Mazda MX-5 Miata Roadster (Book)
By Toshi Hirai (MX-5 Project Director)

Reviewd by Petra Van Den Berge -

Mazda MX-5 Miata Roadster is a book, published by Veloce Publishing, translated and edited from the original Japanese edition: Roadster.

Their own story
In this book the Japanese engineers, that have contributed to the design of the Mazda MX-5, tell their stories. As most of them don't speak English, this book reveals many stories that were never translated before. You will also find schemes and photos that haven't been published before.

Things worth knowing
- Who had ever heard of the Riverside Hotel, a parking garage owned by Mazda next to a little river that, because of lack of space in the Mazda building itself, was converted to a design studio?
- Usually computers take over the work from people, relieving them from many tedious work hours. In this case it worked the other way round: the lack of people available forced them to use computers (for this first time for Mazda on this scale) to do the job.
- The lack of people available even forced Mazda to outsource the work of creating the first running prototype to an English consultancy firm.
- Did you know that the development of the softtop was the team effort of a Japanese and a French engineer that didn't understand a word of each others' language? That the design became as elegant, solid, and (quite unexpectedly) as weatherproof as we know it, proves that some form of good communication was established in the process.
- And did you know that the nose of the MX-5 has been designed according to the traditional lines of the Japanese Noh masks, that the interiour design has been influenced by the sober and functional style of the Japanese tea rooms, and that the pattern of the Japanese Tatami mat is reflected in the fabric of the chairs?

"To be asked to design a sports car must be the dream of any automotive engineer."
The book allows thirteen of these chosen engineers to tell their story. Toshihiko Hirai, the Program Manager of the MX-5, Takao Kijima, responsible for the chassis, suspension and the new Power Plant Frame design, Tom Matano, responsible for the whole concept of the MX-5, Shunji Tanaka, who guided the MX-5 from concept to production and contributed to this process, Sadao Isomura, responsible for the drivetrain, and many other Japanese team members explain how the design of this sportscar looked like a dream, but how the realisation of this dream wasn't exactly that easy.
A very limited budget, little confidence from the management team, the idea that an open twoseater is a dated, unsafe and unsellable concept, opposing developments like the Yen going skyhigh, young (and thus cheap) designers with little experience; many times during its development phase the design risked to end its' life in the wastebasket. But despite, or probably thanks to these opposing forces, the MX-5 became reality, step by step.

Many Mazda employees heard the rumours that 'something interesting was going on' in that old parking garage, the "Riverside Hotel", and many offered their service - after their own work hours or in the weekend - spontaneously and voluntary. They exceeded their own expectations, and instead of making compromises (given the limited resources), instead no concession was being made to the concept, quality, sportiveness and fun-factor of this new lightweight sportscar. The idea of "Unity between Horse and Rider", car and driver, is the ongoing theme in the development.

In the book you will read how the suspension was designed to be perfect, the weight distribution was balanced to be perfect, and how the lack of experienced engineers and unlimited prototypes was overcome by using new computer techniques.
The disadvantage of unexperienced engineers was turned into an advantage, as the experienced engineers would probably never have dared to use computers for their work, nor have trusted their outcome. Also, the MX-5, that in many ways was unique for the Mazda productline with its materials used, the concept (rearwheeldrive roadster with an engine in the front), and technique (double wishbone suspension system on all four wheels, and the power plant frame), would probably never have flourished the way it has, in a traditional setting with experienced engineers, normal product planning, and a normal budget program.

The reward of all these exceptional contributions has been overwhelming. The press, dealers and the public received the MX-5 with a lot of enthousiasm, and meanwhile the MX-5 has broken her own records as the best selling roadster of all times frequently and won many prices. Other car manufacturers realised that Mazda had found the potential that they had overlooked, and quickly followed with their own similar open twoseaters.

The book provides the reader, with the stories of the engineers, a clear vision of the processes, thoughts, ideas, emotions, and challenges that turned the idea of a leight weight sportscar into the MX-5 that is now available. It will certainly increase the respect for this sportive, fun, but certainly also reliable and safe roadster.
The engineers finish their stories where the stories begin for us; the productiontype, that became available fifteen years ago in 1989.
Brian Long describes, in the last chapter, the models and special editions that Mazda produced, up to 1998 - the year that the model was succeeded by the next version (with the fixed headlights).

This book is a must-have for fans of the Mazda MX-5 in general, and specifically for the fans of the original type, to keep in their library or on the coffee-table.

Petra van den Berge

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17 April, 2005