Driven by Design: Mazda Cosmo 110S

Photography by Otis Blank for Petrolicious

The Mazda Cosmo 110S hit American shores in 1967, along with several other Japanese sports cars such as the Honda S800 and Toyota 2000GT. Realizing that the key to serious growth lay in wealthier Western markets, all the major Japanese companies attempted to expand their brands with halo cars. Like their national competitors, Mazda sought to appeal to foreign tastes by copying their Western counterparts.

Unlike the Toyota 2000GT however, the Cosmo was designed without outside help, by Mr. Heiji Kobayashi. But as it was intended to interest Western sensibilities, the inspiration behind it was solidly based upon cars popular at the time (and henceforth thought of as beautiful) such as the Ford Thunderbird but especially the early 60s Ferrari 400 SuperAmerica by Pininfarina (certainly not the prettiest Ferrari, but the most expensive and exclusive at the time).

Like its inspiration, the Cosmo is a rear-wheel drive, two-seater powered by a front-mounted one liter, two-rotor engine and its proportions speak to this arrangement well. It features a short front overhang with a long rear to maximize trunk space (no doubt to please perceived American needs). In spite of its relatively small size, the greenhouse is bright and airy due to the amount of glass. However, this is one place where the Cosmo falls short. The front-engine, RWD proportion could have been emphasized better by stretching the B-pillar slightly and lengthening the backlight. Additionally, had the B-pillar been moved back to sit above the rear tire, it would have given the car a much more athletic, muscular look.

Due to the door’s placement (not central between the wheels, but a little forward of the ideal location), the Cosmo’s body almost appears to be a 2+2, but the greenhouse is clearly suited for a two seater. This is why the greenhouse and body feel a bit disconnected. However, the car has a nice stance and the wheels and tires fit the low, sleek fenders perfectly.

Furthermore, while using the Ferrari 400 SuperAmerica as inspiration is certainly valid, Mazda’s surfacing was not remotely as refined or sophisticated as Pininfarina’s master modelers’. As a result, the ascending beltline that intersects the wheels lacks the tension present in the SuperAmerica and looks a bit brittle. The beltline also appears to divide the car into two halves, top and bottom, because of the flat fender tops and the way the body rolls to center as it descends. Furthermore, the curve that forms the upper edge of the front wheel-arch and then extends onto the body almost looks lumpy and betrays the designer’s intentions.

Ford’s contemporary rears may look rectilinearly similar, but I’d argue that the Cosmo’s taillight treatment and indented trunk are fresh and original. Indeed, the rear ¾ view is the car’s most successful angle and most innovative. The detailing in this view is limited but well executed with the exception of the vents on the B-pillar. In addition, to call the vents in the front fender derivative would be a compliment, they are blatant copies. The front has tastefully limited detailing too, but the car is less memorable in front perspective because it looks like an amalgam of contemporary sports cars.

Not surprising when considering the context and manufacturer but unfortunate nonetheless. The Mazda Cosmo 110S undeniably copied extensively from other, Western manufacturers in an attempt to pander to Western tastes. It was also Mazda’s first attempt at creating a sports car and did so with a unique powerplant (the Wankel rotary). On the whole, it is a good-looking car and is unique enough (both from a design and engineering perspective) to be memorable. But the few blemishes condemn it to also-ran status compared to international icons like the Toyota 2000GT and later Datsun 240Z.