Total MX-5 - - ELEMENTS -

By 2002 Mazda’s de­sign teams from Ja­pan, the USA and Europe had em­barked on the third phase of the MX-5 ad­ven­ture. And they had some work to do. Shorn of the orig­i­nal’s pop-up head­lights and clearly de­riv­a­tive, the mk2 hadn’t caught the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion in quite the same way as the mk1 had, de­spite sell­ing well enough. Vis­ually the mk3 needed to move the game on.

As a de­signer it’s a tough call when you need to ref­er­ence an icon whilst also cre­at­ing an all­new car with its own clear iden­tity. And with the mk3 there were other fac­tors that needed to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, even if they weren’t ex­plicit in the de­sign brief. In some quar­ters the MX-5 suf­fered from be­ing seen as a tad fem­i­nine, a vic­tim of all those ‘hair­dresser’ jibes: for the US mar­ket in par­tic­u­lar, it needed to butch up. And while pre­vi­ously the MX-5 had been very much a stand­alone Mazda model, with the ad­vent of the RX-8 there was an­other sports car in the line-up to which a vis­ual sim­i­lar­ity might not be a bad idea.

Those twin needs for added brawn and a stylis­tic link to the ro­tary-pow­ered four-seater coupe helped spawn one of the mk3’s most dis­tinc­tive fea­tures – its broad, bulging whee­larches, sug­ges­tive of a strong fe­line body hun­kered down to­wards the ground, haunches pro­trud­ing, ready to leap for­ward. Bring­ing the main body of the car in­board slightly from the full width of its front and rear tracks ex­ag­ger­ated those arch ex­ten­sions, gave the ap­pear­ance of a small car so bristling with en­ergy that its wheels had to be forced out­board just to keep it on the road.

Be­tween the three Mazda de­sign of­fices they pro­duced 320 styling sketch pro­pos­als for the mk3 MX-5 as part of an in­ter­nal de­sign com­pe­ti­tion, and many of them fea­tured fat-arched body­work. Later, dur­ing the sum­mer of 2002, a hand­ful of those de­signs were worked up into three-quar­ter scale mod­els for 3D ap­praisal. The smooth­bod­ied mod­els were el­e­gant, sure, and would have made for a not bad MX-5: those with bulging arches had more vis­ual punch and swag­ger.

Which was just what the mk3 needed as it launched into a mar­ket filled with many more head-on ri­vals than the first two gen­er­a­tions had had to con­front.

Those arch ex­ten­sions gave the ap­pear­ance of a small car so bristling with en­ergy that its wheels had to be forced out­board just to keep it on the road

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