This year the Mazda MX-81, a futuristic concept car created by Bertone in 1981, turns forty and the Japanese manufacturer has decided to make it the protagonist of a project and a short film called “The shape of time”. It is a story of encounters, a particular story that fits into the narrative of Mazda’s 100th anniversary, whose celebrations began in 2020: the meeting of ambitious young people who imagined the future of the automobile, the mix between Italian design and Japanese product care; the balance between the desire to innovate and experiment with that of leaving a mark on the lives of millions of people.
The bridge between Italy and Japan has distant origins: it was born in 1960, with the arrival in Italy of Hideyuki Miyakawa – an eclectic Japanese entrepreneur involved in the automotive sector – and with his meeting at the Turin Motor Show with Giorgetto Giugiaro, who at era is Bertone’s head of design.
But he doesn’t just meet Giugiaro: at the Turin show, Miyakawa meets Maria Luisa “Marisa” Bassano, who works as an interpreter from Japanese and is passionate about cars, which he falls in love with. In 1961 the two are together in Japan and Miyakawa meets Tsuneji Matsuda, president of Mazda and son of the founder Jujiro. The two begin to talk about the importance of design for the Japanese auto industry, setting the stage for Miyakawa’s influence on the company. Meanwhile Hideyuki and Marisa get married and return to Turin, which is the home of the first three Italian “body shops”: Bertone, Ghia and Pininfarina. Together, the couple begin to mediate between those design studios and the Japanese auto CAEs. Matsuda sends a company designer to Italy, and the first collaboration between Mazda and Bertone gives birth in 1963 to the Mazda Familia, a compact family car.
The following year follows the sedan version and, in 1965, a coupe completes the series. But this is only the beginning of the partnership. While working on the Familia, Giugiaro made the designs for an elegant and futuristic sedan: the SP8 became the Mazda Luce, and went into production in 1966. For the first time a car of the brand was exported to Europe. Even after Giugiaro moved to work for Ghia, the collaboration between Mazda and Bertone did not stop, so much so that in 1981 it led to the MX-81 project. A new acronym is inaugurated, MX (Mazda eXperimental), intended for cars that represent innovative. The first car to offer this acronym is a concept car, designed by Marc Dechamps, head of Bertone’s design: a small coupé, with the wedge shape typical of the cars of the Turin coachbuilder. The MX-81 impresses at the Tokyo Motor Show and is the protagonist in the same year of a famous photo shoot set in Milan in Piazza Duomo.
When Ikuo Maeda, head of Mazda design, wants to rethink and unify the design of the brand in 2010, the past collaboration with Bertone and Giugiaro is at the forefront of his reflections. And Jinba Ittai’s Mazda concept – the perfect union of horse and rider – means looking to design as much as to technology: what Maeda draws from Italian designs is how they build a strong frame for mechanics. Mazda’s centenary and the launch of the new MX-30 become an opportunity to tell the link between Italy and Japan, and one of the milestones in the history of the evolution of the Japanese brand. And it couldn’t be celebrated properly without the recovery and restoration of the MX-81 which had been stored for years in the warehouse of the Mazda headquarters in the Fuchizaki district. A restoration that was completed in Italy, right in Turin, where it all started.