Mazda’s Roadster, also known as the Miata and MX-5, hit showrooms in 1989 and became an instant hit. In the years since, though, doomsayers have emerged every time a competing automaker releases a would-be rival, with predictions having been made that the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxter, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Toyota MR-S, Honda S2000, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky were all going to kill Mazda’s lightweight open sports car.
The three German cars are still around, although now at price points so far above the Roadster’s that they’re really not in competition with the Japanese Mazda. As for those other pretenders to the affordable convertible crown? All dead and buried. The Roadster’s even outlasted some of those companies, as Pontiac and Saturn have both shut down entirely.
With this history of success, it must have been tempting for Mazda to spend all of the Roadster’s 25th anniversary celebration patting itself on the back for a job well done. Instead, the automaker from Hiroshima chose to do fans one better, by unveiling the fourth generation of the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car.
With the Roadster loved by driving enthusiasts the world over, Mazda decided to simultaneously debut the newest version (often referred to by its chassis code, ND) in three different locations: Urayasu in Japan, Monterrey in the U.S., and Barcelona in Spain. For our local event, officially called the Mazda Roadster Thanks Day in Japan, the company made 1,200 tickets available on its website, given away on a first-come-first-served basis. The whole batch was gone in about five minutes, but luckily we managed to snag one.
With the doors to the venue scheduled to open at 8:30 a.m. and a long ride out to Chiba Prefecture on the train (since my own Miata stayed behind in Los Angeles when I moved to Japan), I dragged myself out of bed at an unholy hour for any web-based writer, eventually getting off at Maihama Station.
This also happens to be where Tokyo Disneyland is located, and as I walked towards the Maihama Amphitheatre, I could hear snippets of Disney songs and recorded calls of tropical birds and wild animals drifting out of the park and across the road.
Eventually, though, these were replaced by throaty, burbling exhaust notes from the steady stream of Roadsters flowing into the parking lot.
A quick glance at license plates revealed drivers had come from all over Japan, and with 30 minutes or so left before the start of the event itself, the parking lot turned into an impromptu car show as fans milled about snapping pictures, swapping tuning tips, and offering their guesses as to what the new car would look like.
▼ Fun fact: The twins Mia and Tia from Pixar’s Cars are first-generation (NA series) Roadsters.
▼ The owners of these three eye-catching rides are all friends who came together.
▼ This veteran’s rear panel and trunk lid are also decorated with stickers from the 10th and 20th Roadster anniversary celebrations.
▼ Top-down drivers are used to seeing the sky above, but on this highly-polished specimen you could see it in the hood, too.
Eventually, the event staff called for everyone to line up, including the guy who’d bravely spent the morning in the hot parking lot wearing a horse mask with the Roadster’s design philosophy, Jinba Ittai (Horse and Rider as One), written on it.
On the ramp leading to the entrance, Mazda had parked three models of historical significance, starting with the original NA version.
Behind it were the 10th and 20th anniversary cars, a second-generation NB and third-generation NC, respectively, both covered in signatures from Mazda employees and fans.
And finally, the currently available 25th anniversary edition, not to be confused with the all-new ND that Mazda was premiering at the event.
Inside, the hall was packed, despite it being a weekday morning. While some Roadster lovers cleared out their whole day so they could attend, the man sitting two seats over from me had flown in from Kobe to catch a glimpse of the new model, and was heading straight to the airport to catch a flight back as soon as he left the amphitheater.
Once everyone was seated, the program began with the two hosts reading a letter from Mazda’s president, who was unable to attend for reasons related to the recent tragic landslide in Hiroshima (for which donations were being collected at the event). Next came a video retrospective on the first three Roadsters.
Following that, it was finally time for Mazda to show everyone what they’d come for, the new Roadster.
Like most of Mazda’s recent show cars, the new Roadster in the center of the stage was a deep crimson, although it takes on an orangish hue when the light strikes it from certain angles.
▼ There was also a white Roadster, with its soft top up, lurking in the background.
Compared to earlier Roadsters, the ND has a much more angular fascia, with aggressive, almost predatory headlamps.
▼ The display car was fitted with no-nonsense, dark gunmetal eight-spoke wheels.
▼ Blacked-out windshield frame and side mirrors
Moving towards the back of the car, there’s a pretty beefy flare at the rear corner panel.
That doesn’t keep everything from still flowing together nicely at the back-end, though. After the dual-pipe exhaust of the third-generation Roadster, the ND is back to a single-sided unit with two tips, reminiscent of the final model of its dearly departed older brother, the Mazda RX-7.
During the presentation, several members of the Roadster team, including project director Nobuhiro Yamamoto, came out on stage to thank the fans for their support. Three lucky attendees were also selected at random to be the first ones to sit in the new model.
Back out in the lobby, a few more surprises had been set up. Compared to other auto manufacturers, Mazda creates a particularly large number of clay models in order to see how its new designs really look in three-dimensional space. So waiting for attendees on their way out was this incredible sculpted–yes, sculpted–ND.
Yamamoto was also there to chat with visitors, pose for pictures, and sign autographs. But it wasn’t just the influential Mazda employee who got asked for his signature. Right in front of the exit was a giant banner, and everyone was encouraged to grab a marker and write a message to commemorate the event.
Mazda was noticeably mum about performance specs, although rumors hold that the new Roadster will be some 100 kilograms (220 pounds) lighter than the model it replaces.
The ND is expected to go on sale in 2015, and while 12 months or so is a long wait for driving enthusiasts, we think they’ll find the patience for a car that’s been 25 years in the making.
Photos © RocketNews24