By on April 16, 2018

The rarely seen (any time post-1999) Mazda Navajo was the oft-forgot smaller sibling of Ford’s incredibly popular first-generation Explorer. An example has popped up for sale in Wisconsin, and it’s about as new as can be. We need to check it out.

Ford’s Explorer was introduced in 1991, and quickly became the new hotness for families across the nation. Eager members of the middle class traded in their tired minivans or even more tired large wagons, and bounced around the country in their new Explorer Eddie Bauer or perhaps an XLT (sad!). And across town at the Mazda dealer, there was a thoroughly Japanese Explorer for sale with a Native American name.

Born of the time when Ford owned Mazda, the Navajo was also introduced for the 1991 model year. It took the prize for first SUV sold under the Mazda name. Unlike the Explorer which was available in three- or five-door configurations, the Navajo was only available as the former.

The main difference between the American and Japanese brothers were the front and rear treatments, and some wheel designs. Two different trim levels were offered on the Navajo: a base DX or the “upmarket” LX we have here. Unlike the Explorer, the Navajo came with some standard equipment even in DX guise. Power windows, locks, and mirrors were always standard, and the LX trim included a leather steering wheel and some additional interior lighting.

The original buyer of today’s Rare Ride decided those things were not enough, and opted for the premium package to accompany his Navajo LX. Air conditioning, cassette stereo, power lumbar, and manual moonroof were all benefits of checking the premium box. All Navajo examples were powered by Ford’s 4.0-liter Cologne V6.

Though good value, the Navajo had some issues. The first of which was the name on the grille, as consumers didn’t look to Mazda for an SUV. Said stream of customers was limited further by Ford’s prerogative to offer the Navajo only in three-door configuration. Families demanded five doors, and Mazda didn’t even offer that many on their MPV minivan. The end result was lackluster sales figures, and the Navajo would be discontinued after the 1994 model year.

This extra clean Navajo we’ve been viewing was recently listed on Racine’s Craigslist. It has four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual, and only 60,000 miles on the clock. Asking price? Just $2,000.

[Images via seller]

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33 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Mazda Navajo of 1992, O Brother of Explorer...”


  • avatar
    gtem

    Look by the gas cap, there is trouble-a-brewing beneath the polished up paint of this very fetching SUV! I love the 2 door+4wd+5spd combo though. It’s got the sport seats with adjustable thigh support to boot!

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I’ve never seen an Explorer rust there…

      This would be one to bring some magnets and a few inspection mirrors to look over.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Agreed, but still intriguing.

        • 0 avatar

          Speaking of, contacted the owner on that LS, and after three emails he told me it was parked at a plaza near me.

          Those photos from the ad were not entirely recent, and the car has visible rust in a couple of places (bumper meets fender, both sides), as well as scratches. Though it was “locally driven,” there’s an expired parking tag on the window from NJ from 2016.

          The quick walk around was plenty to show me I didn’t need to meet him to see it. Whole thing is a CP.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            That’s a shame.

            This dollop of JDM cream came and went over the weekend:
            https://www.japaneseclassics.com/vehicle/1991-toyota-crown-majesta-2/

          • 0 avatar

            Man that rear seat is elaborate. That’s a VCR-worth of buttons.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            You have to enter a code in kanji to demonstrate to the car that you are sufficiently senior management at your keiretsu component to be sitting back there.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I agree, its a shame. Why did he abandon it at a local plaza as well? This is in Ohio not Manhattan where parking is $$$. If you could get the NJ title I wonder what the mileage would be… I would not be surprised if it was TMU.

          • 0 avatar

            I will say I think the mileage was probably right, based upon the state of the interior. It was spotless like the photos. It had just not been driven/parked with care or washed enough throughout life.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            That Crown would make one spectacular sleeper.

            And one could launch ICBMs from that back center console…assuming Japan had any, of course.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Freed

            I’d venture to guess they do.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        https://goo.gl/images/69rcbP

        Looks similar, might be a rust-trap specific to the 2-door variants?

    • 0 avatar

      Oh no!

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Anything salt-belt, even with low miles and good looking paint, is incredibly suspect to me. I learned with my ’97 Ranger (single owner truck, 124k miles at purchase). Rusted shackles, shock mounts, frame really eaten away, and the front core support rusted off at the body mounts. All of this and it cleaned up fantastic cosmetically with just a smidge of bubbling at the bottoms of the doors! Current ’94, as dented and scratched up as it may be, is a fundamentally much more sound vehicle from a rust perspective. I know what to look for on them now, same would apply to one of these Ranger-based Explorers I’d think. I guess it speaks well to Ford’s paint quality and corrosion engineering on the sheetmetal that it can stay looking that good even when other things rot away.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          So maybe not such a good deal, even at two grand.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I mean, if it really were a very isolated spot just due to the way the road salt and moisture collected near the filler neck, then even a quality repair with cutting some metal out, welding in a plate on the backside, then some filler and paint with good matching shouldn’t be more than $1k or so at a reasonable indie body place. That and most likely some shocks, fresh tires (those are some vintage looking Dunlop Rovers), and you’d have an almost perfect example of an extinct breed (“sporty” 2 door SUV) to enjoy for about $4k all in.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Gtem, I taught my mom well about rusty vehicles and the salt belt.

          My dad found a Ranger he liked and they went to look at it. The guy said it had “minor body imperfections”. My mom said she noticed the rear bumper looked funny, so she looked underneath and it was barely hanging on. The frame rails and all were just eat up with rust. She said she asked the guy where the truck was from, he said Wisconsin, and she said to my dad “lets go”. She said he was ready to buy it, but she convinced him not to.

          I’m so proud of her, lol.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Heck, not bad for two grand.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    “some additional interior lighting”

    Such luxury! What is this, a Bentley?

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Someone around here used to have a banana yellow one (because that was a color used on cars in the ’90s).

  • avatar
    RideTheCliche

    Fun story… The Navajo Nation wasn’t happy about Mazda’s name for this vehicle – For the next generation Mazda cheekily went with the name Tribute.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Those front seats look really comfortable.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This platform was far more appropriate for cheap pickups than luxury-pretending SUVs.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Its smaller than the 5 door Explorer, but its exactly the same size as the Explorer Sport.

    Ford did not own a controlling interest in Mazda until 1995, and I highly doubt they mandated Mazda to only offering a 3 door. It’s more likely that Mazda wanted to project a sporty image and was unprepared for the popularity of the 5 door version with families.

    All that said, I do like this one, but there are too many rust-free Explorers out there to choose from. I do want a first gen or earlier second gen at some point, but I’ve decided to put more money into fixing up my Taurus first. Which, by the way, has a ton of parts waiting to be installed once this job is over. I’m very excited to get to work on it! Lots of upgrades coming, including a set of 17″ OEM Ford wheels I bought for it Sunday.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    When a Ford Explorer derivative looks refreshing and desirable, you KNOW the current crop of CUVs/SUVs is total crap. I like the idea that an SUV doesn’t have to cater to suburban soccer moms schlepping kids around…this is an entirely suitable rig for a younger single guy. And not much these days fits that bill.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Eh those guys are buying pickup trucks and (Toyota hopes) the 2019 RAV4!/s

      Seriously though I saw some XLT F150s with 5.0 Coyote, 4×4, bucket seats + console and extended cab at at a Ford dealer in Utah. Those are going to be blank canvases for some Ford loving Bro (the demographic 2 door SUVs served.)


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