The Luce (Italian for light — as in from-a-candle, not as in weight) Coupe, or RX-4 as it was badged outside of Japan, was Mazda’s top-of-the-line luxury car. The RE12 badge on the grille marks this car as pre-1975 and rotary-engined. Lesser spec cars had the 1.8L, and later 2.0L 4-cylinder engine and were badged as 929 outside of the home market.
The RX-4 is the most muscle-car like of the rotary Mazdas, more elegant than the RX-3 but not as pretty as the RX-2. And easier to like than the RX-5. The RX-4 sedans are a bit fiddly but, as you can see, the coupe is lovely. They’re a proper pillarless hardtop, too (which makes them a bit flexy, truth be told).
It’s 1981. Mazda has just launched the first front-wheel-drive 323. In order to set a new design direction, they ask Bertone to produce a prototype based on the 323’s mechanicals. Bertone delivers a delightful brown hatchback coupe with a dropped beltline, a huge glass hatch and a wedgy front end with quite tidy pop-up lights. Mazda must have been pleased with the MX-81 as the Astina hatch and the second generation RX-7 make quite strong references to it.
The weirdest feature of the MX-81 was that it had a square belt instead of a steering wheel. I really hope it was a cheeky reference to the Austin Allegro’s “Quartic” wheel.
I’m one of those few people who actually like the RX-5. Sure, it’s one of those cars where the whole is different to the sum of the parts. The two-part belt-line and the grille that rolls up into the bonnet are among the parts that are a very difficult taste to acquire. Everyone who hates the RX-5 (very few people are indifferent) goes on about how “heavy” and “slow” they are. But a 2nd generation RX-7 weighs about the same and could also be had with a non-turbo 13b. But people think that those are slow, too, I guess.
you have to think of the RX-5 as Baroque or even Rokoko. From the R100 to the RX-4 every rotary got chintzier and more elaborate with more chrome and fiddly details. With the RX-5, I think they eventually got around to saying what they were trying to say.
I’ll let you in on a secret. The RX-5 is actually a really good drive. Not as good as an early RX-7, sure. But way better than most anything you’ll read anywhere has told you. And way more modern than any of the more “desirable” earlier RXs, too. Yes, RX-3 fanboys, I’m looking at you.
This really was my car a few years ago. I don’t normally name cars but this one was called Elwood. (No, it was not named for the Blues Brother.) This is it leaving Canberra for Brisbane. It was my daily for about a year, before I sold it to buy a Renault 16TS.
Elwood had a slightly later 1800cc engine mated to the 1500’s original Borg Warner 3-speed auto. It ran 4-wheel unassisted drum brakes. It stopped well enough, but perhaps not as quickly as is safe these days and with no brake feel. The beige was probably the original colour but it had been repainted in a very thick acrylic. The interior was in good condition, brown vinyl.
For something that looked like it could have worn Alfa Romeo badges (and indeed was designed by Giugiaro when he worked for Bertone) it was hilariously antiquated.
Allow me to indulge my supreme nerdism about early RX-7s…
In Australia this is called a Series 3 RX-7. People will tell you all sorts of stories about what makes a Series 3 a Series 3. The things that identify this particular car as a Series 3 are the high-shouldered seats and the barely visible vents in the lower front bumper.
Or you could see that this car is a turbo and know that what we call a Series 3 is a direct result of the power upgrade that the factory bestowed on the RX-7 when they gave it the 12a turbo from the Luce/Cosmo luxo-barge twins in late 1983. (Australians will tell you that the Series 3 is a 1984/5 car, and that is mostly true and is a good rule of thumb as most 1983 RX-7s in Australia are Series 2.)
But, the Series 3 and the power upgrade. The RX-7, as originally conceived, is sort of a massive facelift of the RX-3/Familia Rotary. Anyone who argues this point is willfully ignoring that both the RX-3 and RX-7 wore Savanna badges (as the car in the pic above does). Unlike the RX-3, which had a leaf-sprung live rear axle, the RX-7 has a coil-sprung 4-link live rear axle. So far so good. But, the RX-7’s rear axle design is such that under hard cornering it binds, that is, it gets itself situated in such a way as to become rigid with the body rather than supported by the springs. This leads, in normal road conditions, to undesirable handling traits such as snap oversteer and particularly snap oversteer while accelerating.
When the factory decided to up the RX-7’s power from about 110hp to about 150hp they also decided to try to fix the handling. A bit. So all the cars after the introduction of the 12a turbo engine had the mounting for the lower control arms of the 4-link live axle moved just a tiny bit to try to take out some of the snap oversteer under power. And because that was a change to the chassis pressing, all RX-7s from late 1983 on had the same rear axle mounts. There are a few other tiny detail changes, too. The windscreen wipers are different and the windscreen squirter is a single nozzle rather than two (or vice versa, I can never remember that one). And the front suspension strut-tops are corrugated in the Series 3 and flat in the Series 2 (though I know of one car, that was never crashed, that had one flat and one corrugated strut top. It was a late ‘83 car. Go figure).
But, in their infinite wisdom, the factory, or their local distributors, also decided that the 12aT was only suitable for the Japanese Domestic Market and everywhere else in the world (AFAIK, some weird things popped up in Greece recently) got the plain ordinary 12a which had been the RX-7s lot from 1978. Except the United States which received the semi-mythical GSL-SE which received the fuel-injected 13b, also from the Luce/Cosmo twins.
Oh, yeah. The car above? Love it. It’s brown, obviously. And it has the red interior which people hate, making it all the more desirable in my eyes. And it’s the turbo, though I am actually an atmo rotary fan. But the thing that makes this car? Factory steelies. Yeah.