From 1971 until 1978, the underrated Mazda 808 enjoyed modest success as a model available in a range of coupe, sedan, or station wagon body styles. Japanese automaker Mazda Motor Corporation released it as the Mazda Grand Familia domestically in Japan, but named it the Mazda 808 for the Australian, New Zealand, and Asia Pacific markets. It was also known as the Mazda 818 in other markets internationally to distinguish it from cars by Peugeot, and briefly known as Mizer in the United States from 1976 to 1977.
The Mazda 808 was originally released as a coupe vehicle with the option of a 4-speed manual transmission or a 3-speed automatic. While it started out as a decent-performing vehicle, the Mazda 808 has seen some aging in the interim. Fortunately, this somewhat lacklustre performance by modern standards makes it a good candidate for hobbyists who enjoy modifying cars and seeing the fruits of their labour on the road. In this, the Mazda 808 fills the niche nicely.
The 808 is part of the much larger Mazda Familia nameplate, which ran from 1964 to 2003 and included the 1000, 1200, 1300, and 800 models. The Mazda RX 3 coupe was closely related to the Grand Familia/808 range. In fact, some consider it to be the top-of-the-line model of that line of cars. What made the Mazda RX 3 unique was its Wankel rotary-powered engine, a powerful and proprietary Mazda feature that still has an enthusiastic following today.
When the Mazda 808 was retired in 1978, the successor for its top-of-the-range model was the Mazda RX 7. This sports car had a lengthy production run from 1978 to 2002. Ultimately, the legacy of most Mazda 808 models was overshadowed by the sales success of the wildly popular RX 3 here. Still, many look at the Mazda 808 as an underappreciated gem today.
The Mazda 808 was a well-built vehicle available in multiple body styles and models. The early 1.3L model came with 65kW of power at 6000rpm and torque of 108Nm at 3500rpm. The later 1.6L model featured 74kW of power and 137Nm of torque. Fuel consumption varied depending on the model, but the early model enjoyed a respectable 7.5L/100km, while the top-of-the-line RX 3 was the thirstiest with fuel consumption of 13.8-17.6L/100km in the city.
The Mazda 808’s performance was helped by rear-wheel drive and a quality manual or automatic transmission. Aside from the high-end RX 3 model, the Mazda 808 was often less powerful than many prefer, and that has made it a target for those interested in modifying it. For better engines, hobbyists might install a fuel-injected turbo rotary engine or a reconditioned 323 engine, both of which will offer a nice boost in performance.
There were many different levels of standard and available equipment in the Mazda 808 models. In addition to the choice of manual or automatic transmission, the Mazda 808 came with rear-wheel drive. The top-of-the-line Mazda RX 3 had a deluxe option with an optional body stripe, centre console, clock, collapsible steering column, and rear defogger.
Anyone interested in the car today should be prepared to see a lot of different configurations, as many Mazda 808 owners have upgraded them heavily since the 1970s. Be on the lookout for many possible upgrades to a second-hand Mazda 808, including the engine, braking system, extractor, shock absorber, and radiator.
Because of its various body styles, the Mazda 808 competed with smaller vehicles from a variety of rivals. The sedan version saw competition from Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, and it was in fact priced slightly higher. As an automaker, Mazda has had a long history of success in the market for all kinds of segments. The RX 3 version of the Mazda 808 was very successful here, even when faced with competition like the Ford Falcon or Chevrolet Cadillac.
Anyone interested in a second-hand Mazda with some flair and good performance should find plenty to enjoy about the Mazda 808. Some of its models never rose to the level of popularity as other Mazda vehicles, but it did appeal as a sporty little car that was inexpensive to buy and run. Because of the reliability and ease of maintenance, it’s a particularly good option for new drivers as well.