CC Outtake: 1991 Mazda 323 Hatchback – Another Forgotten Car, And A Forbidden One

Maybe we should start a new category for forgotten cars–those obscure and forgettable models that have fallen off the radar or excised from our over-crowded memory banks. Admittedly, it was this Mazda’s mustard-colored spare wheel that first caught my attention. But then I realized that this is an oddball, and in more ways than one. When this generation (BG) 323/Familia arrived in the US in 1989, it was no longer even called 323, having adopted the Protegé name–at least the four-door sedan, anyway. The hatch kept the 323 name but obviously it not only didn’t sell well, and the 323 name is simply no longer associated with this generation. Honestly now, when’s the last time you thought of this car? And while we’re on the subject of obscure 323s, how about a peek at the version we never even got in the U.S.? 

This is the Mazda Astina, as it was called in Japan (these pics are from Wikipedia). I remember reading about it in ams, since it was sold in Europe as the Mazda 323f: totally different sheet metal, and a very different look and feel than the rather conservatively-styled Protegé.

Why? Like almost all the bigger Japanese manufacturers, Mazda sold more than one brand in Japan–several, actually, including Autozam, Eunos, Ẽfini, and even a sub-marque called M2, which once had its own headquarters. Mazda’s brand explosion lasted through the ’80s; during the ’90s, the extraneous brands were converted to sales channels in which specialty dealer groups sold certain types of cars, i.e., small cars at Autozam dealerships. And you think GM had too many brands!