Australia saw its first RX2s in October 1970, when two and four-door versions appeared in showrooms alongside the compact 1300 range and the R100 rotary. Also released in 1970 was the conventional 1.6-litre Capella that shared everything but its engine and some embellishments with RX versions.
Leader of the Capella pack was the RX2 coupe. Priced $300 above its $2998 sedan counterpart, the snappy two-door had black rims with chrome trim rings and side-striping described in Mazda’s advertising as ‘dashing body stripes’.
The cabin was black on almost every surface but looked well-equipped and more luxurious than most cars in the price range. Standard features included a simulated wood-rim wheel, tachometer redlined from 7000-8000rpm, temperature and amps gauges, a heater/demister, central console, rear window demister and optional head-restraints. Four-speed manual was the coupe’s only transmission.
12A rotary engines were used and standard output was 97kW. More was available without breaking too many rules and cars used for ‘series production’ competition were finding around 20kW more than standard and touching 190km/h down Bathurst’s Conrod straight.
Mazda had dabbled in Series Production motorsport with its R100 coupe and 1300 sedan but the bigger-engined RX2 gave local distributor Westco Motors a shot at the Manufacturers Championship – or Manchamp – Series.
Run at tracks around the country, of course including the annual Bathurst 500/1000 events, Manchamp classes catered to a wide range of notionally showroom-stock models.
On debut at Bathurst in 1971 and again in 1973 the RX2s won the category against strong competition from Twin-Cam Escorts and GTR Toranas.
RX2 handling was and remains a problem. The only effective remedy to chronic understeer involved repositioning the front struts to create more negative camber. This led to increased steering loads and tyre wear and wasn’t recommended for cars that needed to serve as regular transport.
Sedans had arrived on the Australian market at a very attractive $2998 (just $50 more than a Holden Torana GTR) but by 1976 when imports ceased the price had climbed to $5000. That money included automatic transmission – manual was an option – but did include a radio with electric aerial.
The RX2 was named 'US Import of The Year' for 1972 and that country still offers plenty of parts to keep existing cars running. Providing you don’t mind driving a left-hand drive, it is a potential source of complete cars and especially the scarce coupe.
The cost of obtaining a genuine RX2 have surged since last we featured these intriguing cars, Back in 2012 we struggled to find a car in close to stock condition and when we did it was an automatic sedan being sold through a dealer at $29,990.
Times change and with early rotary Mazdas attracting huge interest and matching money, the only RX2s selling today for $30K will be fakes or not worth owning.
If running flat out on a circuit or drag-strip is your thing, then turbocharged cars with ‘monster’ porting and fuel injection may suit. These find idling difficult and certainly aren’t suited to commuting. For street performance, cars fitted with the near-stock 13B turbo are far more sensible and still quick.
Two-door coupes are extremely scarce and $80-100,000 isn’t outrageous if the car is exceptional. Tidy sedans that have been mildly modified with later-model engines and improved suspension can be found from $45,000.
Given the relatively low cost of mechanical repairs a car that isn’t rust riddled and comes with a complete and excellent set of chromed and stainless items is viable for restoration or modification.
RX2s have gained sufficiently in value to justify the cost of rectifying previous sub-standard work. Rust attacks the lower body panels, floors and window surrounds. Look carefully at panels and chassis rails for dodgy crash repairs and bulging sections of body filler. Make sure that the doors on coupes close easily and haven’t damaged the sealing rubbers. New panels are almost impossible to find and used parts are getting expensive; doors are selling at $300 each. We spotted a supplier offering genuine rear glass for $1500 but extensive searching could not find coupe quarter panels. Rotary rear lenses, some chrome and rubber parts are available new, with kits of body rubbers for the sedan at around $1000. New hubcaps in a set of four seemed cheap at $450.
Early rotary engines suffered rapid seal wear and needed frequent rebuilds. Modern seals and other components help durability and a 12A should run beyond 100,000 kilometres before major work is needed. Blue smoke from burning oil signifies engine work is needed. Modified cars can produce ridiculous power for an engine of this size but they aren’t going to last. Any rotary and especially modified engines must be checked pre-purchase by a specialist. Replacement four-speed gearboxes are scarce now and later five-speed units are preferable anyway.
Get advice on what changes are needed to make the new ‘box fit. Standard three-speed automatics in usable condition sell at $6001000.
NUMBER BUILT: 225,004
BODY: all steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe and four-door sedan
ENGINE: 1148cc dual rotor with single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 97kW @ 7000rpm, 155Nm @ 4000rpm
Performance: 0-96km/h 9.8 seconds, 0-400 metres 16.8 seconds (4-speed coupe)
TRANSMISSION: four-speed manual or three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with struts and coil springs with anti-roll bar (f). Live axle with coil springs, locating links & telescopic shock absorbers (r).
BRAKES: disc (f), drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: 165SR/13 radial
VALUE RANGE MAZDA RX2 (Sedan)
FAIR $20,000 GOOD $40,000 EXCELLENT $65,000 (Note: concours cars will demand more)
RX2s raced successfully in Improved Production but handled hideously until the suspension was treated to quite radical modification. Cars being sold today may well be sitting on rock-hard spring/shock combinations and with camber tweaked so far that they sit on the inner edges of the tyres.
If a car has been lowered or fitted with larger wheels, look for gouges in tyre walls and rub marks from contact with suspension components. New springs and bush kits are easily acquired. Upgraded brakes are a sensible idea and something that can be done without affecting the look of an otherwise stock car.
Cracked dash tops are common and they're not easily found in undamaged condition. Reproduction door trims have been advertised at $800 per set but an excellent alloy-spoke steering wheel sold for more than $700. Test the ventilation system to ensure the fan is working and that an air-conditioned car – should any survive – is putting out properly chilled air. The original padding in seats becomes flat and uncomfortable but a lot of cars now have later-model buckets.