In 1976, Bob Hall, a writer for MotorTrend Magazine, was approached with a question about the future of the Mazda Corporation by the head of development, Kenichi Yamamoto. The question posed was what kind of car should Mazda build next? Hall’s response was a true wind-in-the-hair, bug-in-the-teeth, inexpensive roadster. In 1981, Hall took a position in product planning with Mazda USA and soon convinced Yamamoto, the chairman of Mazda Motors at the time, that an inexpensive roadster was going to be the future of Mazda. By 1982 Hall was given the okay go and soon hired Mark Jordan to collaborate on the Mazda design team. For the following months Jordan and Hall established the parameters of the infant design concept. By 1983 concept development began as a competition between Tokyo and California based teams. The Californians proposed a front-engine, rear-drive roadster whereas their Japanese counterparts suggested a front-engine, front-wheel roadster or a mid-engine, rear-drive layout. Initially the mid-engine design proved to draw the most attention, but noise and vibration harshness proved to be its fault. With that in mind Mazda selected the front-engine, rear-drive format. The project was given final approval on January 18th, 1986 codenamed P729 which later became known as the “Miata.”
Now known as the “MX-5,” and the “Eunos Roadster” in Japan, the Mazda Miata started its production in 1989. With America in mind as the Miata’s target market, the official debut of the production vehicle was showcased at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989. The Miata received very positive reviews upon its reveal and with classics like the MG MGB and Lotus Elan inspiring the design, the design team was not surprised. The Miata was designed to be a mechanically simplistic roadster with a light-weight body and an entry level price point. These characteristics proved to be very desirable to the American consumer and Mazda sold over 400,000 units between 1989 to 1997 with the original bodystyle. Initially the Miata was fitted with a 1.6 liter (98 cu in) inline four-cylinder until 1993 and was later upgraded to a 1.8 liter (110 cu in) with a detuned 1.6 liter as the budget option in some markets. The 1.8 liter is the most sought after by collectors.
In 1998, Mazda redesigned the Miata for the first time with a slightly larger engine, fixed headlights, and rear window glass. Although much of the interior and body featured new pieces the style of the Miata remained familiar aside from the second generation’s headlamps. The first generation’s retractable headlights no longer passed pedestrian safety tests leading to their termination. This did however, make the second generation slightly more aerodynamic than the original with a drag coefficient of .36. The suspension remained a four-wheel independent layout but received larger anti-roll bars and new brakes with anti-lock brakes as an option. The BP-4W engine remained a 1.8 liter and received only minor updates. The compression ratio was increased from 9.0:1 to 9.5:1 through the addition of slightly domed pistons, the application of a solid lifter design on the intake cam with a stronger cam, and the straightening of the intake runners with a higher mounted intake manifold. Mazda also incorporated their Variable Intake Control System which gave a long narrow intake manifold at low rpm for maximum breathability through a broader range. This motor could reach 62mph in 7.8 seconds and had a top speed of 130mph. The 1.6 liter derivation remained available in Europe and Japan throughout the second generation’s lifespan.
In 2005 the third generation was introduced with a complete top-to-bottom redesign. The exterior was designed by Moray Callum and features a weightier body and all new frame work. To get the new MX-5 moving it was equipped with a 2.0 liter (120 cu in) engine that produced 170hp and 140 ft-lbs of torque. The suspension is no longer a four-wheel double wishbone but a front wishbone setup with a multilink in the rear. Traction control and stability control also became standard equipment with this generation. Sixty miles per hour comes in about 6.5 seconds with the standard six-speed transmission. In Japan, this most recent generation does not comply with government regulations regarding vehicle exterior dimensions and adds additional cost for Japanese buyers. In 2006 Mazda came out with a folding hardtop option that can be stowed in the trunk for top-down cruising. This latest generation is still in production enjoying reasonable sales but nothing compared to when they first came out.
The Miata has won many awards throughout its life including Wheels Magazine ‘s Car of the year award for 1989 and 2005; Sports Car Internationals “best sports car of the 1990s” and “ten best sports cars of all time”; 2005–2006 Car of the Year Japan; and 2005 Australian Car of the Year. The Miata has also made Car and Driver magazine’s annual Ten Best list 11 times. In their December 2009 issue, Grassroot Motorsprots magazine named the Miata as the most important sports car built during the previous 25 years. In 2009, Jeremy Clarkson wrote “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 I’m giving it five stars is because I can’t give it 14.” The Miata/MX-5 continues to be the best selling sports car in history and over 900,000 have been built and sold around the world.
Credits: Emmett Vick
The video’s kind of hokey but it highlights the design changes and whatnot throughout the Miata’s lifespan.