Mazda MX-5

The MX-5's legacy was established by a return to classic sports car development practices that became the pinnacle of what all roadsters aspire to

In today's vehicle market, it is hard to comprehend that anyone would question the existence of roadsters in series production. They are common sights on the roads and many OEMs have a model of their own in their line-up. The popularity of them today though can, quite reasonably, be attributed to the influential impact of the MX-5 just over 25 years ago.

There are many other sports cars having more powerful engines or that can accelerate from 0 to 100km/h faster but the driving experience of Mazda's offering to the market has been a benchmark for rivals to strive for ever since it was launched. 

In the years leading up to that day, there were few roadsters in production and it was with much uncertainty that the first MX-5 appeared. There was a big question mark over whether roadsters had had their time.

An apocryphal tale states that when in 1979 American journalist Bob Hall was asked by Mazda executives what type of car they should be building, he mourned the lack of an inexpensive, two-seater sports car of the style of the British and Italian roadsters from the 1960s. Whether this event occurred or not, Hall did end up at Mazda two years later working on the design of a vehicle in keeping with the dream he was said to have wished for. 

An in-house competition, between Mazda's Californian and Japanese design teams, was launched in 1983 to turn that dream into a reality. At the time, having the engine towards the front of the vehicle along with front-wheel drive was a set-up common among OEMs and it was down this path that the Japanese team went. The American team opted, instead, for a front-engined but rear-wheel drive layout as associated with the classic European roadsters of yesteryear – particularly the Lotus Elan – and it was this proposal that Mazda chose to pursue in 1984.

After several years of testing various prototypes and tweaking, a final version was approved and the MX-5 Roadster (or MX-5 Miata in the US) was unveiled to the public at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989. MX stood for the “Mazda experiment,” and the 5 signalled the vehicle's project number. 

tags: March 2015 Mazda Chassis