(first posted 8/30/2011. updated 3/12/2022) Talk about role reversal. Who in in 1975 or 1980 could have predicted that within a few years Mazda would be selling cars as big as a DeVille? Cadillac’s remarkable shrinking act in 1985 had a number of unforeseen consequences, especially since the rest of the world wasn’t exactly following their (tiny) footsteps. Not only did a Lincoln Town Car suddenly look that much bigger, but otherwise rather mundane cars like this Mazda 929 suddenly found themselves being as big (or bigger) that the DeVille, once the most regal barge in the land. Ironic indeed, especially for Japanese companies that only ten years earlier were sending us tiny little hatchbacks? It probably wasn’t part of a grand scheme, but cars like the 929 did play their part in the downfall of the house of Cadillac.
The 929 was one of the names used for Mazda’s Luce family, one that got a very handsome start in 1966 with the original Luce 1500. Don Andreina did an incredible deep dive on the stylistic origins of this lovely sedan; don’t miss it. The Luce was sold as the Mazda 1800 in the US only very briefly, in 1970-1971, and I cannot ever remember seeing one in the US, even in Southern California. Very few must have made it here, but I did see one in Vienna in 1969, and was quite smitten by it.
The next generation Luce was sold as the rotary-engined RX-4 here, although its fuel-slurping ways weren’t didn’t exactly in sync with the first energy crisis.
The sedans and wagons were fairly common, an it seems like only yesterday that I saw some still on the street. “Seems” is not always the most objective criteria.
The piston engine version was called the 929, and sold in Europe and other markets where the high fuel consumption of the RX4’s rotary made it difficult to sell.
The very American-looking front end on this gen4 Luce/929 sedan was one of several that graced this generation. It was substantially larger than its predecessor.
In 1981, the HB generation arrived, and it too was not sold in the US.
But this featured HC generation Mazda 929 arrived in the US in 1988, a couple of years after its Japanese introduction as the fourth generation Mazda Luce/929. It had grown with each generation, and was now 194″ long, almost exactly the same as the 1985 DeVille. Unlike the DeVille, it maintained its traditional RWD format, and a 3.0 liter V6.
Similar to the Toyota Cressida, the 929 was in every way almost the polar opposite of the Cadillac. Low key and almost invisible in traffic, these cars were very solidly built, and I’m not aware of any shortcomings with them. Hardly exciting, but not having the many problems that many GM cars of the era were having can be just the right kind of unexciting some folks were looking for at the time.
Interiors were also solid, and cars like the 929 enhanced the reputation Japanese cars had, in their quiet, unassuming ways. And laid the foundations for their assault into the luxury segment of the market.
This 929 is a later S version, which had DOHC heads and some 190 hp. Quite capable for the times, if not exactly awe-inspiring performance.
The 929 built the first step towards Mazda’s ambitious and failed Amati luxury brand, of which the next generation 929 was to have been the first model. But that’s another story, told here by Brendan Saur.
Related: Don Andreina’s incredible history of the design development of the original 1966 Mazda Luce.
Imagine if Cadillac had actually continued to live by their “Standard Of The World” slogan! At least they have some vehicles out now pointing in the right direction…and if they actually build that Ciel concept…
The oscillating AC vents were the coolest feature on this rig.
Lots of these big Mazdas imported here the early models are loved by the boyracer crowd who implant rotary engines and the later large sedans still float about on their soft US spec suspensions not exactly popular but they still run follow one on a twisty NZ highway and its a great laugh those things wallow like a Nissan Cefiro just soft mushy crap
Third generation looks like a Mazda Granada. (Or perhaps) “What kinda car you drive?”
“Who me? …A Mazda Monarch.”
I was thinking Chrysler Cordoba – the second or third year when they went with stacked lights. They could have had, maybe Don Ho, talking about “rich Nagasaki leather”
Don Ho was Hawaiian.
Any leatherworkers in Japan would likely be Burakumin, a stigmatized “pariah” caste including many such “unclean” trades. Pariahs are common across cultures, even in “egalitarian” America.
Exquisite Kobe’ leather…
I would say 77 Malibu.
I never thought about that size comparison at the time, mostly because I wasn’t paying much attention to Cadillacs in those years.
I had never known the 929, which itself wasn’t any too common in my part of the world, was the chassis for the RX-series sedans.
Poor Mazda…first, and basically only one, out the gate with a Wankel…which has led it to one long identity crisis when they scaled back on the rotary wonder.
In this era of electronic engine controls, I’m surprised that the Wankel hasn’t made a comeback. Granted, it has low thermal efficiency; but that’s offset by a higher mechanical efficiency. With computer modeling, insulation, perhaps even a ceramic case for insulation, I cannot see why the Wankel could not make a comeback.
And, think of the weight savings! And space savings! An engine in the space once given over to the transmission alone; use constant engine speed with a CVT…maybe part of a hybrid package. The mind boggles!
It seems like it could be just the ticket in the new CAFE race.
In this part of the world Rotary was optional most came with 4banger as those early rotaries werent reliable Mazda had a go at a big luxo car by buying fully trimmed Holden Premiers and fitting Rotary engines The Mazda Roadpacer a real rare collectors item now they were gutless and slow compared to the Holden original which was 6 or V8. Mazda has tried pretty much everything with its rotary but cant get the emmisions down to new standards so its gone.
Wow, a Mazda that looks like a Chevy. Weird.
That series of Holdens were on a Chevy Camaro platform HQ-HZ 71-80
They also put a rotary engine into a 20-passenger bus, think how bad it would be with double the weight of the Holden to push!
I saw that you really have to wonder about their thought process.
Right, JPT. Don Sherman says, “Weep not, rotorheads, because salvation is at hand.” Audi’s A1 E-Tron concept has a 250 cc Wankel range extender: http://www.caranddriver.com/features/11q2/how_audi_hybrids_could_keep_the_wankel_rotary_alive-tech_dept
Wankel’s small size, weight and smoothness is attractive for an electric range-extender. The Wankel engine and the generator are so similar they integrate beautifully. Keep it in the speed-power sweet spot and fuel efficiency is not so bad. The range extender allows a smaller EV battery, so the car can be a lot cheaper.
Back in ’07, Mazda built an experimental Wankel series-hybrid that runs on gasoline or hydrogen. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazda_Premacy_Hydrogen_RE_Hybrid
No word since ’08 on any more Mazda activity along these lines, which is strange.
I think it’s because Mazda has gotten to the bottom of their pockets. They were never overly-well capitalized; for much of their history they were a plaything of the Ford company.
Like Mitsubishi and Suzuki, they seem destined to be also-rans in the Asian car wars. We wouldn’t have expected cutting-edge technology from American Motors, would we? Even Chrysler had a hard time when they tried to be first with something.
Audi has a bigger purse; perhaps they can iron the bugs out of the concept. All companies will benefit, even if they have to buy licenses on proprietary technology.
I’m not a fan of hybrids, by any means…but like Sherman notes, the Wankel design and characteristics, and hybrid-drive or gas/electric requirements…complement each other.
Didnt Audi swallow NSU who had a rotary of their own way back seems to me they already own the thing and gave up once before Mazda took up the cudgel.
NSU owned Wankel’s patents. They were first with it; but as an independent company, they lacked the resources to bring it to market in a mainstream way.
The Wankel patents are expired; and NSU was purchased by Audi.
NSU Spider was first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSU_Spider
NSU Ro 80 looks more like a car from 1987 than 1967: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSU_Ro_80
There was a V4 Ford kit to replace the rotary in these Ro80s but these were very advanced cars for the times just short lived engines
My father, mechanic in the 70s, claims Ro80 engine could be rebuilt for 100 DEM. Not sure what was the worth of 100 DEM back then but it cannot be more than say 200 EUR today.
On the other hand not sure how many actually wanted to go through the hassle of rebuilding the engine every couple of years.
Mazda, like NSU before it, can’t seem to get the seals to work properly. The engines produce a lot more pollutants and uses more oil than a piston engine. From my experiences with a couple of RX-7’s (mid 80s, not mine,), I’ve noticed they were none too fuel efficient. All the noise and power of a chainsaw, with the fuel mileage of a Cadillac. 25 years later, and almost all other types of Otto cycle engines have improved drastically, while the rotary still has issues with fuel and oil consumption.
Sorry, I could never get too wound up about them. It’s an engineering dead end. There was a reason why Audi really didn’t bother to continue working on them…
If one were interested in a truly compact engine for a parallel hybrid, a small turbine would do the trick. It would be less parts, therefore lighter and could use any fuel that ignites.
Citroen had a birotor wankel engine using NSU technology they reaquired as many of them as they could and scrapped them Mazda was next.
I seem to remember that AMC was to joint venture a rotary with GM in the ’70s and had engineered the Pacer to its specifications. GM predictably pulled out of the bargain, leaving AMC to put in the Eisenhauer-era six and the brands further slide into non-profitability.
GM dropped its Wankel for other reasons, but I’m amazed AMC took such a foolish risk, spending precious R&D dollars designing the Pacer around an untested engine built by a competitor. I’m pretty certain the GM Wankel would’ve been a bigger fail than the Vega four.
Mazda’s Familia & Luce sedans could easily accept 4-cyls.
A late amendment, but the RX-series sedans were not (all) related to the 929.
The 929, known in Japan as the Mazda Luce, was the biggest Mazda passenger car, dating back to 1966. (Don Andreina has since done a lovely article describing its origins.) The version sold here as the RX-4 was the second-generation Luce, introduced in 1972. In the early ’70s, Mazda was offering the rotary engine in nearly every vehicle it sold, including the Luce. At home and in some other markets, the Luce/929 was available with reciprocating engines, but we got only the rotary version, badged RX-4.
The RX-4 was not structurally related to the smaller RX-2 (Mazda Capella RE) or RX-3 (Mazda Savanna). The rotary engines, of course, were either the same or closely related, as were the transmissions and some other components, but the Capella and Savanna were separate, smaller platforms with different chassis setups.
Later incarnations of the Luce (sold as 929 outside Japan) were generally exported only with piston engines, but the Japanese Luce continued to offer rotaries until the end. (It was replaced by the Mazda Sentia, the first generation of which was the last 929 sold in the U.S.; the Sentia had only piston V-6 engines.)
As others have mentioned below, the first production rotary cars were from NSU, from whom Toyo Kogyo (Mazda’s corporate name until the ’80s) licensed the technology. However, NSU’s last production rotary was in 1977.
I always considered this generation of 929 to be an attractive car, but I never knew much about them. I had forgotten that they were rear drive. I may have to look for one now.
Of the two in your lead photo, I would take the Mazda over the Cadillac hands down.
Dont blame you JP that Cad is an awful looking POS
The 1977-79 Ford Thunderbird copied the greenhouse of the 1976 RX-5 Cosmo. The Cosmo is superior to the T-bird in that the “opera” window in the middle actually rolls down. The B1 and B2 pillars (or B and C pillars?) were also much thinner.
Mazda also made an even more Americanized version of the Cosmo, though ironically never exported to the US.
I saw that too; ironic, eh?
Looks like an AMC Concord D/L or Monza Towne Coupe.
The thing to keep in mind when comparing a 1991 Deville to a 1991 929 is that circa 91 a “traditional” Cadillac buyer would lay out their money for almost anything with a Crest and Wreath rather than buy foreign.
I seem to recall “traditional” Cadillac buyers weren’t too keen on these either.
The Gen 4 was not in the US, but I believe Canada did get it. Some of those trickled into at least the West Coast. I once looked at a sweet Cosmo Coupe, must have been Gen 4 that was a gray market import from Europe. It kind of looked like a long, low, coupe that was fairly angular and kind of flying saucer-y. This was the late 80’s in LA.
Having had a ’79 626 as my first car, I hung out at the Mazda dealer a lot – All they had in the 80’s until the big 929 came out was the GLC/323 series, 626, RX7, and Pickup (Sundowner! For $5795!), then the newer B2000 etc.
One thing to keep in mind when comparing the 929 to the shrunken 85 DeVille is that although the two cars might be fairly close in length, the Mazda is much narrower due to a hefty tax levied in Japan on cars that exceed 1.7 meters in width.
The oscillating vents were also available on 626s throughout the 90s.
You are correct that they US Cosmo was coupe only. Between the Cosmo and 929 there was no version of this family of cars available in the US. Back when I was in high school a friends dad was all rotary, they had a Cosmo, RX4 wagon and Rotary Pickup. In college a good friend had a Rotary Pickup and a RX4 wagon.
I did work on a 929 or 2 over the years and they were pretty good cars from my limited experience and for their time they were pretty fast for a luxury sedan.
I had a summer job at a Mazda dealership in 1987 when the 929 came out. The car was nothing to look at, but Gor Blimey, it was impeccably well built. They were built like tanks and the whole year or so I was with the service department at Pacific Mazda in Victoria I never saw one come in for anything than regular service.
I had an opportunity to spend some wheel time with a 929 and it was not terribly powerful but it was smooth as can be, had excellent materials and interior fit and finish. They really were an under-rated car. Come to think of it, all the Japanese luxury sedans I have driven from like 1985-2005 had impeccable materials, fit and finish and drove exceptionally well. Since then they seem to have gone downhill quite a bit.
Around 1990 or so, I used to sell Nissans in between semesters; our dealership was located next to a Mazda dealer, so quite often I’d see a few Mazda 929 S sedans being driven by dealership management throughout the day. They looked pretty classy in black with the taupe leather interior. But like you said, they were unusually narrow for a car of that length, so it looked somewhat disproportionate compared to some other cars in its class.
This design got a new lease on life in Korea when Mazda was finished with it. The Kia Potentia, Kia’s large luxo rival to the Hyundai Grandeur circa 1995. It was replaced by the Kia
Enterprise, based on the Mazda Sentia.
This in the pre-Hyundai takeover days when hand-me-down Mazda tooling loomed large in the Kia picture.
I can’t vouch for the build quality of the Potentia, but I had a 1993 Kia Capital (the 1983-85 626) that was complete garbage.
Nothing wrong with the quality of Mazdas build They turned out some of the better Japanese cars and a lot of Fords over the years were only Mazdas in drag Honda Orthia is a Mazda rebadge as is a couple of Nissan vans
Yep, their mid 90s offers were very interesting – all those small capacity V6s (1.6/1.8/2.0), the whole Efini line and the mighty Cosmo… Efini MS-8 was the first car I remember that had an auto gear stick in the dash – above the center batch of vents
For awhile there it seemed as though Mazda could do no wrong.
It’s been claimed that in the ’80s, Ford learned about Lean Manufacturing from Mazda, after Sumitomo forced it upon them (w/ help from Toyota) during their near-collapse from the Oil Crises. Before that, Mazda followed the old-school Mass-Production paradigm [don’t stop the line, fix defects after assembly].
German makes achieved their high quality by simply employing more post-assembly fixers, thus the claims of more “craftsmanship.”
I love the photo of the so American third generation with so French Citroen C5 in the background.
I remember reading the reviews of these when they came out and being impressed–the reviewer mentioned the instrument panel as being especially interesting (although the panel in this car doesn’t seem that unusual, so maybe that was the next generation?), and that the car had a ventilation system that would kick in and bring in fresh air periodically while the car was parked (which would have been advanced for the early ’90s–again, maybe next generation). On the other hand, the styling is so bland as to render the car nearly invisible, although I guess it beats the Mazda “smile” that is now the main feature of their design language.
That would be the next generation 929 – it had solar panels in the sunroof to power the aircon while the car was parked.
Ah, the 929… I passed a driving test in Hiroshima in one, in 1995… White with deep red cloth interior and a 5 speed. And an “oji-san” (older aged Japanese man) on my left as a driving instructor. He was obviously very uncomfortable with the presence of a “gaijin” so close to him.
The Mazda itself had VERY soft suspension, was eerily quiet and very much resembled a ’85 Nissan-Cedric my friend was driving. After my Civic Si felt like a tank.
In these times though I’d say this barge of a car had a character… Although I still prefer a Y31 “Sedo-Guro” (Cedric-Gloria twins) – inline 3L twin-turbo et al…
Very underrated designs, all through the years. The ’91 might be a little too conservative, especially in the front. But very handsome for the time.
Wasn’t this car and the sibling Milleniia supposedtto be p\arti of an .Infiniti/Lexus challenger called Amati or Amanti?
That was the more curvaceous successor to this one.
My uncle, my mom’s baby brother, had one for fifteen years before he traded it in for a Camry. It was a great car, very, very comfortable, if rather conservative looking.
Here’s a ’78 series 3 929 currently for sale in NZ. I love the brougham-style roofline, reminds me of the late 70s Lincolns!
Wow. It’s a close call whether it resembles the 1971-76 Caddy Fleetwood Brougham more or the 1975-79 Lincoln. I’ll vote Caddy because then we have identified styling cues from each of the Detroit Big Three in one car.
I always thought the fifth generation 929, with that very curvaceous bodywork, was gorgeous. Then I had a ride in one and discovered it has an amazingly tiny trunk for such a big car. Also, as the cars age, the transmissions are proving to be a weak point.
NZ’s version of the ’91 929 was a whole lot squarer than the burgundy US version in the post. The one below is currently for sale on our trademe website. Looks like you got the same basic body with rounded lights, grille, bumpers and lower cladding. Mind you, we got the hardtop version from new, which was pretty cool looking!
My grandfather had an 88 one of these. Ran trouble free for well over 100k until 2000.
Forgotten by many is that Cadillac kept the C body RWD sedan going with the Brougham model, from 1985-92. Many assume there were “no more big Caddies after 85”.
I absolutely LOVE that little green RX4 in the second pic.
I’m right there with ya on the RX4, and love the green on it.
But the silver RX5 Cosmo…. wow, what a good-looking car. The wheel choice and tint work very well with the car and color. I’d park one of those in the garage in a heartbeat.
I had a silver Cosmo with burgundy interior when I lived in Cincinnati going to UC in 1982. The rotor seals were gone and it would smoke on cold startup enough to fill up a whole level in the parking deck like a 100% fog condition. Never fixed it and drove it for a while like that. It had the 13B twin rotor engine with a four barrel carburator. Mazda had not gotten around to fuel injection on the 13B. that came later in 1985. But regarding the 929,
I always liked the 929 made from 1987 to 1991. the ultimate no notice blend in the background generic 3 box shape, Used to ride in them in the back on the left. They were used as taxi cabs in Nagoya and Hiroshima when i was on assignment in Japan.
Luck has it, a month ago, I ran across one that got traded in at the Mazda dealership locally by the original owner. It is a 1991 929 S with 55642 documented miles per CARFAX and in like new condition. I bought it and been driving it daily. What i love about it is the automatic seat belt system – no ticket for not having a seat belt on. Also, the peppiness. It squats it back end and takes off.
You made a BARGAIN maaan!
Nice interior. But everyone hated those Federal seat belts back then.
I always liked the 929, and had hoped when the 626 became the Mazda 6, and the 323 became the Mazda 3, that they would make a new car called the Mazda 9 (a new 929). It could be positioned to go after the Toyota Avalon, or New Impala, or maybe even a more upscale car like the Hyundai Equos (or at least a Genesis sedan) or something. Call it Zoom Zoom with a little Room Room. ?
I always wanted a Mazda 9! But now the 6 has grown up to 9 size anyway.
Yeah… I like the new 6, but it needs something bigger than a 2.5L to power it (or at least turbocharge that thing).
Strictly speaking the RX5/Cosmo was a personal luxury coupe built on the floorpan of the RX4/929, (or Luce to give it the JDM designation) – sort of an upward range extension. The full range of RX4/929 models continued to be available in other markets alongside the RX5, though maybe not in America. That’s why there’s no RX5 sedan or wagon.
Here’s the 929 version that sold alongside the RX5.
1976 (or so) 929.
That Cadillac looks like it was styled by Fridgidaire.
Well, Fridgidaire was a division of GM then.
As a foreigner, your caption is rather startling. I’m quite familiar with Mazda 929s, and never thought of this generation as being particularly large – but to discover that a Cadillac (not the biggest RWD body-on-frame job, admittedly) was the same size?
No wonder buyers were shocked at GMs downsized FWD luxury jobs, if they were this small. No wonder GM had a hard time shifting them, as the Caddy looks rather awkward and not particularly prestigious against the Mazda – or any other imported sedan of that size.
The 1994 DeVille was definitely a step up over the ’93 in the size department, at least.
I don’t think the size difference was as much as you may think. The 1993 Sedan deVilles were not small at all. 208″ length, 73″ width, 55″ height. The 1994’s added only 2 inches in length to 210″, the width was increased by 4 inches to 77″ and the height was the same. Personally I like the trimmer look of the 1989-93 models far better than the oddly proportioned 1994’s!
Is it just me, or is there a hint of Alfa 164 and Peugeot 605 in the side profile of the Mazda?
I have mazda 929, 1976 and I have a problem with it: the windscreen of the car is broken.
In this case I want to buy a new one but it is very difficult to find such a windscreen.
Could you be so nice to tell me if you could help me to find one.
Your answer would be kindly appreciated.
On the show, “Wheeler Dealers: S14 E4,” they needed to replace the unavailable windshield of a Saab 96. They went to a specialist in Los Angeles who considered the curvature of the broken windshield and then selected a windshield meant for a large American car with a similar curvature. Then he traced the broken windshield’s shape onto the large windshield and cut away the borders of the glass. It was a very good fit, and apparently that’s how you replaced obsolete windshields without paying a fortune to have one made from scratch.
Add some front vent windows to the HC 929/Luce and it gives an idea on how the Chrysler A-body Dart/Valiant or the Ford Fox-body Fairmont might have look had they continued to soldier to the early 1990s.
I forgot to mention then the HC 929/Luce got a second life in South Korea as the Kia Potentia before Hyundai acquired Kia.
That gen4 Luce looks like a Dodge Monaco.
I was thinking that exactly
Would Chuck Berry have even cared about Maybellene in her Coupe de Ville if her Coupe de Ville was this Coupe de Ville? This Coupe de Ville just shatters the whole image. Booo!
During Gas Crisis 2, 1979-81, the Buff Books, News Media, Dealers, and car “know-it-alls” were demanding that “Cadillac must build smaller cars!”
Then, they do and it’s “a travesty”, and endless stories of “that’s not a Cadillac” for decades.
Now, so what?
Nobody was calling for inferior small cars.
My Dad’s former co-worker who retired and changed careers, started selling real estate (he sold my youngest sister her home) owned one of these bought new back in the day. They were really uncommon, and he’s the only one I’ve ever seen to own one of this generation.
I kind of like them, they were plusher than the 626 I considered buying a few years earlier when I spent far more time than I ever have since looking for a car, but so far have never gotten a Mazda, though a 3 is on my radar for replacement for my current car, being one of the few models still sold as a hatchback (I think the 626 I looked at in 1986 was a hatchback…they offered non-hatchback model as well that year).
Anyhow, the only thing I remember about it was the small trunk size for a pretty large vehicle…maybe due to RWD?