CC Capsule: 1995 Mazda Lantis (323F) Type R – So Nice They Had To Get It Twice

There are lots of things to be said on the subject of Mazda’s mid-‘90s mania. The continuing Wankel obsession; the quixotic quest for a multi-marque JDM empire; the dodgy (yet life-saving) Ford alliance; the extremely confusing range. A number of these traits are reflected in the Lantis. As if trying to illustrate this, someone out here bought two almost identical ones, pared them side by side and left them to rot on a Tokyo parking lot. How could I resist?

These Mazdas never made it to North American shores, but they sure found a welcome home in Europe. I do recall seeing many over there back in the day. The JDM, on the other hand, did not bite: only 43,000 out of the 230,000 Lantises made stayed in Japan in about four years, making this a pretty blatant domestic flop for Mazda. JDM sales were halted in 1997, even as exports continued until late 1998. This is not the usual scenario, but it does explain why these are very rarely seen in Japan nowadays.

When this model was launched in 1993, Mazda were in turmoil. They were in the middle of their ill-timed Autozam/M2/ɛ̃fini/Eunos/Amati clustermarque-cum-ego-trip, and some of this ebullient mood spilled over in their hitherto fairly well-ordered car model lines. Broadly speaking, Mazda’s pre-1990 mid-range was represented by the Familia (a.k.a 323 or Protégé, depending on the market) and the Capella, exported as the 626.

But the multiplication of brands in the ‘90s was coupled with a sprouting of new intermediary platforms; cars were being sold under the Autozam and/or M2/Eunos/Mazda/ɛ̃fini badge with different names, more regional names were being invented for foreign markets as well (though the foreign submarque Amati was mercifully stillborn), dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

The Lantis’s role was to be a sort-of-but-not-quite-bigger/sportier Familia. This was reflected by the name bestowed upon it on certain markets: these were sold in the EU as the 323F (as opposed to the three-door-only 323C, on a different platform, or the 323S, on yet another platform). Other markets, such as South America and South Africa, called these Astina, or Allegro or Artis. The Lantis existed in two forms: a somewhat flavourless 4-door saloon, or a sportier-looking hatchback. The hatchback was marketed as a “4-door coupé” in Japan. I’m doing my best to bite my tongue; even Wikipedia points out that it was really a 5-door hatchback.

The export versions of this car had their own intricacies and engine options, but as far as the JDM was concerned, the Lantis was supposed to steer clear of the Familia by only offering two powertrain options: the standard engine was a 135hp 1.8 litre 4-cyl., but the higher-trim cars were provided with an all-alloy DOHC 2-litre V6. In normal guise, the V6 churned out a respectable 160hp, but the Type R variant provided an extra 10hp.

I’m not 100% sure that both of these cars are Type Rs, but I reckon the one on the right (i.e. the one pictured above) probably is. It has all the hallmarks of those rare birds, including the rear spoiler and five-spoke alloys. It could be that someone sourced the other car, which has some pretty fatal crash damage, as a parts donor to aid in resurrecting the genuine Type R sitting next to it.

A glance at the rear end or the interior would have provided more clues, alas neither car was very cooperative on that score. Here’s a factory photo of the dash – all very ‘90s Japanese, bland as can be.

On the other hand, the exterior is quite distinctive, with that rounded wedge shape, those tiny headlamps and that hardtop-like greenhouse. Still, a Type R version should provide plenty of entertainment, if this restoration project (notwithstanding my perhaps wildly optimistic or, likelier, completely off-piste musings) ever gets to fruition.