The Story of How the Mazda MX-5 Miata Got Its Start

Almost all generations of the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s are affordable and fun to drive. The tiny roadster’s fame started in the 1980s. At the time, Mazda took a gamble to change their family vehicle lineup by diving into the sports car market. After three decades later, the Miata is one of the top-rated fun sports cars by consumers. Thankfully Mazda’s investment paid off. If you plan to purchase a second hand Mazda Miata MX-5, make sure to check for any mileage rollbacks with a Carfax report. You can get one from here for $4.99!

The Mazda MX-5 was almost front-wheel drive

Mazda MX-5 Miata Prototype | Mazda
Mazda MX-5 Miata Prototype | Mazda

The production team brought the Miata to life by proposing multiple options like front-wheel drive and mid-engined. As per Mazda, the Tokyo design studio focused on those options while the US-based R&D staff chose to make it rear-wheel drive.

Once both design studios finalized the idea, it was sent to Hiroshima for final approval. Mazda board members gave the green light to the American team to develop the rear-wheel-drive concept. After approval, Mazda MX-5 Miata started its successful journey.

The initial prototype was tested in California

Mazda MX-5 Miata Prototype | Mazda
Mazda MX-5 Miata Prototype | Mazda

Although the company gave the green light, they were so occupied making other models that they had to hire another company to produce the Miata. International Automotive Design, a British engineering company took over to build the prototype. The company based the Miata’s chassis from the first generation RX-7 and the powertrain of the Miata 323.

Production was complete in 1985 and the car was sent to Santa Barbara for final review. The picture above is the covered prototype. Mazda claims onlookers were curious about the Miata that they were talking with the design team to gain insiders and provide feedback. The team factored the feedback into the design of the car.

Focus on aerodynamics

Mazda MX-5 Miata | The Denver Post via Getty Images
Mazda MX-5 Miata | The Denver Post via Getty Images

After design approval, Toshiniko Hirai, the project manager, set goals for the Miata MX-5 to be lightweight, well equipped, and have a strong suspension system. Hirai required the convertible Miata to continue the user-friendly design. Hirai’s tasks were manageable but challenging.

The engineering staff completed all of Hirai’s demands and in 1987 the first production prototype was ready to be shipped to LA. Once shipped, the prototype was viewed by 245 who provided the first feedback. Mazda liked the feedback and stopped all other developments and shifted attention to bring the MX-5 to consumers. In 1989 Mazda made history with its first-generation Miata MX-5.