Gear Head Tuesday – Mazda’s Centennial

Gear Head

Jujiro Matsuda

Jujiro Matsuda, founder of Mazda

Mazda 100th Anniversary

Visit the Mazda Centennial website >>HERE<<

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. (Ford no longer owns any part of Mazda.)


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.

2019 Mazda Miata RF

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2020 Mazda 3 sedan

2020 Mazda 3 sedan

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____________


Last week’s story about the Kenworth “Bullnose” trucks, suggested by “D.B.P.”, was widely-read and garnered many comments both on the blog and in e-mails to me from readers who enjoy trucks. Among them was “Chris-to-Fear” who drives UPS “big rigs”. The first UPS “big rig” he drove was a Kenworth “Bullnose”. He wrote:

“Men drove trucks in those days. Today, they have automatic transmissions, power steering, A/C, and air-ride suspensions, cab & seats. I’d love to see some of today’s “truckers” try to live with one of those Bullnoses.

I started out in one of these 21 years ago:”


Kenworth Bullnose - UPS

“Chris-to-Fear” also sends us the link to the story of the 1955 Peterbilt “Pencil Nose” that was featured in “The Duel“:

Peterbilt pencil nose used in The Duel

Many readers last week appreciated the video clip of a Kenworth “Bullnose” being driven. We are repeating the video this week so others may enjoy the sheer artistry of how the driver handles the “twin sticks”. It is worth noting that the driver had brain surgery only five weeks before this video was made!

Driving a 1955 Kenworth “Bullnose”
Click to play (12 min.):


Let’s Stop at HoJo’s!
Via Curbside Classic

Howard Johnson's #3

A ’57 Chrysler and ’55 * ’54 Buick in a snow-covered parking lot in  front of a
Howard Johnson’s.

* See comments – Hat tip to Dave Brownell for catching my error. He is correct, the Buick is a ’54.

(Hat tip: “B-Squared”)


• Why Women Live Longer Than Men, Gear Head Edition

WWLLTM-old car edition

And now, in closing:

Greta Hoodstack


Add yours →

  1. Dave Brownell 04/02/2020 — 05:20

    That snowy Buick in the HoJo photo is really a 1954.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a fan of the looks of the Cosmo, maybe because it reminds me of the first-generation T-Birds.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary Lindstrom 04/02/2020 — 10:21

    I have driven many different Mazdas and never owned one. With the latest, I find their styling to be pleasing and their finish to be above average, but I also find them to be underpowered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is an exceptional level of finish on these cars – and the newer models’ interiors have been upgraded to near-luxury standards.

      I’m surprised you find the Mazdas to be underpowered! The 2.5 liter four in my 3 GT is a torquey little thing – I often leave rubber when I don’t intend to do so! That said, this morning I found myself needing to accelerate to avoid a traffic situation and got scratch on the 1-2 upshift!
      ZOOM! ZOOM! 😊


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