By on October 8, 2014

07 - 1985 Mazda GLC Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen the Mazda Familia first came to North America, it had rear-wheel-drive, its chassis was very similar to that of an RX-7, and it was called the GLC, for “great little car.” By 1981, the GLC had switched to front-wheel-drive, and later in the decade it became known as the 323. In this series, we’ve seen this ’80 hatch, this ultra-rare ’81 sedan, this ’83 sedan, this ’84 hatchback, and now today’s interestingly decorated ’84. We’ve also seen what’s probably the most original GLC in the country, courtesy of Mazda HQ in California.
13 - 1985 Mazda GLC Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe hood is painted with a big star and there are “turbo turtles” on the sides. If this is a popular-culture reference, it’s one I’ve missed.
05 - 1985 Mazda GLC Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 1.5 liter E5 engine was standard equipment in the ’85 GLC.
01 - 1985 Mazda GLC Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAll in all, a fairly generic mid-80s econo-hatch.

The sedan version was pitched as a high-performance economy car.

In Japan, M. Takanaka did the music for Familia ads.

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Mazda GLC Hatchback...”

  • avatar

    It a snail called Turbo. Cartoon movie about a snail that becomes a racer.

  • avatar

    That’s a Great Little Car you found there Murilee!

  • avatar

    Why can’t we buy cars like this today?

    Bumpers that don’t cost you $1000 if they fulfill their actual function of bumping. Fuel efficiency. Adequate power and acceleration. Relative simplicity of repair. Lots of carrying room under the hatch with rear seats folded down, with access not compromised by weird styling. Crank windows and manual door locks, manually adjusted seats. Headlights that illuminate the road ahead without charbroiling the retinas of the poor suckers sharing the road with you. Drip rail so you can attach a roof rack.

    Yet, it has modern computer controlled fuel injection (or at least, it did within a couple more years). And great reliability.

    If something like this were made today, you’d want to add air bags, and correct the great problem with these cars which was the rust problem (I am given to understand that these mid-80s Japanese cars were practically biodegradable in the salt belt). But adding galvanized steel lower panels wouldn’t be that big a deal.

    I do not believe that today’s regulations really forbid making efficiently packaged small cars that are fuel efficient (without using max-engine-stress strategies) and sensibly styled. I believe it’s all about fashion and advertising.

    I had the big brother of this, the 626, an ’87 model (I think that generation of 626 came out around ’83 or so, so it is a valid contemporary of this ’85). I put 170,000 miles on it and had exactly two repairs (as opposed to maintenance or replacement of wear items); I replaced the front halfshafts at around 120k and the ignition switch at roughly the same time under a recall. Sold it with the original clutch in it. 35 mpg. Never had the front brake rotors turned, never needed to despite several pad changes.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure, you could make a car like this today. Nobody would buy it other than a handful of people who hang out on Internet websites. The closest thing is probably whatever they call the Versa hatch these days, and they are hardly setting the sales charts on fire despite being luxury cars in comparison. Time moves on, I am sure there were people in the ’30s wishing they could buy a new Model T as well.

      A good friend of mine in college had this exact car, right down to the colors. A great little car for the time, but DEFINITELY biodegradable.

    • 0 avatar

      You can’t buy this car today because it is a low-profit good that has been replaced by higher-profit goods that corporations know you will buy because you’ve freely given them access to your habits, your net worth, your opinion of your self-worth, and anything else that is possible to exploit in service of taking your money. Of course, you probably own some complex fund including some fractional ownership of these corporations as part of your voluntary 401(k) “retirement” planning, so the corporate managers have a legal obligation to you – as a shareholder – to coerce you into buying the more expensive (read: more profitable) vehicle in order to secure a larger return on your investment. It’s all in your best interest, you see?

      Even if you aren’t someone actively engaged in these practices, the majority of the first world population is, so you have no voice and no choice because no powerful entity cares about you as a person, your objective value is identical to your bank account, and the world is trying to extract as much of that value as efficiently as possible, which means – in this instance – no cheap (low-profit) cars.

      • 0 avatar


        So…consumerism is something new that’s happened in the last 30 years? Not really. Automakers all tried to sell the latest and greatest thing back then, just like they do now.

        And, yes, compacts today are more expensive…they’re also far better in almost every conceivable way.

      • 0 avatar

        TTAC back in ’12 ( suggests that the list price for this car was about $5000.

        That’s not quite $11k today.

        MSRP on a stripper Versa is … $12k.

        The extra not-quite-ten-percent* seems fair for the immense improvements in *every part of the vehicle*.

        (* None of this reflects retail, of course, but I can’t find numbers for real-world prices from 1985…)

    • 0 avatar

      I think that those of us who had cars like this (and I did – an ’81 VW Rabbit) have a certain amount of nostalgia for them, but the more I remember my experience, the more I realize I’d never buy a car like that again. These were tinny, loud, cramped, vinyl seat/no air/lousy radio/crank window little penalty boxes that felt like they were going to self destruct at any speed over 70. Yes, they’d run forever (well, maybe not my old Rabbit)…but I wouldn’t want to live with one forever. Could I live with, say, a Focus for the next 10 years? Yes, quite easily.

      And then there’s this: the average compact today is probably radically safer than even the safest vehicles from 30 years ago. Performance-wise, a modern compact would probably embarrass the hell out of just about any early ’80’s
      “sports” car. You could also pack a (modestly sized) family in a Focus, Civic or Corolla and do a long trip in relative comfort. Try that in an old ’80s strippo compact like this old GLC.

      • 0 avatar

        In the late 1980s I regularly took a stock ’78 Scirocco above 80 MPH and even topped (according to the on-board speedo) 105 MPH.

        I don’t recall any of my several scirocco/golf cars (’77-’86) feeling as though they would self-destruct (except when one had really bad tires).

        Fast, light, sturdy, simple and stylish. Cars of yore, indeed.
        I agree we’re nostalgic, and those boxes weren’t for family road-trips, but there were some quality auto options for buyers then–and they provided an experience of driving that is much diferent than the comfortably numb experience today’s drivers seem to prefer.

    • 0 avatar

      You can by cars like this today…in India. No airbags required. No structural integrity standards required except for steering column intrusion. Manual everything. First World people are rich and can afford the highest safety standards so those governments mandate them. Second and Third World people often can’t. And a car – any car – is a step up in safety from piling mom, dad, two kids plus baby on a motorcycle, which is a common form of transportation in much of the world.

    • 0 avatar

      You can. Find a used 90s hot hatch.

      That’s the problem: people who actually buy new cars don’t want cheap cars. People who shop value and cheap cars don’t buy new cars. Car companies make cars for the former, not the latter.

    • 0 avatar

      Cars like the Fiesta or Accent *are* the GLCs of today. They demonstrate how very far car design has come – they are better in every respect. Safer, more comfortable, faster. Yes, they weigh more, but that’s decades of new safety requirements to blame, plus modern small-greenhouse design.

      • 0 avatar

        The other reason I suspect that stripper cars don’t exist is that there isn’t any money to be saved by decontenting cars, because the price of content has gotten so cheap. China can crank out window switches and power lock solenoids for pennies, to the point that any money saved on manual locks and windows is eaten up by the cost of inventory and manufacturing complexity of offering multiple versions. It’s cheaper and easier to standardize than to make power-nothing versions.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always wondered how today’s cars are going to hold up mechanically 10-20 years from now. It’s funny that you brought up “max engine stress strategies”, like shutting off the engine when in a situation that normally calls for idling, then starting it back up again (major source of wear and tear there).

      Then there’s a whole bunch of computerized controllers for every little thing. If something goes wrong with one of those down the road, it may be very difficult to find its replacement, not to mention the expense.

      I also wonder about how today’s cars will hold up aesthetically and structurally some time from now, with the super-thin steel (or aluminum) they’re using in the panels.

  • avatar

    My sister had a 1983 GLC hatch…loved, loved, loved that car. White, blue vinyl interior, 4 speed manual. Not much, but it was light on its feet, dead reliable and actually a bit of fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I got mine up to 83mph on the Florida Turnpike – after a couple minutes a coolant house burst free and covered my windshield with green goo.

      Great first car. I was glad to own it (and glad to sell it too).

  • avatar

    A close sibling to the Mercury Tracer hatchback featured last month:

  • avatar

    Wait, what exactly were the RX7/GLC similarities?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Well, they both had that cool powder-blue air cleaner.

      • 0 avatar

        And they’re both three characters, and both Mazdas.

        They have four wheels?

        (Note, though, that Mr. Martin is speaking of the *first* generation GLC having a chassis similarity with the RX7.

        The one in this article is not the first generation GLC.)

        • 0 avatar

          yep, I’m with you there. The first gen RX-7 debuted just about in time with the first gen GLC, third-gen Familia/323.

          I just wonder what the cars share under the skin, whether it’s design approach or actual parts.

          • 0 avatar

            First gen RX7 had MacPherson strut front, as did the GLC. In the rear, both had a solid axle with coii springs, both were five link if I recall correctly, the difference was that the GLC had a Panhard rod while the RX-7 had a Watts link.

            I do believe they shared the same transmissions. Early RX-7s could be had with a four speed in the S model, and the some GLCs had four speeds as well. Most came with 5 speeds, although a JATCO automatic was available as well.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    No door arm rest, that’s because you leave your left hand on the wheel and your right one on the stick, who needs an arm rest???

  • avatar

    So many people look back to the cars of their past and go “wow, I’d love a car like that again”! Well, let me assure you that, no, you don’t. I have two extra cars – one from the ’70s and one from the ’90s that I loved. Both are still well maintained. While I really like going for a drive in them, the reality is that I would not want to use them on a daily basis after being “spoiled” by much more modern machinery. Yesterday’s memories are twisted by today’s realities.

  • avatar

    One of the guys in the band I was in in college had one of those, but in a sportier trim. He loved the car even though it needed constant fiddling. Our other band vehicle was an ’83 Prelude, so needless to say we were not exactly rockin’ Marshall stacks.

  • avatar

    This could be my exact tan GLC, down to the Shammy seat covers, except of course mine was a Florida car with no stars or turbo-snails.

  • avatar

    I had one as my first car. 1980 Mazda 323 5-door front wheel drive 1.3L 4 speed, must have been one of the first batch of them to be sold here. Like this one:
    The interior was blue and a bit less 80s plasticy than later ones like the junkyard find. I kind of regret selling it because it was a fun little run around but I just couldn’t use it as a daily driver, and couldn’t afford two cars. No A/C on 40 degree (104 f) days took some of the fun away, no overdrive gear on long journeys proved tiresome too.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1984 Mazda GLC….what a POS. While researching the car in the public library..I found an advertisement for the car. The ad was bragging about how it had a carburetor with a brain! I don’t recall it having a brain..I do however remember it having 158 vacuum hoses. I remember not being able to drive it for 10 miles before having to clean out the EGR valve. Also the link for the most unique GLC..all of the pictures are broken.

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