Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mazda - Credential Check

So Mazda will provide the basics for the next Alfa Romeo Spider! Is this a good choice?

You betcha!

Let’s look at Mazda’s sports car design and production credentials. With almost one million MX-5 roadsters on the world’s roads, it’s a fact that this car is a winner - of hearts, minds and competition trophies. It’s DNA began creation as a the ‘idea’ of a pure sports car. This was no cheap hatchback, modified for use as a roadster - it was specifically-designed for the job and the team which produced it, did so with impressive integrity of purpose.

The popularity and commercial success of the car has of course generated many ‘fathers’ of the concept - but, I turned to my good friend Bob Hall for real facts.

In 1978 Bob Hall, then an automotive journalist with MOTOR TREND, was on a private visit to Japan. Like many of us, whose automotive industry careers started as auto magazine journalists, Bob had begun close friendships with senior industry figures, in this case, the head of Mazda’s Product Planning department, Kenichi Yamamoto. During the visit Yamamoto-san asked Bob what sort of cars Mazda should look at building, to expand its model portfolio. Bob suggested a very basic, wind-in-the-hair, low-cost sportscar like the iconic British marques.

Bob Hall

In 1980 Mazda hired Bob Hall for its Californian design centre, and whilst working on some more mundane, but commercially vital models, Yamamoto, who by then was Chairman of Mazda, reminded Hall about his sports car idea, and suggested he get serious about the project (but, only as an after-hours job).

After a few back-of-an-envelope sketches, the first concept design was produced by Mark Jordan and  Masao Yagi. Despite alternative ideas, thrown in by two other teams, it was the Jordan/Yagi design which became the NA Mazda MX 5. During the viewing of the model (below), the team removed the hardtop, and the leader of a competing team said: "Let's build this one!"

1982, on the morning of the original Jordan/Yagi NA MX-5 presentation

The production engineering was led by Mazda’s highly-respected product development chief Toshihiko Harai. The detailed chassis and suspension work was done by Takao Kijima, who went on to develop the later NB and NC versions.

 Many of us reckon the Lotus Elan must have been a great source of styling ideas, because the first NA model certainly emulated many of its design characteristics, but Bob Hall says that was almost coincidental. The design team certainly used inspiration from cars like the MG A, MG B, Sprite, Austin Healey and Triumph Spitfire, but as Bob Hall said, if they slavishly followed those design cues the car would never have enjoyed the popularity it did, for being different.

1966 Lotus Elan

In any case, the Lotus Elan was already relegated to a niche in the sports car market, and was relatively more expensive, so it did not enjoy the sort of mass appeal of the more familiar British makes. That alone gave it a sort of snob appeal, so being ‘like’ the Elan is faint praise really.

I’ve spent many hours driving MX5’s in Australia and the USA, and it is a great car, with real sports car blood in its veins. So, combining Mazda’s excellent Skyactiv technology with Italian design and handling traits can only mean that Alfa Romeo made a great choice when it was decided to team up with Mazda.

Thanks, Bob. I think you guys did a swell job!

スパイダー = Japanese for SPIDER!

The idea of Alfa Romeo teaming up with Mazda, maker of the world's most successful sports car, seems like a profitable business plan created in automotive boardroom heaven!

In today's post-GFC climate, the cost of developing an all-new car for FIAT's poor cousin is astronomical, and FIAT Chairman Sergio Marchione is nothing if not incredibly pragmatic and practical.

Sergio Marchionne

Alfa Romeo has been losing money for years (decades, probably), but despite Ferdinand Piech's interest in acquiring the Milano Marque, Marchione is determined to hang onto the trademark, the badge, the image and the customers.
So, if you need to inject some spirit, dazzle and fizz into the brand, why not a new Alfa Romeo Spider? Now, who could we team up with to get a new car at the lowest possible cost? Why not Mazda? Exactly!

Peter McKay en Italia
Here's a company which has developed a sports car with verve and brio! Just ask my mate Peter McKay, seen here lapping the Colosseum!

2015 Mazda MX-5 concept

Mazda's new (2015MY) MX-5 will benefit from the highly-efficient Skyactiv technology, which means the basic structure will be light and strong, and combining this with Alfa Romeo's engine technology, and Italian design flair will mean a winner on all fronts.

The most recent Spider was a reworking of the Giugiaro design for the Alfa Romeo 159, by Pininfarina.

Alfa Romeo Spider by Pininfarina
However, the inspiration for the new car is thought to be the famous 1966 Duetto, which was unique enough to win a legion of fans, and be documented in celluloid with a starring role in "The Graduate" as Dustin Hoffman's car.

1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto

Naturally, at this stage there's nothing official from the company, but there have been plenty of skilled, amateur and professional, artists who want to put forward their ideas of what it may look like.
Alfa Romeo Duettotanta by Pininfarina
Beginning with a concept car called the 'Duettotanta', by Pininfarina, which celebrated 100 years of the marque, there have been quite a few computer-generated images.
In addition there's a rendering based on the open version of the 8C Competizione.
The list of proposed concepts is long indeed! 
Road & Track rendering

Including two from the American magazines, Road & Track; and Car and Driver.
Car and Driver rendering

However, I think the renderings from the UK's Auto Express look a bit closer to the mark, because in size and perspective they more closely match the concept renderings of the 2015 Mazda MX-5.

2015 Mazda MX-5 concept

Alfa Romeo has some great in-house engines to choose from including its own 1.75, and FIAT's Multi-Air 1.4, both turbocharged. There is a new FIAT diesel about to debut, which will appeal to Europeans, although I'm guessing the Italians will prefer the petrol engines, matched to either a six-speed manual, or a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.

Either way, the new Alfa Romeo Spider, with its Japanese heritage, promises to be a real highlight for the Alfisti.