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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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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  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.