In the automotive ocean, Mazda is a minnow in a sea filled with sharks. Their relatively small size has never prevented Mazda from making automobiles that the larger manufacturers won’t – either because they’re too timid, or they simply lack the foresight. Case in point: the Miata. The black hole in the late 1980s market for a reliable, two-seat sports car was obvious to any manufacturer with a modicum of foresight, but only Mazda had the courage to step into the void with the Miata. Twenty-five years after its birth, the Miata is now the best-selling two-seat convertible ever, with total sales approaching one million cars.
Mazda’s market courage goes back to ancient times – in car years that’s all the way back to the early 1960s, when it revealed a two-seat sports car prototype at the 1964 Tokyo Motor Show. The Mazda Cosmo, powered by the radical Wankel rotary engine, was such a hit that Mazda made 80 pre-production cars, 20 for Mazda’s test department and 60 for dealership testing in 1965 and 1966. Production began in May of 1967 with each Cosmo being built by hand at the rate of one per day.
Series I Cosmos were powered by a two-rotor engine producing 110 horsepower and coupled to a four-speed manual transmission. With a weight of just over 2,000 pounds, the Series I could run through the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds, with a top speed of 115 mph. In July of 1968, the Series II Cosmo was introduced, with a wheelbase six inches longer than the Series I to give the occupants a little extra room. This model also had a revised rotary engine producing 128 horsepower, giving the occupants a little extra zoom.
The total of 1,521 Cosmos produced between 1967 and 1972 included 343 Series I models and 1,178 Series IIs. Unless you did most of your driving in Japan, you probably don’t remember ever seeing a Cosmo on the road. That’s understandable, since most Cosmos remained in Japan. Only six new Cosmos were ever imported into the U.S. Thanks to their low production numbers, unique engine technology, and low U.S. presence, prices are starting to rise. Sold for just over $4,000 when new, a Cosmo in #1 concours (perfect) condition is now worth approximately $244,000, according to Hagerty collector car evaluation. Hagerty has also added the Cosmo to their list of five Japanese cars to watch.
The Cosmo was a halo car for Mazda, giving car enthusiasts a hint of what Mazda design and engineering were capable of doing. It gave Mazda experience in the engineering and production of rotary engines that would result in the RX-2, RX-3, RX-7 and the RX-8 models through 2012, when the last rotary-engined Mazda was phased out. The high point of Mazda’s rotary engine program came in 1991, when a Mazda 787B prototype race car took the overall win at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. Powered by a four-rotor rotary engine producing 700 horsepower, the 787B remains the only rotary-engined car and the only Japanese car ever to win this legendary race.
Sometimes the minnows come out on top.
Auto Evolution: http://www.autoevolution.com/mazda/rx-7/
Classic Motorsports: http://classicmotorsports.com/articles/revolution/