06-23-2011, 12:49 AM
It was a hot and humid day in August of 2007. Your typical Connecticut summer, and I was at the Southern Auto Auction with my used car manager from the dealer I used to work at. We needed to buy a few cars for our inventory and most importantly, a car for myself. I knew what I wanted, a black RX-8 with a red and black leather interior fully loaded. I went to the Auction inventory computer and found a few RX-8s and printed out a list of lot numbers so I can go for a walk and look for myself so I knew when to go to the auction block. I was about to be disappointed.
The first RX was all beat up, and the wrong color. Yellow. Also complete with the wrong transmission. Automatic. "Who the hell ordered this?" was what first came out of my mouth, as I shook my head and walked away from the car in complete disgust. RX8 number 2 was no better, a Nordic Green with a tan gut and the right transmission but it just didn't stand out. By now, I was already discouraged walking to the final car. I didn't really want to drive back to the dealership in a Focus. As I walk down the lane, I thought I could glimpse the car but all you could see were rows of SUVs and sedans. I nearly walked past the car if the bright red didn't grab my attention. I stood frozen, just taken aback by the car. It had flakes in the paint so it wasn't just any type of red. I took a look on the inside, and was so ecstatic that it had the interior I wanted, and had navigation and the heated seats and the proper manual transmission, "Oh snap!"
I snapped out of my trance and sprinted into the auction garages to find my used car manager. The car was almost up so I dragged him over and told him that was the one I wanted. He wanted to make sure this was it, so he checked it over and told me it was hit. I was again discouraged. I got a carfax on it and the car had a minor front end collision but I thought about it and decided that I'm not going to come across something like this ever so I'll take the risk and jump on it. I told him that I was willing to take the risk and will buy it regardless. It rolls in, and my god she is beautiful, and the auctioneer starts off with his jibberish that only used car managers seem to understand. $10K! I was going to steal this car! $10500, stop bidding people!, $11000, I can still steal this! $11500, dammit its mine! $12000, I wanted to shoot the other wholesalers bidding on this damn thing. It went up to about $14K and a guy out of NH bought it, but the auctioneer didn't see that we were still bidding on the thing. I was pissed! So was the used car manager, he couldn't believe that he wasn't noticed. He looks at the expression on my face and says, "We're getting that car! He doesn't need it." I was confused but he looked determined so I obliged and followed suit. He found the wholesaler and they talked and he was nice enough to sell it to us for $500 more which I would gladly pay. I was like a kid in a candy store! I got my car!
The auction was finally over, the used car manager got the keys, and drove it off the lot. He could barely fit and was laughing at how tiny the the car was and started poking fun. I had to retaliate by calling him a fat ass and reminding him that this is now my car. We head to the exit and I'm finally in the driver seat. I adjust it to where I want to be, the mirros (I couldn't see a damn thing out of those tiny things) the radio, the wheel and I'm set to go. The shifter fit perfectly in my hand and just felt natural. I push the clutch in, and wow was that soft! First gear goes in with a nice snick, then off I go......STALL! Yea, that wasn't supposed to happen. I turn it on to hear that rotary whine and see the RPMs raise to 2500 and then fall back down around 1000. Lets try this again. Clutch in, gear in, clutch out slowly, gas generously, and its off to the races! Well, it was on empty so I had to get gas. Ok back on the road, we were driving back the dealership which happens to be an hour long event, sometimes more if you get stuck in traffic in Hartford. I was beside myself in this thing, it was just perfect. I didn't even look down at the speedometer. All I could hear was the whine up to 8500 before you are rudely interrupted by the warning tone that is put in place of "shift, stupid!" that signals that you are reaching the lofty 9000rpm redline. First gear is gone, second and I'm passing cars getting onto the highway, 3rd gear and I'm flying, 4th gear and by now I am full of adrenaline and my heart is racing and that rotary screaming is just something else. By now, I figure I should slow down so I slam the brakes (damn Prius cut me off) and scrub off speed instantly with a little whip lash. Drop it into 4th which I mistook for 6th The damn gear spacing is too close. I put it 6th and cruise and just enjoy what it had to offer, it was quiet but you could hear the rotary work. I get into the cruising lane and just push my back into the seat, run my hands over the wheel and tighten my grip on it, then my eyes look over the stats of the car making sure everything is in check. My right hand just falls right onto the shifter and I couldn't get over how great it felt. I open up the moon roof, open the windows and feel like a million bucks! I get to the dealership and just get out and look at the car and I can't get over just how great it looks. The spoiler, the 18" wheels, the bright red was just so stand out. I drove it home to show my family and my mother and sister fell in love with the car, and c'mon, whats not to like? My old man was wary of this car and what police would think but none of that mattered to me. Beats the Camry and Accords he wanted me to get by a mile. No Camry can rev to 9000rpm and look and feel like this.
So, he helped with the cosign and I bought the car, and haven't looked back since. I haven't done any drag racing but when I got it, I did quite a few burnouts. I was so used to dealing with FWD Japanese pocket rockets that RWD cars were foreign to me except for those few occasions that I got to work on them. I threw the rear end out when I could as long as no one was around. Oversteer is a beautiful thing. The thing that really took me by surprise was the handling of the car. It would do exactly what I wanted and felt so natural doing it, and going from corner to corner at speeds that I currently would never do on public roads was so simple. The car was just so forgiving and got right back in line eager for the next turn, whether it be a hair pin, a sweeper, or a decreasing radius turn, it was willing to do anything. I couldn't believe that I could control this car so easily and make it do what I wanted even a mid corner adjustment was as simple as a steering change. I couldn't wait to mod it. The first thing I was convinced to do was get a system put in, which looking back on it now, was something I regretted. I don't care for a thumping system or massive subwoofers. I focused on the cars strong points instead. First modification was adjustable sway bars. I left them on the middle setting which is still insanely stiff and the rear end would come loose even without trying. Next were tires, and I'll gladly admit that I am glad that the tires that were on the car will never be on any car that I own for the rest of my life. I instead opted for a set of Falken FK452 tires. The grip was outstanding, the tread life.....not so much. As I started to autocross it, I soon realized that when pushed hard as tires are in autocross, they just didn't have it in them.
My first accident came in the rain. I was going around a corner a bit faster than I should have, and when I mean faster, I don't mean at Vin Diesel drag racing speeds either. The car hydroplaned and the bald tires didn't help much for grip and with all wheels spinning equally the DSC and traction control didn't kick on and I hit a road sign and damaged the front bumper and left headlight. About $4000 later , it was on the road and I was a bit more careful to say the least. The second accident wasn't my fault and was ran off the road by a truck driver at 8am on a beautiful Sunday morning on my way to autcross. That pissed me off. I've made quite a few modifications to the car and dumped quite a bit of money into this. Its not a family car by any means, and the rear suicide doors are just a tease to fool your significant others into thinking that this car might be just fine for a car seat. I took my little cousin around in it a few times and she had a car seat and she was fine in the back. At 24 years of age, I don't know how to securely fasten a child seat nor do I plan to any time soon, so it took me a while to get it right, and even still my aunt re did it just make sure her daughter won't get splattered over my windshield. Its very snug in the back, and I'm not used to moving the driver seat up. The seat travels all the way back, and the seat back is straight up so there is no room behind the driver what so ever. It really is a two seater and rear seats just hold my helmet or my school bag and laptop.
The interior is decent for a 2004 model year, but even then, its still cheap looking. I give Mazda credit for making it look nice but the dash and doors are all hard plastics, and a rough texture at that. The leather/leatherette is fake and but the cracks are real. The driver's seat is really the only one that gets used so naturally, its bound to happen. The problem with the leather seats is that they don't hold you in as well as the cloth seats so the lateral support isn't exactly helpful. The nice part about it being leather is that it is easier to keep clean and the interior looks nicer because of it. I'll eventually do custom seats as its not great for track racing or your occasional weekend autocross. I try to lock in the seatbelt but that takes a while as its very finicky. I really like to be strapped in with no movement so I can take the cornering g-load and make corrections without having to keep my body from moving around in the seat. The car has been my truck also, and last summer as it was the only one I had, I used it to transport my weed whacker, tiller, gas canisters, blades, exhausts, you name it. The plastic on the passenger side, the glove compartment and the center cigarette lighter area is scratched up and is loose as the plastic clips broke off and will eventually get replaced. The doors are lightweight and feel cheap when you close them as there is absolutely nothing to them. What do you except? Its a freaking 3000lb sports coupe. I love having the digital speedometer and the tach take up the center gauge position. The illumination is all white until the lights are on which at that point turns to a nice red with a blue/purple background. I give Mazda due props for that. The audio is the factory Bose system with integrated subwoofer and its fine for what it is. I'd much prefer you hear the sound of the rotary and exhaust popping and engine revving over whatever obnoxious music is being emitted from the stereo.
After installing my coilovers and in conjunction with my sway bars, I realized that my cars balance was ruined. I could corner balance but there is no point at my current skill level and I will gladly admit it when asked. It pushed a lot in corners so I experimented quite a bit with it when I could and figured out how to drive the car all over again. I am not a good auto crossing driver, however at a track I am leagues better. I can judge corner entrys and exits much better and know when to hit the throttle. One day I was a bit upset over the fact that I screwed it up and went into a corner too hard and when it started to push I gave it some gas, and to my sheer amazement, the rear just locked down and the car stuck and went through with more speed than I thought could be possible. I now give the car more throttle right before the apex and it'll exhibit a little oversteer (a little modulation will correct itself) and power through! For everyday driving it is on the softest possible setting which is still hard but when the chassis is as stiff as the same era 911 Turbos you just have to deal with it. The steering is electronic but don't let that deter you. It feels natural as soon as you turn it and it'll turn with a twitch of your fingers. You feel what the tires are doing right through your palms (ok, I am exaggerating but you get my point). The down side is that it'll wander with cracks in the road but the feel is overwhelming with it. I typically drive the car leisurely with my left hand at 11 O'clock, and my right hand gripping the shift knob, however when cracks are overwhelming the steering it definitely requires two. For daily driving in towns, its fine, I don't need the torque of a turbo or a V6 or what have you. I shift around 4000rpms and it sounds out of breath but to go the speeds that in town traffic goes, its perfectly at home. The power comes on at around 5000rpm and pulls all the way up to 8500rpms and will fall off around 8800rpms so you can really rev it. My best fuel economy average was 16.3mpgs, my worst was 13.2mpgs. I try to granny the car, but the sound and the fun you have won't let you. Believe me, I've tried. My old man is notorious for getting averages well above EPA and manufacturer estimates and he can't help but throw it into corners himself. If I wanted gas mileage, I'd have gotten the Camry.
The transmission is sublime. It is a tight shifter and the stock throws were short. The shifter I have now is like a toggle switch and I thought it wasn't possible. My only qualms is when trying to engage it in reverse. It requires the clutch to disengage a little for it to go those extra few millimeters. The pedal placement makes heel-toe shifting a breeze. It took me a while to learn but for my size 10.5 foot, its perfect placement. The pedals are all on the same plane and stabbing the gas with your heel will really make the engine rev hard and high. A good rule of thumb for this car is that in moderate driving and mid rpm gear changes is roughly around a 2000rpm difference. Going from 4th to a 2nd gear corner is little effort and two gear changes will easily take care of it, or if you are really good, just go from 4th to second with hard braking and a 4000rpm spike. I don't recommend it but its doable. The OEM brakes were fine, and were very strong. The upgrade only made things better. Who the hell needs a big brake kit? Its eye gouging stops when you do it hard, and there is no doubting the brakes no matter the situation. The brake dust is overwhelming and is a pain in the ass to stay on top of it but you will always stop regardless of what stupid driving you were doing. The traction control and DCS kick on often but only because of I changed the nature of the car. Press it once and stability control is defeated, hold it for 7 seconds and the traction control light is on solid as well as the DCS and you are in for some fun. Launch normally around 4-5000rpms and with its current setup it'll shudder (rear suspension) and pull away. Shift it into second at redline and you will be welcomed by wheel hop/chirp and the occasional exhaust brap and popping while you scream your way into third. At this point you have woken up the dead and they are not to thrilled, while younger kids marvel at seeing 4ft flames shoot out the rear and wonder when you are going to shift. The passenger, should you I so happen to take one, will wonder how this thing isn't redlining like a normal car and is in complete disarray as to how this little 1.3L keeps spinning. All I can do is smile.
Driving on the highway is fairly a no fuss endeavor, as it just requires 6th gear and moderate use of the throttle. At 80mph the tach reads 4000rpms and with the wrong exhaust, it is droning and raspy and not even cleanly executed. If being annoying is your thing then by all means do as you wish but it killed the rotary whine that these cars exhibit. After owning this car for a few years and knowing just about everything there is to know about them and working on them, I can say that it is not for someone who is lazy or for someone who doesn't take care of their things. It requires careful maintenance, and attention to detail. You cannot rev this car as soon as you start it, as doing so will require a trip to the dealership and usually end up in a new motor. The oil needs to be checked every 2 to 3 fill ups and this car NEEDS premium. Regular gas will only clog the motor and your spark plugs will look like you just dipped them in chocolate. Speaking of spark plugs, they need to be changed every 15k to 20k and oil changes every 3000miles religiously. It is just one of those things with owning a rotary that everyone should know. As with any rwd sports cars, the transmission and differential fluid need to be replaced about every 60K and if you autocross or track your RX-8, you should do it a bit more often. After owning this car and seeing it hit the 100,000 mile mark and then some, I can say this is one decision I've never regretted. Its been a learning experience and being meticulous and taking care of this thing so closely, I can say I wouldn't be surprised if I get another 100,000 out of it assuming I don't rebuild it just for fun. Its not the fastest car, but its not the slowest. What people don't understand is that rotaries aren't about all out brutal speed or chest crushing torque. Its about all the other intangibles that you don't find in a typical sports car. I've driven many, many cars in many different segments yet very few leave me grinning from ear to ear and laughing around corners. This isn't a car that many will love, however those that do, consider it a match made in heaven.
Cost of car: $15000 approx.
Injen Intake: $300, sold for $300
Mazdaspeed Intake: $350 including installation
Mazdaspeed Flywheel: $600 including installation
Agency Power Midpipe: $150
Agency Power Exhaust: $400 Sold for same price.
Custom Exhaust: $550
Ultra Quiet Resonator: $150
Stance GR+ Coilovers: $1200 approx.
Hotchkis Racing Sway bars: $350
Agency Power Adjustable endlinks: $150
Enkei RPF-1s: $1300
Falken Azenis: $800
OEM replacement radiator: $250
Agency Power Rad hoses: $50
Clutchmasters FX100 Clutch: $300 (biggest waste of money)
Exedy Stage 1 Organnic Clutch: $300 (love it and have tons of miles on it)
Agency Power Steel Brake Lines: $50
Agency Power Steel Clutch Line: $50
Axial Flow Short Shifter: $200
Syncro Saver: $50
Custom Foot Well LEDs: $30
Goodbox digital gauges: $250
Good Win Racing spline nuts: $80 (I think)
JDM 8500K HID upgrade: $250
Rotary rear fog light: $50
Rotary accents: $50
Fender Strakes: $250
Sport Appearance kit: $300
1000W Kenwood Amp: $150 (bad choice)
1 Farad Cap: $125 (bad choice)
10” Cadence Subwoofers x 2: $500 (bad choice)
Streetglow LED light kit: $150 (bad choice)
Trunk Neon: $10
BHR Ignition Kit: $500
Beatrush transmission brace: $200 (its about twice that normally)
Custom Carbon Fiber covers: $500
Greddy E-Manage Ultimate: Idk how much it was but I made a $50 profit when I sold it.
Microtech: MSRP was $1095, I bought it broken used for $200 and minor fixing and putting it together came out to around $350 total including purchase. I also bought a program thing that only Microtech has because unfortunately nothing else will work. That was around $300.
Whatever else I am missing....
Roughly $10,895 into my car and going liberal on the numbers so I get a rough amount. Many of the parts were cheaper but I rounded up to see how much I put in.
Pros: Fun as hell. Fits like a glove and that rotary whine is contagious. Great handling and transmission and engine combination is perfect.
Cons: Tiny and cheap interior, fuel economy is horrible. Requires a meticulous owner. What the hell was Mazda thinking when they put the cup holders right behind the shifter?