Kenichi Yamamoto, Father of the MX-5
Back on 20 December last year, Kenichi Yamamoto, onetime president of Mazda Motor Company and the senior figure within the company who pushed for the development and production of the MX-5, passed away in Japan. He was 95.
Friendly and approachable, Yamamoto joined the company when it was still known as Toyo Kogyo and was instrumental in engineering Mazda’s rotary engine, which debuted in the glamorous Cosmo coupe in 1963, and gained greater fame in the RX-3, RX-7 and RX-8 models. Although the technology was ultimately flawed in terms of its practical application in production road cars, the rotary engine established Mazda as an innovator.
But from the perspective of this magazine, Yamamoto’s crowning achievement was, as head of research and development in 1979, recognising the significance of a suggestion by the then Autoweek journalist, Bob Hall, that what Mazda needed was an affordable, two-seater roadster in the image of those much-loved (if mechanically challenging) British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s.
Yamamoto didn’t act upon the suggestion immediately, but several years later when next he saw Hall, who by now was working for Mazda in the US as a product planner, he encouraged the ex-journo to pursue his roadster idea further. And in 1985, now president of Mazda Motor Company, Yamamoto recommended to the board that they green light the MX-5.