Home » Broken Sports Coupes, 30 Years Apart: 2011 Mazda RX-8 vs 1981 Chevy Corvette

Broken Sports Coupes, 30 Years Apart: 2011 Mazda RX-8 vs 1981 Chevy Corvette

Sbsd 4 4 2024
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Good morning! On today’s Shitbox Showdown we’ve got two neglected, busted sporty cars, three decades apart in age. Which one will make you want to revive it? I guess we’ll see.

The final tally from yesterday’s weird yellow cars wasn’t quite as lopsided as some of you might have guessed. Yes, the VehiCROSS won, and yes, it was a landslide – but not a shutout. As of this writing, ninety-five people would rather have the bizarre little British kit car. Actually, make that ninety-six…

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Faithful reader SAABStory seems to know me well:

Can’t wait to see Mark’s comment on picking the Banham instead.

Yes, I am indeed picking it. Why? Spite. That’s all. Pure, unadulterated middle-finger energy. You all picked on that poor little car so much that I feel honor-bound to vote for it. What can I say? I like underdogs.

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Anyway, let’s take a look at today’s offerings. I don’t know what it is about sporty cars that makes people want to neglect them, but it seems to happen time and time again. Give a car swoopy styling and a little bit of power, and it is doomed to suffer, especially at the hands of second and subsequent owners.

Neither one of these was really meant to be a sports car, despite their styling, since the original purchasers of both chose automatic transmissions. And both appear to have been ignored and left to their own devices, and have suffered for it. Both could benefit from a true enthusiast owner, who would be willing to set things right.

2011 Mazda RX-8 – $5,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.3 liter two-rotor Wankel, six-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Slidell, LA

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Odometer reading: 170,000 miles

Operational status: Was running great, now won’t start – seller says it’s flooded

I remember the hoopla surrounding the Mazda RX-8 when it was introduced. Rotary engines were back, and better than ever, Mazda claimed, and installed in a swoopy new body with trendy clamshell-style doors. Reviewers loved it, fans drooled over it, and then the other shoe dropped: Somehow, the new “Renesis” engine was even less reliable than earlier rotaries. Apex seals and side seals were short-lived. Catalytic converters clogged, sapping power and making the seal problems worse. The bloom was off the rose before too long, and the RX-8 gained a reputation for trouble that even this improved later generation couldn’t overcome.

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The seller claims to have put over 100,000 trouble-free miles on this car in the past five years, a claim which I take with a grain of salt, knowing the reputation these cars have. The flooding issue, from what I have read, seems to be related to weak ignition components, which is common in these cars. The seller says the spark plugs are new, but how old are the ignition coils? They work a lot harder in a rotary than in a piston engine, and some sources say they should be replaced every 30,000 miles as a preventive measure. There’s a chance this car could be a couple hundred bucks in parts away from purring like a kitten again.

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Cosmetically, it’s in pretty good shape. There’s a decent-sized ding in the driver’s door, but you can probably live with it. And I don’t see any signs of rust, but since it’s a Gulf Coast car, you should check underneath to be sure. The interior looks pretty good, too, and I have to give the seller credit for this artsy shot:

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That’s from the back seat, looking through the rotor-shaped hole in the driver’s seat headrest. Good stuff.

1981 Chevrolet Corvette – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 350 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Laramie, WY

Odometer reading: 23,000 miles

Operational status: Not running; needs fuel system work

The original working-class sporty car, the Chevy Corvette, went through some tough times in the late 1970s and early 80s. It still looked the part; the muscular C3 body style, based on Larry Shinoda’s Mako Shark concept car, wore its five-mile-per-hour bumpers a lot better than some other cars did, but for quite a few years, the Corvette was all show and no go. This 1981 model managed 190 horsepower from its 350 small-block V8, which was actually an improvement over a few years earlier, but it still sounds awfully sad by today’s standards.

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This particular car can’t even manage that – it does not currently run at all. We don’t have any information other than that it’s a “fuel system” issue. Luckily, the fuel system in this car consists of a mechanical fuel pump, a Quadrajet carburetor, and some electronic controls and emissions equipment that you can probably get rid of in most places in a car this old. Drop an aftermarket carb and intake on it, or just yank the low-compression 350 altogether and slip something much more potent under that long hood.

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It’s hard to tell what condition the interior of this car is in, and this dark, grainy mess is the only photo we get. I have a sneaking suspicion that the 23,000 mile figure is accurate, and that this car has just been sitting around for a long time, in which case the interior would have suffered all the effects of age, but not much wear. It might be a bit of a time capsule in there, once you get it all cleaned up. Of course, it’s a time capsule from one of the least desirable eras of Corvette.

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Chevy added this bubble-back window to the C3 in 1978, adding some much-needed cargo space, but then didn’t actually make the window open until the year after this one. You’ll still have to cram stuff in behind the seats. And yes, it is beige – but I see this as an advantage. Build up or swap out the engine, and you’ve got a sleeper that no one would suspect.

Yeah, I know – two cars that would be a whole lot more interesting if they were stickshifts. But these are what we’ve got, sorry. But hey, there’s a rotary and a V8 to choose from, so that’s not all bad, right?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
2 months ago

Given the prices here, I’d go Corvette despite being a bit of a rotor-head (wankeler?). $5000 is way to much for a 170k automatic RX-8 with a non-op engine.

However, I’d never actually go to look at the corvette if I saw it on a local classified, whereas I might go to see the RX-8 with the intent of agreeing on a lower price depending on whether I can de-flood it and get a sense of the engine’s health. Best case, I get a running car to flip or part out, worst case I don’t take it but the owner knows a bit more about what’s wrong with the car.

Ninefeet
Ninefeet
2 months ago

The Vette was kind of a dream car for us, european kids of the 80s.
Take my money.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
2 months ago

One of these is realistically priced, so Corvette it is.

Edit: I’m pretty sure even I could get it running from a five-gallon can, too, since as Mark mentioned, it’s still carbed, not a Crossfire car. The RX-8… who knows.

Last edited 2 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
UnseenCat
UnseenCat
2 months ago

Malaise-era ‘Vette, something-something LS-swap, something-something… PROFIT!!

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
2 months ago

Was gonna go Vette at 1st, but it has too many negatives. I’ll take the dorito- it looks like fun

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

Flooded. Louisiana. DUH!

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
2 months ago

I wonder what the feasibility of an electric swap for the Corvette would be.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
2 months ago

Corvette I guess, even though it is looking rough. I like C3s though, even if the post-emissions models couldn’t outrun a 2024 Prius. The RX8 is too expensive.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
2 months ago

Congratulations, you found a Corvette I would be hesitant to pick. ;P I still picked it, but DANG IT.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago

And a different take than the one I just had, probably the best thing to do with either car is swap a modernish V8 into it that makes decent power, the RX8 becomes more reliable, the Corvette becomes fast. The Corvette would be the easier swap, but you would still have a crusty Corvette, where’s the RX8 looks pretty clean. I will take the RX if I can talk the guy down a lot on the price.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago

The RX8 is priced way high, it may have flooded out, but flooded out rotaries wash the oil from the already prone to wear seals and the engine is toast. An RX8 with a dead motor is a 1500-2000 car if everything else looks good.

The Corvette, probably is just a fuel system issue, which may be coagulated gas from stem to stern of the fuel system, but still likely an easier, cheaper and more permanent fix than the Mazda, but you still have a pretty grungy looking car to go with.

I would find a running version of either for a few grand more.

Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago

I say spend a lot less on a good bicycle since you’re going to be needing to get around under your own power with either car regardless.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
2 months ago

A Wankel engine with an automatic transmission sound like absolute shit.

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
2 months ago

Two pages into reading the comments, it finally struck me that Dorito refers to the shape of the rotary engine. 🙂

I chose the ‘vette because I like the look of the C3 and I feel like there is a ton of aftermarket support, so you should be able to make it a real performance car without too much hassle.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
2 months ago

I own an RX-8 and I still chose the Vette. Too much money for an automatic version that doesn’t run.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
2 months ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

Agree completely, even if it ran it wouldn’t be worth much more sitting at 170k miles, and if I know I’m putting in the time and effort for a rebuild or swap, it better be cheaper. I got my 80k mile manual 2009 RX8 for less than this. The dealer flooded it and wanted it gone, I got them to agree on a potential price, deflooded it, and took it home for $4500

Isis
Isis
2 months ago

That Vette has potential. No lie, that’s good condition, and a 350 with an auto can be made pretty darn fun for pretty darn cheap.

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