The 1967 Cosmo still shines as a Mazda beacon and as the first rotary Mazda, too. It put a great automotive innovation into motion, and Mazda kept the Cosmo name with a second-generation model in the Seventies, although it was known most places as an RX-5. The next one was also a Mazda Luce, and a Mazda 929, but then in 1985 Mazda revealed a concept car called the MX-03. This prototype study was a two-door, four-wheel drive Grand Touring model with an automatic transmission and over 300bhp from the turbocharged rotary engine. Mazda said at the time that the MX-03 could hit a top speed of 300kph and reach 100kph from rest in five seconds. The ridiculous Eighties' interior had a joystick-style gear lever and flight controls for a steering wheel, a digital dashboard and even a head-up display unit. That concept eventually became the 1990 Eunos Cosmo, and it was the last Mazda to wear the Cosmo badge when it reached the end of production by 1996. And then it just disappeared as one of the most overlooked modern Japanese classics around. But we shouldn't forget it, because it was a technological tour de force.
Making its global premiere at the 1989 Tokyo motor show, the fourth-generation Cosmo displayed a restrained but inoffensive exterior, coupled with a cutting-edge interior. The back-lighting wrapped around the cabin, plus there was real wood in there and the world's first satellite navigation system (with a touchscreen!) in a production car. It was loaded; air conditioning, cellular phone and a satellite TV. Plus, at the scales it showed 1.6 tonnes, which wasn't that bad considering it was supposed to be a big GT.
With the 1990-1996 Cosmo, Mazda quite ambitiously went head-to-head with GT models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. That was never going to work and Mazda shifted only around 9,000 models over its life run, making clean, original cars quite rare 25 years later.
With up to around 280bhp, this car was more than a match for contemporary rivals. A 1993 BMW 840Ci made 282bhp. For a rotary engine (a three-rotor twin-turbocharged one, with low-lag sequential turbos, another production first for the Cosmo) it had plenty of torque too, nearly 400Nm. As such, the Mazda could easily cruise at 200kph and hit 100kph from rest in six seconds. All that and the fourth-generation Cosmo was still a commercial failure -- to this day it's also the most expensive production Mazda model ever sold.
What was meant to revolutionise Mazda's market positioning, and what was meant to be a car destined for the GT-loving American public, eventually ended up being a Japan-only right-hand drive model.