The Mazda Roadpacer was a comedy of errors, but no-one laughed

If you took an ill-handling, overweight and out-dated Australian land barge and lumped it with a highly strung rotary motor, you'd have a heinous pile of chrome-bumpered, vinyl-roofed shit. You could also call it the Mazda Roadpacer AP.

Back in March 1975, the otherwise innovative Japanese manufacturer got a rush of blood to the head and hopped in bed with The General (GM). The "Toadracer" was their ham-fisted, gimp-like offspring.

The reason behind the get-together was that GM USA wanted information on Mazda's rotary (for the stillborn quad-rotor Corvette), in exchange of which they "donated" a boatload of GM cars. A slab of stale light beer would've been a bettertrade after the damage this car did to Mazda's image.

They saw the "free" family-size body shells as a way to cash in on the burgeoning luxury car scene ruled by V8 behemoths like the Toyota Century and Nissan President and the four-banger Mitsubishi Debonair. It was a good idea poorly executed.

Mazda took a god-awful HJ-series Holden Premier and exchanged the 3.3-litre "Red" straight-six for a 100kW 13B rotary. The purpose was mainly to escape a Japanese engine-capacity tax, a move that turned the car from simply bad into something a sado-masochist wouldn't drive leather-clad.

The problem, apart from woeful dynamics and quality, was that the land-barge HJ tipped the scales at 1575kg, but the frantic rotor only had 187Nm of torque, only available at the noisy end of the rev range.

The 13B was hooked up to a three-speed auto as the target market of diplomats and business fat cats didn't shift their own gears. This compounded the inadequacies of the 1.3-litre motor as the gearbox didn't like high-rpm applications and the twin-rotor only came alive near the right-hand side of the tacho.

People soon worked out the equation that big car plus small, thirsty engine equal expensive running costs, and that the Roadpacerwas a shocker. It guzzled as much and sometimes more fuel than the Aussie five litre bent eight.

After all that, the punchline for everyone except Mazda - was the price. The rotary powered Kingswood cost twice what the car maker's top-of-the-tree Cosmo RE LTD luxury sports coupe retailed for, and the Cosmo could outrun a geriatric with two busted hips; the "Toadracer" couldn't.

In the end, it took Mazda two years to sell 800 of the lead-tipped arrows to gullible Japanese big wigs. It was meant to be a quick-fix money spinner; instead, it ended up humiliating Mazda and has become a mythical joke of the Japanese automotive industry.

Article from SPEED magazine, story: Iain Kelly

Mazda Parkway Rotary Bus

The engine on the bus goes...

AS HEAVY as the Roadpacer AP was, it couldn't match the appalling mass of the Mazda Parkway Rotary26 bus. Launched in '74 and sharing the Roadpacer's twin-rotor 13B, the 2.8-tonne 26-seater's max speed was 120km/h (only 40-odd kays behind the Roadpacer). A Super DX version housed 13 passengers but kept the big brother's less-than-pedestrian performance. Mazda seem to look back on the tank with rose-tinted glasses as their website proudly boasts that "[its] most entertaining aspect was the low-vibration and quiet cabin comfort derived from the smooth operation of the rotary engine". We reckon the highlight would've been watching one trundling up Mount Fuji, fully loaded.

return to MREC
Return to homepage ...