Rod Millen's Mazda 323

18th September 2020


Petrolheads are already fizzing following our announcement about the next display we’re planning at Bill Richardson Transport World. The Evolution of Japanese Cars exhibit will be on display here at the largest private automotive museum of its type in the world from 23 October, 2020 through to 12 April, 2021. And motorsport enthusiasts will be excited to hear about the first vehicle added to the display’s line-up.

Well-known in rallying circles, Rod Millen’s Asia-Pacific Rally Championship-winning Mazda 323 4WD will be among the vehicles on display in the Evolution of Japanese Cars exhibit.

In 1989, this particular Mazda 323 was built from new at Rod Millen Motorsports in America as part of a two-car team to take on the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship that year. It was run in Rod Millen Motorsports’ livery and ran a 5-speed gearbox. The car won the championship that year. It was also the vehicle used by Rod Millen’s team in the WRC rounds of New Zealand and Australia, finishing second overall during the Kiwi portion of the event. It took out second place behind European competitor Ingvar Carlsson, giving Mazda it’s first-ever top-two finish at a WRC event.

Richard Cocker had co-driven the car a handful of times in a few Kiwi national championship rounds, and had always reckoned there was something special about it. When he came across the car, he managed to convince his great mate Ross McKay (who had once driven the same model to win the ’92 NZ National Junior Rally Championship) to buy and restore the vehicle.

Before the project began, Rod Millen’s former Mazda 323 had been sitting, unused, in a shed for around six years. Cocker and McKay decided to source some left-hand drive parts for their project, to return the car to its original state.

(Rod Millen had never driven the car in right-hand drive form: it had been converted after it was sold to champion rally driver Dave Ayling. McKay and Cocker decided it needed to be left-hand drive, to be truly authentic, so they started the search for a left-hand version they could strip of its parts. They eventually found one, in Iceland of all places. It also featured a sought-after X-Trac 6-speed gearbox. The car was shipped to New Zealand, stripped, and the original car was rebuilt from there.)

Sadly, Cocker never got to see the end result, passing away before the seven-year restoration project was complete.

This is one restoration that’s truly brought a vehicle back to life. Those involved have kept its specs as close as possible to those of its era, and the vehicle as it is today is certainly a goodie. With the same suspension, fuel system, 4-pot calpiers, and instrumentation, it’s also believed to boast its original steering wheel, co-driver tripmeter, and the rear-directional Panasport wheels that Rod Millen had custom-designed.

The end result is a brilliant restoration of a car thousands of rally fans will no doubt recall fondly: and we can’t wait to share it with you soon.



Make: Mazda 323 4WD

Engine: 4-cylinder in-line, front-transverse engine, turbocharged, 1623cc with 250 bhp

Body: 3-door steel

Suspension: MacPherson struts front and rear

Transmission: 6-speed gearbox, 4WD

Weight: 1120kg