Junkyard Gem: 1987 Mazda 323 DX Wagon

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Mazda wasn't much of a player in the North American subcompact market until the first front-wheel-drive Familias showed up here in 1981 with GLC badges (prior to that, the Great Little Car lived on the earlier rear-wheel-drive Familia platform). The GLC name stuck around through 1985, after which the Familia became the 323 on our shores. Mazda sold the wagon version of the 323 on the old RWD platform here through 1983, then revived the longroof 323 for the 1987-89 model years. Here's one of those extraordinarily rare cars, found in a Colorado self-service yard recently.

The 323 DX wagon listed at $8,899 for 1987 (about $23,750 in 2022 dollars), making it competitive with the Honda Civic DX ($8,330), Nissan Sentra XE ($9,399) and Subaru GL ($10,238) station wagons that year. The Volkswagen Fox was the screamingest deal on a small wagon in America that year, with an MSRP of just $6,590.

Of course, this wagon cost a lot more than the list price, because of costly options such as this automatic transmission. If you wanted your 323 with a slushbox instead of the base five-speed manual, the price tag was $430 ($1,145 today).

Air conditioning would have added another $715 ($1,910 in 2022 dollars), but this car's original buyer skipped that expense. The "head or boot" vent-selection icons were a 1980s Mazda specialty.

The engine is a 1.6-liter B-Series straight-four with multi-port electronic fuel injection, rated at 82 horsepower and pretty modern stuff for 1987 (when some new cars still had carburetors). Members of this engine family went on to power the Miata and Escort.

The buildup of years of tree litter indicates long-term outdoor storage.

With just 145,828 miles on the clock, this car may have broken down a decade or more back, then sat in a driveway or yard until the tow truck arrived.

Audi Denver now lives where Monarch Mazda sold this car new. Built at the Hofu plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture, sold in Littleton, now residing 23 miles away near Denver International Airport.

The 323 got an update for the 1990 model year, at which point the sedan became the Mazda Protegé and the hatchback kept the 323 name. By 1995, the hatchback was gone; the Mazda3 replaced the Protegé starting in the 2003 model year.

It appears that Mazda's US-market TV advertising for this generation of 323 focused on the sedan version.

James Garner was Mazda's American pitchman during this period.