With all this talk about Mazdas and Lotuses (Loti), this is worth posting from http://forum.miata.net/vb/showthread.php?t=127416
Some might be familiar with the story:
Bob Hall wrote:
Some might be familiar with the story:
Bob Hall wrote:
While I really don't like tooting my own horn, I'll take full credit, or I think I should say blame, for the many 'legends' regarding the long-held concept that the Miata was a shameless cribbing of the Elan, 'proof' (to some) that the Japanese have never had an original idea. The sole reason that anyone ever saw shots of an S3 Elan with the clay models of the Miata come from my own personal greed. Here's what happened.
The head of the Product Planning group in Irvine, a wonderful gentleman named Kenichiro Toda, came to me with a worried look in his face and some budgetary documents. Essentially what he was worried about was the fact we hadn't used up enough of the budget Mazda had allocated for competitive vehicles for that fiscal year (1983-1984). Normally you'd say 'so what?', but in this case there were problems. We were budgeted on a 'Use it or lose it' basis. Because of the cyclical character of car product cycles, we had a year which required few competitive vehicles to be evaluated against prototypes or to provide benchmarks for upcoming programs. The bad part was that the following year we had a couple of prototypes coming over as well as a project we'd need a benchmark car for. So we had to use all or most of the budget allocated. We had about $15,000 left unspent.
I couldn't think of a single car that we needed to buy for any upcoming project, till Toda-san said 'what about something for the lightweight sports car project?'. This caught me totally unaware, since the project was still nowhere near approval. He explained he was indeed serious, so I sat down and gave it a thought. The next day I asked him if the car would be handled as a normal company car would be, and if it would be ok to buy a used car. When he explained that a used car would be fine and that it would be sold as an ex-company car after the depreciation period (about two years back then), and that we should 'just buy anything, and buy it before the end of the financial year'.
Now, a brief digression. I was a huge fan of 'The Avengers', and like many adolescent males of my generation I was hopelessly enamoured by Diana Rig's character of Mrs. Emma Peel. And not only because she drove a Lotus Elan. But I liked the Elan too. And I had lusted after Mr's Peel's pale metallic blue Elan S3 that appeared in the second series of Mrs. Peel's episodes. Almost as much Mrs. Peel, in fact.
So after a call to Dave Bean, the West Coast's Lotus guru (based in Santa Barbara, California in those days), I raised the idea of buying a Lotus Elan. Much to my surprise, Toda-san gave the whole thing the ok, adding if used the Elan as my company car it would keep our competitive vehicle fleet budget up while freeing up the lease costs of a departmental company car.
A quick trip to the guys in accounting and numbers-cruncher Tim mentioned that I could buy the car after two years for something like $4500. So I'd have the Elan as a company car for two years, then get it at a significant savings. A call back to Mr. Bean in Santa Barbara and gave him an idea of what we wanted (1967 Elan S3 drophead coupe in silver blue metallic with a black interior, a new galvanized chassis and universals in place of the rubber doughnuts), sent him a check as a deposit and waited.
About six weeks later, I drove up to Santa Barbara to pick the car up from Bean's. I was the happy driver of a company-owned 'new' Elan S3. It even had California license SJH 498D (Mrs. Peel's original number - SJH 499D had already been taken).
Much to our surprise the lightweight sports car program was placed into 'off-line' status, so the timing of this acquisition was near faultless. We used it for a couple of videos we sent to Japan (it was the only 2-seat open sports car Mazda owned in the 'States at that time, though a Spitfire was purchased later on) as well as a study into backbone chassis for the lightweight sports car, a layout I favoured if only because we could put a new body right on top of the chassis.
Later in 1984 (when it was decided to take the lightweight sports car project to an even more official level), Japan - lacking any sort of open two-seat cars there at Mazda HQ - asked for us to ship the car to them. Now even though 'my' master plan had me driving this Elan for the rest of my life, my bosses wanted the car! What could I do? Well, in a word, nothing. In a couple of weeks our shipping agents, Harper Robinson, had made all the arrangements and a truck appeared with a 20 foot container. I nearly shed a tear when 'my' Elan was packed up in the container and shipped off to an unknown fate in Japan. And I went back into my 323 company car which had been nicknamed 'the beige bucket' by Mark Jordan. Sniff!
Nine years later, on one of my last trips to Japan as a Mazda employee, a co-worker there discretely took me aside after a meeting, whisking me to a garage between the design center in Hiroshima and the river. Flicking the lights on I saw 'my' Elan sitting there on low tyres, dusty and with a pretty big gouge on the bonnet but otherwise looking fine. He mentioned the car was taken out to the Miyoshi proving ground three times when it first arrived in 1984. In early 1985 it did a stint in engineering while it was investigated to see just how small the still not approved lightweight sports car could be and meet the gauntlet of corporate and governmental design rules. It went back into the garage afterwards and there it stayed. It might still be there for all I know.
Now the details. One of the original documents I prepared described the Mazda lightweight sports car as 'an MGB that will start on a rainy day and won't leak oil on your driveway'. The position of the car in the marketplace was much more in the area inhabited by the likes of MGB and Sunbeam Alpine, particularly in terms of afforability (based on weekly wages Vs car cost, not the direct dollar amount) and size. The Elan was a smaller (too small to meet even basic criteria like Mazda's toe working space requirements), appreciably more expensive vehicle. Yes, as you know the car with the 1.6 litre engine, twin cams and independent rear suspension there are Elan similarities. But only the 1.6 litre engine was part of the specs going in. The original engine was a 1.6 single cam, though this was altered later to a 1.6 single came 3-valver, and later yet again to the 1.6 twincam we know. The car also started out riding on strut front suspension and with a rigid rear axle hung on five-link geometry with coils.
Design-wise, the original studies for the car (the ones which set the tone) were done by Mark Jordan and if anything they had more of the feel of a shrunken Ferrari 275 NART Spider than Lotus. This is sort of to be expected, since Mark was a Ferrari fan (a trait inherited from hie Father who owned a few of 'em) who didn't give a toss about Lotus. Or the Avengers.
Early studies had a nose intake very much like a Ferrari 275 GTB or NART Spider, but as we entered the feasibility stage, we learned that the nose wouldn't work with US bumper regs. So the layout could be altered to put a bar across the grille opening (which looked like a tongue) or we could lower or raise the air intake. Raising it looked like hell, so it was dropped below the bumper striker bar. Add this fact to the requirement which came from above that the car would have pop-up lamps, and requirements/dictates were making the car more reminiscent of the Elan than anyone intended or wanted.
As we got into the project and started using a little lateral thinking, the other bits fell into place. Norman Garrett proposed the first independent rear idea, using all the bits from the rear of the old 4 wheel-drive turbo 323 GTX, including the tall rear struts. Japan eyeballed that and tried seeing if they couldn't do something better and stay within budget. They did.
The twincam engine came about as a result of Japan going DOHC mad on 323-class cars, so with that sort of generous sales volume, the twincam engine became economically feasible. So despite what you might have heard or believed, similarities with the Elan are more coincidental than planned.
I bet you're sorry you asked now, eh?
If you can't go fast with 90hp, 900hp won't help you