Breakfast with the mind behind my Mazda RX-7

It’s been a while since I have touched base with my inner combustion self, life has, literally, pretty much gotten in the way.

This isn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. 

It’s a life funk and much like trying to revive a car after it's been sitting, I find an Italian tune-up always does the trick.  (an Italian tune-up especially when dealing with a cranky air-cooled boxer motor means finding an empty stretch of highway and squeezing every bit of aural and smoky sensation out of the car, by tapping on the red line.) But unfortunately, that doesn’t work with one’s body and mind, especially when trying to awaken a writer’s passion and juices.

But I’ve always found one surefire method, get infected by the virus again.

A virus carrier in car circles is a walking and talking, spit-firing ball of automotive passion. Some virus carriers are passionate about a type of automobile or bike, the more rabid ones I find are those that wear the marque on their heart exposed for all to see, bloody warts and all. And for those who know him, or even have just had the unique experience of meeting him, no one bleeds Mazda RX-7 quite like Aurick, and yes, I have declared, that he is worthy of just his first name.

If you needed a last name reference, I would bet that on many a phone directory, if a last name was required, it would be RX-7.

Yes, Aurick RX-7.

Thank you Aurick for again injecting me with your unique strain of virus and reminding me to keep the Autoindustriya flame alive.

Enjoy Aurick RX-7 in his own words...

Breakfast with the mind behind my RX-7 image

This story is about one of those days when I could have made the wrong decision – and thankfully didn’t. 

You see, taking ownership of a rare '90s sports car such as the Mazda RX-7 FD has given me a certain kind of anxiety; The kind that effectively holds me back from actually driving the car long distances thanks to fear of breaking down or worse. This fear is compounded by the fact that parts for my car are getting scarce while idiots on the road are breeding like bunnies. For those who know of the RX-7 and its eccentricities, you will know that its temperamental Wankel Rotary Engine isn’t exactly the most reliable thing in the world either. So when the folks from Mazda Philippines invited me for breakfast on a Saturday morning on the other side of town to meet a certain VIP, you can just imagine the dilemma I had to face leading towards the weekend.

I could have cordially accepted Mazda’s invite and attended the event with my daily driver. I could have done the exact same things during that breakfast: enjoy a sumptuous meal, talk shop with fellow enthusiasts, and even shake hands with Mazda’s VIP. But you see, doing that would have been like attending a formal event in a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops. If people there knew I drove an RX-7 but instead brought a soapbox, I wouldn’t have heard the end of questions and quips like "Why didn’t you bring the RX-7?" or ‘Sayang naman, andito na siya.’ Because after all, we were all there for breakfast with the legendary designer of the Mazda Miata and the RX-7 himself: Tom "Tsutomu" Matano.

Taking this very special occasion into consideration, that morning I knew I had to take the risk and get my RX-7 to that breakfast meeting. I hopped into my pride and joy for a (thankfully) eventless trip across town. Upon pulling up to the venue, the feeling of being a bit out of place sets in with all the various generations of Miatas sprawled around the lot. Parked up and tucked neatly between a mint NA and a brand new 30th Anniversary Ed. ND MX-5, I made my way upstairs to meet with like-minded folk.

Breakfast with the mind behind my RX-7 image

I found myself seated with some colleagues from media as well as our hosts, while the table across us had Mr. Matano surrounded by the owners of all the Miatas parked downstairs. For what I thought would be a formal gathering, Tom Matano looked as if he was just enjoying his time with a bunch of old mates, jovial laughter and all. I was promptly introduced to him as the owner of the lone RX-7 in attendance, and this was when I first saw Mr. Matano enjoying an espresso.

Soon afterward everyone was lining up to have some memorabilia signed by the man himself. Everything from 1:18 Miata die-cast models to interior panels, to old Miata literature, to lots and lots of HotWheels MX-5s, were all signed with ‘Always Inspired, T. Matano’ by the old gentleman without so much even as a smirk of hesitation. “This is my favorite photo of you!” one of the guys exclaimed as he pointed to an old photo of Mr. Matano with puffy hair. A bit embarrassed but rolling with the friendly banter, he signed right next to the funny photo. I think it was after that when he got his second espresso.

Somewhere in between more signings and heading downstairs to see the cars up close, Mr. Matano may have asked for another shot. He then proceeded to check all of the Miatas in attendance and was then asked to sign the cars themselves. I had removed the panel of the RX-7’s toolbox and had it signed by him earlier, but when I popped the hatch to put it back on, he leaned over to check my car. He reached for the door I helped open for him – a gesture I did not think would lead to a small lecture.

“You see the sweeping lower section of the door? We were trying to deviate from the usual 90-degree entrances you would find on most car doors so that the RX-7’s cockpit would look as if it is inviting you to go inside.” He used his hands to gesture the shape of the door as he continued, “Normally, the door of the car would not be as interesting of a part, but for the RX-7 we made sure the lines and bulges would be enticing for the driver to step inside. Once you’re in, the door panel meets the rest of the interior as if you are being told to do one thing: drive.” I did not think of that in the four years of owning the car, but to think they’ve put that much thought into designing its door it’s no wonder I fell in love with the whole package.

Shortly after that, we got to ask Mr. Matano a few questions regarding his experience with designing the Miata. He tells us that the Miata is special because he feels as if the car was given a ‘special international visa’ by all its owners worldwide. Whether the car is in Europe, the US, or even some far-flung archipelago, Miata owners do not treat the car as ‘a Japanese Sports Car.’

Breakfast with the mind behind my RX-7 image

Mr. Matano says that the Miata has this certain appeal wherein it is treated as if it was part of that country’s culture to begin with, and is built and treated accordingly. The car has become such a part of its owners' experiences that, at some point, it no longer matters where it came from. This has given the Miata its global appeal. This perhaps explains why he can partake in conversation very casually with Miata owners as if catching up with old buddies. Following this, his fourth espresso of the morning arrived.

I had to ask him about how the Miata was supposedly inspired by British roadsters of the ’60s, to which he said was a bit of a misconception. “Sure, the Miata is a two-seat roadster that you can get in and drive, and it has qualities of the British roadsters of the ’60s as you said.” Matano claims, “But you see we did not aim to make it specifically like the Lotus Elan or an MG or a Morgan. Back in the ’60s, there were plenty of British car manufacturers, and during that time all of these carmakers had that spirit of believing that they could do anything and come up with a car that would set the world on fire. Even the small manufacturers like Marcos, which are no longer with us today, the spirit is still there. We wanted the Miata to embody that spirit of '60s British manufacturers. We believed that the Miata could be a car that would change the world.”

The discussion then eventually led to the fourth-generation Miata, the ND, and what Mr. Matano thought about the 4th iteration of his design by the younger designers headed by Masashi Nakayama. “I told the guys from the design team ‘you know I can’t put up a poker face’ when they were hesitant to show me the design right before its debut. ‘If I see this tomorrow and I don’t like it, my face will say it all.’ And that is how I got to see the car a day ahead of all of you.” He says that the designers over at Mazda were trained in the older ways of car design but then mixed with a modern twist. Matano likens this to the methods of Pininfarina, but this next analogy is what indeed drove it home.

“Imagine our design for the first-gen Miata and the RX-7 as classical Jazz. There is a method to it and it has to be refined to produce notes that only a good musician can make. We had to work with our hands and clay and sculpt these from the ground up. We also factor in how the front, sides, and rear blend together to make the ¾ angles look proportioned and coherent. These days you could think of our designers as the next players of modern Jazz, and the result of that is the ND.

On the other hand, other manufacturers go with the trend of hip hop and rap, somehow ending up with a design that is pieced together separately front, side, and rear. There are a lot of unnecessary edges or lines that do not flow together completely, making it look as if the computer did more of the work.” I get the impression that Matano and his proteges were thinking beyond the confines of development budgets and what the suits wanted to make money out of their cars – they always thought of finding ways to get people to drive and enjoy them. Suffice it to say, of course, Matano thinks Mazda got the ND just right.

All these wonderful nuggets of automotive knowledge from a man 72 years of age and still taking shots of espresso as a college kid does to tequila. Tom Matano radiates a smile akin to that of the first-gen Miata he designed all those years ago as he talked all morning with us about his creations. And as for me? Well, let’s just say the drive back home wasn’t as bothersome as my fear of bringing the RX-7 out beforehand – that morning was certainly worth the trouble and more.