Matthew Romack profile picture Matthew Romack 2 years ago

Project RX-8; AKA My Financial Mistake

My 2004 Mazda RX-8.
My 2004 Mazda RX-8.

I work at a Hyundai, Subaru, and Mazda dealership as a technician for Hyundai and Subaru. One day, a BRZ (automatic, major yuck!) came in for the valve spring recall. Another tech handled the recall work, and a week later it comes back in knocking like a Hyundai. For those of you who don’t know, Hyundai has a recall for bearing failure in some of its engines, causing them to knock. The specific problem in this BRZ was a failure of the CVVT system, which meant one cylinder doesn’t get oil, resulting in bearing failure. The tech rebuilt the engine and sent the car on its way. Later it came back yet again, once more knocking like a Hyundai. At this point, the guy traded the car in on a massive loss. Written on the windshield in big bold letters was “Financial Mistake”. Truer words have never been spoken.

Car guys buy cars, and from an outside perspective, those can often look like a financial mistake. Perhaps the best example is Tyler Hoovie. I don’t think he’s made money on more than like 5 cars out of the hundreds he has bought. He buys cars that are broken, and not worth the money spent on them for purchase or the wrenching required to make them roadworthy, though I’m sure the Car Wizard doesn’t mind too much. But Tyler Reminds us of one very important thing about us car guys: buying a car is a matter of the heart. We love our cars, even if it barely runs, has a weird smell, and has more rust than a bucket. Now I proudly join the ranks of the hopeless enthusiasts and take my place next to Tyler.

I present to you, my very own Financial Mistake: a 2004 Mazda RX-8.

Project RX-8; AKA My Financial Mistake - Blog

I feel that the RX-8 is one of the most under-loved and under-appreciated sports cars of the last 20 years. It’s the culmination of decades of engineering, design, blood, sweat, tears (and lots of worn apex seals.) It revs happily and freely; it’s planted, yet rolls enough to communicate what’s going on. And she is quick, but not too fast to lose the fun of throwing it through the gears. The RX-8 even has a look all it’s own: she stands out, even today, and who doesn’t love suicide doors!

But, the the RX-8 name will forever be tarnished; stained with a bad reputation for engine failure, blown apex seals, and rust. But for those of us who can look beyond its faults, sits a beautiful, fun car, with a driving and ownership experience unlike any other.

Before I go into my plans for the RX-8 and give y’all an idea of what I’m getting myself into, let’s look at why the RX-8s get such a bad rap in the first place.

Project RX-8; AKA My Financial Mistake - Blog

The RX-8 is the spiritual successor to Mazda’s RX-7, which was built from 1978-1995, though in Japan it lasted all the way through 2002. The RX-7 ran 4 generations, and the 4th was considered the best of them all. The FD RX-7 was the fastest, best-handling, and the most reliable of the RXs. It even beat out the Dodge Viper for Playboy’s Car of the Year in 1993. This masterpiece was the car the RX-8 was always compared to, and unfortunately, it never measured up.

Firstly, the RX-8 was slower than its predecessor. While the RX-7 could do 0-60 in about 5 seconds, the RX-8 could only manage 6 seconds. The 7 also handled slightly better than the 8, it was flatter through the corners, and there was more feeling in the steering. Body roll was also better controlled in the 7. The 8 has more roll on turns, and while the power electric steering does transmit feel, it’s just not as much as the hydraulic power steering of old. The RX-7 was indeed a slightly better car, and was justly seen as the best rotary-powered sports car ever produced. But this was achieved only after many years of refinement. The RX-8 didn’t get the chance to build its legacy— it was cut after just 2 generations and 8 years, compared to 4 generations and the 17 years the RX-7 had. The RX-8 also faced increased emissions regulations and a recession that hit just 4 years into its life cycle and lasted the entire latter half of it run. The RX-7 by comparison, enjoyed more lax emission regulations and an economic boom in the 80s, with facing only one real downturn in the 90s. The RX-8 never really got a chance to prove to us how awesome it could be, before it was too late.

My RX-8

My 2004 Mazda RX-8
My 2004 Mazda RX-8

Now, let’s get into my RX-8 and my plans for its build and what the future holds.
My RX-8 has 179K miles. Yes, I’ve lost my mind. Nonetheless, the engine still revs happily and freely. The 6-speed shifts smooth, and has a satisfying feel. Power steering (when it works,) is very nicely weighed and transmits road feel beautify, as the body stays flat, with only a small amount of body roll to keep you engaged at all times. The car is unlike any other, and only makes me want to drive it harder.

My vision is this.
I want this to be a resto-mod. I won’t be slamming it, increasing the wheel size, doing crazy things with the camber, or LS swapping. I have a vision for OEM plus, minus the aftermarket wheels. I will lower the car slightly using some lowering springs and new shocks. I do have some rust to fix, in the normal spot for a first-gen RX-8— right under the driver’s door. After that, I’ll put on a Racing Beat aero kit, to compliment the lowering, giving it a nice aggressive look. As for the interior, lights are in order. LEDs in the floorboards, and the trunk. The previous owner removed the factory navigation and replaced it with a tablet, which is possible to make look stock. Unfortunately, the previous owner broke the housing and removed the motors that raised and lowered the screen. So I’ll repair that, and fit the tablet correctly for proper use, giving it a nice modern look.

For the powertrain, the most immediate concern is the clutch. The throwout bearing is failing, and these tend to fuse to the input shaft if not replaced promptly upon failure. As for the rest of the car. The tires need to be replaced and upgraded to something more performance orientated. I’ll upgrade the brake system when the pads need to be replaced: bigger rotors, steel lines, etc. The coils, wires, and plugs all need to be replaced too: all with OEM parts, never aftermarket. The oil pan is also leaking more than a WRX head gasket, and it will need to be resealed. After the reseal, and once the coil, plugs, and wires are changed, I’ll be better able to gouge the health of the engine as-is by watching oil consumption. Any rotary without a loud exhaust is no rotary at all, but no eBay Civic fart can exhaust. I want tone and depth. So, I’ll be upgrading to Racing Beat headers, mid-pipe with a cat delete, and muffler. If the system sounds as good as my old Miata, I’ll be in good shape. The power steering rack and module also needs to be replaced. It jerks hard at times when turning, and jitters when straightening the wheel at a stop, and it could lock up at any time. So replacement is in order, for safety if nothing else. Finally, the AC is broken. It looks like the compressor has melted, and the condenser seems to have a hole, so the system will need to be completely replaced.

Now the big one: the engine. My engine was rebuilt at 44K miles, most likely on account of a miss-diagnosis of plug and coil failure, as they duplicate the symptoms of engine failure and was common on early models like this. However, this engine has run over 130K on that rebuild, as far as service records show, a testament to consistent maintenance. However, another engine rebuild will still eventually be in order, as rotary engines all fail eventually. I will rebuild the engine myself when that day comes, but until then, I’m going to enjoy the car for all its worth.

Project RX-8; AKA My Financial Mistake - Blog

The cost of this project is, well, difficult to estimate. The price of entry was 2000$, the cost just to fix the immediate problems is over 1200$, and the cost of upgrades is difficult to count. I’ll certainly never be able to make my money back on this. By all accounts, this is a financial mistake, one I think Tyler Hoovie would be proud of me for making.

So, my fellow car enthusiasts. Keep following your heart, and keep making those financial mistakes.