$700 Project: 1986 Mazda 626 Coupe Turbo

Mazda was putting a lot of effort into their 626 of the 80s. This was before it became the dumbed down low quality rental-fleet mobile of the late 90s. But back in the 80s, the Japanese mid-size sedan segment was still wide open. Anyone could become what the Accord and Camry are today (which isn't so say much, as they are both now overpriced, poorly styled and cheaply made front-wheel drive cars). Japanese automakers rose to the competitive challenge and put their best designs and engineering innovations forward.

To distinguish the 626, Mazda was refreshingly open to ideas. This included offering the 626 in a variety of body styles like a 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan, and a sleek 4-door hatchback. They also added an intriguing array of driving systems from four-wheel steering to four-wheel drive.

This is a 2-door coupe from the "GC" generation, which was only sold from 1983-1987, the briefness of which is evidence Mazda was watching the competition closely and felt the need to change the vehicle yet again. This generation 626 were once a common sight on American roads but have all but vanished now. I can't even remember the last time I've seen one.

Underneath the hood is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that produced 120 horsepower. Sure, they were front-wheel drive, but the turbo is a really nice addition. Neither Toyota or especially Honda were fond of turbocharging, at least on their sedans, so this is a pleasant surprise.

In the 80s, Japanese designers has a penchant for forward leaning instrument displays and this 626 follows suit, with a nifty horizontal tachometer and (presumably) digital speedometer, which is unlit. The Germans wouldn't touch this kind of edgy, almost kitschy gaucheness, and always stuck with analog displays, but these are real conversation pieces and are a unique insight on the mind fame that assembled the vehicle at the time.

Unfortunately this is a project car. The seller says the engine was given a thorough rebuild 1k miles ago at a price of $1,100, but then the turbocharger blew and has been left to sit since. The seller says they have a stock turbo from a donor car, but haven't installed it and won't let prospective buyers do so, understandably. They also have a bunch of extra parts that will come with the sale of this vehicle.

Honestly, for $700 you can't go wrong. This is a rare car that deserves some time and attention, inside and out. Get the turbo working, see if it needs anything else, give it a glossy re-paint in red, and then just drive it and take it to Japanese shows.

Available here on craigslist in Des Moines, Iowa for just $700.

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