HISTORY OF THE MIATA
Origin of the Mazda Company
Originally called Toyo Kogyo and located in Hiroshima, Japan, the company has changed names and undergone several financial crises since its origin in 1920. Toyo Kogyo started making small three wheeled trucks and rickshaws. Later, they made machine tools and rifles for the Japanese military during WW 2. In 1960 they began
making cars called Mazda but the company name was not changed to Mazda until 1984.
The Mazda name came from the Japanese god of light, wisdom, intelligence, and
harmony, named Ahura Mazda. Mazda entered the American market in 1970 and
earned early recognition for their work on the Wankle rotary engine and their
sports coupe called RX-7, introduced in 1978.
Sports cars gained popularity in America after WW 2. Returning soldiers from Europe had seen the small, nimble, economical, and fun to drive cars in Europe. Importers exploited this demand with the MG, Triumph, Austin Healey, Morgan, Jaguar, and the up-scale Ferrari. These cars were fun to drive but lacked comfort, had awkward and inadequate tops and side curtains, poor heaters and defrosters, no air conditioning, and sometimes poor reliability. Even though they were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, imported sports cars dried up in the 1970s due to new federal safety regulations and financial problems in the British automotive industry. American performance cars were few. In the 1920s and 30s there were the Stutz Bearcat, Mercer Raceabout, and Duesenberg. They were very expensive toys only for the rich. In the 1950s, the Corvette and Mustang were introduced but they were unappealing to the sporty car crowd because of their size, weight, and lack of nimble handling. But, they were appealing to young Americans that sought sound, fury, lots of power and acceleration. This led to the muscle car era.
The Miata Story
The Miata story begins in 1975. Mazda was recovering from one of it several financial crises and was looking for new markets to raise their sales. Senior Mazda representatives Yamamoto and Arai asked Bob Hall, a motor industry journalist, what kind of car Mazda should build. He replied that since the simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, classic British sports car no longer existed that they should build one and it should be affordable. Nothing happened until 1981, when Yamamoto hired Bob Hall to research the idea. A new California design center had just been built and a design team went to work. A competing team also began work in Tokyo.
The Tokyo team vision was a rear engine, rear drive layout. The California team vision was front engine, rear drive. The California team won the approval to start a prototype called the V705. It was strongly patterned after the British Lotus Elan and used an existing 1.4L Mazda engine plus many other existing Mazda components. It was ready in 1985, driven extensively around Southern California and got a lot of good reception whenever it was shown. The project was moved to Japan for production engineering with the design philosophy “Jinba Ittai”. Translated it means “Rider and Horse as one” and the concept drove all of the development team’s decisions, yielding a car nimble and fun to drive. With the first generation of the Miata, the phrase was developed into five specific core design requirements:
a. The car should be compact and light as possible, meeting all world safety standards
b. It would comfortably fit two adults with no wasted space
c. Basic layout of front engine, rear drive and 50/50 weight distribution
d. All four wheels would be attached by wishbone or multi-link suspension systems to maximize tire performance, road grip and dynamic stability
e. To be reliable and use modern technology and materials
In 1989, the first production Miata was introduced and called the MX-5. All Miatas are known as MX-5. The Miata name is from an old high-German word for “reward”. The first generation had the production code NA and was first shown at the Chicago Auto Show as a 1990 model with a price of $14,000. The original was all-steel with an aluminum hood. It had a drag coefficient of 0.38 with retractable headlights. The weight without options was 2150 pounds. The suspension was double wishbone on all four wheels. It had four wheel disk brakes, a 1.6L in line four cylinder engine with EFI, and an electronic ignition with 115 HP. It was a specific design for the Miata, not borrowed from another Mazda product. It had a five speed manual tranny with an option for automatic. The first production run was instantly sold out. In 1994 the NA engine was upgraded to 1.8L and 131 HP.
The second generation MX-5 called NB was offered as a 1999 model. The retractable headlights were gone because they no longer met pedestrian safety standards. There were numerous detailed improvements but nothing major. The engine was upped to 140 HP. The NB got a nice face lift in 2001, with larger brakes,
several detailed interior and exterior changes, and a variable valve engine
with 143 HP. There were also several additions of bracing and strength to
the chassis and body that improved handling. Miata had several special
editions, limited runs on certain paint colors and such over the years. The
one that stands out is the 2004-2005 Turbo Mazdaspeed with a factory
turbo engine at 178 HP, 6 speed tranny, interior upgrades, and alloy wheels.
The third generation NC was introduced as a 2006 model and was a major redesign with:
a. Suspension changes were made to the rear for a multi-link system
b. Traction control and stability control were added
c. A new 2.0L engine
d. An automatic tranny option with paddle shifters
e. Optional power retractable hard top
f. All new body work with redesign but retaining traditional Miata styling ques
The fourth generation ND came out in the model year 2016 and again was a whole new design: 4” shorter and 220 pounds lighter than the NC’s. 2200pounds, six speed tranny manual or automatic, interior and infotainment system are similar to the Mazda 3 sedan. The RF model has retractable hardtop as an option.
Today, the MX-5 is the best selling two seat sports car ever built. In April of 2016, the 1,000,000th unit was built.
In their advertising, they have used several logos. The current logo is a stylized “M” symbolizing wings in flight to the future. The circle represents the portal to the future. They started using the tag line “Zoom-Zoom” in 2000 having a young Japanese boy whisper it at the end of each ad. Mazda says it represents the “Emotion of Motion”. In 2015, they started using “Driving Matters”. Both show commitment to performance and the driving experience.