Rare Rotary Project: 1972 Mazda RX-2

A major project car, one that isn’t running, and one that has four doors? One that even has a $6,000 starting bid?! A 1972 Mazda RX-2?! Yes, even with those seemingly ill-suited traits, this is one highly-desirable car to fans of early rotary Mazdas. This one is listed on eBay in Rahway, New Jersey.

The Mazda RX-2, or Capella in Japan, hit the market in 1970 which still, 48 years later, blows my mind. My dad had a 1970 Olds 98 and it was a 365 hp, smooth-riding, gas-sucking monster. Compared to that behemoth this RX-2 would have been quite a step down. Or, maybe it would have been a step up, depending on which cars a person wants in their collection. I would love to have a nice 1970 Olds 98, but I would love to have a nice RX-2 just as much. You can see that there’s more than a fair amount of bodywork to do on this RX-2, but it has been spared a lot of rust being a Texas car originally.

Yeah, but a four-door RX-2? Heck, I’d take a six-door if they made one, beggars can’t be choosers. Of course, as is usually the case, a two-door would be more popular and more valuable. Everyone’s favorite (cough) NADA lists the high retail value of a 1972 Mazda RX-2 as being $1,900 and most of us, even those who don’t care for Japanese cars, know that’s way off. A $6,000 opening bid price on this one is probably just as far off from reality, but $1,900 for a nice example? Maybe in 1980, not 2018.

This is a full-on restoration project, as you can see. Literally every square inch will have to be touched and restored which will never make financial sense in the least. It will be someone who grew up with an RX-2 or has wanted one for years and has saved up $20,000 that will end up with this car. The back seat looks pretty decent but, other than that, this interior has been ravaged by both heat and time. The underside looks pretty solid, though, which is always a good sign.

Here’s where the Xing.. or zing (or is that zoom-zoom?) comes from in this RX-2, Mazda’s 12A 1.2L two-rotary Wankel engine. This one has factory AC, too, a pretty rare thing to see on these old rotary Mazdas. Whether it’s a factory or dealer-installed system is up for debate, and we all know that it isn’t working at the moment. That is also the case with the engine, as it isn’t currently even turning, at all. That’s not a good sign. So, as desirable as these old RX cars are for those of us who love vintage Japanese iron, this one, especially at the starting bid price, may end up being more of a project than it’s worth. Thoughts? Is this one worth saving?


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  1. Doyler

    Not at that price.

    I am beginning to develop a fondness for 70s Japanese tin though.

  2. Rube Goldberg Member

    We, in the Midwest, saw very few RX-3’s, and even less RX-2’s. Maybe a handful of RX-4’s. The RX-2 made the most sense. The RX-4’s got terrible gas mileage, and the smaller rotaries had plenty of power and got better mileage. If American Pickers has taught me anything, I’m sure there’s SOMEONE in the country that has a barn full of these parts. The failure, I think, people just weren’t familiar enough with the rotary, and Mazda didn’t take off until the piston engine 626(?) and the GLC. Great find, be a shame to scrap it, very rare. I bet there’s a motor for it,,, somewhere.

  3. yes300ed

    Both the RX-3 and RX-4 had leaf spring rear suspensions. The RX-2 had coils.

  4. Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

    The moment the motor turns the rotor tips will break off so no compression. I had a friend, Basil, who owned both an RX 2 and a Luce in South Africa, who spent 6 months of every year in Oklahoma, and upon his return every time he had to replace the rotor tips. If he is still alive then I guarantee that he still has them.

    • xrotaryguy

      Good grief that is some terrible luck! I’ve many rotaries after they sat for years, never with any trouble. Of course, I always poured a little ATF into the plug holes first, a good precaution with rotaries and piston engines alike.

  5. Miguel

    Where would that starting number come from for a rusted, trashed, non-running four door.

    I wonder how much he thinks it is worth all done and ready to go.

  6. Bob C.

    Guess those rotary engines didn’t get the best gas mileage, but they also used oil as well (normally ). I worked at a gas station years ago and a guy came in every week with his RX7 to get his tank filled and a quart of oil without fail.

  7. David Miraglia

    1,000 no higher

  8. geomechs geomechs Member

    This one replaced the R-100, as far as I know. I’m sure it was the new and improved variety. Like Rube says, the RX-4 was a gas guzzler. I know of more than one case where a guy bought an RX-4 to use as a super economical runabout but found out that it got far worse mileage than the family Buick LaSabre with 455. My former brother-in-law had an RX-7 that went like a striped-assed aped but couldn’t pass a gas station.

    For this car you’re going to have a challenge with that engine. I’d probably try to source out a replacement motor and go from there. I don’t imagine it would be a lot different from an R-100, except a little bigger and more powerful. My friend had an R-100 and the motor lasted just over 50K miles. He started it up and drove it about six blocks. It backfired real loud but kept running. But when he coasted up to a traffic signal the motor was dead, and it spun over as if there were no plugs in it. He scrapped it because, coming from the midwest, it was rusted out to the point where no one rolled a window down to toss out a cigarette butt; you just dropped it through the hole in the floor….

  9. Royal Ricci

    A blast from the past as I grew up from the age of 5 until the age of 15 in the back seats of one of these only it was a 73 (white like this) but with a black interior My Dad bought this with an Automatic down (and no A/C) on Staten Island in 73 for my Mom in hopes she would actually use it to drive around, but she let it sit in our moist garage where it began to rust so he ended up using it for IBM when the 67 Saab 96 V4 he had needed more work and was worn out. He loved this so much that a year later, he would end up buying the newly offered Rotary Pickup complete with a Four Speed Manual that would leave rubber all day long if you wanted.

    The motor in the sedan had an issue with one rotor not coming to life until you drove it a half mile to a mile when it would kick in Had lots of pep and get up and go even with the automatic We used to take it on family vacations to places like Oshkosh Wisconsin to the 1973 EAA convention, Dallas Texas and across the Gulf states to Florida to Disney World before heading back up to NYS in 1976. We made regular trips through northern NJ to see our relatives on Staten Island and also over to Valley Stream Long Island.

    In the fall of 79 when my Dad was faced taking it up to Toronto for an IBM school which he also brought me and my mom along, he opted to replace the motor at the new dealer that opened up here in Poughkeepsie. I think it was done at a reduced cost due to the known defect with the motor and a recall being in place While doing this he had the opportunity to put the motor that was intended for this into a two year newer rotary wagon that they were willing to sell for a song, but my Mom seemed that this was too impulsive so we would wind up with the RX2 until retiring it in 83 to our backyard where it now sits rotting into the ground since there was excessive frame rot that was making it pass inspection an issue not to mention it would become flooded with water on the floor when driving in heavy rains which is what happened when driving it home from Brunswick NJ from a Thanksgiving Day gathering with family. The next day, the local garage with the one year old 1982 Corolla Wagon with 7,200 miles called us to let us know the deal on it fell through and it was ours if we wanted it Yet it was a strong runner until the end. I am sorry I never had the opportunity to learn how to drive in this car, which is also why my Dad probably opted to lay it up. Tried to get it running in 85 when I got my license but the one thing I learned is you can’t let a rotary sit otherwise it runs like crap once you can get it to run.

    The one aquilles heel however, was that it had an electric fuel pump down near the outside of the tank that lasted around 60K before it would crap out, which would leave you hung up on the side of the road requiring a tow, This happened to my Dad twice over the course of the 123 to 130K we put on it, the first time including me and my mom being stranded with him about 14 miles from home. I will never forget that night too. One minute we are fine, then the next we are sitting there on the side of the road. My advice to anyone with one of these early Mazdas it to have an extra fuel pump on hand in the trunk with a set of tools to replace it or if you are innovative, you could plumb up a second one with a switch to swap from one to the other, sort of a redundant backup if you will.

    Parts and examples of this car are hard to come by as many rotted away except for warm weather climates like out West or down south like where this one came from. Not worth 6K but more like 2 to 3 in my opinion. You can swap in a newer Rotary from an early 1st gen RX7. I see a lot of these on YouTube with RHD having been imported from Japan where there are more plentiful examples as they are highly coveted classics. I have seen these sell online though for as high as 18K.

    What killed these cars is the EPA ratings which were done unfairly at first, but by the time they were rerated, the damage was done and the rotary was relegated to only be available in the new RX7 which would be sold in limited numbers due to the import restrictions on poorly performing MPG numbers.

    I still have my RX2 which is only good for parts at this point and I bet that if I wanted to take on a project, I could get this and use my other one to get this one running and driving. However this would be very expensive and I have neither the time or money right now as I am trying to keep my house out of foreclosure.

    Hopefully, someone will give this a great home.

  10. Miguel

    The rotary engine only has three moving parts so it is not difficult to rebuild, but the rest of this car is not worth it.

    • Royal

      I disagree. They were aweome cars in their day and are worthy of restoration with some modern modifications.

      I have seen Henry J’s with rotary engine swaps.

      • Miguel

        The rest of the car has a trashed interior, rust on the body and is a four door.

        There are better examples out there for a lot less money.

    • xrotaryguy

      Ha! These cars are extremely reliable, handle awesome, and have very good acceleration for the time. They’re really great cars all the way around.

  11. Royal Ricci


    Show me right now online where I can get one of these especially the four door which I think is cool as the body differs from the coupe in better shape for less money? All the ones I see are more expensive with the one that was closest to this was going for over 8K. I say 6K is high, but I would have to look at this to see how messed up it is to determine a decent price. I am thinking about 2 to 3K depending on the extent of the rust.

    • Miguel

      Are you saying it could not be found?

      Why start with a trashed car for 6K?

  12. Muz

    For 3,000 perhaps. An RX2 4 door is probably one of the less collectable Rx mazdas. At the other end of the spectrum is an Rx3 coupe…..highly desirable and damn near impossible to find…then I would gladly pay 12,000 or even more for a relatively rust free and complete restoration project. Such is life.

  13. xrotaryguy

    Is the 3 more desirable than the 2? The 2 arguably has better suspension.

    • Muz73

      Even though the 2 has a much better suspension setup the 3 has somehow become the darling of many Mazda rotary enthusiasts. The 3 in coupe form does have lovely styling compared to almost any compact coupe from this era. The pricing of the 2 and 3 in markets with cult following seems to confirm my theory here. In short, styling seems more important as engineering to most enthusiasts, with perhaps the exception of the niche market for historic race cars. A 2 would definitely be the better choice for historic racing. I am biased, though. I own a 71 RX3 coupe ;-) the very first rest of world spec from the production line.

      • xrotaryguy

        Truth be told, I was looking for an Rx3 when I bought my 74 Rx2. Yep, ugly bumpers and all. It was a retired road race car though and the price was practically zilch. Couldn’t pass it up! The price I paid also does nothing to dispute your claim that Rx3s are worth more haha.

  14. Navi318

    I would love to have an Rx 2 or Rx 3… I’d love even more to have a R100 above all. This 4dr believe it or not isn’t in that bad of shape. We all know interiors are nothing to redo, body work doesn’t seem to be that bad since all the hard to find parts are there like the bumpers, trim, etc (as long as there’s no rot). Being a 4dr however, I’d opt for a 3 rotor to make up for the extra weight.

  15. Adam Hardman

    Xrotaryguy, or anyone actually…i have some questions about the 73 rx2. I am actually picking a 4 door one up tomorrow that has been sitting in a garage since 76 (thats the last year it was inspected so not real sure). I am new to this kind of motor and would like some input as to what not to do and what to do when i try to get it started. Please email me at hardman_adam@yahoo.com

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