Mazda Cosmo 121
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Mazda 121 was, to our eyes, one of the best looking cars from the late 1970s. It seemed to buck the trend of the Japanese to embellish their cars with fancy scrolls and plenty of bright work. It was obviously aimed at the American market, hence the opera window behind the door, which was a US design trend at the time, along with the pronounced grille that finds favour in the States. The front was made more business-like by the addition of a spoiler under the front bumper and the upturned tail lights were not overdone either.
But the Mazda 121 had a lot more going for it than simply a nice appearance and clean lines. It was also endowed with plenty of equipment inside along with sound mechanicals – what you would have expected from the flagship of the Toyo Kogyo range. It came with a five-speed gearbox, disc brakes
on all four wheels with the front discs ventilated. The back suspension
consisted of coil springs
with live axle location by four inks and held steady by a Panhard rod. Low profile steel radials were standard.
To complement this cut above average mechanical specification was an interior that was very well turned out. The seats were finished in a soft, comfortable velour material with cushioning bolstered nicely for support. There was comprehensive instrumentation including speedo
, fuel, temperature
, amps and clock - and these not only looked good but were placed in the driver's line of sight. The instrument panel was finished in a mock wood grain that helped rather than spoilt the decor because, although rare for a Japanese maker, on the 121 it looked credible.
Behind the Wheel
The steering wheel rim was also mock wood with wire spokes providing an interesting throw-back to British cars of the Fifties. Controls, most of which were actuated by steering column stalks, operated among other things a pause setting for the wipers and a heated rear window. The entertainment side was also well catered for with a stereo tape player from Clarion and a separate radio. Ventilation and heating was of the usual high Japanese standard with outlets mounted centrally and on each side of the facia. Carpet throughout and a pair of good looking and strong armrest-door pulls added to the feeling of quality.
But the 121 did not set any benchmarks on the accommodation side – given the coupe design there was always going to be compromises. There was plenty of room in the front, restricted adult room in the back for longer journeys and an adequate but not overly large boot. But what the 121 did manage to do was set new standards in coupe visibility – this despite the frames for the opera side windows – as there was still plenty of side glass. There was, in fact, no real rear quarter panel and the ‘C’ pillar between the side glass and the back window was about as thin as the conventional windscreen pillar. There was a much reduced blind spot to the rear as a result.
Forward vision was assisted by the use of ‘A’ pillars which were also very thin, being very similar to the design used by Holden. In fact, some even speculated that Mazda’s development of the Roadpacer
led to their engineers studying the Premier body design in some detail. The rear side windows were fixed in position but the small opera windows did wind down.
The Mazda 121 was fitted with the same 1.8 litre engine as used on the Mazda 929, and could be optioned with the very smooth JATCO three-speed automatic gearbox. Since the 121 weighed in a fair way over the tonne, it was a better choice to change the gears yourself – mating the auto to the 1.8 litre four cylinder engine was asking quite a lot. Even so in automatic
guise the 121 offered reasonably brisk performance, managing the standing 400 metres in 20.2 seconds and was fairly quick to get up to 80 km/h in 10.7 seconds. However It took nearly six seconds more to 100 km/h so its top-end performance was not as good as its lower speed acceleration.
The four-wheel discs were therefore more than a match and always pulled evenly and, in an era long before ABS was available on mass produced cars, they would resist locking up. The suspension
layout made the 121 a fine handling car which cornered well, with only slight understeer. The variable ratio steering was light, and the handling
was helped by the fitment of 185 rubber. The ride was smooth for a car of its handling capability although road shocks from potholes could be felt quite forcibly through the front suspension
– almost identical to that experienced in the 929 which had the same arrangement.
The 121 was known as the Cosmo AP (Anti-Pollution) in Japan, and sold internationally as the Mazda RX-5, though in some export markets, including Australia, the piston-powered versions were marketed as the Mazda 121. When it went on sale in Australia in mid 1976
it was priced at $6104 for the manual and $6436 for the automatic. And that made it good value.