Mazda history includes some unexpected vehicles

Motorcycles, buses, and even a suitcase that unfolded into a ‘car’

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suitcase car
Mazda showed its creativity by creating a suitcase that also was a car | Mazda photos

Have you ever seen, let alone ridden, a Mazda motorcycle? And either way, did you even know there was such a vehicle, or that it won the first race it entered?

How about the 26-seat “glasshouse” Mazda bus?

More likely is that those of a certain age will remember the Mazda suitcase car.

Regardless, the 250cc motorcycle of 1930, the 1965 Mazda light bus and the 1991 suitcase car are among some of the all-but-forgotten or at least unsung vehicles from the Japanese company known for the RX-7, Cosmo and Miata, among other cars.

1930 Mazda motorcycle

“Mazda’s history features a broad spread of vehicles that tell a story of the engineering ingenuity and convention defying spirit that runs through the business,” the company said in a news release titled, “The Mazdas you’ve never heard of.”

“This courage to question common practices and forge new paths in engineering and design that others considered unfeasible has driven the team at Mazda since 1920,” the company added. 

“Along the way Mazda was the first Japanese brand to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race, commercially launched the rotary engine in the iconic Cosmo Sport 110S, created the world’s best-selling two seat roadster: the Mazda MX-5 and with Skyactiv-X introduced the world’s first production compression ignition petrol engine.

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“Yet away from these famous significant moments and the countless coupes, saloons, sports cars, family cars, commercial vehicles and roadsters Mazda has become famous for, there’s a hidden story of the projects forgotten by time, so we dig even deeper into the history file to unearth the Mazdas you’ve never heard of.”

Jujiro Matsuda took control of Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. in 1921 and transformed it from a manufacturer of cork products to a machine tool producer. Among its products was the Mazda Go, three-wheel trikes introduced in 1931. 

Type-CA
D1500

But even before 3-wheeled vehicles, Mazda made a prototype motorcycle, which in October 1930 won a race against the likes of the British-made Ariel. At least 30 more 2-wheelers were produced, though the company soon turned its attention to vehicles with 3 rather than 2 wheels.

Mazda’s first automobile was a 2-door prototype called the PKW in 1940, but World War II interrupted any plans for production. After the war, Mazda produced 3-wheeled commercial trucks.

But it also produced the Type-CA, a 1-ton 4-wheel Jeep-like truck. It would be a decade before the company produced its first car, the R360 coupe.

While producing commercial vehicles, trucks and cars, Mazda in 1960 produced a 13-seat bus based on its D1500 cab-over truck. The bus was used by the Japanese Defense Agency and had an interior with seats that could be folded to transport injured soldiers. The bus also was exported to the Middle East, where with rear center-opening doors, it also was used as an ambulance.

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Light Bus

A 25-seat Mazda Light Bus Type-A rolled out in 1965. The bus had futuristic styling (in 1974 the Parkway 26 was the first bus powered by a rotary engine). 

While the Light Bus was futuristic in its design, it seemed pretty conventional compared with the 1974 CVS Personal Car Concept, an early exploration of computer-controlled vehicle systems. The car featured large leather chairs and an on-board telephone.

In the late 1970s, Mazda produced 800 Road Pacer AP vehicles, luxury cars designed for executives with features such as dictation machines.

“Another anomaly,” Mazda notes, was the Mazda Pathfinder, a 9-seat 4×4 sold only in Burma.

Suitcase car explained

But perhaps the strangest Mazda vehicle was the 1991 Suitcase Car.

Built for an internal “fantasy” showcase of innovation and creativity, the suitcase car was a Samsonite suitcase that engineers equipped with mechanicals from a quarter-size motorbike. With a 33.6cc 2-stroke engine, handlebars and 3 wheels, the suitcase could be ridden to a top speed of 19 mph.

“Today, many of these oddities are a distant memory,” Mazda notes, “but alongside the more famous models, competition success and records they form part of the history of Mazda – an independent car brand that has always pushed the boundaries of design and engineering to create award-winning vehicles and unique products. 

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“Today, Mazda continues to defy convention to make things better, and as the firm enters its second century, the ingenuity and passion for automotive excellence that has flowed through the Mazda company for its first 100 years is still at the heart of everything the company does.”

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. wow, never knew mazda had motor bikes, I had a mazda BJ5 back in days and loved that vehicle. Larry this article is very informative and nicely written one

  2. The suitcase car would need crash protection in the real world. Not for the road. For the airport carousels!
    Loved my RX4 wagon.

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