Mazda is one of the great success stories of recent automotive history. While car manufacture did not begin until 1960, the Hiroshima based Toyo Cork Kogyo company had been in existence since 1920, concerned with the manufacture of motorcycles, machine tools and drilling equipment. In 1931 the company began the manufacture of a light truck, and was renamed Mazda, both in recognition of its founder Jujior Matsuda, and in honour of Mazda, the god of light. In 1940 a prototype
car was manufactured, but the countries incursion on Pearl Harbour put pay to any automotive aspirations of the day. Amazingly the Mazda facility would only suffer very minor damage after the B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the “little boy” atomicbomb, although truck production did not re-commenceuntil the 1950’s.
The first Mazda car
was released in 1960, a micro car powered by a V-twin air-cooled
21.72ci 356cc engine. Immensely popular (and affordable), the company would sell 20,000 in the first year. The next model inevitably grew in size and stature, the P-360 now featuring a water-cooled engine and available in either 2 or 4 door body styles. Then came the Familia, a 4 door sedan fitted with a 782cc four cylinder engine; outwardly the car looked very conventional, but look a little closer and you could see the Mazda engineers had thought outside the square, the engine being manufactured from light alloy and the options box including either a 4 speed manual or 2 speed automatic transmission.
The Familia was responsible for not only raising the profile of Mazda in it’s home market, but for pushing it to third place on the Japanese sales charts, some 80,000 being sold in 1965 alone. Bertone was commissioned to style a larger variant to help fill out the Mazda line-up, the 929 (also known as Cosmo or Luce) was fitted with a 1.5 litre engine, but again there was a difference, this time the options box included a very unusual offering – the Wankel rotary. Mazda had for some time shown interest in the rotary engine, and had finally bought a licence from NSU to build their own version after shipping samples from Germany. The first Mazda to be fitted with a rotary was the Cosmo 110S coupe, it also sharing the honour of being the first mass-produced rotary powered car in the world. By 1978 Mazda had sold over 1 million rotary powered cars.
Also see: The History of Mazda