Miata designer Tanaka helped hone Mazda’s identity

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Shunji Tanaka, a key designer of the iconic Mazda Miata, has died. He was 75.

Tanaka led the exterior and interior design of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a lightweight Japanese roadster inspired by postwar-era British sports cars. The car went on sale in the U.S. in May 1989 with a starting price of $13,800 and a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 116 hp.

The roadster, which featured a lightweight aluminum hood, weighed a feathery 2,116 pounds and could hit 60 mph in less than nine seconds.

U.S. sales peaked in 1990, the car’s second year on the market, at 35,944. The 1 millionth Miata rolled off the line in 2016.

Though annual U.S. sales have declined as convertibles have fallen out of favor with consumers, the car remains a key part of Mazda’s identity. In 2019, Mazda celebrated the MX-5’s heritage with a 30th anniversary special edition.

Following his stint at Mazda, Tanaka joined Kawasaki, where he designed motorcycles.

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