The first Mazda imports came in the form of the uniquely styled rotary engined Cosmo in 1967. What made the manufacturer unique was its continuous development of the alternative to the combustion engine. At the time several manufacturers were planning to introduce such engines into the cars, only to have development halted by the forthcoming global energy crisis. However, Mazda stuck with it and continued to import a small number of rotary engined cars throughout the decades. Wisely, Mazda also chose to import more conventional engined versions of their cars, offering the customer a unique option the choice of engines. The range was fairly similar to the option that were being offered by Datsun and Toyota, not just the styling which aped American twin headlamped coke bottle designs but also featuring the typical Japanese traits for reliability, equipment and usability.
Mazda first imports into the UK were probably seen as the most unconventional of imports. Despite being the maker of a fairly conservative range of small cars and trucks, Mazda UK announced that the first imports of their cars would be the dramatically styled Mazda 110S Cosmo. If the space age styling wasn’t enough to convince the public of their dramatic entrance, then the rotary engine would certainly make people notice. Mazda had been experimenting with the engine for several years (along with NSU) and was achieving reasonable success with its reliability and performance. The Cosmo was however, a limited seller in the UK, its price of £2,607 was a huge gamble not just for an unknown Japanese marque but also the uncertainty of its non-conventional power plant. Mazda persisted with the import of rotoary engined cars, and followed it up with the more conventionally styled but smaller R100 coupe. Initial Mazda sales were slow in the UK, limited to just the 110S Cosmo so it wasn’t really until 1969, when sales of more conventionally styled saloons and estates hit the market did the brand become more common.
Mazda also offered ordinary combustion engines cars, the first into the UK was the elegantly Bertone styled saloon, the 1800 (or Luce in its home market) in its range. The car was imported late in 1969, with the estate version following 2 years later. No rotary engines were ever available for the car.
Following the 1800 models, the was joined by the entry level 1200/1300 models. The first version of the smallest Mazda available in the UK, where conventionally engineered RWD designs, with the choice of saloon and estate bodies, Mazda like many other Japanese models didn’t catch on to the FWD supermini trend until late in the 1970s’. The 1200 and 1300 arrived first, with the 1000 models that were sold in the UK just as a 2 door saloon. The 1000/1200/1300 models had no direct rotary models imported, although there is similarities in size and spec to the earlier short lived R100 coupe. The 1000/1200/1300 sold reasonably well despite the frugal equipment and relative poor fuel economy.
Mazda also introduced 4 different rotary engined cars, with saloon, coupe and estate options (even a pick up for the states) until 1976 which provided novelty interest to stand them out against its Japanese competitors. The RX2 was the first of the new generation of rotary models to be introduced, it was pitched in the higher end of the range, due to it claiming a 115mph top speed. It was replaced by the less powerful RX3, which shared components with the larger engined RX4.
For a manufacturer importing a small number of cars (Mazda imported less than 8000 cars into the UK in 1974) the company had a a large selection of cars, reason being is that they offered both rotary and combustion models of their cars. The logic is that the smaller models were the 818/RX3 and the larger cars were the 929/RX4.
Import numbers showed a steady progress but it wasn’t until the late 70’s when the range was rationalised when Mazda sales started to rise. This was due to several new conventional but cleanly styled models, the hatchback 323, which despite retaining the drivetrain from the the 1000/1300 models, featured a smart hatchback style. Secondly the sales of the mid range car which effectively replaced several previous models, badged as the Montrose and later the 626, started to help Mazda to compete with Honda as the 3rd biggest Japanese importer into the UK.
A curious survivor, the conventional but specious 929 was imported from the mid 70’s until 1988 as an estate car into the UK. Mazda had not offered any larger estate cars as the Montrose/626 was not available in estate form. Sales would have been a steady trickle but offered good value for money.
Mazda rotary engines were temporarily absent in the UK line up when the last RX4 and RX3 models left the production line in 1976 but Mazda continued the Rotary engine development (Cosmo models continued to be produced in Japan) they’d been developing a new rakish sports car as the range flagship. It finally arrived in late 1979 as a single model, the RX7 and continued the Rotary theme of the brand in the UK.
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