COAL: 1976 Mazda Cosmo AP – Maximum Spin

In 1982 I had a year under my belt at my new military assignment in Japan.  My 1974 Toyota Crown MS60 “Kujira” had proved a comfortable and reliable steed for tooling around Tokyo, but I was getting the itch for something a little sportier.  Given how inexpensive used cars were (and still are) here in Japan, adding one wouldn’t prove much of a financial burden.  Looking around the lots off-base, a sharp red Mazda caught my eye – and a quick peek around the back showed the unique rectangular exhaust outlet – it had a rotary…

1975 Mazda Cosmo exactly like mine - to include the aftermarket wheels

Cosmo exactly like mine – to include the aftermarket wheels


It was a 1976 Mazda Cosmo AP fastback with the 13B rotary engine – the AP stood for “Anti-Pollution” which added some additional emissions controls.  I had never owned a rotary before so I wanted to check that box.  It had about 60K km on it (around 37K miles), automatic unfortunately – I would have preferred a manual, and in bright resale red.  The dealer wanted $1200 and that was with two years of Japan Compulsory Insurance and a concurrent inspection.  That sounded good to me – I counted out my Yen…

The model code for this series of Cosmo is “CD”, and it was sold from 1975 to 81 (76 –  78 in the US).  The styling of this version tends to be pretty polarizing.  That B pillar is either a “love it or hate it” item.  Other than that aspect, I liked the look of the car – sleek, a little muscular – if the Toyota Celica was an early generation Japanese Mustang equivalent, this Cosmo reminded me of a second/third Gen Japanese Charger.

In Japan, the Cosmo also came in a notchback version, called the “Landau”, which could be had with an 1800 or 2000 cc inline four cylinder in addition to the 13B.  With the opera window and half vinyl roof, it was pure Japanese ’70’s brougham.  If I just look at the greenhouse, it mirrors my 1978 Lincoln Town Coupe almost exactly.

Impressions and memories;

What struck me most was the feeling of lightness – everything about it was light – the steering, the handling, the doors/trunk/hood.  I wasn’t surprised when R&T said the same thing about the RX-2 in Paul’s comparison post the other day.  The small 13B engine I think accentuated that – it weighed only 250 pounds.  Total vehicle weight was around 2400 (JDM model) but it felt lighter than my 1976 Plymouth Arrow that was 300 pounds less heavy.  Mazda engineering…zoom-zoom…

It drove like what one would expect – it had a dearth of low end torque, so you had to give the accelerator a good shove to move off.  But once the revs built, it was quick.  Mid-range passing power was very strong.  I had to adjust to watching the tach at 4000-5000 rpm and realize that was just the middle of the power-band – redline was 7000 rpm.  Backing off the throttle resulted in lots of pops and crackles from the exhaust – I didn’t experience any backfires but heard from others that blew off a muffler and cat after working the engine too hard.

Open the hood and you were met with quite the juxtaposition – the tiny rotary block was buried deep down, under lots of wires and accessories, topped off by an air cleaner.  But pop that cleaner off and there was a big Hitachi four barrel carb.  I’ve had lots of Japanese cars before and since, but only one with a 4-bbl.

And speaking of that 4-bbl, gas mileage was pretty abysmal.  I could luckily refuel on-base, but gas outside the gate was about three times more expensive.  You may be wondering why a Japanese consumer would consider such a gas guzzler…as I’ve mentioned a few times, Japanese road taxes and fees are based on engine size – most rotaries were classified as under 1.5 liters, so they were taxed less.  That somewhat offset the fuel cost – a little…

I kept the Cosmo for about a year, never had a problem with it, and enjoyed its “swarm of bees” engine note, then an opportunity for a near flawless 1978 Nissan Fairlady Z presented itself – I’ll review that in an upcoming post.

One of the cars I’ve always had my eye out for is the final Cosmo model, which was produced from 1990 – 96 and sold through Mazda’s domestic luxury “Eunos” dealerships, and would have been part of the stillborn Amati line in the US.  It’s all space-age 1990’s Japan; both inside and out.  It had two engine options – the larger being a three-rotor, twin-turbocharged 20B with 300 hp and 300 ft lbs of torque – pretty impressive in its day.  Only around 8800 were made through those six years, so they are very rare – and of the ones that are left, the owners tend to hold on to them.  But maybe one day…

Related Posts:

Vintage R&T Review:  1976 Mazda Cosmo – The Rotary’s Last Shot – Outside of Sports Cars by Paul Niedermeyer

Cohort Classics:  Mazda Cosmo AP – Rotary Relic by Perry Shoar

Cohort Outtake:  Eunos Cosmo (Mazda) – The Only Triple Rotor Rotary Engine Production Car by Paul Niedermeyer