To many people, this aged Mazda station wagon is well beyond saving. It’s been said to have sat under the beating California sun for the past three decades, and a quick look around would confirm that history—it’s a bit rough, for sure.
But discounting this Mazda as just another offering for the car graveyard in the sky would be to sell it short. That’s because this tired station wagon—a 1974 Mazda RX-4 wagon—has a surprise under its hood… a famed Wankel rotary engine.
Oh yes, while Mazda is famous for sticking its unique rotary engines beneath icons like the Cosmo, RX-7, and late-great RX-8 sports cars, in the 1970s Mazda went a bit rotary-crazy and stuck these engines in everything you could think of, including pickup trucks and of course, wagons. This rare bird is one of the latter, and to the delight of vintage rotary fans, it recently turned up for sale.
A bit of history first. Mazda launched the RX-4 in the US market in 1974, offered up in coupe, sedan, and station wagon variants. It formed an up-market complement to the brand’s RX-2 and RX-3 rotary cars, and further expanded Mazda’s rotary-powered introduction to the American market. Any fans of the Mazda RX-7? That famed two-door didn’t arrive stateside until 1978.
Lift up the hood of this car though and you’ll find a familiar sight, a 1.3-liter 13B rotary engine, which in its day summoned 110 horsepower, and in the case of this car, put it to the rear wheels courtesy of a four-speed manual transmission. Far from speed demons, these wagons were fairly sprightly in their day, though that on-road performance hasn’t kept this RX-4 from becoming a fixture of one California backlot.
According to the listing, it hasn’t moved in 30 years, and despite a lifetime spent in the arid California climate, the tin worm has made a light snack of its body. Even so, the RX-4 wagon’s edgy styling and body lines still present well a whole 42 years after its birth—there’s a lot to love about its raked rear tailgate, funky door handles, and powerful belt-line crease. The rather unsightly 5 mph crash bumpers only add to its vintage ‘70s-ness.
Inside, its age becomes immediately apparent. The dashboard has rippled and cracked like a piece of bacon and the seats have been weathered away with the passage of time. But as Barn Finds note, despite the Mazda’s typically humble station wagon stature, the interior is surprisingly driver-oriented, if a bit sporty, with the dashboard and gauges leaning out to welcome those who sit behind the wheel. And how funky is that steering wheel?
All in all, these rotary-powered Mazda wagons are certainly something you don’t see everyday. In fact, in 2007 only 14 of these ’74 wagons are said to be registered in the US. Talk about rare birds.
So as Mazda continues to work on the next-generation of its rotary-powered sports cars, this aged Mazda RX-4 “Rotary Wagon” remains a little (if a bit moldy) taste of its high-revving, Wankel rotary past.