    Once again, BF is stoking my memory banks! I bought a new RX-2 in 1973 — trading a Honda 600Z in for it — and was rocked by the performance and (to me at the time, anyway) competence of the chassis. It was a blast!

    It was also soon to become a disaster. The early rotaries had major sealing problems, bad enough that Mazda was doling out new engines. Mine failed, but it was out of warranty and I had a major squabble with the dealer. I was too naive in those days to know how to fight their unwillingness to stand behind the product. Sold it three years later, bought a Renault 5. Big, big improvement.

    But what fun while it lasted! The thing was a rocket sled, seemed well built and was pretty comfortable. The ’73 “gas crisis” was a pain (yes, these really sucked down the petrol), but I traveled extensively in those days, and the RX3 was a good way to do that.

    I liked it then, but I don’t miss it enough to drop this kind of money on one now. An early RX-7 in the same shape might tempt me, though….

    Howard A, Mazda did in fact offer a piston-engine version of the RX3. I believe it was called the 626 (but not sure). I drove one. Wasn’t impressed.

    Like 3
    • Howard A Member

      I believe that was the 808. I read these were part of the “Grand Familia” group of Mazdas and had 1.6L piston engines.

      Like 3
      • RayT Member

        You may be right. I didn’t pay all that much attention, as the piston-engine car struck me as just another tin box. For me, the big attraction was the rotary, and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

        Until it went “Urp!”, anyway.

        Like 1
  3. Moparman Member

    A friend had one of these, and one night four of us were riding with him when I noticed that we were really zipping past other cars. I looked over at the speedo and discovered that we were in excess of 110 mph and climbing w/ no undue drama! His car later developed coolant leaking into the engine while traveling back to Maryland. He told me that he’d stop, remove the spark plug to drain out the water, top off the radiator and get back on the road! Mazda replaced his engine at no cost to him, except for the ancillary items! I lost track of him and the car. :-)

    Like 8
  4. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    What a find! And what a lot of fun they were when the improved engine seals were on the market-at one point in my car life I had an RX-2, RX-3 and a 1978 Cosmo at the same time, and all bought used because the owners thought because they were smoking badly that the seals were going bad when all they needed was a readjustment of the carb, as they fouled the plugs if the carb wasn’t set for this altitude (BTW, thanks for the tip there, Wayne!).

    Alas, the RX2 was totaled when a 19 yr old stoner driving 53 mph in a 25 mph zone on his way to his drug dealers house in his 17yr old brakeless Grand Cherokee slammed into the back as I was going home from work late one night.. but it still ran afterwards, regardless that the trunk lid was shoved into the back seat!

    You were smart to pass up the RX4, Howard-they hadn’t quite sorted out all the issues but boy did that 13B motor run when it was right!

    Like 6
  5. Billy1

    Not worth the type of money seller is asking. $21k and reserve still not met? There was an RX3 SP with 57k miles in pristine cond. on Ebay last year. The SP version is worth more than $20k-not a reg. RX3.

    Like 6
    • Dutch 1960

      Somewhere between $20k and $30k is about right for this one. Most of them have been updated with newer spec engines or other modifications, as original ’73 parts of all sorts are next to impossible to find, and extremely pricey when you do find them.

      The cars themselves have thin sheet metal vulnerable to dings and dents, they rust out easily, the paint faded fast, and the interior materials were very fragile, and prone to cracks and tears. The early twin-distributor engines are more prone to failures, do not mix and match well with later engines, and this one has the proper, one-year-only bottom starter with the proper rear housing casting, having no provision for a starter and a stamped steel plate, which all the other ones had. Saying all that, it is tough to tell how much is original, refurbished, or replaced, but the overall car is exactly right in all the hard-to-do details if one is building up from parts or from a seriously degraded car. It looks like the fragile headlight and taillight surrounds have not been touched up, which suggests a lot of originality here.

      As to rarity and pricing vs. the later RX3SP, and I prefer the SP as well, finding either one in this sort of condition, with this level of correctness, completeness, and originality, well, you will be looking for a long time and writing a big check when you manage to find one at all.

      One of the things that is lost on these now, which is also now true of the old Datsun 510 and other early Japanese coupes, is that they were great fun to modify and blast around in. The pricing and rarity has taken all of that off the table. Finding cars like these with ill-running engines for $50, and taking the chance that some shade tree tuning or fixing could get you a good car, those days are long gone.

      Like 7
      • Dutch 1960

        52 bids and multiple bidders says $20k plus is the real deal. Sad to see them priced away from my budget, I used to own bunches of these and have only one left now. Sold and cut up for scrap a good half dozen of them, back when they were worth nothing. Oh well, in my next life…

        Like 3
    • Kenny

      Actually, the market will decide what it’s worth, right?

      Like 2
    • LotusS777

      Yea, that was last year. You can see what has happened to 240z s, 510 s, 911 s, XKE s, and are reminded, should have bought it-last year.

  6. Chas H

    I owned an RX-3 wagon. Drove it down (and back) to NOLA in the 80s. 100 mph when the cops weren’t around. Put 200 lbs of weight in the back and it was an awesome snow car. The engine was kaput when I bought it, first rotary rebuild out of many for me. It came to a bad end one dark rainy night when I struck a dog wandering in the street.

    Like 4
  7. Araknid78

    OMG! I had the exact twin of this car.

    I was living in Ellensburg going to school at the time when the apex seals gave up the ghost. Mazda offered to replace the engine, but I had to pay for the labor. It was $400-$500 IIRC. But, the nearest dealer was in Yakima, about 35 miles away. There are two ways to get there. I nice freeway that goes through the rolling hills (30 minutes). Or the old route that goes through the canyon and follows the river (60 minutes). It was morning with very light traffic. So…

    I took the canyon route. Since I was getting a new engine anyway, I went as fast as I could with the rev limit buzzer sounding off almost constantly. But, what a fun drive! That car could really fly and handled like a champ.

    I don’t remember how I got home or how I got back there about a week later to pick it up. But, the city of Ellensburg decided rather than plow the snow in the winter, they would just treat their streets with salt and watch the snow melt away. I saw that fun jewel of a car disintegrate before my eyes my first winter there. It was sad. I loved that car.

    Like 8
  8. Jc

    Piston engine goes boing boing boing, but the Mazda goes hmmmmmmm.

    Very cool car.

    Like 15
  9. Mike Hawke

    hmmmm

    Like 2
  10. Ken Cwrney

    My Uncle traded a perfectly good ’66
    Chrysler Newport 2 door HT for one in
    ’72. And the damned thing spent more
    time in the shop than it did in his driveway.
    I remember him always having to ship the car on a flatbed truck from Bloomington
    to Peoria when something broke (and it
    usually did) or driving it there just to get
    routine maintainance done. He wound
    up trading it for a shiny black Dodge
    custom van in ’73. Oh sure, the 360 sucked gas, but at least it got him to
    his job on time.

    Like 3
  11. Fred W

    Never had one of these, but had two RX-7’s which benefited from the improved seals. They were a blast to drive but sucked down the gas. I would be concerned that with 100K + miles, if nothing has been done to the engine, it may be on it’s last legs.

    My dad, a mechanical engineer, was inspired by the rotary engine designs and designed his own with “vanes” that slid in slots on the rotor, but he never got it to run under it’s own power. I ran across it in his estate and saved it for posterity.

    Like 3
  12. Alan Brase

    I got one of these for my 13 year younger brother’s first car. $100 with a bad motor. Found a junkyard new motor for $200. Removed the clunky exhaust and put on a big header. A few more mods and WOW, it was screamer. That damned overspeed horn went off every time I was in a lower gear. As big brother, drove it quite a bit myself!
    Truly surprised to see that price. Kinda puts old Porsches into perspective!

    Like 1
  13. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    Quick thought on the picture with the blue tape; it looks like the tape is securing plastic sheathing. I’m thinking the seller removed the battery to take a picture of the battery tray and made a fender cover to protect the finish.

    Like 5
    • grant

      Nailed it.

  14. Superdessucke

    These early rotaries have a very affluent following and always have. I’m not surprised by the price. Whether it’s worth it or not I guess it depends on your vantage point and relative wealth but these cars play on their own field.

    Like 2
  15. Chris In Australia

    That much for that little? Pass. My suburb was infested with these wank-wank-pfffft pieces of crap in the late 80s/early 90s. Rust, crashes & good taste have culled the herd. For that I’m glad.

    Like 1
  16. r s

    A very nice ‘museum piece’ but as something to drive? No thanks.
    A rotary is an engine that does not like being an engine. It’s more of a ‘see, we told you we could make it work’ project.
    A zillion seals moving around that have to keep pressures and mixtures apart.The slightest wear on the seals, and… big problems.
    One side of a cast ‘block’ (the stator) which is subject to very high heat, and the other side much cooler. Lots of thermal stress – with moving seals going from the hot side to the cold side.
    Poor fuel efficiency. Poor emissions characteristics.
    I owned a Suzuki RE-5 rotary engine motorcycle once. Ugh!
    No thanks.

    • Dutch 1960

      True, but letting them warm up before taking off, allowing them to cool down a bit at idle before shutting down, don’t drive them in really cold weather, top off and change the oil all the time, don’t over rev them, and drive them regularly, and they last forever. Think of it as doing the owner’s part in the “see, we can make it work”. Definitely not “grab it and go”, which proves your point, in the real world.

      Like 1
  17. Raymond Smith

    I had a 73 RX3 very similar to this. It was Smurf blue with a white stripe. All the chrome was blacked out. I picked it up with a bad engine. It had no antifreeze and the housing cracked when it froze. My plan was to use it for auto cross. I had JLC Racing in Kent, Washington build an engine for it. I can’t even describe how angry that thing sounded. I never did auto cross it but ended up using it for a commuter. It scared the hell out of me a couple of times. When it got north of 100mph the front end would get really light. I figured I better sell it before I killed myself. Right after I sold it I picked up an ex state patrol Mustang. That was another great car that I regret selling.

  18. AnalogMan

    I’ve had a long love affair with rotary engines, starting with a 1975 Suzuki RE5 motorcycle I had while in college in the 70’s. I bought it as a brand-new leftover in 1977 for a whopping $1000 (they couldn’t give them away back then, no one wanted them).

    In the early 80’s while still a student I had a 1974 RX4. I needed a ‘reliable and practical’ Japanese car that wouldn’t cost much to run (since I didn’t have any money, and sold my blood plasma twice a week to pay for beer). But I still loved cars and wanted something different. I thought the RX4 would be the perfect combination, reliable but fun. Riiiighhhttt….

    The RX4 was bigger and more luxurious than the RX2 or RX3, and had the bigger 13B engine (vs the 12A in this car), but the idea was the same with of a pair of spinning Doritos. There’s no shortage of rotary haters on the internet, but I think many of them have never owned or even driven a Wankel. They certainly do have their non-trvial weaknesses, but it’s also easy to fall in love when you drive one.

    They have a silky smooooothness that no piston engine can ever match. The sound can be like a jet engine spooling up for takeoff, and is just addictive. The usual carping on line is about ‘no torque’. Yeah, well, the Honda S2000 and Formula 1 cars aren’t known for being able to pull tree stumps out at idle either, and few people accuse them of not being fun to drive. It’s part of the Wankel experience – the faster you want to go, the more you have to rev it – the torque is linear with rpm’s. There are only 3 moving parts in the engine, it can take it. You have to, you know, actually know how to use a clutch pedal and shift lever.

    But then there are the downsides. Like oil consumption. I hope so. All Wankels use oil. They are oil injected, crucial to keeping the apex seals from departing this world. Think of it as a 2-stroke. With the RX8s I’ve owned, it was about 1 quart for every 500 miles. Many piston engine cars, like most air-cooled Porches, consume oil too, and I haven’t heard too many people complain about them.

    But my RX4 took it to a new level. With about 50k miles on the car when I had it the engine was already well past it’s ‘best by’ date, and went through a quart about every 75-100 miles. Every start up resulted in a house-size cloud of oily blue smoke (makes a hell of an impression on bystanders). Combined with the 15-18 mpg, the oil and gas costs were outstripping my supply of sellable blood plasma.

    With proper care and diligent maintenance – meaning, check the oil at every fuel stop and top it up when needed – the Wankel can actually give reasonable service. But how often do most people (not gear heads) actually check their oil? I think a lot of the problems with rotary engines dying young or grenading themselves were because most people just don’t check their oil level. Some people seem to feel put upon just to put gas in their car. With most modern cars, you can get away with not checking the oil level between changes (still not the smartest thing to do in the world). Not with a rotary. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a correlation between premature engine failures, and people who let them run out of oil. Like the previous owners of my RX4 probably did.

    I sold it and bought something much more reliable and practical, perfectly suited for a poverty stricken cash-strapped student – a 1974 Renault 17 Gordini. That worked out about as well as you’d think.

    The RX4 didn’t stop my love of rotaries, and I went on to own two RX8’s. I loved them both and miss and regret selling them. The Wankel is an elegant but flawed design for an engine, but it sure has a lot of character in ways that most modern engines can’t dream of. For good reasons there will never be another Wankel engine car, and the world is poorer off for it.

    It’s astonishing how much these early RX2’s and RX3’s have been selling for. As Superdessucke said, these early Wankel’s have a well-heeled following, especially in California. With 100k miles on it I assume (and hope) the engine has been rebuilt, maybe more than once.

    Like 5
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Very well said, AnalogMan. One of the smarter Reno SCCA Autocross racers had a 13B in his Mazda pickup. With the RX-7 suspension and bits he was almost untouchable-even the Formula Vee guys had to work hard against his times!

      Like 1
  19. Joe

    I have owned 2 RX-3’s and 1 RX-4, one RX-3 was a 4 speed the other a AT. They were fun cars to drive in the 70’s and early 80’s. Don’t expect great handling as the RX-3 came with 155 series tires, I quickly went a few sizes bigger and it helped the car stay planted on corners. In it’s day it could do zero to sixty in about 10 seconds, it beat most cars that had V/8 back then. RX-4 and the RX-2 were faster and rode better, being a longer wheel base. Loved gas, 15 to 17 mpg, large 15 gallon gas tank for a car that was only 161 inches long. Had a small 4 barrel carb on it, if I remember right it was 440 CFM, Used more oil than the more modern RX-8’s did. Could 1000 to 1500 miles to a quart, depending how hard you drove it. 3 sets of points and condensers, needed to file them every couple of thousand of miles, they lasted about 10k and you replaced them and plugs at the same time. They were well built cars for the time, no rattles, get big fresh air vents as the engines put out a tone of heat through the exhaust. They didn’t nickel and dime you to death like many cars did in the 70’s, till the engine went. Apex seals wore but coolant and oil seals did the engine in more often, they couldn’t take the heat. Mazda in 1974 put a 3 year 50K warranty on them to keep them selling and owners happy. What did the rotary cars in at the end was rising fuel prices, plus when they were out of warranty many people just junked the cars instead of putting a new engine in them, rust was also a issue.

    Like 1
  20. Martin Horrocks

    The RX-3 was very competitively raced in UK Gp1 (showroom stock series, ultra popular in early 70s).

    No surprise to me to see such an unusual car in such good condition bring over $20K. It´s not for me, but as a museum piece or for Mazda themselves to put in their heritage fleet, the value seems to be there.

  21. steve sammut Member

    I remember when these first came out. They ran like the wind, but as mentioned previously, they suffered from bad seals. The one concern about this car would be who can service it? I’m sure there are shops around the country, but who knows where the closest one is? Still…liked the looks then; still do now. Hope it gets driven and enjoyed!

    • Joe

      Mazda dealers that have RX-8 mechanics can handle repairing a RX-3. They are so much simpler than the Renesis Rotary which you really can’t see much of, where everything in the RX-3 can reached and with plenty of room for tools to get in. You would just have to locate your parts first, which there are plenty of rotary shops to help out.

      Like 1
      • Dutch 1960

        Keep in mind that while ’74 and later rotaries share a lot of common parts, the earlier engines, the twin-distributor ones like this one, have mostly completely different parts, of which almost none of the basic engine parts are interchangeable with the later ones. That’s why you see so many of these early cars retrofitted with later (one distributor) engines. The externals and the mounting points are identical, but the innards are all different.

        If this was being used for anything but weekend drives, shows, or a museum (and I can’t imagine using this one for anything else), setting aside and pickling this rare engine in favor of a later one would be the smart way to go. Originality is starting to really matter on cars like this one, and the engines do use up and wear out quickly.

        Like 3
  22. Steven Dunn

    I had a 73 RX-3 wagon in the same. color. I used it as my work car (construction) as I had to carry some things between jobs. I was a superintendent and had to get to all the jobs every day (no cell phones) while traversing the freeway systems of 4 counties in Southern California. It was a very dependable, fast and nimble car. Mileage was terrible but I sort of expected that considering how I drove it. Boss paid for the gas so all was good! The wagon goes into my Favorites List when daydreaming.

    Like 1
  23. Terry Bowman

    I’m replying to Dutch 1960… I had both a RX-2 and a RX-3. The RX-2 had the single Distributors and the RX-3 had the duel ones. If I recall correctly the RX-2 had a decal at the lower body of a rotary photo on it. It was also the fastest of the two. Yes, they did not last long and heat would do them in. I still have the SK 600lb torque wrench that I used to torque down the 300 lb flywheel (single) bolt or nut(I forget which). They were fast from a roll, but a little dogging from a standstill start.

    • Joe

      The Rx-2 had twin distributors till the 1974 Model, same as with the RX-3.

    • Dutch 1960

      The ’74 and ’75 single distributor engines had bigger intake ports than all the others, designed for power. ’76 and later had smaller ports for gas mileage. Early single distributor cars were the fastest.

      Get around the dogging standstill start by running it to redline and sliding your left foot off the left side of the depressed clutch pedal. Hang on! (The stuff we did as kids…)

  24. grant

    Wow! This thing is up to 35k with 6 days left!

  25. v

    i had a 73 rx3 wagon automatic with dual distributors . what a great car . when the light turned green this thing would really take off. i drove it from florida to pa. during a hot summer. this engine really liked the heat. i was enjoying a night cruise in shalimar florida and had a guy stop me and ask me if i really liked those rx3’s and i said heck yes. well it turned out the guy (a perfect stranger) said he had a 74 rx3 and if i wanted it i could have it. for nothing , he said just get it out the yard. well theres was nothing better than having 2 rx3 wagons. you may have even seen it cruising around it was painted white side windows and all . on the side windows it said MAGICAL MYSTERY MACHINE . the kids loved it. i wish i had the car . it was a great conversation piece. to bad this ones not a wagon. it would make a great hippie van…

  26. Dana Davis

    Yeah, way late to this. Nostalgia demands that I comment. I had a ’73 RX3. It was a silver 2 door with black interior. I ordered it from the brand new Mazda dealer in my hometown. It had an AM radio. The only FM station around was run by students at the local college and hadn’t gotten good yet. I ordered it with an automatic transmission. I can’t remember or imagine why I did that. It was as dependable as gravity. It was surprisingly fast and nimble. The only difficulty I had with it was getting out of it at 6:00 AM when it was upside down, against a tree. The dash clock stopped at 2:30. It had dug 13 divots out of the ground between where it left Highway 41 and where it tumbled to a stop at that tree. A State Trooper said I had fallen asleep, depressed the accelerator and reached over 120 MPH. He estimated the speed based on the distance the car had tumbled. The first divot in the rain-softened ground was nearly a foot deep and several feet long. The RX3 looked like it had been wadded up in a huge hand. I still have fond memories of that car.

    • Joe

      The car did not have a top speed of 120 MPH, I had 2 of them and they would top out at 110 MPH and it took a long time to get there.

      • Dana

        I believe 110 was observed. I know 125 MPH was observed in my car on more than one occasion. All of them may have topped out at an actual 108.5. My speedometer was never checked against radar or clocks. GPS wasn’t available.

        Like 1

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