One Owner Barn Find: 1972 Mazda RX-2

Motor Trend tested a sedan version of this 1972 Mazda RX-2 when they came to the U.S. and to say that they were smitten and very impressed is an understatement. This rare car can be found here on Craigslist in Petaluma, California. The seller is asking $20,000 for this rotary project. Thanks to Roger for submitting this tip!

What a good looking car, at least condition-wise. Some of you aren’t fans of imports and that’s ok, there’re enough vehicles being shown here to go around. This was known as a Mazda Capella and although this example looks like a jewel box as far as rust and other body ailments go, it isn’t quite as solid as it appears. There are rust holes around the windshield which will require taking the windshield out to do a proper repair and not a flipper repair. We’ve all been there, me included, as far as flipper repairs go. They look good online but then they show up on a trailer and you can see the quick work that someone did to doll them up for the photos.

And, as long as you have the windshield out, you may as well take what’s left of the rear window out to get ready for restoring the whole body on this RX-2. By 1972, they all had four headlights to match the taillights.

The interior looks like it’ll need a bit of work, but the first task when selling any car for $20,000 or $200 is to clean it out! Maybe I’m just a dreamer. I’m not sure what happened with the back window but it’s super unfortunate. That’ll take some extra work if the next owner is shipping this car. All of the RX-2 coupes came with a manual transmission but an automatic was available in the four-door sedan.

Here’s what the whole thing is about with these cars. Or, actually, not the whole thing because they were well-designed cars no matter what engine was under the hood. But, like there is no such thing as being too rich or too thin, everyone wants a rotary-powered RX-2. This is Mazda’s 12A, an 1,146 cc or 1.2L rotary that put out an incredible 130 hp! That doesn’t seem like a lot to you Mustang/Camaro folks, but for this car, it was enough to make it one of the most fun times that could be had behind a steering wheel, for sure in a car this small anyway. The seller isn’t giving us any info really at all about this car other than: “All original with only to factory upgrades of nerf bars and aftermarket wheels offered by dealer.” Have any of you owned an RX-2?

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Comments

  1. DayDreamBeliever Member

    I don’t know what the market looks like for these, so I have no real basis for comparison. But the seller who is “testing the waters” (DANG I HATE THOSE GUYS) is in the wrong lake with this fish, IMO.

    Love the concept, and years ago two friends had RX3’s one of which was the SP version. But this car, and all it needs, for $20K? Eh, no, I don’t think so. I’m betting he is trying to make 10X what he paid for the find.

    Like 17
    • Nycol

      I Had a Mazda RX-2 as my first car. Loved it had the money I would get it or another RX-2 anywhere in the world. I am from Canada, province of Québec. I will never forget this car.

  2. Howard A Member

    Gonna say, the only place you’d find this is in California. They were a tough sell in the midwest, and the ones you saw( the RX2 was the most popular) rusted faster than a battleship. I think the RX2 was the best of the rotary sedans offered. It had plenty of power, and still delivered fair fuel mileage, one of the downsides of rotary’s. I liked the styling, kind of a swoopy Opel, but I wouldn’t get near that motor. Just too unconventional, put a piston engine in here, you’d have a nice car. Too bad they want $19,000 more than I’d be willing to pay. $20g’s,,,where do they come up with those numbers?

    Like 9
  3. Bradshaw from Primer

    i bought a rx-2 new in oct 1972….there were 5 dealers in Dallas….little places…the car was as fast as R&T and everyone said. Mpg was 17…ok …spinning up to 6500…could go higher but at the drags was slower shifting at 7000 vs 6500…cute little hitachi 4 bbl. top speed was 120….very few cars in 1972 could pass it. that Cadillac on the Dallas to Fort Worth turnpike tried for 12 miles!!!…i stayed just ahead of him….handled ok…drove Dallas to Atlanta in 9 hours one day……THEN..about two years old…the equivalent of the head gasket blew. A big o-ring around the entire engine module failed at the exhaust port and allowed water into the compression area. Big white smoke and water pouring out of the spark plug holes. Required replacing the aluminum outer part of the engine….the new seals were teflon metal….never heard of a rotor seal failing and motor trend had their r-100 seals inspected and would go to 100k nicely. BUT by 1975 4 of the mazda dealers in dallas had gone out of business.. I went to one who had 30 cars sitting in the service lane waiting to get the engines rebuilt…..something that ran $1400 on a $3200 two year old car and was NOT a warranty repair. We all abused the engine!!! There was a class action suit which bought the lawyer his own jet and gave each of us $300 back on the massive engine repair we had done. I took the engine apart and then in disgust scrapped all. Bought a very good 66 GTO for $375….drove it till t-boned on NW Hwy. Then a Lotus Elan for $750…Dallas was a Great place for used hot cars in 75-85… Did not buy the Doran XK-SS for $3k from Joe Starkey’s Gasoline Alley, or the $3,000 61 250 GT Cabriolet from the little garage on the levee. sigh…..but i did enjoy the RX-2 …when that engine revved past 4k, it was smooth and fast….fun car.

    Like 12
    • RayT Member

      I had a ’73 RX-3 (bought new) that turned its engine into a water pump after 18 months. Had the same experience with the dealer, and wound up with a rebuild costing more than I got in trade for the car two years later.

      But yes, it was major-league fast and I really enjoyed it except for the failed rotor seals. The fuel mileage wasn’t an issue for me (even in the ’73 fuel crisis), since gas was relatively cheap and I had a good job. The car itself wasn’t inexpensive, but was a quality piece, and far better than my mother’s Maverick!

      Like 4
  4. Superdessucke

    You want $20,000 and you can’t even fix the back window? Take the thing to Safelite first, sheesh!

    Like 13
    • BOP_GUY Member

      Probably can’t find a replacement window anywhere! I have a 70 Ford Galaxie XL convertible that the drivers door window shattered on transport. Took me a couple months to find a decent used replacement, because no one makes them anymore. My first thought was Safelite, but they practically laughed at me for asking them to replace it. It was either get one custom made, or find a good used one. It was a one year only design, so the used ones sell fast and for big money. I would be willing to bet that replacing the rear window on this cute little classic import is going to be an adventure in itself. I can’t believe the asking price either! And I hope they’re parking it out of the rain.

      Like 5
    • BOP_GUY Member

      That’s hilarious 😂 and almost fits that hole perfectly!

      Like 1
  5. Dutch 1960

    He’ll get his $20k, that’s about right. There are so few of these in any reasonable condition, and a small but passionate following. This one is the coupe and has most of the trim and interior bits in good condition, and is so much better than trying to resurrect a rusty and incomplete car. The rust around the front and back windows would show up after a few months from new, so not a deal-breaker. The rear window is a problem, it’s not quite flat and no one has one in stock or in the warehouse any more.

    These cars were 100 hp, not 130, but in a very light car, and the 10 second 0-60 put it in Capri V6 and Detroit V8 territory, well ahead of the Pinto/Vega and most of the other Japanese small cars.

    These did not handle particularly well at the limit, and the brakes were too small for hard use, but for ordinary street driving, they were brilliant cars. The sheet metal was very thin and rusted out easily. But the interior room (tons of head room and rear seat room), comfortable adjustable seats, and smooth driving at speed meant you could drive it for hours and hours at a time (which I did in one of these, back in the day). The car was ridiculously comfortable for a cheapo MacPerson strut front end and solid rear axle layout.

    The early engine was a problem, but the basic engine block stayed the same through the 1985 RX7, so a retrofit of the much more reliable later version basically solves the problem. The problem in trying to DD this one is that the thin metal makes it really fragile in today’s parking lots, and the extremely high value of easily removable small bits like emblems and trim means that your car will end up on E-bay, piece by little piece.

    Like 2
    • Kurt

      So one could transplant an RX7 engine into a sedan?

      • Derek

        Yes. The 12A was – I think – used in both the original and facelifted RX-7s, then the 13B in the 80s new shape, so there should be plenty of them around.

        Like 1
      • Dutch 1960

        The 12A RX7 engine mates to the stock RX2 transmission and the front RX2 engine mount bracket. Same external dimensions. It even has the cast-in and threaded mounting for the top mounted starter that comes on this car, though the RX7 starter mounts down low. If you are willing to beat on the car’s transmission tunnel a bit for clearance, you can use the RX7 5 speed transmission as well. The RX7 single distributor (versus 2 on this one) can adapt and you can use the really good RX7 electronic distributor.

        Keep all the old parts you take out. Having them with the car may up the value of the car quite a bit later on, or the parts could be sold separately for some coin as well.

        Like 2
    • Dickie F

      My high school friend had a new RX2 and I had a Fiat 125 Special (twin cam 1600).
      We had tested these cars to the teenager limit over many weekends and both were equally very fast.
      The Fiat handled better. The Mazda revved higher, but had less torque.
      If I had a choice today, I would still prefer the Fiat, but with a $5000 limit on either.

      Like 3
  6. Hotroddaddy

    $20,000 for that? Wankel’s are interesting, but not that interesting!

    Like 4
    • Dutch 1960

      No, it makes no sense whatsoever to most people. But for a few rotorheads, these are definitely $20k interesting. Those people are a different breed, but they are out there.

      The hard part, for those of us with long experience, is that we used to pick these up all day for $25 or $50 apiece, and sometimes for free if the guy wanted it gone from his side yard or driveway. Lots of times some electrical work, a new set of points and plugs, or a quick engine swap from a junkyard fender bender victim gave you a perfectly good car.

      Like 2
      • BOP_GUY Member

        I’ve learned a lot about the American classic cars of the 60’s and early 70’s over the years, and got my license in the early 80’s and read every new car magazine I could get my hands on back then (still do). So I love learning new stuff, and never knew Mazda had a rotary engine before the RX7! Been reading up online, and found a solid following for all things rotary-driven from Mazda. Didn’t know that existed either. So I originally thought the 20 grand ask was absolutely crazy, but now I get it!

  7. Steve Freeman

    I bought one of the first ones off the boat in July of 1971. I’d planned to get a 240Z but the waiting list was about 12 weeks out and I didn’t want to wait. I had some fun runs against Z’s and Fiat 124’s as well as many others who had no idea what that little orange car was. Loved the car until it had about 40K miles on it and the engine became a steamer. Mazda replaced it that time. At 80K it did it again and I got rid of it soon after that rebuild.

    Wish I had both of these old cars but…got married that year. The Corvette belonged to a buddy who asked me to try to sell it for him. He offered it to me for $1600 but didn’t make sense to “us”.

    Like 4
  8. Steve Bush Member

    My friend Dave owned one. In the summer of 1977 ; four of us 18-19 year old guys drove to Toronto from Cleveland for a few days. I don’t remember a lot about the trip but do remember that the little RX2 had no trouble keeping up with 80 plus MPH traffic even topping out at 100 plus. On a curve at 93 MPH the rear jumped sideways but fortunately Dave was able to save it. The starter broke but cost only $18 to replace after being towed to a small independent garage. By the way, 20K is crazy money for it.

    Like 1
  9. John C.

    A Spanish person with a lot of extra doe will probably buy this. I have seen these cars go for crazy prices before. They do have a following.

  10. PDXBryan

    Although I’ve been a die hard Datsun 510 fan since day 1, I think the RX-2 was the best looking Japanese Coupe of all. Such sweet lines.

    Like 1
  11. Paul

    I had a 1972 RX-3. Got it for my 16th birthday in 1975. The engine blew at 36000 Miles and the dealership had to order a new one from Japan. It took over 4 months to arrive and the dealership tried to charge us for storage.
    Also, in 1978 I bought a1974 RX-4 wagon. I blew that engine at 65000 Miles. But I must say that when they were running I never lost a race in either car. Good times but there’s no way I’d have another roto motor can.

    • Joe

      I had a 1978 RX-4 wagon and that one lasted 44k before a oil seal went.

  12. Greg

    I bought a 71 RX-2 from Sunnyvale Mazda in 1978…it ha 23k miles on it and the dealer had installed a brand new engine. A friend had a BMW 2002 and he was always rather snarky about our Mazda until that fateful day that we met at that stoplight in Fremont…he was silent everymore. We put about 50k on that little jewel (my wife called it ‘Humbug’ and mentioned something about liking the way the shift lever vibrated in second gear)…I made it a habit to change the water pump at 20k miles every time since that was a weak link that often lead to overheating…made a decision to trade it for a 1969 Rambler Ambassador because it was not big enough to tow our new boat.

  13. Kenny

    I have to laugh when I read comments like “I’ll never own another Rotary because mine had problems in the 1970’s”. To me, that’s like saying “I’ll never own a car with a 4 cylinder, because I had a ’72 Vega, and it was terrible!” I’ve worked on Rotaries for 30+ years. The Rx7 engine of the early 80’s is a near bullet-proof engine, silky-smooth, free-revving, and powerful. And stop complaining about the gas mileage! Just because it has 4 spark plugs does not make it a 4 cylinder. It has the power of a small V8, and uses fuel like a small V8.
    Can you swap in an ’80’s 12 A into this car? Yes and no. Same motor mounting, but won’t bolt to the Rx2 Transmission. Must use a ’74 or newer gearbox.
    They are simple and inexpensive to rebuild. Takes me less than an hour to properly assemble a short-block if parts are clean and ready. Try doing that
    with a V8. Rotary detractors are rarely fully educated about these wonderful little engines. BTW Mazda has one coming back next year (2020)

    Like 4
    • John C.

      Not to mention that there are rotary powered cars that hold records on the drag strip, they are just as fast as most V-8’s!

      Like 1
      • Kurt Seidler

        Unfortunately they get the same mpg as a V8.

  14. Sludgehead

    I owned two of these in the late 80’s, both of them 1972 coupes and both were fun cars. One ugly orange, and the other okay yellow. The yellow one had been lowered and had alloy wheels, better tires, beefier struts and sway bars installed. I must have had a heavy foot or they were both in awful condition because I never got anywhere close to 17mpg in either one…. more like 12mpg on a good day. Always wanted the wagon but could never convince the owner of the only one in town that I knew of to sell. Only old rotaries I know of now is a Cosmo and a beat to hell 4 door rx-2 with a Toyota engine in it, which defeats the purpose imo.

    Like 1
  15. Buster

    I had a 72 RX2, it was great, loved driving it all over Florida. It had its little hiccups, antibackfire valve went out regularly, it also ate those double electrode spark plugs too. But it was a great car, had a manually operated four barrel that you engaged at 70 mph, it would take off like a rocket. I surprised alot of cars with big engines in them, they usually picked on the little car, most were set up for the 1/4 mile. They would run away from me at first, but as soon as they had to back off of it, the little dynamo would not only catch them but usually pass them with the 4 barrel fully opened. They just could not believe such a small engine would leave them behind, most were too embarrassed to come find me afterwards. One other thing on the drivers side back window was a sticker stating Import of the Year. Wished I still had it today, would love to take a spin in it.

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