Mazda’s heritage heroes


Mazda’s heritage heroes

Mazda has produced some of history’s most innovative vehicles. From gullwing Kei cars to rotary wagons—and even the industry debut of the Miller cycle engine—we round up a few of our favourites.

Autozam AZ-1 Mazdaspeed

The early 1990s were heady days for the Japanese automotive industry, which was surpassing the U.S. as the world’s biggest car producer. Mazda was producing an array of exciting vehicles and the sky seemed the limit. The Autozam AZ-1 Mazdaspeed embodied the spirit of the times, with tiny gullwing doors that added to its pocket-exotic appearance. And those looks weren’t deceiving. The 720 kg car was capable of an electronically limited 140 km/h top speed, thanks to a mid-mounted, 660 cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that delivered 63 hp at 6,500 rpm—the maximum displacement and power allowed under Japan’s Kei (lightweight) car regulations.

1965 Mazda 1000 Coupe

The 1000 Coupe, from the first-generation of the Familia series, remains relatively unknown to all but the most ardent enthusiasts. Powered by a newly designed 1,000 cc four-cylinder engine, the compact 1000 Coupe weighed just 790 kg and put out 68 hp at 6,500 rpm with a top speed of 145 km/h. Available in either Tropical Red or Pyrenean White, this sleek coupe boasted a four-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive, wishbone ball joint suspension and front disc brakes. The sporty theme continued into the cabin, which featured a wood-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel and beautifully styled instrument binnacle. Just 8,931 were built, making the 1000 Coupe another Mazda rarity, yet they paved the way for a series of high-performance models, including the era-defining 1967 Cosmo Sport.

1975 Mazda RX-4 Wagon

The 1975 RX-4 Wagon benefited from an upgraded version of the Mazda’s 13B rotary engine, which offered increased fuel efficiency and met the stringent U.S. emissions regulations introduced later that year. But the whole RX-4 model range was about so much more than just saving fuel. A super-smooth, high-revving rotary engine combined with performance-oriented rear-wheel drive meant that these cars—including the uber-practical wagon variants—still appealed to the most enthusiastic of drivers. Remaining examples are few and far between these days, with the beautifully proportioned, surprisingly sporty RX-4 Wagon being one of the rarest.

1991 Mazda MX-5 Le Mans Edition

To celebrate Mazda winning the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans race, just 24 of these roadsters were built by Mazda U.K., so they were some of the rarest Mazda models. They sported the same livery as the winning Mazda 787B, and underneath the hood lurked a BBR low-pressure turbo kit that boosted the car’s 1.6-litre engine from 115 hp to 150 hp, allowing an impressive top speed of 209 km/h and a 0-100 km/h dash taking just 6.8 seconds. Each MX-5 Le Mans came with a certificate of authenticity signed by racing driver Johnny Herbert, who had driven the 787B to victory at Le Mans.

1993 Mazda Millenia

One of the lesser-known Mazdas of the 1990s, the Millenia (sold as the Xedos 9 in Europe and the Eunos 800 in Japan and Australia) was a rival to pricier European sports sedans. Mazda’s designers shaped a graceful, elegant car that would challenge German counterparts for build quality, refinement and innovation. The Millenia’s most notable feature was that it was the first production car to be available with the pioneering Miller cycle engine. Ingeniously, this engine adds a two-stage intake stroke to the conventional four-stroke combustion cycle which, combined with a supercharger, leads to a cooler and more effective charge, which resulted in more power and less fuel consumption.

Illustrations by Arthur Schening

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Mazda’ heritage heroes

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