It's surprising that Leno doesn't already have one of these quirky Japanese sports cars in his collection.
A kei car makes an appearance in Jay Leno's Garage this week because he welcomes turbocharged engineer Ashley DeLuca to show off her 1992 Mazda Autozam AZ-1 on video. Leno seems a little befuddled by the odd-looking Japanese sports car at first, but some time behind the wheels convinces him that this is a very fun little machine. He even says that he might need to buy one now.
DeLuca bought this AZ-1 while she was living in Japan. It stayed in a parking lot shared by enthusiasts of these little machines for about a year after she came back to the United States, and then she imported it to California. The only problems that she has had with it have been some faulty starter wiring. Her car also has some useful aftermarket upgrades like a front strut tower brace and turbo boost gauge. Most of these cars that we see are red, but the two-tone combination of dark blue and black on this one gives the machine an understated handsomeness.
The AZ-1 arrived during a golden period for kei cars when automakers began building sports cars in this class for tiny, lower-taxed machines. Other models like this were the Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino. Now that they are over 25 years old, these fun, little vehicles are starting to trickle into the United States.
The AZ-1 features a mid-mounted, three-cylinder turbocharged 657cc engine that produces 63 bhp and 63 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual sends the output to the rear wheels. While this doesn't sound like much power, the little car only weighs 720 kg, and Leno shows that the puny powerplant makes plenty of muscle to motivate the machine.
In addition to its peppy performance, the AZ-1 doesn't look anything like any other vehicle on the road. The gullwing doors are the most notable element of the design, and there are glass panels on the top of them, which allows plenty of light into the tiny cabin.