By on December 9, 2015

1992 Mazda MX-3 GS

Today brings Round Two in the “Obscure Project Car That Probably Should Be a Parts Car” series this week. Commenter dwford mentioned the Mazda MX-3 in reply to Monday’s Isuzu, and it reminded me that I haven’t seen one for quite a while as they were prone to rust and rice-ification.

Leave it to Mazda to bring another oddball engine to market in a low-volume sports car. What other company would build and sell a 130 horsepower, 1.8-liter V-6, especially when a four-cylinder engine with similar power was readily available? I thank the iconoclast engineers in Hiroshima for greenlighting the unique “K8-DE” powerplant.

Today’s 1992 Mazda MX-3 GS is certainly a project that likely won’t return much in the way of value in the end. Its 200,000 miles of use is a big turnoff, though we’ll get to that in a bit. The interior needs to be gone through completely, and the door seals and sunroof need replacement for this to be a viable driver. Some time and money will need to be spent on the bodywork, as well. At least it seems replacement bumper covers have been fitted, though without painting. As is, this could be a good starting point for a LeMons racer.

However, I’d likely dump the baby V-6 in favor of a 2.5-liter version. The common MX-6/Ford Probe engine easily achieves 170 horsepower, but a 200 horsepower “KL-ZE” only sold in Japan is an attractive option that brings some wonderful sonic qualities.

I vaguely recall the magazines of the day comparing the MX-3 to the departed Honda CRX, and I can see it — to a point. The Mazda was heavier, though had a little bit more power. The strut suspension, however, was never quite as nice in the twisties as the Honda double A-arm. The extra power of the engine swap would fix that nicely.

I’m an automotive masochist, but even I wouldn’t buy this Mazda. The work involved would never pay off if I got bored with it. I’m sure there are KL-swapped cars out there for a song.

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43 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1992 Mazda MX-3 GS...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Now find us a Nissan NX coupe, and you’ll have three obscure japanese rarities in a row!

    Never felt much for the MX-3, but that might be because every one I’ve ever seen has been ruined utterly by damage and/or modification. They weren’t particularly hearty. Neither was the MX-6.

  • avatar
    MoDo

    Wow, I haven’t seen one of those since the very early 2000’s. Back then they use to be everywhere!

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I find it amazing that a small company like Mazda can design, tool and build a wide variety of oddball engines, whereas many of us could name every new engine family released by GM in the US over the past 40 years.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      So, if I am understanding your comment correctly… you want a 3800 in an MX3? Awesome.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      They have to keep trying new engines because none of the ones they make themselves are too good.

      Most of their stuff from recent memory has been borrowed from Ford anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        I like the thought of the tiny little 6! I dont know why, it just makes me happy.

      • 0 avatar
        Drewlssix

        What motors exactly? I can think of just the duratec V6 my self. In both the basic 2.5 variant in the mpv and early Tribute. Pretty much identical to the ford variant, but they also had a 3.0 variant with Mazdas own VVT top end. I’m not sure about the larger one in the cx9. Could be a straight ford donor or a Mazda variant.

        Pretty much every other motor used by Mazda has been a Mazda product. The L series/Duratec 4 cylinders are Mazda engineering inside and out.

        And it makes sense, why would Ford invest in a small car company who excels at engineering? For the engineering of course.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      The used to design all sorts of different motors. The V6 came in 1.8, 2.0, 2.5 sizes. They had the rotary, and were into DI turbos before anybody else. All the fun seems to be gone now, as they seem to only have a 2.0 and 2.5 I4 motors left.

      • 0 avatar
        Drewlssix

        Rotary is supposed to return with DI technology, and turbos will be back for both sporting purposes in MS versions of the 3 and hopefully others and as a V6 replacement for the new CX9 large crossover.

        They also have a nifty light weight high rpm turbo diesel that hopefully will come to the US market.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Don’t have much to add other than my folks had a 95 Mazda Millenia with the 2.5L V6 (not the Miller cycle car) and I have to agree the motor would sing a very very nice song.

    Problem was it was in a heavy car with a stupid automatic, but if you could get the downshift right, click off the overdrive, and floor the gas you could wind it out completely. Really loved the sound it made.

  • avatar
    alltrac

    I learned how to drive on this car. Despite the low power V6, it sounded nicer than an I4, the gearbox and steering were super tight, and it was light and tossable. It’s a pity that it’s FWD because, were it RWD, I’d go find myself a clean-ish example (this one is, at best, destined for a parts car).

    I always felt like I won out among my friends for “Driving your parents’ car is fun!” compared to the Ford Aerostars and Mazda 626’s.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I forgot about this little gem, it checks all the right boxes: small, hatchback, ZOOM-ZOOM handling and V6 power… oh wait that’s right it had a V6 so small almost any 4 cylinder would embarrass it. However with a rotary swap this thing would drive the tuner crowd nuts.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      Embarrass? Not really in its segment. It was on par.

      And even a bog standard 2.5 swap from a sedan makes it a real serious performer. In the used car market it’s cheaper and easier to get a quick drivable power boost out of these than the CRX.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Just when the nightmares had stopped, you run a story on the MX-3, lol.

    For some reason I have always had a soft spot for the MX-3. I almost bought one new back in the day, but ended up with a 94 Integra GS-R instead. Years later, after having just bought an RSX-s. I got transferred at work and was putting mad miles on my new baby. It was fate that my work had a parking lot out front that people liked to sell their cars from, and a very nice lady was selling her 92 MX-3 that she had bought new. She had a giant binder with EVERY receipt for every repair and maintenance visit she had ever done over 10 years. I fell for it. I figured it would be a great commuter car so I could save the RSX.

    Of course, in my blind lust, I bought the MX-3 without having it inspected. The nice lady was selling it to me at the exact point it needed the next round of major maintenance, so I immediately did tires, brakes, exhaust, I think the shocks too. But I was in love so I didn’t care. I drove it for years, through all kinds of weather, even used it as a snow plow (don’t ask). It died on me once on the way to work, and got me for a $1200 bill to get it running again. I probably spent $5-6,000 on maintenance while I was driving it over 3 years. The RSX sat in the garage for months.

    At some point I decided to start driving the RSX regularly and the MX-3 sat in the garage for a while. I don’t know what happened, but the engine seized and it was dead, so it sat dead.

    Then it came time for me to sell my house and move, and that’s when the really bad decisions came. Instead of calling the scrap yard, I had the bright idea to get it running again but do the 2.5 V6 JDM swap. Not being handy on cars, I found a shop to do it for me. Of course, every thing was extra labor, and after months I finally had my car back, mostly running, but it had trouble winding out to redline smoothly, IDK what was wrong with it, and the check engine light would come on on highway drives. I spent over $10k on that debacle. Strangely, it always passed emissions despite obviously not running properly. Still, it worked again. I really never drove it much after that, and it continued to sit in my driveway, slowly rusting, for several years. I’d drive it once in a while, but hardly ever. At one point there was a tree growing out of it between the front fender and the driver’s door (there was a cavity in there where leaves would get stuck and decay, leaving nice soil for growing. Someone even had the dumb idea to break into it in my driveway, as if I would keep my valuables in a 20 year old rust bucket.

    Eventually a friend from work needed a car, so I loaned him the MX-3 and he drove it for months. Then it died in his driveway, and I finally called it quits and called the scrapyard.

    I had the MX-3 for a good 10 years, spent at least $20k on it over that time, but never had a perfect running, restored car. I am currently in remission, but still occasionally look at used MX-3’s online.

    My advice would be to run.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Great story. Thanks!

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      That tree bit is priceless. Forget the rust, forget the spiders, the real threat to Mazda owners are the trees growing out of their cars!

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      I went to an estate sale and saw a beautiful red Catera with 50k miles and all recalls done. Bought it thinking to myself that everyone else was wrong and I would figure it out. Hubris. The best thing I saw after eighteen months of ownership was the flatbed driving it away. I hate to lose money on my used car projects as my dear wife is the board of directors in our family corporation.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      Run? Because of your own bad decisions? The 2.5 swap is practically a bolt in job. It wouldn’t take me a day in my driveway, if it took months and wasn’t done right your shop screwed you.

      If you paid that much to get it repaired that’s on you. The exact thing can and does happen with Hondas all the time.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1994 Mazda MX-3 with the twin-cam 106 hp four cylinder engine. I bought it new in 1994 and sold it in 2009. It came with a set of 14″ alloy wheels. I swapped them out for a set of bigger 15 x 6 alloy wheels from a V6 MX-3 GS. I also added a factory rear spoiler. (Although I think cars look silly with spoilers, the MX-3 looks naked without one). Aside from that, I kept the car stock. It gave me about 130,000 miles of trouble free service. I ran it in time trials and had a lot of fun with it. I live in Pennsylvania, where salt is king on the winter roads, but I had no trouble with rust. Although I would have loved to have had the V6 version, they were being phased out by the time I bought my MX-3 and none were available at the dealers by then. I would certainly NOT call an MX-3 a “crapwagon”.

  • avatar
    laphoneuser

    I forgot that I actually owned one of these until I saw this. I was always intrigued by the small six, so I bought a used one in around 2000, but for me, there was nothing special about the engine or the car. It was a rough rider, so I bought a set of new tires hoping that would fix it, but it didn’t. Perhaps the thing needed suspension work, but I wasn’t willing to go there, so I sold it to a really sweet college girl here in L.A. from Japan.

    Incidentally, I also owned a Ford Probe GT (bought new in 1996, if I remember correctly) with the 2.5L V6 that the author mentions. Now that was an enjoyable and memorable car.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “What other company would build and sell a 130 horsepower, 1.8-liter V-6, especially when a four-cylinder engine with similar power was readily available?”

    Mitsubishi had a 1.6L V6 in a JDM Lancer at one point.

    The small-volume sixes (both I and V) were a result of Japanese tax laws and the perceived prestige in having six cylinders versus four.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Ye shall never craft cylinders of six in a motor of liters less than three…

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        The GM 2.8L V6 was a widely used engine for many years, and was stout and durable for its day.

        They were often transplanted from vehicle-motivator to farm field or ranch application and are still used extensively to power waterpumps for cattle in the field.

        Other 2.8L V6 applications are for AC-generators, either on a trailer or stationary in the field.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Volumetricism, eh? There is a point where cylinder volume becomes small enough to hamper efficiency but IIRC that point is around 350-400cc.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          bumpy ii, correct me if I’m wrong but I thought it was <50cc for gasoline.

          Alcohol-glycerin engines are already notoriously in-efficient in any displacement, as in model airplane engines, for instance.

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    Collectible? Or, in localspeak, Correctible?

  • avatar
    olddavid

    My compliments to the author for this series of articles. Since I am so quick to bitch, I should be equally fast in gratitude. Thanks

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    I briefly looked into this V6 for my Datsun, but there doesn’t seem to be any support for it or go-fast items. Too bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      There is plenty of support. Just not the volume you would be used to from Chevy or Honda markets.

      It is a semi popular swap in other platforms also, seen them in lotus style home builds, miatas rear engined VWs and their variants. There were a few Holden swaps down under including an endurance racer putting down 800 HP.

      Your Datsun swap would have been relatively easy using components available already, and a stock motor with boost will support around 400 hp with good tuning and 500+ with a modest build.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    http://www.edmunds.com/mazda/mx-3/1994/used/vin/?sub=hatchback&invType=USED&vin=JM1EC4356R0310856

    Here is one for $3995.
    And no, that’s not $39.95

  • avatar
    don1967

    Mazda chose to slap a “Precidia” badge on the MX-3 here in Canada, which pretty much ensured that only the most self-confident male would ever be caught dead in one.

    The little V6 was kinda pointless from a performance perspective – I mean the Nissan NX2000 ate it for breakfast – but it gave off a smooth snarl that was quite pleasing to the ear.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      I suppose the point was primarily to create a small GT coupe rather than a hot hatch. A loaded out GS with leather and all luxury options always a pretty plush ride for something often compared to the CRX.

  • avatar
    LesleyW

    I own one of these.
    The main problem with most of them, is that they’ve been beat on by adolescent boys. If you’re lucky enough to find a clean one, they’re sweet little cars.
    For the most part, they’re pretty reliable. The biggest issue with them is the distributor, a complicated piece containing ignitor, cam and crank sensors. They frequently crap out, and are difficult to diagnose for those not familiar with them. They’re also worth $600 at the dealership – probably another reason you’d find them dumped “as is” in the want ads. For about $20 in parts, there’s an “HEI” bypass to the ignition in the disty that solves the stalling/dying issue.

    The stock 1.6 was created as a smoother, more balanced alternative to the typical 4-bangers of the day. Sweet running engine, but unfortunately, underpowered. The 2.5L KLZE is a direct bolt-in, and the end result is a car that feels exactly as it should. I had it out to a couple of lapping days at Mosport and though it’s a slow car, it’s a great handler.

    Mine’s currently undergoing a complete restoration – I’m up to my armpits in bead-blasting right now. The KLZE went in with no issues, I sourced an original, near-mint leather interior and the suspension will be going in next week.


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