Rare Rides: The Autozam AZ-1 From 1992 Is Either Suzuki or Mazda

rare rides the autozam az 1 from 1992 is either suzuki or mazda

Tiny, mid-engined, and featuring those all-important gullwing doors, the Autozam AZ-1 has it all. And now you, too, can enjoy the things Japan was tired of in the 1990s.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had a Suzuki kei car on Rare Rides; that honor goes to this Mighty Boy pickup truck. Today’s ride is another entrant in the Japanese domestic market-specific kei class. And the AZ-1 was a long time coming.

Back in 1985, Suzuki started things off with a mid-engine sports kei design called the RS/1. Presented at the Tokyo Motor Show, the design was more than just a concept: it was a working example with a balanced weight distribution and a 1.3-liter engine. But it was not to be.

Plans dashed, the company followed up with another RS concept, the RS/3. This one was ready for the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show. Keeping styling similar to the original RS version, the new model was updated to meet recent JDM safety regulations. But Suzuki had limited funds in the bank at the time — and another roadster on the table. Once more, the RS found itself sidelined as the Cappuccino went to dealer lots instead.

Suzuki put on a sad face and sometime after handed the project over to Mazda. That automaker called upon the same man who designed the original MX-5. Renaming the project “AZ-550,” Mazda brought the roadster to the Tokyo show in 1989. Three different versions were shown in three different body styles. The crowd liked all three, and Mazda picked one for production.

A long road to finalization and production ensued, with a full three years elapsing between the time of the ’89 show and the cars actually leaving the factory. Suzuki comes back into play here, as the company was the manufacturer of the car it had designed two (and a half) times. Cars came straight out of the Suzuki assembly plant, shipping to Mazda’s Autozam dealerships. A bit of irony there — Suzuki picks one design over another, and ends up manufacturing the design it didn’t want for Mazda, so they could offer it against the Suzuki.

Available in third-quarter 1992, buyers faced two color options. Both of were two-tone — grey on the bottom, and either red or blue on the top portion. Just as the AZ-1 was released, Japan entered a nice, big recession. The gullwing doors and mid-engine design meant an asking price of over $12,000 — a bit less than a Japanese MX-5, but more than either of its competitors (Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino).

All AZ-1s had a Suzuki inline-three engine of 657 cc displacement. A five-speed manual was the only transmission on offer, complimenting the mid-engine layout and rear-wheel drive. Giving in to the economic climate and its accompanying slow sales, the AZ-1 ended up cancelled after 1995. Total production was just short of 5,000 cars.

Today’s example is a 1992 model, in blue. In excellent condition and with 63,000 miles on the clock, it asks $17,995 at an import dealer in Virginia.

[Images: seller]

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  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.
  • Dlc65688410 Please stop, we can't take anymore of this. Think about doing something on the Spanish Pegaso.
  • MaintenanceCosts A few bits of context largely missing from this article:(1) For complicated historical reasons, the feds already end up paying much of the cost of buying new transit buses of all types. It is easier legally and politically to put capital funds than operating funds into the federal budget, so the model that has developed in most US agencies is that operational costs are raised from a combination of local taxes and fares while the feds pick up much of the agencies' capital needs. So this is not really new spending but a new direction for spending that's been going on for a long time.(2) Current electric buses are range-challenged. Depending on type of service they can realistically do 100-150 miles on a charge. That's just fine for commuter service where the buses typically do one or two trips in the morning, park through the midday, and do one or two trips in the evening. It doesn't work well for all-day service. Instead of having one bus that can stay out from early in the morning until late at night (with a driver change or two) you need to bring the bus back to the garage once or twice during the day. That means you need quite a few more buses and also increases operating costs. Many agencies are saying for political reasons that they are going to go electric in this replacement cycle but the more realistic outcome is that half the buses can go electric while the other half need one more replacement cycle for battery density to improve. Once the buses can go 300 miles in all weather they will be fine for the vast majority of service.(3) With all that said, the transition to electric will be very good. Moving from straight diesel to hybrid already cut down substantially on emissions, but even reduced diesel emissions cause real public health damage in city settings. Transitioning both these buses and much of the urban truck fleet to electric will have measurable and meaningful impacts on public health.