Project Car SOTU: Dr. Wankel's Legitimate Pharmacy Mazda RX-8


After Dr. Wankel’s first Lemons race, at Barber Motorsports Park this past winter, most of our team convoyed through sub-zero temperatures up to Illinois—the race car’s new home.
And there it sat, largely untouched in one teammate’s garage, for about 4 or 5 months. Meanwhile, our group of friends mostly spent our free time making dick jokes in a Slack channel we made for ourselves.
When the first spouse got tired of it in the family garage, the car moved to another friend’s house—let’s call him Alfred. This rotation was the plan all along, but Alfred already had plenty of projects at his new house along with a ridiculous superkart build he’s completing. He certainly didn’t need an ugly, dirty red car in his driveway.
Mazda RX-8 under a car cover in a driveway.
So, he covered it up and tried not to think about it for a bit.
A few weeks passed. Due to the stresses and costs of home-buying, Alfred hadn’t actually been able to come to the Barber race and drive the car. His experience with it to this point had been vicarious and remote. He was sick of it before it even arrived at his house.

Then he took it to an autocross and fell in love with the stupid, ugly, dirty thing.
His experience mirrored that of the rest of the team. Most of us came in not expecting much. It doesn’t have the horsepower of its contemporary competitors. Rotaries are thirsty, oil-burning motors for weirdos. Something big is probably going to break soon. What’s the appeal, anyway?
The appeal is a fabulous chassis, silky-smooth power delivery, and a good sound all the way up to a glorious 9000-rpm redline. Yes, even on chunked all-season tires; on brake pads with too much rear bias; even covered in 14 hours worth of race grime and another 14 hours worth of winter-road-trip grime.

Naturally, then, he got together with Kyle and gave the thing a wash. As a recent convert away from cargo shorts myself, I have changed Kyle’s name to protect his identity from the Fashion Police.
(I’m a thirty-something dad living in Florida. Yes, I have worn socks with Birkenstocks. I may still do it again. Don’t judge me.)

The car doesn’t actually have PFC brakes and they haven’t given us any money to run their stickers.

Kyle also brought a set of wheels to try on the car, for its autocross ventures. These are 17×9-inch A-Tech Final Speed wheels, an inch smaller than OE diameter but wearing more practical 275/40-17 Toyo RA-1 tires. These tires aren’t Lemons-legal, but they’ll be great for autocross. Someone said the wheels were originally made to go on Superformance Cobra replicas, but I can’t verify that story.
What I can verify is that they look fabulous on this stupid, cheap, dirty race car that we all inexplicably love.
An RX-8 is sublime to drive. You should all own one. The drawbacks are absolutely worth it.

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6 responses to “Project Car SOTU: Dr. Wankel's Legitimate Pharmacy Mazda RX-8”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    Nice. RX8’s are an intriguing car, I regularly drive past a nicely modified one. Those wheels look good.

  2. nanoop Avatar

    The cheapest here is 7kUSD, it’s 10hrs south of here, the ad doesn’t mention maintenance but a towing hook(!), I’d be the seventh owner.
    What could possibly go wrong?

  3. Zentropy Avatar

    I’ve been SOOOO tempted by RX-8 ads in the past. An almost-four-door sports car, RWD, with an amazing chassis? Sign me up! But it’s the rotary engine that kills the party. Lightweight, revvy, yes, but also oil-sucking and short-lived. It’s why they’re so available, and for so little cash.
    If I had the garage space, the time, and the spouse’s approval (yeah, right), I’d bring one home and give it a new heart. No, not the ubiquitous LS transplant everyone seems to be fond of, but likely a lightweight turbo four, just to keep in the spirit of things. I think the RX-8 is a brilliant car suffering from loyalty to a misbegotten engine. That doesn’t keep me from appreciating the rotary loyalist efforts, but I’d definitely take a different path.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      S2000 engine would have similar characteristics?

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        YES! A 4-banger NA option would be perfect, if only the F20C were more common!

    2. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I felt the same way about rotaries before I actually drove one. I know all those drawbacks. One teammate owned an RX-8 as a daily driver before and said he only once got better than 19 mpg. A competing team at Barber told us the exhaust smelled like an old Evinrude.
      Driving the car, I didn’t care about any of that. Like I said: Even with the drawbacks, it’s still worth it.

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