Mazda formally started the project in 1976 when it was called X605. The first prototype was completed in 1977. It was introduced to America as a 79 model on April 24, 1978 since production began in March. A slogan Mazda used was "It's the real thing. A sports car with all the traditional virtues and then some." One magazine's headline was "The Rotary Revolution has begun". Thus began Mazda's passion for pure sport cars that has continued through three generations and includes the Miata and RX-01.
The 12A engine (2 x 573 = 1146 cc) had two side intake ports and one peripheral exhaust port per rotor. There was a thermal reactor. Transmissions were four and five speed manual and three speed auto.
American models were two seaters only, though a 2+2 was offered in Japan due to relaxed crash standards.
The P designates "production". Upgraded interior materials. Production changed October, 1979.
It appeared in August 1980. The rear and tail lights were redesigned eliminating the "Baroque depression". Front bumper, air dam changed. The Japanese variant had rotor inspired aluminum wheels.
This began in 1980 (part of P815 run) as the "Leather Sport", 2500 units, and became the GSL in 1981. In Canada, this was known as the GX.
In 1981 they were restyled, most visibly in the rear.
A stop-gap version appeared in July 1982, the P130, with an improved engine for better fuel economy. A high output audio system was an option. It was called "Black Dynamite".
The SE saw the re-introduction of the 13B engine, last seen in the 1978 RX-4, but now rated at 135 bhp because of Dynamic Effect Intake (DEI), six port induction (2 by 3), and electronic fuel injection. In Japan, there was a P132 with a 12A turbocharged engine. Power steering was offered for the first time. The interior was upgraded, but this did not appear in the Japanese turbo version.