Mazda Celebrates 100 Years of Defying Convention

It’s curious how the world’s oldest and most famous carmakers got their start in manufacturing. BMWs made airplanes (hence the spinning propeller logo). Toyota made looms that produce cotton fabrics. And Mazda made cork.

And while people assume that the European car brands (and perhaps Toyota) are the oldest car manufacturers, Mazda is actually older than most. It’s older than BMW. It’s older than the two Stuttgart natives, Mercedes-Benz (which while already making cars as separate companies Daimler and Benz in the early 1900s, officially became the Mercedes-Benz brand in 1926) and Porsche. And, get this, Mazda is older than Toyota. 

The locally available Mazda3 edition100 celebrates the brand’s centennial this 2020

How old is Mazda? An even 100 years. Yes, the hero from Hiroshima was founded on January 30, 1920 — a full 17 years before Toyota. 

Which makes this year its centennial—and a perfect occasion to celebrate a company that’s famous for defying convention.  

The futuristic Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S of 1968 boasted a radical rotary engine and outstanding performance.

The courage to question common practices and forge new paths in engineering and design that others considered unfeasible has driven Mazda since 1920. Car enthusiasts know these automotive facts by heart: Mazda was the first Asian brand to win the grueling Le Mans 24 Hour race. Mazda was the first and only carmaker to successfully market the rotary engine in the pioneering Cosmo Sport 110S and eventually, in the world-beating RX-7 sports car. Mazda created the world’s bestselling two-seat roadster in the Mazda MX-5/Miata, which has sold over one million cars since its launch in 1989. More recently, Mazda invented Skyactiv-X, which is the world’s first production petrol engine that uses diesel-like compression ignition instead of a traditional spark plug.

The Mazda MX-5/Miata used the template of the traditional British roadster of the 60s and 70s — yet proved to be vastly more popular, outselling them all combined.
The rotary-powered Mazda RX-7 was one of the most technologically advanced sports cars of its time.

From cork to cars

100 years ago Mazda was a Hiroshima cork producer until Jujiro Matsuda, an industrialist, took charge of Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd in 1921 and transformed the business first into a machine tool producer and then a vehicle manufacturer.

The first model was a three-wheeled truck – the Mazda-Go – that went on sale in 1931. It proved popular and underwent continual improvement, receiving an innovative four-speed transmission in 1938 that reduced fuel consumption by 20 percent. After World War II, truck manufacturing resumed just mere months after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The seminal Mazda R360 was the precursor of Japan’s tiny kei cars of today

Commercial vehicles remained in the focus after the war and the first passenger car won’t arrive until1960 with the Mazda R360. The car was a hit in Japan’s budding kei-car segment, paving the way for the successful line-up of Mazda cars that we see today.

In 1961, the company signed a licensing deal with German carmaker NSU to develop and produce its new compact, lightweight Wankel rotary engines. The engineers in Japan then pulled off what many thought impossible. In 1967, the futuristic Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S became the world’s first production car with a rotary engine. It was the start of a remarkable success story that would see the brand launch numerous models (including the RX-7) and sell almost two million rotary-powered vehicles over the years.

Mazda would also prove its technological prowess on the track, becoming the first Asian manufacturer to win the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991 with the four-rotor Mazda 787B — the only racecar to win Le Mans with a non-piston engine.

The Mazda 787B was the first racecar from Asia to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is also the first and only rotary-powered car to win that event.

The Mazda rotary engine inspired Mazda’s ground-breaking Skyactiv Technology range of engines, transmissions, platforms and car bodies optimized in the name of maximum efficiency and to bring Jinba Ittai, the “one-ness” between car and driver, to all Mazda models.

It was in 1984 when Mazda released a seemingly conventional yet game-changing new roadster in the MX-5/Miata — a time when two-seater convertibles were virtually extinct. Four model generations later, the Mazda MX-5 remains the top-selling roadster in history, having surpassed the one-million-production-units mark in 2016, and serves as the quintessence of Jinba Ittai.

Today, Mazdas are designed using the Kodo – Soul of Motion design language that are winning awards across the globe and the brand continues to defy convention with the launch of its first electric vehicle, the MX-30. A model for the future, it also pays respect to Mazda’s past with a cabin featuring eco-friendly cork, harking back to the company’s humble beginnings.

The Mazda MX-30 is Hiroshima’s first ever pure electric car.

From humble cork, to traditional spark-ignited petrol, to radical compression-ignited petrol, to cutting-edge pure electric, Mazda goes full circle as it continues to defy convention while celebrating the union of car and driver.

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