By on June 30, 2011


The Mazda GLC, aka Familia aka 323 was once a fairly common sight on American roads, but just about all of the GLCs were hatchbacks. Here’s a rare sedan that was able to hang on for 30 years before being discarded.


Mazda tried to play up the “driving excitement” angle of the GLC with this ad, in an attempt to differentiate the car from all the other sub-ton econoboxes of the era. With 68 horsepower under the hood, however, GLC drivers were wise to avoid hills.

1981 was the first year for front-wheel-drive in the GLC.

Imagine car shopping in 1981 in Great Falls, Montana: Mazdas, Dodges, and Fiats in the same dealership! Would you take a Strada, a GLC, or an Omni?

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22 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Mazda GLC Sedan...”


  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Nice find. There’s quite a few left of these on Norwegian roads still, mostly sedans, as they were never popular with young people, so the old guys who bought them new have taken good care of them. Not that it should be hard as they have quite a reputatuion for reliability. They are really terrible cars though, and so is the bigger 626. It’s like Mazda just gathered all the parts needed to build a car, put it together properly and sold it, without anyone actually trying to sit in or drive the car first (or maybe someone with a completely different body than mine tested it).That goes for many japanese cars of the era. All the ergonmics are terrible. (it could be that I’m spoiled with all my Euro-Fords as they have always been quite good, it’s must be a reason Honda why used the euro-Escort dashboard layout for over 20 years.)

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    Good memories of the Ford KA Laser, I think the only time a badge engineered product outsold the donar.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This was an excellent car. If they had a manual transmission, they were sporty as well. It was cars like these that showed American manufacturers that they were not producing vehicles that were the best in class.

    I am still amazed how Mazda has not become as popular as Nissan, Toyota or Honda in the US. With vehicles like this one, Mazda clearly showed that it could produce a better car than they could.

  • avatar

    Had one of these and it was a great car; unfortunately we needed a car and could not find a manual so bought the auto. I hated the auto, but the rest of the car made up for it.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Mazda usually sells more cars (but not total vehicles) than Nissan in Canada. The Mazda3 has also been challenging the Civic as Canada’s most popular car.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      I love Canada, but it’s market size is not large enough to help Mazda. Folks in the US need to discover Mazda and stop giving Honda and Toyota undeserved kudos out of nothing but brand loyalty.

  • avatar
    tech98

    I had one of these. A basic, practical and reliable first car. Lasted over 200k miles until 1998.
    It had decent pep with the manual transmission.

  • avatar
    Banger

    Of all the ’80s Japanese junkyard finds, I’d be interested in seeing the mid-’80s Nissan Maxima. Saw one on a used lot the other day that brought back a flood of memories because my mom had one when I was a kid. My stepfather still says that car would get you in trouble if you didn’t watch it. V6, 5-speed, and fairly lightweight by comparison to today’s Maxima. But I digress.

    This was a killer find, Murilee. Interesting this was the first year FWD model. Seems like this class of little hatch would have been more fun as a RWD, if perhaps less refined.

    Ditto on people needing to rediscover Mazda, though neither my wife nor I like their interiors. Especially the red-orange dash lights. They have some sporty little cars. Can’t wait to see reports on the SkyDrive engines, or whatever it is they’re calling them. Sounds like those could make a few more people notice Mazdas again, because honestly right now, they usually don’t lead on any one category in the sizes their cars compete in, other than the 3′s excellent handling that is often lauded.

    • 0 avatar

      The early-to-mid-80s Maxima was still a RWD Datsun 810, and the drift kids like them. That means they’re not nearly so common in the junkyard.

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        Murilee: My mom must have had the first-gen FWD. I think. Maybe. It was the square body with the button-tuck (and ridiculously flat, if memory serves) seats. But it was still quick, so they tell me.

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        And it had the automatic shoulder belts, which Wikipedia puts at 1987. So there it is.

        Anyway, I’ve always been a fan of the Maxima. Even now, I think it’s a good-looking car that goes like stink. But it has bloated, like most every other car of my youth.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      “Of all the ’80s Japanese junkyard finds, I’d be interested in seeing the mid-’80s Nissan Maxima. Saw one on a used lot the other day that brought back a flood of memories because my mom had one when I was a kid. My stepfather still says that car would get you in trouble if you didn’t watch it. V6, 5-speed, and fairly lightweight by comparison to today’s Maxima. But I digress.”

      Here in the rust free Southwest I still see quite a few early Maximas. There was one down the street from me that came up for sale but even at the low price of $2500 I had no money for a fun car. I saw a new Maxima in traffic yesterday next to a new Impala and it was shocking how large what was once Nissan’s sportiest V6 powered sedan had gotten.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      If it was the RWD one, it was an inline six, not a V6. Basically the same engine as a Z-car (and well cribbed from Mercedes). The almost identical looking FWD version did have a V6, but I think that was mid-late 80s.

      A good friend in high school actualy drove a hand-me-down DIESEL RWD Maxima. Also inline 6, and not that slow for 1982 or so.

  • avatar
    Monty

    It’s not very often, okay, like never, that I see a car I’ve owned featured in Junkyard Find.

    My mother bought that exact car, in baby blue, brand new, way back in 1981. After driving it for 17 years, she sold it to me, and when my son finally got his license, I gave it to him. Sadly, he got T-boned by an older driver, and the car was a write-off.

    It really was a “Great Little Car” – ours had the 5 speed manny tranny and a manual sunroof. It was a lot of fun to drive, could carry 5 humugous teenage boys (my son, at 6’4″ and 220 lbs was the midget of the group!) and got reasonable mileage for it’s age.

    I’m sad to see this being fed to the crusher, but it’s the car circle of life, I suppose.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I learned to drive @17 in late 78 with the (previous) third generation with rear drive. A hatch with stick. It was the only stick I’ve ever driven. To think a few years later I’d get my young & dumb into an automatic Chevette…

    I recall back in the late 70′s Mazda was a brand name more synonymous with light bulbs than cars.
    Ditto Colt [Mitsu then] which was beer.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    This was the car that changed my best friend’s family’s buying practices. They had been a GM family, with 4 in the fleet during the ’80s. When their oldest child got her first car, it was a used Dodge Omni. When his parents were ready to give up on the 1978 Impala wagon hand-me-down that my friend was driving, he found a used GLC sedan similar to the one in the photos. We really didn’t know enough to be car shopping, so it was exactly the sort of car I’d never buy today. It had been repainted in a Pontiac blue. It had high mileage even though it was only a few years old. It was on a shady used car lot with a bunch of other wholesale dogs. It was practically dripping Armor All. Despite all this, it turned out to be more reliable than any of the GM cars they’d purchased new, and from another planet than the used Omni. I don’t think they even knew cars could go months without expensive repairs before that GLC. They’ve been driving Japanese cars ever since.

    One comment about GLC drivers being wise to avoid hills: that went for just about anything you could buy in 1981! The Clean Air Act strangled, CAFE neutered cars of the day could barely get out of their own way, and the pinged or stumbled while trying. Then they dieseled when you shut them off. The GLC was practically a sports car compared to a typical sedan of the day.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Early 80s, for a time rented a portion of a garage from a gal with two teen kids.

    She had a Mazda GLC.

    We used it to explore the foothills of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains.

    Rugged terrain. Wandered paved roads and dirt fire trails.

    I believe that 2-door GLC was rear-wheel-drive with a 4-speed.

    Taught that woman so much. She was what? 20-plus years older than me?

    We worked at the same place, I part-time after school/

    Anyway, taught her how to ascend the unascendable using reverse to climb the steeper fire trails.

    Finding the just-right small creek of clear cool mountain water showed her how flowing water and open doors can flush out dirt, dust etc. (debris grabbed for proper disposal.

    She was awed as that GLC became one with the creek and we sat there with lifted feet.

    Further neato-ness attained after departing the creek and demonstrating how the rubber floor pan plugs allowed water drainage.

    That little car was rugged, apparently well-built, fast enough for California freeway driving, decent MPGishness and reliable.

    Tough to live within, however, if that eventuality ever arose.

    I departed after 18 months or so. That garage was simply too darn hot in summer.

    The low-rent kept me in school, however, and the rent paid really assisted the gal who was divorced but low pay etc. and minimal financial input from the ex.. well.

    And the teens got something of a kick about the “guy in the garage” but I was gone so much interactions were minimal but civil.

    Besides, I mowed the lawn and a few other chores the teens once performed easing the “skids” of the semi-odd living arrangement.

  • avatar
    threeer

    My sister’s first “payment” car was a 1983 GLC…white hatchback, blue vinyl interior, 4-speed tranny. With a cool-for-then remote control radio (okay…it wasn’t wireless, but still), that was just a fantastic little car! It never faulted us, went for years without issue and was passed to me for a few years while I was in college. I loved that car!

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    Dad’s was a KA Laser Ghia, 1.5 single carb 5 speed, alloy wheels and Mum’s was a KC, GL 1.6, 5 speed with steel wheels. Dad ran his into the ground and Mum rolled hers and sold it to my brother, it soldiered on for a few more years.

    • 0 avatar
      AnsonYu

      Hah we had the equivalent of your KA. We had a yellow Mazda 323 5-speed 3 door. IIRC, it was a 1981. It got rear ended and written off. That era of 323 never seemed popular compared to the Lasers of the time.


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