Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The first generation Ford Courier was introduced for the 1972
model year and sold for a little over US$3,000 when introduced - close to the price of an F-100. The Courier was manufactured by Toyo Kogyo and imported and sold by Ford Motor Company as a response to the unforeseen popularity of the small Toyota and Nissan/Datsun pickups among young buyers - particularly in the US.
Like the other small pickups of the time, it featured a sub-2 litre four cylinder engine, a four speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, an impressive load capability of 1,400 lb (635 kg) considering its size, and a fairly small price tag compared to full size pickups of the time. To circumvent US import taxes the B Series Mazda's were imported in "cab chassis" configurations, which included the entire light truck, less the cargo box or truck bed and were only subject to a 4% tariff.
Subsequently, a truck bed would be attached to the chassis and the vehicle could be sold as a light truck. The body styling remained very much a Mazda B-series, however its frontal treatment was unique, with a grille designed to emulate the larger Ford F-series, and large single headlights, instead of the B-series' smaller twin units. When the Courier was introduced it came standard with a 1.8 litre overhead cam engine, which produced 74 hp (55 kW) at 5070 rpm, and 92 lbf·ft (125 Nm) at 3,500 rpm. A 4-speed manual transmission was standard, and there was also a 3-speed automatic option (the 5-speed manual option came in 1976
Courier in Australia
It took the Ford stylists and clay modellers three months to design the front end treatment of the then new Mazda
B Series derived Courier. Somehow we don’t think it worked very well – at least not to Australian taste. But the Courier was tagged a "workhorse”, so maybe looks were not so important – and given the tradesman’s nature of the vehicle it was probably more important for it to look tough rather than pretty. And the Courier was best kept to its work role too. As a means of passenger transport it had quite a few limitations.
The Courier was powered by Mazda's well known but noisy 1.8 litre ohc four cylinder, which endowed the 1145kg vehicle with respectable un-laden performance. Even better was the floor-mounted Mazda 5 speed gearbox, which was a gem – although the standard kit on the XLT was the column mounted 4 speed unit, which had the added advantage of allowing you to travel 3 up in the front – although you would have wanted to be very good friends as it was a considerable squeeze.
The chassis was a simple rugged separate steel ladder frame. At the front there was a double wishbone suspension system, with semi elliptical leaf springs at the rear. Braking was by twin leading shoe drums at both ends. Ford claimed that the XLT had softer suspension than the other models. We are only familiar with the XLT, and the suspension on that (un-laden) was as stiff as you would find on a Model T
So, if that were anything to go on, the other models in the Courier range must have been akin to what it felt like to be on a horse drawn cart. But the firm suspension had its advantages of course, in that road holding was quite exceptional. With wheels shod to high Bridgestone steel radial standards, the Courier could be thrown around without difficulty, displaying totally neutral characteristics.
Ford also made a good stab at civilising the Mazda
derived pick up. Though a bench seat featured on all models as standard kit, it had sufficient fore and aft travel to permit the driver to make themselves comfortable. Once organised you would find everything readily to hand, and appreciate the touch of luxury in the veneer wood grain applique of the instrument panel. Indeed, seated behind the wheel there was little feel that the Courier was a commercial vehicle at all, it felt so much like a car.
Behind the Wheel
Instrumentation was simple, with a zero to 140 km/h speedometer dial, matched by a combined unit for fuel level, water temperature and generator warning light. There was a full heater demister, flow through air unit, and push button radio as standard. The feeling of being in a car was added to by the fitting of cut pile carpets throughout. But of course the most important thing on the vehicle was the tray. Large and even in load space, the XLT's would take a couple of motorcycles with ease, not to mention all the other bits and pieces that are so hard to fit onto a normal car. You could option a roll over bar which, if nothing else, protected the roof of the cab when the tray was overloaded – such as transporting long lengths of timber. The tailgate operation was easy and the load height was not too great to make the lifting of quite heavy objects on board a major drama.
Optional extras included the aforementioned roll bar at $180, a useful rear step bumper at $135, plus front bumper over-riders S46, large exterior mirrors $71 and dress up tape striping kit at $109. Total price of the Courier when released in Australia was $6501 for the base model, and $5960 for the XLT. On the road, the lack of substantial sound deadening made the cab somewhat noisy, especially with the loud Mazda engine working away up front. Early morning starts gave the impression that it was a diesel, but despite the noise, it functioned well enough.
On the Road
As always, Mazda's manual gearshift was easy and pleasant to use, the ratios well spaced to get the most out of the vehicle. Steering on good roads was excellent, far better than most recirculating ball systems. Light, and possessing plenty of feel, there was always immediate response to driver input. As soon as rougher roads were encountered through the steering worked over time as the stiff suspension had the Courier bounding around all over the place.
Roughish gravel tracks made the going uncomfortable. Yet despite the bouncing around the vehicle could be pointed easily and safely into corners at rally speeds. Only when thoroughly provoked did it show any tendency to flick out its tail, but this was easily controlled with the quick steering.
For all normal purposes the drum brakes
all round did a very good job, even though they had a tendency to fade when used frequently at high speeds. One problem with brakes
was the lack of feel. The pedal feel would go on for some time before it felt like the brakes
were working, and then it would grab making you feel as though you had stabbed the brakes, rather than applied a gentle pressure. They could be mastered after a little while behind the wheel, but were rubbish compared to the brakes
found on modern day cars.
Of course it is hard for us to judge the Courier on the competition. We are always careful not to judge a car built decades ago with something available in the showroom today. Rather we try to judge it against its peers of the time. But our experience is mainly confined to sedans and sports cars – and we have little experience with other commercial vehicles available from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
What we do know is that the Courier was a pretty good compromise for the tradesman, and while the suspension was particularly firm – it did give a commercial vehicle near sports car handling. But a classic it is not. You could put up with drum brakes
and recirculating ball steering provided the sheet metal on the outside looked good. On the Courier, it did not.