If you were one of the lucky ones, you got a chance to drive a Mazda Rotary Pickup. The idea was simple: add a lightweight 1.3-liter Wankel dual rotor engine to a PA136/small pickup truck chassis, give it some unique touches and you have a special, sporty truck. The Mazda Rotary Pickup’s fenders were flared and the battery sat beneath the bed (there was an access door on the passenger’s side of the bed). A unique front end and sportier interior were part of the package too.
The tiny Wankel rotary engine had a four-barrel (two-stage) carburetor and a unique exhaust system. A four-speed manual and three speed automatic transmission were the initial transmissions available. The 13B twin-rotor engine made 110 horsepower and got a maximum 19 mpg highway. It was not very emission friendly, gas mileage was poor for a small truck and there was no four-wheel drive variant.
Mazda kept things fairly light with the curb-weight of the Mazda Rotary Pickup weighing under 2,800 lbs. Oddly, it was about 300 lbs heavier than the regular Mazda B1600. The Mazda Rotary Pickup had a gross payload capacity of 1,400 lbs. Mazda used a different frame on the Mazda Rotary Pickup which was wider than the one used on the B1600.
The Mazda Rotary Pickup was only built from ’74 through ’77 and, for a time, Mazda sold a variety of other rotary-powered vehicles such as the rotary wagon, coupe and the popular RX7. Near the end of its life-cycle, Mazda enlarged the cab by four-inches, added a five-speed manual, changed the rear diff and updated the electronics. About 15,000 Mazda Rotary Pickup trucks were built with a vast majority being sold to North America.
I had the good fortune to work at a foreign auto-wrecking yard in California. The West Coast was a popular place to find these little trucks and one of my buddies often frequented the wrecking-yard looking for replacement parts. I got to drive the 1975 Mazda Rotary Pickup quite a few times and it was a hoot. Sure, it was the smaller (interior), earlier model with a four-speed manual – it revved like crazy and was easy to toss into a corner. It danced (for a pickup tuck) and you could squirt it out of the corner with a “zing!”
No, it was not a rocket – it just felt like one. The rotary was smooth and it sounded sporty, especially at high RPM. I’m fairly sure the Mazda Rotary Pickup was only offered as a rear-drive vehicle in North America. Maybe it was too much of a niche vehicle for the times as the sales were slow.
Mazda never revisited the small rotary pickup tuck idea.
I’m glad these little trucks are now being coveted by collectors. It truly was a slick little machine with a fun character. If you have one, or if you are familiar with the Mazda Rotary Pickup, drop us a line below!
Check out this video introducing the next (possible) ‘big thing’ for small trucks – the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado!