The Mazda Familia may not be a name that everyone outside of Japan knows, but it is a long-running family of compact cars that first hit the streets in 1963. The nameplate actually served for the next 40 years, before finally being retired in 2003! While the bulk of us don’t know the Familia name, a lot of us are familiar with the names GLC, 323 and Protégé, and some might even know the 1200, Allegro and Etude nameplates. I myself have spent a lot of time at the wheel of a 2002 Protege5, one of the last of this long line of peppy little cars.
Now, anyone familiar with Mazda also knows that Mazda has long been a proponent of the Wankel rotary engine. Long before the first RX-7’s rolled off the line and brought the Wankel into the mainstream of North American motoring, there were numerous other Mazdas out there running around with rotary engines in them. One of the first of these was a version of the Familia known variously as the “Familia Rotary Coupe”, the “Familia Presto Rotary” or, more simply, the “R100”. While the Rotary Coupe (as the trunk lid proclaims the name to be) had a revolutionary powerplant, it wasn’t really that much different from its conventionally-powered cousins.
So why, then, would someone make a kit of this thing? Well, the reason is that the Rotary Coupe, despite only being available from 1968-1973 was actually something of a big deal after all! Mazda raced them the 1969 Singapore Grand Prix (where it won) as well as in the famous Spa 24 Hour race and at the Marathon de la Route at the famed Nurburgring. In all of these events, the little Mazda did very well, no mean feat for a compact family coupe, considering it was racing against much more storied competitors like Porsche and Alfa-Romeos. Maybe this is why, when the car came to the northeastern US in 1971 and 1972 as the R100, it was such a surprising success…
Clearly, then, the little Mazda is actually not such a footnote in automotive history, especially in its homeland. Knowing this, it is clear as to why someone would make a kit of this car. Strangely, though, Bandai was the maker of the first (likely only) injected model of the Familia Rotary Coupe! Yes, the same Bandai that you’re likely more familiar with for making the reams of Gundam and Keroro Gunso kits of modern times has been around for a very long time, and they cut their teeth on much more “down-to-earth” subjects like model planes and cars, before dominating the Sci-Fi segment.
A Bit of Detective Work:
To really enjoy an oddball kit like this, it’s important (for me at least) to try and find out something about where and when the kit came from. I mean, this model looks old, and the original car came out in the late 1960’s, so it stands to reason that there should be some interesting tidbits about the model out there somewhere. Right? Anyone?
When I got down to searching out info on this kit on the Internet, I was absolutely shocked that I could not find A SINGLE PICTURE of this boxing of the model… ANYWHERE! I looked high and low and really put Google through its paces. Bandai, it seems, made a number of 1/20 models of sporty and interesting Japanese cars from the 1960’s and 1970’s. They also made a model of the Le Car/Renault 5 (which would rock the house thanks to its awful styling and terrible real-world record) among other things, which doesn’t really seem to fit with their other offerings.
I also found out that there are two versions of this kit, one is the civilian version that I have, and the other is done up in racing trim, complete with racy black and red paintjob and mesh covers for the headlights and grille, not to mention different wheels (and one hopes, tires). The Racing kit is the only one I could find pictures of opened up, but it looked like a nice kit. There is also an Entex version of this kit, and while it seems like it is the same kit, I cannot confirm this completely. The box I’ve seen does look newer than the kit I’m reviewing here, though.
So, just what is this kit I have? Well, I know it’s a civilian version, and I know it’s an original Bandai. From what I have gathered, the kit was likely made in 1969, which makes sense because the Rotary Coupe would have been a very big deal for Mazda (and the Japanese auto industry in general) back then, and this box has that “new car” feel. Also, there is no Arabic numeral date, anywhere, which is usually the case for kits made right up until the 1980’s, so I’m sure this isn’t a repop. The cellophane that was on this kit was torn and very brittle, not to mention browned, so that tells you something about age right there.
Yes, you read that right. When I got this kit it was still wrapped (mostly) in the factory cellophane. At the time, I had not the faintest clue that this kit was as extremely rare as it is. So rare that the photos you see here may be the only ones of this early box variant on the internet, and so rare that even on the AusRotary.com forum, it seems that there are people who have never seen the inside of one. I’ve not found any record of any built examples, either. Perhaps I haven’t looked in the right places, but I know one thing’s for sure. This kit is the rarest model I’ve ever come across.
So, like I said, this thing was still in cellophane when I got it. Unfortunately, the cellophane had been ripped and damaged, so it only covered about 60% of the box. The box is faded on the front and one side, so it may have been in a hobby shop window for some time, waaaay back when. There is also water damage to the box; the top left corner took the brunt, causing the staples to rust and lid to warp, right in the shrink wrap! This is unfortunate, but let’s face it, since it’s not every day you see one of these, it hardly matters.
The box is a bit faded, but on the side is a “full colour” representation of the artwork, and it’s not much more revealing than the main lid. You have a big, full-colour front-three-quarters view of the (I’m assuming) “new” Familia Rotary Coupe, parked on some kind of what I think is a mountain road, at what seems to be night, or late dusk. The background is mostly dark, but there is a railing or guardrail noticeable in the top right, near the light patch. There’s no driver in the car, though, unlike the racing version, which has the car “in action” on the lid.
The Rotary Coupe on the lid is supposed to be in white or whitish-beige, which seems to be a popular colour for these. There is red trim in the seats; however, I don’t know if that’s legit, or just something they thought you could get. All the pictures of real Rotary Coupes I’ve seen have full black interiors or black with a white hounds tooth pattern.
On the one side of the box is a smaller version of the main artwork, with a write up in very small print, all in Japanese, of course. The end caps are the same, but without a lot of writing. The other side of the box, though, are a “collect ‘em all” of other Bandai 1/20 kits, including a Celica 1600GT (nice!) and a Gallant GTO MR (also nice!). I must say, late 1960’s/early 1970’s Japanese styling is generally very nice on sportier cars.
Overall, there’s a tonne of Japanese writing on the box, and it’s not a very exciting illustration. I can see how this little guy has been passed over by (literally) generations of shoppers. It’s very period-looking; it’s excitingly staid, a lot like the car on the cover. It wants to burst forth and be exciting, but the culture of its time and its design just won’t quite let it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why, if it is still wrapped, did I open it? Well, to put it simply, I love to see what a kit looks like! Even if I don’t intend to build it right away, I like to see what I get for my money. Also, I hate to think of a kit spending its entire life constrained to a small cardboard coffin. The kit was meant to be taken out, handled and built. It’s supposed to give joy, not just collect dust. This is, I know, a real sticking point with collectors and investors, but for me, a kit that never gets seen must feel very sad and lonely. To betray a kit that has languished, unloved and ignored for 44 years is something I could not bring myself to do. However, once I found out that this thing is LITERALLY rarer than hen’s teeth, I hesitated. Since, though, it seems like no one else can or will expose this little guy to the light, I thought it was my duty (and pleasure, too) to do so.
So, with great excitement I finished what 44 years of existence started on the shrink wrap and peeled it all away. The crinkle was very brittle and very telling. I can’t quite describe it, but if you’ve ever had an old toy box with a cellophane window, you know the feeling. Upon popping open the box, I was greeted with a surprisingly modern layout. Like all other Japanese car kits I’ve built, the body (and in this case chassis and interior) were on one side, in their separate compartment, and the rest of the parts were in the other section. To my surprise, there was also a bag of electrical components, and the bag with the tires, stapled to the long side of the box.
Taking a second to drink it all in (and huff the musty, moonshot-era air trapped inside!) it dawned on me that this kit was MOULED IN COLOUR! The body, hood and trunk are done in a metallic blue, the chassis components and interior in black and the wheel backs and engine block in silver. There is also a full chrome rack for the rocker trim, grille trim, bumpers, wheels, taillight bezels and various other bits, including engine accessories. The windows and lights come moulded together on one sprue, separately bagged to prevent scratching, and the instructions were folded neatly at the bottom.
Before going any further, it’s important to think about what all this means.
1.) The car is moulded in METALLIC BLUE. This was the same thing Monogram tried in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, and it basically sucked. It was supposed to be some big revolutionary thing, so you wouldn’t have to paint, but it was always marred by swirls. Well, the Rotary Coupe did it back in 1969, so I guess it wasn’t that ground-breaking after all, eh? Now, that having been said, it’s interesting to note that there are swirls in the Coupe too; I guess it’s not something that can be easily avoided. Maybe Monogram should have done its homework?
2.) There are three colours of plastic, plus chrome and clear, in this one box. Most North American car kits come in one colour and one ONLY. If you don’t paint it, you get a promo. However, the Rotary Coupe could be an acceptable piece even unpainted, technically. That’s what Bandai has been doing with its Gundams since it came up with System Injection, and what it still pushes today on the HGUC and MG Gundams. I guess that it’s something of a passion with Bandai…
3.) Lots of separate bags, even back then! So many MPC kits right up until their collapse in 1988/89 had a body shell with loose windows and a single bag of (often loose) parts. You never see so much separate bagging as you do in this Mazda when you look at a North American car kit.
4.) The Japanese love motorizing their car kits. It seems that Tamiya’s obsession with including motors has a long tradition; the Bandai folks gave you a motor, wire, battery contacts and even a two-speed gearbox for the Rotary Coupe. Yes, a gearbox. You can run your Mazda fast or slow and it only takes two “pen light” (i.e. AA) batteries in a special compartment in the trunk.
5.) This kit is not a curbsider! Many Tamiyas are engineless, but the Rotary Coupe has a fully accessorised Wankel engine. After all, the Wankel was what made this car special, so Bandai went to great lengths to show it off. The hood is removable, as is the trunk. However, there doesn’t seem to be any way to secure the trunk or hood and prevent it from coming off. Neither is hinged. However, the trunk does have nicely raised lettering for both the Rotary Coup badge and the Mazda writing on the edge of the trunk lid.
The tires on the kit are vinyl, I guess, or some kind of rubber. They’re bagged with the gearbox, and are in AMAZING shape. They aren’t split at all! They also have raised whitewall sections, so getting that thin whitewall like on the box will be a lot easier that you might think. The wheels are cast in chrome, although they should be stripped down and painted steel/aluminum; only the small strips on them are chromed.
The Rotary Coupe’s instructions are quite detailed given the relatively small number of parts in the kit. The instructions are clear and well-drawn, and they are presented in blue ink. They actually remind me of an old set of blueprints! The weirdest thing about them, though, is that they are completely written in English! In fact, you’d almost think that the kit was for export only! Of course, if that was the case, wouldn’t the box also be in English?
Now, you might think that maybe the Japanese instructions were missing, or that someone had thrown them out because they couldn’t read them. However, I know that’s not the case since this thing was still wrapped when I got it! Whatever was in the box is whatever Bandai put in there way back when they made this thing! So, what does it all mean? I have no idea, other than this kit should be easy to figure out on just the pictures, but the questionable (in spots) English may be more of a hindrance than a help!
The Mazda Familia Rotary Coupe was a pretty big deal for Mazda; it was a successful racer as well as the first in a long line of Wankel-powered cars for the firm. Given that Mazda has grown to be a very big supplier of automobiles, the Rotary Coupe really should be a better-known car. However, since it wasn’t offered in North America for long or in many places, most of us here don’t know much about it. However, that’s not the case in Australia and New Zealand, where the cars are still very popular.
As far as kits go, this one is a rare treat. It is awesome to see something so old “fresh out of the box” and it’s even better that it’s something that’s a bit (or a lot) esoteric. Sure, the Rotary Coupe may not be as polished and as precise as some newer car kits, but given it is 44 years old as I write this, it is amazingly well done. All the pieces are well-defined, it’s moulded in several colours and has a full motor and gearbox.
The kit would need a bit of cleaning up; there’s a strange ‘dollop’ of plastic on the roof, but this is also present on the racing version, so I can’t help but think this was part of Bandai’s learning curve when it came to injecting kits. As with almost every Japanese car kit, there are no backs to the front seats. I still don’t get this. Is this how the Japanese delude themselves into thinking that they actually have some back seat room? There are also the normal issues of seam clean up and flash removal that anyone who has ever built an MPC kit will immediately recognize!
Roughness aside, the Rotary Coupe kit is actually a very nice, very well-done model. The multitude of separate chrome bits makes trimming and re-chroming with Alclad a cinch, and the attachment tabs are AT THE BACKS of the chrome, not on the edges. This is something American companies STILL don’t get! With a bit of effort and skill the Rotary Coupe would make an excellent addition to any display, and is certainly something almost no one else would have, it seems.
I can’t, though, in good faith recommend this kit for a beginner. Rarity aside, there will be some issues that inexperienced modellers might find vexing, like the fragility of the chrome grille surround or the care needed to avoid snapping the very small, fragile-looking exhaust pipe. If you have some practice, though, the Rotary Coupe should reward you well, despite its age.
This kit is a real “golden oldie”, and really represents an era many of us never even got to really experience, at least not on my side of the Pacific! Even as an addition to a collection, sitting admired yet unbuilt on a shelf, it has real value. If you love Wankel cars or the really obscure, this is definitely a kit for you!