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Thursday, April 29, 2021

40 Years On, Mazda Restored The First-Ever MX Model: The MX-81 Aria

In the year that Mazda brought the MX-badge to its first-ever electric vehicle, the MX-30, the automaker has also carried out a restoration of the first Mazda to wear the MX badge—the Mazda MX-81 Aria.

Returned to its original futuristic glory 40 years after its unveiling at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show, the small wedge-shaped coupe was designed by Marc Dechamps for Turin based coachbuilder Bertone. As the first Mazda to wear the MX badge, this concept car established that the MX prefix meant being able to take on a challenge to create and deliver new values without being confined by convention regardless of vehicle type.

To create the Mazda MX-81 Aria concept car Bertone used Mazda 323 running gear and built a futuristic wedge-shaped hatchback. With its gold paint, huge glasshouse, and pop-up lights it stood out at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show. The recessed square steering wheel, TV screen cockpit, and side swinging front seats though made it even more radical. A one-off concept that certainly met the defy convention ethos of MX models, it led to things like the high-mounted taillights and pop-up headlamps appearing in future Mazda production cars later in the eighties.

While lots of prototypes and concepts are destroyed once exhibited, in 2019 Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the former fourth-generation MX-5 program manager and rotary engine developer, found the MX-81 in a warehouse at Mazda’s Headquarters in Hiroshima. From this discovery came the idea to restore the car and it was shipped to Mazda Italy, from where it has been painstakingly restored by SuperStile in Turin under the coordination of Flavio Gallizio. Fittingly, the completion of the restoration was celebrated by the recreation of the original press images of the MX-81 in front of Milan Cathedral (along with the MX-30, of course).

The connection between Mazda and Italian design celebrated by the restoration of the MX-81 actually started 20 years before this radical concept was revealed at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show. In 1960 Hideyuki Miyakawa, a young automotive writer, travelled to Italy and the Turin Motor Show where he met Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Head of Design at Bertone. He also met his future wife, Marisa Bassano – a Japanese-Italian translator with a passion for cars. During Marisa’s study trip in Hiroshima in 1961, Miyakawa met Mazda chairman Tsuneji Matsuda and the pair discussed the importance of design in the Japanese car industry.

Back in Turin, Hideyuki and Marisa began working as intermediaries between the legendary Italian design studios of Bertone, Ghia and Pinifarina and the Japanese car manufacturers. The collaboration between Mazda and Bertone they helped to facilitate led to Giugiaro designing the Mazda Familia and Luce models of the 1960s, plus the stunning R130 Luce Coupe of 1969. The relationship with Bertone continued even after Giugiaro left to work for Ghia, and the restoration of the Bertone created 1981 Mazda MX-81 Aria is a great celebration of that partnership.

Forty years after its debut, the restoration of the first ever MX model has appropriately allowed the MX-81 Aria to sit alongside the Mazda MX-30—a car that represents a new chapter in Mazda’s history.

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