1971-1978 Mazda RX-3 / Savanna

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Production Period: 1971-1978

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No company was more committed to the Wankel engine than Mazda, even in the wake of NSU's fatal miscalculations with Ro80. They reckoned they had got the Wankel right and pursued all possibilities - saloons, coupes, estates and even delivery trucks - with rotary power. The RX3 was simply Mazda's lower mid-range saloon and coupe, fitted with a 100 bhp (or in some markets, a 120 bhp) super-smooth twin-rotary Wankel engine. Unlike the Ro80, these Mazdas were entirely conventional, typically Japanese cars of the era, complete with baroque styling, vague steering and simple rear suspension. The RX3 had a 10 mph top speed advantage over its piston-engined counterpart, the 818, and was much quicker accelerating through the gears. The trade-off was the fuel consumption: RX3 drivers had to be very careful even to get 20 mpg out of their cars, which was hardly what one would have expected from a small family saloon.

The Rx-3 has always been one of the Mazda rotary enthusiasts' favourite models -- the coupè and sedan's lines were some of the best of the day. The RX-3 was first introduced with the smaller 10A engine and four-speed gearbox in 1971, and was soon joined by an automatic-equipped version and the Sport Wagon -- the world's first rotary engine-equpped station wagon. The RX-3 also appeard in GT version and came fitted with the bigger 12A and five-speed gearbox as found in the higher-spec GSII RX-2s.


March of 1972, the RX-3 was released in Australia - seven months after Mazda Japan had launched the RX-3 and the Familia/808/818 (1600cc/1800cc) domestically.

With the addition of three new body styles, the rotary line up now totalled nine choices internationally. Following the 'peoples rotary' theory, the first rotary station wagon was made available in Japan and in the US. The Australian market (and New Zealand) was less fortunate. Not only missing out on the wagon but the 130hp 12A. Australian-model RX-3s came in two bodies - the Deluxe sedan and the Super Deluxe coupe.

Equipment differences between the RX-3 Deluxe sedan and the Super Deluxe coupe were many. The coupe carried an optional body stripe, clock, rear defogger and the centre console/high armrest and collapsible steering column. All Series 1 RX-3s came with the 982cc 10A. The manual sedan cost AUS$3299 (3-speed automatic transmission was a $341 option) and the coupe AUS$3479. Comparing the coupe in price, Mazda priced the RX-3 against cars like the 190-hp Holden Torana GTR XU-1 ($3455), the 144-hp Ford Capri GT V6 ($3490), and the 218-hp Valiant RT Charger ($3395). Fortunately price didn't play an overwhelming role in RX-3 sales - the rotary engine was Mazda's main selling point.

Performance-wise the 10A RX-3 wasn't able to match the RX-2 with 12A. With a power-to-weight ratio of 10.9 kg per kW compared to the RX-2's 9.9 kg per kW, the RX-3 was slower. Aussie motoring journalists did well to push 17.6 second quarters at 76mph out of the lighter sedan (16.3 for the RX-2).

In late 1973, Mazda released the Series 2 in Japan. Externally the entire front end sheet metal was revamped and a different set of taillights with twin brake lights were included (commonly known as Savanna taillights in Australia). The Series 2 RX-3 hit Australia in March of '74 powered by the 12A single dizzy (12B). The Series 2 was slower than the 10A Series 1 down the quarter mile even with the 1146cc 12A's greater capacity and 15 percent more power. The Rotary Engine Anti Pollution System (REAPS) hurt torque. As a result, the Series 2 was slow off the mark but had a better top speed. The loss of torque plus a 44-kilo weight increase slowed the series 2 to a 17.8 second quarter mile. Additional exterior colors for the Series 2 like Bottle Green and Alexandria Gold added appeal. Interior changes were minor and included a change from the kph/mph speedometer to a 200 kph speedometer (180 kph for the 808), an exhaust overheat light, a 50 amp/hour ammeter gauge (up from 30ah) plus design changes to the trims and seat belts. Notably the radio antenna was enhanced by a twin post (rather than single) design. The '74 model kept the three spoke plastic wood grain steering wheel; the '75 received a fake leather wheel with slots cut into its three spokes.

Mazda Motors Pty Ltd operated throughout Victoria, Tasmania and southern NSW - the rest of Australia was covered by independent distributors. Documented records show the height of the rotary-powered era was between 1972 and 1975. During the fiscal term of May '73 to April '74 Mazda Motors sold 2866 rotary powered vehicles (including RX-2, 3 and 4) a total of 40 percent of its overall vehicle sales. At the same time Mazda Japan was pumping out 5000 RX-3's per month, with more then half of these being coupes with the balance split between the sedan and the wagon.

In March 1976 the RX-3 was officially removed from the Australian lineup. The price had crept up to AUS$4525 for the coupe, which was cheaper than the RX-4 coupe but still expensive by comparison with similar cars. Remaining RX-3's lingered on the dealer floors well after the March cut-off date.

In 1976 the Series 3 RX-3 was released in America and Japan but not Australia or New Zealand. There weren't as many changes this time around, but the few made were significant. The nose cone wore a new lower spoiler-type lip, the gimmick rotor badges were replaced with a simple Mazda badge on the grille.

Of all the pre-RX-7 rotary vehicles Mazda built (930,000 in total), the RX-3 was by far the most popular. Of all the RX-3's built, the coupe exceeded 50 percent of total sales - all facts which influenced the design profile of the RX-7.

On race tracks, the RX-3 proved highly competitive from its introduction in 1971. In Japan the RX-3 won the touring car title in '72, '73, '75, '76 and '77. In May of 1976 the RX-3 won its 100th Japanese domestic race. To celebrate, Mazda produced commemorative specials (tricked up AP-GT). The RX-3 also won the Japanese Grand Prix in '72, '73, '75, '76 and '78. Locally, the RX-3 did reasonably well. CAMS' backward view towards the rotary barred any form of porting to the engine; however, the RX-3 knocked up a number of touring car class wins and regularly embarrassed V8-powered opposition. The RX-3 scored class wins at Bathurst in 1974, '75 and '79, and in 1975 Don Holland took his RX-3 coupe to 5th outright. In 1977 an RX-3 managed 7th outright. For the 1979 race, CAMS finally allowed bridge porting. It wasn't until the early-80s when clever lobbying towards CAMS allowed peripheral porting of the 12A RX-7.

When checking out genuine RX-3, look carefully. Start with the chassis number: the Series 1 ID starts with S102A and the Series 2 with S124A. The 1300 808 ID number starts with STC and the 1600 model with SN3A. As mentioned, the RX-3 was dropped in '76 however the 808 continued in Series 3 form until 1978. There are quite a few RX-808's out there, some with number jobs. Fortunately there are a few ways to recognize a well-disguised RX-808.

The Series 1 RX-3 has a rear license plate frame - the 808 doesn't. The 1300cc 808's have a very small diff center compared to the standard RX-3 diff center; however, the SN3A diff is RX-3 sized. All RX-3 rear bumpers have square reflectors and the Series 2 front bumper has a cut-out for oil cooler air flow. The 808 model bumpers don't have either. All RX-3 fuel tanks are stamped with the letter L and carry 60 litres. The 808 has an S stamp and holds 45 litres.

The Series 2 RX-3 will have emission control relays in its 'computer box'. Engine bay wiring will have a choke control and an ignition relay or at least its correct unused plug and the harness will be generally thicker than the 808's.

The best distinguishing trait of the bunch is the exhaust overheat thermosensor. Located in the right corner of the boot near the shock tower, this device would short out and illuminate the dash-mounted light when the REAPS rear muffler heated up 'beyond safe limits'. If the sensor isn't there, look for the mounting holes and/or the plug in the wiring loom.

And finally the RX-3s had exhaust heat shields over the rear mufflers, if they aren't there, then there should be brackets for them. Many people don't know this, and even if they did, who could be bothered making up a RX-808 and spot welding them under the boor floor?

Years Available: 1972 to 1976 Engine: 10A (982cc) twin rotor (2 x 491cc) Carby and 12A (1146cc) twin rotor (2 x 573cc) Carby Transmission: 4 Speed Manual and optional 3 Speed Auto Power (Approx.): 100hp (74.5kw) (10A), 130hp (97kw) (12A) Torque (Approx.): 100 Lb/Ft (135.5Nm) (10A), 117 Lb/Ft (158Nm) (12A) Weight (Approx.): 885 kg (Coupe) 865 kg (Sedan) Note: The weight increased throughout its model run. Chassis Prefix: S102A (Series 1 10A models) and S124A (Series 2 12A models) Specification: Super Deluxe Coupe and Deluxe Sedan Original Cost: $3299 AUD for Sedan (Manual, Automatic transmission was a $341 option), $3479 AUD for Coupe (Series 1) but had gone upto $4525 AUD for the Coupe by 1976

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