I had one like this once. Austin-Healey Sprite Mark 1. photo: Culzean 2008
Little booklet arrived the other day, a jubilee magazine celebrating 20 years of the Mazda MX-5. Jeffrey H Guyton, President and CEO of Mazda Motor Europe wrote the introduction. He saw his first MX-5 when a graduate student in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at about the time, 18 March 1990, that I wrote the attached Sunday Times motoring column, on what he rightly calls an automotive milestone. The MX-5 recreated the delights of the classic British sports car, Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget, even the ill-handling Triumph Spitfire, without the unreliability and the aggro that went with owning one. Mazda Motor Europe GmbH has not quite re-written history. I never knew the story, of which it makes much, about an American journalist I never heard of, who gets the credit for inventing the idea, together with Kenichi Yamamoto Mazda’s head of development. It would have been nice for Mazda Motor not to dismiss the role played by the late John Shute, of International Automotive Design (IAD) in Worthing. An MG enthusiast and collector, Shute created prototypes in 1984-1985, which he tested at MIRA, bequeathing a lot of MG style and character into the well proportioned 2-seater that became MX-5. After working with Austin in Australia, Shute set up IAD in 1975 certain that companies in the Far East in particular Japan, which did not have the experience to develop specialist models, such as sports cars would consult him. IAD prospered, at one time it was three times the size of Giugiaro’s Ital Design, it had a turnover of £40million, employed 800 and won two Queen’s Awards to Industry. IAD was consulted by manufacturers in a dozen countries on accessories and equipment, as well as complete cars, up until the 1990s recession. South Korean bankruptcies, notably of Daewoo, led to defaults on major contracts. IAD was consigned to the pages of automotive history, although in the MX-5’s jubilee magazine alas, scarcely even a footnote.