When it comes to unique cars, Japan seems to have no shortage of options. The western automotive market in comparison seems to lack variety when it comes to quirky and interesting vehicles. With standardized requirements across most of North and South America for what cars are permissible on the road, our team chose to seek out a truly unique car through the plentiful options that Japan has to offer.
Check out the video below for our initial impressions of the AZ1!
The Rarest Kei Sports Car in the World
With so many great options on the Japanese market, it made perfect sense to try to track down an Autozam AZ1. This incredibly appealing car stands alone in its appeal as a tiny sports car that steals away the attention of any passerby.
The Autozam AZ1 was the product of a collaboration between Suzuki and Mazda in October of 1992 which took form in a new company called Autozam (creator of the AZ1). This tiny car is one of the many kei cars that would come out of Japan in subsequent years but stood alone in being the only mid-engined sports car that was also a kei car.
Suzuki provided the engine for the AZ1 in the form of a turbocharged 657cc engine producing a whopping 64hp and 63 lb/ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Of course, this little car is lightweight in comparison to even the most compact of modern cars so that power goes a long way in delivering a riveting driving experience.
History of the AZ1
The AZ1 started life originally as a Suzuki concept car known as the RS/1 that Suzuki had planned on bringing forth into mass production in the coming years. The initial RS/1 design was then further refined in a new model named the RS/3 which made its debut at the 1987 Tokyo motor show. This iteration of the design was a more realistic one adhering to Japanese vehicle safety regulations and featuring a more practical approach the automotive market could appreciate. Unfortunately, the original RS/3 coupe design was abandoned shortly thereafter for a roadster version which later became the Suzuki Cappucino. It was then that Mazda’s design team took over where the Suzuki team left off breathing in new life to the freshly abandoned design.
Despite having limited financial resources the team at Mazda pressed on in their continued development of the AZ1 led by Toshiko Hirai, who would eventually go on to head the design of the Mada MX-5. With the design in good hands, Mazda’s design team started from the ground up reestablishing and reimagining the design. With a new tube frame, aluminum honeycomb bulkheads, numerous body style iterations, and a fiberglass body a totally new car began to emerge.
Mazda would go on to create 3 separate prototypes of the new AZ1 proposed for eventual production — the Type A, Type B, and Type C. It was the Type A design that would eventually be chosen as the design version that would be put into the assembly line even though the Type C was more widely embraced in the automotive market at the time.
The AZ1 was made available to the public in unfortunate circumstances as the timing of the release of this vehicle occurred during an economic recession rendering this kei car, in comparison to others, too cramped and too expensive. This led to Mazda abruptly halting production of the AZ1 a little over a year after beginning.
The First TCN Car Build
After searching for months The TCN team was able to finally track down an Autozam AZ1 in relatively good condition located in Tokyo. After a few months of back and forth negotiations and numerous translators, the Autozam AZ1 finally landed and was ready for pickup.
Picking up a car like this and seeing it for the first time in person was an awesome experience. Nothing prepares you for how tiny the car actually is. In comparison to anything on North American roads, the AZ1 is incredibly small and instantly puts a smile on your face.
The TCN team chose this car for a number of reasons. The first being its rarity. Sure, Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s are cool but how often do you ever see an AZ1? Almost never. The allure of this microcar gives it a special presence on the road and is sure to be a head-turner. Another reason why we chose the AZ1 is its potential as a platform. With such a small engine in the rear, there is ample room under the hood for a potential engine swap.
Bringing this 90’s gem of a car into the modern age means a total overhaul of much of the car. Everything from a digital gauge cluster to new Bluetooth stereo, sound deadening, reupholstering, new seats, door cards, weather seals, new paint, LED lights, upgraded brakes, are all on the table. Like many restoration/modernizing car projects, the list of tasks can be endless.
As this project begins we hope you can join us as we watch this build come to life. With new content being made throughout the entire process we hope passionate car enthusiasts will join us on this awesome journey.