When Mazda released its Eunos Roadster in 1989, it wasn’t breaking new ground. The Roadster wasn’t the first open top two seater on the market; it wasn’t the fastest or the most expensive. Mazda’s sleek lightweight convertible was, however, an embodiment of the sports car spirit that was forged by classic marques such as Lotus, Triumph and MG. Mazda’s design had repackaged the classic open top driving experience of the 1960s for the modern market, using the latest automotive technology to create a sexy sports car that was affordable, fun to drive and able to conform to the strict safety laws that had evolved since the carefree 60s. Instantly appealing, at once nostalgic and completely modern, the MX-5 reignited the dormant compact convertible market.

All original images copyright Mazda Motor Corporation


The development of the MX-5 Roadster began in 1982, when Mazda started researching the production of a lightweight sports car that would recall the raw, exuberant driving experience of the post-war British open top cars. To that end the credo for the Roadster became  人馬一体, jinba ittai, or a sense of rider and horse – driver and car – becoming one. Design began at Mazda’s Californian development center, before the project moved to Japan in 1986.

It took six years for Mazda’s engineers and designers to perfect the design and mechanics that produced the car that debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989: a small, sleek, compact, lightweight open-top two-seater whose minimalist cockpit, understated lines and distinctive pop-up headlights evoked the original Lotus Elan. A front engine, rear wheel drive car, it was powered by a 1.6 liter, 4-cylinder, 16 valve DOHC engine producing 115 brake horsepower, with a 5-speed manual transmission and double wishbone suspension on all wheels. Initially released in Japan for 1.7 million yen as the Eunos Roadster – under the company’s nascent (but short-lived) upmarket marque – it was also marketed as the Mazda Miata in North America. It was also known as the Mazda Roadster, though the company eventually settled on the MX-5. Whatever, it was a phenomenal seller and critical success.

The MX-5 in its various versions has gone on to sell some 900,000 cars worldwide and has amassed a slew of awards along the way, including Time Magazine’s Best Design of the Decade, Road & Track magazine’s One of World’s Five Best Cars and Japan Car of the Year. It has undergone various refinements in body styling, engine power and performance and is currently in its third generation, a more muscular car sporting a standard 2.0 liter engine with dual overhead camshafts that produces 170 bhp and features dynamic stability control and an optional automatic retractable metal roof. 

The next generation MX-5 is around the corner. According to Britain’s Autocar magazine, “Mazda’s design boss, Laurens van den Acker … started talking about the next MX-5, due in around 2012. He plans to make it much more dramatic and ‘give it some balls’. It will also be lighter and better to drive.” We can’t wait.



Spotlight

  • 1910 : Mazda Motor Corporation, マツダ株式会社, begins as tool-making company Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd.
  • 1931 : Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltd. as it’s now known produces their first vehicle, the Mazda-Go – a 3-wheel motorcycle-open truck hybrid
  • 1985 : research begins at Mazda’s Californian design studios on a Mazda roadster
  • 1986 : the MX-5 – Mazda eXperiment no. 5 project officially begins
  • 1989 : in September, the Eunos Roadster is launched in Japan; the 1st generation (NA) MX-5 is available in red, blue or white and sold exclusively through Eunos dealerships
  • 1990 : the V Special is released in racing green with tan leather interior & wooden steering wheel & shift knob; it also offers a 4-speed automatic transmission option 
  • 1992 : the S Special is released with a reinforced chassis, alloy wheels, a rear spoiler  and leather wheel & shift knob
  • 1993 : MX-5 Facelift edition is released with a 1.8 liter engine
  • 1998 : 2nd generation (NB) MX-5 is released, the Eunos is rebranded in Japan as the Mazda Roadster – the pop-up headlights are gone and the styling features a few more curves; it’s available with a 1.6 or 1.8 liter engine and 5- or 6-speed manual gearbox or a 4 speed auto transmission
  • 2001 : MX-5 Facelift model released featuring changes to body, cockpit, engine and suspension
  • 2003 : limited edition releases – Roadster Coupe Type A with retro body design features and 6-speed manual transmission; Roadster Coupe Type E with body design variations and 4-speed auto transmission
  • 2004 : Mazdaspeed MX-5, the Roadster Turbo is introduced with a turbocharged engine and refinements to transmission, clutch, suspension, wheels
  • 2005 : 3rd Generation (NC) MX-5, comes with a 2.0 liter engine, 5- or 6-speed manual, or 6-speed auto transmission
  • 2006 : MX-5 Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) – Augus model launches
  • 2009 : MX-5 Superlight concept car is shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show to mark the MX-5‘s 20th anniversary
  • 2010 : limited edition 20th Anniversary model released in Europe, available in original red, blue or white colors and featuring a special bodykit and wheels
  • 2011: in February the 900,000th MX-5 Roadster is sold 

Top markets (as at Dec 2010):

  • USA – 419,963
  • Japan – 165,013 units
  • UK – 43,211
  • Canada – 32,258
  • Germany – 27,592
  • Australia – 16,104
mazda mx-5

For enthusiasts happy to make a trip to Mazda’s home city of Hiroshima, the Mazda Museum located at the company’s headquarters gives visitors an insight into the brand’s history, technologies and manufacturing processes and future endeavors. Details can be found via the links below.

mazda museum  mazda museum hiroshima