Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Mazda 1500 is widely regarded today as the car that was to win ready acceptance with the Aussie motoring public. In many regards the 1500 was the car for the time, bridging the gap between large family 6 cylinders and the small 4 cylinder variety, this market segment dominated by the Japanese but now being challenged by locals such as the HB Torana
and Ford Escort
The Mazda 1500 made its debut at the 1967
Sydney International Motor Show, scarcely 3 days after its Tokyo release. It was obvious to all that Mazda wanted the 1500 to be a success down-under, and why wouldn't it? Styling by Nuccio Bertone
was refined and sleek, the low waistline allowing plenty of glass to provide excellent all-round visibility. At last Australian's could buy a true mid-sizer of substance.
And of course there was the Mazda quality control, even as early as the 1960's it shining through to ensure each and every owner would enjoy many years of trouble free motoring. The Mazda engineers went to great lengths to ensure body rigidity, and even in fleet owned cars many would comment on the seeming total lack of squeaks and rattles, a common problem with cars built in the era.
The large, seemingly oversized wheels were a blessing in disguise on rough Aussie roads, helping the car drive with a level of comfort and compliance to ensure any Sunday drive was enjoyable and well rewared. Sure, the 1500 motor was not suited to the enthusiast driver, however
it was reasonably tractable, fuel efficient, and best of all, incredibly reliable.
For many women drivers, safety features weighed heavily in any buying decision, and the Mazda 1500 would not disappoint. There was a safety padded dash, seat belt anchors, an advanced fresh air system, crash proof door locks and a re-inforced passenger compartment. The quality and polish of the 1500 would help it become one of the best to own, drive and, when it came time to say goodbye, to part with, the deserved reputation ensuring top re-sale values were retained for many years. The original model lineup was as follows;
Standard 1500 Sedan: At $2255 the Mazda idea of "standard" seemed to have delusions of "luxury", it offering plenty more standard kit than most other competitors of the time. Standard inventory included windscreen washers, reversing lights, and an advanced fresh air system; 1500 Deluxe Sedan
: The Deluxe
included a radio with power aerial, foldaway armrests and a facia mounted electric clock. Priced at $2750 it was a steal, and the automatic was only $2810; 1500 Station Wagon: Styled on the 1500 sedan, the wagon also afforded generous unobstructed luggage space. The tail-gate lifted up and out of the way for the easiest of loading/unloading, and it was no surprise it offered the greatest carrying capacity in its class. The rear seat also folded forward to further increase capacity. Prices were $2535 for the manual, and $2905 for the auto.
Mazda 1500 SS
The 1500 SS was Mazda’s warm version, but it was not so much about performance as about equipment, as the car was actually a little slower than a Cortina GT. All that was done to the engine was some mild head work to raise the compression from 8.2 to 9.0 to 1, plus two twin-throat downdraught Strombergs in place of the single two-barrel. Thus the power output from the 1490cc sohc four was lifted from 78 to 86bhp at 5500 rpm, and torque from 85.3 ft/lb at 2500 rpm to 86.7 at 3000 rpm. Neither was a particularly startling increase. Gear ratios and final drive were the same, and the SS used the same body as the Deluxe
. Big differences were in the grille - which was blacked-out in segments and carried a SS badge, two small yellow fog lamps, front disc brakes
and smaller, less aesthetically-pleasant SS badges on the C pillars.
Inside the 1500 SS was very well done. Instead of the Deluxe
bench seat, there were two wide, deep and well-curved reclining seats, a fully-equipped tree-wood dash, wood-rimmed alloy-spoked wheel and a raked gearlever in a good-looking pvc boot, set right back between the seats. The Toyo Kogyo factory claimed a standing quarter-mile in 19 seconds for the SS but we have not been able to find any old road tests where drivers achieved this figure. On paper the SS could pull around 96 mph and a quarter in the high 19s. But achieving that was always going to be difficult, given the Mazda engineers relied on a lower-than-usual final drive to give the car enough low-down poke. In the SS, the engine would rev to 7000, but it didn’t like it much. The reality was the engine became agricultural, and noisy, once over 5500 rpm.
While it may have been disappointing that you would struggle to achieve performance figures provided by the factory, the car remained quite fast point-to-point, and would cruise easily and quietly at 70-75 mph, and the extremely good braking and ultra-safe handling made pressing-on a lot easier. There was a level of confidence too, with Bendix front discs against the Deluxe's drums, the SS stopped exceptionally well all the time. Pedal pressures were always low, despite a tandem master cylinder system, although the servo had a typically dead feel in the first half-inch of pedal movement. There was some pad squeal at low speeds when cold, but this was always hard to engineer out of a disc system. The difference between the disc and the all-drum system on the 1500 Deluxe
was arguably the biggest difference between the models.
Another good point about the SS was the ride. It was extraordinarily quiet; even switching from bitumen to gravel produced hardly any change in noise level. Japanese Dunlop cross-ply tyres
were fitted, and these reflected very little road noise. The wind noise level was also low. The only time the SS would get noisy was when being worked hard in the indirect gears. The wheelbase, at 99 ins., was well above average for this size of car, and was one reason why the Mazda had little of the choppiness so typical of Japanese fours from the era.
was not altered from the Deluxe's coil/wishbone-semi-elliptic setup, although the damper rates were a little better sorted. Thus, like the Deluxe
, the car's handling was right up to the mark. It understeered mildly and consistently, and could only be unstuck by going stupidly fast into corners and using too much wheel. It took a lot of effort to make the SS slide at all, and when it did lose adhesion at the rear it was almost self-correcting. However, the extra pace showed up one deficiency which was not apparent in the Deluxe
; the steering was too low-geared at over four turns lock to lock. The turning circle was still commendably tight for the wheelbase, but there was not a great castor angle on the steering to give much self-centring effort and it was easy to get out of step on the steering – and at speed there was also some lost motion from the dead-ahead position, but this could be adjusted out of a ball-nut steering system.
Inside the cabin the SS was fitted with remarkably comfortable seats. They were covered in lavish black pvc, with mock-perforated centre panels, and almost looked like those from Mercedes-Benz, but actually located the driver a little better. There was a roll under the thighs and a soft outward curve in the small of the back; the only fault was that the tops of the squabs tended to fall back a little from the shoulders. The range of adjustment provided for almost every body shape, even though the wheel poked out a fair way from the dash. The back seat was almost as comfortable as the front buckets, which is saying a lot. Leg room was slightly restricted, but the car would carry four adults over long distances in good comfort. The doors all opened wide, the car had the same big glass area as the Deluxe
, and there were plenty of ashtrays and courtesy lights.
The same could not be said for the gearlever location. This was a little too far back, so that the knob in second gear almost touched the leading edge of the passenger's seat cushion. The movement across the gate was wide, and although spring-laden to the third/ top layer the shift movements could take some time to adjust to. Apart from that the gearbox was light and accurate, although not fast. The rest of the interior was typically Japanese – an air of quality with some embellishments to provide the Euro feel, such as a mock-wood wheel with drilled spokes and central horn-button. The dash was surrounded by a soft padded rail, and the instruments were in big matt-black cowls on the dash facing. In the centre was a push-button radio automatic aerial, and below that a big ashtray.
The two main dials, well marked in white with red needles, were the 110 mph speedometer and the 7000 rpm tachometer redlined from 5500 on. Both were incredibly steady and easy to read. They were flanked on one side by a clock and the other by a combined fuel contents and temperature gauge, with a tiny rectangular aperture in between housing an almost unreadable ammeter. There was no oil pressure gauge - only a warning light next to the handbrake warning light, which seemed a strange omission in a sohc engine that would spin to 7000 rpm. Under the dash at left were the sliding tabs for heater/demister control - operating a very efficient system that coupled with swivelling dash-top vents - but in a row along the bottom rail, spaced each side of the steering column was a fairly confusing selection of knobs.
The standard of finish, helped by perforated black headlining and good carpeting, was very good. In that direction everything works as smoothly as usual: the doors shut quietly and crisply, the switches all had the then traditional oiled-plastic feel, there were no suspension squeaks or strange body rattles or screws starting out of their sockets over 30 mph. Detail work under the bonnet and in the boot was just as good. The engine bay had a lot of plumbing and wiring, but it was all incredibly neatly done, right down to nylon-bushed carburettor linkages and carefully-shrouded distributor. The boot was wide, but not as roomy as it seemed from outside, and the loading lip was a little too high. However, the floor was fairly even, although there was the typical hardboard bulkhead at the front. But probably the best thing about the 1500 SS was the price, it represented good value for money.