QotW: What is the greatest Mazda of all time?

From greatest engine to most luxurious to most beautiful to proudest marque, Mazdas have consistently been winners in our QotW series. And since it’s also SevenStock/Mazdafest week, we thought we’d devote the next question to this one very special marque.

What is the greatest Mazda of all time?

There have been many great Mazdas, but in the annals of Japanese motoring history it was perhaps the Savanna RX-3 that left the most indelible mark. It was the zebra-striped rotary that prevented Nissan‘s then-dominant Skyline GT-R from snatching a 50th touring car win, a public trouncing watched by nearly everyone in Japan because Nissan themselves had publicized the “Victory 50″ event so highly.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a random toy. Click through to see the winner from last week’s question,”What made you fall in love with Japanese nostalgic cars?” 

The responses to last week’s questions were both plentiful and deeply touching. It’s gives us hope for humankind to read stories of old cars that became family heirlooms, helped you out of a jam, or launched you into a lifetime of enthusiasm. We wish we had enough toy cars for all of you, but in the end there could be only one winner, and it was John M.

Growing up I was interested in the occasional muscle car, but never thought much about Japanese cars. In high school, I got a Honda Accord hatchback because it was the only vehicle on the used car lot that I could afford. After high school, I joined the military and got stationed in northern Japan. I picked up a Subaru because it had 4WD, but still wasn’t very interested in Japanese cars. Then, I got reassigned to Okinawa and met someone who would take me out for a night that would change my life.

It was late on a Sunday night and we got into my friend’s R31 and headed to a remote stretch of road. We got a couple cans of coffee and climbed up on the seawall next to the road. Two by two they lined up in front of us. Lights flickered and the symphony began. The rotaries brapped like trumpets. The low compression engines of the turbos drummed an ominous beat. The wastegates ranged from oboes to flutes to fingers running down a harp. The tires hissed. Some were long draws of the bow across the strings. Others, like the new Skyline R32, were just plucks of the strings as they changed gears and faded into the distance. Just when the symphony was reaching a crescendo, a new conductor arrived with his baton by his side and the show was over.

I can still smell the salt air, the coffee, the burning rubber, and the exhaust. I can still feel the cool mist of the night ocean air. But for me, it was the sound of a symphony that I had never heard before that first made me fall in love with Japanese nostalgic cars.

Omedetou! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Tomica 30th Anniversary Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R.

[Images courtesy of Mazda, Nissan]

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24 Responses to QotW: What is the greatest Mazda of all time?

  1. Justin says:

    Although it’s not as historic as the RX series, or as strikingly breathtaking as the 110s, I would have to vote the NA MX-5 Miata. No other sports car would capture the hearts of many all over the world enough to sell nearly half a million of them. The car created a fever in the USA when it debuted in 1989, people flocked to dealerships and offer above sticker price just to drive one home. The engine and drivetrain are modern but the driving feel and dynamics evoke those of British roadsters made by Lotus, Jensen-Healey, MG and Triumph 50 years ago. Matched with Japanese engineering and reliability, it is no surprise that it is the best selling roadster of all time.

    • dankan says:

      I have to agree. The MX-5/Miata is also the sole reason the company is stll in business. It pretty much saved the company at its lowest points in the 1990s and early 2000s. It also demonstrated that affordable sports cars had a future, and directly led to the Porsche Boxster/BMW Z3/4/Mercedes CLK and arguably new 86/BRZ as well. Without the Miata, Nostalgics might be the only affordable fun cars left.

  2. Nigel says:

    Mx-5 1st as stated above with the sa22c Rx-7 a very close 2nd.
    (Rx-3 and sa22c are a tie for 2nd in my mind).

  3. Anthony Cunningham says:

    Having owned many RXes, fallen in love with them all (still own a few including a 1995 Eunos Cosmo and early RX-2) I have to go with the Eunos Cosmo. Sure, the 110s is innovation defined, RX-3 coupe simply gorgeous, the FD timeless with boundless potential and the MX-5 kept Mazda on the map.

    Yet ponder this, how many people, rotary fans or not, have been in the presence of a Eunos Cosmo – let alone sat in, driven, experienced its awe and can honestly judge it? This is not only one of the greatest cars Mazda built, it is one of the greatest Japanese cars of the 90s capable of holding it’s own with and above the other marques. The luxury, gadgets, engineering and 20B powerhouse are well documented in words and pictures; only when you experience them in harmony do you appreciate the passion Mazda instilled in the Eunos Cosmo.

  4. Andrew_RE says:

    My heart braps in pain! Choosing the best Mazda?! This is cruel! Lol

    • Andrew_RE says:

      At the fine age of 18, I discovered what owning a rotary was all about. A neighbor was selling a first gen rx7, at the time I could care less about these bad gas mileage, unreliable, and complicated rotaries. That is until I jumped behind the wheel of one. It was love, the sound of the motor, the terrible smelling exhaust, the scream of the rev warning. My fate was sealed, my destiny set, my life’s ambitions laid out before me. The first gen RX7 was it, the car I would never leave. Fin

  5. kev gurney says:

    hows this for greatest mazda of all time the 323 GTX?

  6. Cherry X1R says:

    It would seem that the mx5 would make sense as the greatest car Mazda made or even the Mazda cosmo, but im going to say something different and probably a little unorthodox. My choice would have to be the pre face lift 72-75 Mazda luce RX-4. nothing is really special about it, it just looks real cool and menacing and nowadays it is highly desirable among classic j-tin enthusiasts and Mazda fans alike. Anything related to the rx4 is usually snatched up by collectors real fast, at least in my opinion. a good example is when someone in my town had a 74 Mazda rx4 project car for sale, listed it on craigslist and he sold it the next day, 1 DAY. it had to be the fastest sale of a car in history. I was baffled to say the least. even model builders will pay several hundred dollars for an unbuilt 1/20 scale Bandai Mazda rx4, the lowest I saw one go for was 300 dollars. that’s allot of dough to shell out for a small plastic car. it has more of a fan base after it ceased production and the design grew on people. It was pitched as their sport luxury car of their rx line only I think it looked more sporty than the r100, rx2 and rx3. not sure why it would be Mazda’s greatest car, it seems like there’s allot more fitting cars that they made, I guess I chose it because It’s the best Mazda design I have ever seen and when you tune one up it takes it’s wicked coolness to a whole nother level no matter if you have the buzzing rotary or a throaty small block V8 swap.

  7. Isaac says:

    1988 Mazda 323 GT sedan. The underrated, less portly FWD brother of the famed GTX. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of owning both, and the GT was by far the most fun to drive on the street. The GT is quite possibly the greatest sleeper of all time, but sadly was offered for sale in the US for one model year only. I fondly remember the tiny turbo shaped dash light illuminating as if to say; “Grip the wheel son as if you are wrestling a damn greased grizzly bear; torque steer and boosted sweetness have arrived!” I still get a chub scout thinking about my ’88 GT, by far the greatest Mazda of all time…

  8. jkwade says:

    I am surprised that I am the fist (at the time of this writing) to vote for the 1979 RX7. I love the previous RX cars, the RX3 being one of my all-time favorites. I also love the MX5 Miata, which did in fact save the company from total insolvency in the late 80s/early 90s by bringing back one of the greatest automotive genres of all time. But there never would have been a Mazda for the Miata to save had the RX7 not done it ten years before.

    I can’t say anything about the RX7 on this subject that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. The RX7 is the cliched, obvious choice (which is what floors me no one has yet voted for it). In all the 20th century, just about every production car engine followed the same piston-pumping principle. Felix Wankel’s revolutionary rotary changed that. The rotary had a ton going for it: incredible power-to-weight, smoothness, and a high-revving potential that allows for a visceral soundtrack. But it had teething problems when NSU attempted to use the mill in their production cars.

    Enter Mazda. The Cosmo was beautiful and expensive, and its engine still proved thirstier and less reliable than its piston-clad competition. Throughout the 70s, nearly any production Mazda could be had with a rotary engine. The company staked everything on the Wankel, and the Wankel came to define all that was Mazda (point in case, take a gander at the early emblems). Though continually improved, it was still not good enough. Mazda was hemorrhaging money, and the curtain was tragically falling on the brave company.

    Then, in 1979, Mazda released the RX7. It was a fantastic hit. Mazda’s engineers built it on a shoestring budget, but the final product was sensational. The body is often credited as one of the best all-time Japanese designs and is generally mentioned in the same breath as the 240Z. It sold better than any Mazda had before, saving not only the company but securing the rotary engine’s place in the automotive world for years to come. Without the original, Mazda would never have had the opportunity to perfect the breed (IMHO) in the FD. And it certainly would not have lasted long enough to give us the Miata (again debatable, but I firmly believe this to be true).

    There is nothing here that hasn’t be hashed and rehashed by automotive historians/enthusiasts for years, but these things need to be said somewhere here. I so badly crave a good RX3, but the RX7 is THE greatest Mada of all time.

  9. Bob V says:

    The RX-3 has always been my favorite. I have a ’78 RX-3SP, a ’74 RX-4 Wagon, and ’07 RX-8. The RX-8 is a blast to drive, and the RX-4 eats Hondas for breakfast.

  10. Dutch 1960 says:

    The Japanese were turning out micro sedans and pickup trucks back in the day. A few low volume sports cars. And along comes Mazda with a beautiful little two seat coupe, powered by an engine no one had really been able to make work before. Cosmo. A legend was born. No one saw it coming, and it was done at a place and time when no one would have thought it possible.

    MX5, the RXs, the 787b. Cosmo got it all started.

  11. cesariojpn says:

    A Mazda question on the day Honda was incorporated in 1948? Thats odd.

  12. Can’t say why, but for me the RX-3 / Savanna allways had something magical. It’s the mixture uf american muscle styling combined with sporty japanese measures combined with a rotary engine that still is a mystery for many people nowadays. There may be a lot of other cool mazdays and they really make a good job these days producing sexy cars, but whenever i hear mazda my brain and heart think about the RX-3. Maybe also because i only know about one single car alive in switzerland 🙂

  13. j_c says:

    FD3S RX-7

    It didn’t have the sales numbers of the MX-5 or the racing pedigree of the first 7, but it’s the Mazda everyone wants. Despite the immense numbers of SA22C and FC3S RX-7s sold, whenever you say “RX-7” this is what most people think of. Even 10 years after it’s been discontinued it still looks modern.

  14. chris erickson says:

    not really going for the win but i have to say, my little demon REPU is the best mazda. no one knows what it is and never expect it to blow their doors off untill…..GONE!! ultimate sleeper truck.

    P.S. ITS GREEN!!

  15. Tyler says:

    I must say the greatest Mazda was built by them however not badged as such. It is my very own 1992 Ford Probe winter beater/hypermiler project/art car.

    I bought it for $400 last August from a friend and have put countless hours into it to make it as efficient as possible while tailoring it to my artistic (and fantastic) whims.

    Stock: EPA 21/28 MPG

    Phase 1: Aero Probe: 45 MPG

    Phase 2: Dazzle Camo

    Phase 3: UFO Recover Bureau & Boat Tail: 50MPG?? (Just finished it- no MPG numbers)

    Phase 4: Who knows??

    This is absolutely the best winter car i could have bought. It’s given me problems- replacing the alternator in the school’s parking garage, for one- but it’s also opened a door to a whole new world. That world is ecomodding, where the goal is not speed and handling but efficiency. It, along with http://www.ecomodder.com, has taught me the useful, applicable science that high school never did.

    And while I can’t say it’s picked up any chicks, it’s sure fun to mess around with! Check out my thread for more info: http://ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/project-anal-probe-18508.html

    (And it has a Mazda 2.2L NA) Cheers! 🙂

  16. bert says:

    Ode To A Minivan

    Oh 2000 MPV you are sublime
    I remember well the, the day I made you mine
    At a discounted rate, you fell out of the sky
    All the while I wondered why
    I would buy a minivan
    But you stole my heart, with your wide alloy wheels
    Your comfy interior, and your sporty feel
    For many years you have hauled our stuff
    Even tho we’ve been quite rough
    From screaming kids and trips to the mall
    Grocery runs and soccer balls
    Through rain and snow, and slimy puke
    Midnight runs to the emergency room
    Zoom, zoom, zoom!
    Rockin out to the childrens tunes
    “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon!”
    But now your knees are week, and your headlights are sagging
    Your joints, they creak and your bumpers are dragging
    Relegated to work duty
    Carry all my equipment in that big ol booty!
    On your maintenance money we lose
    $600 dollars for a new pair of shoes!
    180,000 miles, it won’t be long
    Till your exhaust sings it’s final song
    In your place of honor in my backyard left to die
    To that great car heaven in the sky
    An end to this ode, I think it’s time
    Will I win a prize for my rhyme?
    Here’s to the greatest Mazda of all time!

    “I like big butts, and I cannot lie!”-Sir MixAlot

  17. ship car says:

    I think I like the 98 Mazda better. That was my first drive and I have been in love with it. I learnt my driving over it as well.



  18. Kelly says:

    Tons of rotary love here, and I’m no different. I know it’s been said, but the SA is it. End thread. Full stop. Seriously. Its full-retard fun to drive, set a new standard for styling at the time, and just generally was a kamikaze attempt at getting the world market to embrace the rotary as more than a quirk… And they did. Like in some Beat Takeshi film, the SA was Mazda’s swan song of perseverance.

  19. pstar says:

    The GREATEST. Surely the FD RX-7. Other Mazdas were much more influential, much more winning, much more purchased, much more important to the company’s future. The FD RX7 was the melancholy end, not the promising beginning, of an illustrious line. The absolute pinnacle of street car styling, in an amazing chassis and with an extremely distinctive unique engine. Even the best designs of the 30s or 60s, from Auburns to Etypes and 911s can’t quite measure to the pure beauty of the FD. God its gorgeous. Mazda is known for many amazing achievements in technology and innovation. Engines, chassises, styling, entire niches of cars. Even without the rotary, Mazda would be regarded as an extraordinarily unique and innovative company, a sportscar company, one that resonates more with enthusiasts than with the ignorant tasteless public. Yet it does have the rotary. The one and only company that made the rotary succesful, decade after decade. And the FD carries the fully evolved 2-rotor 13b, one of the pre-eminent (though expensive and financially disastrous) engines of all time, in one of the best chassis of all time, with the absolute best looks of all time. How can it not be the greatest?

    Yet after all this,there is the final Cosmo, the one with the 20b. I’ve never even seen one in person, and I imagine that’s true for many of us. The ultimate streetcar iteration of the rotary. The ultimate in Japanese luxury GT, for its time. And it looks good, compared to most cars. But if you could have 1 or the other, an FD or a Cosmo, what would it be? The FD could have a Miata engine and I would still pick it. The fact that it has the epic 13b-rew just propells it to unassailable victory.

  20. jb george says:

    the best Mazda ever made is the FD, light, powerfull and absolutely race concepted.
    Double aluminium wishbones, fully tunable, fitted on uniball (wheel side), weight 50%/50%,
    central front engine (behind the front axle). All in this car has been thought to be fast.

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