(from the Jan. 1975 issue) Mazda really burst on the scene with its rotary-powered cars, the RX2 and RX3. But they were thirsty, so the energy crisis suddenly forced Mazda to put more emphasis on their piston-engined alternatives, like this 808, which shared the same basic body as the RX3. R&T rightly points out that although the rotary Mazdas used a bit of fuel, it wasn’t out of proportion to their performance, which was substantially better.
Not surprisingly, performance was decidedly more modest. The run from 0-60 took 15.6 seconds, but the typically-Japanese slick-shifting transmission helped ease the pain. The 808 fell roughly between the Toyota Corolla and Corona in price and size. It’s 1590 cc sohc four was rated at 70 hp @5000 rpm.
Given that R&T only got 21 mpg, the trade-off was questionable. Of course, the rugged Mazda piston engine wouldn’t be needing new apex seals every 40-60k miles. That fuel mileage figure also shows just how much more efficient modern cars, given that they’re also larger. more comfortable and have many more amenities. A Corolla easily averages 34 mpg.
Japanese cars were slow enough getting enough getting to the midwestern US that I didn’t see many of these. Toyotas and Datsuns were getting through and the occasional Honda, but the lower tiers of Japanese companies (including those sold at Mopar dealers) were not common sightings until probably another 5 years.
I think Mazda got a dealership in St. Louis in 1971. I remember seeing an R100 around that time.
What does this Mazda need. A V6?, a 5sp, a better set of wheels, so R/T won’t have to switch wheels with an RX3 so this Mazda won’t completely embarrass itself.
No this Mazda needs a smaller engine and some more stripping out to make the Mizer.
It is amazing how much Mazda improved for 79 with the RX7 and original 626.
I liked this car when it came out, and I love my 2015 Mazda6 manual.
Mazda is a manufacturer that has very little broadly recognized Brand Image, but builds compelling vehicles. Class leading dynamics, well priced, solid design, and high build quality. I like Mazdas!
Mazda has come a long way from offering also-rans like this after their “Near Death” Oil Crisis experience. All Mazda models today garner positive reviews, at least. They’re definitely on my short list if I have to go car shopping again.
After owning 6 Mazdas, 5 of which started rusting within 3 years of ownership, I finally wised up. The only one that didn’t have rust issues was my Miata. I kept thinking that they must have finally figured out what most of the other manufacturers had long ago solved and I kept getting burned. My last one was a 2007 Mazda 3 5 door. Loved the car but they fooled me again.
I watched some first in world incar race footage a few days ago I forget the year but the camera was in a Toyota Celica it was when class racing was still done at the annual Bathurst race anyhow this little four banger Toyota blowing past rotary Mazda coupes put their real performance into perspective, it wasnt really that good, neither cars held a candle to the really quick cars of the day Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons but they both ran V8 motors but the little Mazda coupe RX3 the one the fanbois salivate over were just as they seemed back in the day lotsa noise and smooth but not fast.
That was probably Peter Williamson is his Toyota Celica. While he blew away the little Mazdas, he had some titanic struggles with the 3-litre V6 Ford Capris.
For those who may not remember, Mazda’s rotary engine was so smooth and so willing to run (jump?) to it’s redline, that the factory was forced to install an “alarm” so that drivers would get an audible indication of how fast the rotor was spinning.
I can’t believe how slow this car was to 60mph, or that Mazda was able to survive a double whammy of gas guzzling rotary engines and slow as molasses piston engines.
BTW, in the mid 60s I had an RX2 (with automatic transmission) as a rental car for a few days. And it was indeed quick and quiet, don’t remember ever putting gas into it. Apparently, Budget Rent-A-Car got a very good deal on rotary Mazdas because they were selling so poorly and shifted the fuelish cars onto desperate car renters.
And look at the measurements for this car: 91 inch wheelbase and 168 inch length….tiny by today’s standards.
The Mazda RX2 had a 20 gallon (or so) fuel tank. Fill-ups were less frequent, but at 60 cents a gallon (a new all-time high price), it might take as much as $10 or $12 to fill up the tank!
A lot of the performance/fuel economy problems R&T were facing could probably be traced to a smallish company with limited resources meeting US emission standards. A fair bit of their engineering budget was probably being chewed up by the rotary engine program, leaving less for the piston side of the family. In rest-of-the-world tune, this engine put out 100hp (90 in later AP tune). I remember local tests had the Mazda as a sportier alternative to the other Japanese cars.
1975 was a bad year for Mazda, with huge losses due to the Oil Crisis & over-commitment to the US market, & they were close to bankruptcy. The Sumitomo keiretsu with suppliers & subcontractors saved them. Even Toyota was asked to help rectify their efficiency problems & shared their Production System with them. Later, Mazda shared this with Ford.
An example of Japanese cooperation.
According to sales figures in the Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, Mazda’s U.S. sales went from 104,960 in 1973 to 61,192 in 1974, climbed slightly to 65,351 in 1975, then collapsed to 35,383 in 1976. It isn’t clear to me if these numbers are CY or MY, but I suspect the former.
U.S. sales for the Japanese automakers were generally down in ’74 – something I was surprised to see when I looked up these numbers a while back, as sales of small domestic cars actually increased substantially for the 1974 model year – but Mazda was hit harder than anyone else, and was the only one who didn’t quickly bounce back. Of the five Japanese automakers then doing business in the U.S. on their own, the only one who wasn’t down in 1974 was Honda, which saw growth of only a few thousand units during a period in which their year-to-year sales were otherwise growing almost exponentially. Of the others, Datsun and Subaru climbed back above their 1973 sales levels in 1975, and Toyota reached that point in 1976. Mazda sales didn’t exceed their 1973 level until 1979.
I put an ex JDM used Mazda 1500cc engine in my rear drive 323 van/wagon it went ok no powerhouse but not glacially slow, and visually the twin of this one I built my own low restriction exhaust for it which may have helped maybe not though.
I had a ’75 Corolla just like about. All the attributes noted (bumpy ride, loud engine at high rev, slick gear shift, high reliability) were identical. However, the braking performance on my Toyota was far superior than above. Braking on my car were short, secure, and controlled with no lockup at all. Maybe it’s the super skinny tires (155 SR x 13) on the Mazda.
I liked the American Styled dash.
I remember the Car & Driver “Short Take” on this. It stood out for it’s slow acceleration–I think it may have been slower than a Chevette!!! Also had a low price!
A year later C&D tested the “Cosmo”. A luxury Celica with a rotary–smoooooth and (relatively) quick—and a lot pricier, of course!
Y’all can say what you want, but in the early 1970s Springfield (Mass.) had a Mazda dealer, and I already had owned a used R100 and sprung for a 1972 RX2 with a few option packages. That car hauled serious ass, carried five people no problem when my college friends and I went partying up and down the Pioneer Valley, and I didn’t care about the damned Arab oil boycott. Doing a teardown/rebuild on the two-rotor engine was an education, but I learned how to work on them. As long as one kept up with apex-seal wear, the car was bulletproof. (And freaking FAST. I blew friends’ minds, revving this beast to almost 10,000 RPM and it still had more to give – drive 65 mph in first gear? – no big deal.) If rust hadn’t claimed these two gems, I’d probably still be driving at least one of them.