Gear Head Tuesday – Mazda Founded, 1920

Gear Head

Jujiro Matsuda

Jujiro Matsuda, founder of Mazda

From Hiroshima with courage and grit

On 30 January 1920, Jujiro Matsuda (1875-1952) formed Toyo Cork Kogyo, a business that made cork products, in Hiroshima, Japan. In 1931, the company launched the Mazda-Go, a three-wheeled vehicle that resembled a motorcycle with a cargo-carrier at the back. In recent years, the company shed its original name, Toyo Kogyo, and changed its name to the same name used on their cars, Mazda. Today, Mazda is known for its affordable, quality-performance vehicles, including the Miata, the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster.

1931 Mazda Go

1931 Mazda Go – Mazda’s first vehicle. Sharp eyes will note the Mitsubishi 3 diamond logo behind the Mazda script on the gas tank. (Mitsubishi means “3 diamonds”) Mazda did not have a distribution network of its own when it began selling the Go. Mitsubishi was their distributor.

In the 1930s, as the Japanese war lords began their assault on Asia seeking to build a Japanese empire, Toyo Kogyo supplied the Japanese military with the 3 wheel trucks the company built and they also built rifles for the military.

Jujiro Matsuda might not have survived WWII if he hadn’t made it to his regular barber just before another customer. This rarely told story was written on Automotive News by Hans Greimel after Mazda’s official historian told it to him:

The day of the attack just happened to be the birthday of Mazda founder Jujiro Matsuda. And in keeping with Japanese tradition, he ventured downtown for a customary birthday haircut bright and early, as the Enola Gay B-29 bomber buzzed toward its target.

As he approached his regular barber, another customer was also racing for the door. But being the aggressive businessman he was, Matsuda quickened his pace and managed to stick his leg in first. He was the day’s lead-off trim, right at 7:30 a.m.

Without a wait, he was on his well-coiffed way in half an hour.

Good timing. At 8:16 a.m., the Little Boy uranium bomb exploded above a point in the city just 50 yards from Matsuda’s barber, in a blinding 10,000-degree fireball that unleashed a devastating shockwave and uncontrollable conflagration.

By that time, though, Matsuda had made it back across town to around the current location of the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium, home to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp professional baseball team.

The company’s car development plans were halted during World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima. In the 1950s, Mazda began making small, four-wheel trucks. The company launched its first passenger car, the R360 Coupe, in 1960 in Japan.


Seven years later, Mazda debuted the first rotary engine car, the Cosmo Sport 110S. Mazda entered the American market in 1970, with the R100 coupe, the first mass-produced, rotary-powered car in the U.S.


Above: Mazda Cosmo; Below: Mazda R-100

Mazda R-100


In 1978, the Mazda RX-7, an affordable, “peak-performing” sports car debuted. The RX series Mazdas have all been rotary powered. The following year, the Ford Motor Company took a 25 percent stake in the company.


It’s a Wankel! – rotary engined 1978 Mazda RX7

In 1989, at the Chicago Auto Show, Mazda unveiled the MX-5 Miata, a two-door sports car carrying a starting price tag of $13,800. According to Mazda, the concept for the car was: “affordable to buy and use, lightweight, Jinba Ittai (‘rider and horse as one’) handling, and classic roadster looks.” The 2000 “Guinness Book of World Records” named the Miata the best-selling two-seat convertible in history.


In 1991, in another milestone for the company, a Mazda 787 B won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, becoming the first rotary-powered car as well as the first Japanese-made auto to do so. However, Mazda was impacted by the economic slump in Japan in the 1990s and in 1996, Ford took a controlling stake in the automaker and rescued it from potential bankruptcy. The two companies shared manufacturing facilities in several countries along with vehicle platforms and other resources. In 2008, Ford, which had been hurt by the global economic crisis and slumping auto sales, relinquished control of Mazda by selling 20 percent of its controlling stake for around $540 million.

In 2009, Mazda celebrated the 20th anniversary of the MX-5 Miata, whose sales by then had topped nearly 900,000 and which had won almost 180 major automotive awards. Recently Mazda added the Miata MX-5 RF which has a retractable roof.


2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

The current MX-5 has been billed by automobile magazines as a car that performs like a Porsche at a fraction of the price. Having owned two Porsches back in my “salad days” and having driven the MX-5, I can attest to the accuracy of that assessment. My current car is a Mazda 3 Grand Touring with the 6 speed manual transmission. It is so spunky and handles so well, I call it my “Mazda-rati”.


My “Mazda-rati” parked in Pescadero, CA after a romp through the hills of the San Francisco peninsula along CA-84.

Drive a Mazda


Courtesy of “Chris-to-Fear” we continue with photos of old gas stations at
Curbside Classic. Today, we see a station in Canada:

Gas station-Canada


Add yours →

  1. Thanks again for the history lesson. I did not know that Mazda was that old. Great story. Son Mark owned one and demolished it mechanically like about 15 other cars in the last 7 years.
    I had a friend in GITMO who was an engineer and could not wait to get bact to the states and buy the Mazda with the rotary engine. He was sold on it. WE visited him once in Atlanta and he loved the car. I think the Wankle died a slow death, but I am not sure.
    Again This was good. also some great pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mazda continued with the Wankel long after others gave up on it. Their most recent rotary-engine car was the RX-8. They have a new Wankel with many improvements that minimize the problems of the rotary engine ready, but they are withholding it from production until the company achieves a certain level of profitability. In other words, in the current climate of seeking ever-higher miles-per-gallon out of car engines, the likely low-volume of production for the rotary and, even with improvements, its continued thirst for fuel means we likely won’t see this engine in production. It is noteworthy that Mazda hasn’t plunged into hybrid vehicles or autonomous vehicles yet. They have an interesting engine development that will launch soon – a gasoline engine that doesn’t use spark plugs. Mazda is tightly focused on making cars for people who really enjoy driving. Mazda’s chassis engineering is probably the best in the industry.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: