A tough, reliable and very pleasant little car from Japan
Whatever one’s feelings about the intrusion of Japanese cars on to the British market, the vehicles are so prolific on our roads that they cannot be ignored. Motor Sport has not done a great deal to promote these oriental makes, although this writer has rallied and raced in Nissan-Datsun products, nor have we had much experience with them on the road, except for the specialised 240Z and 260Z Datsuns. The opportunity to carry out a long-term assessment of a Mazda Hatchback as a follow up to our illuminating visit to the Hiroshima factory of its makers, Toyo Kogyo, last year, has given us a chance to check the accuracy of the Japanese reputation of reliability, value for money and sensible, if simple, design. If the resultant experience of 10,000 miles in this happy little orange Mazda are anything to go by, British manufacturers have cause to worry.
TKP 125R arrived at Standard House on June 30th, 1977 with 187 miles on the odometer, one of the first shipment of Hatchbacks into Britain. As such it lacked the split rear seats and remotely operated hatch lock of cars from subsequent shipments. I haven’t needed the split seat facility, but the electrically operated remote boot lock would have been appreciated to save removing the ignition key each time. Hatchbacks are available in either 1,000 c.c. two-door versions or three or five-door 1,300 C.C. forms. The test car Is a 1300 DL three-door, which cost £2,399 3 year ago, inflated today to £2,720. Some comparative 1300 three-door prices are: Chrysler Sunbeam 1.3GL, £2,702; Ford Fiesta I.3S and 1.3 Ghia, £3,041 and £3,460 respectively; Vauxhall Chevette GL, £2,759 and GLS, £2,978.
The Mazda is slightly larger than the Chevette and Sunbeam, with which it shares rear-wheel drive. Its length is 156 inches, width 65 inches and height 56 inches. These dimensions have suited me ideally; not to much a mini car, more a compromise between that and a medium-sized car. It remains small enough to nip easily through London traffic and park in modest spaces, in which it is helped by an excellent steering lock, but does not have the cramped, claustrophobic feel of a really small car. In fact its spaciousness is amazing, the rear seats capable of holding three adults comfortably, leaving them generous knee room more than in most large saloons with the front seats well back. Front scat room occupants have equal freedom in elbow and leg room, the lofty superstructure gives Plenty of headroom front and rear and the overall feeling of airy spaciousness is helped by a vast window area, which lightens the interior and gives first class all round visibility. The doors are SO wide in the three-door version that it’s just Possible to squeeze into the rear seats without tipping the front seat back rests. Japanese ingenuity has slipped in the design of this tipping facility: ‘while the passenger seat slides forward sensibly when the back rest catch which works on the reclining mechanism is released by the side lever or rear treadle, neither the squab nor the. back rest return automatically to their original position; only the back rest moves with the driver’s seat tipping facility and again this works On the reclining mechanism, which has to be reset each time. I have read complaints that the doors on the three-door are too wide, in so much as they need a wide space to open into, and catch the wind too easily, but I don’t concur: the ease of access they offer is well worth such slight inconvenience.
Generous leg room is afforded to some extent at the expense of boot space. But the main reason for the fully-carpeted boot being only just adequate in size at least with the rear parcel shelf in place is its shallowness, for the 8.8 gallon fuel tank and spare wheel lie under its floor. On the other hand, the rear seat, released by a simple catch at the Side, does fold very nearly flat, unlike those of most hatchbacks, to give a very usable floor area when this versatile car is used as an estate car. On several occasions when the Mazda has shared my drive with Chevettes, the Japanese hatchback has won on carrying capacity. The high tail-board is a nuisance for loading (this is where the Fiesta scores), though inconvenience is offset somewhat by the width of the wrap-around tailgate, which enabled me to carry the great bulk of a Jaguar Mk. I front wing, with the tailgate slightly open. I doubt whether any of the Mazda’s contemporaries could have managed that task. A single hydraulic strut assists the heavy tailgate in opening and supports it out of head-bumping height. The neat, stiff, carpeted parcel shelf lifts automatically with the tailgate with the aid of two, clever, spring-loaded, retractable straps and is easily removable.
So much for the space and versatility of this little Mazda; the first Japanese car designed specifically with the European market in mind (see Motor Sport, March 1977). Turning to the mechanical front, it is very conventional by European standards; the good news is that it eschews the floppy leaf springs and poor axle location of most Japanese live axle cars. Four links, a Panhard rod and vertical, telescopic shock-absorbers and coil springs control the live axle on this model, in good Opel/Vauxhall fashion. A simple McPherson strut, coil spring and anti-roll bar suspension system is fitted at the front.
The front-hinged bonnet covers a very accessible and workmanlike-looking in-line, four cylinder engine, its chain-driven single overhead camshaft and aluminium cylinder head capped by an imposing alloy cover. This 75 mm. x 73 mm, 1,272 C.C. unit delivers 60 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and 68.7 ft. lb. torque at 3,500 r.p.m., 1 1/2 b.h.p. and 0.7 ft. lb. more than the Chevette, the top of the range hatchback version of which weighs over a hundredweight more than this deluxe three-door Mazda.
This Japanese hatchback set off on the right foot with me right from delivery. Try as I would, I could not find anything wrong with it on visual examination. Not a chip of paint missing, not a spot of rust to be seen anywhere in spite of its long sea journey, not a streak of glue or ill-fitting piece of trim or carpet to mar the very attractive interior. In short it was exactly as a new car should be: perfect. It was in marked contrast to my last two new cars, a TR6 and my current Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce and my wife’s series of Escorts. Now, 10,000 miles may not sound a large mileage for one year’s motoring (a fraction of my total annual mileage); in fact much London motoring has meant that the hours spent on the road are out of proportion to the mileage. It has been washed reasonably regularly, polished once, has spent most of its life outside, has been through winter’s salty ravages, has been roadtested by our sister journal Motoring News and has been thrashed unmercifully as a hack car. Yet one year later the paintwork, the brightwork, the perfectly fitted, thick pile, black carpets, the trim, are unbiemished. In a contrast which almost makes mee weep, my much loved and cosseted Alfa (twice the Mazda’s price today), in spite of being tucked away for the winter, has had chipped and blistered paintwork from the 3.000 mile mark and the driver’s side floor mat has worn through after 12,000 miles… The tin of touch-up paint in the Mazda’s toolkit has not been called upon; the paint is extremely tough and resilient, though close examination reveals an “orange peel” effect in the spraying.
Two delivery faults did come to light, however, a vibration from under the facia; and a very bad carburetter flat spot, such that light throttle openings gave no response. The vibration was cured and the flat spot partly cured at the 600-mile free service (at 712 miles). However, it was to transpire that these early hatchbacks had an inherent carburetter problem. TKP went back to Mazda’s base at Tunbridge Wells for carburetter attention at 2,500 miles and was returned with its part-throttle hesitancy still present. But Mazda in Japan claimed to have come up with a cure and at 4,300 miles TKP was fitted with a modified throttle pump plunger. This improved things, but some hesitancy and sluggishness remained. Matters came to a head at 7,000 miles when the engine started from cold on two cylinders: the offending plugs were fouled. Examination of the points disclosed that an 8 thou. feeler gauge wouldn’t pass through and it didn’t appear that they could have closed up voluntarily. With the plugs cleaned and the points re-set to the correct 20 thou. TKP ran better than she had from new, though excessive pinking revealed advanced ignition, which I hadn’t time to re-set.
The timing was re-set at the belated 6,000-mile service, at 7,640 miles, by Peppercorn Motors Ltd , St. Albans, my local Mazda dealers (Mazda had carried out the first service), who also freed the driver’s seat runners, reluctant to enter their forward notches, and cured occasional starter motor lethargy by tightening a solenoid connection. Peppercorn astounded me by completing the servicing in a morning I’d grown used to waiting days, or even weeks, for my 1R6 and Alfa to return back from service! The total bill, including labour, oil filter and oils came to £23.81, the only expenditure to date in 10,000 miles. Well, there had been another expenditure, no fault of the Mazda’s, when a sheet of steel thrown up by a lorry cut through the front spoiler. It took six weeks to obtain a new spoiler, which Peppercorn replaced in a mere days, including spraying the new steel to a tough perfect match. Peppercorn’s first class service is an object lesson: if you want good service, go to a small garage, not a conglomerate; whilst Leyland and others have been putting their marketing eggs into big baskets, the Japanese have been gathering up the small, conscientious dealers left in their wake.
Peppercorn’s service considerably improved the cold-start warm up. Although the engine had always been an instant starter, it had required full to half choke for two or three miles to prevent stalling and re-starts. Now only a small amount of choke is needed to keep the engine happy for a while after the first half mile. The engine accepts two star fuel, which it would not before the ignition was set correctly not suprisingly but the quality of the two star seems to vary considerably, some still causing pinking. More often than not I use three star, for safety. The overall fuel consumption has worked out at 28.5 m.p.g. which reflects unfairly on the true capabilites of’ anything up to 40 m.p.g. simply because of the amount of London traffic driving and the fact that out of London the poor little thing is usually driven flat out!
By the standards of Chevettes and Fiestas the chassis behaviour is not particularly good, yet it is adequate enough, when taken in the context of an otherwise first class package, not to mar the great affection I have developed for this bright little car. In fact it can be cornered very quickly in the dry, albeit with its 155SR 13, Bridgestone steel-braced radials squealing merrily and the heavy glass area encouraging roll. The weight in the top of the body can be felt too when quick changes of direction are called for. Traction is good and there is none of the axle hop or judder of many Japanese cars. Like Illgst Japanese cars, this Mazda has recirculating ball steering, in this ease of variable ratio, and it is this that lets don the car more than any other factor. There
vagueness in the straight ahead position and pe[ caster return; only when turning forces are pi into it does it become reasonably acceptabt which is why I felt happy enough with it on Tor Kogyo’s handling circuit in Japan. On the othi hand, the servo-assisted, dual circuit brakes at marvellous. They are light yet have excellent fee balance and stopping power. In to,000 miles( very hard punishment they have not deteriorate at all. Such performance is all the mot surprising because the front discs are of only 6: in. diameter. The handbrake continues t perform perfectly on the 8.2 in. rear drums.
‘rutting problems apart the o.h.e. engine is very willing performer, light on oil, of which i sounds starved for the first second after startini and with a feeling of unburstability. In fact hiss to be held back at the peak of its top gat performance to stop the speedometer needl travelling all too easily way beyond the last 9 m.p.h. digit. It will, and does, cruise contented1 (with noise reservations which follow` at a indicated 85 m.p.h., while 70 m.p.h. comes up ti third gear. The four-speed gearbox is delightfull, light and precise in typical Japanese fashion although second gear synchromesh is lazy whei the oil is cold, and the clutch operation is i0C8 for a light-footed lady. Much town use ha caused a touch of judder to appear when th clutch is eased in slowly.
Unfortunately, the Mazda’s good performano and comfort is marred by excessive noise s speed. There is body resonance in the 55-6: m.p.h. bracket and that hard-working engine afil transmission certainly make themselves heard Yet wind noise is not too obtrusive. Here is tu ideal case for some sort of interior sound deadening kit to finish off an otherwise vet; comfortable and well-appointed motor car Another, but costly, idea for Mazda GB would Is to import the five-speed gearbox version whid offers longer, quieter legs in other Mazd! markets. Garish, fairgroundlike interiors seem to b part and parcel of most Japanese cars. Tb Mazda’s interior was designed to suit Europea tastes and it has certainly pleased me. The higl back front seats and driving position arc ver. comfortable, the metal-spoked steering wheel he a soft rim which really does feel like leather, bit isn’t., all the seats have bright, yet tastefull! harmonised tartan cloth inserts and even mock wood strip along the padded black facia ha failed to offend me. A Clarion radio is built intl the strip and deserves comment because th strength of its reception (if not its tone) particularly between the City of London offie blocks, is superior in my experience to that some of the most expensive radios on the market A lidded glove locker on the passenger side lack a lock and there is a useful, open shelf in th centre of the facia, with a clever, hidda document shelf beneath it. Instrumentation i simple: a 90 m.p.h. speedometer with button te11 reset and a matching dial containing fuel temperature gauges, the latter parking its needl peculiarly beyond hot with the ignition off. Al electric clock, slow running on the test cat confronts the passenger. Controls are easy an’ convenient: a knob on the right operates PO speed wipers, washers, indicators, flash and dil switch; on the left, a long stalk for the main ligh control and a pull out knob for hazard warnin lights. Of two knobs on,the right of the facia, on pulls out to switch the rear screen wiper an turns to operate its twin jet washer; the secou looks after the heated rear screen. The reel
screen washer reservoir is tucked away behind a Bap in the side of the boot and can be lifted out for filling. The hand tools share the same compartment, while the jack is stowed conveniently under the bonnet. Other little touches of luxury are door pulls/arm-rests, little Oddments trays by the side of each seat, a coin tray in the top of the facia, a dipping rear view interior mirror and door mirror, roof-mounted grab handles and a coat hook, instrument light rheostat, cigarette lighter, a flimsy lockable flap to the fuel filler, inertia reel seat belts, reversing lamps, strong towing eyes front and rear the list is extraordinarily comprehensive. Another piece of errant metal thrown up by a Passing vehicle reminded that the screen is laminated. One problem on delivery I had forgotten about concerned the heater, the water valve for which would not close completely. A Production modification cured this. Initially the heating and ventilation was a disappointment, which I have now come to terms with. The engine runs on the cool side (too cool for my liking), so that the heater temperature is not overpowering, hut It does build up. Air extraction is poor, largely because the extractor vents are hidden in the sides of the boot, where they are blocked off when the parcel shelf is in position. The large window area soon mists up when more than one Perao. n is carried in wet weather. Condensation is quickly shifted if the second heater speed is employed on the demist position, when small, side wIndow demister vents in the screen pillars work well: The heater controls are clearly illuminated a.t. night. An adequate volume of cool air can be atrecterl at face and feet by fresh air vents at each
end of the facia and if the through-flow extractor vents prove inadequate in summer, the rear side windows can be opened.
All in all I am thoroughly enamoured of this smooth-running pleasant little Mazda Hatchback 3ooDI„ which strikes ine as a very honest, well made car with an endearing character, to which everybody who has driven it has been attracted. It is extraordinarily well equipped, spacious and comfortable, although like most small cars its ride is choppy on bumpy roads if not so bad as the Fiesta and Chevette. My only criticisms of consequence are of its somewhat vague steering and the high noise level at speed, both of which are livable with (indeed, my wife and other less pernickety drivers than I do not complain about the steering), the second of which ought to be easily cured if some firm can be persuaded to produce an interior sound-proofing kit. Better still, of course, Mazda should do this at base! All in all, a car of excellent value for money and a salutary lesson that the Japanese build good as well as cheap cars. British manufacturers have just cause to be nervous. C.R.