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Project Haterade RX-8: Five Hundred Dollars My Ass!

Alan Cesar September 5, 2017 All Things Hoon, Featured 36 Comments

I found a Mazda RX-8 for $800. It ran when, about two years ago, it was parked under a tree after the owner diagnosed a misfire from a bad ignition coil. It collected mold inside, leaves outside, and vegetation underneath.

With a little luck, it’ll be racing this December in the 24 Hours of LeMons’ Kim Harmon Scrotium 500 at Road Atlanta.  The fires on the Internet will burn brighter that day with the opinions of keyboard experts.

Earlier this year my old Team Resignation buddies decided to reunite during LeMons’ first race at Road Atlanta. Road Atlanta is beautiful, has decent amenities for camping, and shouldn’t be too hot or too cold in early December. Also: One of us now lives practically across the street from the place.

When we decided it was actually feasible as a get-together, we kicked around ideas for a car to race. That’s how I briefly ended up with this nightmare project Fiero earlier this year. It was free, but had too many needs and I didn’t like it enough as a platform to spend late nights wrenching on it.

Fieros just aren’t weird enough for me, and iron-head V6 engines are damn heavy.

I returned that car to its owner and we sort of scrapped the idea until July.

That’s when my brain lit up with Mazda RX-8s. Right away I found several under $2,000. Bingo. I verified with Kelley Blue Book: Resale values are garbage. These are known as great-handling, lightweight cars with modest power, but they give terrible gas mileage and have a (perhaps undeserved) reputation for early engine failures. I won’t get into that, except to say that rotaries seem to do a lot better when they’re frequently spun to redline.

Bonus: I’ve never owned a Wankel.


Conveniently, one of us knew a guy with the perfect one for our goals.

Johnny, who’s been racing an LS-swapped Miata just about forever now, knows the guys at V8 Roadsters. They make the LSx and LFX swap parts for Miatas and RX-8s, and a bunch of other Miata parts. One of them had this RX-8 track toy. It had some aftermarket springs and shocks, cat delete, and a misfire supposedly from a bad ignition coil. “He’ll let it go for pennies,” Johnny said. Well, 80,000 pennies.

It took a bit of wife-convincing—the Fiero had left both of us sore about any future project cars—but I convinced a friend to store my Justy in his yard for a few months so our garage and driveway wouldn’t be overcrowded.  In one of my brief chats with the owner, he offered this line completely unprompted: “I had been thinking of just scrapping the thing anyway.”

I crossed my fingers, borrowed a truck and dolly, and drove out to pick it up.

It has mold inside. And spiders. The dashboard is rough. The stereo might be dead. The battery is hopelessly flat. He said, “Yeah, if I spent a weekend cleaning it up, I might be able to get $1,500 for it.” I aired up the tires with my bike pump, we pushed it onto the dolly and I pulled away toward lunch.

I moved down to Florida from Chicago, so pilgrimage to Portillo’s is required anytime I’m near Tampa. Even if the car is hopeless, I decided, the Combo Hot alone is almost worth the trip. I also got a cake shake, onion rings, and some lemon cake to take home to my exceedingly patient and loving wife.

Beefy farts lasted well into the following day. That’s value.

Fun find: Tampa appears to be home to the “So Low” Solo Jazz Toyota Prius.

When I got it home, I learned that every single one of my cars uses the same battery. Mazda5, MR2, Justy, and now RX-8. I borrowed the MR2’s and turned the key. It is a bit hard to start and has an erratic misfire—something I keep hoping will be solved with new ignition coils—but it did fire up quickly considering it sat for two years, and seems to idle and rev pretty well.

Kiddo helped scrub the moldy exterior and blow off the leaves that collected around the trunk and engine bay.

I will bleach the door panels, pull the carpet, and daily it for a little bit to shake out any problems. There are also spiders to kill. Then it’s getting brake pads, fresh fluids, and heading up to Johnny’s for a roll cage and safety equipment.

We hope to go racing in December in a mostly-stock RX-8 with most of its interior intact. It should really crank up the haterade juicer. We’re not a competitive team (I’ll cover theme and budget strategy in a later post), so we’re not worried about the potential penalty laps. It will never win because of fuel consumption rate anyway, but it will be fun.

[Photos copyright 2017 Alan Cesar | Hooniverse]

  • “I will bleach the door panels…”


    Remember, though, that under the latest rules you’ll need to have some variety of full-coverage door panels if you intend to keep the glass in the doors while racing (3.J.9).

    • Alan Cesar

      Good to know! Thanks!

    • Out of interest, what’s the train of thoughts for that?
      My first idea, probably misunderstanding something, was: “why should a a door panel next to my hip protect my cervical artery from glass blades, and hence, make side glass ok?”

      • I believe the thought is that since tempered glass frequently breaks into very small pieces instead of into large, pointy shards, a door panel will do a significantly better job than nothing with respect to keeping the fragments contained within the door. I intend to make a set of aluminum panels for the 96 before its next track appearance. The rule specifies “fully encasing door panels” which means I’ll also rig up something to cover the part of each window near its pivot point (yes, pivot point, near the attachment point of the mirror) which doesn’t retract into the door. This is rolled fully down:


        • I see, the idea is to drive with windows rolled down – that’s what I’ve missed.

          • Alan Cesar

            Oh yeah, windows down is required.

  • Victor

    Nice to see a new build post again,best of luck.

  • outback_ute

    Interesting project, should be decent on the track. Good luck!

  • kogashiwa

    I almost bought an RX-8 five years ago for $14,000.

    Dodged a bullet!

    They’re still tempting though …

    Oh and I love that Prius. Unreservedly.

    • wunno sev

      that Prius is one of those things that makes you go, “damn, I wish I’d thought of that”. it looks so right.

      • Alan Cesar

        Even the headlights. Check out those headlights.

    • hwyengr

      I sold a ’10 to Carmax in ’13 for 18.5k. The whole time we waited for paperwork and the check I was sure they were going to realize their mistake.

      They re-sold it before photos were even uploaded for 22k.

      • kogashiwa

        There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
        Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  • Maymar

    I keep getting reminded just how tempting I find these – even the most expensive RX8 on my local classifieds is only $16k ($13k in USian bucks), and it’s a fantastic driving, sensible(ish) car so long as you’re not all Torque Uber Alles. Sadly, our cheap, scruffy ones are all missing their rear arches. Maybe the newer ones will hold up better – I can hope, if I ever have spare space.

  • Zentropy

    Not hating on this project at all– quite the contrary. I’ve contemplated a RX-8 many times. Looking forward to watching this one.

  • wunno sev

    no rods to throw. it’s foolproof!!!

  • Rover 1

    ?????????????????????? only $800 ?????????????????????

    Follow your friends advice and fit an LS. Have a great driving sportscar you can drive for the rest of your life, (and take the kids as well.)

    • outback_ute

      I wonder if a Mazda V6 would fit, using the original gearbox? They have pretty decent power potential I gather. Obviously nothing like an LS but within a $500 budget surely that isn’t possible?

    • Zentropy

      The LS family of engines are great and I’m no fan of the rotaries, but nothing disappoints me at a car show like seeing a formerly great-handling car with a Chevy V8 stuffed under the hood. The best aspect of the RX-8 is balance, and adding 200 lbs to the front end pretty much ruins that.

      • Rover 1

        I wonder if the weight difference is as great as that. Those cast iron rotary housings aren’t light. Let’s check dry weights, no fuel,oil, water
        13b, 112 kg (247 lb)
        Ls 6.2 183 kg (403 lb)

        So , 71kg (156 lb) but within the wheelbase not over the front wheels entirely. Not good but not too bad either. I’ll bet someone’s done it.

        • Zentropy

          I seem to recall a fully accessorized, fluidless LS weighs in just shy of 500 lbs with the manual flywheel, and around 460 with the automatic. Regardless, it’s a significant heft over the Renesis.
          I’m sure someone has done it. Chevrolet V8s have been installed in just about everything with four wheels. It doesn’t make it a good idea.

          • Rover 1

            There’s certainly a lot of discussion on many other fora on the benefits and drawbacks of swapping out rotaries. My only experience was looking at swapping a Mazda rotary IN, to replace an NSU RO80’s stock rotary. But an engine fire put paid to any need to do that. I sold the RO for parts.

          • Alan Cesar

            LS-swapped Miatas gain some weight, but the weight distribution (even in NC Miatas with the all-aluminum motor) is barely changed. It moves the weight distribution maybe 1 or 2 percent forward. For perspective: Lowering the top moves the weight distribution half to one percent rearward. There’s a lot of added weight in the middle of the car in the transmission and differential. If memory serves, Flyin’ Miata says about 300 lbs. total.

            I’ve driven Flyin’ Miata’s Atomic Betty, their NC V8 prototype car, and it is *amazing.* It gives up nothing in terms of handling, and gains acres of torque.

            The NC Miata front subframe is a bolt-in swap to an RX-8 (and vice-versa), so an RX-8 LS swap should be a very similar job and return similar results. It’s been done.

  • Sjalabais

    Awesome post, incredible find. Pipelines are a popular political topic these days, I’ll take an RX8 pipeline to Norway, please. The scruffiest one (though not as bad as the above) is still advertised for more than 10k $ here…

  • I love everything about this.
    I’m out.

    • kogashiwa

      You and me both!

  • discontinuuity

    I wonder how well a Ford Ecoboost motor would fit. Apparently they bolt right up to a 3rd-gen Miata trans.

    • kogashiwa

      Hmm a 1.0 triple?

      • Kiefmo

        The torque/weight ratio wouldn’t be any worse. Hell, crank up the boost a bit, and it would improve.

  • Ms Behavin

    not even the same rims

    • Didn’t notice, the trick with having two of the same on each side worked on me.

  • MentallyRetired

    Why are the wheels black in the first pic? I guess the seller put the stock wheels back on?

    • Alan Cesar

      Correct. The lead photo is what the seller sent me when I first asked about it.