by Johanna Patterson
Most Mazda aficionados know that the company began by making tiny light cars, first in 1960
with an intriguing little coupe powered by a 360 c.c. vee-twin in the tail, supplemented two years later by a miniature four-seater with a water-cooled four-cylinder of the same capacity.
Toyo Kogyo soon advanced into more specialized fields, and arguably the first sign of the greatness that was to come came with the revolutionary 110S sports coupe with twin-rotor Wankel engine.
Even a superficial examination of the Mazda 1500 showed this was a quality made car, parallel perhaps with BMW
in Germany or Rover in the UK, although it lacked the Rover 2000's technical enterprise. In common with those makes, its four-cylinder engine had a single overhead camshaft, but as the Mazda was comparatively heavy and had only 1½
litres under the bonnet, it was not as fast as the BMW
or Rover equivalents.
The specification was not ambitious either - front engine, rear-wheel drive, four-speed all synchromesh
gearbox, live axle on half-elliptic springs. As Bertone
of Italy styled the body it looked thoroughly at home on European roads, but was particularly distinguished for its clean and well-proportioned lines.
Right from the moment you first started it, the engine sounded and felt right, and went on building up confidence in its toughness and efficiency no matter how hard you pressed it. The twin-choke Stromberg-Nikki carburettor had a manual control for cold starting mixture; and had a secondary throttle which was dependent on both accelerrator movement and manifold depression, as distinct from a direct linkage, which functioned unobtrusively without any obvious changes in intake noise or period pressure.
Its float chamber had a translucent wall with a line etched on it to indicate the correct fuel level. Once warmed through, the engine idled slowly and almost inaudibly, but at all other speeds there was a characteristic but only faint whine from the camshaft drive. The engine was very smooth over an unusually wide rev range, from very low revs in top through to over 6,000 rpm in the indirects.
Low-speed docility and tractability were always Mazda strong points, and the 1500 didn't disappoint. In a lazy mood you could get along quite well and very peacefully without having to over-work the gearbox. Then again, if you were an energetic driver the very nature of the engine and the excellent transmission
mated to it encouraged you to "go hard". With both carburettor throttles open the engine became noisier though was never harsh. Beyond about 4,000 rpm it seems to run even sweeter right up to the peak.
The top speed of the Mazda 1500 Deluxe was just over 90 mph - equivalelt to about 5,300 rpm engine speed, which was 200 rpm below the peak of the power curve. Running at this high speed for any duration would result in rather un-economical fuel consumption figures of 18-20 mpg, whereas at a steady 70 mph those figures improved to around 28.5 mpg, and at 60 mph consumption was better than 33! As a comparative guide to acceleration, the Mazda could practically hold its own with the Austin 1800
from rest to 60 mph, after which it would lose ground to the bigger car, although both had the same top speed.
In the indirects the peak speeds were around 28, 48 and 73 mph, but these were a bit beyond the practical limits; when not in a particular hurry you would instinctively change much earlier to use the engine's excellent torque characteristics. While the gear ratios were comparatively wide, the change was quick and light, the central lever having a nice direct feel and the synchromesh
never letting a "crunch" out of the box. The clutch, too, was exceptionally light to operate and progressive in take-up. There was no gear whine, something very common in lesser cars of the day. Such refinement substantiated an overall impression of mechanical quality and emphasized that the then young Japanese motor industry had little if anything-to learn from the establishments in Europe.
Well Sorted Suspension More GT Than DeLuxe
The Mazda's suspension
was a good deal stiffer than that of many rival European cars, having more the feel of a GT than a De Luxe family sedan. This combined well with the supportive front seats that were free from bounce, and you really had to find a particularly poor road surface to unsettle the car. Powerful suspension
damping immediately checked any violent movement, this relative stiffness paying dividends in stability and good roadholding, and the car responded very well to the sort of rough treatment it could expect if it were instead a rally. The DeLuxe was usually shod with Japanese Bridgestone low-profile cross-ply tyres, which behaved well and predictably on wet or dry surfaces if the makers' recommended pressures were mainntained - 20 p.s.i. front and 26 rear.
The Bridgestones provided just enough understeer in normal conditions to suit most drivers, but if the rear pressures were reduced by only 2-3 p.s.i., the oversteer became quite marked. Road and tyre
noise were both very low and the body was notably free from drumming or wind roar at speed, all factors which counted for a lot in terms of relaxation and freedom from fatigue on long runs down the lonely Australian highways. While the worm-and-roller steering
lacked the complete freedom from lost motion and directness of the average rack-and-pinion mechanism, it was light and agreeably precise, so that you were never aware of having to concentrate on guiding the car. Four turns of the wheel lock-to-lock came via relatively low gearing, but the turning circles was better than many at 33ft between kerbs.
Resistant to Fade
The first 1500's manufactured came with drum brakes
that were, thankfully, unusually resistant to fade. The parking brake held on 1-in-3 incline with ease. On such an incline the Mazda was able to restart with two people aboard, without resorting to high revs or excessive clutch slipping. Unfortunately the car was a little let down by the HVAC system, which could best be described as being "good only in parts". Good were the four swivelling outlets at the base of the screen, a three-speed fan that was quiet except at its top speed, the ability to warm and recirculate the air in the car with the fresh air system closed, and the provision of adjustable cold air vents each side beneath the facia. Not so good was the lack of a through-flow ventilation system, the fact that the quarter windows in the back doors were merely fixtures, that there was difficulty in adjusting the temperature control with any kind of precision, and it lacked heater ducting to the rear
The fit and finish of the external body panels stood up well to close scrutiny, the doors shut easily with the quality "clunk" of a coachbuilt job, and under the bonnet everything visible suggested first-class engineering, with all pipes and wires tidily arranged and steel pressings. There was a touch of Italian about the instruments and switches as well as the outer skin shape. The handbrake had a T-handle hidden under the left-hand wheel spoke stove-enamelled black. Inside the body, too, the decor was in quiet good taste and there were no detail crudities to offend the eye. Slender pillars and deep curved windows gave excellent visibility all round. Trim was usually in black pvc with a mock woven pattern to give extra grip and perhaps ventilate a bit.
The front seats were excellent, their showwroom appeal substantiated by real comfort on the road and the fact that you could step out after a long run without any aches and pains to be walked off. There was enough shape in the cushions to support the driver when cornering fast without being restricted or making access difficult; they were agreeably resilient without being springy, admirably matched to fairly firm road wheel suspension
. The backrests were finely adjustable for rake, and could be let right down for sleeping. The runners had low-friction rollers, with spring-loading forward, and the seats rose slightly as they slid forward. With the driving seat right back a six-footer was reasonably comfortable, but this left no more than barely sufficient leg-room for anyone riding behind. The rear seat had a rather firm, upright back with no centre armrest, and the lower edges of the front seat squabs, ahead of the rear passengers ankles were unyielding. On each door there was a rather hard armrest-pull, and above each back door was a handle with a coat hook.
Two round dials contained all the instruments, a very accurate speedometer
with total and trip mileage recorders occupying one, and ammeter and gauges for fuel level, water temperature and oil pressure the other. The dials were faced in non-reflective matt black with white figures. Among the tell-tale lamps was one for the hand-brake. Toggle switches marked with identifying symbols were unusual in that they were down for "off". Three were grouped on the left (variable intensity instrument lighting, screenwipers and washers), but the all-important lighting switch was independent on the right, near the starter key. The facia panel was neatly faced in real wood with a matt finish, and set in a padded surround. In the middle was a push-button radio which was of course standard fitting for the DeLuxe model, which also included an electric aerial.
The interior styling was restrained with matt black padding and a wooden panel. Pillars were slender and the waistline was low. The carpets were held in with Velcro fastening. Over the front passenger's shins was a flexible parcel shelf, and above this a let-down locker with automatic interior lamp. The lighting arrangements were beyond criticism, the four main beams giving all the range and spread one could desire, the dipped beams gave adequate illumination without inconveniencing oncoming drivers.
There were twin automatic reversing lamps, but strangely no illummination was provided for the boot or engine compartments. The rear-view mirror had a dipping reflector. The screenwiper overlap had an overlapping clap-hands action, but the blades tended to lift at speed. The washer automaticcally set the blades going for a few strokes. Another nice detail was that of the two keys supplied with the car, both could operate the ignition switch, but only one the boot and cubby-hole locks. Today were are used to the "Valet" key, but in the 1960's this was somewhat of a novelty. The boot space was adequate, but luggage had to be removed to gain access to the spare wheel, which was accommodated in a well in the boot floor.
With a sensible set of tools came two folding wheel chocks. Engine oil changes were recommmended at the fairly frequent intervals of 4,000 miles and greasers needed repacking every 20,000 miles. Today it seems the service intervals have not increased all that much, Mazda being one of the few mainstream manufacturers who continue to specify 10,000 kilometre servicing. Still, the Mazda 1500 certainly gave every impression of robust build and efficiency, and the quality of the the car as a whole was unquestionnable. Few remain on our roads today, but those lucky enough to have owned one will invariably recount stories of fabulous reliability and quality - the essence that has made Mazda the premier Japanese manufacturer that remains to this day.