The history of Mazda is littered with MX cars. The MX-5 and the new MX-30 are perhaps the best-known, but the history of the designation stretches back to 1981 when Bertone built the MX-81 concept, also known as the ‘Bertone Aria’. And now, the retro-futuristic car has been restored.
The concept was discovered languishing in a warehouse by Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the former program manager for the fourth-generation MX-5 and a rotary engine developer. Swept off his feet by the study, which somehow hadn’t been destroyed in all that time, Yamamoto decided that the car had to be restored.
The MX-81 was promptly sent to Mazda Italy, which sent it off to SuperStile, in Turin to handle the restoration.
Having worked with Bertone on the Mazda Familia and Luce models of the ’60s, Mazda turned to the design house for its 1981 Tokyo Motor Show concept car. Starting with a Mazda 323, the designers thoroughly overhauled the car’s exterior. The interior may have been even more mind-blowing than the exterior for audiences of the day, featuring a recessed square steering wheel, a TV screen cockpit, and side-swing front seats.
The prototype study was powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine delivering around 130 horsepower.
The MX-81 was followed by three more MX concepts. The MX-02, built in 1983, was a five-door hatchback with large windows, aerodynamic rear wheel covers, flared in-door mirrors, and big flat sides. It also featured rear-wheel steering and a heads-up display.
The MX-03, meanwhile, came about in 1985. A low-slung coupe, it also featured rear-wheel steering that was controlled by a steering yoke (rather than wheel) and it had a Cd of just 0.25.
It was followed by the MX-04, presented at the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show, which was a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car that featured removable fiberglass panels. Two sets of panels were presented, changing the car from a glass-domed coupe to an open-top beach buggy.
Although they were all auto show specials, with the benefit of hindsight you can kind of see Mazda working towards the MX-5 Miata, which came just two years after the MX-04.
Today, the MX prefix continues on with the MX-30, seen below modeling next to its great-grandpappy, the MX-81.