My favorite cars to behold, if not to drive, are the more obscure Japanese models of the 1980s which were generally uncommon throughout my younger years and are truly rare today. This second generation Mazda 626 is just such a car, not very well-loved second hand and initially sold using advertisements which underscored value over most any other trait. A shame, when you consider that they had genuine substance and depth, but nevertheless, their general ambiguity and embrace of techo-gimmickry really make them a nerd’s delight today.
The first-gen 626 had been an RWD car with some European pretense and that slightly-sportier theme carried into the new, front-drive 1983 model, which sold in reasonable quantities, but not as well as the Accord. No matter how much better the handling was, or how nifty the interior’s metallic-accents, open headrests, oscillating vents and adjustable shocks were, however, looking at the styling explains a lot about these cars and their lack of genuine success. What use is good handling and optional turbo power in a car which looks like this? It doesn’t say “touring,” it says “pre-calculus.”
Gotta admire the owner’s attempts to turn it into an art car. Let’s see here, we have a statuette of what looks to be Ganesh (if I’ve mistakenly misidentified this figurine, please accept my sincerest apologies), some black keys and… I guess that’s all it takes!
I must say, the placard glued to the dash is quite interesting. “Graduate school” isn’t a job or clerical title and few students in grad school goes by “Mrs.” As we see here, not much creativity is evident in the toned-down-for-1986 interior, but the open design of the door pull/storage pocket and the console mounted window switches at least suggest some desire to distinguish the car as modern. The button for the famed “swing” vents is curiously missing, since I can’t imagine anyone deliberately removing it, but given the generally sorry state of the car, it’s not surprising.
It’s hard to pin down the exact year of this car. It’s most likely a 1986 or 1987, and the body colored door handles were only featured on this car’s LX trim for the final year, but the very poorly integrated high-mount stop light is reminiscent of an aftermarket piece retrofitted to a 1985. What I’m more certain of is that using the filler panel around the license plate as a mooring for the bungee cord holding your bumper (or decklid) in place is a bad idea.
If any generation of 626 was going to become a mainstream success, it would’ve been the second-generation, which handled better than the Accord, and had a wider availability of engines and body styles. But its style was lacking and some say quality was as well. Mazda’s midsizer would continue the trend of being a gruff, anonymous midsize car with good handling (except between 1998 and 2002), with meager sales in the US. Oddly enough, the 626 did well in Germany and Scandinavia, where buyers aren’t exactly unsavvy, so the car’s attributes were at least recognized in a somewhat flattering context. I don’t know how well it did in Japan, but US models did come from Hiroshima, and the hyper conservative styling, as well as the right A-pillar mounted antenna suggests primary consideration for the home market.
The fact that it was an up-to-date, competent car, with middling sales and dorky styling which kept it from being a smash, certainly caused me to enjoy running across it. I can’t help but wonder how it would’ve paid off if some US Fords were based on this car after Mazda was finished with it. 1988 Tempo, anyone?
In the meantime, if anyone sees a nice 86 or 87 626 GT Turbo, please take pics and alert me through CC!