Mazda 323, the first generation. A trailblazer.

Mazda323 1979 Action 23 high res
ER Classics Desktop 2022

The compact hatchback from Japan immediately enjoyed enormous popularity. Ever since the introduction of the 1000/1300 successor (the first Mazda 323 rolled off the production line in January 1977). And in February 1977, the 323 made its European debut in the country that loves the concept of “a lot of car for a competitive price”… the Netherlands. The place of performance was the Amsterdam Auto RAI.

Two sources of power in the first year

From the very beginning, the interest in the Mazda 323 was therefore enormous. The properties were therefore impressive. The Mazda 323 had a new modern styling, excellent basic equipment, practicality and competitive pricing. These were excellent in relation to the choice of a three- and five-door variant and two engine variants. The 985 cc/45 PK variant (in the beginning assigned to the already well-equipped basic EL version) and the 1272 cc/60 PK power source that was reserved for the luxury ES, and could be supplied in combination with a 4-speed, a 5-speed or an automatic transmission. The power units were performed with 1 overhead camshaft.

The Estate came on the market in 1978, which - in modified form - also became the second-generation station variant. Image: Mazda
In 1978 the Estate came on the market, which – in modified form – also became the station variant of the second generation. Image: Mazda

Complete equipment, competitive price

The Mazda 323 was, as mentioned, characterized by a complete equipment. A split-folding rear seat backrest, fixed headrests, an electrically heated rear window including wiper and washer. But also fabric carpeting, clocks with anti-reflective glass, three-point automatic belts and adjustable backrests are just a few of the attractive basic package that was assigned to the EL version. The ES version was even more extensive, with the real added value manifesting itself in the aforementioned larger power source and transmission options. In 1978 the range of delivery was expanded with the EC at the bottom of the range (a fairly complete car for a economy version). In the same year, the Mazda 323 SP saw the light of day: a sports version painted in matt black, which was also equipped with the new 1415 cc engine. It delivered 70 HP to the crankshaft and a maximum torque acceptable for that time of 114 Nm at 3200 rpm. In 1978 the Estate also came on the market, available in a three- and five-door version and can only be combined with the new 1415 cc engine, also with one overhead camshaft.

Modern car with conventional traits

In terms of design and layout, the Mazda 323 was a modern car. That was less true for the chassis and drive and the extent to which the body was worn. At the front, the construction was up to date. The wheels were suspended independently and were combined with the coil springs according to the McPherson construction. The rear had a rigid axle with coil springs and a Panhard rod. It gave the Mazda that typical Japanese stiff, but otherwise problem-free, traits in a handling. Unlike various European opponents and a few compatriots, the wheels were rear-wheel drive. The braking system – on every 323 with discs at the front and drums at the rear – was in keeping with what was customary at the time. The body was semi-self-supporting.

Recognizable by the large rear light units: the facelift version of the first generation Mazda 323. Image: Mazda
Recognizable, among other things, by the large rear light units: the facelift version of the first generation Mazda 323. Image: Mazda


The first generation received a facelift in 1979. It was mainly visible at the front and rear. The grille with the large round headlights was replaced by a more formal front with rectangular headlights. At the rear, the light units were enlarged. The 1.0 liter engine expired. The type designations also changed. After the summer of 323 a 1979 was only available as SEC (only with 1.3), SN and SSP (only with 1.4 engine). The Estate was only available as 1.4 SN. The facelift heralded the end of the first generation of a solidly constructed car with a modern body, ditto usability and lots and lots of 'value for money'.

Road preparer
The first Mazda 323 can therefore safely be seen as a forerunner of the success of the current 3. In 1980 it was succeeded by the second generation of the 323. The Estate ran - also as part of the second generation - until 1986.

Read also:
- Mazda 818. Days when you mistakenly forget it
- A small Mazda with a Wankel engine
- Automobil Museum Frey. The first Mazda museum in Europe
- Mazda 1000 (1973). Japanese exotic from Eelke van der Kooi


Give a reaction
  1. My employer had, in the 80s, one of the 323. 2 doors and a closed back, which you saw very little. I think it was a 1300 with leaf springs behind which made it quite a bouncing ball when empty.

  2. I personally think the 818 and 616 and the more expensive 121 from Mazda from the same period are worth more, same quality and price, but much nicer lined than the 323

  3. My first car,, I was 18 years old and it couldn't be hard enough, lived next door to a Mazda dealer, who was amazed how my car held up, unbreakable, super car,

  4. My first used car in '83, a 3 drs 1.3 es from '79, then until 2019 only 323tjes, 1x a 6 and then drove another 3, 11 pieces in total. Now almost 3 yrs a French (Megane), but wants to crawl back to those fine Mazdas, they were all better and much more pleasant to drive. Every generation 323 had 1 or 2 of them, mostly sedans. A beautiful quirky brand and now separate from Ford, going their own way.

    • My mom had one and I read in a 323 from these years. You really noticed the difference when you drove a newer 323. It was not really suitable as a training car. But my mother went from a VW 1600TLE to the 323. From one in six to more than one in ten and everything functioned smoothly and accurately. She then bought the updated version and that drove even better….

  5. we had the predecessor, a 1300 station wagon as a service car, it ran so fast!!!!!
    you drive everyone with that, a volkswagen didn't stand a chance unless it had to be a gti...

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