Mazda first introduced their cars into the UK in 1969. Those who are technically inclined would have been fascinated with their range of Rotary engined cars, but unsurprisingly the standard combustion engine cars were the ones that supported the company through tough times. All of the Japanese car companies had seen a steady increase in UK sales throughout the ‘80s but curiously Mazda literally remained consistent with around 17,000 UK imports per year. This may have been a cap on sales due to an agreement with Ford Europe, as it seems like a very specific number to be a coincidence. Both brands were treated as separate entities in Europe during the time, so many buyers were unaware that the companies swapped badges in some markets. With the exception of the ancient 929, all of their family cars sold in the UK could be bought with a Ford badge. The late ‘80s range was a strong line-up, with some competitive cars in the key sectors.
The entry-level car, the 121, was quietly announced in early 1988 with 3 trim levels. Its breakaway upright styling offered excellent interior space, a fact not lost on Kia who used the design as part of their export drive.
Next in the pecking order was the Escort sized 323 and was Mazda’s volume seller here. Now in its 10th year, the 323 was available as a hatchback, saloon and estate.
While not a car noted for its ride, it fulfilled the tasks asked of it and thanks to its decent build, it survived in reasonable numbers well into the 2000s.
The production of the estate versions carried on into the ‘90s, overlapping with the replacement models.
Homologation 4×4 versions also gave the brand a reasonable presence on the rally scene too.
Helping to improve Mazda’s image with a gradual shift upmarket was the new 626. Technically brimming with some genuine innovation, they were well equipped and used lively engines.
Sold with four body styles, it seems a little unfair that they are largely forgotten today.
The coupe was rarity in this sector, with the technically advanced but slow selling GT being the last 626 coupe produced.
It’s likely that sales of the 626 suffered due to a self-emposed limit in imports, most likely as an agreement between Mazda and Ford.
In its last year in 1987, the 929 was a curio from the late ‘70s. RWD and based on a long-obsolete model, it’s the sole reason to exist was to offer a large estate in the line-up. Very few were sold, but the quality and build made it an exceptional value.
The final car in the line-up was the sole Rotary-engined models still sold in Europe, the RX7. Sold as fixed head coupe and cabriolet, the car offered a good combination of pace and quality.
Its handsome styling was used as a basis for the iconic MX5, and these MK2 versions are recognised as classics today, although finding unmodified versions may prove difficult.