Between the time of the Nissan Maxima’s switch to front-wheel-drive (1985 model year) and the introduction of the Infiniti Q45 and Lexus LS 400 (1990 model year), only two big, rear-wheel-drive Japanese luxury sedans were sold new in the United States. One was the Toyota Cressida, while the other was the Mazda 929. Everyone knows about the Cressida, of course, but the 929 has faded nearly completely from our automotive memory. The junkyard never forgets, though, which is why today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those 929s, found in a Northern California wrecking yard recently.
The 929 was the export version of the Mazda Luce, and the four-door post sedan version was available in the United States for the 1988 through 1995 model years (sadly, the four-door hardtop Luce wasn’t brought to our shores). Its replacement here was the technologically advanced front-wheel-drive Mazda Millenia, which never sold very well.
When Honda created its Acura luxury brand for overseas sales, Nissan and Toyota dove in a few years after with their Infiniti and Lexus marques. Seeing its Japanese rivals raking in the dollars, pounds and Deutschmarks, Mazda cooked up an export luxury brand called Amati. The 929 (and later Millenia) were to have been sold as Amatis here.
Then the Japanese asset price bubble popped in 1991, and Japan plunged into a decade of economic stagnation. The little car company from Hiroshima had to drop its ambitious plans for Amati, and the 929 remained a Mazda. North Americans had long viewed Mazda as a maker of low-priced econoboxes and weird Wankel-engined mutants, and so the bragging-rights value of a Mazda-badged luxury sedan stayed low.
That’s a shame, because the 929 was both swanky and powerful. The engine was a 3.0-liter V6 with either SOHC or DOHC design, driving the rear wheels.
You could get the 929 here with a five-speed manual transmission, in theory; let us know if you ever see one. This car has a four-speed automatic.
The 929 S got the DOHC engine and its 190 horsepower. That was the same as the horsepower rating of the ’90 Cressida’s straight-six, though its 191 pound-feet of torque beat the Cressida by six pound-feet.
The 1990 Infiniti Q45 and Lexus LS 400 had hairy V8 engines that blew away the 929 S (with 278 and 250 horsepower, respectively), but those cars were far more expensive than their Mazda rival. The MSRP on the 1990 929 S was $24,800, which comes to about $58,756 in 2023 dollars. Meanwhile, a new Q45 cost $38,000 ($90,030 today) while a new LS 400 was $36,000 ($85,291 now). The 1990 Toyota Cressida was a steal at $21,498 ($50,933 after inflation).
The 929 was a good 700 pounds lighter than those behemoths, so it was a lot quicker in a stoplight race.
This car is here because it got crashed hard at age 33. In 1995 or even 2000, this damage would have been worth repairing.
Just 177,057 miles total.
Perhaps the 929 would have caught on with Amati badges, but we’ll never know.
James Garner was the 929’s spokesman.
In its homeland, this car was the “Big Personal” Luce.