Lynx was one cool cat: Ford Laser/Mazda 323C

The word “Lynx” apparently comes from the Indo-European root leuk- in reference to the luminescence of its reflective eyes. In recent decades, trade in their fur has tapered off, after ad campaigns in the 1980s by the anti-fur organisation, also called Lynx.

Michael Zahra flickr.com

In the mid-1990s, Lynx was the name given to a 2-door Ford Laser, sold in Australia and nearby countries. It was a rebadged Mazda 323C or Familia Neo, with a different 90s “organic” headlight array and the revvy 1.8 litre BP 4-cylinder engine out of the MX-5, but mounted transverse for front wheel drive. The KJ Laser series was the first to be fully made in Japan, after the closure of Ford’s Homebush plant in Sydney.

I liked the look of them, including what’s known as a Kammback: it’s a vertical end to the car, and in this case it was see-through. I found it reminiscent of one of my 80s car favourites: the Honda CRX.

However, the interior was conventional and basic Laser: very plain and grey. The seats were quite supportive. The Lynx was priced too high for me: around $30,000, which was a lot for a small hatchback in the 90s. I also knew that they cost more than a SEAT Ibiza GTi, after seeing a newspaper comparison ad that SEAT published, after I’d bought my asthmatic (but solid) 3-door 1.4 litre Ibiza CLX in 1995.

Then in early November 2021, the entertaining Facebook page AUDM Vehicle Posting published an article about the Laser Lynx, and got me trawling Marketplace. Within a few minutes I found one for sale, unregistered, with 207,000 kilometres on the clock plus a few bumps and scratches, just a short distance from my parents’ house. It was listed around $1,000. So a plan was hatched: go see the oldies and check out the Lynx!

My pic of the Lynx, as it was before purchase

Its main issues were a dent in the right front fender and surface rust spots on the bonnet. I started the car and found that while the interior was a little “lived in”, everything worked – even the air-conditioning. I was told the radio was playing up, but it was just a loose faceplate. The Lynx was being sold as the female owner had upgraded to a newer car.

However, my main criteria for buying a project car for fun is that it has good paint – and the Lynx did not. So, with the cost of repainting at the back of my mind, I went away to think about it.

In following weeks, I looked at other cheap cars with better paint – but they were a mess in other areas. Eventually, I thought that the Lynx could at least be relied on to be a runaround, even if it didn’t look entirely appealing. So, more than a month later, I contacted the seller and arranged a second look.

The Lynx had now been sitting on the front lawn of the seller’s parents’ home for a few months. It blocked the side gates, where their caravan was parked. It had been moved to allow the parents to go away on a trip, but now they were coming back. So the Lynx was parked out on the kerb for some days – on what I’d call a “jaunty” angle. The rear half was up on the verge, with the front half on the road.

The Lynx after I’d moved it off the footpath verge

It was so randomly parked, a local resident had reported it to police as an abandoned car. Officers had attended, and put a “Police Aware” sticker on it, so no-one else would report it. The owner rang the police, told them it would be sold soon, and was told to leave the sticker on it until it was gone.

This all happened before I arrived for another look. I started it up again, and was met with a very noisy engine. However, after consulting with my daughter (sending a video to her) we figured it was from lack of use, as her own NA MX-5 had made the same racket after being left idle for months by the previous owner. I drove the car a few metres, forward and back, partly to get it off the footpath but also to check the clutch. It drove fine, although the gearshift was quite vague.

I was warming to the Lynx, but the deal was done when the young lady said that with her parents returning, it really should be gone soon, and that to ensure it disappeared from their home she’d take just a few hundred dollars for it. I said “I can do that, I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

So Mum and Dad got yet another visit, this time with my daughter in tow, set to drive the SAAB 9-3 to follow me home. We topped up the tank with some petrol out of a can. The turps we brought with us took the police sticker off the screen. It was a very hot summer’s day, so I was grateful for the air-conditioning. The trip home on an unregistered vehicle permit was largely smooth, with just some surging under load due to the air intake pipe having a hole in it, that had been taped up.

Watch the Lynx pickup here

The first thing to get my attention was the driver’s side headlight trim, which was damaged after a minor bingle. Amazingly, a local wrecker had Lynx headlights on the shelf (they’d been there for years) so was happy to sell me both headlights at quite a cheap price to move them on. I used the plastic trim from one headlight to fix the loose surround on the front of the car. And before re-fitting the headlight, I pulled most of the front panel dent out. I put both spare headlights in the boot, just in case a rock ever broke one at the front.

On cleaning the interior, I discovered 2 bread plates in the pouch behind the passenger seat. I asked the former owner about them: she had no idea why they were there and didn’t want them.

I ordered and fitted a new air intake pipe. Then my mechanic looked after gear bushes, brakes and engine mounts (except for the rear engine mount, which had to be put in at a workshop due to its difficult location/mounting). Within a month or so, after it was registered, I’d have the timing belt replaced as the car was now well over 200,000 kms.

Once it was back on the road, the engine was still running rough – but now at idle as well as under load. I had plugs, leads and the distributor rotor replaced – but the problem persisted. Thankfully, my mechanic happened to look at the base of the distributor, and saw a hairline crack in the plastic housing, that he figured was allowing spark to escape.

Another trip to the wreckers found a replacement Laser distributor, with just the plastic housing changed over on mine. The engine problem immediately disappeared! I put the remainder of that spare part in the boot, too.

A noisy wheel, which I thought might have been bearings, was shown to be a dodgy tyre, after it was replaced, on the recommendation of my mechanic.

I learned the hard way that you should always leave a car window open when you’re changing the battery. With the new one in, the power locks operated and had the car nice and secure – with the sole working key on the driver’s seat! The motoring club got the car open, and I got an extra key cut.

So, mechanically, the Lynx was sorted. However the paint still looked bad, and getting caught on the highway in heavy rain in February 2022 ripped more of the paint off the bonnet. I got a quote to respray the car: $4,000. That was way too much, so I bought some rust converter, primer/filler and touch-up spray paint, and went to work on all corners of the car.

Watch the paint makeover here

With 90+ kW from its 16-valve DOHC engine, the Lynx loved to rev and was well planted on the road. However, coming up to a year of ownership, I’d had my fun with it as a runaround, so I put it up for sale for what it owed me. And now it owned me even more, after needing new shock absorbers all around to get the roadworthy to sell.

I had plenty of offers, some ridiculously low, but I insisted on the asking price because of what I’d put into the car, but also because COVID had thinned the ranks of used cars with a roadworthy.

One Saturday afternoon, as I completed the sale of the wife’s Toyota Corolla on the driveway, a father and son arrived to look at the Lynx. I gave them the keys while I finished with the Corolla buyer. They had a good look, then I went with the son for a test drive, and that car was also sold.

I think it was the striking styling which was the selling point – even if the paint still was nowhere near as luminescent as the eyes of a lynx.

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