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[ The A u t o z a m A Z – 1 ]
(1992 – 1995 Autozam AZ-1 Number Produced: 4,392)
The Autozam AZ-1 (PG6 SA) also known as the ‘Mazda AZ550‘, came along in October 1992 and was rear-engined like the Honda Beat of the same era. 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. The mid-engined rear-wheel-drive AZ-1 had near perfect weight distribution and excellent handling.
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 Mazda MX-5. The AZ-1 and the Suzuki Cappuccino both shared the 657cc DOHC 12v F6A 13 engine and were turbocharged and intercooled. Power output was 63 hp (47 kW/64 PS) @ 6,500 rpm and 85 N/m (63 lb/ft) @ 4,000 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 in September 1992 in 2 colour options, Siberia Blue and Classic Red. Both colours came with Venetian Gray lower panels. Each car was sold through the Autozam dealership network in Japan.
( 1993 – 1995 Suzuki Cara Number Produced: 531 )
Unfortunately by the time car came into production, the recession in Japan had just come into force. Selling for ¥1,498,000 (£11,256), it cost slightly less than the Mazda Eunos Roadster (MX5), but marginally higher than its competitor, the Honda Beat which sold 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 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.
By far the most unusual feature of the AZ-1 was the ‘gull-wing door design‘, it definitely had the wow factor, but the cabin space proved to be too cramped.
[ The 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 as to design the car for the Tōkyō Motor Show and it had 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 Tōkyō 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.
[ The Mazda Prototypes ]
The redesigned cars were constructed in a tube frame with floors and bulkheads constructed from aluminium honeycomb and were clad in 3 different bodystyles constructed in fibreglass. It was first introduced at the 1989 Tōkyō Motor Show as the AZ-550 in 3 versions.
The AZ550 Type ‘A’
The Type ‘A’ was a red sports car with pop-up headlights, a front air vent and distinctive Ferrari Testarossa inspired side strakes and of course the distinctive gull-wing doors.
The AZ550 Type ‘B’
The Type ‘B’, themed as a ‘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 and unlike the 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 AZ550 Type ‘C’
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 alike, Mazda executives decided on production of the car. Although the Type ‘C’ was the better received of the 3, 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.
[ The 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.
AZ-1 (left) / Cara (right)
The AZ-1 is also popular as a grey import in some markets, and has been converted to left-hand drive (LHD) for the Canadian and other left-hand drive markets.
The ‘Autozam/Cara/Mazda AZ-1‘ in Computer Games:
Kat’s Run – Zennihon K Car Senshuken (1995): 1991 AZ-1 in Gran Turismo 2 (’99): ’92 Autozam AZ-1 in Rally de Europe (2000): Choro Q HG (Gadget Racers) (’00): Sega GT (’00): Shutokou Battle 2 (Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2/Tokyo Highway Challenge 2) (’00): Shutokou Battle Zero (Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero) (’01): ’92 AZ-1 in まげるつけるはし～ (’02): ’91 AZ-1 in Kaido Battle (Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Drift) (’03): ’91 AZ-1 in Kaido Battle 2: Chain Reaction (Kaido Racer) (’04): ’92 AZ-1 in Gran Turismo 4 (’04): ’92 AZ-1 in Sega GT Online (’04): ’91 AZ-1 in Kaido Battle: Touge no Densetsu (Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Drift 2) (’05): ’92 AZ-1 in Gran Turismo 5 (2010): ’92 AZ-1 in Gran Turismo 6 (’13).
[ G A L L E R Y ]