With a century of history that has seen Mazda turn itself from a manufacturer of cork products to a successful independent global automotive company, Mazda’s story has had engineering innovation at its heart from the very beginnings of the company. And Mazda has never been afraid to highlight the capabilities of that engineering by demonstrating its products in the public eye, putting them to the test on challenging, pioneering and ambitious drives to prove just how good they are.
This never stop challenging approach, started from Mazda’s very first vehicle: a three-wheeled open truck called the Mazda Go. Having switched from cork products to machine tools in 1921, new company President Jujiro Matsuda realised his company had the expertise to produce a product to meet the new demand for utilitarian three-wheeled trikes caused by Japan’s economic upturn. The first motorised vehicle ever produced by the Toyo Kogyo company, as Mazda was then called, it already embodied the characteristics of the company’s approach to automotive innovation, as unlike lots of rivals, it had a ground-breaking rear differential and a reverse gear.
Introduced in October 1931, the Mazda-Go Type-DA was equipped with an in-house developed air-cooled one-cylinder 482cc engine producing 9.4ps and was named Mazda in deference to both Matsuda’s name and Ahura Mazda, the Persian god of light, wisdom, harmony and intelligence. A sales success, this first version was followed by more powerful DB, DC and KC variants.
As an early example of Mazda’s willingness to take on an ambitious drive, in 1936 Mazda set out on a cross-country promotional tour with five Mazda-Go models (type KC and DC). Starting in Kagoshima near the southernmost tip of Japan’s main island chain, the expedition showcased the three-wheeler’s durability over 1,680miles of dusty, muddy and backbone-rattling trails, arriving in Tokyo 25 days later. The publicity significantly boosted sales and raised the company’s profile, and it would not be the last time that Hiroshima’s automotive company would set out on a heroic drive to promote its products.
Thirty years after that pioneering 1936 Mazda Go expedition the now well-established Toyo Kogyo company chose one of the most fearsome and toughest motorsport events to promote its new ground-breaking sports car.
Launched in 1967, the Mazda Cosmo 110S was the world’s first production car with a twin-rotor rotary engine, named after the late sixties’ fascination with the space race, this sleek sports coupe would spearhead an endurance driving endeavour to promote Mazda cars in the crucial European export market.
An event created to replace the legendary Leige-Rome-Leige Alpine rally when racing on public roads in Europe become more difficult, the Marathon De Le Route was no less of a challenge for man or machine. And it was this race that Mazda decided to enter as its first foray into international competition.
To test the endurance and reliability of the rotary engine, Mazda entered two Cosmo’s in the grueling 1968 Marathon de la Route – a mind-boggling 84-hour race around the fearsome 28km Nurburgring. While one car crashed out of the race, the surviving Cosmo finished fourth, beaten only by a pair of Porsche 911s and a Lancia Fulvia – considered at the time to be two of the finest sports cars in Europe. Mazda, the rotary engine and the stunning Cosmo had made their mark, and today this epic motorsport endeavor stands as the first chapter in a motorsport history that saw Mazda take the rotary engine all the way to Le Mans victory in 1991.
However, as Mazda grew its global presence and fame through the sixties and seventies it wasn’t just on the racetrack that Mazda put its newest products through the toughest of public tests. In 1977 to promote the first-generation Mazda 323, a pair of 323 hatchbacks made the 9,320-mile journey from Hiroshima to their European premiere at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Incredibly at the height of the Cold War, the two 323s drove through the Soviet Union, and in spite of the poor roads and tough conditions of the drive they suffered practically no breakdowns – a real achievement that confirmed the all-new hatchback’s reliability even before it went on sale. The epic drive undertaken by the plucky 323s and their incredible journey delivered plenty of press coverage, too, something Mazda would repeat in the future to promote its products.
In fact the famous 1977 expedition was echoed in 1990, when in a sequel to the 1977 trip, six Mazda vehicles (626s, 323s and E2200 vans) drove from Hiroshima to Mazda’s German headquarters in Leverkusen, this time through the dissolving Soviet Union. While in 2013, this time with journalists driving the cars, several third-generation Mazda3s repeated the 1977 Japan to Germany, factory to Frankfurt Motor Show excursion, driving through Russia, Belarus and Poland.
Inspired by the challenging excursions, drives and public vehicle tests of the brand’s past, today Mazda Epic Drive media events, allow journalists to experience challenging roads, amazing scenery and unique adventure from behind the wheel of a Mazda.
Whether it’s lapping Iceland in an MX-5, being the first manufacturer to cross Lake Baikal in Siberia, creating a new route across its frozen surface in CX-5s, savouring the twisting tarmac and volcanic beauty of the mid-Atlantic Azores in a Mazda2 or exploring the wonders of extreme road engineering through the tunnels, bridges and mountain passes in Norway – the modern Mazda epic drive delivers incredible journeys to media, at the same time as highlighting the driver-focused engineering and cars that Mazda is known for.
Facing extremes such as driving an MX-5 to the most-northerly point in Europe in the depths of winter in temperatures as low as -30 degrees, or in the forthcoming 2020 Kazakhstan Epic Drive, experiencing the barren beauty of remote central Asia, Mazda’s love of using a drive to challenge man and machine is as strong today as it was in 1936 when a group of pioneers set out to demonstrate the durability of the Mazda Go.