Listening to a musician’s greatest hits is usually a compromise. For big fans especially, hearing the same songs for the umpteenth time can be a little less than thrilling. But it’s a little different when they’re picked by the artist themselves. Out of the hands of the bean counters and the public relations people, maybe some of the better known stuff takes a back seat to the sentimental favorite, or the obscure classic that deserves a wider audience.
This doesn’t happen too much in music, and it happens even less in the automotive world. Besides, if you asked a PR representative from most brands for a list of its favorite cars, you’d probably get fairly predictable answers. That’s what makes Mazda’s latest announcement so interesting. On top of fielding arguably the best all-around lineup of any Japanese automaker, it’s also active in its enthusiast community. And at this weekend’s 11th annual Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, California, the company will be displaying five of its hand-picked favorite cars to show alongside a 2016 Miata and CX5 crossover.
While some of Mazda’s choices may be predictable on their own, taken as a whole they paint a picture of a company that’s spent most of the last half century as one of the most unique automakers in the world. Here are Mazda’s 5 greatest hits, as picked by the company.
1. 1967 Cosmo Sport 110S
Like Toyota with its 2000GT, Mazda had its own world-class sports car in the 1960s – except it never ended up seeing much of the world. Today considered to be one of the most iconic (and collectable) Japanese cars of the era, the 1967-1972 Cosmo Sport was the first production car in the world with a rotary engine, and was instrumental in establishing Mazda as an automaker that thought outside of the box. Mazda will show one of the only three Cosmos that came to the U.S. in the ’60s.
2. 1972 RX-2
Some 40 years after last rolling off the assembly line, the BMW 2002 and Datsun 510 still get a lot of love from ’70s sports sedan enthusiasts. The tragedy here, is that despite a small but avid cult status, the Mazda RX-2 is all but forgotten. Introduced in the U.S. in 1971, the car’s sporty looks, semi-independent suspension, and then-novel 130 horsepower rotary engine made it Mazda’s first national hit in the American market. For the JCCS, Mazda will be exhibiting the 1972 IMSA race car that was built and competed by Car and Driver writers in the early ’70s.
3. 1988 323 GTX
In 1987, Mazda had a successful season in the World Rally Championship, including a big win at the International Swedish Rally (above). To celebrate, it released the 323 GTX for 1988-’89, a five-speed, turbocharged, 132 horsepower all-wheel drive hatch that was as close to a factory-prepped rally car as you could buy at a U.S. dealership. Despite only selling 1,243 cars in two years, the GTX was a pioneer in the world of rally fighters, and set the table for cars like the Mitsubishi Evolution, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf R, and Ford Focus RS.
4. 1990 MX-5 Miata
For as much love as the Miata gets on the Internet, its importance really can’t be overstated. Released as a 1990 model, the diminutive sports car single-handedly put the affordable roadster back on the map, and all but saved it from oblivion. It’s gone on to become the first sports car for hundreds of thousands of gearheads, and today, in its fourth generation, it’s still one of the best handling cars money can buy. Mazda will be showing one of the three original prototypes that made its debut at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. While the other four cars on the list are important, the Miata is simply the most important car in Mazda’s history.
5. RX-7 Spirit R LHD
Despite being one of the most formidable sports cars of its day, the third-generation twin-turbo RX-7 left America in 1995 after just three years on the market. While the combination of performance and rarity has made them one of the most sought after ’90s sports cars in the U.S., the ultimate RX-7, the Spirit R, was never sold here. Lightweight and track-focused, of the 1,504 Spirit Rs (the last cars produced before RX-7 production ended) produced in 2002, just one was built in left hand drive. Mazda held onto it, and today, it represents the best from an already legendary nameplate.
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