By on September 18, 2013

06 - 1979 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFirst-gen Mazda RX-7s aren’t difficult to find in self-service wrecking yards (we just saw this ’80 with Flashdance-grade custom paint and this fairly solid ’85), and so most of them don’t make it into this series. During my recent trip to California for the biggest 24 Hours of LeMons race in history, I stopped at one of my favorite East Bay wrecking yards and found this utterly rust-free example of one of the few bright spots of the Malaise Era.
02 - 1979 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomebody has grabbed the complete dash, but the no-doubt-Quaalude-saturated driver’s seat is still present.
09 - 1979 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 12A engine made just 100 horsepower in ’79, but that was pretty serious stuff at the time (keep in mind that the most powerful engine you could get in the ’79 Corvette made just 225 horsepower, and that the RX-7 of this period weighed less than 2,500 pounds). Sure, your grandma’s 11-year-old four-cylinder Camry will beat a ’79 RX-7 in a drag race, but the Malaise Era had different standards for cars.
07 - 1979 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou don’t often see gas struts on junkyard cars that still work— someone will buy these for sure!

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46 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Mazda RX-7...”

  • avatar

    I always feel better when a car you find has some of its useful bits taken away. Junkyards should be a source of parts to keep better cars on the road, not a source of cheap steel for China.

    • 0 avatar

      So many cars are melted for scrap- finding parts for my son’s ’68 Galaxie was a pain, until we found the huge yard in Texas! (he later totalled the Ford, completing the circle of life). I remember, back in the day, when tuners would pull those Mazda rotary motors, and stick them into MG’s and Healey Sprites! THAT made for a VERY quick little car!

  • avatar

    One of my cousins bought a ’79 brand new. In the early 90’s my Hungarian best friend from college bought it from her for $500. It was a rotted out mess by that point, but man-oh-man was that thing fun. It may not have been fast, but it sure felt fast, with your butt 4″ off the ground and that rotary engine spinning up to 7 grand. Great memories. He kept it for our senior year, then traded it to a Korean student for an early laptop computer. The Korean kid was going to drive it to Denver (from Maine) – we always wondered if he made it.

  • avatar

    Right in the feels.

    Sold of my ’85 in the fall of ’12. Had it for 9 years, 4 engines, 2 paint colours, 3 interiors, and 2 kids.

    Between the 3rd kid, and the desire for something actually fast, I felt it was time to let it go.

  • avatar

    First time I went over 100mph was in one of these. Later on (still early 80’s) a friend had a turbo mustang and another a RX-7, they got into a drag race to top end out on a Iowa two lane, the RX-7 topped out at 118mph and we crept by in the Mustang making it to just under 130mph before backing off. If I recall the RX-7’s were governed or RPM limited to 118mph. I had a boss who had one back then with the hop-up kits called, I think, Stinger? They were sold in stage I, stage II set ups with a small Holley 4 barrel and headers, really opened up the engine. He also put the famous Pirelli P7’s on it, Great car.

  • avatar

    I recall these were gas hogs and totally unreliable , there was an Indi RX-7 Shop near me that was busy until the day it closed a couple years ago .


    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Sadly, the rotary engine, in all of its incarnations, is a gas hog. Its one advantage, when introduced by Mazda in 1971 or 72 was a very good power-to-weight ratio compared with its reciprocating competition. With today’s trick valve trains, electronic engine management, direct injection, not to mention forced induction that actually works (unlike previous efforts to use forced induction with a carburetor, which didn’t really work), that advantage has been lost.

      The rotor seals are the weak point; they wear no matter how much you baby them.

      • 0 avatar

        IIRC the poor timing of the development and introduction of the rotary (right as emissions regs were being phased in) nearly put Mazda out of business. They are an interesting footnote. I have a buddy who has two of these first gen cars and they are pretty fun to drive. Unfortunately the engines tend not to last very long between failures, so the one now has an SBC and when the 12A gives up in the other, it’ll be getting an SRT4 2.4L Turbo.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought I read somewhere that babying the motor is one the causes of seal problems.

        • 0 avatar

          It is. Oil has to be injected directly into the combustion chamber for the apex seals to see any lubrication and the minimal amount provided is mostly at high revs, probably for emissions reasons. The proper way to keep the seals lubricated is with pre-mix. My buddy runs the modern JASO FD/ISO EGD stuff at 200:1 in his RX-8. People run anywhere from 100:1 to 400:1.

      • 0 avatar

        The power-to-weight advantage of the Wankel makes a lot of sense for light aircraft and produced some interesting motorcycles, but never provided enough benefit for consumer cars to justify the drawbacks. The weight fraction for the engine just isn’t large enough to be a major issue, especially as the weight of the rest of the vehicle continues to increase.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My brother had an RX-3, an RX-4, and lastly, a tired RX-7, which finally cured him of rotary mania when he discovered it drank a quart of oil every 100 miles.

      I drove one of the older ones (RX-3, I think), and it had lots of top-end power but no torque, very much like today’s Dodge Dart 1.4T.

      The older rotaries also had an unusual exhaust system. On off-throttle, my brother’s would repeatedly backfire like a shotgun, but far louder than any piston-engined car could do.

    • 0 avatar

      My very first new car was a 1980 RX-7s.

      It got awful gas mileage, around 17 overall. Aside from the soft clutch that needed replacement at 40,000 miles (a common problem), it was stone reliable and all the cars issues were caused by people (driver included).

      It was gutless below 4000 rpm, but it felt and sounded like a jet above that when the ponies woke up. It had a slight tendency to oversteer which made it a real drivers car. Keep in the lower gears, find a nice winding road and the darn thing got up on its toes and danced.

      Living in the city was tough on the car. The first week I had it, the drivers door got scraped in the night. Then it had an argument with a non-yielding Oldsmobile that extended the scrape. It got backed into by a VW bus. It got broken into one night (smashed rear window) and had the stereo ripped out and the ignition popped. It led a hard life and I ended up selling it several years later to get money to buy a refrigerator.

      I still get nostalgic whenever I see one.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these on the road recently when I was out in my 1985 Corvette and gave the guy a wave. These first generation RX-7s now look so small (much smaller than I remembered them), but I feel they are good, interesting cars. I’ve seen a couple at shows over the last year, so it looks like some are being saved.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I can’t believe that a 35 year old sports car, in this condition, got junked. Sheer idiocy.

  • avatar

    My father and his brother wanted to go halfsies on a Ferrari Dino. That idea fell through, and they each ended up with one of these in ’79. My Uncle’s was a dull yellow, and ours was a charcoal metallic that really looked sharp for the day.

    The baby seat for my one year-old self was centrally installed in the rear hatch area. It didn’t stay with us much longer. Now that I have a 1 year old of my own, I don’t know how Dad got the idea of buying a brand new sports car past Mom. Impressive.

    The AE86 Corolla is wildly revered, yet these are tossed into the trash every day. You will seldom even find them in Japan, unlike the rolla. I don’t get it. This is a much better car in every respect (Except no back seat. Who cares?) IMHO. If you get a newer one in GSL-SE trim, it blows it out of the water.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s gotta be reliability of the rotary combined with the relative rarity of the AE86.

      • 0 avatar

        They were reliable, they just weren’t durable. 100-120K between rebuilds. However, the rebuild on a rotary is quite cheap, though of course you need to find someone who can do it correctly. The ’79 my friend bought from my cousin was perfectly reliable as far as running and driving, even at 100K. It just had holes everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      No love for ’70s cars, and everything you could do with a gen1 RX7 shell can be done better in the AE86 or 240SX.

  • avatar

    I was privileged to get a ride in the BACK SEAT of one of these 30 years ago. The experience wasn’t pleasant.

    I really did like how the back glass and hatch glass all blended together, though. That looked very sharp!

    Other than that, I think the Starion may have been the better car?

    • 0 avatar

      Zackman, first-generation RX-7’s don’t have back seats.

      My daughter would sometimes talk one of her friends into riding on the shelf behind the seats – it always surprised me to see three or four kids come out of that car.

      • 0 avatar

        Must’ve been a later generation, for I did ride in one sometime! Either that or I actually did ride on the shelf, ’cause all I know I had a rough time climbing out! In any event, I was not comfortable.

        Sometimes the memory is fuzzy as to details!

      • 0 avatar

        Australian and Japanese market first generation RX-7’s had rear seats available. It wouldn’t be too hard to order a set from overseas and install it. 1st generation rear seats are now very hard to find but 2nd generation seats can be made to fit the first generation apparently.

      • 0 avatar

        Hah ! But you can sure as hell lay down and ride in the back deck area!

        My dad,his sister (60-ish at the time) and I drove 7 hrs from HSV to PCB in my 83 rx7 when their brother had a near fatal car wreck with a log truck around 1987.
        Then I saw one of theseinthe company lot a few months ago and i had forgot how TINY they are , I can’t believe we did that drive with my dad and I switching out every 3 to 4 hours layingintheback. Crazy to think about these days lol.

        I bought mine used at auction only had it about 2-3 years but it was a fun and sporty little car, I really wanted a 240z at the time but this car was much newer and nicer and probably a better decision , glad my dad pushed me towards it. I think mine was the GSL version but didn’t have leather. 13″ wheels too.

        Did a full repaint from silver to midnight blue enamel that took all summer with the hand sanding.

        Then I sold it to a guy who I had went to high school with and he had NOTHING but problems (part of which may have been having all the repairs done at a high school tech shop). I saw him stalled in an intersection one day at noon and got out to help push it and I thought he was going to take a swing at me.

        Twenty years later we laughe about it at the reunion but that was a defining realization of why you should never sell cars to people you know!

        Thx for the photos, that one looks nicer than mine did on the outside when I bought it.

  • avatar

    Gas struts: I went through dozens of cars in the Chrysler section at the Pull-a-Part and could only find one Dodge Intrepid hood strut that half-way still held pressure and was straight. Every last one of them had either bent over from holding the hoods up for weeks at a time (or from someone who didn’t want the hood to fall on them while they were working), or had simply blown.

    Also, they apparently won’t accept your junked car unless you’ve already let the spare tire sit on top of the trunk floor cover long enough to bend it into a u-shape.

    Now that the old 2001 LeSabre is no longer in the family and I no longer need a steady supply of window regulators, I found, like, 3 LeSabres with all their glass still intact when usually the doors are stripped within seconds of them hitting the yard. You can see them from a mile a way on the yard – the window half-open sitting at a weird angle is the first sign, then you notice the door is held slightly open by the door panel on the ground, still connected to the door because the window regulator raider was to lazy to unclip the electrical connections, finally you open the door to confirm what you already knew – an empty door shell, stripped of its regulator, or a half removed regulator abandoned upon discovery of it’s frayed and tangled cable and cracked nylon guides and pulleys.

    Looking forward to the weather breaking so I can spend a proper day there. I almost died when I went a couple of weeks ago and I was only out there for about 45 minutes – 100 degrees, no shade, no clouds, no breeze, plus that damn white gravel that reflects the sun back up like snow and is like quicksand for wheelbarrow wheels equals fatal heat stroke within minutes in the summer down here. I managed to get the couple things I really needed but couldn’t spend any time rummaging.

    • 0 avatar

      I also have a 2001 Lesabre (on permanent loan to the MIL now) – yes, it’s had two regulator failures. Why are you wasting time out in the boneyards getting regulators? You can order one online for a very reasonable price (IIRC I paid between $50 and $70 for the first one, the second has a sheet metal screw in the track holding the window up) online and they ship it right to your door.

      I used to be out in the junkyards monthly, but with the self-serve yards raising their prices, adding on ridiculous environmental fees (almost 10%), adding core charges for parts that shouldn’t have one (knowing that you most likely won’t bring back the cores anyway), not to mention the greater part of the day that I have to spend to get the part, I have seen the light and now compare new prices before I head out to the boneyard. Often times, I can get a brand new part for not much more and it gets shipped right to my door in a couple of days, without me wasting more than 15 minutes online and I don’t get greasy and sweaty either.

      • 0 avatar

        I looked recently and I thought I saw some down to $37 these days on ebay. They started at about $80 back when I first started needing them.

        When my wife was driving it I put new aftermarket regulators on but those eventually gave out too. Her son had been driving it the last few years and after replacing a couple of them for him I told him he would have to start buying them himself (responsibility of ownership and all that) but I’d help him out and put them in for him. He never could seem to scrape any money up for luxuries like working windows and didn’t seem to think that staying dry in the rain, warm in the winter or not letting the environment destroy the interior of what had been a pretty nice car were important. I can pull them out pretty quick and at only $15 a pop, I figured I’d try to stock pile good junkyard regulators when I came across them so maybe the car wouldn’t be completely ruined. I didn’t have much luck with that plan and the car is now sold on.

    • 0 avatar

      Lock a small set of vise grips on the shaft at the body of the strut. That will keep the hood or hatch up for less than eight bucks.

  • avatar

    My principle from highschool (graduated in 93′) has an 83′ (i think) that looks like it just came out of the showroom, has been his daily driver for 29 years (have no idea what sort of maint. he’s had to have done), I was his assistant for my junior and senior year and was sent off every morning to get us biscuits, never bothered to tell him I didn’t have my license my for most of my junior year, nor that driving his baby was the first time I ever touched a stick, man that car was a blast to drive. (we have a beer now and then)

  • avatar

    When was younger this was one of my dream cars along with a 240Z, 928, and I always thought the Volvo 240 was a cool car

  • avatar

    Those old boing-boing Mazda ads birthed my obsession with jew’s harps.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    A great memory from my high school days.

    (from half a mile away) “Look, an RX-7.”
    “That must be Kimo’s dad.”
    “How can you tell?”
    “It’s raining, and the sunroof’s still open.”
    “It’s the only way he can fit in that car.”
    “He must really like it.”
    “First one on the island.”
    “Ah, it is Kimo’s dad. Wave.”
    “Too late.”

    Another not so great memory for those involved happened during the storm of ’80, when a friend used the multi component car stereo in his RX-7 to give us some sound and light that night. After the battery died, manually lowering the lights turned into a race to see which poor volunteer became less soaked. I recall John losing that one.

  • avatar

    I learned to drive stick on one of these. It was my father’s baby. He could have bought, within reason, any car, and after reading all the magazines and tests, he bought one brand new in black.

    What’s not being noted here is how smooth they revved–not at all like a piston engine. I can’t speak to its long term longevity– he lost it in the divorce of his second wife–but it was a nice, good handling car that was quite refined for its day.

  • avatar

    Didn’t these have a system that injected a little coolant into the intake to aid in starting a cold engine? The coolant would help seal up the rotor seals. I guess the EPA didn’t care if you burned up some antifreeze.

    • 0 avatar

      It wasn’t to seal up the rotor seals it was to prevent them from freezing to the housing and being torn when you cranked the engine. I know it was on the RX4 and REPU but I think they may have figured out better seals by the time the RX7 came around so they didn’t have the system.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes,it did have this reservoir in it for extreme cold.

      It was also the only car I’ve ever seen that had a dash warning light that was “Exhaust Overheat” like a jet or something.

  • avatar

    My first car was an ’80 base model… it was a cool car to have in high school. Super unleaded was 89 cents a gallon back then.

    The ’80 I’m sure ended up in a junk yard after I sold it to some drunk college guys late one night. I had bought a loaded ’84 GSL-SE to replace it. Now that was one fast car. Both of these cars were great for weekend road trips with a girlfriend. The ’80 suffered a lot of abuse.

    The ’84 is now sitting in friend’s dad’s garage waiting to be restored. It still starts from what I’ve been told with 180k miles on it.

    A picture of both:

  • avatar

    The first gen. RX-7 brings back some great memories from my youth. I was in a ’79 model one beautiful summer night when I lost my virginity. I was all alone at the time.

  • avatar

    There was an early one in the movie The Howling. The toll booth guy says something like “take it easy buddy, not all of us can afford a mazda, some of us have to work for a living.” I didn’t know it was that much of a status symbol.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Surprised no one saved this and installed the later generation rotary which is popular with tuners. This looks like a good solid parts car. Apparently the sunroof assembly is a hot item.

    Back in the 80’s I used to see in my area a convertible version of the 1st generation RX7. I think ASC did the conversions.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    An uncle , who had for decades bought English sport cars for his personal vehicles , traded in his TR7 for a 1979 RX7 . He was quite impressed with it , esp compared to the TR7 ( big surprise ) . Unfortunately his health began to go downhill shortly afterward and when he died in 1984 it had hardly any miles . His son gave it to his daughter , and it caught fire and burned up soon after . Incidentally , at least in areas like Houston which was ” Boomtown USA ” during the late seventies malaise era oil shortage , these sold way over list price and had long waiting lists . As for the back seats , as mentioned here they were available due to certain other countries restrictive heavier tax laws on two-seat cars . I recall the back seat being advertised in the back pages of car magazines back then for a few hundred dollars – don’t know who could have fit back there though , other than a small child or dog .

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    The blue color shown here was my favorite for the RX-7 , if only nice colors were still available now . When these came out I wondered how reliable they were as in the summer of 1972 and 1973 I had worked at a local Mazda / Volvo / Mercedes dealership ( a friend’s father worked there ). The rotary engine Mazdas were flying off the lot but from the very beginning there were continual warranty complaints . Houston was the P.O.E. for Mazda and sometimes we would drive the new cars from the Houston Ship Channel to dealerships elsewhere in Texas or Oklahoma . But the cars sucked , even brand new . One time the friend and I were supposed to drive 2 orange and white 1973 RX-2 coupes ( University of Texas school colors ), both identical with white interior and automatic to an Austin dealership.We never even got to Austin , one broke down in the suburbs of Houston and the other about ten miles from the Austin dealership. They were nice cars but underdeveloped . Shortly after it got out that the rotary got pretty mediocre gas mileage and the rotary engines only lasted 50k miles , if that and sales plummeted .

  • avatar

    There’s a nice blue ’81 I’ve been seeing posted for sale in my region:

    The blue is a bit lighter though. The interior is worn, but the exterior looks to be in great condition.

  • avatar

    The 79’s are pretty common where I live. But the majority of them in other places are usually in the junk yard. My brother bought one of these lightly used in 1986. I remember when the he got tired of the base engine it had and installed a rotary version it was pretty good. Great memories brought back except the blue wasn’t really like this picture it was dark kind of and it looked a bit after market.

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