Until recently Mazda were undoubtedly very much the poor relation of the three Japanese companies importing cars into Britain. They lagged far behind the booming Toyota and Datsun rivals, operating only out of small premises in North London, They seemed to think that the suggestion that they might lend us, or almost any other motoring publications for that matter, a road-test car to be rather forward and didn’t seem Very keen on selling cars to customers either. This was a great shame for, while Mazda lag behind their two big rivals in Japan, they are, nevertheless, a very forward-thinking firm with some interesting models Their Mazda RX3 rotary-engined car is certainly a most exciting vehicle which is currently enjoying a great deal of success both at home and in places like the USA and South Africa where the importers are well established.
However, things are changing rapidly here in Britain for recently a group of businessmen, led by Tom Buchanan who was previously involved with Volkswagen GB management, took over the concessionaires, Industria Ltd., who also import Wartburgs, and already have started to put Mazda on the map. Readers may have noticed the recent advertising campaign in national newspapers while newer and more spacious premises have been acquired, the dealership network is being widened and improved, while press cars are now freely available.
We hope to try an RX3 as soon as possible but meanwhile an 818 Coupe came our way for ten days and provided reliable and perky transport. The 818 Coupe is basically a conventional piston-engined version of the RX3. Introduced just three months ago at £1,250 it is a lively 1,300-c.c. fastback coupe in the Capri mould although rather smaller, With a good specification of standard “extras”. The one main disadvantage with the car seemed to be its coupe Shape. The mom in the back may suit the Japanese but British six-footers find the head-room severely cramped and the rear three-quarters vision was not only restricted but bordering on the dangerous, particularly when the car misted up, which was something it tended to do.
As we mentioned, the 818 shares its light but rigid bodyshell with the RX3 but has a different radiator grille and lamp arrangement. The wheel arches are mildly flared and there are some rather nasty air extractor vents located on each side of the rear windscreen. The interior is slightly “1930 Theatre Organ” but not nearly so had in this respect as some other Japanese cars. The coupe, unlike the 4-door saloon version, has a rev.-counter to match the speedometer and high-back front seats with integral headrests which were finished in an unpleasant black material but were perfectly comfortable and had plenty of fore and aft movement as Well as being widely adjustable for rake.
The controls fell easily to hand and foot. The handbrake and gear-lever (with leather gaiter) are in a central console. What is described as a “rally style” steering wheel is fitted and on the steering column are two Stalks. On the right is a multi-purpose one operating the main beam/dip, headlight flasher, windscreen wipers and washers. On the left-hand side of the column is a shorter stalk which controls the lights, having three positions—off, sidelights and headlights. This rather Unusual control had us a little confused at first and one tended to turn all the lights off rather than switch from side to full-beam. The horn was in the rim of the steering wheel and because it was rather too prominent the horn got blown several times by mistake. The central instruments indicating water temperature, amps and fuel were lit by a bright blue light at night, and under them was a British Radiomobile radio (why not a Hitachi ?), and the heater and demist control which we never did master. Fresh-air swivel vents, a glove compartment, plus an additional shelf under it, completed the dashboard lay-out.
The 818 has a spacious engine compartment in which is housed the 1,272-c.c. four-cylinder in-line overhead camshaft engine plus the all-synchro 4-speed gearbox. Although the compression ratio is 9.2 to 1, the engine is happy on cheap two-star petrol thanks to the multi-spherical combustion chambers in their aluminium cylinder head. The head is a crossflow design and is fed by two Stromberg carburetters. At the bottom end there is a five-bearing SG iron crank. This modern engine gives a respectable 81 b.h.p. at 6,200 r.p.m. and the engine revs particularly freely. There is a sealed radiator which makes it unnecessary to change the water for 48,000 miles.
The suspension system is not radical but works extremely well, tending towards understeer. With more power, like that of the rotary engine for instance, things might well get a bit more hectic but in the 818 the handling is certainly adequate. There is a McPherson type strut system at the front while, at the rear, the axle is mounted on semi-elliptical leaf springs with bias-mounted gas-filled shock-absorbers. This does tend to give a very firm ride.
The braking is by discs at the front and drums at the rear and these pull the car up swiftly and square. The steering is light and positive and the car has a very small turning circle of only 28 ft. 6 in. The steering is by the recirculating ball system, a feature which Mazda prefer to rack and pinion. Mazda say they build their cars to last and amongst the other features of the 818 is a galvanised steel body which certainly should make a considerable difference to its longevity, and a laminated front screen. Both front and rear screens are specially bonded into the shell to add to body rigidity and make water leaks impossible.
The car definitely has sporting appeal with its happy revving engine. With 81 b.h.p. available it quickly accelerates to 90 m.p.h. and top speed is around 95 m.p.h., and generally the 818 is fun to drive. As we mentioned earlier the biggest drawback is the rear three-quarters Vision which makes town driving less than a pleasure, although someone taller than myself would probably not have the same problems. Rear passengers found the headroom in the rear very cramped indeed but commented favourably on the wind-down rear windows.
The Mazda 818 Coupe is reasonably priced at £1,250 and should find a ready sale amongst those who want something a little different. During our tenure it was 100% reliable. starting first time every time (full choke was required on cold mornings) and nothing either fell off or looked likely to. However, the car was only 1,100 miles old when we took delivery so really it should be in tip-top condition.
Obviously it would seem to have a good deal of potential in competitions, particularly rallying. arid perhaps we will see some official participation before long. At present Mazda are the fastest rising concessionaires in the Country and they deserve success. We look forward to trying the RX3 as soon as possible. – A.R.M.