By on December 28, 2015

03 - 2004 Mazda RX-8 in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Just about every kind of vehicle shows up at the low-priced, high-inventory-turnover self-service wrecking yards, sooner or later. It took until the late 2000s before I started seeing Mazda Miatas in such yards, and now it appears that the advance scouts for a steady flow of RX-8s are here. I saw this silver ’04 at the same Denver-area yard that gave us the biohazardous 2009 Kia Rondo.
02 - 2004 Mazda RX-8 in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

As you might expect, the RENESIS 13B engine and many more nice bits got snapped up within minutes of this car entering the yard’s inventory.

11 - 2004 Mazda RX-8 in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I reviewed the last of the RX-8s and I thought it was one of the greatest new cars I’d ever driven at the time. I was considering buying one … until I refueled it and discovered that the thing got 15 mpg highway. The original buyer of this car decided that he or she wanted terrible fuel economy and the no-torque acceleration that an automatic/Wankel combo delivers so well. How? Why?

13 - 2004 Mazda RX-8 in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Still, what this means is that RX-8s appearing in the 24 Hours of LeMons might dodge the billions of penalty laps they once earned. It turned out that these cars are not particularly fast in a real-world, wheel-to-wheel road race, but they should be fun for future low-budget racers.


The Japanese-market ads for this car were full of shrieking Wankels, burnouts, and utterances of the words “Zoom-zoom-zoom.”

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49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2004 Mazda RX-8...”

  • avatar

    “the advance scouts for a steady flow of RX-8s are here”

    Were they ever popular enough for a steady flow? Also, I didn’t realize these were offered with an automatic. Thought they were all manual-only (which I also thought of the Miata for a long time).

  • avatar

    The body is remarkably rust free, even underneath! Though, I don’t recall seeing any rusty RX-8 models, so maybe they tried a bit harder on those with choosing their metal panels.

    I’m noticing it looks like this car was parked outside a while with the windows down or something – because it’s clean other than everything on the interior being coated with pollen.

    • 0 avatar

      Great chassis in search of an engine. I would think transplants would be common with these?


      They’ve otherwise become a labor of love for rotor fans who cant afford an RX7. The RX8 though has a consumable engine, I know a few that have had engine rebuilds and refurbs more than the car is worth on bluebook.

      • 0 avatar

        I have never EVER considered owning a rotary vehicle. They just require too much of everything, and a special wizard to take care of them.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          This from someone who likes Audis.

          I’m a bit surprised to see it in the junkyard, since the chassis is basically a Miata with a hardtop and a usable back seat. I suppose the shell chasers are still focused on FDs.

          No love for the Camry wagon next door?

          • 0 avatar

            Ha, I view rotary as a level ABOVE VAG care. Rotary is slightly above Jaguar care.

            I actually meant to say I’d gladly drive the 91 wagon next door there.

    • 0 avatar

      Early ones are definitely starting to rust around Toronto, but it might just be because there’s enough cheap ones around that they’ve been pressed into year-round beater duty for people who’re too busy keeping it running to worry about taking care of the body.

  • avatar

    I think this car died from swollen wheel arches. The motorectomy was probably postmortem depending upon the neighborhood.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I remember one of these racing in a Montreal GP support race about 10 years ago. Man did it ever sound great flat-out coming out of the hairpin.
    Of course, that little moment of bliss has no relation with rotary life on the street, especially with an automatic.

  • avatar

    I get the feeling that the rotary hate wagon is a lot of “look at me I know something about engines” and not a lot of actual experience. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s a real pity that these look the way they do. Just so damned ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My brother was finally cured of the rotary Kool-Aid after owning an RX-3, RX-4, and RX-7 – all used. The RX-7 burned a quart of oil every 100 miles; I think he scrapped it shortly after buying it.

      So my hate for the rotary is by proxy, but still real.

      What shocks me is that Mazda recently reported that they’ve had a team of 50 engineers working on the next-generation rotary for several years now. They don’t have the resources for that.

      The ‘final fix’ for the rotary is always just around the corner, but it never actually arrives.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s more intimate experience than most I imagine. I just get _so_ tired of the “my friend had a clapped out . Man that was a piece of crap!” Of course it was!

        I like that they’re working on a new one. Put a rotary in a good looking car and I’m interested. Knowing Mazda the good looking part is the sketchy part.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah. The proportions are just wrong. I wouldn’t care so much, but this car followed up the 3rd generation RX-7, one of the only curvy 90’s cars I liked. The arches look tacked on. I will give them some credit, the arches avoid the sin of being bisected by door seams. RWD helps a lot with that.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope. My rotary hatred comes from 10 years of daily use (1st and 2nd gen RX-7s). I found them to be torqueless, gutless, fragile gas pigs. Both dumped their apex seals out the tailpipe at 100K miles. Never, ever again.

      (Though I did see a GSL-SE the other day and sort of smiled)

      • 0 avatar

        Did you try spinning it faster? :) I get the frustration of having to rebuild it in 100k miles. But, if it was a race engine, that’s unheard of run time and if it was just a regular piston engine that you reved the crap out of, it would be shocking if you got that far and didn’t need a rebuild. Seems like a lot of complaints are people expecting the wrong things. I had a 903cc engined Fiat 850 Sport Coupe. Loved it. Had no torque, but who cares when you’re making a hell of a racket banging around the red line? Lots of people enjoy those engines, which you’d never get 100k miles out of under pretty much any conditions.

        • 0 avatar

          I drove them the same way I’ve driven every car since – hard, but with fastidious maintenance. But you know what I haven’t had to do to any of the cars since? Replace the engine at 100K. I don’t think > 100K miles is an unreasonable expectation of a street car.

  • avatar

    You don’t buy an RX-8 for fuel economy. You don’t buy one without being born with a silver ratchet in you hand.

    They are maintenance intensive. They like to scream. If you usually find yourself under 4k RPM when driving one, you’re doing it wrong.

    Engine swaps are popular, but then you lose the front mid-engined balance and add in a lot of engine vibration and harshness.

    But they go where you tell them to, when you tell them to go there. And if you skip the mufflers, they make a glorious noise that you can share with your entire county.

    When I parted with mine, I stood there and listened to it drive away for a couple minutes.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      That pretty much echoes my experience. My ’04 was my favorite car I’ve ever owned. It was OK in daily duty hauling a car seat, and sublime on the track or an autoX course (and of course I could fit everything I needed for a weekend into it, including four wheels/tires and an EZ-Up). I can’t think of anything that combines the same kind of “real useable space” with the chassis balance and handling goodness.

      Mine wasn’t especially maintenance-intensive; my E46 has consumed a LOT more of my weekends.

      The 8 was a special, unique car and I miss it.

  • avatar

    I will never understand why Mazda didn’t fit a turbo in there like they did with the RX-7. That would fix the torque and maybe even the mileage problem. And yes having an automatic in this car is a terrible crime. I was chasing a highly modified one these around the track last weekend and on every downshift a 6″ flame came out of the exhaust, plus you could hear it screaming from a mile away. Good fun, but clearly a toy and not a car you want to drive every day.

  • avatar

    There are those of us forewarned by the NSU Ro 80.

  • avatar

    I would enjoy someone expanding upon the extensive maintenance and the need to be a wizard to own a rotary, and the idea that using 6 quarts of oil each oil change is somehow going to break the bank. Seriously, are we car people here or what?! I know the RX-8 and the rotary engine may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but are we so afraid of picking up an occasional wrench or checking and adding a little oil on occasion?

    I have owned 2 first generation RX-7’s. I currently own a 2005 RX-8 identical to the one pictured (and I REALLY need that left front fender) complete with the automatic that my teenage daughter drives (and crumpled said fender). I also currently own a 2008 RX-8 40th Anniversary with 6 speed manual for my daily driver.

    The crankcase takes 4+ quarts of oil per oil change. Each car usually requires one quart every 1,500 miles. If I go 4,500 miles between oil changes, that works out to about 6 quarts of oil. How in the world is that some kind of oil guzzler?

    Maintenance. Beyond air filter, it may require spark plugs at 30 – 40,000 miles. Here is the process: Jack up left front, remove tire, access plugs through opening in fender, remove and replace four plugs, replace tire. Done. Seriously, through the fender opening it is an almost direct access that only requires a long extension for the ratchet to easily remove the plugs. Any car guy should be able to do that with his/her eyes closed. If ignition coils need to be replaced, that can be done from the top of the engine bay. My 17 year old daughter can perform all of this maintenance. Purchase the correct parts from Rockauto and it costs all of $60-$75 for plugs and no dealer visit is required.

    And a very useable back seat as a bonus. There is no other sports car of this size with a useable and accessible back seat.

    The only complaint I have with the RX-8 is the heat of the exhaust system, which can make the trunk a bit toasty in the summer time. You have to be careful what gets packed in there on a long trip.

    • 0 avatar

      Nice to hear from an actual owner :)

    • 0 avatar

      “Here is the process: Jack up left front, remove tire, access plugs through opening in fender, remove and replace four plugs, replace tire.”

      Not all of us have the time/patience to do this, while feeding the car premium fuel every 15 miles and checking oil like mad.

      • 0 avatar


        Then enjoy your (metaphorical) Camry and STFU. Some things are worth a little bother now and again.


        The trouble is there are actually very few car people around TTAC. What there are is a lot of people who are Consumer Reports types. Interested in lowest TCO above all else when it comes to cars.

        • 0 avatar


          You couldn’t be more right!

        • 0 avatar

          The RX-8s biggest short coming was its age/target demographic. The FD series RX-7 was an expensive halo car and often treated as such.

          The RX-8 was supposed to be a more practical sports car, you cant shove rotarys onto the masses and expect them to maintain them right. Or put up with its shortcomings.

          Itd be like releasing an art film at the budget theater and expecting your crowd to “get it”.

  • avatar

    Way more interested in the nicest looking XV20 Camry wagon I’ve seen since the Bush 2 era

  • avatar

    I owned a 2006 for 2 years. I used it as a daily driver in Central Alberta.

    When everything worked, on a winding road, it was pure bliss. Like a Miata but with more everything. The engine sang, people loved it, the interior was amazing.

    But it had 3 massive faults.

    1. If you don’t succeed in starting it the first time you flood it. Badly. You need to jump it with another car and crank it for a long time. This is described in the manual. In the winter, it started 95% of the time. Your boss gets annoyed if you don’t show up 5% of the time.

    2. The fuel mileage. 15 mpg on premium only. You can’t risk more than one tank of regular without risking engine damage. I lived in Red Deer. Edmonton and Calgary are each 1.5 hours away. I bought so much fuel.

    3. The fear. I was part of the Alberta RX club. I would autocross with them an even took it to a track day in Race City in Calgary. Everyone had either had the engine replaced or were about to get it replaced. You end up checking the oil obsessively. Is it using more? Is it sounding funny? Did it just hiccup? Is it losing power? That constant fear really takes a lot of fun out of owning a car. It’s actually soul crushing.

    All that and the car actually isn’t that fast, especially in the real world. You weren’t going to win any stoplight drags (not that I would do that). You couldn’t blow your passengers away with blinding acceleration. The only time it was really fast was on a tight winding road with perfect pavement, where it was exceedingly fast.

    I traded it straight across on a 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4 with a lot fewer kms. The Caliber was a lot faster (even on the autocross). The Caliber was useless on a curvy road. The Caliber was stupid cheap fun (at the time, a lot faster than Mustangs and 350Z etc). If you put regular in it just was less powerful. The Caliber was a lot more useful and didn’t mind winter. And aside from tires the Caliber didn’t need any maintainence for the first 80,000 km. After that the build quality showed and it went south fast, as you would expect.

    • 0 avatar

      “The Caliber was stupid cheap fun (at the time, a lot faster than Mustangs and 350Z etc)”

      No compute. A Caliber is NOT faster than a 350Z. It is not faster than a Mustang.

      • 0 avatar

        At the time (4.6 L Mustangs before the Coyote) it was. Not from a stop, as the Caliber couldn’t put the power to the ground, but otherwise. Mine had come with a stage 1 kit and a few other mods and was putting about 300 hp to the wheels. That made it very fast (if you could keep the wheels from spinning). When the coyotes mustangs came (as well as the Camaro SS and the 6.4 Hemis) it was slower. But from a roll it was considerably faster than the 4.6 Mustang GTs.

        As for the 350Z, I tended to get a lot better autocross times than my buddy with one, even though he was a considerably better driver. Would also beat him on a 40 roll up to where aerodynamics start to count.

      • 0 avatar

        The Calipers quicker if the other drivers arent trying to race.

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t get me wrong. I am not defending the Caliber. The interior is atrocious, the build quality is a mess and the front suspension design is a crime. And the regular ones have no redeeming qualities. The SRT4 ones had a lot of engine on a somewhat light car. They were conservatively rated at 285 hp but most owners were getting more than that to the wheels stock. The terrible brake linked electronic pseudo limited slip differential caused a lot of tire spin and wheel hop. But if they could get the power to the ground it had a lot of acceleration.

          Keep in mind learning that my car was quicker than a 4.6 mustang GT was more of a cars and coffee thing and afterward going out and seeing what the cars could do. On a racetrack of course. The fact the Caliber SRT4 was so quick surprised me as much as anyone.

          • 0 avatar
            Kevin Jaeger

            I never much cared for the Caliber but you really can’t argue with the pace you get when you stuff a fairly powerful engine into a fairly light car, as they did with the SRT4.

      • 0 avatar

        Then you need to clear your cache then.

        0-60 times are extremely comparable to the 350Z stock for stock; once you adding the turbo toys kits from Mopar it really starts to scream. If he was running a Stage 1 kit from Mopar they put down 280-300 HP at the wheels and almost 300 ft/lbs at the wheels also; the only issue is torque management which limits 1st gear to 240ish—2nd through 6th gets the full 300.

        C&D trapped a 350Z at 14.1 @ 101, and a SRT Caliber at 14.4 @103 for a vehicle that’s a stupid brick. The crappier Neon was even faster.

    • 0 avatar

      I get what you’re saying. It’s just you’re like the guy who complains that his 3-4 carburetors need syncing every once in a while. You bought a car that didn’t fit your needs.

  • avatar

    I have no love for Mazda, but noooooooooo.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Chances are 13B-Renesis gave up the ghost due to a lack of maintenance or abuse. I wonder if a tri-rotary out of a 90’s era JDM Cosmo or a 3rd gen Miata 2.0 would work as a replacement.

  • avatar

    Slightly off topic, but I read somewhere that replacing the fuel filter on the 3rd gen RX-7 required removing the rear axle. Is this true?

  • avatar

    As a current RX-8 owner, I’m happy to report it’s just a car, not a magic carpet, but also not the devil’s spawn.

    1) Oil: 1 qt/1,500 miles is about right.
    2) MPGs: 22-24 highway, 18-20 city, driven gently. If wound out in every gear, less; 7.9 mpg on a roadrace track. Still, I spend less on gas than insurance.
    3a) How to fail the engine: Let the ignition coils go bad. (The duty cycle of the coils is far higher in a rotary, that is, the time between firings is shorter than in a normal piston engine.) This will cook and plug the cat. The plugged cat will drive exhaust temperatures too high and a seal will fail.
    3b) How to fail the engine: Let the cooling system deteriorate. A single excursion above ~235 degrees F will cause enough differential expansion between the iron “centers” and the alloy housing to fail o-rings and get water into places it shouldn’t go.
    3c) How to fail the engine: Use 20W-50 without modding the oil pressure relief valve. This will give too-little oil flow at high rpm. (Applicable to many modern piston-engine cars too, BTW).

    My 110 hp RX-4 back in the day was stone-reliable. The 230 hp RX-8 engine, less so. Both had the same displacement. High hp/cc cars of any type (S2000, Ferrari, …) run into the same sort of problems, mostly caused by ppl treating them like Camrys.

    Unfortunately, used RX-8s go for so little money these days that they get into the hands of kids unable to keep up with maintenance. Being cheap and/or ignorant will kill these engines in short order.

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