Meet Me In The City

Oh, Carol!

Autozam Carol. Image: betweentheaxles

Upon a recent return to the old workplace, my peripheral vision was piqued by a small blue craft as I journeyed past the garage opposite. Office tasks completed in well under an hour, I sauntered across the road to inspect this gem a little closer. An Autozam Carol – goodness!

For the uninitiated (myself at first, included), in the 1990s, Mazda were not only cash rich but ambitious enough to launch five sub-brands: Xedos, Eunos, Efini, Amati and Autozam. Many of this parish will already be clued up on the gullwing door AZ-1, but with no physical example to pore over, Carol, a far more rational affair with unusually pretty looks will do nicely.

Firstly, the reasons for Carol’s garage appearance. Unused for over twelve months[1] Carol was in for ‘general fettling’ which transpired into a longer stay once the spanners and diagnostics came into play.

Mazda introduced the Carol name as a Kei dimensioned car in February 1962. Based upon the Mazda 360, the P360 Carol sat on a 1,930mm wheelbase helping Carol become a true four seater. Featherweight at only 525Kgs, this RWD car also had its water cooled engine placed in the rear – a four pot of 358cc, which produced a heady 18PS. Suspension used independent torsion bars all round. Springtime brought a less angled rear screen, assisting with cleanliness. September the following year saw the engine upgraded to 20PS along with a four door version. Gearboxes were manual four speeds with no synchromesh on first. Customers bought them with alacrity.

Early days for Carol. Image: insidemazda

Over the years small design modifications took place. Synchromesh was added on all gears by ‘66, with a provision for seat belts being the Carol’s final hurrah as production ceased in August 1970 with 265,226 made. Mazda failed to offer a replacement for a further two years until the Chantez, but the Carol name was to lay dormant for almost twenty years.

Mazda Chantez. Image: insidemazda

Expansion in mind, Mazda wanted to establish a “familiar car shop in your city” with Autozam concentrating on kei and compact vehicles, also selling and servicing Fords. Additionally, Mazda managed to procure rights to flog Lancia and Autobianchi models for a while (with Eunos branches selling Citroën). Carol was squarely aimed at the younger Japanese female; one can sadly all too easily imagine the showroom tension with potential Lancia customers. Both Italian and French car sales were sluggish. Shield sales trickled on until 1998 when swinging rebranding took place. Under the new title of Mazda Autozam Store, they began to sell both Mazda and Suzuki, maintaining focus on the smaller models.

Rewinding slightly to 1989, the new Autozam Carol used friendly, anime mascot based looks known as kawaii, which had taken hold of kei designs. An aesthetic evoking softness, purity even; definitely nothing industrial or harsh. Now based on the Suzuki Alto, the three door could be had either front or four wheel drive. Engines remained minuscule, even dropping a cylinder from the original. A SOHC three pot mustered 40PS at a sibilating 7,500rpm. As per its Suzuki attributes, wheelbase had grown to 2,335mm, a total length of 3,190mm, being just 1,295mm wide. Brakes were disc up front, drums aft.

Image: webcarstory

Equipment levels were given somewhat ignominious letters of e, f and g, the latter featuring a folding canvas roof. FWD received manual gearboxes of five speeds, with a three speed automatic option replacing the four speed manual for those with front driven wheels.

New kei car regulations for 1990 brought a February facelift for Carol’s second round. Relegating the 550cc mill thus promoted their rarity. Now sporting an extra six centimetres in vehicle length, the bonnet covered a 657cc Suzuki F6A plant producing 52PS. Mazda introduced turbo power in ‘91, good for 61PS. Carol grew again in 1992 by ten centimetres.

October ‘95 saw the third generation launch as a ‘96 model. Gone the front four circular lamps, now just two headlamps bookending a small grille. Also gone the circular rear lights replaced with a jellybean looking treatment. Cuter? As kei cars blossomed, flooding the JDM, Mazda introduced Custom and Classic retro versions. 1998 saw the Autozam brand name dropped although to this day certain dealers are still known by that name, still peddling Mazda and Suzuki wares. Carol, however lived on with a fourth generation arriving October ‘98 for a ‘99 MY. Badge engineering to the fore, Carols were Altos, right up to the current eighth generation, on stream from 2021.

Back in the present, this face-lifted 1993 garage resident sees a couple of burly mechanics (who fit inside remarkably well) manhandling her, awaiting a fresh battery. Those presumably aftermarket alloys are covered in 145/70R12 rubber. This car epitomises tiny. I’m told of not only terrific handling but also engine note, sadly neither sampled. Other than the owner’s choice of a wooden steering wheel, this Autozam Carol is stock and all the better for it. Two flutes on the bottom third of the flanks and no extra frippery. It would be unkind to suggest that the front three quarter view alters the view to something more blobby. The face is distinctive, melding bonnet and sides quite progressively. Carol is not unlike the original Twingo and it’s rare to hear a design enthusiast pour scorn there.

Front on, the distinguishing badge and singular screen wash pip reside on that hardly elongated bonnet. The side view mirrors resemble ears from a Japanese cartoon character, but one expects the driver to be laughing too much to care what’s happening behind. Moving our gaze that way, Carol again is plain and simple – metal and glass – job done. Even the wipers are spindly enough to be hardly noticeable.

Image: webcarstory

In a world obsessed by ever larger, heavier and ever more complex machines, what a delight to observe such a delicate treasure. You got me, baby.


[1] The owner of said Carol is also in possession of a Honda Stepwgn (harking back to the recent Waku Waku article), in addition to a Honda Beat . Part of the problem of having a collection; when does a car become a drain on finances, or does sentimentality take over? A tricky one, no doubt.


Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

11 thoughts on “Meet Me In The City”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. What a nice find. If I have to be really critical, the wheels don’t match the blue car, but these can be easily changed. The factory steelies are a much better fit for the car.

    Maybe cute will make a comeback in car design. Marc Lichte, the head of Audi design said they are reconsidering aggressive design, because of the war in Ukraine. I’m still skeptical, but who knows…

    One side note: even though the word kawaii (かわいい) is often linked to anime, the general meaning of the word is ‘cute’ and can be used to describe almost anything that is cute. The word has quite an interesting history, more on it here:

    1. To clarify: It was something Marc Lichte said during an interview. Kind of sad that you need a war for that.

  2. Good Morning Andrew. What a way to start the day with such a “cute” article.
    Sheffield seems to be the place to find the unusual which is no bad thing in my opinion.
    I think it is also good to hear of folk who don’t follow the normal trend but keep different cars on the road.

  3. Good morning Andrew. What an interesting find and well-told history. The example you found looks much better with its faired-in headlamps than the red car in the title image. My favourite, however, is the original with its bonsai 1959 Ford Anglia styling:

    Unlike the Anglia, Mazda even managed to squeeze in two more doors:

    It got me thinking about small cars with reverse-rake rear windows, which put me in mind of this, the 1969 Reliant Regal:

    I’m sure the Regal would have looked better resolved if they had simply swapped the rear side windows over!

    1. Quite, Daniel:

      One of the better marque/model name combos surely: Reliant Regal (or Regent for that matter). Up there with Mitsubishi Carisma for irony, but a much more sympathetic proposition.

      Andrew: what a delight to run into. Like Daniel, I like the new headlights slightly better. I only – very vaguely – knew of the pre-facelift Carol, so they are new to me. What a breath of fresh air those designs are. Sometimes I think every country should mandatorily import kei cars for mental health reasons.

      Freerk: fortunately both BMW and Audi seem to be moving away from the hyper-aggressiveness of their designs.

      Idiotic that someone needs a “real” war happening to consider that giving your designs the visual aggression of a nuclear bomb in mid-explosion might not be a good idea. Ugh. Sorry about that.

    2. Nice work, Tom. I hoped you might take the bait and save me a job, and you have. 😁

      Yes, ‘Regal’ was a deeply ironic name, right up there with the best (or worst!) of them.

    3. The ultimate small car with reverse rake rear window and a great name, too (A Missis):

    4. A, very duplicitous, Daniel! 😁

      Am I mad when I think the Mazda might be a neater design than the Anglia?

      The Ami is, of course, the daddy of reverse rake designs, done with aplomb. Though, being based on the 2CV, not a lot of substance.

    5. It is neat, Tom, especially in two-door form.

      Were those headlamp bezels borrowed from the ADO17 BMC 1800 by any chance?

    6. They are remarkably similar, but given the Carol’s size, I doubt the ADO17’s items would fit.

  4. Apart from the rest of the car from the B-pillar to the back that looks a bit odd, quite like the look of the later front-engined Carol.

    The Chantez was originally intended to receive a single-rotor Wankel engine before rivals complained and in an indirect way given its flaws likely saved Mazda.

    As for the original Carol, it is worth noting the 358-585cc engines were seemingly enlarged further to 782cc for the first Familia model and although the 987cc was said to be a separate development, did wonder how much in common it had with the earlier smaller OHV units.

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