Buy a 1985 Mazda RX-7?

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Oct 28, 2008
I expect to be looking at an'85 RX-7 on Monday. It's supposed to be in good condition with 76k miles. I'm worried about buying someone else's headache. Would you pass on a car this old with a rotary engine?
I would say if you are asking here you probably don't know enough about the car to make a good decision. Do you have a buddy that's into them you could bring along?
A guy in my motorsports club autocrossed one last year, it basically smelled like a two stroke as it burns oil to keep the seals alive. It looked like a fun car to toss around atleast. I would say you should like to work on cars if you get it, not that its a terrible car but it will need more attention than a newer car.

Funny enough there's an '85 for sale at my local mazda dealer for $12k! I would assume its been rebuilt recently by a good rotary mechanic. They say its mint which it would have to be to get anything close to $12k.
I've had both the 12A and the 13B fuel injected version of the '85 RX-7...great cars. Both have things to look for, kind of a long list.

1. Leaking oil metering lines (the tiny clear-looking ones)
2. Excessive fuel smell in the oil, type of oil used, interval.
3. Spark plugs need to be changed annually, especially if the car was never really driven hard or run at high rpm (helps clean them out)...there are 4 of them, and they run $6-$10 each. NGK only, no exceptions.
4. Ensure transmission & diff oils replaced regularly. If this is a GSL or GSL-SE model, it will have an LSD and requires special fluid...rule of thumb, if it has rear disk brakes, it has an LSD....also usually if the car has a sunroof it has an LSD>
5. Steering looseness or clunks = needs idler and pitman arm bushings...stupid-cheap and easy to replace (put Delrin in there, don't waste time with rubber) but a great point to reduce $$ on the selling price.
6. Fuel filters and air filters changed regularly is a must.
7. Low coolant = bad. Old radiator cap = bad. Fan clutch that does not engage with in half a turn = bad. Any cooling issues, stay away...usually spells Rebuild right away, the o-rings are sensitive to that.
8. Oil smoke on startup = okay, but NOT steam. Steam = walk away. On the 12A carburated cars, you can tolerate a tiny bit of oil smoke on hard acceleration, but not on the 13B.

Both versions are very cool cars, I really liked both that I had. The GSL-SE with the 13B is a sweet car with good power, and I was getting like 26mpg on the highway with mine! Racing Beat and Mazdaspeed make a ton of great parts for them that make them fast and reliable. Suspension/struts are cheap and make a big difference in handling and daily driving.

PS-- there is no rev limiter, just an electronic buzz or "honk"....try to keep it under 9,000rpm. Also, don't rev it past 3-4K rpm until it has warmed up.

I'd probably drive about three or four times a week.


I know a good amount about cars, and I wouldn't have any trouble with standard things like brakes, carb, clutch, etc. It's just that I don't know much about rotary engines. I'm mostly worried about seals and leaks.


Engine leaks are okay, coolant leaks are BAD! Weeping oil metering lines are okay, as long as they are sending oil to the right place. Oil cooler lines need looking at as well, but not the end of the world.

Never tolerate overheating, never tolerate bubbles/air in the cooling system, never tolerate low coolant. Ever.

Otherwise, they are awesome cars. I had two 85's and one very special (and rare as hen's teeth) '89 RX-7 GTUs, which was one of 200 made and the only one with rear seats....very special racing homologation model.
I would say no, unless have a lot of time and money.
I had 2 2nd gens.
lotsa headache and nothing extra ord but good luck finding a mechanic who knows squat about em.

also check if it is a glx or gs or something. the one with beefed up brakes etc.

lotsa small electrical issues with relays going bad

Thanks for your replies. This car is a GS, so I think that it has the 12a engine. I'll be very particular about inspecting the cooling system. I'll check all the other things that you listed, too. Where would the oil metering lines be?
What is this being used for? Daily driver? I'd prefer something with a bit more solid of an engine for that.

There's a reason no other manufacturers use rotaries.
If it has that few miles it may well be a weekend fun car for the prior owner and likely not abused.If that's the case I'd say go for it.This was the last year of the first generation rxs. Solo2driver hit it right on what to look for. I've had an 82GL an 85GSL and an 85GSL-SE over the years. All were great cars with very little trouble and no problems with the engines.By far the most fun was the 13-b rotary but the 12-a is still a blast to drive. They all come alive at around 3000 rpm [ the 13-b a little sooner as I recall]and just make you smile as they happily rev and pull from there all the way to redline.
With only 76K miles, I would imagine that the car is in good shape. The 12A engine is a robust engine, however rotary engines will need more periodical maintenance such as oil changes and spark plugs. There is no need to rev a stock 12A past 7000rpm as the intake and exhaust ports are small and power will drop off at that point. Also, the 12A has 3mm apex seals from the factory and as long as you premix or as long as your oil metering pump is working correctly, you will have long engine life. However, the 3mm seals do wear down the housings more than the 2mm seals that the 13B engines have.

I daily drove my '84 for 2 years and never had a problem, it has 89K miles. I do recommend 3000 mile oil changes in these engines due to fuel dilution.
looks like u are going for a compression check pls. 3 equal highs.
cold engine open the rad cover and inspect. should be clean fluids, no buildup.
omp is probably behind the fan.
make sure u add quality 2 cycle and after using up the first tank of gas replace fuel filter and clean grounds and add more if necessary.
check tranny, make sure it is not notchy N to 1st to 2nd
good luck

It's the headache that I don't need. My sense is that these cars are fiddley. I don't know that I want that right now. I think that I'll take a look, though.
Not fiddley at all IMO, there are just some things to look for. With a low-mileage car I would inspect all rubber components, they may be a bit cracked if not replaced periodically. I ran pre-mix in my '89, but it was a racecar. Likely not necessary on the street.

I daily drove my GS for years, and commuted 300 miles per day in my can be done!!

Fun pic of my '89 GTUs at one of it's last ProSolo races--

'89 RX-7 GTUs
My friend had an '86 model (are the '85 and 86 identical?)

When he bought the car used, it was only a few years old with about 58k miles on it. He bought it from a local Jaguar dealership. It was the general manager's wife's car.

Unknown to my friend, the rear end had been leaking and was dry when he got it. Right off the bat, he had to have the rear end replaced. Luckily, the dealership repaired it for no charge after a bit of complaining.

The other problems he had with the car were electrical. The headlight switch used to get hot and the connector finally melted and gave up.

The electronic climate control started to have intermittent problems with selecting A/C, heat, etc. I took the controls out and tried re-flowing the solder connections, but that didn't help. he ended up having the unit replaced.

Other than that, the car was really trouble free in the important areas like drive train and engine.

My friend was always worried that the electronic tuned suspension would give out. It never did.
I bought an 88 in 1993 or so with 77,000 miles. It was a fun car, and I didn't have any issues with it. It was harder than you'd expect to change plugs is about all I remember on maintaining it. Handled well. I put about 20,000 miles on it in the 5 years I had it.
The plan is to go and take a look on Monday or Tuesday. I'll make a list and check what I can. I'll post back and report what I saw.

Thanks for all your replies! They've been a big help.
Well, I went to see the car today. It was in pretty good shape. There was an oil leak coming down from the oil filter housing and a lot of suspension bushings were dry-rotted. It ran fairly well, although I wouldn't call it a fast car. What surprised me most was the steering. It was quite heavy. At $4,200, I think I will pass.

Thanks for the suggestions on what to look for!
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