The Holden that came with a factory rotary

If this car looks familiar it should do, but you could be forgiven for being a little confused by the Mazda badge.

Back in the dim, distant 1970s Mazda had a bit of a thing going with Holden and the product of this relationship was the ill-conceived Mazda Roadpacer AP.

It was a rebadged version of the HJ Premier with a Mazda RX4 rotary engine under the bonnet.

What the hell?

Yes. The idea was to have a crack at the upper luxury passenger car segment in Japan, a segment dominated by the V8 Toyota Century and Nissan President.

Downsizing the engine permitted Mazda to offer a more competitive product because it was able to avoid the local engine capacity based tax.

For those that haven’t heard the story Holden Premiers were shipped to Hiroshima minus their engines, where Mazda fitted the twin rotor 1.3-litre 13B rotary.

We use the term ‘fitted’ loosely because it wasn’t too difficult to space in the huge engine bay after the removal of the 3.3-litre six.

Word has it Mazda got the cars for free from GM-H in return for the use of Mazda’s rotary for its stillborn quad-rotor Corvette.

Although it was smoother, quieter and lighter, the rotary was no match for the six in terms of economy or performance.

Nor was it much of a match for the three-speed auto in the Holden, a transmission that was really out of its comfort zone with the high-revving rotary.

The big problemo however was that the rotary produced nowhere near as much torque as the Red series engine.

It was rated at 100kW and produced about 187Nm of torque, compared with the six’s 263Nm.

The Premier was no lightweight either, not at 1575kg, and as a result the Roadpacer couldn’t pull the skin off a custard.

The lack of torque meant poor acceleration, a top speed of only 166km/h and what has been described as “shocking” fuel consumption – worse even than a 5.0-litre V8.

While the HJ Premier was already well equipped, Mazda chipped in with some extra fluff befitting the car’s role as flagship of the range.

It had a central locking system that activated when the car hit 10km/h, a chime system that activated at 90km/h, a dictation system and a stereo that could be controlled from both front and back seats.

The price for this piece of motoring memorabilia in 1975 was 3.8 million yen or $9400 Australian dollars – pretty steep even back then.

Originally intended as transport for high-ranking government officials, the car was sold in five and six seat form, with buckets or a bench seat across the front.

Like later Holdens, it was produced in response to the first fuel crisis and was not a commercial success.

Production ceased in 1977 with only 800 units sold in a two-year period.

The Roadpacer has the distinction of being the only General Motors production model to be fitted with a rotary engine.

Most were sold to government departments and were later crushed, making the Roadpacer quite rare these days.

It was never sold in Australia.

Some might say thank God!


Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.