[ Sporty Kei-Car’s ABC ]
Autozam “AZ-1”, Honda “Beat” & the Suzuzuki “Cappuccino”
( The AZ-1, Beat and Cappuccino were collectively known as the Sporty K-Car’s “A-B-C” )
(A) A u t o z a m A Z – 1
( 1 9 9 2 – 1 9 9 5 )
(B) H o n d a B e a t
( 1 9 9 1 – 1 9 9 6 )
(C) S u z u k i C a p p u c c i n o
( 1 9 9 1 – 1 9 9 7 )
From 1991-1997 the kei-car market for sports cars was at its height in Japan. First on the scene came the mid-engined Honda Beat in May 1991, followed by the front engined Suzuki Cappuccino (EA11R) in October 1991. The Autozam AZ-1 (PG6 SA) also known as the AZ550, came along in October 1992 and was rear-engined like the Beat. The AZ-1 prototypes were produced during the 550cc era, hence the 550 suffix . The 1993 Suzuki Cara (PG6 SS) which was a badge engineered version of the AZ-1, had minor changes which included neat looking additional foglamps. All three cars were rear-wheel drive (RWD), with near perfect weight distribution and excellent handling. The Cappuccino had perfect 50/50 weight distribution when both seats were occupied.
The Honda Beat’s 656cc EO7A 13 (40.0 cu in) transverse mid-engine avoided use of turbo’s or superchargers, unlike the other two cars which used turbo chargers. It was modified with the MTREC (Multi Throttle Responsive Engine Control) system, with individual throttle bodies for each of the three cylinders, which produced 64 PS (63 bhp) at 8,100 rpm with an electronically limited top speed of 135 km/h (84 mph). The MTREC design was later used on the 1993 Honda Today. The Beat was sold exclusively through the “Honda Primo” dealerships. The Beat was the last car to be approved by Soichiro Honda before he died in 1991. There were 2 mainstream models of the Beat, the PP1–100 and the PP1–110 and a couple of limited edition versions. Variations on the 1st model were just cosmetic updates. Only the 2nd model had any real mechanical differences. All cars were offered with the option of a driver’s side airbag.
On May 9th 2010, a parade was held in the Twin Ring Motegi circuit as a part of an annual Beat owners meeting. 569 Honda Beats participated in the parade, which is certified by Guinness World Records as the largest parade ever of Honda cars. The record was shown in the 2011 edition of Guinness World Records.
The AZ-1 was actually manufactured by Suzuki, but was sold by Mazda under its Autozam brand name. The car was designed by Tatsumi Fukunaga and Toshiko Hirai who were also responsible for the MX-5. The AZ-1 and Cappuccino both shared the 657cc DOHC 12v (double overhead cam) F6A 13 engine and were turbocharged and intercooled. Power output was 63 hp (47 kW/64 PS) at 6500 rpm and 85 N/m (63 lb/ft) at 4000 rpm. The Suzuki sourced 3-cylinder engine was also used on the then current Mazda Carol. The car was made available to the buying public on September 1992, with two colour options, Siberia Blue and Classic Red. Both colours came with Venetian Gray lower panels. Each car was sold through the Autozam dealer network in Japan.
Unfortunately by the time car came into production, the recession in Japan had just come into force. Selling for 1,498,000¥ (the equivalent of £11,256), it was slightly less than a Eunos Roadster (MX5), but marginally higher than its competitor, the Honda Beat selling at 1,388,000¥ (£10,430) and the Suzuki Cappuccino at 1,458,000¥ (£10,956), the AZ-1 was considered to be both too expensive and too cramped for a kei car. The car failed to sell within its target of 800 per month. Production of the car ended after the following year, but Mazda still had plenty of stock to sell off. With the total production of 4,392 over a year, plus 531 for the Cara version compared to 28,010 for the Cappuccino and 33,600 for the Beat, makes the AZ-1 the rarest of the kei sports cars. All three cars had manual transmission and only the Cappuccino offered an automatic gearbox.
The dream of re-creating a sporting image for Suzuki began in 1987 and within 2 years the “project car” was shown for the first time at the Tokyo Motor Show. Suzuki intentionally designed the Cappuccino just for the Japanese market. Production of the Cappuccino started in October 1991 at the Kosai Plant. The car had the designation SX306, and the model identification EA11R (incorporated in the VIN). The sales launch of the Cappuccino was November 1991 in Japan, with the advertising theme: “fulfilling one’s dream of owning a stylish and very affordable 2 seater sportscar“. The first 2 years (1991–92) saw 15,113 cars produced and 13,318 (or 88% of production) were sold in Japan.
The Cappuccino was the only car to be exported abroad, mainly to Great Britain. In 1991 Suzuki GB opened discussions with the Suzuki Motor Corporation about launching the car in the United Kingdom and meeting the needs of British National Type Approval (NTA). It took 18 months of negotiation and technical co-operation between SMC and SGB to get the Cappuccino type approved and homologated. UK Cappuccino’s had 23 adaptations made to the Japanese model in order to conform to British NTA standards with the work being done at the Kosai Plant and at the Suzuki Import Centre. In October 1992 the Cappuccino had its first public viewing outside Japan, at the British International Motor Show. At the show, the Cappuccino won two prestigious IBCAM Design awards : “best sportscar under £20,000” and “best car of show”. In October 1993 the Cappuccino was officially launched in the UK with a price of £11,995. Due to the car’s initial success in Japan, and the tight import quota of Japanese products to the UK, the original allocation of 1,500 cars was cut to 1,182. The cars were either Red (80%) or Metallic Silver (20%). Between 1993–1995 a total of 1,110 cars were registered in the UK, but later unsold stocks were also sold to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.
In 1995 tougher emission controls were set by the European Commission, which led to the unsold cars having to be registered by 30th September 1995. Any unregistered cars after that date would have had to be re-homologated. Discussions took place between SMC and Suzuki distributors in Europe to assess and “value” the necessary changes for the Cappuccino to meet these new emission levels. The corporate decision was made not to proceed with a revised European version due to the vast expense involved and lack of economy of scale due to the limited production run. Also in 1995, Suzuki brought out a newer lighter EA21R engine, which had chain-driven camshafts, slightly increased torque, lighter wheels and optional 3-speed automatic transmission with power steering.
Body wise, the Pininfarina designed Beat appealed to the younger generation with its quirky interior, white dials and generous cabin space. The Cappuccino had three removable roof panels, so it could be configured as a closed coupe, split roof, targa top or with the rear window folded away as a full convertible. By far the most unusal was the gull-wing door design of the AZ-1. It definitely had the wow factor, but the cabin space was quite cramped.
” Galleries , Prototypes & Variations “
“Autozam” Suzuki prototypes : The idea for the AZ-1 goes as far back as 1985 when Suzuki created the Suzuki RS/1 as a midship sports car project for volume production. Suzuki went as far to design the car for the Tokyo Motor Show more than just a design exercise, they designed the car to be functional with a front/rear weight distribution of 45:55. This was followed up by the Tatsumi Fukunaga designed RS/3, unveiled for the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show, retaining many of the design features of the predecessor but many of its design features were worked on to meet Japanese safety regulations as well as being a practical sports car. Unfortunately, the project was abandoned in favour of the roadster project they had been working on, namely the Suzuki Cappuccino. Mazda’s design team, led by Toshiko Hirai, took over the design project, despite having a limited budget and capacity.
AZ550 Type A
AZ550 Type B
AZ550 Type C
Mazda prototypes: The redesigned cars, constructed in tube frame with floors and bulkheads constructed from aluminium honeycomb, were clad in three different bodystyles constructed in fibreglass. First introduced at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show as the AZ-550 with three versions, the first one of these, the Type A was a red sports car with pop-up headlights, a front air vent and a distinctive Ferrari Testarossa inspired side strakes and of course the distinctive gull-wing doors. The Type B, themed as “High-tuned pure sports“, was inspired by the trends in the tuning industry and in current concept car designs, featuring a see through roof without a rearward sweep to the C-pillar. It had a racing car inspired interior, unlike Type A, it was aiming for the rough and spartan look and was the only model with a more conventional forward hinging door. It featured a pair of bulging headlamps and incorporated twin silencers. The Type C, had a more distinctive body design as it was inspired by Mazda’s Group C sports prototype racers, incorporating its signature colour scheme of blue on white and the number it bore at the Le Mans 24 hours. It featured a bigger air intake, venting to the forward positioned radiator and exits along the front rim of the cowl. There were many design cues typical to an endurance racer such as the wing mirror and BBS style brake-cooling wheel discs. Compared to the Type B, this version was far more spartan in comparison.
Pre-production: As the cars were well received by the visiting public and the motoring press, Mazda executives decided on production of the car. Although the Type C was the better received of the three, it was the Type A which was given the green light by executives as they believed that it would be the one most commercially accepted by the buying public. The Type A would only receive a minor design alteration prior to production, as the pop-up headlights were dropped in favour of fixed units, purely for structural rigidity reasons. The front air vent was also a design alteration made to the car prior to production. The car took 3 years to get into production as the engineering team changed the car’s internal skeleton frame to steel to allow for further rigidity. The dashboard design was also changed, to a less futuristic but still sporting look. Much of the development work was carried out in the United Kingdom despite the fact it was never intended for sale outside Japan.
Alternative versions : In a bid to shift unsold stock, Mazda made an effort to produce special versions. First to come was the Type L option, featuring an enhanced audio system including a sub-woofer in the boot. There were no exterior changes made to the car.
Suzuki Cara: The AZ-1 was also sold by Suzuki as the Cara, with only minor detail changes including the addition of fog lamps let into the bonnet.
left – AZ-1, right – CARA
Beat standard equipment included air conditioning, power windows, 3-point seat belt, sun visor, front stabilizer, front laminated glass, side-toughened glass, halogen head lamps, soft top, and standard steel wheels. There were however 3-variations : The Februaty 1992, “Version F” which featured Aztec Green Pearl body paint and alloy wheels. The May 1992, “Version C” featured Captiva Blue Pearl body paint and white alloy wheels. In May 1993 “Version Z”, featured Blade Silver Metallic body paint or Evergrade Green Metallic, 3 black gauges, mud guards, a rear spoiler, exhaust pipe finisher, and alloy wheels.
Both EA11R and EA21R (MT only) versions of the Cappuccino had optional “high specification” BA variants, which came with an airbag for the driver, ABS on all 4 wheels, a limited-slip differential and (in some cases) power-operated door mirrors. There were 3 limited editions of the EA11R, offering variations of colour and trim, the later two had power steering.
Japanese manufacturers have recently introduced updated sports cars in the kei-car sports segment, namely the Daihatsu Copen (2nd Generation) in 2014 and recently the Honda S660 in 2015. It has been rumoured that a left hand drive (LHD) 1,000 cc version of the Honda S660 could be made and exported to the USA. The future for kei-class sports cars is looking good !!