Having been so favourably impressed by the Wankel-engined Mazda 110S (Motor Sport, April 1968), I was anxious to discover whether the Mazda 1500 saloon was equally advanced in the field of high-grade medium-capacity family saloons. I was able to put this to the test over a varied fortnight’s driving.
The ordinary as distinct from sports Mazda has a 4-cylinder 1,490-c.c. engine with a single chain-driven overhead camshaft and the “square” cylinder dimensions of 78 mm. bore and stroke. This neat power unit has a c.r. of 8.2 to 1, so that it is flexible, pulling away without protest from 20 m.p.h. in the high 4.11-to-1 top gear, and uses our lowest-octane fuels with very little audible alarm. This does not endow it with high performance, although the gross b.h.p. is 78, at 5,500 r.p.m., the Mazda driver having to be content with a top speed of about 93 m.p.h. and through-the-gears acceleration representing a s.s. ¼-mile in 20.7 sec. This calls for some concentration when passing in the faster traffic streams. As compensation, this is a quiet-running car and one that is very nicely finished within. It gives something of the impression of an imitation B.M.W., without the precise handling and snappy performance of the German car.
The clutch is extremely light to disengage, the gear-change very pleasing indeed, with control by a neat, non-spring-loaded, central lever. Reverse is quite easy to engage, to the left of the gate, against spring action. The hand-brake is a nasty pull-out under-facia affair for the left hand (on r.h.d. cars) which, however, holds well and has a warning light. The rather high steering wheel carries a half-horn-ring and operates fairly light, rather vague steering (3 5/8 turns, lock-to-lock, plus sponge) which isn’t helped by the tyres tending to follow road irregularities. In fact, the handling is poor, in an understeering manner which changes to final oversteer, especially on bad surfaces, and the Bridgestone 6.45 x 14 cross-ply low-profile whitewall tyres hang on better in the wet than might be expected, although grip is far from 100%. But I never felt entirely confident on slippery going, although the car corners quite well, with some roll. Moreover, while the ride is comfortable, there is too much karate massage and bad gear-lever oscillation on bad roads, akin to that experienced in some British saloons ten years ago. The test car had drum brakes, which were far too sudden unless carefully premeditated light pressure was exerted on the pedal, and they worked very unevenly. Before the end of the test they became very bad and obviously needed adjustment or relining.
The interior of the Mazda is very “B.M.W.-ish”, with big seats, the mock-woven vinyl upholstery of which is a good imitation of leather in looks and feel. The driver’s seat adjusted very easily fore and aft, and the squabs of the front seats are adjustable quite simply, except that the desired non-reclining setting needs manipulation by hand.
Generally these are decent seats, but the sunken cushion became uncomfortable on long runs. The carpeted floor and quality of the interior trim are good points, and there are roof-grabs, coat hooks, laminated screen, anti-dazzle mirror, good undersealing, etc. A narrow band of real matt-finished wood serves for a facia, on which instrumentation is simple and effective. Two main round dials, the speedometer of matt-black with white digits, with trip and total distance recorders, and a combined-services dial (ammeter, fuel gauge, thermometer, oil-gauge and the usual warning lights), constitute the instrumentation. Long flick-up switches, grouped three close together on the left of the steering-column and one on the right, look after, respectively, rheostat facia lighting, 2-speed wipers, electric screen-washers and lamps. It needed time to become accustomed to moving these up to the “on” position, especially as the facia light control went the opposite way. The washers give a very hearty squirt for some seconds after the control has been returned to “off”. A slender r.h. stalk controls controls turn-indicators and dips the headlamps.
The 5-bearing engine is smooth to in excess of 6,000 r.p.m. and quiet until approaching 60 in 3rd gear, but took its time starting from cold, even of the manual choke was fully out, and was sometimes difficult to get going even when warm. It has a Stromberg-Nikki downdraught twin-choke carburetter with a transparent float-chamber and two-stage action controlled by movement of the throttle-cum-manifold depression, which is unusual but worked without too apparent hesitation. It is fed by a Mitsubishi Denki electric pump. There is a four-lamp Koito lighting set, with inbuilt reversing lamps, and a very small GS battery is located accessibly under the bonnet and charged by a Prestolite-Mitsubishi alternator. The installation of the cross-flow o.h.c. engine is notably neat, with shielded exhaust manifold and a long, guided dip-stick being ahead of this. Nos. 2 and 3 plugs are well buried and the horizontal distributor rather inaccessible. The minimum servicing interval is 2,000 miles, although chassis greasing, of 12 points, is needed only once every 20,000 miles.
The forward-hinged bonnet lid releases easily and is self-supporting, and the spare wheel does not obstruct the spacious boot, the lid of which is unlocked by using one of the two keys, both of which, however, work the ignition. The locks function nicely, although the “friction-feel” of that in the driver’s door was a bit disconcerting, and there are sill interior-locks. Stowage within the Bertone body consists of a rather restricted tray before the front passenger and an illuminated drop-locker, big enough to take a Rolleiflex camera, with a lockable press-button above it on the facia. The heater involves four rotatable outlets on the screen sill, three vertical levers and a 3-speed fan, and can be set to a recirculatory system which obviates fumes entering the body—a good point. Knee-level rotatable cold-air vents are also fitted. A good tool-kit comes with the Mazda.
As to economy, the absolute range proved to be a very useful 349 miles, and the actual consumption of the cheapest-grade petrols was a most impressive 31.1 m.p.g., with 34 m.p.g. on one long run. The journal which reported that this car is heavy on fuel must have thrashed it unmercifully through the gears. As for oil, less than a quart was consumed in 1,100 miles. The fuel filler is a lockable flap without separate cap. The body is stylish, with slender pillars, wrap-round rear bumper, side-mounted turn-indicator repeaters and tamper-proof front quarter-lights; the radiator grille carries the M-badge, which is now getting quite well-known here.
Although personally I would not buy this Mazda 1500, especially at the price of nearly £994 for which it sells in Britain, finding it disappointing after the sheer pleasure of testing the 110S, after driving nearly 1,300 miles in this well-appointed, flexible and quiet saloon I shall be most interested to see what the Hiroshima company throws at us next—they are already putting disc brakes (badly needed!) on this 1500, and an electrically-operated radio aerial, and have introduced an estate-bodied version. The Japanese car manufacturers are learning fast, and already have mass-production techniques very well buttoned-up. Alas, at the end of the test this Mazda 1500 resolutely refused to start—no sparks. And a car which won’t start is useless, be it Mini or Silver Shadow. Apart from needing a rather stiffer body shell to cope with stiff conventional suspension; and better steering, road-holding and braking, this Mazda is an uncommonly good car, which will probably sell here on sheer individuality or “different-ness”.—W. B.