Autozam! It might just be what you exclaim the first time you see one. It's not far off of what we said, at least. that's because this Japanese car looks like nothing else you'll ever see on Canadian roads. Well, except for maybe the rear valance and taillights that look strangely like that of a Ferrari F355 despite pre-dating it by at least two years. It's a mix of Mazda and Suzuki and it's our autoTRADER.ca Find of the Week. A 1992 Autozam AZ-1.
Autozam was one of three new brands that Mazda launched in Japan in the late 1980s. It arrived along with Eunos and Efini. The first you might know as the JDM name for the MX-5 though it appeared on other cars, and the second was a luxury brand that was on the third-gen RX-7 among others. Like a version of the MPV. And the Citroen XM. Strange times. Autozam was the entry-level brand, selling cars like a rebadged Suzuki Alto and Suzuki Carry – but also the Mazda MX-3. While the first two were boring and conventional models, the brand wanted something more interesting.
The AZ-1 started as a Suzuki concept car. It was even brought to auto shows but didn't make it to production. Until 1989, when Mazda brought a Kei-version to the Tokyo Motor Show. They had three models there. One with pop-up lights, gull-wing doors, and Testarossa-style strakes, one with normal doors and a racing interior, and one inspired by Mazda's Group C racers. It was the first that would see production.
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This was the boom-time for the Japanese economy and especially the auto industry. So tiny gull-wing coupes didn't seem like an unreasonable idea. That's why something this strange could see production. It fit into Japan's Kei car rules, which meant no more than 3.3 m long, 1.4 m wide, and with no more than 660 cc of engine displacement. The tiniest cars saw some serious tax benefits, and in some years have made up 40 percent of domestic car sales.
It launched in 1992, just in time for the recession. It was also slightly more expensive than the Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino, though both of those were far more conventionally styled.
But just look at this car. There's really nothing else like an Autozam AZ-1 anywhere. Sure the original pop-up lights were binned for production, but those bug-eye lights look like they should pop-up in the style of a Porsche 968. There's a hood scoop even though the engine is in the back. At the side, the car's got some of the tiniest strakes we've ever seen. Then at the back, it's all Ferrari before Ferrari. Except for the lower panel that's proudly emblazoned with Autozam lettering. And that's before you even get to the gull-wing doors. That's right, of the tiny number of cars with doors that open in the coolest way possible, how many of them are this tiny? Or this affordable?
The interior is just as cool as the exterior. With black covers and contrast yellow piping. It's a sports car interior on a tiny scale.
What powers this little exotic? A 657 cc (that's 0.6L) inline-three. But it's not so bad. The tiny engine gets dual overhead cams and a turbocharger to help keep things spinning. A five-speed makes the best use of the power and the whole thing only weighs 720 kg. That's not much for the 64 hp Suzuki-sourced engine to move around.
The seller says this one was brought over in 2007, and once here it got a full restoration. "Nut and bolt." That includes taking the body apart and repainting the body and chassis. That basket-handle rear wing was added then too, because despite the out of this world looks already, that's not stock. There's a stainless exhaust system, new air intake, and even a wonderfully '90s HKS Turbo Timer for all the street-racer cred.
If you want an AZ-1, and after looking at it it's hard to say you don't, you'll be hard-pressed to find one here. After all, Mazda only built around 4,400 of them. And that's why this one, for sale in Leaskdale, ON, is our autoTRADER.ca Find of the Week.