Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
When the 929 was launched here Mazda had penetrated the Australian market to an impressive degree. Their segment in New South Wales alone, up to September 1974
, was 7.32 percent for a twelve month period. Of course this is nothing approaching that of 2013, with the Mazda 3 being a sales leader - but 40 years previously a Japanese import averaging over 7% was very good. It compared against a low of only 2.77 percent in New South Wales for 1972
Looking back on the fortunes of Toyo Kogyo we can only deduce that Mazda was then, like now, producing very good quality cars. But back then the Federal Government were trying to maintain theoretical quotas, by the imposition of an additional ten percent customs duty on imported vehicles. Something also as true today as it was back then was Toyo Kogyo's pre-occupation with Dr. Wankels rotary. With the demise of the RX-8 we assume (and hope) that another rotary is in the works.
Back then, the rotary programme was expanding under the leadership of Dr Matsuda, Toyo Kogyo exploring the adventurous, and dangerous, world of innovation with the Wankel, but ensuring the company would remain profitable should the programme hit troubled times by manufacturing a range of 'normal' internal combustion motors, using bodies complimentary to those housing the rotary engine.
By comparison to the rotary models the standard engined cars and their engineering were a little mundane, but Mazda ensured market acceptance of their 'normal' cars by offering similar luxury levels in both vehicle offerings. Quiet operation was then, as now, associated with luxury and in the 929 sedan Mazda excelled any comparable vehicle in their segment of the market.
Occupants would glide along in a metal cocoon with a minimum of mechanical noise. Only muffled thumps indicated that the McPherson-strut front end, and the live rear axle, were frantically dancing around, coping with the always poor Australian roads would serve up. At launch, the 929 sold for around A$4000 on the road, and at that price there was plenty to choose from. From the local makers, there was the Valiant 215 Ranger, the Ford and Holden regular six-cylinder sedans plus similar-engined Cortinas and Toranas, or even a Torana 1900 for a few dollars less, all competing against this fully-imported, medium-sized sedan.
Imported opposition ranged from the Toyota MK II to the Alfa Romeo Alfasud
, and various models all within a couple of hundred dollars, depending on insurance classification. Of course the die-hards would always be in their respective Chrysler
, Ford or Holden showrooms, but for those prepared to think a little outside the square the range of cars on offer was no doubt a little confusing. On Mazda's side was terrific word-of-mouth recommendations from other owners, who spoke highly of the standard of finish and durability. By the mid 1970s most Australian's rated the average Mazda vehicle higher than the average Australian vehicle in terms of quality.
But maybe there was more to it than simple fit and finish that was proving to be the winning formula for Mazda. The 929, like the rest of the range, seemed to have been exceptionally well thought out. Once you got behind the wheel you would feel immediately at home in the 929, everything seemed to fall 'readily to hand'. The control layout confirmed the view of the early 1970s in that Japanese car designers were paying particular attention to the ergonomics of driving. Rare was a switch or control out of range, or even requiring you to lean forward.
On the Road
Mazda's 929 was their top of the range 1800cc-engined sedan - capable as a family car yet retaining just enough executive overtones to make it a little special. But 1800 was too few "cc" for those who really enjoyed their driving. If you pushed the car hard, the fuel economy would fall through the floor, and there was little to be gained anyway. Instead, the car suited those who enjoyed the gentle, easy approach. Naturally most Mazda development work at the time was concentrated on improving rotaries, rather than their conventional four stroke machines. Accordingly when they introduced the RX4 and 929 body concept the conventional motor used was similar to that Australians first saw in the Mazda 1800
. This engine was a high performance single overhead camshaft engine.
An aluminium cylinder head
was fitted which permitted a cross-flow induction/exhaust system, as well as a weight advantage. The carburettor was a downdraft two-barrei unit, with two stages. Standard octane fuel was suggested and the car performed quite adequately using this. There was a noticeable surge when the second stage of the carburettors came into operation. According to Wheels magazine, the braking tended to match the performance - adequate but not outstanding. 'Panic stop' pressures tended to be slightly higher than most Japanese vehicles and fade could be induced. The power-assisted disc/drum combination was a dual-circuit setup - but this was by the mid 70's fairly common.
A variable ratio steering box was fitted which provided quickest control nearest the straight ahead position and reduced the steering load when parking. There was a soft-compound covered steering wheel which not only felt good, but matched the 929's luxury image. It was attached to a column with a flexible yoke coupling to allow for the collapsible facility, which legislation by then required. Normal McPherson-type struts and coils were used at the front, the rear leaf springs had gas-filled shock absorbers to damp their movement. In Europe, particularly, competition cars favoured the Bilstien-type gas filled shock absorber, as normal oil-filled units tended to 'fade' when treated abnormally. On the other hand gas-filled shock absorbers improved as they got hotter. But, as these had a competition record, it was a little surprising to find such an advanced, expensive feature on what was essentially a family car.
Mazda did participate actively in European competition, apart from dominating their own particular series with factory-prepared rotary racers, so, possibly, that is why the engineers at Hiroshima stuck with this setup. But it was in the detail, and the 'finish' that Mazda shone. There were carpet kick-pads attached to the door trim, provision for air-conditioning
and cassette player, fog light wiring and switch location, even a place for a clock in the centre console should a tachometer be fitted where the fascia clock was normally mounted. It really did seem that the Mazda designers had thought of practically every possible need a driver might desire, right down to coin trays and map pockets to supplement the giove-box.
Behind the Wheel
Japanese instrumentation was comprehensive when compared to the local cars, and the 929 was no exception. Items such as the instant re-set trip-meter and the convenient column-mounted controls were, while not ahead of their time, well ahead of the Aussie competition. There was an accurate clock, and a good radio, with a cunningly located aerial. Mazda grafted the aerial into the laminated windscreen, so it was concealed, and vandal-proof. Not only did the wipers combine with a screen washing system that was almost instantaneous but the two speeds were supplemented by an intermittent action if the column knob control was twisted.
Unlike the Capella which had the locking button located in the centre of the inside sill panel at the top of the door, those on the 929 were smallish and not as convenient - this seemingly a rare oversight in such a well sorted car. Those found on the Capella, apart from being easier to release, could not be accidentally depressed when a driver leaned their elbow on the sill. Seat belts were another area that came in for some criticism. The rear seat was very comfortable.
Performance wise, it was obvious that Mazda opted for luxury rather than competition-type performance. However full advantage could be made of the considerable torque so that you could use a higher gear than normally expected in many situations. Whilst the 929's handling and performance may have best been described as "average" for a car in the highly competitive two-litre segment of the family car market the thoughtful care devoted to occupants is what made it outstanding. Externally, the body was perhaps a little too fussy.
Many of the 'features' claimed for the car were, as in most other makes, items which legislation had forced into the specifications. However Mazda did incorporate a few clever - and sensible - ideas. Heating and cooling were vital for comfortable driving and Mazda cleverly engineered their solutions to these aspects of the car. The fresh air, boosted by a three speed fan, from the centre console could be enjoyed while warm, or hot, air came from the outlets on either side of the dash. The slide controls were easy to use and logical. Low speed boost was practically inaudible, even at a standstill, as was the medium speed when moving. The 929 was a good car, built with a wealth of attention to detail; right down to the explicitly simple owner's manual.
Mazda 929L Gen 1 Quick Specifications:
Toyo Kogyo Ltd. Mazda 929 Sedan; Price: (basic) $3848 (Overriders +$44, Body Mould +$50, Mud Flaps +$29, Laminated Windshield +$16).
Location Front; Construction Iron; No of cylinders Four; Configuration In line; Capacity 1769cc; Valve gear OHC; Induction system - Down draft, two stage, two barrel; Compression ratio 8.6:1; Bore and Stroke (mm) 80 x 88mm.
Type Three speed automatic; Shift location Floor; Drive Rear; Ratios: 1st 2.458:1, 2nd 1.458:1 3rd 1.0:1, Reverse 2.181:1; Final drive 3.900:1.
Construction Unitary; Panel material Steel; Weight (kg) 1065.
Length 424cm; Width 166cm; Height 141cm; Wheelbase 251cm; Front track 138cm; Rear track 137cm.
Front - Struts with coils. Rear - Semi elliptic leaf springs. All round - Hydraulic double acting, rear gas-filled.
Power assisted disc/drum; Front Ventilated power assist, disc.; Rear Power assist, drum.
Type Recirculating Ball, Variable ratio 18.0/20.0 to 1. Turns lock-to-lock 3.75. Wheel diameter 39cm. Turning circle 10m.
5"J x 13, Tyres 175 x 13
Acceleration from standstill to 60 km/h 7.5; 80 km/h 12.2; 100 km/h 18.6; 120 km/h 26.9; Standing start 400 metres - Elapsed time 20.4. Speed in Gears 1st 43 km/h @ 5500 rpm, 2nd 85 km/h @ 5500 rpm.