Mazda's history traces back to a single, rather compact car: the R360.
Automotive enthusiasts are aware that Japanese manufacturers started small, with the Kei-sized vehicle class, which remains very popular on overcrowded Japanese roads.
The R360 was tiny, measuring only 2.98m in length and weighing a slight 380kg. But it was also intelligent, featuring many aluminium elements at a time when most of the world's cars were still exclusively being made from steel.
As Japanese industrialisation surged in the 1960s, the demand for utility vehicles increased. Mazda did what any sensible manufacturer would and converted its new 360-series vehicle platform to be a bakkie. The result was its B360.
If you are a keen follower of all things Mazda, the B360's naming convention is easy enough to understand: 'B' has always signified 'bakkie' for the Japanese brand from Hiroshima.
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South Africa bakkie fans are familiar with Mazda's B-Series and the company's current BT-50 double-cab. Although Mazda's original decision to identify its utility vehicles with the 'B' prefix has nothing to do with any awareness of the word 'bakkie', there is no denying the coincidence. With the B360, Mazda took everything you would need in a typical bakkie and shrunk it. A lot.
The first B360, launched in 1961, was tiny compared to most rival bakkies of the time, which were American. Weighing only 575kg, you could load two B360 bakkies in the back of a 1961 Ford F-Series.
Mazda B360. Image: Mazda Media
The first true 'urban' bakkie
It might have been small, but the B360 made perfect sense for its intended market. As anyone who has ever driven in Japan can testify, a tiny turning circle is precisely what you want in Tokyo or Osaka.
The compact dimensions meant Mazda's B360 bakkie had a turning circle of only 4.1m, which is nearly half of a current Smart ForTwo's.
As Japan's economy accelerated the B360 bakkie was a perfect logistics vehicle, capable of transporting light loads at high-frequency intervals, in crowded cities. With heavy traffic keeping speeds low, Mazda's B360 was never at a disadvantage with its modest 350kg load capacity and pedestrian performance.
Initially powered by an engine of only 356cc, the B360 bakkie did not have much power. The air-cooled V-twin engine produced 12kW and 22Nm, but with a short-ratio four-speed manual transmission and final drive geared for only 67km/h, it was perfectly suited to motoring around Japanese cities.
Mazda kept evolved its B360 bakkie throughout the 1960s, increasing engine capacity and performance. Adding two-cylinders in late 1963, boosted power to 15kW, which raised the B360's top speed from 67- to 79km/h. There was even an export variant, the B600, which used a 577cc version of the air-cooled V-twin engine.
By the time Mazda's B360 was discontinued in 1968, it had proved to be a commercial success and gave the company sufficient confidence, to keep developing its bakkie product portfolio.
Mazda B360. Image: Mazda Media