Keep­ing it in the fam­ily, Greg writes about the all-orig­i­nal Ja­panese coupe owned by his son and daugh­ter-in-law, Jonny and Jo Price

New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature Car 1974 Mazda 808 Coupe - Words: Greg Price Pho­tos: Adam Croy

his lit­tle Ja­panese gem has man­aged to re­main un­mo­lested since new, pri­mar­ily be­cause it stayed in one fam­ily’s own­er­ship, in a garage and off the prover­bial radar, for some 36 years in Christchurch. Back then, in 1974, New Zealand was in the midst of what was then known as the ‘no-re­mit­tance scheme’ for new car pur­chases. Such were the very tight im­port con­trols in place at the time, prospec­tive new-car buy­ers had to have over­seas funds in or­der to pur­chase one. Over­seas funds gen­er­ally meant that one had money lodged in an over­seas bank ac­count — usu­ally Great Bri­tain. Some fran­chise car deal­ers also used to in­sist on a trade-in, which in­vari­ably was passed to the dealer at con­sid­er­ably less than its true re­tail value (as in­di­cated by the deal­ers’ Red Book), but then on-sold at a con­sid­er­able profit — the sale price in most, if not all in­stances, be­ing far in ex­cess of the price of the new car be­ing sold.

Prospec­tive new-car buy­ers would have their names on a dealer’s wait­ing list for, in many in­stances, sev­eral years be­fore man­ag­ing to get their hands on a brand-new model. Of­ten, too, there was no choice of colour or even body style. It would seem that at the time the coun­try’s farm­ers all had over­seas funds, as many of them seem­ingly ac­quired a new car ev­ery year. On re­flec­tion they were prob­a­bly able to claim the loss of the tradein as a tax de­duc­tion. It was com­mon knowl­edge that many car deal­ers made heaps of money on what plenty would have de­scribed as a racket.

As­pir­ing Car Owner

When this Mazda first rolled off the as­sem­bly line in Ja­pan in 1974, Jonny hadn’t even been born, but of course he grew up with a dad who was into cars, and he even came home from the ma­ter­nity ward in a 1936 Ford V8 — no seat belts, ei­ther! Ev­ery­day trans­port for the fam­ily at the time was my 1953 Ford Ze­phyr, so there was no hope for Jonny de­vel­op­ing into any­thing other than a car en­thu­si­ast. >


By the time he was a teenager, Ja­panese cars were the ve­hi­cle of choice for young, as­pir­ing car own­ers, and es­pe­cially those seek­ing per­for­mance — with ro­tary-pow­ered Maz­das be­ing the most sought af­ter. Mazda 808s were, how­ever, eas­ily mod­i­fied with the re­place­ment of the front end to now look like an RX-3 — with or with­out the ro­tary en­gine.

Jonny’s first Mazda 808, pur­chased in 1995, was a four-door sedan that was, in all hon­esty, well past its sell-by date at the time of ac­qui­si­tion. In­deed, it spent most of its time parked in the drive­way des­per­ately need­ing at­ten­tion, not to men­tion reg­is­tra­tion and a war­rant of fit­ness.

Th­ese Maz­das were prone to ter­mi­nal rust, and ‘Mr Boggy’, as Jonny’s car was af­fec­tion­ately known for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, was al­ready living on bor­rowed time, so it wasn’t long be­fore it was dis­patched to the lo­cal wrecker’s yard. Once some more fold­ing stuff had been ac­cu­mu­lated, Jonny’s sec­ond Mazda 808 was a re­ally tidy four-door sedan, al­beit in a lack­lus­tre shade of or­angey­brown with green up­hol­stery. Jonny was proud as punch with his choice Mazda, but around that time Mazda 808s be­came the car of choice for car thieves, and un­for­tu­nately for Jonny his dream car was stolen in broad day­light while it was parked in Taka­puna. Need­less to say, he was gut­ted.

Fol­low­ing that, he even­tu­ally de­parted th­ese shores for a lengthy OE to the UK, to­talling some eight years, dur­ing which time he got mar­ried to the lovely Jo be­fore re­turn­ing to New Zealand.

In late 2010, and be­ing an avid watcher of the on­line auc­tions with ‘Mazda 808’ as one of his popular searches, Jonny spot­ted our fea­tured Mazda 808 listed for sale in Christchurch. Sur­pris­ingly, there was just the one photo of it on­line, and the seller seemed re­luc­tant to add more pho­tos for some rea­son, de­spite sev­eral re­quests for some. I was sum­mar­ily dis­patched to in­spect the car, as it was lo­cated on a ru­ral prop­erty in the south­west of Christchurch.

First Im­pres­sions

I would have ex­pected the seller to have at least cleaned the car be­fore putting it up for sale — its dull red paint des­per­ately needed a good cut and pol­ish, while the black in­te­rior was very dirty, with signs that dog had chewed the gear lever. For­tu­nately it seemed that the orig­i­nal plas­tic sheet­ing which used to cover the seats and side pan­els when new had only re­cently been re­moved — prob­a­bly by the dog! This prob­a­bly ex­plained why the up­hol­stery was still in very good con­di­tion. Af­ter re­mov­ing the vin­tage ten­nis rac­quet col­lec­tion from the boot space, a quick in­spec­tion re­vealed that there was no rust in the boot or spare wheel well re­gion — ap­par­ently an area of con­cern with th­ese old Maz­das, but there was the orig­i­nal fac­tory Bridge­stone whitewall-tyre spare wheel, and orig­i­nal tool kit.

The owner turned out to be the seller’s sis­ter-in-law, who had in­her­ited the car from her fa­ther. When she moved to Australia, her brother-in-law was tasked with sell­ing the Mazda. I gath­ered from the dis­cus­sions I had with him that there had been sev­eral re­quests for a trade/swap of some sort from po­ten­tial buy­ers, not to men­tion var­i­ous time-pay­ment plans, but as is the norm — par­tic­u­larly for the boy-racer cat­e­gory of buyer — fold­ing stuff was not al­ways im­me­di­ately avail­able, or a pur­chase must first be funded by the sale of their ex­ist­ing set of wheels. >

Af­ter a thor­ough in­spec­tion of the car I de­cided that it cer­tainly had po­ten­tial, drove very well con­sid­er­ing it was Ja­panese (my prej­u­dice), and although I wasn’t a great fan, it was cer­tainly worth a punt. On con­vey­ing this in­for­ma­tion to Jonny, at first he seemed a lit­tle re­luc­tant to com­mit to the pur­chase, de­spite my hav­ing ne­go­ti­ated what I thought was a very rea­son­able price. In an at­tempt to per­suade him to buy it, I made an aside com­ment to the ef­fect that if he didn’t buy it, I would. I then found out what Dads are use­ful for — ready cash no-in­ter­est loans for spur-of-the-minute car pur­chases by cash-strapped sons! So the deal was sealed, fold­ing stuff was handed over, and the Mazda briefly re­mained a res­i­dent of Christchurch un­til be­ing shipped via Jeff’s Trans­port to Auck­land.

Upon ar­rival in Auck­land, af­ter two pre­vi­ously un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts at own­ing a Mazda 808, Jonny and Jo now found them­selves the proud own­ers of what is prob­a­bly the only re­main­ing un­mo­lested Madza 808 coupé left in New Zealand — and judged by to­day’s prices, they got it for a song.

The Mazda’s Back­ground

This Mazda coupé was as­sem­bled in Ja­pan, and then im­ported for sale new in New Zealand. Only the four-door sedans and sta­tion wag­ons were as­sem­bled here.

It would seem from the his­tory avail­able (orig­i­nal sales doc­u­men­ta­tion was still in the glove­box) that the orig­i­nal owner pur­chased this 808 from Mazda Auto Ser­vices Ltd in Christchurch on Fe­bru­ary 22, 1974, and owned it for 28 years, af­ter which his daugh­ter ac­quired the car and owned it for the next eight years.

The orig­i­nal pur­chase cost was NZ$3147.95. In­ter­est­ingly this Mazda, be­ing re­splen­dent in red with black up­hol­stery, was uniquely dif­fer­ent from the then run-of-the-mill mod­els avail­able at the time, which were gen­er­ally brown/or­ange with green up­hol­stery, or white with brown up­hol­stery, and then mostly in the four-door ver­sion, or the less-com­mon sta­tion-wagon ver­sion. Coupés were not gen­er­ally the type of fam­ily car pur­chased in those days.

A shiny red car with black up­hol­stery must have looked spec­tac­u­lar in the Mazda show­rooms of the day — in fact, I can re­call the im­pact a brand-new Honda S600 con­vert­ible coupé, also in red with black up­hol­stery, had when it ar­rived in the show­room of the then Macmil­lan Rover deal­er­ship in Green­lane in the mid1960s, where I was an agency teller for the Bank of New Zealand. Back then Ja­panese cars were a nov­elty, and lit­er­ally crowds of cu­ri­ous passers-by fre­quented the show­room for a look-see. >

Jonny’s Mazda 808 had been reg­u­larly ser­viced for a while from new, as ev­i­denced by the ser­vice doc­u­men­ta­tion that was also still in the car. It is not ex­actly clear what was be­hind the daugh­ter want­ing to sell the fam­ily Mazda, but the Septem­ber 4, 2010 earth­quake may have had some in­flu­ence, as there was some very mi­nor panel/ paint dam­age. What was also ev­i­dent was that the brother-in-law’s ru­ral prop­erty was right in the path of the new South­ern Mo­tor­way project, and they had to move off the site. Thus, stor­ing the Mazda long-term un­til it was sold was no longer a vi­able op­tion, and also a pos­si­ble rea­son for the seem­ing lack of in­ter­est in mar­ket­ing the car to the fullest ex­tent. I gath­ered too that the num­ber of time-wasters that this sort of car at­tracts when of­fered for sale may also have been the cat­a­lyst for the quick sale.

In Auck­land

Once Jonny got his grubby hands on this pris­tine lit­tle gem, he set about con­tin­u­ing the makeover. First up was to tidy up the front pas­sen­ger-side mud­guard and re­move some mi­nor dents, and touch up the paint. Next job was the ad­di­tion of the dress-ring wheel trims and whitewall tyres, as th­ese were pe­riod cor­rect — although Jonny has also man­aged to source a set of orig­i­nal 808 hub­caps that he also uses. Then it was time for a full ser­vice.

Upon closer in­spec­tion, it seemed that this lit­tle car still had all its orig­i­nal run­ning gear — now nearly 40 years old, and much of it need­ing re­plac­ing or re­fur­bish­ing. So, a new set of rub­ber sus­pen­sion bushes was in­stalled, to­gether with new tie-rod ends and ball joints. It also needed a full flu­ids change as the dif­fer­en­tial oil looked like it was still that in­stalled at the fac­tory, as it re­sem­bled a trea­cle-like sub­stance when re­moved. The brakes re­quired at­ten­tion, so the rear brake drums were ma­chined and the hy­draulic fluid was drained and re­placed.

The fac­tory AM ra­dio was not work­ing, but a quick phone call to me got this sorted, and an orig­i­nal-type gut­ter aerial was ob­tained from Australia.

On the whole, Jonny con­sid­ered it was a great lit­tle car, and it had clearly been garaged all its life, as the red paint was still the

same shade on all the pan­els — the only on­go­ing risk to the paint­work is Jonny pol­ish­ing it all off! The best as­pect is that the Mazda has neg­li­gi­ble rust, un­heard of in early Ja­panese cars where ter­mi­nal rust has be­come an al­most stan­dard fea­ture.

Even though the Mazda was sport­ing its orig­i­nal hand­book and ser­vice book, Jonny de­cided to add to th­ese with ad­di­tional Mazda 808–re­lated doc­u­men­ta­tion. This in­cluded sev­eral orig­i­nal colour sales brochures, a copy of Mazda News — a fac­tory pub­li­ca­tion at the time, this par­tic­u­lar edi­tion hav­ing a red 808 coupé on its cover. >

Fu­ture plans in­clude re­plac­ing the noisy tim­ing chain and ten­sion­ers and en­sur­ing that it never gets a ro­tary trans­plant or nose cone — de­spite there be­ing such a nose cone hang­ing up in Jonny’s garage!

Dur­ing Jonny and Jo’s own­er­ship to date, the lit­tle red Mazda has at­tended var­i­ous car shows and runs, in­clud­ing the NZ Clas­sic Car–spon­sored Eller­slie Intermarque Con­cours in Auck­land in 2011 and 2012 as part of the Ja­panese Nos­tal­gic Car Club, and it is also a regular at­tendee at Caf­feine & Clas­sics.

In 2011 Jonny and Jo at­tended the Steel ’n’ Wheels car show in Waiuku and the Ard­more Show­down, which was a wings and wheels ar­range­ment with the Ja­panese Nos­tal­gic Car Club. There have been other shows as well, so this lit­tle clas­sic has cer­tainly come back into the lime­light. Jonny and Jo were chuffed-as when they re­ceived a prize at a re­cent Caf­feine & Clas­sic show.

Jonny and Jo’s beloved coupé shares garage space with an al­lo­rig­i­nal 1989 Mazda RX-7 and a 1962 Mor­ris Mi­nor — clearly, the ap­ple never falls far from the tree!

There have been other shows as well, so this lit­tle clas­sic has cer­tainly come back into the lime­light. Jonny and Jo were chuffed-as when they re­ceived a prize at a re­cent Caf­feine & Clas­sic show

Jonny and Jo’s 808 coupé as pur­chased Jonny’s sec­ond four-door 808 The in­fa­mous ‘Mr Boggy’

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