rotary was just that. As a result, the new front midship layout was born [the engine was mounted at the front behind the axle]. Moreover, this meant that you could bring the nose down lower. This was amazing, and no one else in the industry was able to do it at the time."
Such was the pace of the project that the first generation RX-7 came to be after only three years of development. The year was 1978, and a legend was born.
Around this time, Ikuo had begun studying industrial design at university in Kyoto. On a school break, he drove to his hometown of Hiroshima. And what did he show up in? A white Mazda RX-7.
"I didn't know my father had been involved in the design of the RX-7. I had bought this car simply because it was the fastest thing out there, and I thought it looked pretty good, too," says Ikuo.
Ikuo joined Mazda in 1982, and when the successor to his father's iconic RX-7 was proposed, he was the man assigned the role of designing it.
Matasaburo only learned of his son's involvement in carrying on the legacy three months before the RX-8 went on sale in 2003.
"One day Ikuo showed me a photo of the RX-8 from a brochure. He asked me to evaluate it. I said, 'Oh, it's rather good.' I thought he'd done a fine job. It's true of the MAZDA2 as well … there's something about his design that just hits me. I get it. It's not because he's my son. It's probably the Mazda DNA. When I see an RX-8 I'm astonished that it's a sports car yet still has four doors."
Ikuo explains that it was this necessity that predicated the design of the RX-8: "Since I had to create a four-seater car, the cabin would have to be more spacious. But the risk was that this expansion would destroy the sports car form. I came up with the idea of removing the center pillar and creating the freestyle rear-hinged doors. There's always a reason behind a design, this is a key point."
Ikuo goes on to explain the difference between his design philosophy and that of his father: "If you called my father's design quiet and sleek, mine is both dynamic and full of movement. He pursues forms that are stable, whereas mine are all about instability and fluidity. He was trained as an engineer and his work reflected the trend for the simple and functional, whereas I have been breaking away from that and representing the more emotional brand of today. Yet even though our expression differs greatly, as designers we both implement design with reason and with functionality."
In his day Matasaburo was a true pioneer, says Ikuo: "My father wanted to become a designer at a time in Japan when the category of 'car designer' simply didn't exist. He was ahead of his time."
Today Ikuo has his own unique vision, which he is applying to Mazda design. Coincidentally, he is about the same age as his father was when he gave him that Italian letter opener.
The inspiring object, with its simple, beautiful twist. As it happens, it's a little like the twist in the DNA spiral.