Mazda 7

100 years of Mazda are an impressive anniversary. Seen through Eurocentric glasses, the brand’s old age perhaps surprises, since in our parts the Japanese brand is associated with vehicles from the 1970s at the earliest. But the story begins much earlier, exactly one hundred years ago.

On 30 January 1920 the company Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. Ltd. was founded in Hiroshima. At first they produced cork substitutes, because cork was in demand and rare at that time. With the appointment of Jujiro Matsuda as president, however, the focus went far beyond cork towards innovative vehicles.


In 1930, the prototype of a motorised cargo tricycle was presented, which subsequently succeeded as the Mazda-Go. The name Mazda was also used for the first time. It was not only reminiscent of the company boss Matsuda, but was primarily intended to refer to Ahura Mazda, the ancient Persian god of light and the origin of Eastern and Western cultures.

Only ten years later the first four-wheeled vehicle was shown, but the Second World War and especially the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima was to break the way abruptly. But Mazda did not let this heavy blow throw him off course for long. Still in 1945 the company resumed the production of commercial vehicles.

Mazda 14


But it was not until 1960 that the brand’s first passenger car, the Mazda R360 Coupé, appeared. From today’s point of view, it was a toy car, a small car like a BMW Isetta, but at that time it was a very successful model. These so-called Kei-Cars are still in demand and popular in Japan, not least because of their tax advantages. Weighing 380 kilograms, under 3 metres long and powered by a 356 cm³ air-cooled two-cylinder engine, the R360 offered enough room for two passengers. More than 60,000 copies were produced until 1969, when the R360 was replaced by the Chantez.

The “out of the box” thinking of the decision-makers and engineers in Hiroshima runs through the entire model history. In the field of design they worked together with Bertone, among others. This cooperation resulted in the Familia in 1963 and the Luce in 1966, which, especially as a coupé, still has an elegant appearance today.

The combination of Japanese technology and European design has another important side effect: Mazda ventured into Europe and North America in the early 1970s. A model range for the German market was already shown at the 1969 IAA, and three years later Mazda was officially present in Germany. Especially the compact class 323 and the middle class model 626 were present in Germany in the early days.

The breaking of new ground, the “thinking around the corner” was mainly done from a technical point of view. In 1961 Mazda signed a licence agreement with NSU for the production of the novel, compact and lightweight rotary piston engine. While other manufacturers gradually abandoned the Wankel concept as unprofitable, too wasteful and vulnerable, Mazda continued to work on this engine until the tricky points were cleared up.


The first car with a Wankel engine was immediately an impressive sensation: in 1967, the futuristic Mazda Cosmo Sport 110 S went into series production as the world’s first production car with a two-disc rotary piston engine. An elegant as well as charismatic and independent coupé, which would certainly have been a success even with conventional drive. But with the technical innovation of proving that Wankel engines can also work very well, the Cosmo is a speciality, not only in Mazda history.

It was also the beginning of an extraordinary success story, as Mazda subsequently succeeded in selling more than one million vehicles with rotary-piston engines, including legendary models such as the RX-7 and RX-8 sports cars. The Japanese brand also demonstrated the reliability of the rotary-piston engine in motorsport when it won the overall victory in the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours with a Type 787B with a four-disc rotary-piston engine.

After the Toyo Kogyo was officially surrounded by the Mazda Motor Corporation in 1984, the company showed under a new name that it is possible to celebrate success even if you swim against the current and see a future for one model while others are already wavering away. Against the general trend, the Roadster MX-5 came onto the market in 1989 and was an impressive success story for Mazda in the first generation NA and ensured a roadster revival across the globe. By the way, this is still the case today, with the fourth generation on the market.

Especially against the background of current issues and decisions of direction, it will be exciting to observe which focal points Mazda sets and which paths are taken in Hiroshima. For example, promising research is currently being carried out on the development of a C02-neutral liquid biofuel produced from artificially cultivated microalgae, to highlight just one of the future projects. Perhaps this is one of the mosaic stones for a similarly successful future for the next 100 years of Mazda.

Photos Mazda Motors Deutschland GmbH, Paolo Ollig

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

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