June 04, 2015 @ 05:18 PM

Legends and Legacies: Mazda AZ-1

This week let’s revisit one of the unique kei cars of the 90s, the gullwinged Mazda AZ-1. By Jerrica Leong

This week let’s revisit one of the unique kei cars of the 90s, the gullwinged Mazda AZ-1. By Jerrica Leong

Kei cars, one of those phenomenon that took over the motoring world back in the 90s. If you’re new to the world of all things four wheels you’re probably wondering what a kei car is. Well, kei cars are a category of small vehicles from Japan that includes anything from passenger carriers to microvans and pickup trucks. The most famous kei cars back in the day were a trio of models that were nicknamed ABC, namely the Mazda AZ-1, the Honda Beat and the Suzuki Cappucino.
Mazda’s kei car contender came along in 1992, a year after the Beat and the Cappucino took over the Japanese market with its size and tiny engine. Sadly for the little AZ-1, its equally little competitors had a longer lifespan than it. A combination of high price and recession had brought around a quick axe for the AZ-1 in 1994. The short lifespan made the 4392 units of AZ-1s sold a collector’s favourite in the present day.
Mazda’s AZ-1 is actually a joint venture with Suzuki. While Mazda is in charge of the looks and assembly of the car Suzuki had been the one to provide the power plant. According to kei car regulations, the AZ-1 measure only 3295mm long, 1400mm wide and has a wheelbase of 2235mm. It stands only 1150mm tall, if you’re thinking that the car measures lower than a Lamborghini you’re right!
The AZ-1 is so small that anybody above the height of 175cm would suffer from claustrophobia when sitting in the car. Word is that it is so small inside that you’re required to roll down the windows via your left arm in you’re sitting in the driver’s seat! Getting inside the car is not easy either. The gullwing doors that were unique to the AZ-1 required you to sit on the side sill of the car before squeezing yourself into seats that are set lower than the door sill. In other words, I cannot fathom a person taller than my 159cm living with the car on a daily basis!
As like any kei car, the AZ-1 turbocharged engine provided by Suzuki dispenses 63bhp at 6500rpm and a maximum torque of 85Nm at 4000rpm. Couple that three cylinder engine with a five-speed manual, the AZ-1 kicks off from 0 to100kph in 9.2 seconds. Those numbers may not impress you but when you’re zipping around a kei car that weighs 720kg it is more about the enjoyment of driving then how fast you can go.
What is most unique about the AZ-1’s engine is how it is set, unlike the Honda Beat, the AZ-1’s engine is set transversely between the rear wheels, strictly saying this means the Mazda is not exactly a mid-engined car contrary to how it was marketed. Weight distribution is still evened out at 44 on the front and 56 at the rear.
The Mazda AZ-1 was available in a few different versions back in the day. One of the more popular of those versions was the MazdaSpeed, Mazda’s idea behind this version was to showcase the parts that were available for the car known as the A-spec. The A-spec features an enhanced bonnet, front spoiler and rear wing. The MazdaSpeed AZ-1 resembles a Ferrari which made it even more popular.
Mazda had intended the AZ-1 to be sold only in Japan much to the annoyance of kei car enthusiasts overseas. These enthusiastic owners resorted to grey imports, making the AZ-1 a popular model in the grey market. A left-hand drive version was later created to suit the Canadian and other left-hand drive markets to satisfy consumer requests.
Out of 4392 in the world, there is one known to be resting on our tropical shores. I won’t tell you specifically where, but here’s a hint, its slumbering under a roof somewhere in Glenmarie!

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