This month, our iconic car of the month originates from the land of the rising sun. This car is a lightweight, two seat roadster, from a manufacturer that has brought a huge array of cars into the forefront of motoring, as well as other little-known offerings such as the ‘Bongo Friendee‘ and the ‘Scrum Wagon‘. The car is often lauded as the saviour of the roadster class, and made the two seater cool once again, ready for a new generation of drivers. With over one million cars sold since its birth in 1989, ladies and gentlemen, give a warm welcome to the one and only, Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Let’s hop in the Bristol Street DeLorean and whiz back to 1976. Bob Hall, a journalist at Motor Trend magazine, travelled to Japan and met up with two head honchos of Mazdas Research and Development team, Kenichi Yamamoto and Gai Arai. When asked what car he thought Mazda should produce, Hall replied that a “simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, wind-in-the-hair, classically-British sports car doesn’t exist anymore”.
Mazda liked the idea, and five years later Hall met again with Yamamoto, now the chairman of Mazda, and once more the two discussed the idea of a sporty, affordable two seater. A year later, Hall was given the green light to start research and planning for the new car, over in the Stateside branch of the manufacturer, Mazda USA. The Californian engineers proposed a car with a front engine, rear wheel drive layout, taking inspiration from the ghosts of British roadsters past. Their Japanese counterparts preferred front wheel drive, but were overruled following a competition featuring the presentation of full size clay models.
Through its secretive development, the car’s myriad aliases and codenames would have put Bond to shame, however ultimately the name MX-5 was chosen, standing for ‘Mazda Experiment Number 5‘. An extra word was added later for the US market; ‘Miata‘, which means ‘reward‘ in Old High German. No, we’re not really sure how that’s relevant either.
Mazda worked to an ancient Japanese mantra while crafting the MX-5: Jinba ittai () which, for those of you whose Japanese is a little rusty, roughly translates to ‘rider horse one body’. This credo stems from ancient horseback archers, and the bond they would develop with their horses. Seeking to emulate this symbiotic feel, Mazda developed several key design rules, including:
- The car must meet global safety requirements while remaining as light and compact as possible.
- The cockpit would accommodate two adult occupants, without any wasted space.
Such a stringent design brief may seem unnecessary, but Mazdas hard work and vision paid off. The MX-5 debuted to universal acclaim, winning Wheels Magazine’s ‘Car of the Year‘ award in 1989. Sports Car International named it in their ‘Ten Best Sports Cars of All Time’, and the MX-5 has made Car and Driver’s ‘Ten Best‘ list a whopping 14 times. Jeremy Clarkson, automotive critic and tabloid-headline-generator extraordinaire, wrote of the MX-5:
“The fact is that if you want a sports car, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you better value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason Im giving it five stars is because I can’t give it fourteen.”
We’re inclined to agree. The current, fourth generation MX-5 was unveiled in 2014, and its a beauty. Tipping the scales at a slender 1,000kg (well, slender for a growling hunk of metal), the newest MX-5 has two engine options, 1.5 and 2.0-litres, with a top speed of 130mph and 155bhp for the latter engine. In the millennium, the Guinness Book of World Records labelled the MX-5 as the best-selling two-seat sports car of all time, having then sold 531,890 units. As of April this year, that number has doubled, with Mazda’s plucky roadster passing the one million mark.
With glowing reviews, adoration from fans and critics alike, and earth shattering sales, the MX-5 Miata has truly earned its place on the coveted Bristol Street Motors Iconic Car podium. Give yourself a pat on the boot, Mazda.