By on November 4, 2015

1989 Mazda RX7 GTUs

Mazda just can’t quit the rotary. Magical spinning Doritos are such a significant part of their DNA that, in spite of overwhelming evidence against the Wankel existence thanks to its appetite for fuel, oil, and apex seals, they keep a team of engineers developing it.

In theory, the rotary is the perfect engine for a sportscar. Lightweight, rev-happy, and reasonably powerful — exactly the attributes needed for a lithe corner carver. Back in the late ’80s, just as another enthusiast-focused Mazda was coming on the scene, a special edition RX7 was released. Rather than tape stripes and excess frills, this one came stripped of excess weight, and loaded with performance goodies.

The 1989 Mazda RX7 GTUs helped commemorate the dominance of the RX7 in IMSA’s GTU series. Basically, the car was a base model, naturally-aspirated RX7, with big front brakes from the Turbo, and a numerically-higher rear end ratio on a limited-slip differential. A little lighter, but a good bit quicker than the regular car. Around 1,100 were built over two years.

This one has been lightly modified and fitted with a rebuilt engine that has been street-ported for probably around 50 more horsepower than stock. The odometer has around thirty-five thousand miles showing, which can mean death for a Wankel, as seals will dry out if the car isn’t driven regularly. The recent rebuild should have taken care of that. I’m not much for the stereo upgrades, as they add unnecessary weight, but I’d imagine a built-up rotary and the short rear end mean highway cruising is a bit loud.

At $12,500, it might be a bit much for a modified limited-edition car, but there are so few of these that it the price may be right. As it turns out, I’ll be in Cincinnati this weekend. I may need to check this out.

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25 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1989 Mazda RX7 GTUs...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “Magical spinning Doritos”

    Well I really liked that bit, by the way. Always been my favorite chips!

    I KNEW this was in Cincinnati before I even clicked. It’s got to be near me, I’ve seen this very car parked at a barber shop on 42/Reading Road as I was on my way to Kroger. Based on the trees, those pics are pretty recent. It’s in Blue Ash or West Chester, if you want to look specifically where you’ll need to go :).

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Teeny correction: GTU was a class, not a series, they almost always ran with the GTO and GTP cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      Indeed. Perhaps I worded that a bit broadly. If I recall, they grouped GTO and GTU (over and under three liters, respectively) under the “Camel GT” series moniker.

      I never missed IMSA at either Mid-Ohio or the Columbus street circuit through the mid-to-late Eighties.

      • 0 avatar
        Spooln2

        Thanks Chris for the nice article. I have been a fan of rotarys since 1979 and have owned nothing else since. Except for that one time I got a 96 LT-4 corvette. Not near the fun as driving my 95 FD. I have recently fallen in love with the 1st gens which I have 2.The GTUs is the lowest mileage GTUs that I know of. The engine was built by Defined Autoworks in Columbus and is great piece of work. Someone is going to get a super fun car to drive. If you would like to stop by and see my modest collection, contact me thru the Ebay listing. I’ll be glad to show off these rare beauties.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    I guess Ohio has some great Mazda rotary mechanics to keep this Mazda running. I used to sell this very car along with Audi’s in the 90’s. Believe it or not I turned over many rotary drivers to Audi. That is how bad the reliability was for this car. Creating relationships with those waiting for their RX7 to be fixed was like shooting fish in a barrel. The RX7 helped me pay for college by flipping the owners to Audi.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      An Audi crusader? You are a bad person.

      • 0 avatar
        VW16v

        That is how bad the reliability was for the RX7. Maybe it was the humidity in Florida. Because many of issues as I recall had to do with overheating or the ac. Are dealer was noted for having a good RX7 mechanic. We were happy to take their pos in on trade. Could low ball the trade in value and they would usually bite just to get rid if the car. So glad I’m out of the new car sales job. Awful job.

    • 0 avatar
      Spooln2

      Yea,not even Mazda knew how to work on these awesome cars. In 1986 a Mazda dealership tried to charge me $800 for a tune up. So the American dealerships had a lot to do the bad rep these cars got. The reality is the Rx7 was booted from the GTU competition because the cars never broke down. Or should I say, they never stopped running. The engines just kept going and going. My GTUs has not one spec of rust anywhere and runs perfectly. I’ve owned many Rx7s and never sold one because it ran badly or looked bad. I even sold a Concours d’ Elegance winner. I regret that one. Look it up 2009 Ault Park Japanese Collector division winner. Come to think of it, I did not see any Audi cars that day. There is a downside to driving Mazda Rx7s. It’s that people are always following me taking pictures and just wanting to see them up close. My Dad had an Audi. The transmission went out after a year.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    Nice car, but, the price is a bit ambitious.
    Given the numbers that are out there still running around, the FC chassis is actually a very durable car. They are reaching the age where it’s more electrical issues (brittle old wiring, corroded relays etc) causing issues than anything else.
    The engines, especially in NA form, are very durable by this stage and a lot of well maintained cars are still happily running around on stock engines.

    (As per avatar picture, I am a dedicated spinning dorito fan.)

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Right. Unless it’s a Supra, M3 or GN no car built in the 80s or 90s should have a 5 figure ask. I’d say 6k is about right for this.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I think that’s a bit low given the rarity trim level and enthusiast halo which surrounds all things RX7/8. I think 9 or 10k would be alright for this, given the right buyer. It’s rare!

        And you can’t say anything 80s/90s shouldn’t have a 5-figure ask. Consider a purple Impala SS or pristine Fleetwood, or a C4, or 3000GT cabriolet, LR Defender. Hell, a mid 90’s prelude would fetch 10k if it had 20k miles on it and wasn’t modded. Or an Integra R, easily.

        Plenty of stuff is worth a high dollar when it’s rare.

        • 0 avatar
          Superdessucke

          .

        • 0 avatar
          Superdessucke

          Oh yeah, Integra Type R for sure. Those sell for big cash. I’d give 10 large for the Fleetwood, didn’t they make those with the LT1? Way cool. Not sure anyone else would tho. Don’t know about the Prelude. Outside the rare ones like the R or NSX Honda enthusiasts are pretty cheap, and want extra money left over for hoon gear. Impala SSs used to bring in bigger dollars, but primarily limited to the urban and NASCAR set. C4 Vettes are next to worthless. 7k on eBay with sub 50k on the clock all day long.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yep you could have the 5.7 (350?) Chevy engine or the LT1 with problematic OptiSpark. I -believe- all Brougham trim levels got the LT1, while regular versions (non landau) could be optioned with landau, 350 or LT1.

            Rarest option for B-body of that era, in any trim? Moonroof.

            Roadmaster also had the LT1 available. Do not believe it was available for the 92 only Custom Cruiser.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Funny you mention the C4. A car I was never very into, but now when I see them I admire them for their clean designs (compared to modern cars). Checking them out on CL, I see a lot going for $8K or less, without even 100K miles on them. C5 prices have yet to drop into 4-digit figures.

        • 0 avatar
          Spooln2

          Right on Corey. That is exactly what I was thinking $9k or $10K.

        • 0 avatar
          CarnotCycle

          Ferrari F40’s and 288’s are still kinda pricey. They were made in the 80’s…lol.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    Also, glad you made the proper use of the GTUs name. Many miss it, and that little s is important.
    In the S4 (86-88) FCs, the GTU was added in 1988 as a lighter, sportier version of the mid-level GXL trim.
    With the S5 updated (89-91) the GTU became the base model with single piston brakes etc.
    The GTUs took the lighter chassis, and added the “big brakes” front and rear (not just front as noted in the article) speed sensing power steering, body aero enhancements, cloth covered versions of the seats from the Turbo, the 16″ wheels shown in the picture and the 4.3 viscous LSD rear dif and a few other minor things.
    The use of the GTU and then GTUs was to celebrate Mazda’s dominance in IMSA GT competition. Last I looked, the RX7 is still the winningest model in IMSA racing. They ran cars in both the GTU and GTO classes, with the GTO culminating in a tube-framed 4-rotor FC silhouette car.

  • avatar
    cretinx

    I’ve been trying to find one of these for years, in STOCK condition.

    Price is insane and it’s been molested AND left to sit.

  • avatar
    craiger

    I’ve always found the C4 to be simple and honest, with a little bit of 80s nostalgia. Can anyone comment on the wisdom of picking one up today as a DD?

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