Mazda Capella 1600 Mark 1
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Mazda 1800 Replacement
Although the Mazda 1500
series went over pretty well with Australian motorists, it was never a great seller in Japan. To address this, Mazda released the Capella – which they believed would be a better competitor and take the fight up to the big sellers from opposition Japanese companies Toyota
. Although it was originally sold alongside the Mazda 1500
, the Capella was a size smaller, and to this day the concept of a new model being smaller than the one it replaced is a unique thing indeed.
The Capella sedan used a SOHC four cylinder 1600cc power unit, it was less than an inch different from the Datsun 1600 in most important dimensions and the basic model sold at a price which made it competitive not only against the Datsun, but also against Toyota's big-selling Corona and Mitsubishi's then newly-released Colt Galant. Unfortunately its styling had none of the unique flavour enjoyed by the Bertone-designed 1500 and at a quick glance we reckon you would be hard pressed to pick the interior as being different from any of its major competition – but maybe that was the whole point.
Where the Capella excelled of course was with the availability of rotary power as an alternative to conventional, pushrod power in either the sedan or two door coupe models. The rotary engine was an improved, slightly enlarged version of that which powered the R100 model and put out 130 bhp at 7000 rpm - an increase of 20 bhp over the smaller engine. In Australia, the demand for rotary models was so strong that it far exceeded supply. There is so much we could say about the Rotary version, but for this article we will stick to the stock petrol driven variety.
The 1600cc Engine
The engine in the Capella was based on the 1800 unit but used a shorter stroke to cut capacity down from 1796 to 1586cc. Despite this, it remained of under-square configuration with bore/stroke dimensions of 78mm x 83mm. To achieve an output of 104 bhp, it had to spin harder than the 1800 unit which developed the same power at 500 rpm below the 1600's 6000 maximum. Torque was down slightly too, from the 109 ft/lbs at 3000 rpm of the 1800, to 106 ft/lbs at 3500. But with nearly 300 lbs less weight to carry around, the Capella 1600 has a definite performance edge over the heavy 1800.
Gearbox and final drive ratios were identical with the exception of third, which used 1.373 on the Capella as compared to 1.307 on the 1800, and the Capella had some of the loping high speed gait which characterised its predecessor. Low speed response in the Capella was definitely superior, but the engine's potential did not begin to make itself felt until rpm rose towards the 4000 mark. Speedometer marking recommended 30, 52 and 76 maximums in the intermediates, but as with the 1800 these could be comfortably exceeded - although doing so would not help your standing quarter times – which for the record was around 19.0 seconds - slightly better than the 1800.
The Capella rode on coil spring four link rear suspension, and this helped to keep the wheels firmly on the ground during wheel spinning takeoffs, but there was some tendency towards wander over roughly corrugated stretches of road. Notwithstanding, the car's ride - with a wheelbase which was slightly longer than any of its Japanese opposition – was well controlled and suspension and road noise were particularly low. The Capella's variable-ratio steering was slightly quicker than that of the 1800 and response at normal cornering speeds was very good. Braking was by a disc/drum system and this worked efficiently from all speeds.
Inside the Capella
To keep internal space almost on par with the larger 1800, Mazda made the front seats thinner. The front buckets in de luxe sedans and all coupes incorporated built-in head restraints and were well shaped. The usual compromise between front and rear legroom availability could be made without making either particularly uncomfortable and shoulder room was about what you would expect with a body width of 62 inches. An efficient ventilation system that could either put large amounts of fresh air into the interior on a warm summer's day or direct a gentle, refreshing breeze onto the driver's face when the heater was combating wintery conditions made the Capella a comfortable year-round car. Cool air was vented into the interior by two large capacity vents at each end of the dash and through a small "personal" vent between the two circular instrument groupings which was aimed directly at the driver.
The control layout was carefully thought out and all important functions were little more than a fingertip stretch away. The familiar Mazda washer/ wiper/indicators/headlight dimmer stalk was used and the master light switch was also located on the column, but thankfully in a position where it could not be inadvertently switched off. Instrumentation included temperature gauge, clock and a tripmeter in addition to the usual basic gauges, while all rotary models (including the sedan) incorporated an 8000 rpm tachometer. A push button radio was also standard on all models except the basic 1600 sedan.
All the usual safety features were evident throughout the interior, but the Capella went two important steps ahead of most of its competition by incorporating a collapsible steering column and a laminated windscreen. A high standard of finish throughout helped to continue the tradition for quality that had been established by Mazda with the 1500/1800 series. The paintwork was near perfect, the panel fit extremely good and under the bonnet all was laid out neatly, with most regular-service items being within easy reach. It was a pleasant car to drive with its quiet, easy performance and vice-free handling and braking. Passengers were well looked after too, with comfortable seating and plenty of standard kit such as radio, good quality carpets, armrests on all four doors and tinted windows.
Throughout this article we have continually compared the Capella to the 1500/1800 series. And having driven one, we believe it emerged as a worthy successor. We liked the 1800, and we liked the Capella too. Better still, the Capella was cheaper.