Rotary Engine Survivor: 1974 Mazda RX-3

Like Subaru, Mazda has always been behind Toyota and Nissan in sales in the U.S. But that didn’t mean they didn’t try harder, like developing a rotary engine for use in a wide variety of its automobiles. This 1974 sports coupe edition of the RX-3 has the 12A version of the rotary (aka Wankel) motor and has been in the same family since it was new. We’re told it runs and drives well and the body and paint have held up well. Located in Montgomery, Illinois, this Mazda is available here on craigslist for $27,999. Thanks for the cool tip, Rocco B.!

Mazda took its turn at bringing a Wankel-engine car into production in 1967 with the Cosmo, a limited production touring-style auto. That was followed by the R100 and then the RX-3, also known as the Gran Familia. It was in the same size category as the Toyota Corolla and Mitsubishi Lancer and was available in a variety of body styles, not just sporty ones like the seller’s machine. The cars were restyled in 1972 and gained huge bumpers fore and aft soon after (for U.S. consumption).

These rotary Mazda’s had the “12a” engine which could produce 125 hp. Cars like the one the seller has were reasonably quick, at about 11 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. Of the earlier rotary cars, the RX-3 sold well enough, and the 2-door sport coupe often comprised half of the RX-3 sales. From what we can tell, this ’74 has managed to survive nicely after 48 years (you don’t see many 1970s Mazda’s on the road anymore). The odometer reading is less than 75,000 miles.

The car wears Jewel Green paint which could be original (the seller doesn’t say). Rust doesn’t appear to be a factor as the car was rust-proofed at the dealer before it was delivered in 1974. The black interior is nice and tidy and doesn’t seem to want for anything. This RX-3 has had its engine compression tested and should perform well, and the auto has both new brakes and tires just waiting to add up some miles. As we often see with one-owner vintage cars, documentation was kept. The buyer will get to take home the original title, window sticker, sales contract, and owner’s manual. Have you ever owned one of these rotary-powered cars?

Comments

  1. Euromoto Member

    You missed the RX-2. Came after the R-100. I had two: A 1972 with a vinyl top, followed by a hopped up 1971. There were a lot of Fiat styling queues. Same motor as the Rx-3 but better (in my opinion) body style. This seems pricy, especially with an engine that’s fragile (apex seals) and likely hard to rebuild.

    Like 6
  2. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    I saw a nice Mazda at a show here in Tampa last week. The distributor had 5 leads, as this one appears to have as well. That’s interesting.

    I don’t know anything about rotary engines, but what I don’t know could fill a book.

    Like 4
    • Racer-X

      If you look closely you will see two coils feeding the distributor and four spark plug wires exiting. The coils are stacked under/over. In an RX7 the coils are side by side and easier to see.
      The engine has two rotors, each of which uses two spark plugs firing in rapid sequence per combustion cycle. The first “leading” spark plug initiates combustion and the second “following” spark plug completes combustion.

      In tomorrow’s class we shall discuss Honda’s CVCC ignition system.

      Like 12
      • JMB#7

        Then we can discuss DLDF where you add a third coil and ignitor. Then each leading plug has it’s own coil, and bypasses the distributor. Works great on the 12A.

        Like 1
  3. angliagt angliagt Member

    I had an R100 that I paid something like $150 for.It was in great shape,with a bad engine (10A).I ordered a rebuilt engine from our local
    dealer,along with new emblems,shop& parts manuals,etc.I think I got
    $1500 for it when I sold it.A few years later,someone gave it to me,& I
    gave it away.
    Who knew they’d be worth anything someday?

    Like 4
    • Howard A Member

      They aren’t,,,

      Like 9
      • angliagt angliagt Member

        I disagree – check out the prices they go for now – CRAZY!

        Like 7
      • Howard A Member

        Yeah, AGT, but boxes of saltines are $4/box too. They simply weren’t popular enough to warrant 5 figures, I feel. NOW, if someone was to rest-mod this car, with a PLAUSIBLE swap, plenty of stout piston 4 cylinders, could turn this into a nice car. Like I say, this person is fissin’ for that one person that wants an original car. You may as well not have any bait on that hook.

      • AMCFAN

        The demand and interest in vintage Japanese iron is at an all time high. I attend many import specific shows. Usually 5-6 a year. In fact most of the attendance surpases many of the quote unquote classic American car shows. I am an early bird and want to be the first in line. For many its a one day event and people are in lines at 2:00 in the afternoon trying to get in.

        The majority of those attending are UNDER 30 years old. Something like this Mazda would make quite a stir. At the asking price someone WILL step up.

        Believe that

  4. RayT Member

    Had a small-bumper RX-3 purchased new. I liked it a lot, until the engine suffered a bad case of faulty seals that turned it into a water pump. Hassles about the repair with my dealer — Mazda was apparently ready to cover the rebuild, but the dealer said “Nope!” — meant I lost interest and sold it soon after.

    Felt very quick and was well-built (aside from the rotor seals). I chose it over the RX-2 after my father and I borrowed one of each from a dealer and went off to our favorite mountain road. I liked the -3’s handling a bit better, and was reminded (again) that father was a far quicker driver….

    Like 4
    • JMB#7

      If it “turned into a water pump” then it was not the rotor seals that failed. Some versions of the 12A have coolant passages in the intake manifold. In that case there are O-rings that may have failed, this letting coolant into the intake.

      Like 1
  5. Howard A Member

    Here’s the thing, when an obscure vehicle like this pops up, and we can all agree the rotary Mazdas were obscure, smiles abound, that are quickly squelched when the price is mentioned. $27 gra,,,okay, I simply must get past that, yeah, like quitting smoking, piece of cake ( cough).
    The RX2 and 3s were the ones to have. They were a smaller motor and gave a shred of economy, high teens, maybe. Rotaries generally got poor mileage because they had to be driven hard. Wind ’em out, as it were.. The car itself, I feel, was one of the nicest Asian offerings. I always felt Asian cars fit this certain mold, cheap tin cans where the only attribute was the good mileage, EXCEPT Mazda. Maybe it was Fords influence, but Mazdas were nice cars, the rotary being its biggest deterrent. I think we can ALL agree, this seller is fishing for that one person that they can sucker like they got suckered. I doubt it will happen. And no, new tires won’t help either. Nice try, though.

    Like 4
    • Mark

      Been to a Cars & Coffee or Drift event lately? You’re looking at this Mazda for what it once was whereas the younger set looks at it as a dare to be different model that can be turned into a road hugging screamer. Did any of us think that lowly early 70’s Datsun 510 four doors would eclipse 5 figures?
      This car may not go for the full asking price now but just like many other obscure models they soon will.

      Like 6
    • Mike G.

      And the bloviation goes on…

      Like 1
    • JMB#7

      12A is a side port motor. Low end torque is respectable. They can easily deliver fuel economy in the low 20s even when driving spirited.

      Like 1
      • Joe

        These Rx-3s could not get that mileage. They were 15 to 17 mpg. Maybe if you drove it 55 mph you could get 20. Driven hard, forget it.

      • JMB#7

        First gen RX7 most certainly got fuel economy in the low 20’s on the street with the 12A motor. No question that ports, ignition, etc did evolve over the years of 12A production.

        Like 1
  6. DelBoy

    Friend had one when I visited her back in 1981. It was a nice looking car but was always in the shop for ‘engine work’. I’ve read that the apex seals rarely lasted beyond 60,000 miles so this one is either an outlier or it’s engine’s due to expire in 1, 2, 3………

    Like 1
    • JMB#7

      Apex seals were a problem at on time. But prior to 1980, the problem was corrected. At that point they should have been good for 150k miles.

      Like 1
      • Joe

        Not correct. Many RX-8s when throuigh 2 engines and they won’t make it to 150k without a rebuild.The RX-8 is probably the most parted out vehicle as a percentage of the number made.

  7. Troy

    $28,000 for a $2500 dollar car they can keep it

    Like 4
    • Gary

      It’s like the Supras they are getting 100k for, why?

  8. Greg

    I bought a 1972 RX-2 from a Mazda dealer in 1977…it had 22,000 miles on the clock but was in need of a rebuilt engine. I paid 1500 dollars for it and the dealer installed a new engine with warranty for that. When I went to pick it up, I asked if they had changed the radiator too. They said they had not so I reminded them of the warranty and suggested (demanded actually) they swap in a new radiator. They did and I drove happy for several years with it without issue. Sold the car at 50k trouble free miles to buy a car big enough to tow the boat we had just bought. Still loved the rotary enough to get an RX-7 in the 80’s.

    Like 3
  9. Michael P Member

    I have fond memories of these cars. About 1975 I purchased a ’73 Celica and my buddy Al a ’73 RX-3. That car was a beast. Because it revved so quickly there was a buzzer that would sound at or near the red line. And that’s how Al shifted gears! buzz-shift, buzz-shift, buzz-shift. I was in the car once when we hit a speedometer indicated 126 mph. Much too fast for that chassis, but 19 and stupid. The RX-2 was a better looking car, but more expensive. And in any case the earlier cars didn’t yet have those massive bumpers.

    Like 2
    • Joseph

      A stock RX-3 would not do 126 MPH. They topped out at 110 mph.

  10. Joe

    I owned 2 of these, a 1973 and a 1974. This car made 90 HP and had the improved 12B engine, they still called it the 12A. The newer style went to the single distributor which had 2 points and condensors, instead of the older engine that that 3 sets of points and 2 distributors. Made it much easier to tune up and more reliable. It was smaller than the Rx-2 and didn’t handle as well. Fuel mileage was 15 to 17 mpg, oil use was a quart or so every 1000 to 1500 miles. They were not real fast in today’s world, but they could outrun most 4 cylinders, sixes and heavy V/8 model. Apex seals lasted about 50k before rebuild, they rusted badly on the front fenders, around the front and rear back glass. One of the few cars that could double the 55 mph speed limit back in the 70s. Had a RX-4 also and on my second RX-8. 7000 RPM redine then and 9000 RPM now. Still have the buzzer to let you know when you were 500 RPM till redline and to shift.

  11. Loren R

    I bought a new 1976 Mazda 808 Mizer which I am told was an RX-3 with a piston engine since the rotary wouldn’t sell. It was a 1300cc hemi head with a decent amount of power and all the Mazda quirks including color keyed wheel blocks. I understand that these are now being raced in Australia with rotary engines in them.

  12. Gary J Petruska

    I had a 1972 RX-2, 4-speed and loved it! I traded a Dart Swinger 340 in for it (Young and stupid). Was a beast in the Montana snow with 4-studded snow-tires on it. Never got better than 16 mpg, but it would smoke a lot of 60 and 70’s V-8 boats. I started racing motocross, so traded it in for a 75 Chevy Van, which got similar mileage with a 350 in it. If I had only kept half the cars and motorcycles I bought back, then. Ahh,
    Youth!

    • Joe

      You have it correct. If we had money to keep all the speciality vehicles we owned that would have been great, but we always needed the money from the older vehicle to get the next one.

      Like 1
  13. Mike Hawke

    Hmmmm

  14. Grandpa

    I don’t EVER remember those Mazda RX3s with those huge bumpers.

    • Joe

      New bumper standards that started in 1974 for all vehicles.

  15. Martinsane

    Perfect example of what is ruining the world. Not everything is worth a zillion dolllars. God please save me from this pos world.
    Just stop.

    Like 1
  16. JMB#7

    Rebuilding a 12A is not a big deal. Parts are not as plentiful as for a 13B. But they are available. Seals improved greatly since the 70’s (actually that was solved by 1980). I doubt he will get the asking price, but he may get more than $20k in this original condition.

    Like 2
  17. Brad460 Member

    I like it cause it’s different and not something you will see 3 of at every car show. Like it enough to buy it, no, but still enjoy it for its uniqueness

    Like 1
  18. Bob Member

    Hey haters. This car is worth every penny. Check auction results on BAT. Search all of CL or FB marketplace…..none, or maybe one available. Very rare, and rare adds value (remember the price of TP 2 years ago?) These were great cars for racing back in the day. In Australia and Puerto Rico they are still wildly popular for strip racing. Beautiful classics, statistically. Put this up against a BMW 2002 of the same year…or any other small import, it’ll stand. Tell me a 73 mustang is any better? Yeah, I thought not…..

    Like 4
    • William

      A 1973 Mustang GT with the 351 Cobra Jet, 4 spd would be worth more and faster also.

    • Mitch

      The orange coloured right to it is a Familia ……….? Just
      as beautiful as the RX.

      Like 1
  19. Victor M Rivera

    That car will find its boyfriend that wants it and has the $$$.

    Yes, Mazda’s rotary engines are delicate, but well maintained, are a heck of fun not found in other smaller engines. Easy to increase HP. I enjoy two (RX-2 and RX-7 10AE).

    Like 1
  20. Mitch

    When rotary dreams come true. Rebuild its outside to original
    JDM look and you own a fine car. And it needs a good buffing.
    The later engines had according to wikipedia a liner for the
    runner – the rotating part – instead of running onto cast iron like
    the block, and uprated seals.

    I always liked the RX 3 and -4. Sporty, luxurious and fast! And
    well designed. Running wankels sound like a jet engine. Mazda
    sold plenty of them to america but where are they all gone?

    Like 1
  21. Edward Burke

    Is the gas mileage on these that horrible?

    • Joe

      Yes they are. I had 3 of them that were built in the 1970’s that I owned would top out at 17mpg. My 2010 RX-8 gets 17 to 18 mpg in mixed driving and 21 mpg on the highway if staying are 70 mph.

  22. Greg

    My 72 RX-2 would get 21-22 on the freeway. Around town mileage pretty much depended on how many BMW 2002’s I was beating that day….

    Like 1

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