Mazda's factory museum has some absolute beauties

Check out 85 years of Mazda automobiles in the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima, Japan.

Geoffrey Morrison
1 of 39 Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The tour begins in the lobby of Mazda's corporate headquarters. They're about half an hour outside of Hiroshima, Japan.

For the full story behind the tour, check out RX-7, Miata and more: A tour of Mazda's factory museum.

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Mazda today

A (rather grainy, sorry) sampling of Mazda's current lineup, as an intro to its past.

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Yes, a map

Who doesn't love a map? This shows the odd layout of the Mazda facility. On the right side of the river, there's a sliver of gray. That's one part. Then the entire lower area in the middle is the other.

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Cosmo Sport

The Cosmo Sport was Mazda's first car using the Wankel rotary engine, setting off a multi-decade love of the engine type. In the background you can see the tail of a Miata.

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'60s sci-fi

The Sport has a decided '60s sci-fi look to me, and I can only imagine how it looked on the road compared to the more mundane cars of the day.

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Type TCS

Mazda's first vehicle, however, was the Type TCS trike, or Mazdago.

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The golden years

It wasn't until the early 60s Mazda made its first car, the R360 on the right, which led to many others. The gold model is the 1963 P600 Carol.

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Pocket-sized R360

The tiny (less than 10 feet long) R360 still manages to fit four seats, and has a rear-mounted V2 with 16 horsepower.

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Trike truck

Even into the 1970s Mazda was still making inexpensive three-wheeled trucks, the design that gave it its start. This is a 1971 T2000.

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Familia and Bongo

By the late 1960s Mazda was in full swing, working on a growing line of cars with piston engines and available rotaries. On the right, a 1968 Familia and a Bongo on the left.

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This is a 1969 Rotary Luce, a very rare car and Mazda's only front-engine rotary.

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Green Machine

A first-gen Savanna RX-7 in resplendant green.

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The engine is located behind the front wheels in a "front midship" layout. This gives the car a 50:50 weight distribution. Horsepower is around 130 from the two-rotor engine.

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A plea for plaid

Why don't cars have plaid interiors anymore? I'd love this. Is that just me?

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Heading into the '80s

As elsewhere in the car industry, Mazda's cars got bigger in the '70s. The Cosmo AP also passed Japan's new anti-pollution laws. The white convertible is a 1988 Familia Cabriolet.

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Also known as the RX-5, the Cosmo AP had a two-rotor 133 hp engine. There was also a version with a traditional piston engine, which used to be fairly common Mazda practice.

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Eunos Cosmo

The Eunos Cosmo, a big, expensive, fast coupe.

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3 rotors

The available 2.0-liter, three-rotor engine produced over 276 hp thanks to twin turbos.

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The tiny AZ-1 is quite an oddball. It's a Kei car. Most cars that fit that description are eco- and price-friendly commuter cars. This one is a mid-engine sports car.

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Raw speed

Maybe "sports car" is a bit of a stretch, given its three-cylinder 0.66-liter engine and thundering 63 hp.

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Cozy cockpit

The AZ-1 was one of the few cars that came with gullwing doors.

It was never sold in the States, which is a bummer because I'd absolutely buy one now.

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24 Hours of Le Mans

Mazda is the only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans, and it did so with this 787B.

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Rotary through the years

A few of the different rotary engines from Mazda's past, ranging from the one from the Cosmo Sport to the more recent turbo and Renesis models.

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A rotary spread into its component pieces. This is a helpful video (with only slightly annoying music) that shows how they work.

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Despite extensive use of computers for all aspects of automobile design, Mazda still builds models out of clay to see how they'll look in the real world.

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An early look at the interior

Even the interior is crafted ahead of time.

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Don't touch the displays

I assume this helpful sign is telling me not to touch the displays so I don't get hurt. But for a second I wondered if it was intended to protect the display.

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SkyActiv pieces

Mazda's energy efficient technologies, marketed as "SkyActiv," include transmissions, lighter parts, more fuel efficient engines and so on.

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Just the naked chassis. An odd and somehow disquieting sight.

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Crumple zones

Speaking of disquieting, here's how a post-crash test SUV looks. It's pretty amazing to see much better cars and trucks are at crumpling now than they used to be.

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Manufacturing pieces

This was an interesting display, though I didn't have much time to see it. It shows how a lump of metal transforms into various parts of the engine and car.

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Body Parts

Like here, a flat piece gets stamped into a rough cutout, which is stamped again into a more 3D shape.

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Parts of the body

That shape gets formed further to become the side of the car.

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Wiring harness

If you had any doubt that cars are mobile computers, check out all the wires required just to get the dash and HVAC to work.

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Factory floor

No pictures are allowed on our brief tour of the factory itself. Interestingly, Mazda uses a mixed assembly line. So there's a Miata followed by a CX-5 followed by another Miata and so on. In the section I saw, humans were doing most of the assembly and installation while robot-controlled machines and trolleys kept them supplied with parts.

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As part of a tech demo, Mazda recently showed off a rotary engine powered by hydrogen. A cool idea, and one that only has water as a byproduct. But this has been "a few years away" for years now.

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Many millions

In case you couldn't guess, this was the 10,000,000th car to roll off the assembly line here at the Hofu plant.

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As the tour wrapped up, there was another chance to check out its current models. Not sure I'd trade my 914 for a Miata, but they're pretty slick.

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Finish line

The tour was short but impressive. I just wish I'd had more time with the classic cars. Anyone in Japan want to send me an AZ-1?

For the full story behind the tour, check out RX-7, Miata and more: A tour of Mazda's factory museum.

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