Rare Rides: The Excellent 1988 Mazda 323 GT-X, a Four-wheel Drive Hot Hatch

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the excellent 1988 mazda 323 gt x a four wheel drive hot hatch

Today’s Rare Ride is an Eighties hot hatch from the good people at Mazda. Offered for a short time, the 323 GT-X sold in very limited numbers. Today it’s difficult to find one for sale, but there happens to be one in the rustproof state of Washington.

The fifth generation of Mazda’s Familia compact car entered production in 1985 on the BF platform. The new Familia was a replacement for the dated BD generation that went on sale in 1980. Worth a mention, the new BF platform was badge-engineered into the oddly-chosen and short-lived first-generation Mercury Tracer hatchback. In addition to its Mercury version, the Familia was called 323 in North America, and Ford Laser or Tonic in other markets. Body styles were five and included the hatchback seen here, a sedan, convertible, wagon, and a pickup (South African market). The Familia’s various shapes were produced in seven different countries globally, as the model proved very popular.

Power ranged from a 1.3-liter inline-four to a range-topping 1.6-liter turbocharged four. There was also a 1.7-liter I4 diesel, should ultimate economy be the customer’s focus. Though most examples were front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive was available on hatchbacks with mid-range 1.5-liter power, as well as the top-tier 1.6 turbo.

The 1.6 turbo was of course the basis of the hot hatch version of the 323, which produced 140 horses via its dual overhead cams. Available in two different trims, GT and GT-X, all hot hatch versions of the 323 featured four-wheel drive. The GT was the lightweight hot hatch for spartan driving fun, and the GT-X was fully loaded. Mazda saw the potential in racing their new hot hatch, and late in 1985 took the 323 rally racing to some success. The rally wins spawned a JDM-only homologation version called the 4WD GT-Ae. On sale in 1988, that version had an additional 10 horses and a limited-slip differential. Said differential made its way onto the GT-X as well.

The hot 323 was available only from 1985 to 1989, before the succeeding BG generation (also made into a Mercury Tracer) debuted. Within North America, only the GT-X was offered, and only for 1988 and 1989. Sales here totaled around 1,200 examples. Most international markets switched over to the new BG in 1990, except for limited markets which kept the BF platform wagon version through 1994. Mazda produced GT-X and GT-R versions of the BG Familia, but they were not exported to North America.

Today’s Rare Ride is an ’88 example in excellent condition. With locking differential, a manual transmission, and a charming “Free Box” in the dash, it’s everything a classic hatchback enthusiast might want. It’s pending sale right now in Seattle for $5,500.

[Images: Mazda]

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  • Dawnrazor Dawnrazor on Apr 13, 2021

    I had a red '87 with the 1.3L in high school, absolutely wonderful car in virtually every way for someone of that age. Ultra reliable, great gearbox and handling, and was easy enough to service that it provided a great learning experience for a young guy to cut his wrenching teeth on.

  • Iamwho2k Iamwho2k on Apr 13, 2021

    I got mom's '86 323 when she upgraded to a 626. Great Little Car, if you catch my drift. Only 82 hp, the skinniest tires known to man, but fun, fun, fun. It had the turning circle of a manhole cover. Great memories.

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?
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