From a cork producer to the maker of the world’s best-selling roadster
Mazda was founded on 30 January 1920 and before it was called Mazda, the company was actually named ‘Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. Ltd’. They manufactured cork products and it wasn’t until 1960 that the first Mazda car was released.
Celebrating Mazda’s 100-year history, we look back at some of the most notable achievements the manufacturer has accomplished, from the development of the rotary engine to the making of the roadster that would dominate markets around the world.
The Mazda R360 was the first Mazda car although, before this, the company had produced an auto rickshaw-type vehicle called the Mazda-Go in the early 30s. Mazda hit the ground running as the R360 became popular very quickly, capturing around 60% of the Japanese Kei car market and around 15% of the total car market in Japan. Just three years after their first car, Mazda quickly reached their 1,000,000th production car in 1963 and reached 5 million in 1972.
The R360 was stylish, lightweight, engaging to drive, affordable and incredibly efficient with unprecedented fuel consumption of just 75 MPG. The success of the R360, in a way, sowed the seeds of success for the MX-5 which wouldn’t be revealed until 1989.
To celebrate their history, Mazda are selling a special edition Mazda MX-5 which features embossing on the key fob and headrests, has a ‘100 years 1920-2020’ badge on the side and special wheel centre caps.
Mazda’s first rotary engine car, the Cosmo Sports, was released in 1967 and had a philosophy of ‘less weight, more power’. It produced 110 hp and could do a standing ¼ mile in 16.3 seconds.
In 1978, the RX-7 was released which would eventually end up to become one of the most iconic Japanese sports cars in history. Mazda and the rotary engine have become synonymous with each other as Mazda slowly became the sole manufacturer of Wankel-type engines for the global automotive market and by 1986, the total number of Mazda vehicles produced with these engines reached 1.5 million.
Thanks to the totally different nature of the rotary engine, with it being lighter and higher-revving than V6s and V8s, the RX-7 became the first Japanese car to win the Spa 24 Hour race in 1981. Mazda also achieved over 100 class victories in IMSA sportscar racing in the US, with the rotary engine playing an important part in Mazda’s motorsport success.
In 1986 a rotary-powered modified RX-7 set a Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Trial record of 238.442mph and the record was broken again in 1995 by another modified RX-7, clocking a speed of around 241 mph.
In 1991, Mazda went on to become the first Japanese manufacturer to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race, the most famous endurance race in the world.
After the RX-7 came the RX-8, which was also powered by a rotary engine and also saw success in motorsport, setting 40 international FIA records on the high-speed oval at the Papenburg automotive testing facility in northwest Germany using unmodified RX-8s.
As well as success with rotary engines, Mazda is also responsible for creating the world’s best-selling two-seater roadster, the MX-5. Revealed at the 1989 Chicago Motor Show, the MX-5 made a statement by entering a market that had been otherwise abandoned by many other manufacturers.
The MX-5 has had a successful career, being an adored sports car in locations around the globe across all four generations of its cycle. In 2000, the car was officially recognised by the Guinness World Record body as the best-selling two-seater roadster with 532,000 global sales – a title still retained today.
In 2016 Mazda’s 1,000,000th MX-5 rolled off the production line at Ujina Plant No. 1 in Hiroshima. This Soul Red, soft-top convertible MX-5 then went on to tour the world and gain signatures from around 200,000 fans.
Now, Mazda continues to innovate and specialise in areas that other manufactures overlook.
In 2014 the Mazda6 broke the record for highest average speed over 24 hours with an average of 221.1 km/h, beating the previous record of 209.8 km/h and in 2018, the Mazda CX-5 became the first production car to cross the frozen Lake Baikal.
Most recently, Mazda have been working on their new and innovative Skyactiv-X engine technology which compresses the air-fuel mixture differently to produce fewer NOx emissions and use a lot less fuel. It is the world’s first commercially available compression-ignition petrol engine and has been available in Mazda cars since 2019.
It combines the fuel economy of a diesel engine with the smooth, free-revving nature of Mazda’s Skyactiv-G petrol engine.
Now, with whispers of a new rotary-based sports car and the current success of the MX-5, we look forward to seeing what this little Hiroshima-based cork producer will do next.
If you enjoyed this, you may also like to see the bright orange beauty that is the MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition.
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