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Forbidden Gem: Mazda HB Cosmo

February 18, 2013 by Matt

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver

I often wonder why Japanese automakers decline to bring their some of their most desirable creations stateside.

The car that immediately comes to mind when pondering this reluctance is the Nissan Skyline, but there have been a raft of other very nice automobiles withheld from our market, among them the 1981-1989 Mazda HB Cosmo. The predecessor of the even more delectable JC Cosmo, it was Mazda’s rotary flagship, a slightly larger grand tourer complement to the RX-7 and a direct competitor to cars like the Skyline and Toyota Soarer.

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver Engine Motor 12A Turbo

Available with no less than 7 engine options during its 8-year model run, among them gasoline- and diesel-powered piston engines as well as the aforementioned rotary, the most exciting mill on the option sheet was the first production turbocharged Wankel, the 12A Turbo. A non-intercooled, lower-compression variant of the standard 100-hp 1.1L 12A, the 12 Turbo featured a so-called “impact turbo” designed to better harness the rotary’s unique exhaust pulse signature. With additional injectors and a sophisticated (for its time) knock sensor system, the 12A Turbo developed a highly respectable 163 hp, more than enough to move the 2,500-lb Cosmo forward at a brisk pace.

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

Naturally, the car’s rear wheels received the power, and Mazda blessed the chassis with their characteristically brilliant tuning expertise. A manual transmission was standard equipment, and the interior was clean and functional, if very “period.” Of note are the upright cassette player, the near-ubiquitous ’80s maroon cloth interior scheme and the faux-digital instrument cluster.

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver

Of all the cars that could’ve but didn’t make the trip over the Pacific, the HB Cosmo is a real head-scratcher. The engine is smack dab in the middle of the chassis, and a quick glance at the interior layout leads me to think the cluster could very easily have been moved whole-hog over to the left side of the dash, eliminating a couple of reasons related to the potential difficulty of adapting the car to a left-hand-drive market. A more likely theory is that Mazda felt the HB Cosmo wasn’t a good fit from a marketing standpoint. After all, they had been burned by the failure of the previous Cosmo to catch on in the US, and there weren’t really any small-ish, quick GTs for sale here at the time, probably because there simply wasn’t any demand for them. Mazda also could’ve felt like sales of the Cosmo would have cannibalized those of their RX-7, which shared an engine, a mechanical layout and really wasn’t that much smaller. Still… As a rotary, GT and ’80s styling enthusiast, I say it’s a shame the HB Cosmo never made it here.

Image credits: Tennen-Gas

Filed under: Mazda, Rotary


  1. Me says:

    We got the 929 same thing just with no rotary option

    • Matt says:

      Interesting. Where are you located? I know the US got a lot of obscure and unsuccessful Mazda models in the ’70s and ’80s; I’ll have to confirm we got that one.

  2. Buck Rivera says:

    It was available with left-hand steering in Germany, marketed as Mazda 929 2.0 CoupĂ©. Over here, it came with a rather low-end but reliable conventional 90-PS four-cylinder engine. One of my favorite cars from the 80s, especially with the “opera windows” of the early production years.

    When I found out about this car, I checked out the major German used-car sites, and there are some really nice bargains to be had.

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