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Celebrating The Mazda MX-5

By raccars Published

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A fourth generation of the much loved Mazda MX-5 is about to be released. The MX-5 is universally applauded, Princess Diana style, but how did it get there?

Believe or not, the MX-5 is a success story born out of the misery of Britain's collapsing auto industry of the Seventies. It was aimed at lovers of lightweight British sports cars, like those made by Lotus and MG, but without their well-known problems with build quality. The venture was an unusual departure for Mazda, which put considerable thought into development. The name MX-5 apparently stands for 'Mazda Experiment, project number 5'.

In that era of automotive evolution, the prevailing trend was for the front mounted engine and front wheel drive format, an idea which was proposed for the MX-5 - unthinkable now, given how much a part of the roadster's appeal is in its chippy, rear wheel drive handling.

Designers also had to adhere to a very strict budget and the original MX-5 was cobbled together out of spare parts. The Mazda 323's petrol 1.6 litre engine was the ideal unit for the MX-5 because it was cheap and lightweight, and it was mated to the RX-7's five speed transmission. However, Mazda couldn't successfully cannibalise any of its existing suspension systems so it did create an original component there. Safety regulations also posed some problems for the engineering team, but early computer design systems managed to create the requisite lightweight frame, while still complying with safety requirements.

The public was introduced to the first working prototype MX-5 in 1987, but it took a couple of years, more prototypes and a number of positive test drives by enthusiastic automotive journalists, before Mazda settled on a final production version, debuted at the Chicago Motor Show of 1989.

Costing less than £15,000, the MX-5 was an instant global hit. While it lacked any serious power, motorists responded with jubilation to its entertaining driving dynamics. Demand soon outstripped supply and the next eight years saw Mazda sell 431,544 MK1 MX-5s.

The second and third generations got successively larger and more powerful but clever engineering meant they didn't gain any extra kerb weight. Purists were relieved to find the MX-5's famous spirit of 'driver and car as one' remained intact. In 2000, it was named history's best-selling two seat sports car.

The last MX-5 won an amazing 86 industry awards, yet all the signs are good that the next one retains the proven winning formula of stylish good looks, reliable build quality, perfect weight distribution, rear wheel drive and a modest power output.

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