AUGSBURG, Germany—One of the best vintage Mazda collections in the world can be found not in Japan but in Germany, just an hour’s drive from Munich. Frey’s Mazda Classic Car Museum is owned by the Frey family, which has been selling Mazdas in Augsburg since 1978. Roughly 50 cars from the collection are displayed in a renovated streetcar maintenance shed, and they run the gamut from Mazda’s first vehicle, the three-wheel Mazdago, to a rotary-powered Mazda Parkway bus. Frey’s rotates its collection regularly, so you are likely to see something different on every visit. Here are 20 of the coolest cars we saw on our visit.
1950 Mazda Mazdago
This is the first motorized vehicle produced by Toyo Kogyo, the company we now know as the Mazda Motor Corporation. First introduced in 1931, 11 years after the company was founded as a manufacturer of cork and machine tools, the Mazdago was a three-wheeled motorcycle-based truck with a half-ton payload capacity. It was sold not by Mitsubishi not Toyo Kogyo. The single-cylinder engine originally produced 9 hp, but it was up to 15 hp by the time the Frey museum’s example was built in 1950. Every vehicle Toyo Kogyo made carried the Mazda nameplate, but the company did not officially change its name until 1984.
1962 Mazda R360
Mazda introduced its first four-wheel car in 1960. Like many of its contemporaries, the R360 Coupe was sized to meet Japan’s kei-car regulations, which dictated a maximum engine size of 360 cubic centimeters. The R360’s engine was a rear-mounted four-stroke air-cooled 356-cc V-2 that produced 16 hp. Transmission choices included a four-speed manual and a two-speed automatic. Mazda’s penchant for trimming weight started with the R360, and its 840-pound curb weight made it the lightest car ever produced in Japan.
1962 Mazda Carol
Two years after the R360, Mazda introduced the Carol, which had the same length but a significantly longer wheelbase. Most unusual was the 358-cc engine: It had four cylinders instead of the usual two, and its 1.8-inch bore and 2.1-inch stroke made it one of the smallest four-cylinder engines ever produced. The Carol was originally introduced as a two-door, with the four-door following soon after. Both featured an unusual reverse-slanted rear window.
1966 Mazda 1000 Coupe
The coupe version of the Mazda 1000 (called Familia in Japan) may well show us the roots of the Zoom-Zoom persona that was to come. Its 985-cc SOHC four-cylinder engine put out 68 horsepower—a little more than 1 horsepower per cubic inch, which was the benchmark for American muscle cars of the era. Italian-inspired styling and quick performance—its top speed of 90 MPH was hot stuff at the time—made it a hit with young buyers, but Mazda only built the coupe for two years. Mazda continued to build the Familia sedan and wagon until 2003. We knew the subsequent versions as the GLC, 323, and Protegé.
1966 Mazda Bongo
Mazda built three-wheeled commercial vehicles from the early 1960s, and the four-wheel Bongo joined the lineup in 1966. Its rear-mounted 782-cc engine developed 37 hp, and the early Bongo had a payload capacity of around 1,100 pounds. Along with the pickup version shown here, Mazda offered cargo and passenger vans. Though it has never been sold in the U.S., Mazda continued to develop the Bongo and a modern midengine version remains in production to this day.
1968 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S
The Cosmo Sport 110S was Mazda’s first rotary-engine sports car, and it also happened to be the first Mazda model delivered to the US. Two were imported in 1967 by Curtiss-Wright Aviation, which held the U.S. license for the Wankel rotary engine. (Mazda USA owns one of the two 1967 cars.) The two-rotor engine featured a four-barrel carburetor and delivered 110 horsepower. Mazda produced the Cosmo Sport 110S from 1967 until 1972 and would continue to produce cars under the Cosmo nameplate on and off until the mid-1990s. During our visit, Frey’s Cosmo Sport 110S held pride of place near the museum’s entrance, with its latest trophy displayed atop the car.
1969 Mazda Luce R130 Coupe
Mazda partnered with German automaker NSU to develop the Wankel rotary engine, and the European influence is easy to see in the Luce R130. This stunning design made its debut as the 1967 RX87 show car, and the Luce R130 went into production two years later. In the Japanese market, it was known as the “Lord of the Road.” The Luce R130’s two-disc rotary engine produced 126 horsepower.
1971 Mazda R100
The R100 was Mazda’s rotary-engine ambassador, one of the first mass-market rotary-powered Mazdas to be sold in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Its twin-rotor engine produced an even 100 hp. The R100 did well both in the showrooms and on the racing circuit. It made its racing debut at the 1969 Singapore Grand Prix Touring Car Race, which it won.
1971 Mazda RX-2
The Mazda RX-2 was an American success story. Its 120-hp twin-rotor engine got it to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds on to a top speed of 120 mph, which meant it could keep up with cars like the BMW 2002—a real change from the underpowered piston-engine cars the company previously offered in the US. It was also the first rotary-powered Mazda to offer an automatic transmission. Motor Trend magazine named it their Import Car of the Year in 1972. In fact, the RX-2 was so successful that Mazda dropped the bulk of its piston-powered offerings in the US and concentrated on rotary power.
1972 Mazda Pathfinder XV-1
This is one of the more obscure cars in Frey’s collection, a burly 4×4 designed expressly for the Burmese market. Though it was intended for police, government, and armed-services fleets, some wound up in civilian hands. The Pathfinder XV-1 had seats for up to nine and could be had with a hard or soft top. Not much is known about the Pathfinder XV-1—the museum isn’t even sure about the displacement of its 90-hp engine—but they are pretty sure it was only produced between 1970 and 1973.
1975 Mazda Roadpacer AP
The Roadpacer AP was the odd lovechild of a shortlived collaboration between Mazda and General Motors. GM was looking for Wankel engine expertise, and Mazda was looking for a full-size car to sell in the Japanese market. They settled on the Austrailian-market Holden HJ Premier, which was shipped to Japan sans powerplant for installation of a 135-hp rotary engine. With its power sapped by its three-speed automatic transmission, performance of the 3,000-pound car was terrible, as were sales. Mazda pulled the plug on the Roadpacer in 1977, and thanks to GM’s decision not to pursue rotary power, it turned out to be the only GM product to go into production with a Wankel engine.
1976 Mazda Parkway
Mazda put rotary engines in everything from sports cars to trucks to ridiculously heavily Australian sedans, so why not put one in a bus? The 26-seat Mazda Parkway (the museum’s Parkway, seen here, is a 13-passenger “first class” version) had among its engine options a 135-hp 13B twin-rotor engine. It could reportedly accelerate to 75 mph provided you had a road long enough and a lot of patience. Fortunately, the Parkway was available with conventional gasoline and diesel piston engines as well. Frey’s museum uses their Parkway for occasional fan trips, and they say it is, as you would expect, ridiculously slow.
1984 Mazda 626
Frey’s has plenty of obscure Mazdas, but they also have a great selection of the brand’s bread-and-butter cars, including this 1984 626. Introduced in 1983, the humble 626 was a big hit in several export markets, including our own. This is the version that was most popular in Europe: a five-door hatchback with a 1.6-liter engine and a manual transmission. The 626 was sold in Europe until 1987 and was a cornerstone of the brand’s modern-day success.
1984 Mazda RX-7
As Mazda’s most iconic sports car, the RX-7 is well-represented at Frey’s. The silver car in the foreground is a 1984 RX-7 Turbo, which featured a new 165-hp twin-turbo version of the 12A twin-rotor engine. It was introduced in 1983, not long before the second-generation RX-7 made its debut. The RX-7 Turbo was not exported to Europe when new, but this car has a special pedigree: It was presented as a gift from Mazda to Felix Wankel, the inventor of the rotary engine. Just behind it (and not visible in the photo) is a bench that originally sat outside of Wankel’s workshop.
1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1
Mazda’s first four-wheeled vehicle was a kei car, and it has remained in that market ever since, though modern day keis are rebadged Suzukis. So too is the Autozam AZ-1, a mid-engine sports car with a 657-cc turbo three rated at 64 hp. (Suzuki engineered the car and sold its own version, called the Cara.) Unfortunately, the gull-wing doors were expensive to produce and required a higher price tag, and with Japan undergoing an economic recession, Mazda had difficulty moving the AZ-1. It sold just 4,392 copies before pulling the plug in 1995. Autozam was a Japanese-market sub-brand that specialized in tiny cars. Its products were mostly a mix of rebadged Suzuki and Mazda vehicles, but it also sold Lancias. Mazda axed the last Autozam-branded car in 2003, but some dealerships still exist, peddling Mazda products.
1992 Mazda Eunos Cosmo
Eunos was a luxury sub-brand sold by Mazda in the home market of Japan, and its flagship was the Eunos Cosmo, introduced in 1990. This really was the car of the future: it had the world’s first car-mounted GPS navigation system, plus a color touchscreen to control the stereo and climate systems. Under the hood was Mazda’s first and only three-rotor engine, fed by twin sequential turbochargers. Mazda claimed an output of 280 hp, though the engine really produced 300 hp. Fewer than 9,000 were built during the car’s six-year production run.
1992 Mazda Xedos 6
Amati was the name of Mazda’s stillborn American luxury division, and this was to have been its entry-level car, the Amati 300. Plans for Amati were scuttled, but the car that would have been the 300 was sold in Europe as the Xedos 6 and Japan as the Eunos 500. (Xedos and Eunos were luxury sub-brands.) Similar in size to a contemporary Audi A4, the Xedos 6 offered 1.6-liter and 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines along with 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter V-6s (the former offered in the Mazda MX-3, also represented at Frey’s museum). The car that would have been the midsized Amati 500 did come to the US as the Mazda Millenia and was sold in Europe as the Xedos 9. That’s the blue car parked to the right of the Xedos 6.
1993 Mazda 323 GT-R 4WD
During the 1990s, Japanese automakers produced several small turbocharged terrors that never made it to the U.S., at least not until the dam broke with the Subaru WRX. The 323 GT-R 4WD is, as the name implies, a four-wheel-drive version of the 323. As you have probably surmised, it was offered for sale to meet production requirements for Mazda’s Group A and N rally cars. Power came from a 185 hp turbocharged four-cylinder. The U.S. did get an all-wheel-drive version of the Protegé, but it lacked the turbocharged powerplant, using a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter engine instead.
1994 Mazda 121
The Mazda 121 is one of the few Mazda super minis to make it to the America—sort of. Mazda sold the old version of the 121 to Kia, which sold it in Europe as the Pride and re-sold it to Ford as the U.S.-market Festiva. While we were enjoying our Ford-badged and Kia-built 121s, Europe got this rather silly-looking version, which had a tall greenhouse and a tiny trunk that gave it a rather unfortunate resemblance to the Suzuki X90. Mazda sold it in Europe from 1991 until 1995. Considering the previous version’s journey to the States, it seems rather fitting that this iteration of the 121 was replaced in Europe by a rebadged Ford Fiesta.
2003 Mazda MX-5 Coupe
Just as there are plenty of RX-7s at Frey’s Motor Museum, there are plenty of Miatas—but none so unusual as this 2003 MX-5 Coupe. Few people realize that there was a non-retractable steel-roof version of the MX-5. It was only offered in Japan for two years, and only about 200 were built. This is one of the rarest versions of the MX-5 ever made, and it’s a highlight of the collection at Frey’s.