Junkyard Gem: 1999 Mazda 626 with manual transmission

By the late 1990s, new sedans equipped with three pedals had become very rare in the United States. Some manufacturers still offered manual transmissions in such cars at that time and would continue to do so for many years to come (the final model year for a U.S.-market Toyota Camry with a manual was 2011, for example, while Honda persisted in selling manual-equipped Accords here through 2020), but my junkyard explorations show nearly universal sedan slushboxification stretching back to the early 1970s. Here’s a 1999 Mazda 626 sedan whose original purchaser defied the two-pedal trend, found in a Colorado self-service wrecking yard recently.

Mazda began using the 626 name here back in the 1978 model year, when an Americanized version of the rear-wheel-drive Capella hit Mazda dealerships. When the Capella went to front-wheel-drive for 1983, Mazda kept the 626 name on the US-market version. Production of North American 626s moved to a joint Mazda-Ford operation in Flat Rock, Ohio, in the early 1990s and several generations of 626 were built there until the model was replaced by the Mazda6 for the 2003 model year.

This car is an example of the final generation of U.S.-market 626 (production continued in South America through 2006), which became a bit bigger and plusher for 1998.

Two engines were available for the 1999 model: a DOHC four-cylinder rated at 125 horses and a DOHC V6 with 170 horses. This car has the four-banger.

A five-speed manual transmission was standard equipment on all but the top trim level of ’99 626, and that includes the V6 cars. Manuals had become nearly nonexistent in midsize Detroit sedans by this time, though Ford and Mercury would sell you a new (Mondeo-based) Countour/Mystique with a clutch and GM managed to move a few five-speed Olds Aleros out of showrooms.

You could get an automatic on the lower trim levels of 626 that year, of course, but it added 800 bucks to the price (that’s about $1,481 in 2023 dollars). This car is an ES, which listed at $19,995 ($37,012 today). That means that buyers paid an extra 4% to enjoy (if that’s the right word) two-pedal driving; that’s a much lower percentage than the cost of automatics a decade earlier, but still significant.

Still, the original buyer of this car wanted the leather upholstery, swinging HVAC vents and other goodies of the ES, so it’s a safe bet that they wanted to commute with a five-on-the-floor.

Yes, shift does happen.

The 626 turns grocery shopping into a rebellious pit stop.



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