Nissan does not own the rights to the GT-R name and several other Japanese automakers have used it throughout the years. One of them was Mazda, who used it on a hot-rodded race-bred variant of the rather mundane 323 hatchback in the early 1990s.
The 323 GT-R wasn’t Mazda’s first attempt at building a rally-bound 323. Starting in the middle of the 1980s the company fielded a four-wheel drive 323 in several international rally events. The car was well-balanced, quick and reliable, enabling it to have a successful career around the world.
In the early 1990s the company’s engineers wanted to design a more extreme version of the car, a rally monster that would almost rival the iconic Lancia Delta Integrale, but sell for a fraction of the price. The model was launched in 1992.
The 323 GT-R was fitted with a massive body-colored front bumper that incorporated two fog lights, giving it a look that was strongly reminiscent of the Subaru Impreza WRX. It had three air vents on the hood, specific ten-spoke 15-inch rims and a roof-mounted spoiler borrowed from the lesser GTX model.
Contrary to what a lot of articles about the GT-R claim, the car was designed to be driven daily and was therefore relatively well-equipped. It came standard with a sunroof, remote-controlled central locks, bucket seats, a three-spoke MOMO steering wheel and a cassette player with four speakers, among other creature comforts.
The most interesting part of the GT-R was found under the hood. Bolted in the engine bay was a twin-cam four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1,839 cubic centimeters. It was commonly used in the Mazda lineup at the time, but it underwent heavy modifications before it was deemed worthy of powering the GT-R. The modifications included forged pistons that were cooled by oil jets, a big IHI turbocharger, sodium-filled valves and beefier injectors.
According to a period Mazda brochure, the mill churned out 189 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque in European spec. This was noticeably less than the 210 horsepower that the Japanese model was rated at.
A five-speed manual transmission worked in conjunction with a limited slip differential and two viscous couplings to transfer the engine’s power to all four wheels. 43 percent went to the front wheels, while 57 percent ended up in the rear.
The 2,733-pound 323 GT-R took 7.2 seconds to hit 62 miles per hour from a stop, and went on to a top speed of roughly 137 miles per hour. Disc brakes on all four corners took care of stopping the car, and an ABS system came standard.
Only 2,200 examples of the GT-R were built and most had their serial number affixed to the passenger side fender. 200 examples were sold in France, where the car carried a base price of 147,200 francs in 1992. The GT-R was phased out of the Mazda lineup in 1994.
As is often the case with hot hatches it is very difficult to find a stock 323 GT-R that has been well maintained. Prices are starting to go up but for a while these cars were not worth much, often putting them at the mercy of the tuner crowd. The front end’s resemblance to the WRX has even led some owners to paint their car blue with gold wheels.