Launched in January 1977, the original Mazda 323 was Mazda’s first modern hatchback and the car that started a model lineage that stretches all the way to today’s Mazda3.
A rear-wheel drive compact family car, the first-generation 323 was a global success for the Japanese brand. Sales continued until 1980 when it was replaced by the second-generation 323, Mazda’s first front-wheel drive, front-engine compact hatchback.
A pioneer in the making
Known as the Mazda Familia in Japan and the Mazda GLC (for Great Little Car) in North America, the original 323 was a seminal car for Mazda. The hatchback was offered with a choice of three or five-door bodies, while a station wagon/estate version was introduced in 1978.
Globally, three petrol engines were offered – a 985cc or 1 272cc petrol and from 1978, a 1 415cc petrol. Over 890 000 examples were sold in three years of full production and in 1979 it underwent an update where its round headlamps were replaced with square headlights, while other changes included the introduction of a five-speed gearbox.
The range consisted of a 1 000 three-door, 1 300 three-door, 1 300 three-door Deluxe and 1 300 five-door Deluxe.
An illustrious lineage
The rear-driven 323 featured disc front brakes with drums on the rear and, as was common in the seventies, recirculating ball steering. With no power-assistance, even with the small by modern standards 13-inch wheels, low-speed maneuvering required some physical input.
By the end of the seventies the rear-wheel drive 323 hatchback sat in dealerships alongside the 626, 818, the 616 and 929, plus the newly launched RX-7 sports car.
The original rear-wheel drive 323 was a pioneer that came along just as the late seventies and early eighties saw a boom in hatchback popularity in Europe.
A popularity that continues to this day – so 42 years since its launch the original Mazda 323 is recognised as an innovator that started a long and successful lineage of 323 and Mazda3 family hatchbacks that have played a big part in Mazda’s success.