During my 2013 Japan Speedhunting expedition I had the chance to visit some of the country’s biggest and most well known car museums. First it was the nostalgic atmosphere at the Yokota Collection in the Gunma countryside; and then the amazing Toyota Automobile Museum in Aichi. From there, I found myself sitting on the Shinkansen bullet train heading at a very good clip towards Hiroshima – the home of Mazda’s global headquarters and museum.
While all of Japan’s car companies have their own territory so to speak, Hiroshima is 100 per cent a Mazda town. This becomes apparent within moments of hopping off the train at Hiroshima Station and seeing the brand new Atenzas that were proudly displayed within the station.
Mazda has always been a bit of an underdog compared to its juggernaut rivals Nissan, Toyota and Honda – but driving around Hiroshima you wouldn’t know it. Mazda is the car of choice here, and it’s not surprising considering the car company is Hiroshima’s largest employer and a pivotal part of the local economy. It’s something that goes back to Jujiro Matsuda and his Toyo Cork Kogyo Company of the early 1920s, which ultimately went on to become the Mazda Motor Corporation. Today the city is home not only to Mazda’s corporate headquarters, but to its massive Hiroshima manufacturing facility.
Not surprisingly, Mazda also operates a company museum in its hometown – but unlike some of others, you can’t just show up and browse around whenever you’d like. The museum is actually situated deep within the factory itself, and access is via a guided tour that also takes you around the plant itself.
Arranging the tour is not difficult though. It’s offered in both English and Japanese and is available completely free of charge. Once you’ve made your reservations, you arrive at the Mazda head office (easily accessible via train) and then board a small bus for the short ride down to the waterfront factory.
Unfortunately photography is not permitted inside the factory grounds, but it was fascinating to look out the window as the bus made its way through the gigantic facility, which is really like its own independent city. After the quick ride, the bus arrives at the museum lobby and the cameras can come out.
Because the Mazda CX-5 SUV had just won the Japan Car of the Year award, the lobby included a display of other Mazda vehicles that have taken the honor in the past. Seen here is the Mazda Familia Hatchback which won the award for the 1980-81 model year.
Also on display is the Mazda Capella (aka Mazda 626 and Ford Telstar) which earned the Car of the Year title for 1982-83.
More recently we have the NC chassis Mazda Roadster, which won the award upon its debut in 2005.The Early Days
From there, the next stop is the museum area itself. Although not large, it features an impressive selection of Mazda vehicles that span the company’s history.
The earliest machine on hand is this 1935 Type-TCS three-wheeled truck, a variation of Mazda’s first ever vehicle. The Type TCS is powered by an air-cooled 654cc engine which makes 13hp.
As you can see, the truck also bears the familiar logo of Mitsubishi, which was responsible for marketing Mazda vehicles at this time.
Also present is a 1950 Type GB three-wheeled truck, which was a symbol of Mazda’s return to consumer vehicle production following the end of the second world war.
Mazda continued producing three-wheeled trucks in the decades to come, with models like this T2000 becoming popular thanks to its large cargo capacity and tight turning radius.
Mazda’s first venture into the passenger car market came in 1960 with the introduction of the R360 Coupe. Not only was the R360 a groundbreaking vehicle for Mazda, it was also a car that helped to establish Japan’s micro car market during the 1960s.
Mazda’s car business continued to boom in the early ’60s, with the introduction of models like the Carol, which had room for four-passengers. This particular 1963 Carol 600 was decorated to commemorate the Mazda’s 1,000,000 vehicle produced.
As automobile ownership experienced rapid growth in Japan, Mazda’s lineup continued to expand with new models. In late 1963 the Mazda Familia debuted as the company’s first full-fledged family car, with modern styling and an all-aluminum four-cylinder engine.
Elsewhere, Mazda introduced vehicles like the B360 truck. It’s not hard to see how trucks like this ’67 B360 would eventually evolve into the kei trucks that dominate Japan’s country roads today.The Rotary Era
Needless to say, the museum also includes the 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport (aka 110S). The car known not only for its swooping lines but also for its pioneering use of a twin rotor engine. The Cosmo, of course, was the first of many historic rotary-powered Mazdas.
Soon the rotary engine begin to power other Mazda models, like this 1968 Familia Rotary Coupe (aka R100). With its 10A rotary powerplant, the Familia Coupe made 100 horsepower at 7,000rpm – a big deal back in ’68.
Behold, the 1968 Mazda Bongo 1000 Van. Not only did the Bongo have one of the coolest names ever put on a vehicle, it’s also been part of Mazda’s lineup ever since.
One of the rarest and most unusual cars in the entire collection is this 1969 Luce Rotary Coupe – Mazda’s first and only front-wheel drive, rotary-powered car. The Luce Rotary Coupe was also the only Mazda ever to be equipped with the 13A rotary engine.
Slightly more recognizable should be this 1972 Savanna GT (aka RX-3), which quickly earned its place in history as another one of Mazda’s great rotary-powered machines.
Also representing Mazda of the 1970s is this handsome ’75 Cosmo AP (aka RX-5). The ‘AP’ which if you didn’t know stands for Anti-Pollution. Who needs a Prius when you can save the environment with a badass 1970s Cosmo?
Another car deserving of a rightful spot in the museum is the 1978 Savanna RX-7 – the car which took Mazda’s rotary philosophy to a new level of global success.The 787B & Friends
And speaking of international achievement, the museum also includes a special display dedicated to the Mazda 787B.
It’s here where you will find the actual 787B chassis that won Le Mans in 1991, along with several other artifacts…
… including an example of the car’s four-rotor engine. No sound demonstration though I’m afraid.
The display also includes the trophy that the team was awarded upon its historic win in 1991. For motorsports history buffs, this alone should be reason enough to visit the Mazda Museum.
The collection also includes cars from the more contemporary era, including the Suzuki-designed Autozam AZ-1. The mid-engined, gullwing door-equipped kei car made waves when it was introduced in Japan in 1992.
Also present is the Eunos Cosmo of the early 1990s, which is of course the only Mazda ever to be powered by a three-rotor 20B engine.
Another car which is absolutely deserving of a spot in the museum is the NA-chassis Eunos Roadster. Whether you know it as the Roadster, the Miata or the MX-5 it’s simply one of the company’s most iconic products and a global sports car phenomenon.
Last but not least, we have the FD3S Efini RX-7 – a absolute modern classic and a car that is still awaiting a proper successor. Thankfully if recent rumors are true, the FD3S may no longer be known as the ‘last’ RX-7.Today & Tomorrow
Once the museum tour is through, the next stop is the actual assembly line where you get a look at Roadsters, Demios and other Mazdas being built right before your eyes. You also get to see the on-site dock area where Mazda loads up its vehicles on ships bound for destinations around the world. Once again photography is not allowed in these areas, but it was quite interesting to see.
From there, you get to see detailed display that breaks down the process of vehicle production from the early design phase…
… all the way to final assembly.
You can also check out a few of Mazda’s futuristic concept cars…
… and prototypes like the hydrogen-powered RX-8.
Finally, you arrive back at the lobby where you have some time to check out the small gift shop before hopping on the bus back to the corporate offices.
You can also pick up some official gear from the Hiroshima Carp – the city’s professional baseball team that Mazda sponsors.
Mazda has always been a car maker that’s done things a little differently, so it’s fitting that it would offer a museum experience unlike any company out there. If you ever find yourself in the wonderful city of Hiroshima, I highly recommend arranging a visit to experience this unique showcase of Mazda’s history and automotive technology.