Abandoned: One of the First USDM Mazdas
Rare Rotary Powered Coupe Found In Georgia Forest
I recently visited the eclectic junkyard-turned-roadside-attraction Old Car City USA in White, Georgia. This has been my custom for 3 yeas now as it combines relaxing hiking with the thrill of exploring an overgrown car graveyard. You can find my review here. Upon reviving this series, we've most recently seen this confusingly out of place Standard Vanguard. Now, we're exploring a rare two model year example of the very first rotary powered model Mazda sold in the US.
What we are looking at here is a second generation Mazda Familia coupe fitted with a 982cc 10A wankel rotary engine and renamed the R100 for the US market. Mazda entered the US market with a very soft launch in mid 1970 with piston engined Familias, Luces, and pickups badged by their displacement. A mere 3 months later, the R100 was released as a sporty coupe with Mazda's first US use of the rotary engine as its only engine option. The R100 would last just until 1972, however, well before the car was discontinued in the rest of the world. It just didn't make much of an impact in the US market. The later RX2 is much better remembered as a pioneer of putting the wankel in the hands of the masses. Ate Up With Motor has a great essay on Mazda's US launch.
I really like the round taillights on the rear of this R100. The division of lights to different functions varied by region but the US cars had this arrangement. I noted they are remarkably similar to the rear lights on some nearby junked Opel Mantas you might be seeing soon except those had the backup lights on the outside of the cluster.
You can clearly see this specific example of the R100 is in remarkably poor condition. Mazdas do like to rust, even in sunny Georgia. This sort of corrosion is caused by buildup of pine needles and leaves that trap water and cause top down rust.
A rusty Familia might not be too uncommon of a sight in other parts of the world but these cars are ridiculously uncommon in the US. I wasn't able to find specific sales figures for the R100 but across all models Mazda sold about 75,000 cars in the US between 1970 and 1972 and only a small percentage of those were R100s. Pretty much all good photos of this model come from Australia where they didn't rust as much and they also sold much better than elsewhere.
Since the front of the car was obscured by shrubbery and my photo of that area of the car is not informative, let's substitute it with some vintage ads, shall we? Once again, it's hard to find original US marketing material so one of those is from Oz. It's a very well proportioned and pretty car, that's for sure. Sadly those good looks didn't save them from being less than worthless secondhand for many years.
The interior is pretty icky as can be expected but it does look sporty, doesn't it? Even 50 years later the well thought out arrangement of instruments and controls appears visually stimulating and pleasant to use. I especially like the air vents evoking the round dials.
I'll leave you with this nice shot I took of the R100 badge, pretty much the only reason I didn't think this was an RX2.
So, tell me, do you think this extremely uncommon rusted hulk that once represented a promising innovation deserves a better fate? Given its extreme rarity, I would say yes. These are obscure even on the west coast but an East Coast R100 is nearly unheard of.