A pictorial trip through the Japanese brand's history of sporty coupes.
When Mazda launched its first passenger car onto Japanese domestic market, little did it know it would set a blueprint for the following 60 years. That car, the pretty little R360 coupe was designed to fit into Japan’s ‘kei’ car segment and proved an immediate success, snaring 65 per cent of the ‘kei’ car market and 15 per cent of the overall Japanese new car market in 1960.
Measuring a slight 2980mm long, the R360 was powered by a 12kW air-cooled 356cc V-twin engine mated to either a four-speed manual or two-speed automatic transmission. Despite the diminutive displacement, and no doubt helped by its svelte 380kg kerb weight, top speed was rated at 84km/h.
Mazda added the Carol P360 in 1962, adding two seats, two cylinders and 2cc in engine displacement. It too proved a success, setting the tone for Mazda for generations which has in the intervening 60 years gone on to create some of the most desirable and beautiful coupes to ever come from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Mazda unveiled its first performance car, the Cosmo, at the 1964 at the Tokyo Motor Show ahead of the production model hitting showrooms in 1967. The Cosmo was the world’s first production model to be powered by a twin-rotor engine, a 982cc unit putting out around 82kW and with a claimed top speed of 185km/h.
With space-age looks that were de rigeur in the mid-1960s, the Cosmo heralded the arrival of Mazda on the world stage while also setting the tone for Mazda’s rotary-powered sports coupe future.
The world beckoned and beginning in 1968 Mazda went global with its rotary-powered offerings. First up the Familia R100 coupe, followed in quick succession by the Capella/RX-2 coupe and the Grand Familia/818/RX-3 Coupe. Sales of the affordable yet engaging sports coupes soared, with Mazda claiming international sales into the six figures.
One of the rarest Mazda coupes made its debut in 1969. The Bertone-designed, from the pen of iconic designer Giorgetto Giugiaro no less, Mazda Luce 130, was Mazda’s first – and to this day, only – front-wheel drive rotary-powered car.
Produced between 1969 and 1972, the Luce 230 was powered by Mazda’s 1.3-litre 13A rotary engine with 94kW and 172Nm. Less than 1000 examples were made, making it one of the rarest Mazdas ever. Arguably one of the prettiest, too.
At the opposite end of the scarcity spectrum, the Mazda RX-7, first introduced in 1978, remained in production through three generations until 2002 by which time 811,634 examples had been manufactured.
Its success lay in near-perfect weight distribution and lightweight structure, the original Series I RX-7 tipping the scales at just over 1000kg kerb. Powered by a succession of rotary engines, from the naturally-aspirated 12A to the turbocharged 12A and 13B and ending with Series 3’s twin-rotor, twin-turbo 13B, the RX-7 remains an icon and a Mazda halo car to this day.
Lesser known is Mazda’s only triple-rotor engine coupe, the Eunos Cosmo which was designed and built purely for the Japanese domestic market. Produced between 1990-95, the Cosmo featured Mazda’s 2.0-litre triple-rotor, twin-turbocharged 20B-REW engine with outputs of 224kW and 403Nm, impressive even by today’s standards. The Cosmo was also the first car to feature advanced technologies such as inbuilt satellite navigation and an infotainment touchscreen.
Despite all that power and torque, the Cosmo had a top speed limited to 180km/h, as per Japan’s regulations of the day. However if let off its chain, the Cosmo could nudge 255km/h.
Just 8875 rolled off the production line in its six-year run, split 60:40 between the more conventionally-powered 13B engine and the triple-rotor 20B. Rare, then.
Today, Mazda’s sporting bent lies with the strictly-not-a-coupe MX-5 roadster, although the introduction of the MX-RF retractable hardtop model does provide it some coupe cred.
Sadly, the last rotary-engined Mazda sports coupe rolled off the production line in 2012. The Mazda RX-8 never scaled the heights of its RX-7 predecessor. But, if the rumours that continue to swirl around the company’s Hiroshima headquarters are true, an RX-9 model is in the company’s future.
And yet, unlike Mazda’s halo cars of yesteryear, the RX-9, supposedly based off Mazda’s 2017 Vision RX concept, won’t feature a rotary engine, relying instead on the company’s tried and trusted Skyactiv-X inline six. Still, a gorgeous two-seat performance coupe from Mazda? We’ll take that.