Crapwagon Outtake: 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 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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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.
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.