Historic Car Brands
The Mazda story began in 1920, when the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company switched from manufacturing cork-substitute product to mechanical engineering.
‘Mazda’ is the way Japanese pronounce its founder’s name – Jujiro Matsuda – and also alludes to Matsuda, the Japanese god of light, wisdom, harmony and intelligence.
The company’s first automotive product was the 1931 Mazda-Go, motorised, three-wheeled light truck. Then Toyo Kogyo produced weapons for the Japanese military throughout World War II, most notably the Type 99 rifle.
In 1959 the K360 three wheeled light truck replaced the Mazda-Go and some 280,000 were sold during its 10-year life.
The Mazda R360 car, using the same 360cc engine as the K360, was introduced in 1960, followed by the Mazda Carol in 1962.
1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport
Mazda was inspired by the German Wankel rotary engine in the 1960s NSU RO 80 and decided to put a major engineering effort into development of this engine as a way of differentiating itself from other Japanese auto companies.
Toyo Kogyo formed a business relationship with NSU in 1961, showed a prototype in 1963 and began its rotary-engined production models with the limited-production Cosmo Sport of 1967.
Mazda became the sole manufacturer of Wankel-type engines for the automotive market, after NSU and Citroën both gave up on the design during the 1970s.
1969 Mazda R100 Rotary Coupe – Shoggothe
The Europeans abandoned the relatively thirsty rotary engine after the 1973 Oil Shock, when the market was focussed on fuel economy, but Mazda retained it for its sporting vehicles. The R100 and the RX series (RX-2, RX-3, RX-4 and RX-5) led the company’s export efforts.
Mazda RX-3 first generation
Fortunately, the company retained its four-cylinder, piston-envied models throughout the 1970s. The smaller Familia line in particular became very important to Mazda’s worldwide sales after 1973, as did the somewhat larger Capella series. The sales of these conventional vehicles helped Toyo Kogyo narrowly avoid bankruptcy
Mazda RX-7 first generation
Starting with the lightweight RX-7 in 1978 and continuing with the RX-8, Mazda continued its dedication to this unique powerplant.
2006 Mazda RX-8 – Vauxford
However, the lessons of the past were well learnt and Mazda developed the piston-engine-powered MX-5 that owed more than a little inspiration to the Lotus Elan.
2007 Mazda MX-5 – Mafmafmaf
Introduced in 1989 to worldwide acclaim, the MX-5 has been widely credited with reviving the concept of the small sports car, after its decline in the late 1970s.
The first NA model was the Australian Wheels Magazine’s ‘Car of the Year’ winner for 1989. Phil Scott, then editor of Wheels magazine said:
“Seldom has a winner better fulfilled the awards criteria than Mazda’s MX-5, particularly for engineering excellence, advancement in design and fulfilment of intended role.
“Mazda’s ragtop is at once a courageous and outstanding achievement – one of those rare cars destined to become a classic in its own time.”
Old mate Scotty was right: with production now in its fourth decade, this pretty little sports car has certainly attained classic status.
The second-generation NB was launched in 1998 followed by the NC model, which began production in 2005. It continued to be the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history and by April 2016 production reached one million units.
This milestone figure was achieved after 27 years of mass-production of the MX-5 that started at Ujina Plant No1 in Hiroshima, in April 1989.
Shortly after the MX-5 release, Mazda scored a memorable overall victory in the 1991 24-hour race at Le Mans, making it the first Japanese car to do so. The four-rotor 787B’s triumph remains unparalleled, being the only non-piston-engined car ever to win at Le Mans.
Rotary-powered Mazdas and piston-engined MX-5s have won numerous races and speed events all around the world.