In September, Toyo Kogyo introduced an updated Cosmo Sport known as the L10B. While engine displacement was unchanged, porting, carburetion, and intake modifications boosted the 982 cc (60 cu. in.) engine to 130 PS (128 hp, 97 kW), comparable to the Nürburgring cars. Externally, the L10B looked little different than before, but the front wheels were moved forward 5.9 inches (150 mm), increasing wheelbase to 92.5 inches (2,350 mm); overall length was actually slightly reduced. (We don’t know the rationale for the change, but it may have been an effort to improve ride quality.) Meanwhile, the gearbox acquired an overdrive fifth gear; a vacuum servo was added to the brakes; the wheels were enlarged to 15 inches (381 mm); and air conditioning was newly optional, mounted on the shelf behind the front seats.
The changes added about 110 lb (50 kg) to the Cosmo Sport’s curb weight, but with the added power, the L10B was even faster than before, with an advertised (and probably conservative) top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h). The revised Cosmo was more expensive as well, with base price rising to ¥1,580,000 (a bit under $4,400 at the contemporary exchange rate). Although the L10B was once again offered only with right-hand drive, a few were officially exported. It appears that most export models used the earlier engine and four-speed gearbox and carried the “110S” identification of the L10A cars.
The L10B remained in limited production through the 1972 model year. The Cosmo received a bit of extra publicity in 1971, when the car was featured on the television series Return of Ultraman, and at least one Cosmo Sport was used as a highway interceptor by the Hiroshima Prefecture Police into the mid-1970s. However, the L10B was expensive for the Japanese market, and sales rarely topped 200 units a year. The final production tally was 1,176, not including the earlier L10A models.
The Cosmo Sport was an interesting exercise, but it was really only a prelude to Toyo Kogyo’s biggest gamble: the first mass-market Mazda rotary.
RX-85: THE FAMILIA ROTARY AND MAZDA R100
In November 1967, Toyo Kogyo began rolling out the second generation of its compact family car line, the Mazda Familia, originally launched in 1963–1964. The Familia was rapidly becoming the company’s volume product, and the new version was the first model slated for export in meaningful numbers. At launch, the Familia was offered only with four-cylinder piston engines, but at the Tokyo Auto Show that fall, Toyo Kogyo exhibited a rotary version of the new coupe, identified as the RX-85 and powered by a detuned version of the Cosmo Sport’s 982 cc (60 cu. in.) two-rotor engine.
The production RX-85, now dubbed Mazda Familia Rotary Coupe, arrived in July 1968. To reduce production costs, its 10A engine used cast iron side housings and traded the Cosmo Sport’s chrome-molybdenum eccentric shaft for a cheaper chrome steel unit. With revised porting and carburetor settings, output dropped to 100 PS (99 hp, 75 kW) and 98 lb-ft (132 N-m) of torque, still a healthy improvement on the 59 PS (58 hp, 43 kW) of the Familia 1200’s 1,169 cc (71 cu. in.) SOHC four. In other respects, the rotary car was very much like the Familia 1200, with a four-speed gearbox, MacPherson struts, and a live axle on semi-elliptical springs. Early production models even retained the same 10.6 U.S. gallon (40 liter) capacity as the 1200, although on later rotary Familia models, the fuel tank was enlarged to 13.2 gallons (50 liters) to compensate for the rotary engine’s greater thirst.
Starting at ¥660,000 (around $1,840), the Rotary Coupe was significantly more expensive than a piston-engined Familia, but also a great deal faster. Toyo Kogyo advertised a top speed of 112 mph (180 km/h) and 0-400 meter (approximately a quarter mile) acceleration in 16.4 seconds; 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) times were around 11 seconds. Independent testers outside Japan found those figures somewhat optimistic, but the rotary Familia still had brisk performance, and there were few other street engines of that time that could happily run to 7,000 rpm. The trade-off was fuel economy. The Familia Rotary’s thirst was not outrageous — in the neighborhood of 20 mpg U.S. (11.8 L/100 km) overall — but it was more comparable to that of six-cylinder engines than of the small fours offered elsewhere in the line. Buyers who expected fuel consumption in line with the 10A’s geometric displacement were to be sorely disappointed, something that would become the rotary engine’s bête noire.
Initial sales of the Mazda Familia Rotary Coupe were modest, amounting to only 6,925 units in 1968. In mid-1969, Toyo Kogyo added a four-door sedan, the Mazda Familia Rotary SS (presumably for “sport sedan”), with a base price of ¥638,000 (about $1,775), and began exporting the rotary models to Australia and Thailand. Sales expanded to Europe in the spring of 1970.
The Mazda Cosmo Sport’s Nürburgring exploits had apparently whetted Toyo Kogyo’s appetite for competition, because the company entered a Familia Rotary Coupe in the Singapore Grand Prix in April 1969, fitted with a 195 hp (145 kW) racing version of the 10A engine. The car won its class, the Familia Rotary’s first racing victory. Three more cars, detuned to a still-robust 187 hp (139 kW), entered the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hour in Belgium that August, taking fifth and sixth. Those cars subsequently headed to the Nürburgring for the 1969 Marathon de la Route, but only one finished the race, taking fifth overall. A Familia Rotary Coupe, tuned for 214 hp (160 kW), won the All Japan Suzuka Automobile Race in November 1969.
The following summer, Mazda R100 coupes competed in the RAC Tourist Trophy and West Germany’s Touring Car Grand Prix before taking a second shot at the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hour, once again coming in fifth. If not a spectacular success, the racing campaign was a credible effort, and paid dividends to later privateers. Many of the pieces developed for the competition cars subsequently became available over the counter in a series of sport kits.
Toyo Kogyo took its first steps into the U.S. market in early 1970, although early sales were limited to the Pacific Northwest. The Familia was part of the initial lineup, offered either with a conventional four-cylinder engine (as the Mazda 1200, in sedan, coupe, or wagon form) or with rotary power (as the R100 coupe). With a starting price of $2,495 POE, the American Mazda R100 was $550 more expensive than the conventionally powered Mazda 1200 coupe, which had only 64 gross horsepower (48 kW) to the R100’s 100 hp (75 kW). We have no sales breakdowns for the 1970 model year, but total U.S. sales for all Mazda cars and trucks amounted to fewer than 2,500 units. Those sales would grow spectacularly over the next three years.