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At $1,500, Is This “Barn-Find” 1979 Mazda RX-7 A Barn-Burner Of A Deal?

Illustration for article titled At $1,500, Is This “Barn-Find” 1979 Mazda RX-7 A Barn-Burner Of A Deal?
Photo: Craigslist
Nice Price Or No DiceIs this used car a good deal? You decide!

The seller of today’s Nice Price or Crack Pipe RX-7 claims it to be one of the earliest built but also to be in non-running condition at preesent. Let’s find out just what you think it might be worth to wake up this Rip Van Wankel.

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The comments on last Friday’s 2001 Ford F-150 XL proved a microcosm of why such low-end, standard cab trucks have fallen out of favor over the years. Once, the de facto standard, their inherent lack of lockable storage has made crew cab and small van solutions the preferred choice among both commercial and consumer haulers.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t still hold appeal to some, and at just $3,500 that manual-everything, rubber floor-wearing, plan-jane pickup found favor with a whopping 75 percent of you, who gave the truck a solid Nice Price win.

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Now let’s look at something a little sportier.

The Wankel engine is a study in failure. Invented by a high school dropout who taught himself engineering, the rotary engine never fulfilled its promise of eclipsing the reciprocating piston engine in efficiency, durability or ubiquity.

Felix Wankel supposedly dreamt of a car powered by a rotary piston engine while in his early 20s and was awarded a patent for his engine design in 1924. For the rest of his life—that is, when he wasn’t being thrown in prison by competing Nazi party sects or the post-war French government—he continued to develop and live off the licenses of his namesake motor.

Illustration for article titled At $1,500, Is This “Barn-Find” 1979 Mazda RX-7 A Barn-Burner Of A Deal?
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One company that paid Wankel for the rights to use his design, and honestly went all-in on it as a key market differentiator, was Japan’s Mazda. From the early ‘70s through the turn of the century, Mazda offered at least one rotary-powered model in their line up.

The benefits of the Wankel engine are its simplicity, its impressive power to weight ratio, and its compact size which made it the perfect fit for small cars warranting a little extra in the go department. The smooth power delivery and ability to rev like crazy with little fuss or muss also hold appeal.

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On the downside, the Wankel’s unique triangular piston design requires a seal on each apex and that has proven to be a very vexing wear point. The engine’s unique combustion process has also made it more difficult to control for emissions and the design is not especially frugal on fuel at its given power output. The final nail in the Wankel’s coffin was the rapid advancement in the more traditional reciprocating piston engine. Today, a small four-pot mill is going to be more efficient, and a hell of a lot torquier than a rotary of similar output.

That all being said, the Wankel has a special place in history, having established Mazda as a car maker here in the U.S. and as a promised game-changer in cars as diverse as the Corvette, AMC Pacer, Delorean DMC-12, and Citroën CX.

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None of those ever actually came with a Wankel, but this 1979 Mazda RX-7 certainly did. Based on the platform of the earlier RX-3, the SA RX-7 proved a hit in the market even as fuel prices climbed and Mazda started abandoning the rotary engine for reciprocating power in their other lines.

Illustration for article titled At $1,500, Is This “Barn-Find” 1979 Mazda RX-7 A Barn-Burner Of A Deal?
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This one, in Spark Yellow over a black vinyl interior, is said in its ad to be a barn find and is not running at the moment owing to disuse. Now I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to know that pretty much any old car can be cranked over and fired up with little more than a jump box and a can of starting fluid, so I would expect that there’s still hope here.

The seller doesn’t think so, however, and suggests a site (providing the wrong address for it) where rebuilt engines may be procured. That business offers rebuilt 12A cores starting at $2,099 with add-ons like porting and piston polishing as extras. There’s an $800 core charge for the mill itself. And, of course, there’s shipping since the postal carrier isn’t just going to Juno the thing over to your house.

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With all that, you can figure on a sizable cash outlay just to get the car up and running. That’s running, mind you, not streetable. For that, you’ll also want to go through the brakes, replace the clutch, and refresh the tires. Add that work to your tally.

Illustration for article titled At $1,500, Is This “Barn-Find” 1979 Mazda RX-7 A Barn-Burner Of A Deal?
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The base for all that looks to be well worth it. The bodywork seems straight and without issue, and all the rubber trim appears intact. The car rolls on Mazda’s painfully handsome Campagnolo-evoking alloy wheels which seem in fine fettle. Those, by the way, are 13-inch. Tiny!

The interior shows some wear, most notably in the form of a seam split on the passenger seat. The dash appears free of cracks and carries a stereo head unit that’s not quite age-appropriate. The seller doesn’t provide mileage, nor do they note the last time the car was registered. It is said to rock a clean title and does have wonderful blue and gold California plates which is a plus. Of course, if it’s been out of the DMV’s computer long enough those will likely need to be tossed.

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Illustration for article titled At $1,500, Is This “Barn-Find” 1979 Mazda RX-7 A Barn-Burner Of A Deal?

Let’s think about how much money you might toss the seller of this non-moving Mazda. The asking price is a low $1,500, but that just gets you a bit of yard art. If you plan on actually enjoying this RX-7—and experience that Wankel engine legend for yourself—then you will absolutely need to drop more.

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What do you think, does that $1,500 price seem like a good starting point? Or, would you just spend a little more at the outset to get your rotary engine fix?

You decide!

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San Francisco Bay Area Craigslist, or go here if the ad disappears.

H/T to NortenosKorea on the Twitter for the hookup!

Help me out with NPOCP. Hit me up at rob@jalopnik.com and send me a fixed-price tip. Remember to include your Kinja handle.

Rob Emslie is a contributing writer for Jalopnik. He has too many cars, and not enough time to work on them all.

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DISCUSSION

pharm-demon
Pharm Demon

Allow me to quote one of your esteemed writers Freddy Hernandez. The rotary engine sucks. An inherent design flaw means that it burns oil like your uncle’s ancient lawnmower with the grace of an armadillo in a washing machine. It’s also impossible to start reliably, if you turn it off before it’s fully warmed up, you’ll have to clear your schedule for the next few hours to get it adequately cool down and un-flood itself and the entire engine lasts maybe as long as the first minor service interval on your aunt’s Honda Civic. It has the fuel economy of an ‘80s cruise liner and the torque output of a clothes hamper falling down the stairs. It’ll start or not start, depending on what you had for breakfast that day and if you were mad your mother earlier that week. Don’t be fooled by enthusiastic forum fanboys; every single rotary owner knows what it’s like to wake up and wonder whether or not they’ll engage in the miracle of automotive transportation because of the gigantic piece of shit lurking in their car’s engine bay. Instead, get a V8. Get a V6. Swap in a golf cart motor. Rip out the floor and use your bare feet against the asphalt. Anything other than the rotary.