Home » How A 14,000 RPM Mazda Concept Car From 1970 Could Inspire A Badass New ‘Dakar-Style’ Rally Mazda

How A 14,000 RPM Mazda Concept Car From 1970 Could Inspire A Badass New ‘Dakar-Style’ Rally Mazda

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For me, one of the saddest things in the automotive world is seeing great concept cars just sitting and collecting dust in warehouses. After the show season is over, most of these things end up languishing for decades, if they’re lucky enough to escape a date with the crusher as was often the case in years past.

Mind you, I’m not talking about those “concepts” which are just slightly massaged production cars shown just before their launch to generate interest from the general public. At the same time, I’m not referring to some silly flying drone thing or supposedly-nuclear-powered dream machine. The show cars that I pour one out for are the functional ones that could rather easily be produced with just a few tweaks.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

There’s more than a few of these, and one of the coulda-beens that I especially like is a largely forgotten Mazda machine that would have surely been a wild production car in the 1970s – and even more so in the 2020s, which is how I’m imagining it.

Rotary Dreams

In the late sixties, Mazda was likely looking at “what’s next” as a possible successor to their dramatic rotary powered Cosmo coupe:

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Image: Mazda
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Image: Mazda

The resulting show car was the 1970 Mazda RX-500, a 14,000 RPM, rotary powered bread-van-shaped GT styled to look rather like a LeMans car of the era (or Speed Racer’s Mach Five if we’re being honest about the rather exaggerated nose and tail). Butterfly-style doors for the passenger compartment were joined by gullwing-opening panels over the engine compartment. Pure sci-fi on wheels, the RX-500 was paraded about for a number of years in different paint schemes including orange, green, and the later silver it remains in today:

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Somewhat reminiscent of a cartoonish interpretation of the C-111 concepts that Mercedes was showing at the time, this forward-thinking wedge was developed completely in-house to be a technology showcase and worthy successor to the Cosmo that shook up the automotive world in demonstrating what this Japanese upstart was capable of. The mid-mounted rotary engine (and storage for the spare) in back allowed for the impossibly low nose up front, while the Kamm tail was framed by taillights that will get Jason Torchinsky all hot and bothered.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mazda_RX500_rear_2009_Tokyo_Auto_Salon.jpg/Morro

Like those mood rings from the era, the color of the lights changed depending on if the car is accelerating (green), slowing down (yellow) or throwing out the anchor (red, of course). I doubt any jurisdiction would allow these, and for some reason the shapes of the lights seem to have been copied nearly verbatim by later Ford Torino station wagons.

It’s not a very well-remembered concept and I only know about it since I’ve owned one – If you’re a GenXer, you might have as well. I recall it drove rather well, at least on the orange Hot Wheels tracks you’d set up until mom said to clean up the damn room.

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That’s right: Matchbox offered a popular diecast of this car with a lift-up rear engine cover (in rather oddly inaccurate proportion compared to the real one). Photo: ebay

As far as a full-sized version, Mazda seems to have done exactly nothing with the concept; instead, the next generation Cosmo was an Olds Cutlass-looking sedan. The RX-7 that came along in 1978 was not a whiz-bang supercar but instead a rather back-to-basics sports alternative to the boulevardier-like Datsun 280ZX of the time. Later RX sports models remained front-engined coupes all the way through the last “four door” RX-8. Mazda has teased up with the RX-Vision, a next-generation “RX-9” and its production possibilities; it’s also the same front engine format as earlier RX sports cars.

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Mazda

This RX-9 thing is pretty appealing, and I’d have no problem with this thing seeing the light of day. Regardless, I want the old RX-500 to somehow come to life fifty years after it stunned showgoers. The RX-500 was to be a proto-supercar and not a Japanese evolution of the long-nosed British sports car that the production RX series gave us. Is there a way that such a car could coexist with that “RX-9” and other front-engined offerings? I would say “yes”, and it could be as unique and revolutionary as the RX-500.

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Wankel Off Roader

Here’s one possibility: the revival of an RX-500 could be a way to make an affordable version of that new, emerging breed of lifted, “safari” style supercars. Porsche pulled from their history of actually competing with 911s in such environments with their Dakar model. Lamborghini has no such precedent for their Huracan Sterrato; this odd-looking thing is a bit polarizing but undeniably this trend of high performance sports machines that can go off pavement is not going to end any time soon. The fact that “Mustang Raptor” concepts have seen the light of day seems to prove it.

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Porsche, Lamborghini, Ford

I’m not sure what to think about these things. My first response is that they’re a bit silly, though based on the fact that most supercars can barely make it over a speed bump without catastrophic consequences, much less go out in the snow or drive on a dirt road, I can’t say that the concept is totally without merit. I would say that, especially in the case of the Lambo, it might be better to start from scratch with a design for this type of purpose instead of jacking up and putting incongruous flares and tires on a street vehicle (not to mention the stuck-on Pep Boys LED driving lights that look like a mustache). These “lifted” otherwise-stock-looking supercars remind me less of something a professional driver would take on the Paris-Dakar rally than they do those absurd Mazda Miata-body-on-a-Jeep-chassis backyard mashups you see people trying to sell on Facebook Marketplace.

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Also, I would imagine that anyone with the means to buy one of these not-necessarily-off-road-but-worse-for-the-road supercars that cost as much as an average three bedroom house has the available cash to buy a second car. Why would they not just avoid such a compromise machine and buy an unmolested Porsche or Lambo “street” model and then acquire a Range Rover or Cayenne/Urus for when the weather or roads are poor? Honestly, one of these safari sports machines might make more sense for a more affordable brand of car and people that barely have the ability to shell out for just one new car (like, well, most of us). Average Joes could take advantage of such a duality.

A modern RX-500, oddly enough, might be a good place to start. I was encouraged to see that the “bread van” shape appears to be making a comeback with concepts like the latest Honda Zero electric vehicles.

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Honda

It’s both a slick and useful form, and one that we haven’t seen the likes of in some time; the fact that it’s a comparatively odd, unfamiliar shape might make it ideal for an entry into an all-new kind of category.

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Smooth As An Electric Motor?

The new RX-Cross 500 could be an EV, but I’d want to keep it a rotary-engined car just based on the name alone (like, could you imagine an EV with “turbo” in the name? Oh wait…). In this case, a single rotor powerplant would act as a range extender mounted in front behind the grille to generate energy for the rear and centrally mounted batteries to pump power to the front and rear electric motors. I like how the relative smoothness of a rotary fits in nicely with the hum of electric motors in a way that piston powered plants cannot.  Air springs would allow for raised ride height, or normal ground clearance for street driving (meaning ninety nine percent of the time the thing is being driven).

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Gallery Aaldering

Proportionally, the new RX-Cross would be more rational than the old RX-500 concept, but still pick up on the basic look. Mazda’s current corporate nose and grille would be condensed to fit into the low nose, flanked by driving lamps. You know, with today’s LED lights, there’s no longer a reason to have covered headlamps, but somehow the front end just looks so much cleaner with the primary lights (at the legally required height) hidden beneath covers.  Also, I will add motorized headlamps covers or motorized anything to a car for any reason I can find.

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Small intakes in front of the flares for the rear wheels provide air to the rear brakes. The prominent slots on the engine cover of the original car are mimicked by similarly shaped window openings and wrap around glass bands over the rear seat area.  Here you can see the sort-of-Volvo-like rear view with the suspension lifted to “Dakar” mode and the optional roof rack featuring high intensity lights front and back.

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Never Too Many Triangles

There’s a temptation with rotary powered cars to put that Vicks cough drop shape on any and every surface; I am unable to resist said temptation. Please accept my apologies.

I started to use those slots on the rear quarters of the car as a theme inside so the dashboard vents would pick up on this shape. A forward-facing track pad on the armrest would control functions on the touch screen if you’d rather work it that way. I like the idea of putting passenger and driver temperature on the door panels so it’s not impossible to find it on some screen or maze of a dashboard. Main screens are line-of-sight under the giant windshield.

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If there was one thing I really didn’t like about the original RX-500 it was that it had a great deal of wasted, void space under that lift-up rear engine cover. This is a real shame considering that it didn’t take advantage of the compact size of the motor. This new model would have the rotary range extender, gas tank, air suspension pump and other mechanicals under the hood so there’d be room for at least occasional rear seating in back that could be folded down for station-wagon like cargo space (headrests fold down first, then seatback folds). The glass hatchback opens to access this expandable cargo space.

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Is This Dakar Or Not?

As laughable as an off-road sports car seems, with high end manufacturers getting on board it’s only a matter of time until more mainstream brands do the same. This could be a great opportunity for Mazda to lead the way with a purpose-built offering that takes advantage of hybrid power since a pure EV still isn’t a good overlanding option. Also, it doesn’t look like an AMC Eagle-style regular-car-on-stilts.

More importantly to GenXers like myself, Mazda could finally give people a chance to drive an RX-500 somewhere other than orange tracks on the living-room floor. It’s been fifty years – isn’t it about time?

 

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Tbird
Tbird
9 days ago

Late Gen-X: why do so many of these early ’70s concepts still seem so modern? Is it the forced rectilinity of ’80s cars or the soap bubble ’90s skewing our view? Many of these concepts seem to merge the two without all the modern aggression/vents/surfacing (and modern safety requirements). Maybe it is just the pure, clean shapes.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
9 days ago

The RX-500 is the wagon Marty and Jennifer bought after they got married, had kids, and Flea gave him a raise.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
10 days ago

Love it. Someone make this.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
10 days ago

That looks like it will get lit up at 88 mph.

D-dub
D-dub
10 days ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

Powered By Rotary Mr. Fusion

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
9 days ago
Reply to  D-dub

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
9 days ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

The Flux Capacitor: It’s what makes time travel possible.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
10 days ago

Wait! You mean Mazda trotted out a rotary concept that never actually saw the light of day?

Toecutter
Toecutter
10 days ago

I’m a fan of the breadvan shape. I’d like to see a modern small Alfa Romeo 4C-esque sports car making use of it. Smooth, round headlights up front, and then use the breadvan shape to its fullest to reduce aero drag.

Tinibone
Tinibone
10 days ago

I might be a millennial, but as a rotary fanatic all I can say is GIMME GIMME NOW!! This is fantastic and if Mazda ever made one I would buy it in a heartbeat

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
10 days ago

I’ve always liked the look of the 911 Dakar but holy god that Mustang Raptor is an abomination. I like them in general but that’s just wrong.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
10 days ago

I like the idea, but I think it’s still sitting in the concept arena due to those rear side windows – they would be expensive to manufacture and, as designed, would compromise the lower beltline crash structure. I’m not sure I could envision it, but do you think it would work okay with a more “normal” set of windows?

Also, while the front end is clearly meant to ape the current Mazda font end design (that started on the 6?), because of the rectangular grille, it actually looks much more Nissan to me.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
10 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I’m not sure it needs to be bigger to be more Mazda-like – the big difference between the Mazda chrome dividing line and the Nissan chrome dividing line is that the Mazda version is curved toward the bottom, while the Nissan is rectilinear. I’m not sure if it would look good, but adding a curve to the bottom of the grille line (even if not to the car itself) would likely make it look significantly more Mazda.

As for the rear side windows, I doubt you’d be able to get glass below the beltline. Louver panels above the belt line would be easy enough, although it would significantly worsen blind spots. You could potentially make the louver panels out of smoked glass instead of solid, so that it can be seen through from inside the car but not readily from outside.

Perhaps below the belt line you could add a feature kind of like the faux vents on the original ’65 Mustang? Something that gets the idea across without actually causing issues.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
10 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Gotcha, right. Still expensive to do as individual pieces of glass.

BOSdriver
BOSdriver
10 days ago

This is what the Kia EV6 would look like if the Hyundai Ioniq5 design team was tasked with the mid-cycle refresh. I would not be disappointed.

Alpine 911
Alpine 911
10 days ago

Just love this (and actually all your articles, perfect balance between facts, insights and opinion – always learning on content and design process).

On the note of wacky/odd offroad combos, honorable mention of the yellow SLK/G Wagen (including trailer!):

https://www.jimrogers.com/the-adventure/

Pretty interesting story actually (the book is good).

OttosPhotos
OttosPhotos
10 days ago

I still have that Matchbox (minus the box). And yes, when I found out what the real car looked like, I was disappointed in the Matchbox interpretation.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 days ago

Man that must be what DeLorean was looking at when he designed his car. Minus a decent engine of course. It also seems to have inspired parts of other cars, Bradley GT, I see some Porshe and Jensen in there. Those off road combo cars all look ripped off from the AMC Eagle. A car that should have propelled AMC as a top brand pre Subaru.
As an afterthought the Pinto Wagon looks similar as well.

Last edited 11 days ago by Mr Sarcastic
Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
10 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Somewhere in an alternative 70s, there is a 4×4 lifted Pinto wagon/panel van conversion. Possibly done by Boughton?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 days ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

I seem to recall yellow with orange decals, a round porthole near the top rear.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
11 days ago

Wow, that’s a beauty. I suspect the appeal of the breadvan to our Autopian lizard brains is the similarity to a wagon plus the added appeal of a racy front end.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
11 days ago

The world needs more triangular hazard light buttons.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
11 days ago

(Holds up 401k) One RX500, please.

10001010
10001010
11 days ago

Yet again Bish has penned something I really want but can never have.

First Last
First Last
11 days ago

This thing is rad. I’d like mine with fold-flat seating to maximize cargo space and maybe a Westfalia-style pop-top so I can sleep in it.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
11 days ago

I would be the first to sign up for this.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 days ago

Line starts back there, fella!

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
11 days ago

I can’t decide if the 1970’s Pussy Wagon style “Powered by ROTARY” graphic completely ruins an otherwise very sexy car or makes it just that much more awesome. I’m leaning towards awesome.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
11 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Definitely awesome.

Maymar
Maymar
10 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Nothing says innovative and futuristic like Cooper Black.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
9 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

“I’M WITH STUPID ->”

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
10 days ago
Reply to  Maymar

You’re damn right.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
9 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

It needs a “Let’s Boogie” sticker.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
9 days ago

“If this bread van’s a rockin’, don’t come a-knocking'”

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
11 days ago

Wankel Off Roader”
Phrasing?

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
11 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

You can always count on me to find the toilet humor in everything.

Alpine 911
Alpine 911
10 days ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Thank you!

First Last
First Last
11 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

With its raised suspension it would be the perfect beach companion to the Barbie Corvette. Ken could definitely have himself a beach-off in the Wankel Off Roader.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

It’s a wonder that the Wanker Family on a popular TV Show didn’t own or work with Wankel engines.

SAABstory
SAABstory
11 days ago

The RX-500 was a blast in Gran Turismo 7, one of the more fun things in that game. GT7 turned out to be a not so fun game in the long run, but that’s another story.

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