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Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 Published: 11th Feb 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
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One man’s vision over 40 years ago resulted in the world’s best selling sports car that arrived on our shores 10 years later. And after a million sales, is as popular as ever

When Mazda’s MX-5 finally came to our shores 30 years ago it not only reignited the affordable sports car market that was all but dead but also introduced two-seater motoring to the masses who before would haven’t dreamt of such a thing.

First introduced in 1989, débuting at the 1989 Chicago Motor Show, its path to becoming the World’s best ever selling sports car wasn’t plain sailing and on numerous occasions faced the chop. But thanks to combined efforts of dedicated enthusiasts in Japan, United States and the UK the MX-5’s success, now on its fourth generation, continues to grow.

We have a British classic-loving American to thank for the MX-5, the renowned motor noter Bob Hall, who, in 1979, told Mazda md Kenichi Yamatoto what the motoring world needed was a good looking conventional, affordable sports car based upon proven hardware already in production to save costs, just like old MGs and TRs did. Despite having no design or engineering qualifications, he joined Mazda in the early 1980s and soon started to push the idea through once Mazda’s North American Product Planning and Research Division was opened in 1983. Hall later on admitted it was not a well liked project as many company management staff thought the whole idea was an utter waste of time and money as the world had moved on from the days of his beloved MG and Triumph TRs.

In 1983, the concept (known as LWS – Lightweight Sportscar) was given the thumbs up and labelled Offline Go Go, so work got underway at Mazda’s California and Tokyo sites. The American team came up with a traditional front-engine, rearwheel drive layout derived from the 323 family car labelled the Duo 101, which, despite some opposition from the Japanese, eventually made it through to the next stage. In 1986, after initially rejecting the US design team’s first proposals, the project was finally approved for production under the name P729.

The Japanese were historically renowned for copying tried and tested designs but also making them better in the process – which largely led to the demise of the once thriving British motorcycle industry! However, British sports cars were already largely dead and buried once MG and Triumph were killed off , so Mazda bought Midgets, MGBs and Spitfi res to study along with a handful of Elans.

Yet while the MX-5 is virtually a clone of the Chapman classic, Mazda says not one part was copied although does admit the Lotus came the closest to the design brief. Hitting the UK market in 1990 badged as the MX-5, while in the United States it was known as the Miata, and in Japan, the Eunos Roadster, it seemed huge gamble as the car was introduced at a time when hot hatches were ruling the roads.

The fi rst and purest generation (the NA model) with its pop-up headlamps, remained in production until 1997. The second generation (NB model) joined the scene in spring ‘98, sporting a more refi ned and spacious interior, fi xed headlamps but extra grunt – up to 143bhp in the form of the delightful 1.8i Sport.

The third strain (NC) model arrived in 2005 and represented the most fundamental shift in priorities. Now based upon the platform of the larger (rotary-powered) RX-8 the MX-5, while still a great sports car, was more aimed at non dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts, highlighted by the addition of a powered solid roof option called the Roadster, the most sumptuous cabin yet and the option of automatic transmission.

The current Mk4 range which, some reckon now looks like a baby F-Type, saw a welcome return to the car’s core values.

The press and public took to the MX-5 like a duck to water. Here was an affordable (£14,249 at launch), accessible yet classy sports car which made you think like you were driving a Lotus Elan yet was as trustworthy as a Volkswagen Golf and with similar running costs. “Mazda has moved the goalposts with its new MX-5, unquestionably redolent of the ’60’s Elan. It is a long time since a major manufacturer produced such a car. It is the first time the Japanese have done so, and if the MX-5 proves to be a runaway success, as it currently threatens to do, we can be sure it won’t be the last,” said Fast Lane.

“For sheer, inexpensive fun, there is nothing to beat a well balanced, rear-wheel drive car with a front engine and a short gear lever rigidly mounted on a good, close-ratio five-speed gearbox that has all the charm and basic features of the traditional British sports car of the past with all the improvements modern techniques and computer-aided design have brought”, said another report.

Only one detractor stuck his head above the parapet. One famous CAR columnist reckoned the MX-5, with its intentionally snick gear shift and retro dash was simply cynical gimmick and that if Mazda was so keen on showing us how to make a classic British roadster for modern use then it should have also designed in ill fitting doors, a leaky roof and even included a dashboard button just to deposit a shot of oil on the driveway…

Of course, with an MX-5 you’ll avoid these ‘pleasures’ from the past. Instead, you’ll have a highly useable and pleasing all weather sportster that boasts modern conveniences and it was these attributes that attracted the Mazda to a far wider audience than only sports car lovers. With a great fast-acting hood (with a powered metal-topped option on the Mk3), decent luggage capacity, suddenly Mr and Mrs Mainstream from Arcacia Avenue could also justify some fun, just like 20 years previously when the Capri came out, even though they weren’t mad car lovers. And the MX-5 certainly hit the spot with women who now account for at least half of all buyers.

Yet far from antagonising the old “they don’t make them like they used to” brigade, the classic world has also taken by the modern MX-5 with a good many enthusiasts running them as daily drivers or neo classic second cars or even racing them in dedicated, cost effective championships. British sports car parts supplier David Manners calls the Mazda the ‘New MGB’ and it’s difficult to argue against this view.

The MX-5 is the closest thing you’ll get to the old Lotus Elan in terms of that classic feel. It handles beautifully, with precise steering and rifle bolt gear selection. The design credo for the MX-5 was the Japanese phrase ‘Jinba ittai’, which roughly translates as ‘rider and horse as one’ – and that’s exactly what you get. None are tyre shredding slingshots, but are quick enough and the real beauty of the Mazda lies in its all round usability. This is a serious sports car that can be used for the daily grind without complaint or costs. At least 25-35mpg is easily achieved and maintenance is simple and minimal. The cockpit is snug and pleasingly leak-free with superb wet weather gear.

In short, the MX-5 is the perfect modern sports car. Mazda well and truly put small roadsters back on the map and others weren’t slow to offer me too alternatives, such as BMW’s Z3, Audi’s TT and the Mercedes SLK. There’s not a day that goes by when you don’t see them on our roads. Does this lack of exclusivity or an increasing dilution of enthusiast owners being replaced by enthusiastic users bother you? That’s a personal decision but without the MX-5, this market sector would probably still be dead and buried. With the MX-5’s million sales mark long surpassed, it has turned out to be not a bad call for some guy only going on little more than a gut feeling…

Remember when… 1990

A UK in recession, a new Tory PM, conflict with Europe and tensions again flare up in the Middle East – so what’s new! Here’s some of the highlights…

The start of the Gulf war is caused by Iraq invading Kuwait that August.

On the political front after 15 years in power Maggie Thatcher is ousted as PM after a turbulent year which saw key cabinet ministers resign and nationwide demonstrations against the Poll Tax. She is succeeded by John Major in late November.

American President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev (who was elected in March) agree a treaty that June to ban chemical weapons. Gorbachev is also awarded Nobel Peace Prize come October for his efforts to end the Cold War.

In South Africa, President F.W. de Klerk grants the African National Congress to function once more. After world wide pressure, he also frees political prisoner Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment , thereby ending Apartheid in that country.

At the end of the year, British and French workers meet some 40 metres under the English Channel’s seabed so establishing the first land connection between the United Kingdom and the mainland of Europe for what’s reckoned 8000 years.

In sport, in what’s still regarded as boxing’s biggest ever upset ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson is defeated by Buster Douglas, being knocked out in the 10th round. At 21 Stephen Hendry, becomes the youngest ever world snooker champion, Senna takes his second F1 World Championship and Man Utd win the FA Cup.

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