Driving around the northern suburbs of Brisbane on the weekend, I spotted these two Mazda Carols (also known as the Mazda 600). This flatbed was parked in front of what I can only assume is a devoted Mazda enthusiast’s house, as there was both a CX7 and a 1986-91 929 Hardtop (aka Luce; the better-looking version of the dull-as-dishwater 929 sold in North America). I can only presume, based on their location and the dealership stickers, that these lovely Kei cars are being prepared for a restoration. Wonderful!
When I spotted them from the end of the block, I drew a blank. The reverse-canted C-pillar seems almost French and the front fascia vaguely reminiscent of a European Ford. Getting closer, I noticed the little Mazda 600 badges. Upon doing a little research, I found out these quirkily-styled minicars are quite interesting creatures.
The P360 Carol was first launched in 1962, and was Mazda’s first four-passenger model. The company, pragmatically, was planning to gradually expand the size of its models with time as the Japanese economy recovered after World War II. The Carol had been preceded by the 1960 R360, an adorably dinky two-passenger Kei car.
All of these little Mazdas featured an all-aluminum, water-cooled, four-cylinder, four-stroke engine. This was mounted at the rear and was only 358 ccs with just 18 horsepower. Indeed, the Carol was diminutive in every dimension: curb weight was a featherweight 1,157 lbs and length a brief 117.7 inches.
Those expecting a crude wheelbarrow-with-an-engine of a car would be surprised to learn the Carol had four-wheel independent suspension with trailing arms front and rear. As a result, the Carol rode surprisingly well for something with a 76 inch wheelbase.
That 76 inch wheelbase made for close quarters inside. But Mazda was building to something and this thoughtfully designed microcar was one step in its ascension; larger cars would follow as the Japanese automotive market grew. Despite the lower expectations within a very price-conscious segment, it is refreshing that Mazda assembled a well-designed, quality product.
The featured Carols are Carol 600s, which boasted a larger, 586 cc engine and some mild cosmetic changes like larger bumpers. However, the 600s were still the same size inside. Just 8,800 of these larger-engined Carols were built between 1962 and 1964. The one millionth Mazda produced was one of these.
The blend of size, ability and style had Japanese buyers singing the P360 Carol’s praises, and it leapt to the top of the sales charts: Mazda immediately established a 67% share of the mini-car market and still had half of it by the end of the Carol’s run.
The Carol 600 was replaced after 1964 by the larger, first-generation Familia. However, the less powerful P360 Carol remained on sale until 1970. Mazda then, oddly, took a break from the segment before launching the Chantez (from ‘chanter’ in French meaning ‘to sing’) in 1972. This adorable little micro-car was dumped after 1976, and Mazda took a lengthy break from the Kei segment until re-entering it in 1989, whereupon they also reintroduced the Carol nameplate.
Mazda may not be the high-volume player Toyota or Honda is in North America (although Mazda is the 2nd best-selling brand in Australia), but they have developed an enduring reputation for engineering, quality and dynamics. And it all started with teensy-tiny little cars like the Carol.