The devastating decision had just been made to put on hold the development of a new rotary engine sports car at Mazda. Officially coming under the Ford Motor Company umbrella in 1996, Mazda was in a situation where it had to prioritize joint development with Ford of new and more profitable models, due to company-wide business restructuring measures. As a luxury item, sports cars in nature don't sell in large volumes, and so the decision that had just been made bode ill for the development of any sports cars at Mazda. Rotary engines in particular, which are mounted solely on sports cars, would be on the verge of facing an immediate threat to their existence.
“This is absolutely unacceptable!” exclaimed one engineer who was extremely angry with the decision. His whole reason for joining Mazda was because he had been extremely fond of the Savanna RX-7 ever since it had launched when he was still a student, and therefore, wanted to get involved in its development. This new project was supposed to become the ultimate sports car model and was the paramount opportunity for him to make his long-cherished dream come true. Therefore, the news that it had been frozen was nothing but a nightmare to someone as passionate about sports cars as him. In an attempt to overthrow this desperate situation and keep his longed for dream alive, he took drastic action. He put his mind to developing a new sports car in total secrecy with colleagues who loved rotary-engine sports cars just as much as he did. They planned to build a test car packed with the elements of what they believed to be the ideal sports car and then show it to members of management in hopes to change their mind. By doing so, they wanted to showcase the vehicle’s marketability and make a direct appeal to management regarding the need to continue the development of a new sports car. Profitability, they thought, was an issue they could discuss thereafter. And just like that, began a top-secret project on which a group of engineers gambled their whole careers.
However, since the project had been frozen, it was impossible for them to openly take action. The team had to consider finances and thought of pretexts to secure funds. As they were figuring this out, they noticed and set their eyes on a worn-out MX-5 that was being used for training purposes. The vehicle was stored on a testing ground and they eventually managed to get their hands on it and modified it by installing a new prototype rotary engine they had made themselves.
The whole project was being carried out outside of working hours and only a limited number of members were involved. The team made use of an inconspicuous area used for maintenance of vehicles and only performed test runs of their vehicle late at night. Since they were unable to call on manufacturers for auto parts, they hammered away at manufacturing the bare minimum components themselves. After all their extraordinary efforts, their top-secret prototype car was finally completed. Although its exterior was patchy and left little to be desired, the heart and soul instilled in the vehicle by the project members was clearly apparent. The vehicle’s compact rotary engine was placed as low as possible and as close as possible to the center of its body, providing outstanding maneuverability and performance fine-tuned down the last detail. The team also succeeded in giving the car remarkable cornering performance and excellent handling, coupled with a highly responsive natural aspiration engine.
“Just one ride aboard this wonder and management would realize just how great it is” thought the team. However, creating the opportunity for management to test ride their vehicle was far from simple, as the vehicle was developed without being granted official permission. Moreover, there were no performance test drives scheduled at the company and if the team happened to approach the wrong person to test drive their vehicle, they would undoubtedly receive reprimands. The person that came to mind was an executive officer from Ford who led the car development department at the time. Originally wanting to be a racer, the executive often engaged in car performance evaluation tests of development test cars. They believed that he would acknowledge the true value of their sports car.
They decided to act at a test drive evaluation event held at the Miyoshi Proving Ground in August, originally intended for another development test car. After the test drive, however, they made a direct appeal, on the spot, to the executive in charge of car development asking him to try the test car they had made. Compelled by the team’s uncommon aura, he accepted their request to take a test drive. The fateful test run the team had been working toward had finally come.
Their handmade car did not look cool by any standard. The executive got in the car, looking slightly bemused but also intrigued, and drove out on to the course in a dash. The car went out of sight in an instant, making a dry sound from the rotary engine. It was obvious from the slight reverberating sound the engine made that he had pressed the accelerator all the way down to the floor.
“God forbid that the car should give up midway through the lap...” nervously mumbled one of the engineers. The team members were wrapped in a temporary silence as they stood there praying that all would go well. What was just a few minutes felt like an eternity to the team. Before long, the car appeared far on the left side letting out a sound like music to the ears of the team. The executive was the kind of person who would stop driving and get out of any car after finishing the first lap, if he was not entirely satisfied with the car’s performance. As the car made its way toward the end of the lap, the decisive moment the team had been waiting for was finally here; the remodeled MX-5 heading towards the team, whizzed straight past them and went on for a second lap. “We... We did it!” they all exclaimed. The modified car the team had poured heart and soul into headed around the course for a second lap, emitting a radiance of wonder. Not only that, the second lap had important implications. Although, the project of developing a new rotary engine sports car model seemed to have completely died, at that precise moment, the team was convinced, filled with a thousand emotions, that new life had been sparked back into the project.