When I was born, I was driven home from the hospital in a gray 1988 Mazda 626 Hatchback. It had a red velour interior, power seat belts and a deck-like cover over the rear cargo area that always seemed to turn into a graveyard of dead insects during the summer. It lasted a long time with no real issues, before being replaced by a far less interesting Toyota Camry.
My uncle owned a 1996 Mazda 626, which served him well for many years of D.C. rush hour traffic. It was green and had what I’ve always found to be a rather stately exterior design, especially for its day.
In December, I got to spend a week driving a 2017.5 Mazda6 — the successor to the 626. With SUVs dominating the market in recent years, the latest Mazda6 has managed to remind me of the virtues of the sedan. It rode comfortably, handled well and was, for the most part, remarkably refined; a gentle reminder of what can be had in a vehicle when we aren’t desperate for hardcore performance, off-road capability or the means to haul an entire soccer team.
But enough about that. What piqued my interest about each of these midsize Mazda sedans is the fact that — while I consider all three to be from the modern era — each wore a different Mazda logo. I’ve always been intrigued by this: Over the past 30 years, which other automaker in the U.S. has put three (technically four!) completely different logos on the front of its vehicles?
Let’s take a look at each one.
‘MAZDA’ Spelled Out: 1975-1991
Common among automakers in the 80s, Mazda’s corporate wordmark was used as its sole brand identifier from 1975 until 1991. The ‘logo’ appeared in silver on the driver’s side of each model’s grille, or stamped on the driver’s side of the front bumper, like on the MX-5 and RX-7.
Notice that the D is the only capital letter? Straight from Mazda’s website — that’s simply because a lowercase ‘d’ would’ve interrupted the wordmark’s otherwise smooth, perfectly rectangular shape.
The Cylon: 1991-1992
Mazda introduced a proper logo again in 1991. Known as the “Cylon,” it was said to represent “a sun and a flame standing for heartfelt passion.” It could be described as a diamond, inside a bigger diamond, inside an oval. Upon its release, though, Mazda was met with a problem — the new marque looked a bit too much like the logo of French automaker Renault. As a result, Mazda quickly redesigned the logo for 1993, making the original one of the shortest-lived logos in automotive history. The 1992 Mazda 929 is the only vehicle to ever bear the marque in the United States.
The Eternal Flame: 1992-1997
The redesigned logo, which has come to be known as “the Eternal Flame,” was a smoothed-out version of the previous logo that could now be described as a circle in a rounded diamond within an oval. Conveniently, a subtle nod to the shape of Mazda’s rotary engines.
Regardless of any similarity to another automaker, I think the Eternal Flame had two flaws:
It had no obvious connection to the Mazda brand. Show a vehicle bearing this logo to any non-car person and they’d have no idea what kind of car they were looking at.
The details in the logo were so small that to anyone further than a few feet away, it just looked like a little silver coin on the hood. See for yourself the next time you encounter a mid-1990s Mazda on the road.
The ‘Winged M’: 1997-Present
In 1997, in an effort to streamline its branding (and perhaps acknowledging some of the same shortcomings of the previous logo that I did), Mazda introduced the logo that we all know today — the “Winged M.” Meant to replace both the wordmark and the “Eternal Flame” as Mazda’s main brand identifier, the logo is described with a lot of PR speak in most corners of the internet, using words like “vitality,” “kindness” and “determination” — but, either way, the M logo has that all-important connection to the Mazda name: show it to anyone and it won’t be hard for them to guess that they’re looking at a Mazda. It’s also a more upscale look, a closer fit with Mazda’s design language and perhaps most importantly, it’s easily recognizable from across the street. Find a Mazda for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.
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