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Australo-Japanese Luxobarge: 1975-79 Mazda Roadpacer

Jim Yu March 16, 2012 All Things Hoon, Cars You Should Know 25 Comments

Q: Will people pay money for a Holden HJ Premier equipped with a Dictaphone, a small fridge, and a 13B rotary engine?

A: Hell no!  (But Mazda tried to sell it anyway.)

In the 1970s, Mazda was a small company with large aspirations.  In the domestic market, Diet members and captains of industry were being driven in Toyota Centurys, Nissan Presidents, and Mitsubishi Debonairs.  Mazda wanted a flagship sedan, but it didn’t have the money or time to develop one by itself.

Mazda needed a tried and true right hand drive platform.   The pickin’s were slim, and Australia’s Holden HJ Premier was chosen.  The longer HJ Statesman could not be used because it was badge engineered and sold in Japan as the Isuzu Statesman De Ville.  (Has your mind blown yet?)  Given that the average Japanese man in the 1970s was probably a foot shorter than the average Australian man, the wheelbase difference was irrelevant.

CKD kits were shipped from Oz to Hiroshima.  The venerable 13B rotary engine was thrown in, the seats were re-upholstered, and a fridge (in the trunk) and Dictaphone (next to the back seat) were installed.  Over its four year lifespan, Mazda sold 799 Roadpacers.  799.

Why did it fail?  The list begins and ends with the poor engine-body pairing.  The 1.3 liter Wankel produced 135 hp, as much as the Holden’s 3.3 liter-6 in the Australian market.  But the tiny engine has to be revving at 6,000 rpm to reach the peak (versus 4,400 for the six cylinder).  As for torque, the story is worse.  The Mazda produced 135 lb/ft at 4,000 rpm, the Holden produced 194 lb/ft at just 2,000.  Coupled with then-new emissions control technology and a 3-speed automatic, the Roadpacer was painfully slow.  The V8 President and Century blew it away.  Oh, and the Roadpacer could barely get 10 miles to the gallon in the city.  End.  Of.  Story.

Here is an excellent video tour of the Roadpacer, in Australian.

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This is a detailed look at assembling the 13B at a plant in Hiroshima.

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Information sources: June 1975 issue of Wheels and Japanese Wikipedia.

Images sources: This random Japanese site and this Japanese dude’s profile page.

  • Kogashiwa

    Looks like the same one that a friend of mine in Japan just spotted – Roadpacer

    His site by the way is pretty new but rapidly filling up with hoonish treasures.

    • http://karakullake.blogspot.com Maxichamp

      Same car! I've never seen any interesting cars when I'm in Japan. Tied for the most interesting are a Toyota Cavalier and a Chevy Astro can used by a private security firm.

  • http://www.flowerpowerkc.com Alff

    An interesting footnote but I'm way more drawn to the President in the background.

    • facelvega

      yeah, looks almost stately back there.

  • buzzboy7

    Being mid-engined I imagine it handles pretty well.

  • PowerTryp

    First and foremost, I fing love the Japanese fender mirrors. Don't fully understand why but I do.

    Second, these cars could actually be made into something really cool these days with all the high HP 13b builders out there. If the rear end is the same as the Holden then it could take some upgraded power.

    • http://karakullake.blogspot.com Maxichamp

      Growing up in Taiwan in the 70s and 80s, almost all passenger cars had fender mounted mirrors. Only "true" sports cars had A-pillar mirrors.

  • Bryce

    These cars were usually built with a 4.2 or 5 litre V8as Holdens not the 3.3 6 and like that they went ok with a gutless rotary they were very slow

  • RealDonn

    Imagine my US eyes surprise when visiting Japan in 1971. Lots of chauffeur driven cars, including fully loaded Plymouth Valiants. In black, with formal vinyl roofs, they looked decent. The drivers wore white gloves.

  • julkinen

    I am really, really partial to old Japanese premium saloons, even with Australian heritage. May this Roadpacer pace the road for long.

  • Ate Up With Motor

    I did a two-part story on the early Mazda rotaries on AUWM last fall and talked about the Roadpacer a bit.

    Part of the rationale for putting the rotary in it was emissions. For the time, the rotary engine with "Anti-Pollution" package (which mainly consisted of a thermal reactor like the one used on U.S. cars) had low emissions, particularly in NOx, where rotaries tended to do much better than piston engines. Japan's first real emissions standards were still tied up in political debate and infighting, but larger cities were screaming for smog control, so the government started offering tax incentives for people who bought low-emissions vehicles. With the thermal reactor 13B, the Roadpacer AP qualified for those incentives, which Toyo Kogyo had probably hoped would give it an edge against established rivals. With only 800 sold in three years, it obviously didn't work out that way…

  • suju89

    bout time someone else brought light to this oddity….

    For an all together more successful "Australo-Japanese" automotive crossover, check out the Holden VL Commodore Turbo, powered by an RB30ET Nissan motor.

    Shown here in 'Calais' guise with pop-up eyelids on the headlights.
    <img src="http://img148.imageshack.us/img148/826/vl001gr7.jpg&quot; width="400">

  • dukeisduke

    I don't know why, but I want one. It looks like a early '70's Chevy outside, inside, and under the hood (except for the tiny engine cowering there). I've heard of those before, but never seen pictures of one for sale.

    • http://karakullake.blogspot.com Maxichamp

      Most are in Japan. A few made it to Oz and Kiwi-land.

    • suju89

      Look at the Holden HQ Kingswood, same everything except with choice of 202 Holden 6 or 308 Holden V8. Could also be had as a sedan, wagon, coupe, ute, or 'tonner" (Ute with one-tonne payload capacity)

      This ones my favourite though, and what most people use them for nowadays
      [youtube EvF_UpPmYew http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvF_UpPmYew youtube]

  • dukeisduke

    The 14" wheelcovers are straight off of a mid '70s Malibu, Monte Carlo, or Camaro.

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