AS THE WRAPS COME OFF A NEW RX-8 WE MEET THE DESIGNER DYNASTY BEHIND MAZDA'S ICONIC SPORTS CARS.
Story Minoru Ota
Photography Masahiro Usami
Thirty years on, Matasaburo Maeda clearly remembers the letter opener he gave his teenage son, Ikuo. The glistening stainless steel knife, designed by Enzo Mari, had a subtle twist at the center, as if turned by a man of great strength.
"I bought it in Turin. In those days I often visited the city. Giorgetto Giugiaro was there then; it was kind of a mecca for car designers. In terms of design, there was nothing like this letter opener in Japan. With that little twist, it became this beautiful form like a propeller. I wanted to convey to Ikuo how with one twist a whole new expression could be achieved."
Ikuo also remembers receiving the letter opener: "It was as if I had encountered a designed object for the very first time. This little conceit of the twist—it was very beautiful. I thought, 'Ah, this is what design is all about.'"
Even though the word 'designer' sounds attractive, the work itself is arduous and I never took it home with me," says Matasaburo.
Ikuo does recall visits to their home from Giugiaro and from Nuccio Bertone, and adds: "Although I never wanted to become a car designer, I was probably influenced by this environment, as I always knew that I wanted to make things, to be a creator of some sort." At the time Ikuo received the letter opener, his father was wholly involved in the development of the RX-7.
This was in the mid 1970s, around the time of the first oil crisis when Japan's economic growth was starting to falter. To develop a sports car amid this instability was seen as not only going against the grain but also as possibly foolish. Nevertheless, Mazda dared to take the bet. Matasaburo remembers how intense it was: "We were told, 'Hurry up.' We suddenly got together with a group of engineers and simply started working on our secret project.
"The beauty of it was the shape of the rotary engine. We were all looking forward to the 'new' and the