The Road Less Travelled
We took to the roads of north Scotland to drive the Holy Grail of Mazda sports cars, the twin-rotary powered Cosmo 110S.
A special car deserves a special road, and the North Coast 500 circuit is certainly that. Formally established by the Scottish tourist board late in 2014, the North Coast 500 has been pitched as Scotland’s answer to Route 66. However, as we suspected, there weren’t the usual encounters with diners, giant Ketchup bottles or dinosaur museums that the classic American road trip tends to offer.
We left Inverness and headed west on the 800 kilometre-route via the Bealach na Ba, a winding single track that leads to the spectacular Applecross peninsular, then through the bustling town of Ullapool and on to John O'Groats, the northernmost tip of the British mainland.
The scale of the landscape was matched only by the brilliance of the Cosmo. Running its original 10A engine, providing 491cc from each of its two rotors (the first twin-rotor in mass production), this 1968 example, the only road-legal Cosmo in the UK, put out an impressive 110hp when new. Even if a few of those horses may have gone astray in the intervening 48 years it was a joy to drive, with fluid gear changes courtesy of the four-speed gearbox and an eagerness to rev to its 7,000rpm redline.
In total, only 1,176 of these cars were built from 1967 to 1972. ‘Our’ 1968 Cosmo 110S belongs to devoted rotor-head Phil Blake, from Suffolk. Phil has owned the car for more than 15 years and it’s the pride of an extensive collection of rotary-engined cars, which also includes a Savanna RX-7, Eunos Cosmo and an RX-8. “I first saw a Cosmo more than 30 years ago and I still can't quite believe that I own one,” he told us.
(10A engine [494cc x 2 rotors] )
(Brochure for Cosmo 110S (designed by Tadanori Yokoo)
Driving the Cosmo proved to be a unique experience. You sit low, using the front-mounted mirrors to position yourself on the road, with your hands on the huge, three-spoked burnished wood steering wheel. The interior’s houndstooth cloth seats (shown above), aircraft-style toggle switches and big dials only add to the classic driving experience.
From John O'Groats our journey continued down the east side of the route and the wildness of the terrain subsided, giving way to verdant valleys and a softer coastline, replete with calming sandy beaches and carpets of wildflowers.
Far too soon our journey was over and our near-50-year-old Cosmo had 800 additional kilometres on its clock. The Cosmo’s ride may have been a bit on the bumpy side at times, and its cabin a little noisier than that of a modern car, but this ultra-rare sports coupe didn’t miss a beat over the whole distance, performing as well as the NC500 route impressed. A remarkable car, and a remarkable road.
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