Classics, Opinion Pieces, Reviews, Used Cars / Bikes

Barn Find: Mazda 626 Sport Coupe 1600


Did you just do a double-take? I don’t blame you if you did, I can’t tell you the number of times this car almost caused a fender-bender when other drivers did exactly that. It looks pretty much like an old Mazda 626, except the back doors are missing. The similarities of this car and the aforementioned 626 sedan end at the A-pillar. And since there’s no B-pillar, everything aft is unique to the 1981 Mazda 626 Sport Coupe 1600.


Born at a time when cassette players were just making their way into cars, the Mazda Sport Coupe was introduced in very limited numbers as a sportier alternative to its four-door sibling. And it was definitely the sportier of the two, with frameless-doors and no B-pillar, it was Mazda’s answer to the call for big-coupes. Based on the fact it’s almost impossible to see one on the road today, it’s safe to say it didn’t do very well.


This particular unit was shipped to East Malaysia, where it remained in singular possession up till a few months ago. That’s right, one owner since new. Then more than a decade ago, it was shipped back to Pen.Malaysia and re-registered with a Selangor plate. It remained in sole ownership until very recently when a friend of mine bought it over. This was a huge surprise to me seeing as how said friend was more a die-hard Italian classic car enthusiast.


Eventually though I got the call which I was kinda expecting. The Mazda was offered to me and of course being the old-skool fanatic that I am, I could not decline an offer like this. Its rarity aside, the car is also quite pleasing to look at. Thanks to its frameless doors and lack of a centre B-pillar, when all the side windows are down it creates a huge side opening, akin to classic American muscle cars, and that’s something that I’ve always wanted in a car.


It was far from perfect though. Its engine would die on a whim after making sounds that I can only describe as a cross between the mating call of banshee and a Tasmanian Devil falling off a cliff. On occasion huge plumes of white smoke would billow from the exhaust. I’d always know when this happens from the way cars in the rear would back far, far away, perhaps thinking the car was about to burst into flames, which incidentally I was fully expecting to happen at any moment.


And yet, despite all that, something told me it would be worthwhile. Call it gut instinct or sheer madness, it’s a fine line between the two anyway, and I reside in the grey area somewhere in the middle. Anyway, I managed to pick up the car at ‘cost’ and immediately proceeded to get the engine done up. She recently emerged from the workshop and I’ve been gingerly driving her around, enjoying all the double-takes, as well as an engine that just purrs now. And while zero to hundred times can be calculated on a desktop calendar, it’s not about the speed. It’s the allure of why something as rare as this can still be charming. And roadworthy. Allow me to sidetrack for a bit.


This car is also testament to the fact that not all old cars are unsafe for the road, and while that recent 12-year scrapping plan seems to have thankfully gone quiet, this Mazda Sport Coupe 1600 is a good example of why a properly maintained old car can still serve a purpose. All the essential items in this car are working fine now; the car goes, stops, doesn’t die and all the lights work; even the a/c works and all the power windows too. What it all boils down to is that despite its provenance and rarity, it does everything that a new car can, which if you think about it, is just a basic need for personal mobility.


So back to that little issue about the missing rear doors. Having been in the old-skool / classic scene for some time now, I’ve come to realize that in terms of cars, there are specific body-styles that will always command more interest and garner a better resale value amongst fans of the genre. For example, it’s a well-known fact that Malaysians aren’t really partial to wagons or estates as new cars, and yet, a Volvo 740 Wagon or Mercedes-Benz W123 230TE Estate will always command a higher used price than its sedan counterparts. It’s the same for Coupes too. Not surprisingly the 2-door version of the aforementioned Merc W123, or any for that matter, will always be more sought after, even if they were not initially well-received when new.


And I guess that’s what appealed to me about this car too. I’ve never seen another one on the road before, and I’m going to enjoy the challenge of getting this old fella back in shape. Some stuff is likely going to be impossible to find, so I reckon a lot of fabrication will be required, but I’ll keep it as original as I possibly can, it deserves that. That’s’ the allure actually, the challenge of the hunt, the thrill of eventually finding it, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations. Some call it lunacy, others call it passion. I’m still undecided about which it is with me actually.

I told you, it’s a very grey area that I reside in.