By on April 12, 2021

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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19 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Excellent 1988 Mazda 323 GT-X, a Four-wheel Drive Hot Hatch...”

  • avatar

    A label for every feature is so very ’80s. “DRINK HOLDER” and “FREE BOX” have to be the best.

    • 0 avatar

      I loved that, my favorite image.

    • 0 avatar

      UNLEADED FUEL ONLY still displayed in the late 80s after mainstream leaded fuel sales stopped in 1975.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t know about your state, but leaded gas sales in my state only ended in 1989. I put leaded gas into my grandma’s Civic CVCC plenty of times as a kid. It probably explains a few of my worse traits.

        • 0 avatar

          Apparently it was still available for niche applications, probably for those vehicles which couldn’t run properly without it. One would think though, in 1989 a buyer was aware leaded gas was a no no for their new car purchase and didn’t need the reminder.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the “unleaded fuel only” sticker was required by law until that point where it was no longer available for sale in any state.

        As DAL noted here in WA it was still available until 89 but sales were definitely slowing down. It wasn’t until the mid 80’s that unleaded volume exceeded leaded volume. I worked at a gas station when I was in college and the guy that owned it had more than a dozen other stations and it was about that time that he was switching the stations that had one big tank and two smaller ones to having the unleaded in the big tank and the regular in one of the smaller tanks.

    • 0 avatar

      The digital clock with the glowing digits was labeled QUARTZ, in case you thought behind the solid-state display lurked an old-timey mechanical movement.

      And passersby needed to know not only did your 323 have 4WD, or even FULL TIME 4WD, but FULL TIME 4WD WITH VISCOUS LSD.

      The ’80s were weird.

  • avatar

    I remember buying leaded gasoline in Tennessee in the late ’80s. IIRC it was a few cents cheaper than unleaded and a whole lot less stinky.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That’s a beautiful example. Here in western PA, the road salt quickly dissolved every 323 ever built.

    Funny thing – Hyundai claims their new Ioniq 5 is a homage to their old Pony, but to my eye it actually looks a lot more like this 323 from the same era.

  • avatar

    AWD Mazda3 turbo Hatchback is spiritual successor. It will cost you over $30K. I want one and can’t justify it.

  • avatar

    I had an 87 (?) GT. Bought it cheap and when it came time to sell, my phone was off the hook from the Autocross guys. Evidently it was the hot ticket at the time. But no AC in Sacramento was mucho no bueno.

  • avatar

    I drove plain 323 and I can’t say that I did not like it at that time

  • avatar

    > “Available in two different trims, GT and GT-X, all hot versions of the 323 featured four-wheel drive”

    > “Within North America, only the GT-X was offered, and only for 1988 and 1989.”

    Not so. In 1988 and ’89, Americans could buy a 323 GT four-door sedan with the 16V 1.6L turbo driving only the front wheels. It included most of the luxury items found in the LX model except a seat height adjustment, velour upholstery, and interior color choices other than grey. The GT-X two door hatch was the other 16V turbo option and they all had 4WD. The GT seems to be even rarer than the GT-X

  • avatar

    Ford Laser outsold Mazda 323 in Australia. Most notable was that there wasn’t an equivalent trim between them or an equal price. Mazda & Ford worked/colluded that the base car was the 323, then Laser, the 323, then Laser. each one just a step up from the “competition” but not equal. Amusingly Ford Australia surveyed their customers and found that 1/3 of them thought that the Laser was a Ford exclusive, not a Mazda in disguise. Dad had an 81 Laser GHIA, a replacement for a Fairlane, Mum had an 85 GL, a replacement for various mini’s (the real ones, not the BMW travesty).

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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