The cars we loved.
The American car market at one time was the center of the automotive world. Many small companies like Mazda partnered with larger companies like Ford to help get a foothold in our market. The big Three benefited from such partnerships because they were so bad at building small cars and could really use the help. Chrysler’s Mitsubishi connection might be the most notorious partnership in the States, but the phenomenon was just as popular abroad. For Mazda, its long association with the Ford Motor Company reached Australia as well.
GM, who has partnered with Asian car companies like Isuzu, Daewoo and Toyota also had a short lived collaboration with Mazda. Holden, GM’s Chevrolet like subsidy in Australia, teamed up with Mazda to create a curious sedan based on the Holden Premier. The Premier was a full sized car by Japanese standards that resembled a cross between a four door Chevrolet Chevelle and Monte Carlo. Like many full sized cars from the 70s, the Roadpacer was rear wheel drive.
Called the Roadpacer and sometimes with AP (anti-pollution) after the name, it was one of the largest cars Mazda sold in the mid 1970s. Roadpacers started out as HJ and HX models of the Premier that were shipped from Australia to Japan without engines. Once at Mazda’s factory they would be fitted with a 1.3-liter 2- rotor Wankel rotary engine.
With 130 hp, the Roadpacer was more powerful than the standard engines that came with the Holden. Despite being more powerful, the 3,400 lbs. car lacked the torque and had rather poor acceleration. To make matters worse, the Roadpacer got rather poor gas mileage also. All of these factors made its rather high price a hard sell for most Japanese buyers who had rather drive a Nissan President or Toyota Century.
Mazda had no real experience with large cars at this point in its history, so the Roadpacer was a easy way to get itself on the market with the big boys from Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi. As a Mazda, the Roadpacer had a unique blend of Australian, American and Japanese attributes. It’s 111 inch wheel base was similar to the 1973-75 Pontiac Grand Am and as such rode comfortably on the highway (hence the name Roadpacer). Other American car like attributes included a column mounted shifter with panoramic speedometer, just like nearly every mid or fill sized GM car in the States made before the event of the compact disc.
Mazda tried infusing as much of its quirky personality into the Roadpacer as possible, without molesting the original Holden design. The outside had small chrome trim alterations, but was nearly identical to any HJ or HX. It was the interior where the Mazda stamp was made most evident. As an executive car, the Roadpacer was intended to cater to Japan’s corporate movers (with secretaries in tow). Odd James Bond like features like a dictation machine and a back seat controlled stereo were just two of the more unusual features of the Roadpacer. There were very few major visible changes over the course of the Roadpacer’s short production cycle.
In its time, the Roadpacer did little to further Mazda’s big car ambitions. Most ended up as government fleet cars as if bought by obligation. Many others ended up going to the crusher. To date, the Roadpacer is the only GM production car to ever be fitted with a rotary engine. Meanwhile the host car, the Holden Premier has enjoyed classic status in Australia, while its sister car has long been forgotten by all but by die hard Mazdaphiles.