If “youve been” find yourself behind the wheel of an Autozam AZ-1, be prepared to be the center of attention. At the gas station, traffic lights, parking lots–pretty much everywhere we wandered around California’s breathtaking Monterey Bay area in the AZ-1 — the spate of the tiny, Classic Red Japanese curiosity elicited one simple question: “What is it? ”

The short answer: a pint-sized, gullwing-doored, plastic-bodied sports car with a mid-mounted sub-1. 0-liter locomotive and a word straight out of a Japanese anime. Built exclusively for sale in Japan by the now defunct Autozam( once a subbrand of Mazda) from 1992 to 1994, the AZ-1 was officially classified as a “kei car, ” a vehicle engineered to meet the rule of Japan’s smallest street-legal segment.

Generally speaking, kei autoes are uninspiring transportation modules. Thanks to restrictions on overall size, instrument capability, and horsepower, they’re metropoli automobiles through and through, built to serve a starkly utilitarian role. On the flip side, they’re affordably priced and to take in order to swallow fuel. They’re too taxed at a lower rate than larger vehicles and costs less to cross-file and protect. Although the AZ-1 congregated the kei-car mandate, it came squarely outside of the boring casket thanks to a distinct blend of sport and style.

In the late 1980 s, Japanese automakers, reveling in a booming domestic economy and obtained from exploding auctions, started to develop kei-sized gondolas that were actually recreation to drive. The AZ-1 was born out of this mindset and owes its existence in big side to the design of two mid-engine Suzuki hypothesis from 1985 and 1987, the RS/ 1 and RS/ 3. As the tale starts, Suzuki eventually abandoned is currently working on the more radical RS concepts in order stresses the importance of the Cappuccino, a traditional front-engine, convertible, jaunty kei gondola that fell in line with the same Honda Beat.

Cue Mazda, which took over development of the project in the late 1980 s and installed Toshihiko Hirai as its make honcho.( Toshihiko-san too comprised the same position on the first-generation Miata program .) By 1989, Hirai had three brand-new AZ-5 50 thoughts ready for that year’s Tokyo auto show. Type A glanced much like the AZ-1 production car does, and Type B was slightly less dramatic with conventional entrances. Type C looked like a mini-Group C athletics paradigm racer–right down to its finned BBS alloys. In the end, Mazda knew the Type A most likely to return a profit. Roughly three years later, in September 1992, the Autozam AZ-1 went on sale.

At just balk of 11 paws long, the two-seater aspects short overhangs, chunky and straight-edged plastic form boards, and styling clues gratuitously borrowed from cars that could almost literally dine the AZ-1 for lunch. Its back strakes and high-profile back wing hearken to the Ferrari Testarossa and F40, respectively. The front end, with its carved-out headlight pockets and punk scoop, simulates the Ford RS2 00 that terrorized the Group B rallying auto scene in the late 1980 s. The area windows have only a small opening division, which is similar in scope to another ’8 0s daydream machine, the Lamborghini Countach.

The AZ-1 charged onto Japanese superhighways powered by a Suzuki-sourced, transverse-mounted, twin-cam, 12 -valve 657 cc turbocharged three-cylinder making 63 hp and 63 lb-ft of torque paired with a five-speed manual. Rolling on an 88.0 -inch wheelbase, it also featured an independent strut exclusion and four-wheel disc brakes. Regrettably, even for a kei car, the AZ-1 proved too small and expensive for countless, expensing the equivalent of approximately $12,000 at the time for a gondola that struggled to comfortably fit two people. A Japanese receding did the residual, helping to usher the little plays coupe out of production following completion of 1994. The unintended side effects was that the AZ-1 is now perhaps the rarest kei-class sports car of its age. Although it stickered for less than a new Eunos Roadster( the Japanese marketplace Miata ), the AZ-1 was priced higher than the Beat and Cappuccino. Precisely 4,392 were built in all( plus 531 badge-engineered Suzuki Cara poses ), versus 28,000 Cappuccinos and more than 33,000 Beats.

The 1992 AZ-1 we’ve been starring in is owned by Mark Brinker, a Texas-based surgeon and devotee of interesting cars.( His accumulation includes various uncommon Japanese classics and the one-off Herb Adams Pontiac Vivant concept .) Brinker’s AZ-1 is an even rarer Mazdaspeed version, which is reportedly one of as few as 100 caused. It includes a factory figure package with a unique bonnet, front chin spoiler, and rear wing. Sport-tuned struts and outpourings, figurehead and rear strut disallows, a mechanical limited-slip differential, stainless-steel sport muffler, and peculiar alloy rotations( wearing narrow 165 -width tires) were also part of the package.

Inside, the AZ-1’s grey measure faces with red needles ogle sporty, as does its three-spoke, leather-covered steering wheel–another Mazdaspeed option. The interior door treats are acquired from the Miata, and the spare tire is stashed behind the fixed-back, high-bolstered seats, akin to the mid-engine Fiat X1/ 9. There’s very little in the cabin to amuse from the task of driving–just simple climate and audio system ascendancies on the centre for human rights stack( all labeled in Japanese, of course) and not a whole lot else. The floormats are embroidered with “AZ-1 Exciting Micro Coupe.” Very Japanese.

Getting into the little ’Zam can be a challenge, though it gets easier with rehearse. Best to start by putting your left hand leg into the car first( recollect, this is a right-hand-drive vehicle) then slide it carefully underneath the steering wheel as you scoot your butt into the driver’s tush. Then it’s simply such matters of deforming your right leg sufficient to get wise inside the car before you draw the door buckle to close the gullwing opening; it’s a good intuition to duck down slightly as you do if you’re approaching the 6-foot range.

Once in, you’ll maybe find that your left leg is moderately pinched between the center console and the steering wheel and that you have limited mobility with your hands on the steering wheel–your left leg is stymie the infinite your left would use while making a left turn. The pedal casket is likewise quite close-fisted, but a duet of relatively restricted immensity 11 shoes didn’t find it too much of an issue.

On the road–any road–the Autozam AZ-1 turns pates, declines jaws and stimulus questions. Bunches and lots of questions.

Turn the key, and the AZ-1’s turbocharged three-banger fuels up with a somewhat everyday deplete note that’s a bit of a letdown first. But formerly you slot the switch lever into first, take up the clutch pedal, and give the ’Zam some control, the tone compounds as the revs gather up. By 3,000 rpm the engine starts to come on cam, and by 6,000 rpm it’s feeling like a real sports car. There’s another 3,000 rpm to go before you thump the 9,000 -rpm redline, and those final revs per instant sound outstanding, almost demanding that we make the revs fly before upshifting. The little subliter engine sings its turbocharged nerve out, with a mechanical sound that resonates approximately strange more all its own. It’s not what you’d bawl quick — 0 to 60 mph takes about 10 seconds even given the vehicle’s inadequate 1,590 -pound curb weight–but the excitement of fast in such a small, analog auto is fantastic.

The non-assisted steering is heavy when steering parking lots, but it cheers up neatly at accelerate while retaining abundance of feel and precision. Similar to the most modern Alfa Romeo 4C, when you move the rotate precisely off midst, the car immediately starts to change tendency. You can never loosen, and it’s part of the reason the ’Zam feels like such a driver’s auto. Toss it into a region, and it will roll only slightly on its Mazdaspeed sport suspension before taking a named and supporting its boundary through. There’s just so little value, extremely limited mass, it’s almost as if you’re rotating a 1:1 scale copy of a 1980 s Micro Machines toy car.

Want one? Now that the feds allow you to lawfully import any car that’s at least 25 years old, it opens the door to generating an AZ-1 of your own to the States, but be sure you check your state and local acts before you droop as far as is $17,000 on a great precedent. Get one, and you’ll be all but assured to have the only Autozam AZ-1 at your regional cars and chocolate. Just be ready to answer the inevitable “What is it? ” question for the duration of the show.

AZ-5 50 concepts

Type A Type B Type C

Mazda and the relevant subsidiary, Autozam, introduced a good deal of struggle into getting the specific characteristics just right. So much so that it displayed three AZ-5 50 abstractions at the 1989 Tokyo auto show and requested the public for feedback. Type A most closely resembles the yield automobile, with a change from retractable to fixed headlights to lower cost and improve structural rigidity. Sort B featured conventional entrances, horizontal headlights, and bulbous fenders, and Type C performed as a Group C tenacity racing prototype with a bubble-style canopy and sexy rear wing. Type C was actually the more popular with the public, but Mazda officials ended Type A was the most viable.

For more classic Japanese autoes, insure some of our favourites from the inaugural Japanese Automotive Invitational display.

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