Classic Cars Wiki
Classic Cars Wiki

he Mazda RX-3 is an automobile sold in the 1970s. It was intended to be smaller and sportier than its brother, the RX-2/Capella Rotary. In 1972 all rotary engines had their die-cast rotor housing coated with a new process: The new Transplant Coating Process (TCP) featured sprayed-on steel which is then coated with chrome, giving greatly increased engine life. It was available from September, 1971 through 1978 in Super deluxe coupé, Deluxe sedan, and station wagon forms. The deluxe coupe was heavier (884 kg vs 864 kg) and 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 982 cc (2x491 cc) 10A. It was based on the compact Mazda Grand Familia (808/818/Mizer in export markets) and was sold in Japan as the Mazda Savanna. Sold from 1972 through 1978 in the United States, the RX-3 was extremely successful.

It originally used a 10A rotary engine like the Mazda R100, but American cars shared the larger 12A engine from the RX-2. 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 76 mph (122 km/h) out of the lighter sedan (16.3 for the RX-2). Performance-wise the 12A RX-3 wasn't able to match the RX-2 with 12A either, despite its lighter weight. See 1973 for details.

  • Front Track: 1,295 mm (51.0 in)
  • Rear Track: 1,295 mm (51.0 in)

The Aero Design DG-1 racing aircraft used two RX-3 engines, each driving a propeller - one at the front, the other at the rear of the aircraft.


The Savanna/RX-3 was the next Mazda racing entry, following up the success of the Cosmo and Familia Rotary. The Savanna debuted with a win at the September, 1971 "Fuji 500" race.

The cars battled with Nissan's Skyline on the Japanese Grand Prix in 1972, winning the touring car category there and preventing the GT-R from winning 50 consecutive races. The cars continued to be competitive, claiming over 100 victories in 1976, and continue in club racing today.

In Australia the RX-3 proved very successful both on and off the race track. One of many RX-3s racing in the 1975 Bathurst 1000 caused more than a worried look after placing fifth outright and 1st in its class for the second consecutive year after its initial class win in 1974. The RX-3 dominated the class C in 1975 holding 4 of the top 5 positions. In the USA the RX3 had much success in SCCA and IMSA competition. Many RX3s are still competing and one in particular is the SCCA Super Production car driven by Irish driver John Cummins.


The 1972 RX-3 was powered by the 10A in Japan, Australia, and Europe, while other markets got the larger 12A from the RX-2. The 1972 RX-3 was the first rotary-powered station wagon.

10A Engine output was 105 hp (78 kW) and 100 lb·ft (135 Nm). 0-60 mph (0–97 km/h) time was 10.8 seconds, and the car ran a 17.6 second quarter-mile (400 m)(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 tail lights in Australia). The Series 2 RX-3 hit Australia in March of '74 powered by the 12A single distributor (12B). Earlier 12A engines featured dual distributors. The starter motor was also relocated in the later engines from the top of the engine to the left hand rear side. Other internal 12A changes included moving from dual row side seals to single row and significant changes to apex seal design. The Series 2 was slower than the 10A series 1 down the quarter mile even with the 1,146 cc 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 km/h/mph speedometer to a 200 km/h speedometer (180 km/h for the 808), an exhaust overhead light, a 50 amp/our 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.

12A Engine output was 130 hp (97 kW) and 115 lb·ft (156 Nm). 0-60 mph (0–97 km/h) time was 10.8 seconds, and the car ran a 17.8 second quarter-mile (400 m).


The Savanna was updated in June 1973 for 1974. Mazda put the new 12A "AP" single-distributor engine in the RX-3. The body was also updated. It was refreshed again in 1975 with a "REAPS-5" engine.


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. The RX-3 was finally dropped in 1978 to make room for the new Mazda RX-7

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 sale - all facts which influenced the design profile of the RX-7