The iconic Mazda MX-5 we know today started life more than 30 years ago as a simple, fun-to-drive roadster. That ethos hasn’t changed much. The car’s design has mutated over four generations, though they all invoke the original in some form, drawing inspiration from Shunji Tanaka’s original design. He was the car’s original chief designer, tasked with bringing the concept to production. Sadly, he passed away earlier this month.
Tanaka’s passing was announced on Facebook by a friend who said Tanaka’s last words were, “I have no regret in my life.” He was 75. Mazda had picked the MX-5’s design by hosting a competition between its global design studios, with the California team’s car winning over the design from Tokyo. Mazda tasked Tanaka with translating the concept’s design into the first-generation NA MX-5, becoming one of the many people who had a hand in crafting the two-door icon’s design.
Gallery: 30 years of Mazda MX-5
There’s little known about Tanaka, though after he designed the MX-5, crafting the look of the interior and exterior, he went to work at Kawasaki designing motorcycles. He also did design work on the Mazda 929 when he was still at the company. The fourth-generation ND MX-5 looks nothing like the original, with more curves and angles than ever, though the basic formula remains the same.
The next big change for the car will be electrification. Mazda has confirmed there will be some form of electrification in the MX-5 by 2030, though It doesn’t specify to what extent. A fully electric MX-5 would be a dream, but stuffing an electric powertrain into the small platform might make it too heavy to be fun. A mild hybrid paired with a potent engine could be the more likely scenario, finding a balance between electric powertrain superiority and fun-to-drive handling dynamics. Whichever path Mazda decides to take, we expect Tanaka’s original to help guide the new design.