Before Mazda started naming their models with simple numbers—1, 3, CX5-9, etc.—they had the 929, the 626, and the 323. They had a 121, too, but you probably knew that one as a Ford Fiesta or Festiva (and it was made by Kia—go figure).
I feel like most of us have an old Mazda story. We knew somebody who owned one and there was something interesting about it we’ll never forget. For me, it was Emily, and to this day I STILL think the oscillating center vents in her 626 were awesome.
In any case, here’s a Mazda you don’t see every day. Or EVER, as it’s getting to be, given the scarcity of survivors and rarity of replacement parts. Forum member @humming suggested he’d like to see a Mazda 323 GTX featured and so here we are.
It’s an amazing machine!
[tgp] Introductions: My understanding is you’ve got a soft spot for the Mazda 323 GTX. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?
[sb] I’ve imported two Familia GTXs from Japan within the last two years. I use a broker in Japan to bid on them, but I can get into that later. The BG Familia GTX (BG8Z) was released in Japan in late 1989 and came with a 1.8L Turbocharged DOHC engine (BP-T), 5 speed, AWD, and a Torsen rear diff.
My reason for importing the BG GTX is because of the BF GTX that I’ve had for the last six years. The BF GTX is a great car, but most all of them were raced/driven and have succumbed to rust, so they are tough to find in nice shape. Plus, I really like the look of the BG GTX.
On the Familia / 323 GTX
[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As a GTX owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about them? What do you not love about them?
[sb] The truth about these cars is that they are underappreciated. Mazda created one of the best hot hatches of the 80s/90s and now they’re all but forgotten. Usually they are unkempt and wasting away in non-running condition.
Their oddity is what makes me love them, however it is also their downfall. There wasn’t much aftermarket support for these cars, or for any inline turbo Mazda of this era. I believe CorkSport, HKS, and Road Race Engineering were some of the only companies to truly provide aftermarket performance parts for the 323 GTX.
There’s nothing I don’t like about these cars, I’m a fanboy. The typical “GTX transmissions are bad” thing gets thrown around quite a bit online in the 323 GTX community, but that’s with any car these days. (I’m a C5 Z06 owner as well. I’m used to the community myths.)
I have owned the BF 323 GTX for six years now at 16psi and it has never skipped a beat. It’s all about how you treat and maintain your cars.Sean Brauner
[tgp] How did you end up in this camp? Why have you stuck around as long as you have?
[sb] I ended up here on accident to be honest. Back in 2013 I was looking for a car to daily drive. Any car would do since I had just graduated college. A 1990 MX-6 GT was posted for sale in a town near me; clean title, one owner, what could be wrong?
I drove to the location to buy the car and it turned out to be a small dealership. The owner’s wife had mispriced the car online at $1,600. The owner thought I was showing up to pay $3,200, so my heart sank… He honored the online price, luckily, otherwise my interest in Mazdas may have died that day.
The MX-6 was so good I bought a couple more and, along the way, I stumbled across a 323 GTX online during my typical late night “turbo mazda” Craigslist searches. After doing a bunch of scattered research, I decided the GTX was the end-all be-all. It was parked in my garage the next day.
My girlfriend and I enjoyed fixing up the silver 323 GTX, but after a couple years I found myself wanting more. I began searching for another, but I was unable to find a nice 1988 323 GTX for sale here in the USA. After a month or two of frustration, I finally stumbled upon the Familia GTX online and I just had to have one.
To me, these cars mark a pinnacle in automotive history and I take pride in being able to spread some information about them whenever I have the chance. What keeps me around is my fascination with importing the Familias, I have been doing it now for over two years and I hope to continue to do so as long as they are being sold at auction in Japan.
[tgp] You mentioned the USDM selection is generally rusted or otherwise ragged-out compared to the JDM selection. What other differences stand out as pros and cons (beside the obvious steering wheel location)?
[sb] The USDM GTXs are known for their rust, mainly underneath and around the rear wheel wells (something to look for when buying used). Most of the GTXs were sold in parts of the US where snow was common each winter. I don’t blame people for driving them in the snow though, they are great! In Japan however, cars typically aren’t driven much. Both the red and black Familias (made in 1989/1990) have around 90k kms on them—55k miles. I’m sure if the majority of USDM cars had low mileage like this, rust would be minimal as well.
To me, every instance of the BG is a pro compared to the BF generation. The bump in power from the B6T to the BPT is substantial, 185hp compared to 132hp. The BG interiors are more pleasing to the eye, and boy are they nice. If you like wheels as much as I do, you will also appreciate the switch from a 4×114.3 lug pattern to a 4×100 for the BG.
The only con of the BG Familia (for me) is you lose the BF’s iconic 80s boxy look. Also, just as a side note, there are other versions of the BG Familia as well including the GTR and GT-Ae. Both have a bigger turbo, various exterior styling queues, 5×114.3 lug pattern and some weight reduction based on the model.
The Familia/323 GTX Community
[tgp] How’s the Familia/323 GTX community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot?
[sb] The 323 GTX community seems to be stagnant at this time. Typically, someone buys a USDM 323 GTX, joins the group with a “thanks for the add here’s a pic of my car”, and then relists the car for sale the following month. Once people realize that off the shelf parts are not available, they are turned off. It is understandable since having custom work done these days is expensive and time consuming.
Some people live on various forums, but it seems like the most popular place to share info is on Facebook. There are a few dedicated Facebook pages, all of which have either “323 GTX” or “Familia GTX” in their titles. I tend to join them all.
There is one hidden gem within the 323 community however. It is a 323 GTX Yahoo group from what seems like eons ago (it started in 1998). All the 323 veterans shared their knowledge about the cars, how-tos and discussed interchangeable parts on that Yahoo page. DISCLAIMER: All Yahoo Groups will be shut down on December 15th 2020, so all of the precious information will become part of the online nebula. I hope someone has the ability to archive the data and move it to a new site.
This Gearhead Life
[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?
[sb] My biggest concern right now is social media. I won’t dive too deep into it, but I think social media has changed car culture in a way that will be hard to reverse. Just like a 90s Honda. May have to put it in 3rd, umm nope, let’s try 1st a few times, ah yup there we go, now we can finally go back.
[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?
[sb] Definitely my girlfriend, she has been there through each car I have bought and sold. She has helped me with importing the cars and picking them up. It’s been great having someone by my side who encourages me to do car things.
Would you like to know more?
Look Sean up on Instagram. He’s @seanbrauner and he’s on a mission to spread the good word about the Mazda Familia GTX to every gearhead who needs to hear it. And let’s be honest—a turbocharged, AWD, hot hatch with rally pedigree? If there isn’t a place in your garage for it, you know there’s a place in your heart.
Thanks for sharing with us, Sean!