THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE MX-5 INTERVIEW
  • Yoshinori Takeuchi & Naoko Motoyoshi Chihiro Furukawa Vehicle Development Div.
  • Takayuki Kimura & Hiroshi Kawata Vehicle Development Div.
  • Katsuaki Nobukawa & Miyoko Ishikawa Drivetrain Development Dept, Powertrain Development Div.
  • Yukifusa Hattori NVH Performance Development Dept, Vehicle Development Div.
  • Tsukasa Hoshino & Kenji Sasaki Powertrain Development Div.
  • Yukiharu Asano Clay Modeler, Design Div.
  • Masashi Nakayama Next MX-5 Chief Designer
  • Shinichi Yasui Production Planning Dept, Production Engineering Div.
  • Yukio Nakamura Product Planning Dept, Product Div.
  • Tetsuo Fujitomi Powertrain Planning Dept.
  • Hitoshi Takamatsy Deputy Program Manager, Vehicle Development Promotion Dept.
  • Nobuhiro Yamamoto Program Manager

25 years is long enough to know if something is good or bad, but it takes 50 years to become a classic

Nobuhiro Yamamoto
Program Manager of the 4th Generation Mazda MX-5

----"WOAH! The wind in my face is mighty strong! Oh Yeah!"
Nobuhiro Yamamoto remembers the feeling as vividly as if it were yesterday. It was in Kochi, on the island of Shikoku which stands south of Hiroshima, sheltering the serene waters of the Seto Inland Sea from the wuthering waves of the Pacific Ocean. And it was the first time Nobuhiro sat astride the tank of a motor cycle full throttle on a farm road.
----"I was just a boy. Not even big enough to be in school. I begged a family friend until he relented and took me for a ride. The elation of the scenery flowing past; the feeling of that wind blowing; the resounding roar of the engine and the throbbing vibrations that travelled through my whole body. I couldn't sleep that night, my heart still fluttering from the wonders of a world I had encountered for the first time. I didn't know it then, but looking back the embrace of that breeze marked the beginning of my own personal 'motorization.'"

I swore to myself that one day I too would make rotary engines!

From that day on, the young Nobuhiro was drawn to anything he could get on and ride, but it was motor vehicles that truly captured his heart. Tranquil days in rural Japan allowed him plenty of opportunity to explore everything from cultivators to mopeds belonging to families in the area.
-----"I said I wanted to help with the farming, but really it was a chance to learn to drive anything I could lay my hands on. I was absorbed with the idea that machinery would move under my control. Then, in my second year of middle school, came another defining moment."
Now a young adolescent, Nobuhiro opened the local newspaper to find an article about the launch of Mazda's Familia Rotary Coupe (known outside Japan as the Mazda R100).
-----"I was in shock. These guys were one of the first in the world to put a rotary engine in a production car. They were in a different league. I didn't understand the details, but I knew they were doing something extraordinary. I got my hands on The Basics of the Rotary Engine and immediately I was captivated. By the time I finished the book, I knew what I wanted to do. I swore to myself that one day I too would make rotary engines!"

As dull and mediocre cars become the norm, people will begin to yearn for a truly high-performance car

When Yamamoto joined Mazda in 1973, the company was still known as Toyo Kogyo. As if in answer to his prayers, the young engineer was soon appointed to R&D, and was able to devote much of his time to rotary engine development. The rotary is often said to be the soul of Mazda, and few were as passionate about the technology as Yamamoto. In a company document arguing for the need to participate in racing in order to enhance and refine that 'soul' he wrote, "As dull and mediocre cars become the norm, people will begin to yearn for a truly high-performance car." Yamamoto's expertise with the rotary led him to become involved in the development of the Mazda 787B. When the model claimed victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, it became a symbol of the challenging spirit of Hiroshima and Japan, and turned thousands of people around the world into Mazda fans almost overnight. This long history of involvement in sports cars and racing made Yamamoto an obvious choice when it came time to select a Program Manager for the upcoming 4th generation MX-5.

4th Generation MX-5 must be a car rich with gratitude

-----"'Empty your heart and feel the wind that flows in'. I remembered these words from a close friend as I sat down to contemplate the task before me. What is the MX-5? What did I want it to be? The first thing I decided was that above all else it must be a car rich with gratitude.
-----"From the first model that appeared in 1989 to the 3rd generation, the MX-5 has a history of 25 years. I felt a strong desire to honor those who created and nurtured the car, to applaud the successive management teams who had persevered through good times and bad to carry on the tradition, and tracing even further back, I wanted to pay tribute to Britain's automotive heritage, which of course laid the foundation for open air motoring.
-----"Above all, I knew that the expectations surrounding the 4th Generation MX-5 were extremely high. Fans all around the world were waiting for this release with baited breath. To deliver them a car worthy; worthy enough to convey our gratitude. That was my mission."

This car has a hint of culture

Every time the development team faced an obstacle they would hear the voice of Yamamoto encouraging them, "We gotta blow 'em away. Blow their socks off! If we all feel the same, there's no way we can fail."
-----"Jinba-Ittai-a oneness between car and driver has always been at the heart of Mazda's vehicle engineering, and of course we weren't about to change that. But for the 4th Generation MX-5, Jinba-Ittai alone wasn't going to cut it.
-----"The story of the MX-5 is an unlikely one. The seeds were planted by our predecessors who worked off the clock to create the study models, and infused with life by the words of then-President Kenichi Yamamoto, 'This car has a hint of culture.' Incubated for years within the body of Mazda, the MX-5 was finally born into the world in 1989, and true to those fateful words, after a quarter of century the model has indeed borne forth a culture of its own and continues to be loved and admired.
-----"One day I had the chance to see a concert by a renowned musician. As I sat there enjoying nostalgic Japanese song from my past, the composer commented, "25 years is long enough to know if something is good or bad, but it takes 50 years to become a classic." With that, I could contain myself no longer and the tears came streaming down my face.

Sharing the feeling of pure exhilaration with drivers all around theworld

-----"That's it! That's the car I want to make. Like the majestic Mount Fuji, home to the Japanese soul, stands dignified throughout eternity, the MX-5 should be loved for the way it stirs the senses, and awakens a universal joy dormant within each and every one of us. That's the MX-5 that will still be loved in 25, or even 50 years to come. That's the MX-5 that will meet and exceed the expectations of those waiting fans all around the world. A car rich with charms that appeal to the emotions and to the senses-this is what I aspire to deliver with the 4th Generation MX-5."
Yamamoto's MX-5 connects with drivers on a gut-level. The first-time driver's reaction is immediate and instinctual, "Oh wow... no way!" Captivated by the sensations of a new world experienced for the first time, they may not even notice the grin that has spread across their face. Just like the young Nobuhiro, perched atop a gas tank and the wind in his face on a farm road in Kochi, a rising sense of elation will urge them to howl at the top of their lungs, "Woah!" Though brief, that early experience had shaped the course of Yamamoto's entire life, and this car with its "hint of culture," and destined to become a classic, was his chance to share that feeling of pure exhilaration with drivers all around the world.