The wife came home from work one day and told me that her co-worker’s car–an 1987 626LX with all the goodies, an excellent exterior and pretty low miles–had been broken into and vandalized. Left unlocked in the driveway one night, it fell prey to a razor blade-wielding suitor who’d been scorned by his teenage daughter. The would-be Lothario had snapped the wiper stalk, stolen the radio knobs and taken his blade to he door panels, dash pad and every seat except the driver’s. I knew the car would be totaled by the insurance company, so I told him I’d give him an extra $100 if he’d buy it back. Sure enough, the insurance company totaled the car, which he bought back, and soon I was off to the dealer’s lot. I bought the car for about $800 and then drove it home.
After quickly locating a used wiper stalk and buying new radio knobs from the dealer, I went hunting for interior parts at local wrecking yards. It didn’t take long to find door panels for $100. I sourced a $50 rear seat from another car that also had a usable dash pad. They yard guy said he’d let me have the dash pad for free, provided I was brave enough to remove it myself. Being young (and thus having more time than money), I took the deal.
The removal process wasn’t easy: At the factory, this particular model’s dash pad is installed before the dash goes in, and to make matters worse, the donor car had been T-boned and the driver’s door wouldn’t open. Getting it out took a couple of hours, and even then only because I was willing to break some unneeded parts along the way. Needless to say, my hands acquired assorted cuts and scratches in the process. Ultimately, I found the whole experience so traumatic that I just let the pad sit in the garage for a long while. It was just as well.
A couple of months after the deal was done, I got a letter from the state. In it, they informed me that the car was considered a total loss and gave me two weeks to surrender the title. Getting a new title would require an inspection by the state patrol, so it was a good thing I hadn’t replaced the dash pad with the original VIN tag. I showed up with the uninstalled pad laying in the back seat. After removing the VIN tags from both pads and turning them over to the trooper doing the inspection, he installed a state-supplied “assigned VIN number” tag. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a matching replacement front seat; instead, we stuck with the sheepskin seat covers already on the passenger seat and called it good to go.
My wife and I were quite happy with the car–she especially so, because it was blue (her preferred color) and had an automatic, which she still appreciated despite not doing much stop-and-go driving any more. I would have preferred the five-speed, and the car lacked the precise handling of its RWD predecessor, but generally I liked it. I did want more grip than the 185/70 14 all-season tires provided, so I upgraded to 215/60 14 performance tires. I recall that my favorite thing about that car was its cool, oscillating center A/C vents; in fact, they so greatly impressed one of my friends that he bought an 1988 model for himself.
We drove it, happily, for quite a while, even taking it on a couple of long but pleasant road trips. The only time I was less than 100% happy with the car was during a grand-loop summer road trip to visit some of my relatives, who lived in Kansas, as well as my wife’s family in North Dakota and Colorado. We decided to see visit Colorado first, then head down to Kansas, and then drive up to North Dakota. That meant traveling over the stretch of the U.S. interstate system with the highest elevations in the country. As we approached the Eisenhower Tunnel to cross under the continental divide, the combination of high altitude and steep grade kept us in the right lane, doing maybe 50 mph flat-out. Nevertheless, the Mazda got us over and down to Denver and all was well again.
After more than a year of happy motoring, my wife was driving to work down a twisty road with a posted 50 mph speed limit. As she rounded a blind corner, she hit a 100-foot stretch of gravel-strewn road and wound up spinning into the roadside embankment. The impact wasn’t all that hard, but it did tear up the bumper cover and break one of the parking lights. She backed out quickly (this was the pre-cellular era) and continued on to work. She called me as soon as she got there and said that she hadn’t yet called the police; I advised her to do so in order to establish that she wasn’t at fault.
Unfortunately, the state trooper was less than sympathetic, claiming that she must have been going too fast for conditions. Strictly speaking, that was true: Her speed might have been excessive for a gravel-covered curve, but who expects to find gravel strewn over a state highway with a 50-mph speed limit?
Eventually he admitted that several other people had spun out in the same location, but by the time he’d reached the scene, most of the gravel had been dispersed from the road. He continued to insist she was at fault, and he proceeded to bitch her out, saying she was lucky he didn’t track her down and give her a ticket for reckless driving. She was pretty angry and, as far as she was concerned, the car was now permanently tainted. We decided the damage wasn’t worth involving the insurance company, so I simply replaced the lens and called it good enough.
Later, another of my wife’s co-workers mentioned that he was tired of driving the Subaru he wound up with post-divorce. He’d had enough of its manual transmission, the drone from the flat-four engine, no A/C and the fact that his ex-wife really had beaten it up–not to mention that it reminded him of the recent divorce that had taken him to the cleaner. I asked my wife to find out if he might be interested in our Mazda, since he had ridden in it many times both before and after we owned it. He snapped at the chance; after all, the Mazda was so much more luxurious and, despite the messed up bumper cover, looked a lot better overall. A post-divorce bankruptcy hadn’t left him with much cash, so we struck a deal: He’d sell the Subaru, which would give him enough to make a down payment greater than my investment, and we’d give him the keys to the Mazda. The total of his subsequent monthly payments would not only add up to a good profit, but also compensate me for the costs of the new title and messed-up bumper cover. Once he’d paid the car off, he wanted to get the bumper fixed. I ordered up an aftermarket bumper cover for him to have painted, which put a few more dollars of profit in my pocket.
Since we’d been happy with the 626, I kept my eye out for another of similar vintage. The idea was to drive it for a while before converting it to extra cash in my pocket. Soon I found a non-running blue 1984 626 for sale. Based on the car’s description and mileage, I concluded that the timing belt was shot. Having replaced a few timing belts on this family of engines, and knowing that the 2.0 was a non-interference engine, I figured it was worth a look. It turned out to be a base model five-speed, no A/C, and in pretty good shape overall. It definitely sounded like the timing belt had snapped, so I took a gamble, made a deal and towed it home. One timing belt and a a couple of hours later, I had a pretty good car.
However, it didn’t take long for the wife to decide that she preferred an automatic, and for both of us to decide that A/C was pretty good to have on trips beyond western Washington. I also found that even mated to the five-speed, the carbureted 2.0-liter engine lacked the power and driveablity of the fuel-injected version in the 1987 but had no real advantage in fuel economy. In short, there wasn’t much love for that 626. Once more, I wound up selling it to a friend/customer in need of a car. This fellow had totaled his old one without having collision insurance or much cash in the bank. He gave me his totaled car, which I parted out and sold for scrap, plus a few dollars for the down payment. He paid the balance over a couple of months, which allowed me to make a little profit. That car was the last Mazda in our family fleet–and despite my experience with the ’84, I don’t think there was a better car overall in its class, and one I’ve not hesitated to buy or recommend.
[curbside pics by PN]