PH Fleet: Mazda RX-8

Flat out up Ex-Muhle, I knew something was wrong. Something didn’t sound quite right. The response from the twin-rotor Wankel just wasn’t snappy enough. After a brilliant day of blatting around the Eifel with my liberated-from-the-insurance-compound RX-8, fitting my new rims and awesome Michelin Supersport tyres, this was to be the first lap of the ’ring in the Rex since May. But it would be the last for this car.

Fresh new Michelins barely got scrubbed in
Fresh new Michelins barely got scrubbed in
After cruising the short straight to Lauda Links and Bergwerk, while scanning all the gauges and dials for signs of a problem, I floored it a second time.

And the engine died.

The cries of a thousand forum experts echoed silently through the car as the mirrors filled with light blue smoke and the engine vibrated like a brick in a tumble-dryer. Somehow we were already bouncing over the grass and trying to stop. Within seconds the Mazda was parked behind a barrier and I was running down the safe side of the guardrail. No sign of oil or coolant on the floor or on the car itself. Upon returning to the car, I found the sudden stop had boiled it over.

The final indignity? Um, not pictured, thankfully
The final indignity? Um, not pictured, thankfully
After a chat with the safety team and a brief inspection of the car, it was decided to let me drive the wrong way down the hill at the end of the session. Luckily I’d gulped a whole bottle of 2-litre water recently, and still had half a bottle in the car. So the header tank was refilled, one way and another (use your imagination). Now I had a whole hour to reflect upon my options before I went back down the hill.

Firstly, remove engine, rebuild it, install it. This option could weigh in at less than a grand, but I’m not really capable of any of these things. I don’t have the time and I certainly don’t have the talent.

Second option would be to get a pro to do the above. Prices range from £1,250 for a 14-day warranty eBay motor to several thousand pounds for a guaranteed race motor from somewhere like Haywards or Rotechniks. I don’t have that much money, and I wouldn’t want to put myself in the same position again. Thinking that my motor is perfect, then watching the oil smoke appear on a bike-filled Nordschleife. No, never again.

Recovered, but going nowhere
Recovered, but going nowhere
Third option, break it, sell it, scrap it. I was emotional. This is the option that won. So when the time came, and my yellow-vested escort arrived, I cranked the motor over, safe in the knowledge I didn’t car how much additional damage I caused, and drove all the way down to the Adenau exit. The vibration through the firewall told half the story, the horrible exhaust note the other half. One chamber was dead, no doubt a rotor tip had separated. About half the power of a normal motor and massive imbalance directly related to crank speed.

Luckily for me my friend Jens has a crashed RX-8. It’s a no-expense-spared dedicated track day car, but he had an argument with barriers. Now it needs a front-end transplant. Well it’s got one.

A painful decision, but the right one.

From my initial investment of around £3,000, I have only a thousand. But using the rather nifty options drivetrain and power options of the new Pistonheads Classifieds, I think I’ve found myself another 200hp, rear-wheel drive ’ring-toy to replace the Mazda.

Now you can all say it: “I told you so.”

Car: 2004 Mazda RX-8
Run by: Dale Lomas
Bought: December 2011
Purchase price: £2.800
First month: Ignored the critics, bought a Wankel, made grand plansfor modification but secretly hoped the mod budget won’t be spent on a re-con motor...
This month: Blew the motor. Didn’t have the budget for a re-con motor, sold the whole thing as a wreck. Gutted.

Previous reports:
A lap of the 'ring on a BMW S1000RR reminds Dale why he really needs the Mazda back
It hasn't been a good month for Dale's Mazda...
Ordering pieces of paper to pass the German MOT
Dale makes a new RX-8 mate

PH fleet intro: Mazda RX-8


P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (235) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Kiwi G 10 Oct 2012

    I've been a pistonheads member for years but have posted fairly infrequently. I have to post on this thread in defense of the RX-8.

    Let me start by saying that I've had engine rebuilds for my:
    • Alfa 164 Cloverleaf - burnt valves
    • MR2 MK2 Rev 5 Turbo - big end twice
    • Porsche 996 TT - IMS shaft ring gear bolts became loose - a very rare non fatal failure. The new ones have thread locker on them. This rebuild has cost me several years of nice holidays.
    I maintain my cars well and warm them up nicely but then tend to drive them with spirit.

    Anyway onto my RX-8 - after the MR2 and a long list of company Civics and immediately before the 996.

    The RX-8 was one of the nicest cars I have ever owned. It was red with the two tone leather interior, and the six port engine. Anyway, when I got it I replaced the coil packs and always fed it plenty of Castrol GTX. In fact once I managed to get distracted and absentmindedly overfilled it. I was coming back from work the next day around a long sweeper at 9000 RPM and when the lateral G got high enough there was an almighty cloud of smoke out the back and a minor power drop. Once back on the straight the smoke went and the power returned fine. I assume it was oil hydraulicing past the side seals into the combustion chamber.

    The car had a few problems but exploding engines was never one of them. I remember that I always warmed it up gently and then tended to beep it on every gear change smile

    It did however:
    1. Eat catalytic converters.
    2. Return an average of 17 mpg for my 50 mile per day commute.
    3. Really annoyingly had a propensity to gouge spirals on CDs at a combination of high lateral G and high turn rate. I got really good at polishing CDs.
    4. Got front disc vibration easily - but after market discs were pretty cheap.
    It had really nice handling that was incredibly neutral - you could feel the back start to squirrel about way before anything bad started to happen. However there was something strange with the front suspension geometry that under certain conditions caused the front to leap across the road when it hit a certain type of rut - and there were plenty of those on my commute from MK toward Oxford.

    The RX-8 was a really fun car to drive - the EPS was good and it had a superb manual gear box.

    Driving the RX-8 fast was fun and I suspect it would bare good comparison to the GT-86.

    As my job changed to commuting by rail, had the RX-8 not scratched CDs and had I not gone mad and bought a 996 TT, I would probably still have the RX-8.

    One final sobering thought. For the cost of the 996 engine rebuild I could have have at least five 13B rebuilds and spare change.

    PS : One final note. If you have an RX-8 and flood it do not call a service van. Simply pull the fuel injector fuse and crank it for a couple of minutes. Replace the fuse and start as usual. Of course this assumes that you maintain your plugs in good condition.

    Edited by Kiwi G on Wednesday 10th October 19:00

  • pstables 10 Oct 2012

    No no no no no. Reading this thread has got me all nostalgic and wanting an RX-8 again. I had a 54 plate in Winning Blue from new and ran it for 4 years without any major problems (I flooded it once, had to be taken to dealers to be re-started).

    The R3 in white looks just stunning and can be had for around 9K, bargain. Not sure I can live with the running costs now though, I replaced the RX-8 with a Leon Cupra K1 which did around 28mpg (and 280 - 290bhp). The turbo torque of the Leon felt so much faster than the RX-8 but the RX-8 handling was amazing.

    Currently running a petrol Octavia vRS, bit down on power of the Cupra but will see 40mpg on a long run, fit 2 kids and bikes / scooters in the boot. Not sure I can put up with sub 20mpg again.

  • otolith 06 Sep 2012

    R26Andy said:
    As a side note, coil packs seem to degrade slowly rather than totally fail so by the time the owner is aware there is something wrong it is often too late.

    There have been cases where the first someone has realised that they have a problem is when they've been on an OC run and their 231ps car has been out-accelerated by a 192ps one.

  • R26Andy 06 Sep 2012

    RX7 said:
    R26Andy said:
    Failure is normally more gradual wear/loss of compression due to oil wash out by unburnt fuel from dodgy coil packs.
    More internet untruths about rotaries!

    I took a guy for a test drive in a Rx7 i was selling, it was as sweet as a nut, we stopped at a cash point and in the time it took him to get a deposit out it blew a water seal!

    Failures, just like Dales are usually catastrophic and quick, but as Dale mentioned, i could have an engine rebuild for my Rx7 with 30 months or 30k miles warranty for £3k (inc removal/replacement) with no caveats as to what the car is used for (track, dift, drag or road) or how much hp it runs, id say that is pretty good value for money!

    Edited by RX7 on Thursday 30th August 12:55
    Er no. 3.5 years of ownership myself and being an avid member of the ownersclub for 5 years. Thats why I said they "normally fail" not "always fail" like this.

    As a side note, coil packs seem to degrade slowly rather than totally fail so by the time the owner is aware there is something wrong it is often too late.

  • redgriff500 06 Sep 2012

    brianjohns said:
    I maintain that Lotus should have looked to this car for ideas of what to build. The Rx-8 brought so much to the game- small size, light weight, great feedback, precision to all controls, an amazing gear-change, a spacious cabin with at least a little room for 4 in a pinch, and that fabulous completely balanced handling.

    Lotus would have done well to have built one of these with a proper engine and alloy construction
    I agree BUT as pointed out previously, a large part of the reason that Mazda managed it was because of the tiny rotary engine.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment