This is the unlikely success story of the Mazda MX-5 Miata—the world’s bestselling two-seat roadster and the only remaining true lightweight sports car. Mazda, of course, made its name in the 1970s with small rotary-powered runabouts and then the RX-7 sports car. Had the company listened to the experts, however, the Miata never would have happened. And if Mazda had listened to its own customers, it never would have succeeded.
Instead, the Mazda MX-5 has succeeded where every other lightweight sports car has failed, by decidedly not giving the customer what they want. No more weight, no extra complexity, no excessive speed, no ultra luxury.
On this episode of Revelations, Jason Cammisa welcomes special guest Tom Matano, the father of the Miata, to tell the story of how the simple Japanese roadster has survived economic downturns and done the impossible. In the process, it has proven every other carmaker wrong. Because it turns out that cars can indeed be light, simple, and fun, even while meeting modern emissions and safety regulations.
And yet, somehow it almost never happened. Battles between Mazda HQ in Japan and the company’s North American office, which conceived the Lotus Elan–like roadster, almost resulted in a front-wheel-drive, or even a mid-engined, car. All of which led the original team with Matano and Bob Hall to ask for the project to be killed off. To just forget the whole thing.
Thankfully, Mazda didn’t do that. And 35 years later, the MX-5 reigns King of Sports Cars, selling the same amount of cars in the U.S. every year as Porsche sells 911s—despite the 911’s incredibly broad product offering.