In the last article we brought you all the way from the humble beginnings of a little cork company up to the first cars being brought to the US in 1970. In this article we will run through the 70s and up into the 80s. (If you missed it before, check out our History of the Mazda Motor Corporation: Part One.)
The Mazda Luce, or RX-4, brought about a new level of performance, luxury, and refinement for Mazda and the rotary. Using the 13B motor, the Luce brought something to US buyers that couldn’t be had for the same price elsewhere.
During these same years in Japan some other cars were being made that never made it to North American shores. In 1970, there was a little car with square headlights called the Familia Presto Rotary Coupe – a little car that has a familiar name. The first Titan truck was released in 1971, and 1972 brought some more interesting cars that we wouldn’t see here in the US. The Savanna Sports Wagon, the Grand Familia S Coupe, and the Parkway Rotary 26 just to name a few.
The Parkway is a probably the oddest-looking vehicle we have seen to come with a rotary. It’s a big boxy motorhome/bus type of vehicle.
Mazda reached five million units in cumulative production in 1972, and by 1973, cumulative exports had reached one million units.
The current way “Mazda” is written on the back of a car, or on the web site, or wherever you see the name was adopted in 1975 along with a new Corporate Identity System. Mazda has kept this emblem for a long time, using it to this day.
The Cosmo, one of the most popular rotary coupes in the US, was released in 1976. This car brought a whole new level of performance and luxury at a competitive price.
Things were moving along for Mazda. As 1977 came along, Mazda started to introduce the US to the Mazda Familia, which later became our GLC. That car later became the 323, then the Protegé. The current Mazda3 is the descendant of that great little car. Mazda also introduced us to the Capella, which was later released as the 626 in North America.
In Japan, the Bongo was released in 1977 and an updated Titan truck was launched as well.
The Savanna RX-7 was introduced to Japan in 1978, and sent to the US as a 1979 model. The SA22 cars were the first little sports cars that Mazda released, and a legend that spanned up to the release of the RX-8 in 2003 was born. Mazda also hit one million units of cumulative production on rotary powered cars in 1978.
Mazda has this to say about the original RX-7: “Mazda has always stayed in touch with its buyers and has been a leader in innovation. In 1978 the first generation 12A powered RX-7 took the world by storm, exceeding production expectations and causing traffic jams at the dealerships. The rotary engine had found its true home and Mazda had found the heart of the sports car lover. The Mazda RX-7 achieved immediate success with "Car of the Year” awards across the globe and major racing victories at events such as SPA and Daytona, proving just how formidable the rotary could be and giving cause to the many traditional racers changing their V8 cars for rotary power”.
You can find more about the rotaries success in motorsports in this article.
As the 70s came to a close, Ford Motor Company and Mazda entered into a capital tie-up, with Ford purchasing a 25% equity stake in Mazda. Cumulative production reached 10 million vehicles and the Mazda Education Center was established.
The 1980s were going to be a big decade for Mazda, with a number of new cars hitting the US market, and a number of successes in motorsports and with the press. A new front-wheel-drive Mazda Familia (GLC or 323) was released and received the “1980-1981 Japanese Car of the Year” award.
In 1981 Mazda (North America) Inc. and Mazda Motors Representative Office (Europe) were established to help Mazda stay in those markets. The Cosmo/Luce or 929 was introduced that year as well. This brought a larger sedan to the Mazda lineup with more luxury and features than the Capella/626.
Mazda began production at the new Hofu plant in 1982. Mazda also released the front-wheel-drive Capella/626, which was awarded “Japanese Car of the Year” that same year. Mazda was on a roll with its new front-wheel-drive models right off the bat.
Mazda was headed for more awards in 1983 with the Capella/626. It was named Motor Trend Magazine’s “Import Car of the Year” and won a number of other prestigious awards from overseas. In Japan, a new Bongo Brawny truck and van were released. Mazda also built an aerodynamic testing lab at its Miyoshi Proving Grounds. Mazda and Kia entered into a capital tie-up agreement for 8% this year as well.
Mazda took 1984 off from product launches, simply renaming them selves Mazda Motor Corporation.
In 1985 Mazda kicked it up again full steam. They opened a technical research center in Hiroshima, introduced an all-new front-wheel-drive Familia in Japan, introduced the first B-Series truck to the US, opened the Global Road Circuit at the Miyoshi Proving Ground, and celebrated a total cumulative production of 10 million passenger cars. But that’s not all.
Along with the release of a new Savanna RX-7 (FC chassis), the RX-7 in IMSA broke the record for a single model car in victories by winning a total 67 races. The RX-7 was building its legend. And with the introduction of the FC chassis and a new 13B rotary motor, it was not going to stop. As a matter of fact, a new six-port 13B rotary became standard equipment on the FC chassis in 1986.
Mazda has this to say about the new FC RX-7: “…Moving upmarket to become a more civilized sports car, the 13B rotary was given a turbo option boasting 182 HP by employing a newly developed twin scroll turbocharger to take full advantage of the engine's strong exhaust pulsing. The turbo was obviously the production ‘rocket’ factory had intended it to be and was now competing against the established marquees on the world market. The Mazda RX-7 was voted "The sports car to own for the everyday driver" by much of the world's motoring press. Refining an already excellent product, the 1989 Mazda RX-7 kept Mazda ahead of the pack of ever emerging sports cars. With 200 HP on tap from the totally re-developed 13B turbo engine, Mazda RX-7 sales again surged ahead of the field.”
The RX-7 was also named Motor Trend Magazine’s “Import Car of the Year” in 1986. Mazda didn’t stop there though. The RX-7 also took the record in the SCTA’s C/Grand Touring Class with a speed of 383.724 km/h (238.442 mph) at the Bonneville National Speed Trial.
Mazda also hit 1.5 million units of cumulative production in rotary power vehicles, and 10 million in cumulative exports. An all-new Luce/929 was launched in Japan the same year.
Mazda had another big year in 1987 when it, along with Ford and Matsushita, formed a new company called Japan Climate Systems to make vehicle HVAC systems. Mazda also opened a new research facility in Yokohama, Japan; hit the 20 million mark in cumulative vehicle production in Japan; and teamed up with NEC to form NAL-DEC to work on advanced automotive electrical systems.
The Mazda Motor Manufacturing Corporation opened in Flat Rock, Michigan, so they could begin vehicle production in the US. Mazda also reached an OEM agreement with Suzuki Motors on micro-mini vehicles.
On the car front Mazda released a new RX-7 convertible in Japan to commemorate the 20th anniversary of rotary powered cars. Mazda also released a new Capella in Japan that had an all-new vehicle-speed sensing four-wheel steering system.
Mazda established Mazda Motor of America, Inc. to help consolidate importation and distribution functions in the US in 1988. They also opened Mazda Research and Development of North America, Inc. to help consolidate North American research efforts. They developed Hi-Reflex coating, a new improved paint coating technology.
In the same year Mazda released the MPV to the North American market and a Capella cargo van and wagon in Japan.
Mazda hit another milestone in the automotive market in 1989 when they unveiled the MX-5 Miata at the Chicago Auto Show. This was the start of another big hit for Mazda; the Miata went on to become the world’s best selling roadster.
A new Familia was released in 1989, called the Protegé sedan and the 323 hatchback in North America. It remained the 323 sedan in other markets. In Japan, Mazda began importing the Citroen BX and released the Autozam Carol.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Mazda gained huge ground in both motorsports and on the street, winning numerous awards for their racing prowess and their fun-to-drive street cars. Japan got the lion share of special utility vehicles and some performance-oriented vehicles, such as the 1985 Familia Full-time All Wheel Drive, the 1986 Savanna RX-7, Anfini and the Luce Rotary Turbo of the same year.
But some of the refinements that Japan got eventually filtered out to other markets and, here in North America we got some pretty interesting cars as well, including the AWD turbocharged 323GTX hot hatch and various models of the second generation RX-7 lineup.
In the next article we’ll go through the biggest decade for Mazda yet, the 1990s, and bring you up to the present day. We’ll look at some big things that brought us the Mazda we have today.
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