Road Report: The Mazda Montrose 2000 GLS Coupe

An impressive and desirable Oriental

As regular readers may recall, I am not over-anxious to publicise Japanese cars. But after another breakdown of the Editorial Rover 3500 had forced me first to drive home from the office in a Reliant Kitten Estate, rustled up by a daughter in this emergency, a little car which had more comfortable seats and powerful headlamps than I had remembered and which cruised at 55-60 m.p.h. while returning some 50 m.p.g., very useful under the prevailing circumstances, I went over to a Mazda Montrose GLS Coupe. David Palmer of Mazda Car Imports (GB) Ltd. had provided this for test while a colleague was gaining rotary-engine experience from the same willing source.

The Montrose is the Mazda model known in Japan as the Capella and in some countries as the Mazda 626. Here it is the Montrose, although someone did ask me how I was enjoying “the Oriental coupe Cortina”. The answer had to be, very much indeed, and I would be quite well able to enjoy doing the bulk of my driving in a Montrose. The car tested was the two-door coupe with the overhead-camshaft 2-litre (80 x 98 mm. = 1,970 c.c.) which gives 90 b.h.p. at a modest 4,800 r.p.m., although it can be taken safely to 6,000 r.p.m. according to the tachometer indication. It is interesting that in this very modern car, competitive with most of the other products in this popular class, Toyo Kogyo have used a power pack with a longer stroke than bore and one with a chain-driven o.h. camshaft. The valves are inclined in hemispherical combustion chambers in the aluminium head, with cross-gas-flow, and this four-cylinder engine has a five-bearing crankshaft, an iron block, a c.r. of 8.6 to 1, and is fed by a two-stage, twin-choke Nikki downdraught carburetter. On the 2-litre versions it drives through a five-speed gearbox, with Jatco automatic transmission as an alternative, and the car is sprung on coil springs at the front, with the live back axle on trailing-arms located by two upper torque rods, the springing medium again coil springs. Anti-roll bar and Panhard rod control roll. Braking is by a servo disc/drum system and the car was on Japanese Bridgestone 185 x 70 SR31 RD 706 steel-belted radial tyres, on 5 1/2J rims.

The Mazda bodywork was wind-tunnel-tested, the coupe having a claimed drag co-efficient as low as 0.38, and corrosion is fought not only with cathodic electro painting but by anti-corrosive oil applied to the inner door panels, plastic liners inside the front wheel arches, protectors between the metal contacts in corrosion-prone areas, and the covering and concealing of all sheet-metal joints. It seems to me very much the Japanese car which car manufacturers in other countries, including Britain, should study, to set what the opposition is like. . .

Because this Mazda Montrose coupe was in many areas a very impressive, and desirable, car. The first point to be noted was the quiet-idling (at 600 r.p.m.) of the engine, which once started instantly with the manual choke, could not be heard until it was opened up. The next item for approval was that this unobtrusive, smooth-functioning power unit required only two-star petrol, which it uses with notable economy. Then one couldn’t fail to appreciate the quality of the interior trim, in black, with neat instrumentation in a small binnacle before the driver. The tachometer reads to “8” and the m.p.h./k.p.h. speedometer to 110 m.p.h., with total and decimal-trip mileage recorders. The white needles and big black dials make for commendably easy readings. The thermometer and fuel gauge are uncalibrated, the latter slow to record and somewhat influenced by the angle of the car, so that I found its diminishing blue line disconcerting at first. (The fuel tank holds 55-litres or 11.8 gallons, providing a useful range of some 360 miles or more, and the filler-cap is under a self-locking flap — we are again in the era when this is a comforting item!). The rest of the controls and warning lamps are very neatly arranged and neat in size — two particularly welcome pieces of equipment are a Jeco quartz illuminated-digital clock, so easy to read at a glance — and you really can “kill time” by turning the ignition off! — and a press-button which so very conveniently opens the boot automatically, without using even the ignition key. The boot-lid also has a conventional lock. The doors have good locks, arm-rests, etc., and the interior cill-buttons are shaped as finger-grips.

Interior stowages consist of a big-lidded lockable cubby, a delightful driver’s “hidden” cubby with “roll-top” lid, a small open well behind the gear lever, a rather useless “hole” in the lower facia, door bins, and a small-lidded Ford-like box behind the brake lever. The roof lamp incorporates a map-reading beam for the driver. The through-flow ventilation and heating are controlled by substantial horizontal levers that bring the desired results, aided by a 3-speed fan. The small steering wheel has metal spokes set close together, and a laced “leather”-bound rim, the big horn push in its hub. The horn can be blown without switching on. The seats are large and comfortable and give a good impression of having leather outer facings with cloth upholstery. The equipment of this Mazda Montrose coupe is notably comprehensive, including as it does a laminated windscreen, tinted glass, heated back window, adjustable head-restraints, reclining seats (to a “bedded” position), with lumbar support and cushion-height adjusters, cigarette lighter, radio with very neat galvanised aerial, intermittent screen wiper action, instrument lighting dimmer, side demisting, full-width carpets, flashers repeaters on the body sides, an electrically-adjustable door mirror on a substantial mounting, child-proof locks, reversing lights, front and rear tow hooks, headlamp washers, Cibie Iode H4 halogen headlamps and a front/rear air dam. One neat key serves all purposes. The test-car was in a rather un-sober fire-engine red, with the prominent bumpers with rubber inserts in black. The coupe measures 169.4″ long, by 52.9″ high, by 65.3″ wide, with a 98.8″ wheelbase, and front and rear tracks, respectively, of 53.9″ and 54.3″. It weighs 1,045 kg. ready to drive.

On the road this Montrose is as impressive as it is on paper. The old bogies of so many Japanese cars, poor springing and weak braking, have gone. The only possible criticism of the former is a slight lateral movement at times; the brakes are reasonably efficient under very light pedal action. The steering is clever, inasmuch as it is not power-assisted but feels light enough to be so. This is achieved by a low-ratio for the ball-type reduction gear, which gives a lock-to-lock movement of 4 1/2-turns of the wheel with a little free-play, yet this is not apparent when driving the car, helped as it is by excellent castor-return. The only drawback is the very slight excess movement at times, against that which a rack-and-pinion system would give. The turning circle is the satisfactory one of 9.6 metres.

This quiet-running Mazda gets along exceedingly well, going to nearly 110 mp.h. and accelerating to 60 m.p.h. from test in 10.8 seconds. The well-placed gear lever, spring-loaded to the gate centre, enables the five-speed gearbox to be enjoyed, for the change is a very nice one, apart from occasional baulking when at rest, and difficulty in getting reverse at times. Fifth speed is towards the driver in a r.h.d. car, with reverse back from it. The clutch action is light and smooth. The 2-litre Montrose is geared 3.214 to 1 in this very useful fifth gear, which means an engine speed of 3,200 r.p.m. at an indicated 70 m.p.h. This is achieved by a gear-up from the normal top gear, which is 3.636 to 1. I call this a very useful five-speed gearbox deliberately, because in these petrol-scarce days it is an asset not only as a means of achieving a restful cruising speed but as a fuel-saver. In this respect the Mazda Montrose engine is quite remarkable — it not only idles so inaudibly that one has to be careful not to try to start it when it is already running, but it is so flexible that fifth speed can actually be held down to the very low engine speed of 1,300 r.p.m. without distress.

Mazda use two control stalks, the l.h. one for the lighting, the more substantial r.h. one for wipers, washers, horn, and flashers. If the lamps are left on with a door open, a musical chime reminds the driver not to vacate the car in the garage for instance with the lights alight. The release for the light, front-hinged self-supporting bonnet-lid is correctly placed. The open bonnet reveals very accessible oil-filler, dip-stick, plugs, battery and belt-driven Mitsubishi alternator. There is a plastic cowl around the cooling fan and a rather crude metal undertray beneath the engine, which got dusty but not muddy. No oil was needed, it hardly needs to be said these days, in more than 600 miles. The roof-line is rather low for susceptible heads. The Montrose is not only a charming car, it has notable “character”.

The Montrose body has a high area of glass, the curved side windows of almost frail unsupported appearance, so vision is good. The boot is rather shallow but wide, with the spare wheel below its floor. The wide door’s have just-adequate “keeps”. The fuel pump can be heard ticking with the ignition on, disconcerting until one realises it does this even with a full fuel tank. I found it difficult to check petrol thirst over the full mileage, in an age when continual topping-up or asking for fuel in cans isn’t on, but I got a figure of 34m.p.g. on a long journey — of two-star remember, using economy methods to some degree. This set the seal to my high opinion of the Mazda Montrose. There are cars which are more enjoyable to press fast round corners, but this compact, handsome coupe behaves very well, understeering only slightly and displaying scarcely any roll. It commands competitive prices for replacements, such as £3.73 for an oil-filter, £6.90 for a set of brake-pads, £1.80 for a fan belt, not allowing for VAT. Inexpensive Mazda insurance is available. Service intervals are 7,500 miles, chassis lubrication at 30,000 miles, warranty, 12 months or 12,000 miles. The price of the car itself is another pleasant surprise — now £5,163.28. – W.B.

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The Six-Hour Relay Race

That British club motor racing institution, the Seven Fifty Motor Club’s Six-Hour Relay Race, has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, after a period in the doldrums, so much so that many teams have had to be turned away from this year’s race at Donington Park on Sunday, October 7th.

No less than 26 teams, with up to six cars in each, will be contesting this battle of endurance. Teams representing one-make clubs predominate and the cars range from pre-war classics like the Le Mans and Ulsters of the Team Martini Aston Martin Owners Club, to the latest big-performance cars.

The race starts at noon and admission charges are £1.00 for adults and 50p for children, inclusive of Paddock entry. A good spectator attendance is vital, for the Seven Fifty MC has been warned that the availability of Donnington for 1980 depends upon good spectator support this year.