The Mazda MX-5, released as the Mazda MX-5 Miata /miˈɑːtə/ in North America and as the Eunos Roadster in Japan, is a lightweight two-seater roadster with a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. Manufactured by Mazda in Hiroshima, Japan, the model debuted in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. The MX-5 was conceived as a small roadster – with light weight and minimal mechanical complexity limited only by legal and safety requirements, while being technologically modern and reliable. The MX-5 is conceptually the evolution and spiritual successor of the British sports cars of the 1950s & ’60s, such as the Triumph Spitfire, Austin-Healey 100, MG MGA, and particularly the Lotus Elan.
The second generation MX-5 (NB) was launched in 1998 (for the 1999 model year), the third generation (NC) model was launched in 2005 (for the 2006 model year), and a fourth generation (ND) was released in 2015 (for the 2016 model year). It continues to be the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history and by April 2016, over one million MX-5s had been built and sold around the world. Production of the MX-5 had fallen by 2013 to below 14,000 units, due to the world finance crisis in 2008, and the pre-announcement in 2012 of the coming ND model.
Since the launch of the third generation, Mazda has consolidated worldwide marketing using the MX-5 name with the exception of the United States where it is marketed as the MX-5 Miata. The name “miata” derives from Old High German for “reward”.
In 1981, Hall moved to a product planning position with Mazda USA and again met Yamamoto, now chairman of Mazda Motors, who remembered their conversation about a roadster and in 1982 gave Hall the go-ahead to research the idea further. At this time Hall hired designer Mark Jordan to join the newly formed Mazda design studio in Southern California. There, Hall and Jordan collaborated on the parameters of the initial image, proportion and visualization of the “light-weight sports” concept. In 1983, the idea turned concept was approved under the “Offline 55” program, an internal Mazda initiative that sought to change the way new models were developed. Thus, under head of project Masakatsu, the concept development was turned into a competition between the Mazda design teams in Tokyo and California.
The Californian team proposed a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, codenamed Duo 101, in line with the British roadster ancestry, but their Japanese counterparts favored the more common front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout or the rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout
The first round of judging the competing designs was held in April 1984, with designs presented on paper only. The mid-engined car appeared to offer favorable qualities, although it was known at the time that such a layout would struggle to meet the noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) requirements of the project. It was only at the second round of the competition in August 1984, when full-scale clay models were presented, that the Duo 101 won the competition and was selected as the basis for what would become the MX-5.
The Duo 101, so named as either a soft top or hardtop could be used, incorporated many key stylistic cues inspired by the Lotus Elan, a 1960s roadster, including the door handles and grille opening. International Automotive Design (IAD) in Worthing, England was commissioned to develop a running prototype, codenamed V705. It was built with a fiberglass body, a 1.4 L (85 cu in) engine from a Mazda Familia and components from a variety of early Mazda models. The V705 was completed in August 1985 and taken to the US where it rolled on the roads around Santa Barbara, California and got positive reactions.
The project received final approval on 18 January 1986. The model’s codename was changed to P729 as it moved into the production phase, under head of program Toshihiko Hirai. The task of constructing five engineering mules (more developed prototypes) was again allocated to IAD, which also conducted the first front and rear crash tests on the P729. While Tom Matano, Mark Jordan, Wu Huang Chin, Norman Garrett, and Koichi Hayashi worked on the final design, the project was moved to Japan for engineering and production details.
By 1989, with a definitive model name now chosen, the MX-5 was ready to be introduced to the world as a true lightweight sports car, weighing just 940 kg (2,070 lb).
Although Mazda’s concept was for the MX-5 to be an inexpensive sports car, at introduction the design met strong demand, with many dealers placing customers on pre-order lists and several dealers across North America increasing the vehicle markup.