As with some other remarkable sports cars, the story of the Autozam AZ-1 is bittersweet. With its standout take on 1990s motoring, this tiny mid-engined coupe with gullwing doors will easily leave a mark on an enthusiast. However, not only did its sales disappoint, but its entire subspecies arguably went extinct. Well, what if things didn’t have to be this way? Two automotive designers have envisioned a spiritual successor and I’m thrilled to show you their Autozam AZ-2 virtual project.
It’s my absolute pleasure to take you through the traits of the Autozam AZ-1 below, be it as a reminder or a first-time read. However, before I do that, we need to discuss the AZ-2 that brought us here.
Not unlike the AZ-1, the AZ-2 is a collaboration between two entities. Nevertheless, in this case, we’re not talking about two carmakers, since this is a 3D rendering. Instead, we’re looking at an idea first put into pixels by automotive designer Alan Derosier. Then, Vladimir Panchenko, who is a Bugatti-Rimac senior surface modeler, brought the AZ-2 into the 3D realm—the duo joined forces on Behance, where they show an additiona color scheme and high-res images of the project.
This would actually be a Mazda AZ-2 (the Autozam sub-brand is no longer around), a two-seater slotted below the Miata-some people didn’t think that to be possible.
The project pays homage to the 1990s AZ-1 as far as the silhouette goes, obviously maintaining the midship layout and the gullwing doors. However, Mazda’s modern design language is present, with the front borrowing Mazda3 elements and the rear reminding us of the present ND Miata via the light clusters.
Heck, there may even be a few Bugatti styling cues in there, which is simply brilliant! And this is no EV. Instead, the pair of cheeky exhaust tips at the back, along with the exposed twin turbos in some of the shots, talk about some serious ICE power.
Mazda’s Autozam sub-brand only lasted one decade
To this day, Mazda remains one of the few (more or less) volume carmakers that still respect the basic principles of sporty driving when designing their machines. So while the current ND Miata offers one of the purest driving experiences out there, you can feel this dynamic spirit in almost any vehicle belonging to the Japanese carmaker.
Nevertheless, back in 1989, Mazda manifested a special kind of ambition, introducing the Autozam sub-brand. This was focused on compacts and kei cars in particular—the latter is a tiny breed of vehicles powered by uber-small engines, with this lilliputian approach leading to lower taxes and insurance rates over in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Kei cars are still around (now integrated in the Hot Wheels culture via a real build) and you can even buy a sports car of the sort (the Daihatsu Copen), but this is front-engined and, alas, comes in FWD form.
The “tiny Ferrari” that is the Autozam AZ-1
Getting back to Autozam, its AZ-1 is a mid-engined, RWD offering that saw Mazda completing the development and selling a project that had been initiated by Suzuki. The latter had the Cappuccino kei sports car back in the day, but while this was RWD, it had the engine mounted up front, so it wasn’t as special.
Unfortunately, the midship layout of the AZ-1, which eventually got a Suzuki version called Cara, along with the all-out approach meant these were more expensive than their competitors, including the also mid-engined, RWD Honda Beat. So while the latter enjoyed a second generation, the AZ-1 wasn’t nearly as popular, while the Autozam youth-destined brand was retired altogether in 1998.
Of course, nowadays the rarity of the AZ-1 (4,392 were built, along with 531 Caras, whereas there were 28,010 Cappuccinos and 33,600 Beats) has turned this into a collector gem. Not that the tiny Ferrari look of the Autozam would need such additional assets to impress. After all, the AZ-1 is slightly shorter than a Miata, but considerably narrower and lighter.
Heck, if you check out the recent sales of AZ-1s in the US, you’ll notice the prices sat between $22,000 and $32,000. For the sake of comparison, a brand new ND Miata comes with an MSRP of $28,050.
In its standard form (there was a Mazdaspeed hotter version), the Autozam AZ-1 packs a turbocharged 660cc three-cylinder engine making 63 hp. There’s a 9,000 rpm redline and the tacho goes all the way to 11,000 rpm. And if that five-digit rpm range happens to sound familiar, it may be thanks to the recent official release of the Gordon Murray T.33 Spider, but that’s a $2.3 million machine!
Plus, for a vehicle that tips the scales at 1,600 lbs (726 kg), that engine offers decent driving dynamics.
More importantly, as Doug DeMuro notes in the YouTube video below, the Autozam AZ-1 is shockingly fun to drive. Even with its tiny tires (the factory rubber is just 155mm wide, but his test car had 185-section tires), the road holding is impressive and, naturally, this is one chuckable toy.