1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1

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1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1
RCR Autozam Thumb.jpg
Car Details
Make Mazda
Model Autozam AZ-1
Year 1992
Owner Shayne
Episode Details
Episode Link Watch
Season Autumn Endurance 2017
Air Date December 4th, 2017
Credits YouTube transcript by Vulpine Media

We drive the car-nerd JDM dream: Autozam AZ-1. They are becoming Legal in America now.


[robot voice]
AUTOZAM. *beep* (Text: Autozam)
AUTOZAM. *beep* (Text: "Autozam", shown in red)
AUTOZAM. *beep* (Text: "Autozam", shown in green)
AUTOZAM.        (Text: "Autozam", shown in yellow)



What are you, AZ-1?
What are you, AZ-1?
What the hell is this?



1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1. [softly] Run your finger along the underside of my hipster dick, it's an Autozam.

Squish my face like a Shiba Inu and tight-pants walk into that tea house that just opened on Penn Avenue, it's an Autozam! You're washed up, Miata. There's a new car in town to make girls go "Awww!"

(Car beeping, speaking in Japanese)

What'd you do? Put a bigger turbo on a Cappuccino, David? Whatever. I'm in an Autozam. And for the moment, I'm cooler! [softly] What's it like to have a girlfriend?

This is a two seat, gull-wing, Japan-only Kei car running on a Suzuki three-cylinder, turbo-charged, fuel-injection 660CC engine connected to a Ridge Racer-feeling five-speed manual transmission- SIXTY-TWO HORSEPOWER. Look at how small this is. That's an Autozam AZ-1 parked next to a Subaru Forester and a Volkswagen Trigun (Tiguan) whathaveyou.

You know how there are people that care so little about cars they won't even look at a classic Mustang? Well, they'll look at Autozams. This film shoot was challenging because interruptions from lookie-loos were accurate and dependable on the 8s. [in Regular's "dad" voice] What is that? Is that a real car? What is that? Are you allowed to drive that on the street? WHAT IS THAT!?

And then at one point, we had to turn around in this parking lot of this little like, like video game company, or something. And everybody there was coming out on break because it was noon, it was lunch time and every single person at that game company knew what this was.

By the time this video is out, this AZ-1 has already been sold on Bring A Trailer for $16,000, on November 13th. Our American dollars are driving up AZ-1 prices now that they're becoming legal in the United States. So what do you get for $16,000? You get to drive in your socks! Because the pedals are the size of matchbooks and closer together than brazen PDA couples. (Sound of Mr. Regular in clear disgust.)

You don't get a glove box. YOU GET A BAAAG, that's bolted to the rear firewall. You DO get air conditioning though, and that works. And you're going to use it because the gull-wing doors don't allow the windows to go all the way down. So you have DeLorean-style windows IN windows that aren't very big.

Autozam isn't safe. You're small. And you're low. And you hide entirely within the side blind spot of other cars' B-pillars.

please see me, don't hit me. please see me, don't HIT ME.

I can't see sideways. My yank body's too big to turn, nothing is comfortable, I'm slouched way down so the GoPro can give you a view. But the seat doesn't recline. So this point of view that you're seeing is an accurate experience for you.

1992 Autozam AZ-1 is the product of a random alliance. It was designed and produced by Suzuki, but sold by Mazda under their "Autozam" brand name. Basically, Mazda decided they wanted a separate brand for all their Kei cars and all their small mid-engine passion projects. This was the late 1980s, and cocaine was still bigger than Major League Baseball, so here we are. The Autozam AZ-1, the car that is essentially like the kind of friends you have when you're 12 and then never have again in life. Unflinchingly loyal. Always up for an adventure, as you discover the world and learn your own limitations.

It shares a platform with the Mazda AZ-550 and the Suzuki Cara but was rivals with the Suzuki Cappuccino, and a Honda Beat. It's smaller than a Cappuccino, and more hip, so they might as well call this car the "Autozam Macchiato". And yet, while it didn't come out until 1992, the idea for it had been kicking around since 1985, when Suzuki was looking into crafting a small mid-range car that inevitably became the Cappuccino Roadster.

The concept bounced around between Suzuki and Mazda until Mazda later designed three prototypes for the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show. The Type A, with popup headlights, a front air vent, side strakes inspired by the Ferrari Testarossa, and gull-wing doors. The Type B sports car, with a greenhouse pyramid roof, and no rear sweep to the C pillar. And the Type C prototype, which was modeled after Mazda's group C sports prototype racers. That model featured a larger air intake, wing mirrors, and BBS-style brake-cooling wheel discs.

And while journalists in attendance for the reveal of the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show reacted best to the racing inspired Type C, Mazda eventually decided to go with the Type A, in the hopes of appealing to a trendier demographic. This, despite making significant changes to the design over the three years between the first prototype unveiling and the release of the AZ-1 itself, such as making the dashboard design less futuristic, altering the front air design, and removing popup headlights.

Still, Mazda had the right idea by separating this from the rest of its BRAAAND (pictured: a box of "Bran") since it was mostly an attempt at selective marketing. Selective marketing reduces costs by concentrating advertising on a specific demographic, rather than taking a broad and direct approach. The positive is that there's likely to be a higher return on your advertising investment because you're aiming your big marketing guns directly at the consumers you want. The negative, of course, is that you're putting all your eggs in one basket. It's like when NBC cancelled Harry's Law despite doing amazing ratings with old people. But NBC didn't want old people. And they were never going to get younger viewers with a show like HARRY'S LAW. So they just pulled the plug rather than sink any more money into it.

In the same way, Autozam was an all or nothing gamble. And while it didn't work from a business standpoint, it wasn't actually Mazda's fault. The Japanese asset price bubble that hit in the late 80s and burst in the early 90s put that to bed, as excessive credit expansion and uncontrolled money supply set asset and stock prices skyrocketing. Mazda stuck with the AZ-1 throughout 1995 anyway, but the economic depression sweeping through the country made it difficult to justify spending money on targeting a demographic that didn't seem particularly interested in the AZ-1.

And it didn't exactly appeal to the business class, either. It's a car that seemed designed to appeal to those who could never have it. People like us Yanks, who put cars on trailers and take them to places to be admired, before putting them back on trailers and back into garages, or selling them to someone else who keeps the cycle going. No judgment, of course, that's kind of what a subsection of car culture has become - the display, the admiration, and then the redistribution of rarities.

So why not go after a rarity like the AZ-1? They're rare enough that if you get one, you're going to be the apple of every eye at a car show. Sure, it makes less than a hundred horsepower, and it's smaller than a DC movie's profit margins, but when you have something this distinct, this unique, you don't really have to try. It's like being a fat guy who can still take Old One Eye to the optometrist, because the worst thing that can happen to you when you're overweight is learning you can still get laid anyway.

Mazda Autozam AZ-1. I'm so fragile, but mother's milk I'm so cool! I'm Alphys nerding out in this. You want a new air cleaner? 70 dollars. Because there are no parts here in the United States, everything has to come from Japan, and we can't just buy parts on eBay - you have to have to go through a broker to get to Japan eBay, and that broker's gonna take a cut.

But if you can ignore the shoebox interior, and the low roof, and the brodozers in your rearview mirror ready to VORE YOU, it's fun. Your sensation of speed is amplified to the point where the metric speedometer feels accurate in miles an hour. 80 kilometers an hour feels like 80 miles an hour. And the coarse cheese-grater engine clattering away one feet six inches behind your back is all you hear. Which doesn't sound all that great by the way. Triumph can make a 660CC 3 cylinder engine sound pleasing. Suzuki? Ehhh...

But, the blow off valve is entertaining. Because you're always spooling it and venting it and spooling it and venting it AND SPOOLING IT AND VENTING IT AND SPOOLING IT. UGH IT'S SO GREAT. I'M SO POPULAR. But, I'm popular now. I'm popular now in 2017. I'll be popular in 2018. But am I going to be popular in 2019 when more of these start appearing? What is cool? Got no personality? Buy an Autozam. Then you'll be cool. It's well worn, but money can't buy popularity. But it can rent it. And right now, the Autozam AZ-1 is SO COOL in America - I mean it's Britney Spears 1999 'it'. This is THE car. But the one thing that I just can't shake is that your love is fading.

Eh... $16,000 for one of these. I mean, the only thing that I think is, like, close in price humping is, uh, The Chevrolet SS - you know, the American Holden Commodore? I mean, when they were offering those rebates because Chevy couldn't sell those things, blahblahblah I should be talking about the Autozam but the prices are just nuts in the used markets with Chevy SSes. And the prices are going to be equally crazy with these things. Because there's going to be one guy at the car show with an AZ-1 and everybody's gonna look at it, and everybody wants to be THAT guy.

And the amount you have to sacrifice to be cool, I mean for Americans... I'm 5' 10". I'm too tall. It's just not fun to drive for me. I mean, it's fun to be around, it's fun to look at, it's fun to revel in the popularity and the attention and the admiration of everybody who comes around - I mean, park this, this is way cooler than any Ferrari. Is it, maybe THE coolest car in the United States right now. And that costs money. What is hip, what is cool?

Do I want one? Yeah. Am I gonna? No. You really have to want one of these things I mean if you're shorter of stature it's gonna work for you. I mean there you can just drive it. Fuel economy, what? I think it does alright. Like, 34? That's pretty good for a turbocharged engine.

Well anyway, the people who like them are going to ignore everything I have to say, and just hump this car into heaven. And the rest of us are just going to go, and think of the long term investments of these things.

Autozam AZ-1. Quite a conundrum. But man, is it cool.




AZ-1, what are you, AZ-1?
What are you, AZ-1?
What the hell is this?

AZ-1, I want you AZ-1
I need you, AZ-1
Be my Christmas gift

But I can't have you all to myself
So I guess I'll have to live with you being with somebody else