This Autozam AZ-1 brings big Kei car fun for under $30K
It looks like a compilation of ’80s supercars that went through the dryer too long, or a Micro Machine brought up to human scale. But it’s neither. It’s the Autozam AZ-1, and this one sold on Cars&Bids this week for $27,693. It’s an odd duck, but it’s that special, endearing kind of odd. And as strange as it is, the AZ-1 is actually a spunky little sports car that everyone should know about.
To enthusiasts, the AZ-1 is known as one of the “A-B-C” cars, consisting of the Autozam AZ-1, Honda Beat, and Suzuki Cappuccino. This fun-sized sports car trio falls into Japan’s Kei category, and they were specifically built for, and sold in, their home country. Cars in the Kei class have regulation-limited exterior dimensions, a maximum engine displacement of 660 cc, and are the smallest road-legal cars for the Japanese market. A Kei-class sports car like the AZ-1 isn’t going to take down an NSX or a GT-R, but that’s hardly the point.
The point, of course, is cheap thrills. But just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean that they’re cheaply built or engineered. Quite the opposite in fact. Though these cars fit into the Kei niche, from the outset they were meant to be legitimately fun sports cars. Each of the three A-B-C cars has its pros and cons, but it’s clear that the AZ-1’s designers had the most fun with the looks. While the Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino took a more conservative approach styling-wise, Autozam went full bonkers with the AZ-1.
Before we get any further, what is “Autozam,” anyway? Fair question, since we never got them on our shores. A sporty sub-brand of Mazda, Autozam was sort of like what Scion was to Toyota in that it offered a slightly sportier, cheaper, and more youth-oriented alternative to its parent company. As for the AZ-1, it came out of a partnership with Suzuki, who actually did much of the design and engineering of the car, even providing the turbocharged 3-cylinder engine out of its Cappuccino and mounting it in the middle. About that engine: while Kei cars capped their horsepower ratings at 64 horsepower, it is rumored that the Autozam’s engine cracked triple digit territory in reality.
Of the ABC cars, the AZ-1 was by far the worst seller at just under 4400 units, with another 531 badged as the Suzuki Cara. For comparison, Suzuki sold more than 28,000 Cappuccinos and Honda over 33,000 Beats. It is easy to see why, the AZ-1 is wildly impractical, has zero storage room and is tiny inside. At 6 foot 5 inches tall, your author has had to do a yoga routine just to contort himself behind the wheel. But once you are there, it’s zippy and handles like the big go kart it pretty much is. It’s a blast.
Which might be why this one has covered 126,000 kilometers (78,300 miles), quite a bit for something so small and impractical and certainly on the high side compared to other AZ-1s sold recently. Yet its nearly $28K price is comparable to what other, lower-mile Autozams have brought. It wasn’t long ago that these were significantly cheaper. One did sell for $35,530 in 2021, but after the A-B-C cars became eligible for import in the mid-2010s, prices under $20K and well down into the teens were the going rate until recently.
But don’t get me wrong, even in the $20K-$30K range it still falls into the affordable category by today’s standards, especially in terms of fun and rarity per dollar. What else makes such a statement rolling down the road? Then, when you stop, it’s a sure conversation starter. And the best part is that it isn’t pretentious—it’s impossible for something this tiny and cute to be snooty. It’s just a cool, fun, smile-inducing automobile with neat history behind it. It just screams “I’m the funkiest and quite possibly most interesting car in the lot,” and that is reason enough to have one.