By on June 26, 2015


My wife tells me that I’m not allowed to own an RX-7.

To be fair, there are any number of cars I’ll likely never own due the the varied circumstances of life and wallet, but Mazda’s rotary wonder, generally available for a budget price, is off limits due to the misadventures of relative youth. More details, someday, when I’ve recovered from the tetanus.

Yesterday, I happened upon an eBay auction for, arguably, the most desireable of the first-generation RX-7, the GSL-SE. These “five-letter” cars are the only ones with the larger, more powerful, fuel-injected 13B engine. The model also added a limited slip, larger brake discs, and more luxury features. This one also carries the limited “IMSA TARGA-7” package, which appears to be mostly tape stripes and an aluminum-looking faux-targa bar cover for the B-pillar. The car has been repainted, and generally looks good. Even the velour bordello red interior looks clean.

Then my daily Bring A Trailer email came through.


Another five letter RX-7, this time a white ’84 model with lower miles and red leather. This one is even nicer than the black ’85, with mostly original paint and functional air conditioning. While white cars are not my favorite, I’ll admit this one is stunning.

I’m curious what you, the faithful Crapwagon readers, think of these cars – especially the selling price. The black car on eBay has a Buy it Now price of $9,900. I’d imagine the reserve is closer to $8k. My guess – the white car will pull about a grand more than the black one, assuming it sells.

What sayeth the B&B?

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30 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE...”

  • avatar

    Its expensive for what it is. In ’92 I paid $8600 for an ’88 GTU with 42k miles. Drove it for 8 years and while it was a fun car, towards the end the seals were pretty much gone. The car got 13 mpg in the city and only 23 highway. It handled great, looked good but wasn’t that fast. I wouldn’t get one with a rotary, I’d rather one with some sort of swap.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      I agree, to a point, about the price. But these are no longer just used cars–they are approaching “collectible” status.

      Re: swaps. Yeah, a V8 makes these lightweight coupes remarkably quick. I’m just not sure they fit the character of the car.

  • avatar
    Shinoda is my middle name

    I will never understand why these were not offered as convertibles. From the lines of the body, it appears likely that it was rendered to be offered as a convertible, but for whatever reason….safety, cost, perceived lack of demand….Mazda never offered it.

    I think these are special cars and, yes, ‘collectable’, depending on ones’ definition of the word. But they are beautiful, balanced, well-proportioned and well-executed and capture the essence of their era. And a hoot to drive. If I had the garage space, I’d definitely be in the market for one, and to pickup a well-preserved example at or under $10k? Yup.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda didn’t, but, there were a few aftermarket companies that offered conversions when new.
      From memory, Pacific Avatar was the best known of the bunch. Unfortunately they tended to fit wide body kits to most of the cars when they did the conversion.

  • avatar

    My two cents.

    Price seems high, but not sure i have any basis for that. Just gut feeling. I have always loved this car, but always understood that time was not good to these cars and they were very prone to mechanical and engine issues.

    So, ultimately, it’s about your emotional desire to have a car like this. At a certain point, value is no longer an issue and it becomes about your enjoyment of something you love, or at least, really enjoy.

    If I were buying one today, my sweet spot would be the 3rd gen variant.

    • 0 avatar

      My ’88 had only one mechanical problem (water pump) in its life until the seals started to go. I sold the car at 148k miles still running. I got it at 21 years old and did everything a young man is supposed to do in a sporty rear wheel drive car. I have no idea how the clutch lasted and it never slipped even once. I can’t say that for my current GTI. Its only a sample size of one but mine was tough.

      Now I’m looking at Gen 2 ones on Its a good thing I don’t have a larger garage.

    • 0 avatar

      The price is whatever someone will pay for it. How many clean 1st gen RX7s are for sale at any given moment?

      The black one does nothing for me, but the want is strong for that white one! One of my cousins who was a bit older had a silver one as her first car, bought new. She drove it for 10+ years then sold it to a college buddy of mine our senior year. Very rusty, very ratty, but oh God that thing was fun to drive! One of VERY few Japanese cars I have any interest in.

  • avatar

    Clean styling and good looks, rotary engine (which is great until it breaks), and a bright future as a collectible car all make the 1st Gen RX7s a good bet for the auto enthusiast. I prefer the white car because of the lack of the aluminum Targa band but either one looks good, as long as it’s not auto trans equipped.

  • avatar

    Damn good looking (both of them) and I want to own them on looks alone but Wankel power makes me sit back and admire instead of buy.

    Of course I’ll be saying the same thing about an RX-8 in 20 years.

    • 0 avatar

      The old ones really are not that bad. As a toy I can’t imagine you would ever put enough miles on to have a major issue. The one my buddy bought from my cousin had 130K+ on it, and still started and ran just fine. At least until one of the coils croaked and he couldn’t afford one. Then it was hard to start but ran fine once you got it going. RUST was the big issue – he registered it in NH so it didn’t have to be inspected or have insurance. Oh the life of college boys.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        “The old ones really are not that bad. As a toy I can’t imagine you would ever put enough miles on to have a major issue.”

        It’s a catch-22 with these cars. The engines are basically maintenance items at 100K miles, but also if you don’t drive it enough the apex seals dry up. So you can’t drive it a lot, and you can’t drive it occasionally.

        I know from first hand experience. Wife had an 85 GSL-SE. Car was a blast to drive, and perfect when she had a commute of about 5 miles, so it got driven regularly but not too much. When her commute got longer she got another commuter car and the RX-7 became a weekend toy, which is when the trouble really started with it.

  • avatar

    These cars handle *very* well, and the rotary engine makes them unique and special. Apex seal issues aside, they’re also reasonably reliable. They’re still cheaper than 240/260Zs and perform better.

    As between the white and black one, they both look great in pictures. I’d want to see service records; as the saying goes, with a used car you’re paying for the prior owner more than the car itself.

  • avatar

    I no longer trust my own knee jerk reaction that all old car prices are too high (they are way too high– compared to the last time I was shopping whatever car is in question, which is usually about 15 years ago). But even if we accept that ten grand for a pristine RX-7 is reasonable considering how much money and sweat it cost to keep it that way, there are competitors from its era that are easier to run and way cheaper right now. Personally, I would take an early S130 Datsun, non-turbo with a new suspension bushing kit. Or maybe just get the best E30 BMW I can find. Either way, a pristine example will only run about $5-6k, and no wankel to worry about.

    • 0 avatar

      Pristine E30s are $10K+ cars now too, unless you want a pristine dog of a 325e automatic. And about as hard to find as pristine RX7s. I’d be happy in either one for that price.

  • avatar

    That shiny hoop on the roof of the black RX-7 looks tacky, even if its a factory-approved extra. Might as well go all the way into bad taste and install a Brougham padded vinyl roof.

    • 0 avatar

      Of course it’s tacky. But so is the red interior, the pinstripe, the wheels, and just about everything else about the car. I think the black car looks more like the complete package than the un-hooped white car.

  • avatar

    I bought a new 85 GSL-SE, Tender Blue Metallic with a rattly black rear window louvre, $8500, most fun car I ever had. Had it for 7 years, no major issues until I hit a wet spot on a climbing right hand curve and ended up going sideways up the road. Fortunately nobody coming the other way, car went into the concrete lined ditch on the other side of the road, flipped onto the roof and slid for about an hour before comin to a stop. Had a 1 year old kid, also fortunately not in the car , so the next car was a 92 Accord. Still miss that thing.

  • avatar

    IMO, these are always a CP. Prone to rust in any inclement weather, and with the rotary, just meh. They also looked dated four years after they were new, with the larger RX-7 Savanna.

    The bigger one is the desirable one in my mind. Classic sporty 80’s lines. These small ones were some bad early 80’s attempt at a British roadster copy.

    The bigger one was also available in convertible guise if you are so inclined.

  • avatar

    Honestly, they might very will be worth the price. They are very rare this clean, and, we are seeing the same thing elsewhere as the car collector demographics shift. 60’s muscle on the way down, 70s and 80s Porsche, BMW etc going through the roof.
    For those who prefer Japanese over Euro (like my self) these are the cars we want.
    A friend of mine has a very nice 84 GSL-SE that he has owned for almost 30 years. Great car. Very fun, very reliable, and draws a crowd at cruise night.
    He drove from Nova Scotia to North Carolina in it along with us in 2011 for the Deals Gap Rotary Rally and the car didn’t miss a beat.

  • avatar

    I like the white one better, and $9k-ish isn’t bad for a car you really want. When these were $3500 cars I dated a wild girl who drove a silver/grey-velour GSL-SE. That thing was sideways at the slightest provocation, despite not having measurable torque. At the time I wondered if it was just broken or whether the Watts link was binding up like They said happened. Boring old fart that I am now, I’d probably spend the $9k on a Miata, BTDT with an RX-7. What I WOULD like a crack at is the 3rd-gen, never did get to drive one of those.

  • avatar

    A compression test of often recommended when buying a rotary engine car (because of the apex seal issues).

  • avatar

    Good shape, but I’d swap in a Miata engine over the Rotary stuff.

  • avatar

    I wanted one of these so badly in High School. Worked with a guy that had a ’79 and later a GSL-SE like these. He swore they were absolutely reliable cars if one changed the oil every 2500 miles. He drove them year-round in Michigan, which must have led to some entertaining moments.

    I personally like the very early ones with the smaller motors and the split rear tail lights… not sure why, I guess I like the plain looks and interiors.

    OTOH, with low-mile NA Miatae regularly popping up for less than $6k and their unbeatable reputation for longevity (vs. the apex seal/disposable engines on the RX) it’s a tough decision. I also see 2nd gen RX7 convertibles from time to time but run into the same conundrum.

  • avatar

    A 1980 RX-7S was my first new car. As such, I think either car, assuming near-perfect condition, is well-priced.

    Engine swaps ruin this car. I think it’s one of the classic sports cars, modest in some ways (economy-car parts), but was a brilliant bit of synergy, being more than the sum of its parts. The rotary, for all its issues, is a delight: smooth, fast-revving with a really nice rush of power above 4K which is 12 O’clock on the tach, an easy visual reference. Since the rotary is both light and positioned behind the front wheels, balance is excellent. Handling tends toward mild oversteer which makes the car really responsive to both steering and throttle input.

    These are great cars and it is no surprise that they are appreciating classics.

    Engine rebuilds are simple, requiring few parts and little shop time. The rotary is so much simpler than any other auto engine. Look after the oil level, don’t let it overheat and you can get about 100K before needing seals.

  • avatar

    Wow, memories! My first post-college car purchase, I bought an ’84 GSL-SE with about 87k miles on it, white on red like the car in the article. I paid about $4500 for it, in very clean condition but needing a new clutch. I drove it for ~2 years, sold it with ~108k, the only expenses were the clutch (~400) and replacing the radio. I sold it to get a ’90 RX-7 convertible because California – have to own a convertible at least once in CA, right? I enjoyed the convertible for the 2-3 years I had it, but aside from being able to drop the top, it wasn’t as fun to drive as the ’84, too heavy. Maybe the coupe was more fun, and I’m sure the Turbo would have been. I would have liked to keep the ’84, but I was an apartment dweller, I couldn’t exactly start a collection of cars at the time. If I had now room for an extra toy, I’d definitely consider another GSL-SE. I sometimes search for them on ebay just to see what’s out there. The good thing about buying a car like this is that it will hold its value, maybe even increase. Even if it requires a major repair, it should be cheap to own fun for however long you keep it. $10k sounds crazy high to me based on what I’ve seen on the internets, but 6-8k seems reasonable.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      Yeah. Depreciation. I think it’s my biggest expense, or a close second.

      You have an interesting car, with a modest purchase price and reparability, that’s pretty low-buck fun. Fair potential for a jump in price over the years, too. It’s not like it’s gathering dust under a cover, either. A car like this would be just fine as backup.

  • avatar


    even middling driver examples of 1st gen RX7s are five figures now

    good one you can send back to Japan for real money

    pretty easy to understand why… gorgeous styling, unique engine, driveability, collectibility… it has it all

    they rust too like a real italian classic

  • avatar

    These motors use Oil, by design, to lube the APEX Seals.
    They don’t burn oil because they are somehow broken as many people think they do.
    Many buyers neglected theirs and never topped up the oil between changes.

    No rust on either of mine which I bought with about 75 K on them.

    I had an 83 RX-7 Limited edition that went past 150K on the original motor in the metro NY are that had no rust.
    I also had an 85 RX-7 GSL that went past 150K on the original motor in the metro NY area as well.

    I revved those motors on the daily and they never failed me.

    Miss them both dearly. Rotary engine is a beautiful thing that balances nicely in these light weight cars. I would never swap them out for a V8 or anything else.
    Hearing the Rotary hum past redline is like music.

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