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Echoes of first-gen MX-5 in 2015 model, says creator

Back to the future: Mazda's 2015 MX-5 will stick to the lightweight ethos of the 1989 original (pictured left).

Bob Hall, one of the men behind the Mazda MX-5, talks about the car’s development

Mazda logo24 Apr 2014

By BARRY PARK in NEW YORK

HOLDING onto core philosophies in a changing world has helped the MX-5 evolve into the sportscar it is today, according to the man behind the idea of creating the original two-seat roadster for Mazda.

Bob Hall, who along with Kenichi Yamamoto helped develop the idea of a small, rear-wheel-drive roadster as a feeder into Mazda’s larger, rotary-engined rear-drive sportscars, said its sales momentum was enough to convince the Japanese car-maker the concept was working for it.

“I had no doubt in my mind it would go two generations,” Mr Hall told GoAuto shortly after the chassis for what will become the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 was unveiled in New York last week.

“I knew from the first quarter of ‘91, I knew damn well that this product was going to go, and they’ll have a second one.

“The original plan was interesting because the second-generation car would have been launched in four years, but Mazda had some problems because of the bubble economy bursting and they realised really quick they didn’t need to do it.

“That helped, because the idea of putting a sportscar on a four-year platform cycle is moderately insane.

“It’s fine for your C-segment models, it’s fine for your D-segment models, but you don’t need to for the MX-5.”

Instead, the MX-5 evolved slowly, spawning just three generations over 25 years, cutting down the cost of each model cycle.

“My general approach was, if they get generation two right, or even borderline, it could go for three,” he said.

Mr Hall said the basic concept of the MX-5 was “so straightforward, so simple” that he feared a competitor to the roadster was about to come out just as the project was in its final stages.

“I started getting worried (in early 1988 shortly before the MX-5 project reached completion) that, oh man, Nissan has got to be coming up with something like one of these.

“The reason was because we saw the MX-5 as a feeder car for (the rotary-engined) RX-7,” he said.

“When we started, we knew there was going to be a bigger, larger second-gen RX-7, so we thought this (MX-5) would take the position as the entry-level a little below the RX-7, and that way we could live with a glass ceiling.

“Nissan by this time had moved up a fair bit, and I said ‘they’ve got to be thinking about that’, but they didn’t.

“And when they didn’t I thought yeah, second-generation should go.

“I mean, I was certain someone would beat us.”

As history will show, they didn’t, and the MX-5 has sold strongly in every market in which it has had a presence.

“I look at the so-called ‘real’ competitors — stuff like the (US market-only Pontiac) Solstice, the (BMW) Z3 — and I realise that while they might be some nice drives, they’re not going to be rivals, and they never were,” Mr Hall said.

He said the next generation of the MX-5, which will draw deeply from Mazda’s SkyActiv fuel-saving technologies including a lightweight six-speed automatic transmission and what is believed to be a 1.5-litre engine shared with the Mazda2, would stick true to the original car’s brief.

“For a lot of cars, the heart of the car is in the engine,” Mr Wall said.

“On the MX-5 it’s the chassis and the percentage of the chassis/body integration.

“There is no way around it. If you get that right, you’ll be OK.

“The fact that they (Mazda) are working their arses off to get the weight out so you can keep the deriving experience shows they have the right people and proof that they’re on the right track.”

Mr Hall said he was still proud of the original, 25-year-old MX-5 despite the current-generation model being better than the one he helped build.

“It’s hard for me to be pragmatic about it, but having said that, the current car is a better car full stop — I’ll be the first person to say it,” he said.

“Now I’m going to go into highly biased mode — it’s not a better car.

“If someone asked me a year ago if I’d like to take the new car, I would have said no, I’ll have the old MX-5,” Mr Hall said. “Today, though, I’d say yes.”

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