Bangkok is home to the largest Japanese expat community in the world. Some work here, but a considerable number also choose to retire in Thailand. Funnily enough, some Japanese vehicles also ended up retiring in the sun, such as this Mazda Familia pickup.
The Familia dynasty started in early 1963, when Mazda launched their new 800cc pickup truck. Soon, a ‘van’ version (two-door wagon) emerged; strangely, the four-door sedan came last, by the end of the year, to replace the 600cc Carol as the largest Mazda saloon. This first generation Familia 800/1000 was superseded by a completely new car in late 1967.
The new Mazda Familia 1000 debuted in Japan – this time as a four-door saloon from the get-go. Mazda needed to use the new Familia in conquering new markets, which require fitting a larger 1200cc engine providing 58 hp (DIN). The Mazda TC 1.3 litre OHC engine was also proposed from 1970, though none were as fast as the 100 hp rotary versions. The Familia pickup, which started production in 1968, was not affected by the changes Mazda made to the saloon’s width and drivetrain. Even when saloon production stopped in Hiroshima in 1977, the pickup continued on.
The Mazda boys had successfully exported their little car pretty far and wide. South Africa was in demand, as were many other African and Asian countries, for these rugged little things. Kia built the saloon, wagon and pickup versions as the Brisa until 1981. But the pickup demand remained high enough that Mazda could keep making them – as long as they could keep costs low. In 1980, Mazda ended up moving the whole line to Thailand. Local content and labour laws meant the vehicle’s production was easy to keep going at low prices.
It also meant the pickup could ill afford too much plastic surgery. By the late ‘80s, the once-graceful front bumper was botoxed to hell and some of what was once chrome had become painted. That is to be expected, I suppose. It’s certainly evident in several other ‘60s designs that lasted into the ‘80s or ‘90s, like the quite similar Nissan Sunny pickup, but also the Argentinian Ford Falcon, the Avanti, the Tatra 613, the Rolls-Royce Corniche or the Porsche 911.
Production continued at a low-key rate (below 10,000 units per year) well into the 1990s – increasingly for the domestic market. The “super cab” moniker refers to the length of the bed and the redesigned rear cab, which could offer rear seats (long cab) or a short cab like our CC, which is a long bed. The base version (short cab + short bed) was least popular. The engine employed in these late-model Familias is usually a 1415cc 4-cyl. that provides the rear wheels, via a 5-speed gearbox, with 70 hp. CNG and LPG conversions are very popular here and a number of Mazda Familia pickups have been modified, possibly even from new.
So there were a few cosmetic changes here and there, but the ‘60s shape is still reasonably there. Some suppliers were obviously happy to continue making the same part over two decades, such as the door handles. But the most interesting bit was inside.
The steering wheel seems from the right decade, but everything else looks like pure ‘70s. The suspension, brakes and chassis, though, remained very ‘60s: McPherson struts, cart-sprung live rear axle and drums all around. I understand driving these certainly feels very ‘60s – no power steering, no power brakes, no power windows, no A/C, no automatic gearbox. Fewer things to go wrong…
It’s unclear to me when production stopped exactly, but it seems these were still being sold as late as 1999. So the Mazda Familia pickup is part of the relatively small group of vehicles that was manufactured for over 30 years. It may not have the uniqueness of the Burmese Mazda 4×4, but before I saw this little Mazda parked on the (wrong side of the) street, I had never guessed these were made in Thailand – and for so long. Nowadays, Mazda had a huge factory cranking out triple-digit amounts of Mazda pickup trucks. The Familia is from a different era, when Thailand was still developing its parts supplier base and local content laws were more restrictive. Relaxing these laws gave Thai production a massive shot in the arm, but this also means extremely long-lived designs like this Mazda are far less likely. Luckily, judging from the Thai internets, this model has something of a cult following here already.