CC reader C5Karl knows a rare car when he sees one; finding a BF-series 323 with a turbo is rare enough, but finding one without all-wheel drive is especially uncommon. I actually saw this uploaded to the cohort several months ago, but never got around to posting it. After finding a rather rough one for sale on Los Angeles Craigslist, though, I figured I’d give this car its CC due.
I can’t help but love Mazdas of this era because they look so plain but perform so well relative to their competition. That’s especially true in the case of this four-door, which married its 132 torquey, mildly tuned turbocharged horses with a curb weight a good 300 pounds lesser than that of its all-wheel drive hatchback cousin, the 323 GTX (so, about 2300 pounds).
It’s not as if these cars couldn’t handle, either. Early generations of Mazda’s front-drive sedans distinguished themselves with good handling, despite their other shortcomings. Unlike so many competing cars, it seems that engineers in Hiroshima knew that the rear-wheels could be used for more than simply supporting the back of the car, and the result was European-style throttle adjustability.
All-wheel drive cars may understeer less under power, but a well-tuned front-wheel drive car is more tail-happy under trailing throttle, and the best pocket-rockets have been powered by their front wheels only. If the other 323s and Escort GTs I’ve driven are any indication, this car probably has a more lively feel on tarmac than the dirt-devil GTX.
Combine the less glamorous two-wheel drive with the stiffer, ultra-conservative sedan body, and you have the very obscure, fun car seen here. And apparently, it’s quite the well-kept secret, since the few which were sold are mostly gone and don’t cost a ton on the market today. Certainly puts those $5-10k CRXs into some perspective doesn’t it?
I’m so glad to see one of these cars highlighted here!
I owned a 323 GTX, and hope to write up a COAL about it soon. Even in their day, these cars were obscure, which was too bad because they were spectacular little cars. My GTX was undoubtedly the best handling car I’ve ever owned, and had great reliability (like most Mazdas of its time) as well.
Ironically, while the 4wd GTX is considered rare and collectible today, the GT is even less common (I recall that about 1,500 GTXs were imported to the US, versus the 800 GTs mentioned here). The 4wd of the GTX was definitely a trade-off — with the performance enhancements balanced by the greater weight of the 4wd system. I’ve never driven a FWD GT, but I suspect that Perry’s comments hold true, that the GT was a bit livelier than the GTX (which was an unusually heavy car for its size).
I think what really held both cars back from being greater sales successes was that the price was high relative to other pocket rockets, and the styling was SO conservative. By conservative, I mean they were virtually identical to the economy-car 323 variants… I speculate that most buyers wanted a little more distinction for the extra money needed to buy one.
For me, I enjoyed the relative anonymity of my GTX (about once or twice a year, someone would recognize what it was and would talk to me about it). I sold it in 2004 to someone who intended to race it, which was probably the fate of many of these cars.
Please do, I would love to read it. The 323GTX is on my list of “do a search for whenever I’m on Craigslist just in case” in the hopes of finding a great one for little money which never pans out of course. I’ve always liked these, great shape while looking relatively anonymous, good power, and awd. What’s not to like? (Of course parts availablity has been becoming a problem if what I read is true..)
Now, that I’m motivated, I just may do it soon!
Finding a decent example for sale these days must be pretty tough. When I sold mine 10 years ago, I probably underestimated the demand, because after I advertised it, I sold it within a few days to someone from 200 miles away who bought it (sight-unseen) for the asking price.
But I’m sure the parts availability for the unique GT/GTX parts is probably becoming an issue now.
They are still available for sale and here’s an example of a really clean one
I never realised they made a 4-door turbo one of these.Mazda tended to keep their more interesting cars for the home market only, like other Japanese makers. I remember when I was looking for a car maybe 15 years ago I came across a BA series 323 saloon with 4 wheel drive and an intercooled Isuzu turbo diesel engine, neither of which was offered in Europe.
I looked semi-seriously at GTX’s for a while but never took the step. Never knew about these fwd turbo 4 doors (or perhaps just forgot). I did know a few folks that had turbo 626’s and drove one of them. It did have torque steer 🙂
I wanted one of these soooo bad at one point. GT or GTX, both were seriously cool. Closest I ever got was test driving a stripper 323 hatch (4-speed!) and even that was a brilliant car. At the time, I owned an ’82 Honda Accord, which I loved, and the 323 seemed like a better version of it in many ways.
Damn nice cars..I had a lx 2 door with alloys and sunroof. What struck me most was the quality feel and fittings, as well as the level of detail. It was totally blown when they redid the car into a decontented Pacer clone a few years later. Too bad they rusted in the usual places, and became disposable. There was a lot to love in Japanese cars pre Japan’s economic meltdown. It took years for things to be at that level again, at least in econoboxes as well as luxo barges. Fun times!
When they diverged the hatchback under the 323 name from the Protégé sedans, it was the death knell for the hatch. Even though they were cheap (due to the decontenting) they still didn’t seem to sell.
That generation of Protégé, on the other hand, was quite nice with the right options. My grandparents had a ’93 or so LX with the DOHC engine, and it was a high-quality interior and “felt” quick. I never drove it as I was 12 at the time!
That would have been a fun little sleeper back in the day, especially if you removed the badges and side tape.
Cool, I didn’t know they came in turbo versions, that would have been a pretty nice pocket-rocket!
I lived in Taiwan during this time and they were badged as Ford Lasers. Very serviceable cars, were often used as taxicabs. Locally these cars had a reputation for having heavier sheet metal (and more robust) than the equivalent competing Nissan models (Sunny/Sentras) but consumed a bit more fuel.
I suspect we have some ex JDM examples here the badging certainly exists Ive seen it but early FWD Mazdas are a favourite with boy racers so you never know if what your looking at was built by Mazda or in a back yard here.
Despite being the resident Mazda nut, I’ve never seen one in the flesh. 323GTX sure, but not a GT.
I think another reason the turbo 323s didn’t sell is that they were ahead of their time. In this era, buyers of sporty cars wanted low slung coupes. It wouldn’t be for another decade until AWD rally rockets and four door sport compacts became fashionable in the US.
I’ll admit that, as much as I like these, I’m a child of the 80s and so I’d much rather devote my spare garage space to an RX-7.
Turbo charged hot hatches were certainly not uncommon in the eighties.
I remember the Renaults 5 and 11 Turbo, the Lancia Delta HF, the Fiat Uno Turbo and the Ford Escort RS Turbo. And in the late eighties there was the VW Golf GTI G60 (supercharged though).
Turbo ! Turbo ! Real men had turbo charged pocket rockets back then !
(the motorized kind of pocket rocket, of course)
The Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v from the late eighties put every other hot hatch to shame in its days.
It was basically a rally car for the public road. AWD and 200 hp from a 2.0 liter 16v turbo engine.
They were uncommon in America, though. Even the ones we did get didn’t sell that well. Aside from these Mazdas…
…there was a turbo version of the U.S. Escort GT but I think they only built about 5 of them.
The Dodge/Plymouth Colt GTS and later the Mitsubishi Mirage (same car) were probably some of the more popular turbo hatches. The Colt was available as a turbo sedan too, but those were extraordinarily rare.
The Dodge Omni GLH-T was one of the most visible turbo hot hatches if not the most successful. Mopar was the biggest domestic proponent of turbocharging in the ’80s. They put their 2.2/2.5 Turbo in everything from the Chrysler Executive limo to the Caravan/Voyager minivans.
Isuzu’s I-Mark and the Chevy Spectrum rebadge (Isuzu Gemini) were available as turbo hatches but were impossibly rare. Chevy also sold a re-badged first gen Suzuki Cultus as the Sprint with a turbo 3-cyl. That was a totally unique car here, nothing else like it.
No turbo hatches from Nissan or Toyota made it across the Pacific. Volkswagen’s G60 engine was only available in the Corrado. The smallest Peugeot sold here was the 405. Citroen, Fiat and Lancia all departed prior to the turbocharger’s heyday.
We got Renault 5s (LeCar) and 11s (Encore) but no turbo versions. The only turbo Renault here was the Fuego, which was more of a fastback hatch. We did have plenty of those, and turbo coupes, but really missed out on the whole “hot hatch” thing and awesome cars like the Delta Integrale.
As long as I can remember there’s a wide choice of hot hatches from Euro automakers. The classic ones from the sixties weren’t hatches though, but sedans. Tiny sedans, that is. Like the Renault 8 Gordini, Simca 1000 Rallye, NSU TT and the bigger Ford Cortina Lotus. And before the sixties the Fiats by Abarth, like the 500 and 850 TC.
Renault was really successful with its turbo bombs, you must know the Renault 5 Turbo (the car that is as wide as it is long, sort of). Renault did very well in Formula One with its turbo engines.
We also had some from Japan in the eighties and nineties. All gone, but it seems that the Euro automakers are churning out more B- and C-segment hot hatches now than ever before.
B-segment hot hatches are around 200 hp (like the Renault Clio RS, Peugeot 208 GTi and Opel Corsa OPC), mostly from a 1.6 liter turbo engine. C-segment hot hatches (like the Renault Megane RS, Opel Astra OPC and Seat Leon ST Cupra 280) generally have 2.0 liter turbo engines, power (way) north of 250 hp.
Here’s the 280 hp Seat Leon. Something different, since everybody already knows the VW Golf GTI….
Of course, although the closest I’ve ever been able to get to one is in Gran Turismo, unfortunately.
The Renault 5 Turbo and its spiritual successor, the Clio V6, are the only French B-segment (boiling) hot hatches that don’t look subtle.
The Renault Clio V6 had a mid-mounted 3.0 liter V6 and was RWD.
255 hp for the 2003-2005 Phase II, in its days the most powerful hot hatch.
What Joe is saying is true of the U.S. market, though. We did get the Golf GTI, although it wasn’t as prevalent as it was in Europe, but a lot of the major hot hatches weren’t exported to the U.S.
This car seems like part of a Jeopardy question/answer combo:
“1988 Mazda 323 GT”
“What is rare but not necessarily valuable cars of the North American market?”
Sometimes, the most valuable cars AREN’T the most FUN.
This lil Mazda looks fun as hell… Who cares, if it won’t bring you as much as a Duesenberg? If you think you’re a car enthusiast by how much a car can make you, than by the sheer delight of how rare and cool a car is just because… Then you are totally missing the point and your lying to yourself.
A very obscure vehicle indeed; I think a lot of these were snatched up and used up for rally use here in the upper Midwest, GT-X in particular. In the early 2000’s, they were fairly common to be running in the Ojibwe Forrest and Press On Regardless rallies. I also remember seeing a GT-X outside of Metric Auto Parts in St. Paul, MN fairly often, clearly in rally race specification during this time (along with numerous Subarus). They were also a contender in the FIA WRC Championship; 1989 was their single championship win in the Rothman’s Rally New Zealand, and as such, were never really big players in this era. This is a shot from the 1988 Rallye Automobile de Monte-Carlo:
I remember reading about the 323GT arriving a year or so after the GTX as a lower-priced alternative, had no idea they were so rare but now that I think about it I’ve never seen one. Almost bought a 323 LX sedan w/sunroof in the mid 90s but even though I’m 5’9″ enough of that is north of the hips that I just didn’t have enough headroom.
Thanks to Papa Squid, I’ve had my own hair-raising experience in a slightly later JDM Familia. Fully roll-caged, fully six-point harnessed, fully stiffened suspension, fully turbo’ed, fully not road legal. Fully sick.
Real cars don’t power their front wheels. They LIFT THEM!
I believe these Mercury Capris had the same drive train:
Let me weigh in on the Mercury Crapi… Having owned one of these in the past. The greatest thing about the car was the day it went away, It was worse than the sum of it’s parts
Ford Australia took a fairly innocuous Mazda 323 Cabriolet and screwed it up royally, the Crapi was the third Ford to wear the Capri badge and by far the worst.
Wow this gave me flashbacks. My uncle had a white GT sedan! I had completely forgotten about these.
I never knew of these in the first place! With only 800 brought over, and with styling that is near-identical to the (rather dull) standard sedan, I can see why!
This generation of 323 looked quite good in hatchback format but I thought the proportions weren’t quite right on the sedan. The following generation (323/Protégé) reversed that equation.
Slightly late here, but a car which is quite familiar to our family as my Uncle bought a 1986 JDM Famila GT sedan in 1992, and still has it today. Bright red, FWD, 5-speed manual. Must be the base spec as it came with factory 14″ steel wheels and the ‘extras’ are limited to a/c, electric sunroof and large yellow JDM fog lights. It’s about the only BF GT I ever saw in New Zealand without alloy wheels and power windows! (And the remaining handful nowadays also wear huge stereos and exhaust systems).
Being an early BF, it wears the pre-facelift front clip as shown in the BF group shot in the article. It was off the road for the best part of the last decade with a cracked head, but my mechanic cousin recently fitted a reconditioned head to it and it’s running and driving again just as good as it did 23 years ago when it was bought. Still completely standard and unmodified, it’s a nice little car to drive – although being pre-1987 it has the 1.5 litre turbo which only makes 85kW (114hp), so is far from a rocket ship compard with the later 1.6 turbo with its 107 kW (143hp).
Hi guys. I still currently own both models: The GT and the GTX
GTX in action
Every now and then, I do a Google search for anything about the 323GT. Today I stumbled upon this discussion, albeit a bit late…
I owned a 323 GT sedan for 7 years. I bought the car new in the spring of 1988 and put 166,000 miles on it before it was destroyed in an accident. I can tell you all firsthand how much fun this car was to drive. At the time that I bought it I was an employee of a Mazda dealership and got to drive the GT and GTX back to back. The GTX did not torque-steer like the GT did, but it felt less responsive due to its extra weight and drag on the driveline. Plus, its shock rates were softer. The GT used electrically adjustable shocks, where you push a dash button and it changed the valving. The GT had less wallow and felt more composed over bumps.
This car was an absolute blast to drive. It felt more powerful than its 132 HP rating. If it was making boost, it was accelerating, no matter what gear. It was the ultimate sleeper. I used to piss off Porsche 924 and 944 drivers left and right. I ran with IROC-Z’s and Trans-AM GTA’s. They would get me off the line with their torque and rear drive advantage, but once I was on boost I was gaining on them and if there was enough highway, I’d pass them. REALLY pissed them off! I raced everybody back then. In 1988, performance was not very high for most cars available for sale back then, so I ran with most of them and lost to very few.
One of the saddest days of my life was the day it was destroyed in a collision. On the day it was wrecked, I was smiling behind the wheel just before the collision. MIne was bone stock but customized with all Mazda OEM accessories – fog lamps, rear spoiler, splash guards, sunroof wind deflector, dual outlet tailpipe, and front end mask.
I was lucky enough to have owned a black and later a red GT, and a black GTX. I owned the black GT and GTX at the same time and the comments were true. The GTX would out handle the GT because of the all wheel drive, but the GT was faster and overall more fun because when the turbo kicked it so overpowered the front wheels it was a hoot. Also the styling made the car such a sleeper it was great to blow away 5.0 liter Mustangs, the hot car of the time. Handling, interior, finish, practicality of a 4 door were all bonuses. Sold my last GT when the rear adjustable shocks went bad and not really replaceable (adjustments didn’t do much anyway) and bought a pristine 92 Miata.
Has anyone seen this?
If anyone is still out there reading this i own 2 88 mazda 323 gt’s!!!! I live in Wisconsin and need help with these!!!
I bought this very car two days ago, the clear coat is starting to chipping away on the hood and roof and it definitely needs new front shocks, but all in all it runs very well and what a fun car to drive with all the turbo kick and torque steer you want.
I used to want a 323GT 4 door. I test drove a GTX in 1988 and they told me about it. They were very rare here in the US. I’ve only seen six since 1988. I decided to jump the gun in 1989, but discovered that the GT sedan was sold here in 1988 only. The 323GTX was still offered for 1989, but I wanted the lighter 4 door version. My sales rep couldn’t even find a leftover 1988 GT, new or used. anywhere. So I went for a loaded 1989 323 LX sedan.The car was gorgeous and it was a nice ride. Even that car was a rare find at the time with power windows/locks and sunroof. As rare and reliable as it was, I still wished it had the B6T engine.
I was working as a salesperson for a Mazda dealer in ‘89. I got my 323GT brand new the year earlier, when I was hired. If it weren’t for that car, however, I would have done just as you and bought a fully-loaded 323LX with a 5 Speed. That was the nicest compact sedan you could buy back then, and it was a helluva good deal. It had great handling and was very responsive even without the turbocharger. Nothing else in its class could touch it.
I had a GT identical to the one in the picture. Purchased it new a few years out of college. Given the production numbers, I guess there’s a reasonable chance it could be my old car. It was traded in at an Eagle dealership in Florida for a Talon around 1993. I had all the HKS goodies available (boost controller, fuel computer and an intercooler pipe(?) on it which upped the power to a claimed 180ish HP, but made FWD wheelspin a significant issue. I think I still have the F-Con fuel computer in the garage somewhere and still use the boost controller on a Supra. Fun car – I miss it.