Enter the wild and wonderful world of Japanese Kei Sports Cars by importing a mini supercar like this 1993 Mazda AZ-1 that Japan Car Direct has now shipped to the United States. Kei sports cars are a class of vehicle that I strongly recommend; with their turbo-intercooled or supercharger-intercooled, high-revving engines mounted in light, compact bodies, these vehicles are fun incorporated; absolutely thrilling machines. I had a Kei sports car. I know.
In a later post I’ll tell you more about these vehicles and what it’s like to drive and run a Japanese Kei sports car but, for now, let’s focus on this very special secondhand car that Japan Car Direct has found here in Japan and is exporting to our customer in America.
All Japanese Kei cars and Kei sports cars made before 1998 have a legally set maximum length of 3,295mm and a legally set maximum width of 1,395mm. Maximum engine capacity is set at 660 cubic centimeters. In terms of engine output, there were no limits on max torque and the legal limit of 64ps for horse power was (thankfully) ignored by the manufacturers most of the time anyway. So you’ve got a small, light, high output engine in a small, rigid, light weight body. This is a winning combination, Ladies and Gentlemen, a winning combination.
There were no limits on drive train layout or body type, and no limits on good looks, as this fine, clean, well-cared-for, rust free Mazda AZ-1 makes clear. So here you’ve got a full-on, mid-engine, two-seater supercar with gull wing doors that weights only 720kgs, corners like it’s on rails (although some guys say that the stock springs are too soft), boots away right quick from the traffic light, and returns 18.4 kilometers per liter on regular gas (43 MPG).
The engine is the tried and true Suzuki F6A. My experience with this engine has been very positive and, while I have not yet driven an AZ-1, I have driven the Suzuki Cappuccino and the Suzuki Alto Works Kei sports cars that use this same engine and transmission gearing. In stock Kei sports trim there are two versions of the F6A turbo-charged, inter-cooled, straight three cylinder power plant: the 2-valve SOHC head and the 4-valve DOHC head. The 2-valver, like what you’ll find in an early ‘90s Alto Works i.e. puts out 9.2kg/m of torque at a nice low 3,500rpm, and 61ps of horse power at 6,000rpm. The 4-valver, like what you’ll find in an Alto Works RS/X or in this Mazda AZ-1, puts out 8.7kg/m of torque at a higher 4,000rpm and 64ps (officially) of horse power at 6,500rpm. (This 4-valve engine redlines at a stratospheric 9,000rpm!)
The power curve does feel different when you drive these two Kei sports cars back to back, the low-end grunt of the 2-valver comes on earlier, lower in the rpm range, while with the 4-valver that you’ll find in the AZ-1 and the Cappuccino, when you floor it from a standstill, you’ll feel a bit of “elastic throttle” and then “whoosh!” as the turbo boost comes on and the little motor soars up into the high revs / high power range and the car rockets you forward.
The owner of one of the Cappuccinos I drove had done some power tuning on the motor and that dramatically changed the power curve of the 4-valver in that car. It was a monster! Mega quick. And that raises another plus about the Mazda AZ-1 that makes importing one yourself from Japan an even wiser move: There are some very satisfying power and suspension mods available for Japanese Kei sports cars. (But not for all of them, I must say. My Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ was not a tuner’s car. For its rare 5-valve engine there were few tuning parts available. But the car was so good out of the box that I never felt it needed any tuning apart from a set of performance shocks, and wider, alloy wheels.)
Now that the best pre-’95 Kei sports cars can be imported to the USA, you are seeing some come up for sale stateside, but at silly high prices. Clearly the best way to get one of these terrific machines is to import it yourself, as many of our customers in the States, Canada, the U.K., and France and other EU countries are now doing through us here at Japan Car Direct.
The thing to do is to let us know what Kei Sports Car you want, consult with us about availability, and we’ll help you find what you’re looking for at the well-organized Japanese used car auctions or at the secondhand car dealers that we deal with here in Japan. We’ll also arrange the (necessary, absolutely necessary, my brothers) pre-bid inspection of your target vehicle, and, when you have won it, we’ll prepare your export documents and shipping as well. This is what we do. This is what we are. Japan Car Direct: A Japan-based used car exporter that can get you a good Japanese Kei Sports Car, like this red spaceship fighter rocket Mazda AZ-1 here, and ship it to you. Direct.