IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
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