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Project Cosmo Rotary: 1976 Mazda RX-5

Most of us know Mazda as a maker of fun-to-drive cars, the zoom-zoom campaign wasn’t just advertising hype. Even their SUVs are tighter and more sporty than most non-premium (i.e., uber-expensive) brands. This 1976 Mazda RX-5 “Cosmo” is posted here on craigslist in a city so gorgeous that you have no excuse not to see it: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and they’re asking $7,000. Here is the original listing, and thanks to Kyle K. for sending in this tip!

We also know Mazda as the company that brought the rotary engine to the mainstream, but that doesn’t mean that they were the first. The second-generation cars were made from 1976 to 1981 but we got them from 1976 to 1978 as the RX-5, at which point the RX-7 replaced them in our market.

As if the precursor to all of the razor-faced (grille’d) vehicles of today isn’t unique enough, the rear-3/4 angle is my favorite. The friendly tail lights and the unique rear side windows are just plain cool. You can see a few dings and dents but I don’t see any rust issues and the seller doesn’t mention rust at all. They have two Cosmos and one has to go, so you know it isn’t the nicer one of the two. Still, this looks like a solid example.

The interior is the rough spot for this car, and I don’t mean the Jatco L3N three-speed automatic transmission. A manual would have been ideal, maybe their other Cosmo has a manual, the one that they’re keeping. The seats are pretty much gone, as are the door panels and dash, so this will be a big and expensive project, despite what the exterior looks like. The back seat looks good until you get to the top, but that fabric is almost as thin as I am. The trunk looks good, though. I wish we had underside photos.

The seller has done a great job of showing the car from all angles inside and out otherwise, and they have even included an engine photo, a rare thing for a craigslist ad. This one looks pretty clean and is a strong runner and smooth shifter, but they say that it hasn’t been a daily driver for quite a while. This is a 1.3-liter Mazda 13b rotary, which would have had 110 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque when new. The seller says that this car is back on the market after “technical difficulties”, which could mean anything from having to get a new laptop in order to post this ad, or its recent new fuel pump and filter, carb rebuild, and starter. This car is neither fast nor fuel-efficient by today’s standards, or even by mid-1970s standards, but that wasn’t the point. I love that Mazda went all-out on rotary engines, just to try something different. Have any of you owned a Mazda Cosmo?


  1. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    “ Have any of you owned a Mazda Cosmo?” Funny you should ask….
    Having had a stoned Wagoneer teenage driver total my RX2, a week later a nice grey Cosmo(also red interior) turned up at the local Toyota lot where we did pinstriping & door moldings on our off time. They REALLY didn’t want it, hence a trade of some work for the car! Drove it to work for many years. Nicely appointed interior and that 13B motor scooted along just fine.
    One night I was doing a “ride along” one evening with a local deputy who wanted to show me his new radar unit. Sitting alongside a known residential speed complaint roadway he saw a car coming onwards us that he visually estimated at 47mph then switched on the unit. It read 48mph (25mph zone) so the deputy turned on the overhead reds. The guy sped by and the chase was on-8 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time ordinarily but it felt like 8 hours! The car ducked into a dead end street with the driver thinking he’d lost us. My friend spotted it parked blacked out stopped behind it, walked up to the car, had the driver step out and arrested him; the driver said “what’d I do?” “Fail to yield to a police car!” “You think it was ME?””Yeah-a Mazda Cosmo has very distinct taillights!” “Yeah? Well there’s TWO of these in town!!” Yeah, and the guy that owns the OTHER one was sitting next to me as we chased YOU!!”
    The guy had nothing to say after that….

    Like 25
  2. Maggy

    Rotarys Mazda’s rev like 2 stroke motorcycles.One of our customers at our repair shop about 35 years ago bought one that was FI for his wife I think correct me if I’m wrong it was an 85 GSLS and he would say those 4 letters cost me 5k extra. Car screamed like a banshee. Spark plugs were all on the side of the block .Cool cars..

    Like 2
    • Mustang Sally

      I have owned EVERY rotary Mazda produced except for the RX8. Loved them all…..lots of stockers and lots of modified and turbocharged cars. They are unique, fast and turbine smooth and you can beat the crap out of the engine and it would always come back for more. You just had to warm them up before driving to make the engines last. Cast iron and aluminum housings would warp otherwise. Then like a blown head gasket on a piston engine the rotary would suck water into the aluminum rotor housings and overheat. Time to rebuild. I remember Mazda giving away free engines both parts and labor to early cars in the 70’s to any owner. You could get a rebuilt MTC exchange long block for $995 from the dealer back in the day.

      Like 5
      • Joe

        You owned a first generation Cosmo from the 60s and a R100?

        Like 1
      • Araknid78

        I was the recipient of the free offer from Mazda on my 1973 RX-3. The engine was free, but I still had to pay for the installation. Seems like it was just a couple hundred dollars. But, still kind of a tough spend for a college student. The nearest dealer was in another town about 35 miles away. There were two ways to get there, a freeway or a road that followed the river. I took the river road and ran the thing with the rev limit buzzer going off almost all the way. Fun times.

        Like 1
    • maggy

      to add to my comment It was a rx7.I think it was the first year for FI. Another customer had one that was carbureted. It was blue and was a 81 82 if I remember correctly. The FI one was soooo much better. Those rotary engines scream, I loved test driving it.

      Like 4
      • Joe

        1984 for the first year for fuel injection with the 13B.

        Like 1
      • MitchRoss Member

        GSLSE. I had a 1985. Fun car

        Like 1
  3. DRV

    I drove a friend’s in the day and have wanted one since. This may be the one of three or four I’ve ever seen since introduced.
    I’d be all over it if it had a good interior!

    Like 1
  4. CCFisher

    An interesting detail on these – the center side windows retracted.

    Like 2
  5. Howard A Member

    To indicate what little interest there was with these, I never knew they made an RX5, or “Cosmo”,, ( I thought that was a sports car from Mazda)as the last rendition, the RX4, left such a bitter taste in most peoples minds, although, I do recall those tail lights, so someone must have bought one. The rotary is a fantastic machine, but the answer to the question nobody asked. It was still a gas burning engine, and a thirsty one at that, not the technological marvel it was made out to be, and we all figured, the RX4 was a sales disaster, why would they make any more? The RX7 rotary appealed to a different class, and for Americans, the rotarys days as a family car , were over. I thought the Mazda styling was the best of all the Asian cars, but the rotary killed it for them for years. One of the few times I’ll say, drop a LS in it,,

    Like 0
  6. mike

    is that a Lancia in the carport?

    Like 3
    • jwaltb

      It’s a Scorpion. It has the Lancia name but not the history.

      Like 0
    • Gerry Landry

      I traded my 4×4 1966 IH Scout for one back in the day but was older but he had put a 1979 RX7 rotary in it. A beaut, silver with the red velour interior, wood grain on the dash and the Clarion radio and air conditioning. It handled well, heavy for a small car but it went everywhere as fast as I wanted to go, and smooth running and riding. I really enjoyed that car!

      Like 0
  7. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    It’s great to see that we have some Mazda rotary owners and experts here, that’s excellent!

    I forgot to mention that, CCFisher, thanks, and I think you’re right, mike! This seller has some interesting vehicles lying around for sure. I can’t place the year of that Lancia, is that a ’76 Scorpion? It seems as if there should be a little grille insert there with those single headlights, but maybe I’m way off on the year and/or model.

    Like 1
  8. Gary Haas

    I owned a 79 Cosmo LTD while stationed at Yokota AB, Japan. Was a fun mix of luxury and sportiness. Typical rotary, slow off the line but wind it out and you’d be surprised. The only car I ever owned that had power front windows and crank back windows.
    Wish I could’ve brought it back to the states with me. These are RARE!

    Like 4
  9. Araknid78

    Interesting cars in the background. I see a Lancia Scorpion and an RX-3 wagon.

    Like 1
  10. Lathebiosas

    If this were a manual trans it’d be gone…..

    Like 0
  11. Alan L Johnson

    I worked on these when they were brand new! To bad it’s an auto trans, the 5speed version was a blast to drive.

    Like 1
  12. scottymac

    Second your sentiment on C d’ A, got to their downtown/resort car show a couple times in the Nineties. Had to laugh when you guys neglected to call out the ultimate collector car, the AMC Pacer. Since this guy has experience with rotaries, maybe he decided to build what AMC neglected to produce, the rotary Pacer. I think the Lancia is a Beta coupe, missing the inboard low beams.

    Like 0
  13. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    My Dad had a ’74 RX4 “Rotary Wagon” with automatic transmission. That tranny took some fun out of the equation, but it didn’t stop ,me from revving the crap out of it during joyrides.

    I thought it was a handsome little wagon.

    Like 0
  14. Steve

    I had a RX-3 manual and swapped in a 13B out of an RX-4. The lighter RX-3 body made a fun little street drag car that surprised a lot of muscle cars. I had a 2 1/2” exhaust with turbo muffler, and leaner jets in the 4 barrel carb (Racing Beat goodies). Was fun sitting at a red light and just slowly raising the rpm to 7 grand. Got quite the looks.
    Later bought a RX-4, little nicer and more plush than the RX-3.

    Like 0

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