(first posted 4/3/2013) Here’s a find that I’ve long hoped to bag myself: a rare Mazda Rotary Pickup. improbocat found this one, and just posted it at the Cohort. It was an audacious vehicle at the time; now it seems almost absurd. But in the early seventies, Mazda was flying high on the strength of their rotary engine, and they were sticking it in anything that they thought those power-loving cheap-gas swilling American would buy: Little econobox RX-2, mini-GTO RX3; Luxo-rotary RX-4, the RX-7, of course. The only thing left in the cupboard was the B1800/2000 pickup. Why not? Ask OPEC.
The Rotary Pickup created a whole new class of sporty-mini-ups. And scoot it did: with the 110 hp 13B twin-rotor in the very light little truck, the MRP was a kick, once the rotors spooled up. Low end torque on these engines was always weak, so this was not designed for truckin’ in the usual sense. For that matter, the Rotary Pickup was strictly a North-America only vehicle. In other parts of the world, these trucks earned their living; without a rotary, thank you.
The RP arrived in 1974, just in time for the big energy crisis. Road and Track ‘s observed fuel economy was 16.5 mpg. Bad timing. That put the kibosh on Mazda’s optimistic production plans, and left-over ’74s were given an additional VIN code to be sold as ’75s. A total of some 15,000 were sold in total over its four years; the lion’s share in 1974.
One only needs to slide into a vintage Japanese mini-truck to realize why the genre ultimately is petering out. The trade-off from their small cabs just ain’t worth it. Even my son’s late-model Ranger felt cramped to me.
This gives you an idea of their size in relation to today’s popular trucks. Now I don’t mean to say they have to be that big either. There’s a happy medium. But there was nothing “medium” about the Rotary Pickup.