Out of Print- 1977 Mazda GLC Sport Makes You Go Hmmmmm

It's a Great Little Cra
It's a Great Little Car

After the gas crisis decimated sales of their rotary-powered lineup, Mazda rebounded with a car that while little, was claimed by the company to be better than good- it was great.

Early in the 1970s Mazda claimed that, while competitors went boing, boing, boing, Mazdas went Hummmmmm. What they didn’t tell you was that that hummmmm was the sound of their rotary engines sucking gas like it was going out of style- which starting in the ’70s, it appeared to be.
Mazda was on the ropes with car sales dwindling due to that reputation for crappy fuel economy, as well as sub-standard reliability from their triangular-pistoned engines. But apex seals be damned, Mazda still had a relatively compact and frugal 4 cylinder reciprocating engine which powered the RX 3-mirroring 808. As that car still looked like its rotary brother, it shared that car’s taint of failure, despite a version marketed as the “Mizer” by Mazda. What Mazda needed was a clean-slate car that broke from the rotary pack and could make the company competitive again.
That car debuted in America’s Bicentennial year as a ’77 model and was named the GLC, which of course stood for Great Little Car. In Japan and elsewhere, this was simply the latest version of the Familia, a model that Mazda had been selling since the mid-sixties. But in the U.S., where gas lines were long, and interest in low-mileage cars was short, the GLC shunned the company’s rotary past for a tried and true reciprocating engine, rear-wheel drive, hatchback package, in the same vein as the contemporary Chevy Chevette. Exotic technologies such as front-wheel drive or CVCC heads were omitted in order to keep costs low, and the $3,074 entry for the base model reflected that.
This ad demonstrates a couple of things that Mazda was aiming for in promotion of the GLC- First off, you’ll note that they specifically call out in the sub-head that it is a “piston engine”, immediately countering the notion that Mazda equates to thirsty wankels. This is reinforced by the prominent placement of the mileage figures- 35 city, 45 highway. Remember that cars of this era had to work less hard to keep us safe from ourselves, so they were oodles lighter. They also put out about 200-times the emissions, so what power was available could be used to generate momentum rather than heating a catalytic converter. Additionally, zero to sixty is about 14 seconds, so they were a lot slower than today’s small cars. All this added up to amazing mileage numbers. It should be noted that the EPA used a different calculation for official mileage numbers back then, so you could drop these by ten percent with today’s method. That’s still pretty impressive.
The other thing that Mazda was trying to do with the GLC, as demonstrated in this ad, is build a breadth of models by using tape and trim rings. As they had been limited to the RX series, 808/818 versions of those cars and derivative cosmos, Mazda did not have a deep product selection of cars that could be touted as fuel efficient, and by offering the GLC in a couple of body styles, and then adding some dress-up features to them, they created the impression that the company was offering an entire range of gas sippers. The object of this ad’s focus is the Sport model which was differentiated by bespoke tape stripes wheel trim rings, and a tachometer. Aside from that, it’s still 14 seconds to sixty, and cornering on the door handles. Sporty!
The GLC was successful for Mazda in accomplishing the goals of changing public perception about the company, and providing a volume sales leader to generate revenue. The year following its launch saw the debut of the RX-7, which placed its rotary engine in a car where fuel consumption was less important than power, and the RX-7’s position as a comparable, but 2/3rds priced, competitor to the Porsche 924 shocked the German company into moving upmarket with the 944 series.
The GLC carried on until the end of the decade (and a bit longer for the wagon) until a modern, front-drive replacement allowed the cheeky little car to retire. Today, the Mazda 3 is the direct descendant, and is considered to be a pretty Great Little Car in its own right.

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  1. Maymar Avatar

    There's something weird about calling a car the Mizer. I know it's supposed to suggest good fuel economy, but just sounds like the Mazda Cheap Bastard.
    Plus, you can't sing enthusiastically about your Mizer (or sadly, your 3).
    [youtube lGQjM2KRxaE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGQjM2KRxaE youtube]

    1. iheartstiggie Avatar

      I sing enthusiastically IN my MS3, does that count?

      1. Maymar Avatar

        Close. You may need GLC badges, just to be safe.

  2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    It's always fun to see how things have changed. What was promoted then as "Styled Road Wheels" would now be "steel wheels where we are too cheap to even give you hubcaps, let alone aluminum wheels"

    1. blueplate Avatar

      Age of Aerostar! Great to see you in the hooniverse.
      GR, very cool that you're critiquing not only the car but the advertising & marketing .. interesting read.
      I wonder how many people would be willing to get 45 mpg today if it meant 0-60 in 14 seconds…

      1. joshuman Avatar

        Plenty but I don't count myself among them. The Prius gets there in 10.4. The Insight in 11.5. Sure that is seconds off of 14 but it is still the double digits.

        1. iheartstiggie Avatar

          You beat me to it. The We're getting very high 40's out of the Insight so far and in all honesty, are second guessing the purchase due to the pathetic acceleration. While the need for acceleration in middletown anywhere isn't typically a problem, trying to get across a DC intersection before the light turns and we get rammed by a city bus means acceleration NEEDED, especially uphill. BAH!!!

          1. joshuman Avatar

            There should be a way to program the computers around that issue but at the expense of battery drain and lower MPG, it might not be worth it. Use that electric motor's torque for great initial acceleration and feed in the ICE power when the tires have enough grip to use it.

      2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

        Good to be here, thanks!!! FTGD Wolverines clued me in.
        And yeah, GREAT write up, Graverobber! Thanks! I love these old ads.

  3. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    The hood, dipped in the center and flanked by round lights in square pods, gives off an unusual Pacer-like vibe. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

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  5. nemo Avatar

    Two New Zealanders ponied up to buy a Mazda dealership in Honolulu in the mid '70s, rotary engine reputation having near destroyed sales. Then that car and the RX7 were released and those two guys were worth millions. One of them is Neville Crichton, well known as a yachtsman.