Few carmakers fumbled as badly as Mazda did in the early ‘90s and lived to tell the tale. Rover died. GM needed a bailout. Nissan, Kia and Chrysler had a shotgun wedding. Mazda managed to remain independent, despite tie-ups with Ford and Suzuki. A remarkable feat in this day and age. The Eunos Cosmo harks back to a time when Mazda attempted to grow into a true predatory conglomerate, only to find that they hadn’t so much become a shark as jumped it.
In the late ‘80s, the bigger Japanese carmakers were all trying to outdo one another in the luxury flagship segment. Given that the carmakers were bound by rather rigid government guidelines regarding size and displacement, as well as the “gentlemen’s agreement” on horsepower (theoretically limited to 280hp max), the competition took place in two different arenas. There was a technological race (four-wheel steering, turbos, active suspension, V8 engines, increasingly sophisticated gadgets) and an image race. In the former, Mazda had a strong hand thanks to their exclusive production of rotary engines.
In the latter though, Mazda were a few leagues behind the more savvy players that were Honda, Toyota and Nissan with their new luxury export marques. So Mazda frantically got to work to redress this situation. They went a bit nuts and created four brands out of thin air: Autozam, Eunos and ɛ̃fini (that last one being so pretentious that even foreigners wouldn’t be able to pronounce it) were launched for the JDM, and Mazda planned to launch an Acura- / Lexus-fighter called Amati.
That last one never actually saw light of day, as by the time Mazda were ready to press go in 1992, the firm (and Japan in general) was drowning in red ink and hubris. But they did launch the Eunos Cosmo a couple years earlier, so we have some idea of what some of the Amati line-up might have been. For one thing, Mazda were working on a 12-cyl. saloon, just to up the stakes and beat BMW and Jaguar at their game. For another, the triple-rotary Cosmo coupé would have sat atop the range, admiring the view.
For this fourth generation Cosmo, Mazda were determined to strike a major blow to the Toyota Soarers and Nissan Leopards that reigned supreme on the JDM pecking order. The new Cosmo was much bigger (wider, in particular) than any previous domestically-designed Mazda and featured an optional 2-litre triple Wankel – the first and only time anything like that ever made it to a production car. Theoretically limited to 280hp, the turbocharged 20B three-rotor probably churned out over 300hp in actuality. Base model Cosmos came with the 1.3 litre twin-rotor 13B engine that produced a respectable 235hp and shared its bigger cousin’s sequential turbo technology.
Both the twin- and triple-rotor models came with a 4-speed automatic transmission to send all that cavalry to the rear wheels: Mazda did not possess a manual gearbox that could handle anything as powerful as those Wankels. The only tell-tale sign regarding the Eunos Cosmo’s engine is the exhaust: dual for twin rotaries and quad for triples. Our feature car’s were singles, so this would be one of the 5000 or so 13B-powered Cosmos – i.e. the slightly more common type.
Aside from the engine, contemporary comments about the Cosmo are rather muted. The car’s all-independent suspension (double wishbones front, multilink rear, coils all round) could be had in two different setups – “soft” or sporty. The soft one is not reputed to be very driver-friendly, and the sporty one is a bit on the harsh side. Brakes are straight out of the 929 and a bit undersized for such a heavy car. Rear seats are completely symbolic, which given the car’s size is something of an accomplishment. The quality of the finish, interior and general styling was usually praised, but Mazda let the side down a bit on the chassis side of things.
The interior matches the outside: the owner of this Cosmo seems keen on squeezing the luxury out to improve performance, hence the Recaros. Alas, that’s the tip of the iceberg. Given the gear shifter we’re looking at here, I’m seriously doubting that this Cosmo still sports its original engine and transmission. Does it have a contemporary RX-7’s rotary (i.e. same same but different from the 13B this car had originally), or did the owner perform a complete Wankelectomy? If so, what would he have put in there? LS swap? Nissan Diesel? Brazilian Simca-Ford V8-60 with hemi heads? EV conversion? Your guess is as good as mine.
For the record, this is what the Cosmo’s interior looked like when new. Some of the fancier cars were endowed with a GPS satnav and touchscreen (30 years ago!) – no word on how well these kinds of toys age, of course.
Our Cosmo is looking a bit past its prime. Obviously, it is gradually being drifted into the ground – a sad but quite common end for many a classic RWD Japanese car. But this is a Eunos Cosmo, so it’s even sadder. These are rare cars – less than 9000 were made by the time Mazda gave up on that famous nameplate and halted production in mid-1995. It took Eunos dealers about a year to sell the remaining stock, a costly flop for all concerned. Mazda’s bacon was saved by the RX-7, the Miata and the smaller FWD family cars, whereas the bigger cars (Cosmo, MS-9/Sentia) became an albatross around the firm’s neck. Just like this Cosmo’s running costs are for its present owner, I imagine.
Mazda made a number of mistakes with the Eunos Cosmo. Just like most Japanese carmakers, they thought the good times would last forever and got caught with their pants down when the domestic market took a turn for the worst. Additionally, the Cosmo’s rivals was no longer limited to Toyota and Nissan: Mitsubishi, Honda and Subaru all threw their hat in the ring circa 1990, causing a glut of large coupes just when times were getting tough.
Could Mazda have recouped some investment in their troubled triple-rotor contraption if they had sold some Stateside? That remains an open question. Launching it as a Mazda would probably have been a mistake – this was an expensive car. That rear light bar and the cursive script look American enough, for sure. The Subaru SVX certainly didn’t benefit much from its stint in North America. But the Honda / Acura NSX, on the other hand, did very well. It’s probably for the best that Mazda aborted the Amati roll-out, seeing how their foray into new marques went on the domestic market. And Eunos was a big part of that. This Cosmo was perhaps too big and too expensive for its own good, but was a fittingly over-the-top final generation for a nameplate that showcased Mazda’s appetite for cutting-edge technology and design.
CC For Sale: 1991 Eunos Cosmo – Mazda’s Grandest Luxury Car Could Be Yours, by William Stopford