You’re undoubtedly familiar with Mazda cars. Most Americans became well-acquainted with Mazda in the early 1970s when the RX-3 s was heavily promoted with the slogan, “The Mazda engine goes hmmm.” What most fans of the cars with the innovative rotary engine didn’t know is that Mazda almost became a motorcycle manufacturer back in 1930. Here is the Mazda motorcycle history that you never heard about.
Mazda was founded in Hiroshima as a manufacturer of cork products in 1920 with Shinpachi Kaizuka as President. However, a year later, industrialist Jujiro Matsuda took over and things changed. What was known as Toyo Kogyo Company morphed into a machine tool maker.
Prototype automobiles and three-wheelers were produced, with the three-wheel 1931 Mazda-Go finding great success in Japan. The truck-style vehicle introduced the Mazda name, which lives on to this day. Mitsubishi Zaibatsu sold the Mazda-Go domestically and internationally.
The Mazda-Go was the outgrowth of a motorcycle project that did result in production models.
As was the case in many parts of the world in the 1920s, motorcycle racing was popular in Japan. There weren’t any Japanese motorcycle manufacturers yet, so Toyo Kogyo decided to get into the business. In 1929, development was started. The result was a 250cc four-stroke single that debuted in October 1930.
In its first race, the Toyo Kogyo 250 won against all-comers, most notably an Ariel. At the time, Ariel was a highly regarded brand in Japan.
Sadly for the motorcycling world, Toyo Kogyo produced only 30 motorcycles before focusing on the Mazda-Go at the expense of two-wheelers.
The closest Mazda ever got to motorcycles again was its line of pickup trucks. Although the stylish 1950 Mazda Type-CA pickup never made it to the United States, its offspring did cross the Pacific Ocean. Mazda was the builder of the 1972 Ford Courier, and a rotary-powered Mazda pickup debuted in 1974.
It wasn’t unusual at the time to see dirt bikes in the beds of Mazda trucks. Had history played out differently, there might have been Mazda motorcycles in those truck beds.
Photographs courtesy of Mazda Motor Company