Home Acura NSX The Tiny Autozam AZ-1 Is The Ultimate ‘Slow Car Fast’ And Its Gullwing Doors Rule

The Tiny Autozam AZ-1 Is The Ultimate ‘Slow Car Fast’ And Its Gullwing Doors Rule

The Tiny Autozam AZ-1 Is The Ultimate ‘Slow Car Fast’ And Its Gullwing Doors Rule


The Autozam AZ-1 is one of those cars that the internet just loves. And, unlike so many other things that the internet just loves, this one makes sense. It makes sense because everything about the Autozam AZ-1 is compelling in some way. It’s that magical combination of serious and absurd, a ridiculous concept executed with absolute care and perfection. The AZ-1 is a Kei-class car, a category of small car designed specifically for Japan and the unique geographic and cultural idiosyncrasies that entails. It’s a class of hardworking delivery vehicles and little commuter cars. It’s not a category that demands a supercar, and yet that’s exactly what the AZ-1 is: a Kei-class supercar. It’s the very idea of slow-car-fast, rendered in steel and rubber and plastic. It’s a blast, and I’ve been wanting to drive one forever.

Luckily, I got to. Here’s a video of my joy:

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Autozam is a sub-brand of Mazda, one they use for their Kei-class cars and small cars, often re-branded Suzukis. The Suzuki connection is significant here, because the AZ-1’s inspiration came from a 1985 Suzuki concept car called the R/S1, or maybe R/S-1, or some other combination. I’ve seen a lot of variants online.


However you add slashes or dashes to the name, the R/S1 was a very sporty mid-engined car, light and nimble. The concept of a small, fun sports car appealed to Mazda, heady on the fumes of Japan’s Bubble Era, and by 1989 they had three concepts of their own to show, the AZ-550 cars, Types A, B, and C.


Of the three concepts, Type A was the closest to the production AZ-1, with its gullwing doors and supercar-after-a-cold-shower proportions. Type B was a little hardtop convertible, sort of like a Honda Beat, and C was supposed to be a little Group C rally car.

Toshiko Hirai, the same person behind the development of the NA Miata, was put in charge of the project, which should be a good reminder that the AZ-1 was never intended to be some kind of joke, a Kei car dressed up in a racing suit. Sure, it had to meet the Kei class restrictions of the era – a 660cc engine making a maximum of 64hp and a very specific and restrictive size envelope – but within those parameters, Mazda intended to build an actual supercar.

And they did. It was mid-engined and rear-wheel drive, the classic supercar formula, and had that all-important supercar trait: exciting doors. Full gull-wing doors gave great access to the little but comfortable interior, and looked amazing. Plus, it’s fun to drive with them open, as I found out.

When you drive an AZ-1, you get the entire supercar experience, minus one detail: speed. But you know what? Who cares about speed? Speed is just a number, and if you can feel like you’re tearing ass, what does it matter if it doesn’t look that way from the outside? The AZ-1 sounds great, it’s responsive and quick and so nimble, and I promise you that if you drive one of these hard, with the ruthless abandon of a puppy chasing a bun-liberated hot dog, you’ll have a spectacular time, and you’ll never be in danger of losing your license unless you decide to take a shortcut through a playground.

Sure, you have a good bit less horsepower than a Smart, but, again, it just doesn’t matter. This is a concentrated Lamborghini, a newborn dragon set free on the roads, everything you want in a fast car, just scaled down. Sure, it helps if you, like me, can buy your clothes in the Husky Child section of Harbor Freight, but I think even if you’re a bit bigger, it’s worth cramming into.

Unfortunately, this little monster came at just the wrong time: the tail end of the Bubble Era, when Japan was shaking its head and vowing to be more of an adult. As a result, only 4,392 AZ-1s were built, and only 531 badge-engineered Suzuki Cara versions.


The AZ-1 gets its share of attention and hype online, and, for once, it’s earned. These cars are wildly enjoyable things, engineered with the same attention that a full-size car would get, but playing ball within the Kei rulebook. If you love speed and driving hard but lack the willpower or self-control to trust yourself with something genuinely powerful, this is a fantastic solution.

All the fun, far fewer consequences. You know how a little tiny dog can bark and be all aggressive and a loon and we just laugh, but if a Pit Bull looks at you the wrong way, people panic? It’s like that. Reduce the scale enough, and you can get away with anything.




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