Mazda 323 GTR/GTX - Unexpected Success
After the failures of Mazda’s previous two rally cars, a front wheel drive Group A 323 and a rear wheel drive Group B RX-7, Mazda hit a turning point. They needed to prove themselves in rally racing to compete with other Japanese manufacturers. Rather than developing a completely new Group B monster they chose to move back down to Group A and take the trusty 323 to a new level. They produced a new homologation special for the road that would allow them to take on Group A. They fitted the 323 with a new all wheel drive system and turbocharged the 1.6L 4 cylinder. They sold it in two forms, first the 323 GTX, which was available in Japan, Europe, and the US, and later the 323 GTR, which was available only in Japan
For 1985 Mazda introduced the 323 4WD with a GTX option package. The car came with 140hp from the factory, but for the rally car Mazda boosted power to 250hp. The small and light car was quite agile, although it was never sold in large numbers, and as a homologation special was very limited production. The car was produced just in time for the fall of Group B, giving Mazda an already secure footing in Group A when other better funded manufacturers like Lancia had to find their footing and build completely new cars. Mazda brought cars to six different rallies in the 1986 season, and finished three of them with a best finish of 7th at Rally New Zealand. In 1987 they began to get more success, winning Rally Sweden and taking fourth three times.
In 1988 Mazda participated in 8 rallies, with two second place finishes. They narrowly missed the podium in 1988, finishing 4th in the manufacturer’s championship. 1989 was the final year for the first generation of the 323 GTX, and would be Mazda’s most successful. Using seven different drivers, with up to four in each rally, they took two wins and two second places, with nine other finishes as well. This successful season yielded 3rd in the manufacturer’s championship.
In 1989 Mazda revealed the new generation of the Mazda 323 GTX, with a new bodystyle and a new 1.8L turbocharged engine. The GTX had 180hp, and the later Japan only GTR, sold from 1992 to 1993, had 210hp. The power of the rally version was brought up to 280hp. When they began using the new generation in 1990 they immediately had some success, finishing the first rally in 8th. Although they were able to get consistent finishes, the next two years of rallying only yielded a best finish of second place, and each year from 1990 to 1991 they finished 5th in the constructor’s championship.
Mazda withdrew their factory effort from the WRC after 1991, but worked on homologating the 323 GTR for 1993. The new car was run by several privateer teams up until its homologation expired in 2000. It was not very successful without full factory backing however, and despite its competitive 300hp engine, it was only offered the opportunity to race at a couple of rallies per year due to tight budgets. 1994 marked the last time the car would finish a rally on the podium, finishing second at Rally Sweden.
Mazda took only a brief foray into the WRC, and as such the 323 GTX is a special car that is often forgotten. In production form they are difficult to find, but the rally cars proved that Mazda could fight with the best. Mazda’s lack of funding prevented them from going any further, but even on a tight budget Mazda won rallies and even took a podium in the championship. One can only wonder how things would have turned out if Mazda had remained and truly had a factory backed battle with the Subaru WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Perhaps in the future Mazda will come back to the WRC, but for now we can only look back at their short lived success.