Mazda 1200 Sedan and Coupe

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Mazda 1200

1968 - 1974
4 cyl.
73 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
89 mph (claimed)
Number Built:
1 star
Mazda 1200
Mazda 1200
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


In 1968 the Mazda 1200 set a new bench mark for affordable quality in the small car segment, it then being the cheapest 4 door car on the market. Up to that time most small cars were afforded only 2 doors, not the most practical when you consider the role of many cheaper 4 cylinder cars of the time, that being as a "second" car to allow the wife to go shopping, pick up the kids from school and perform general suburban run-about duties.

Holden had by now released a 4 door version of their popular HB Torana, Ford their brilliant little Escort Mk.I, so any Japanese car intending to take them on needed to be both good and cheap, quite a challenge! The Mazda needed to have a few aces up its sleeve, and that it did. First of all, there was an advanced flow through ventilation system that provided at least some relief during the Aussie summers. Add to that the no cost inclusion of a heater/demister, and finally the affordability, it being the cheapest of the alternatives.

By 1969 both the Mazda 1500 and Mazda 1800 had developed an enviable reputation for quality and reliability, and those that opted for the cheaper 1200 alterntive were not to be disappointed. The 1169cc engine was a little wheezy down low, but the all-alloy unit was specifically designed by the Mazda engineers for the 1200, and the 73 horsepower engine was enough to push the car to 90 miles an hour, for those who dared.

From a styling perspective, the 1200 was blessed with attractive looks and gave the appearance of a much more expensive car. The white-band tyres were also a nice touch, as was the two speed wipers, power washers and reversing lights. The best looking was the 1200 Coupe, which featured fully reclining seats with ehad rests, tinted glass, push-button radio, pop-up aerial, white wall tyres, tachometer, wood grain pattern steering wheel with alloy spokes, and a cigarette lighter - and the price was an amazing $2195.

Mazda 1200 Coupe

The 1200 Coupe followed hot on the heels of the Mazda 1200 sedan release, and replaced the 1000 Coupe which had won many admirers with its equipment and finish. And the good news was that the 1200 coupe performed just as well – able to haul along at close to 100 mph and do the quarter mile in 19.5 seconds. Not bad for a small 1200cc, 15 cwt car. Add to this good looking fastback styling with no front quarter panes, tinted windscreen, radio, automatic pop-up aerial, through-flow ventilation, fully reclining seats, adjustable headrests, heater-demister, tachometer, cigarette lighter and simulated wood-rim wheel and you can understand why many realised the 1200 was such good value – at launch it was less than $2200.

The coupe used identical mechanical components to the sedan, including engine, transmission, suspension, but there was one exception. The coupe rode on 13 inch wheels whereas the sedan used 12s. The result was higher overall gearing which improved the top end performance and gave a far better ride. The seemingly insignificant change made a major difference to the 1200 coupe's character, and performance. Because the gearing was higher, the coupe could be wound out further on the same revs. As the engine was small and had to be worked hard for good performance, the taller gearing gave quicker passing acceleration and allowed the coupe to maintain a higher cruising speed.

Unfortunately the higher gearing did not cut down the noise level, which was unacceptably high even for the standards of the late 1960s. In the sedan it could perhaps be forgiven (A$1899 for four doors and 90 mph performance) but for an extra $300 Mazda should have offered a little more soundproofing for their coupe. Once the engine was cranked past about 3000 rpm the induction, extractor exhaust and general engine noise would completely fill the cabin to the point that having a conversation with your passenger was difficult. The noise was mainly confined to the engine as the stubby coupe styling caused little wind noise and there was little tyre or road drum.

Behind the Wheel

The cockpit was a good place to be, with a tacho which redlined from 6 to 7 thousand rpm. The speedo (including trip meter) and two other gauges (water and fuel) were easy to read and all the switchgear seemed to have been made smaller and in keeping with the exterior dimensions, rather than simply fitting units from larger Mazda’s from the range. The handbrake was light, and pulled up from under the facia with little effort – and more importantly it would hold well even on inclines.

The export 1200 sedans sent to Australia were not fitted with disc brakes – but the coupe did. So much better than 4 wheel drums, the brakes on the coupe provided a confident feel and were the equal of the Europeans – although to be fair the Mazda units were not fitted with a booster, while Fiat, Renault et al were fitting one at the time. Road testers told of having virtually no fade after plenty of real-world punishment. Even after 5 successive crash test stops from 30 mph the Mazda still needed 32 feet to stop, while the same exercise at 60 mph saw 140 feet as the stopping distance, or 85 per cent braking efficiency in both cases.

On the Road

In tight corners the coupe would understeer – but was predictable. That made it very safe (for the time, and when compared to the competition), but the understeer tendency did become more pronounced the harder you pushed the car, such that the limits of traction could be easily found. And despite the diminutive size of the engine, the little fastback could cruise reasonably quickly provided you kept it in good tune. The car was shod with Japanese Dunsafe tyres which counted against it for cornering ability and were considered by most road testers to be adequate, rather than making the good or very good grade. Of course few would have replaced their tyres with the original Dunsafe, so provided they weren’t cheapskates at the tyre dealer, they likely found the 1200 could handle even better when they made their first tyre change.

Quick motoring on bitumen would induce understeer slides which backing off would not entirely counter. The slightest bump would cause the front inside wheel to lift-off in hard cornering which didn’t help the understeer. But on gravel roads the coupe was great fun, because it never really went where you intended, instead bouncing and dancing its way across bumps - never really out of control but then never really in control either. It would go in a general direction rather than a specific direction and the 13 inch wheels would soak up all but the biggest bumps.

Although this points to a car with precarious handling qualities, this was actually not the case. Despite its heavy understeer sliding, hopping and wheel lifting the 1200 was amazingly controllable such that it was almost impossible to get into any real difficulty. And while the 1000 Coupe could have hardly been described as a sports machine, the 1200 almost justified the title. The reciing seats with headrests were well shaped and offered good lateral support. The mock wood rim wheel was typically large, as was the fashion for the time, but it was not too big, and was well enough placed to allow the driver to assume a comfortable driving position. The lack of front quarter panes made the front quarter vision excellent. This had been made possible through the installation of an efficient flow-through ventilation system.

The short wheelbase conspired with the fastback style to ensure the rear accommodation was only suitable for children, or adults on a very short trip. The 8.8 gallon fuel-tank also claimed space from both the cabin and boot - and still only gave a 270 miles range. We don’t have fuel consumption figures, but given the range we can assume the 1200 was uncharacteristically thirsty. Still, it was a very good car. Although there was of course one much better - even if it looked identical. Until you lifted the hood. And that of course was the Mazda R100.

The Mazda 1200 was thrifty, practical, manouverable and a pleasure to own. It may not be collectable, but we are sure it remains a firm favourite in the minds of those who ever owned one. As we have mentioned, both sedan and coupe shared the same mechanicals, but that was no bad thing, particularly given the effort the Mazda engineers had put into ensuring their cheapest of models could fight it out with cars well above its station. There was even a wagon model, which boasted a large lift-up tail gate ensuring trips to the supermarket were even easier to manage.
Mazda 1200 Sedan

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Also see:

Mazda 1200 Technical Specifications
Mazda Car Commercials
Mazda Production 1960 - 1979
Mazda History
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