Category talk:Mazda Roadpacer
Of all the incestuous relationships throughout the motoring world, GM's tie up with Mazda from the mid 70's easily qualifies for the "why bother" prize of automotive history. Logically, this car made little sense but if seen from the eyes of an insider Mazda's "ROADPACER" meant the rotaries last chance for world wide acceptance.
They termed it the "Muskie" law (after the politician who passed the bill). The 1975 U.S federal emissions law that had all U.S manufacturers screaming "Impossible". That was until Mazda showed the EPA their "Reaps" equipped RX's in 1973. Every rotary Mazda was ready for the "Muskie" law as early as 73 when the big three ( GM-Ford-Chrysler ) were pushing for a rethink saying it would be 1978 before they could get their piston engines that clean.
Still, GM had an ace up there sleeve. There own U.S 50 Million dollar rotary engine program. The GMRE ( General Motors Rotary Engine ) was taking longer to develop than the board had patience so the decision was made to ask for "Technical assistance" from Mazda to get the engine past the "Muskie" law. No financial gain was to be made for Mazda, it was simply to be a 5 year technical exchange program starting from 1974.
Naturally GM had to return the favour, but how? There certainly wasn't anything Mazda needed to learn about the GMRE and lhd American cars ( requiring Rhd conversion ) were outside the picture as Mazda were starting to feel the full effects of the OPEC oil crisis come through. Result, GM-H's new HJ version Premier.
The car was to be a bit of an experiment. It was the first "full" size sedan equipped with a rotary engine. The 13B engine wasn't meant for the car but after the 15A and 21A programs were dropped in 74 ( a casualty of the OPEC crisis ) there was little choice. The GMRE was based originally on the Curtis-Wright RC2-60 meaning it was slightly larger than the 13B at 1690cc, so performance comparisons between the two engines weren't a priority. With around 1600 kg of Holden steel to push it was probably just aswell.
Using the Holden supplied HJ's cut development time to a measly nine months, with considerable savings in costs. The launch of the Roadpacer in March 1975 turned out to be a real international affair. The out-going GM president and champion of the GMRE, Mr Ed Cole was present as were officials from Holden along with the associated tag- along international press. The GM boss reportedly wanted to take one home with him after admitting his keen interest in the car but the Holden exec's were more lucky than there lhd counterparts and arranged importation of one to Fisherman's bend for "evaluation" purposes. The Holden boys were impressed at the level of refinement Mazda had coaxed from it but easily noticed it's sluggish acceleration when compared to the 3.3 lt six of the Aussie version. Same power as the six but with only two thirds the torque.
The Roadpacer was destined only for the Japanese market were it enabled Mazda to compete with domestic limousines such as the V8 powered Nissan President and the Toyota Century. Priced around AUS $10,000 (HJ Premier with 3.3lt = $6,300) the car was affordable only to company executives and Government departments were the owner was more likely to be found in the rear seat. In fact with there recent government tax concessions ( a reward for being first to the 1975 Japanese emission standards ) Mazda found most Roadpacer sales going to government departments.
Delivered in CKD form, Mazda didn't change all that much with the HJ. Some of the minor changes did give the impression of current technology but looked to clumsy mixed with Holden's dinosaur ergonomics. Picture central locking with 20 kph lockout setting controlled by an awkwardly placed switch under the steering wheel. Or power mirrors with individual joysticks for each mounted somewhat temporarily on the drivers door with the power window controls. A rear VOL/BAL control for the AM/FM stereo was handy & in case of lengthy delays in traffic jams there was a "cool box" ( read fridge ) in the boot to boot. Being the only rotary model without a tacho, the dash was obviously Holden. Interior trim was mostly a high quality cream coloured cloth with the option of a disgusting floral ( pictured ) design that would have had Holden exec's taking suicide pills.
Mazda didn't trouble themselves too much with the exterior aswell. Apart from the hockey sticks on the guards, the Rx-4 reverse lights cut into the rear bumper coupled with some badges were the differences. Mazda also had new stickers made to go over the original Holden ones to achieve the desired originality effect. Colour wasn't a strong point aswell if this example is anything to judge by. It seems somewhat obvious that paintwork was done by Holden with there "low tech" system.
You couldn't be blamed for thinking there would be plenty of space left over with a 13B in the engine bay of a Kingswood but Mazda did there very best to clutter up the available space with relays, pollution gear, wiring and the biggest twin core A/C compressor for it's day. No doubt necessary for the rear fridge.
Performance wasn't ever considered a feature of the Roadpacer. Especially since most of the driving was done by chauffeurs. It was more about style and form so a smooth and quiet engine were deemed more important. The twin pipe exhaust ( aka S-IV RX-7 ) was simply a status thing to impress the buyers as it gave no performance advantage. The 13B was rated at 135 hp @ 6000 rpm with 186 nm @ 4000 rpm. Pushing 1575 kg would have been a hard job for the 13B so fuel economy would have suffered aswell. Mazda claimed 8.5 km/l, comparable to it's V8 competition but typically 5-6 km/l would have been the go.
An over speed warning buzzer cuts in at 90 kph to let the chauffeur know the car is about to fall off the road. DMRH test drove an example found in a Perth (West Australia) museum to find the car was dangerous at speed. The power steering is so light it could be turned lock to lock with one finger at idle. Get up to 80-90 kph and it becomes somewhat scary. The suspension setting is typical luxury softness so mushy understeer was experienced. Put your foot into the accelerator and there's not a lot happening. The 13B buzzes away under the stress resulting in the expected sluggish accelleration, putting your foot down harder gets more straining noises than acceleration, but having driven Kingswood's before the Roadpacer is as expected, remarkably quiet and smooth.
Sales of the Roadpacer simply didn't match expectations. 75-78 were bad years for all rotary Mazda's and this is the period the Roadpacer ran for. At the March 75 release the publicity machine were quoting 100 cars a month would be coming off the production line. Typical Japanese hype, total sales for it's 75-78 production run came to a measly 840 units making it the rarest of all the rotary cars they have made to date. Today the Roadpacer is a very collectable item in Japan. As most of the buyers were government departments the policy of the day was to crush there cars when they'd finished with them. Thus only a few survived from the private buyers wealthy enough at the time to pay twice the price of the next most expensive Mazda at the time, the CD Cosmo (RX-5).