The mini Mazda with gullwing doors and a mid-engine layout

This is a Mazda unlike any you have seen before. In fact, it’s not even a Mazda.

Manufactured under Mazda’s ‘Autozam’ brand that specialises in Kei cars (Japan’s class of small cars), the AZ-1 is truly unique. Kei cars in Japan are sensible by nature. They’re small, fuel-efficient, less polluting, light and affordable. The AZ-1 seems to have ignored most of the characteristics of a Kei car and gone its own way about things.

Photo: Tobias ToMar Maier, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the first things you’ll notice are its grand gullwing doors. Just like the iconic Mercedes 300 SL, DeLorean and Tesla Model X, the AZ-1 sports the very same flashy doors with the only difference being this is not exactly a luxury car. When it was first sold in the 1980s, the car was sold for around £10,000.

With such a low price and a power output of just 63 horsepower coming from a 657 cc Suzuki engine, the car contradicts itself with some wonderfully weird performance features. For instance, the engine is in the middle, like in a supercar. It’s also rear wheel drive and Mazda marketed it as the ‘ultimate handling machine’ so clearly the manufacturers intent was to build a miniature sports car that was to be taken seriously.

Photo: Akinori YAMADA from Tokorozawa, SAITAMA, Japan;Cropped and minor alterations by uploader Mr.choppers, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, the AZ-1 did not sell well. Although in hindsight this little wannabe supercar was well worth its price given its uniqueness, people at the time couldn’t see it. Its price tag was higher than the hugely successful Mazda MX-5 that was bigger, more powerful and faster. In the end, less than 4,500 were sold. A tragic result for such a unique car.

Of course, there were numerous other sports Kei cars but none are as desirable and in-demand as the AZ-1 is today. Although their values haven’t exactly skyrocketed, they still sell for around £15,000 and that’s with over 50,000 miles on the clock.

Photo: Tennen-Gas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The styling is very reminiscent of a Ford RS200 and AZ-1 fans will point out all of its other sporty features such as the bonnet air intake (which doesn’t actually cool the engine, as it is a mid-engined car), vents on the side and at the rear and just how low the ground this mini sports car sits.

All in all, the Autozam AZ-1 is definitely one of the coolest (and weirdest) sports cars given its 80s supercar-like appearance and lackluster power output. We still think it’s undervalued today and expect to see prices rise once it’s recognised by more people for the underappreciated gem that it is.

Let us know what you think of the AZ-1, in the comments.

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