By the early Sixties, all major Japanese carmakers started designing their cars with export markets in mind. The Toyota Corona, Nissan Cedric and Prince Skyline were all results of this push to exploit the European and North American car markets. The Hiroshima-based Toyo Kogyo Company, which had already made a name for itself with the Mazda-branded Kei cars and the Familia, also wanted a share of this lucrative pie and commissioned a flagship saloon.
Since the target buyers were mostly European, the carmaker looked to Italian design house Bertone to style the new saloon. Rather than waste time working on an all-new design, Toyo Kogyo chose to adopt the design blueprints for a saloon rejected by Alfa Romeo, which were penned by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro. The Japanese carmaker also picked an Italian name for the car -- Luce, meaning 'Light'.
Launched in August 1966, the rear-wheel-drive Mazda Luce was powered by a 1.5-litre engine making 78 horsepower. Since this engine was underpowered for a large saloon, a 100bhp 1.8-litre engine was introduced in 1968. While sporting the same design as the smaller-engined car, it was differentiated by a bonnet scoop.
A year later, a coupé version of the Luce powered by a twin rotary Wankel engine was introduced. Although beautifully sculpted, the experimental front-wheel-drive coupé wasn't a success in terms of sales.
When the second generation was launched in 1972, Mazda ditched the elegant Italian styling for a more muscular and brasher design. With the Cosmo Sport model discontinued, the Luce became Mazda's rotary engine flagship, and sales in export markets started picking up.
The Luce continued to be produced in different shapes, sizes and names -- 1800, RX-4 and 929 -- for three more generations until 1991, when it was replaced by the Mazda Sentia.
While the later models are relatively easy to get hold of today, the first and second generation cars obviously have better classic car value.
The 1969 Rotary Coupé is the rarest of the lot as just under a thousand of these were made. Although it's more sought after than the saloons, buying one of these would pose some parts and maintenance challenges.
As far as price is concerned, there's no definite trend that you can follow for the Luce, as it varies wildly, depending on the model generation and its current state.