By on September 19, 2012

When we talk about Japanese luxury cars of the early 1990s, we usually mention the Lexus LS400, the Infiniti Q45, and maybe— if we’re allowing smaller front-wheel-drive machines to fit our definition of genuine luxury— the Acura Legend. Once in a while, maybe some edge-case type might thrown in a reference to the Mitsubishi Diamante, but one car that almost never comes up in the discussion is the Mazda 929. Why not? It’s a big, comfy, rear-wheel-drive sedan with healthy V6 power. The late-80s/early-90s 929 is just about extinct these days, but I managed to spot one in a California self-service yard a few weeks back.
I owned a somewhat beater-ish ’90 929 for a brief period (before trading it for a Volvo 240 wagon and a computer monitor), and it was a pretty good car— not as sophisticated or powerful as the Lexus LS, but it had a lot of power and the fact that everything still worked on a car that hadn’t been coddled showed a certain level of build quality.
This one didn’t even make it to 150,000 miles on the clock in 21 years.

James Garner pitched the 929 as an El Cheapo alternative to expensive German sedans, with predictable results.
The problem with the 929 was mostly image; we don’t associate Mazda with conspicuous-consumption machines, and the styling on this car was vanilla approaching invisibility.

Perhaps Mazda should have called it the Big Personal Luce, as was the case in Japan. Big Personal!

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Mazda 929 S...”

  • avatar

    Riding in a friends 929, I was surprised how good they were. Especially when compared to the GLC he had replaced it with. Unfortunately image was a problem. Most people who saw one thought it was a tarted up, or Broughamed,626.
    In hindsight, it was a good idea for the other Japanese makers to create a separate brand for their luxury lines.

    • 0 avatar

      Right — that’s probably the biggest difference between Mazda’s luxury entry and those from Toyota, Nissan and Honda… their decision NOT to create a new luxury brand.

      I presume Hyundai has thought long and hard about the 929, even if we’ve all forgotten it.

      • 0 avatar

        Mazda did create a luxury brand, the stillborn Amati line.

      • 0 avatar
        Mark MacInnis

        I believe you actually mean the Millenia…which was a first a brand, then a car, and then when Mazda and their cash source for US expansion Ford saw the cost of setting up an entire brand and dealer network, it became a car again under the Mazda marque. The Amati was, I believe, Kia’s ill-begotten (some said misbegotten, because, DAMN, it was ugly) attempt at the same game.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, Amati was the Mazda effort, which was supposed to launch in 1993 and never got off the ground; the Millennia and the 929 would have been called the Amati something but wound up being sold as Mazdas.

        The Kia AmaNti is/was a sedan that looks a little like a Studebaker.

        Source for Amati info:

        Source for AmaNti info: I’ve seen a few, and yes, they’re ugly.

      • 0 avatar

        Mazda actually had plans for not one, not two, but THREE luxury marques.

        1. Eunos, for the Japanese domestic market.

        2. Amati, for North America

        3. Xedos, for Europe.

        Of those, only Eunos was ever fully launched, in 1992, but it sold poorly and was dropped in 1996. Xedos was partially launched as a Mazda sub-brand on two upscale models, but was never fully separated from Mazda and was dropped entirely in 2000. Amati never launched at all, the company got no further than registering the logo with the USPTO.

        In retrospect, maybe they should have just tried for one luxury make, but this was during the period when Mazda went a little badge happy – besides the three luxury makes, they also had the Autozam small car brand and the Efini line of sports cars and sports sedans. Autozam and Efini survive as retail channels for Mazda-brand vehicles, but no longer as marques themselves.

  • avatar

    I test drove one of these back in the day. Pretty snappy! I think it was more of a Cressida competitor than anything else. I wish mazda still made the 929 — we need more RWD japanese sedans without the made-for-America luxury branding. Unless we’re talking about the Amati with a 12 cyl, in which case, brand me.

  • avatar

    Ah, Amati. Wasn’t that the name of Mazda’s aborted luxury line? My then father-in-law had a 929 and I really liked it. Bland yes, but a nice ride.

  • avatar

    What’s wrong with some people? How can you junk a car like that, especially in the condition that it’s in? My ’88 Cressida was in MUCH worse shape but I still didn’t have the heart to scrap it. I drove it for the longest time before selling it to someone as a project car.

    • 0 avatar

      Because at some point a sane and rational individual will realize the cost of a single major repair far outweighs the value of the vehicle. Nickle and diming doesn’t seem so bad when you are in the middle of it (a few bucks here and there is deceptively acceptable even if the total is horrifying), but blow a transmission and it’s off to the crusher.

      I had a 91 Q45 that I had always had the looming spectre of tranny implosion hanging over it like a persistent cloud. It was at “about that mileage” when they all dun blowed up. It was making some resonant vibration at certain speeds and RPM (probably the driveshaft was worn out too). I got my use out of it then dumped it for a song to an enthusiastic new owner, who got a good deal on a fun car, because I did not want to deal with it anymore and risk an imminent transmission job. Plus it got single digit fuel “economy” in the city.

      If only there had been an easy 5 speed swap option for the VH mill I might have kept the thing and turned it into an improbable hoonmobile. But there wasn’t so I didn’t.

      Now most FUN and interesting people will continue well past that point of sanity… But this (929) ain’t the car to do that with. Nor was my Q45, as fun as it was to drive. But bless those who do (I love reading about twin-turbo Qs).

      • 0 avatar

        You’re right about the trannies, when neglected most automatic trannies at that period would die at 90k-150k miles, usually a repair would cost more than the cars value.

        Thats why you see so many Panthers in the junkyard.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      I hear you MR2…cosmetically at least, this does not appear to be a car that needed to be junked.

  • avatar

    I just yesterday was talking about these, and how it would be be nice to find a clean model.

  • avatar

    I’ve always thought these looked too much like the Eagle Premier/Dodge Monaco – developed by AMC and pretty much the precursor to the LH and today’s LX Chryslers.

    Mazda had a hard time throughout the ’90s, it seems. They tried the multi-brand strategy in the US (well, aborted before actually trying, but we got the Millenia out of it), in the Eurozone (with the Xedos cars), and in Japan (with AutoZam, Efini, and Eunos). Too bad they never sold the certifiable bonkers last-gen Cosmo with a rotary powertrain in the US. A 20B-powered personal luxury coupe with RWD and a truly over the top amount of electronics would be such a sweet “hood” ride today.

    For the past month, locally, there has been an almost showroom condition ’94 929 (the “Sentia” body style – puffier styling and the ridiculous solar-powered interior cooling function) for around $3k. It’s at less than 100k and is honestly the best-kept early ’90s car I’ve seen in a while. I’d rock it.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember reading a review of the 929 with the “ridiculous solar-powered interior cooling function” back when it came out and thinking that was one great car for the price. I’d still like to have one just for the odd stuff like that.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, here’s your chance. It’s listed on VCI classifieds. I think it’s in Benton, KY. It’s the ubiquitous ’90s “champagne” color over tan leather. If it’s been here all its life, then it would have had minimal exposure to road salt.

        There was a similarly good looking Infiniti J30 for sale earlier in the summer. Same color combination. Very similar overall car (puffy styling, odball brand cachet). I think it was in the realm of $2500 for having over 100k miles.

        I haven’t seen a non-clapped out J30 in years. Or Q45, for that matter.

      • 0 avatar

        I see the occasional first-gen Q45 (with the “cloisonne” front badge) around here now and then, due to the lack of rust in SoCal. There are even plenty of Nissan/Infiniti mechanics to take care of such a car should you want one (Mazda specialists too, actually).

      • 0 avatar

        1990s: ridiculous fluff “feature”
        Today: Party piece of the Prius

        The times, they are a-changin’…

  • avatar

    Murilee, I need that motor (and harness and ECU) for my MPV.

    Alright, here’s what we’re going to do: You pull it, then bring it with you to Colorado. When you see Jack at a Lemons event, give it to him. I’ll meet up with him next time he’s at TMP.

    Of course, I don’t really want to pay for anything until I see the motor, but provided it’s in good shape, I’ll totally cover you for what it cost, plus like $50 for your troubles. Sound good?

    Thanks buddy.

  • avatar

    The only time I ever heard from an ACTUAL owner of one of these was on a Cressida board of all places. The guy planned a 13B-T swap and had the ability and parts to do it, but I think the fact that even the ballsiest turbo setup would have a hard time moving the bulk of the 929 had him rethinking his idea. While the 7M was known for it’s headgasket woes, these had their fair share of mechanical problems. But as Murilee can attest to, you see Cressidas in yards way more often than you see these. I’ve never even seen one on the street in person.

  • avatar

    Cressida-love, replacing Panther-love?

  • avatar

    Fitting they used James Garner for the ad. He’s the El Cheapo alternative to Burt Reynolds. Just like Chris Tucker to Chris Rock. Or Senor Spielbergo to Steven Spielberg.

  • avatar

    The successor of this car, the rounded 929, is quite nice actually. Nice steering, nice ride, nice styling. Probably by now isn’t that much more expensive than this one. Looks great inside out! I always wonder why they don’t sell better. Must be the brand.

  • avatar

    Yes, the build quality was excellent. It was as heavy as a contemporary Cadillac. Mazda bragged about the exceptional body rigidity. I bought an ’88 (when the engine was just the SOHC six) and loved the understated Teutonic elegance of the styling. My brother, who has owned a bunch of big Mercedes and BMWs, was pleasantly surprised when he drove it.

    The second edition 929 was swoopier, but sacrificed interior room for the sake of style. The car already had insufficient driver leg room (the pedal was too far left and too close for my comfort) and the curvy 929 felt like one was riding in a torpedo.

    The 929’s failings were: (1) Not enough low-end torque. Power was ample if you revved it, but Americans don’t like having to go over 3500 rpm for real push. (2) Overly complicated automatic A/C. (3) Relatively low gas mileage, a Mazda tradition. (4) Transmission stayed downshifted far too long after topping a hill; another idea not well sorted out before production.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s an interesting tidbit on the transmission. My 929-cousin MPV does the same thing. I thought it was a quirk of being 20 years old and being over 155,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar

      That “quirk” was present in many cars including lots of Toyotas and why if you are travelling on a only slightly hilly hwy using the cruise control actually gave you worse MPG than using your foot and eyes to be able to keep it in OD.

  • avatar

    1st gen MPVs were based on the 929 chassis, as well as the SOHC V6 engine. The steering in my MPV is pretty superb for a 4000lb pseudo-SUV, my guess is that it has to do with being based on the 929. Nicely weighted and informative. They made these 929s in 5spd guise btw!

  • avatar

    No mention of the oscillating dash vents?

  • avatar

    Looks like someone’s had to change the dimmer, or is using it as a hidden cut off.

  • avatar

    I still have my ’89 929. It’s got 123,000 miles and the body still looks pretty darn good, a garage queen for much of it’s life. My daughter still uses it as a daily driver, a 2-mile commute to work. Besides the oscillating vents it had options to switch between Economy / Power modes and change the suspension between Sport, Soft (?) or Auto (Auto detected hard driving and firmed up the suspension a bit). No air bags, not even for the driver. Comfortable seats, generous legroom in the back and a good size trunk. All in all, it’s held up well.

  • avatar

    I’d really like to know what the is the deal with the numeric model designation badges for the US models from Mazda is. They look just like the brand badges which likely are used in all markets but they loose their chrome early on and start to look melted. It goes way back to the original RWD 626. If you look at the picure of the 929 you’ll see what they do yet the “S” still looks pristine. Since it went on for almost 2 decades you would think that someone in the company would have noticed and made what ever changes neccesary to make them stand up as well as the Mazda and in this case the “S”.

  • avatar

    I’m amazed otherwise smart people at Mazda thought this car was a good idea.

    It was like they thought a high end luxury car buyer would never actually see the car they were selling, but instead make the decision purely from a spreadsheet of stats.

    I’m painting with a broad brush, but usually when people spend a lot more money than they need to on premium car, there’s an emotional part that needs to fulfilled.

  • avatar

    Looked like a cross between then Alliance and Sentra on steroids..

    Dig those fuggly bumpers you could clean off scrapes with shoe polish.

  • avatar

    I would have loved to see Garder ‘do a Rockford’ in one of those…buhwahaha

  • avatar

    That seems like a pretty expensive car for someone who earns $200 a day plus expenses. But, inflation makes it all relative.

  • avatar

    This car is not as slick and polished as the original LS 400, but the interior on this car (especially the shape of the seats and the leather-covered door panels) put domestic luxury cars from that era to shame. Seriously, even the original Lexus ES 250 had an interior that Cadillac or Lincoln could only dream of then. I’m not too fond of the exterior styling. It’s a bit Japanonomous to me. Looks-wise, now in 2012 it looks like it could be any old Asian sedan. Not so with the LS 400.

    I wish you’d done the later 90’s Mazda 929. Even to this day I think a black or pearl white example looks stellar. It had a beautiful interior and a sleek exterior that still is fresh to me.

    I always wanted one of the curvy 929’s even to this day. To bad they’re mostly too old and would be expensive prospects, indeed.

  • avatar

    I ran across a 1991 929 S at the local Mazda dealership and purchased it on the spot. It is white with saddle leather interior, documented 53 K miles with one owner always serviced at this dealer. The car looks like time had stopped for it, like new condition. I love the automatic seat belts and the oscillating center vents. I get more pleasure driving it then driving my S500. It is simple in design, light weight and a great engine with DOHC. Would love to convert it to a 5 speed manual.

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