The Elan Dopplegänger – Did the Japanese really build the ultimate British sports car?
It’s hard to believe that the bane of every Lotus Elan owner has just turned 25. It was early February, 1989, at the Chicago Auto Show, when Japanese car manufacturer Mazda unveiled a new, compact two-seat convertible roadster dubbed the MX-5 Miata. Prior to the unveiling of the Miata, Mazda was largely known in the United States as “one of the other Japanese car companies,” most notably for its quirky dedication to the use of the Wankel rotary engine.
On the dais at the Chicago show, however, was something very different for Mazda. Here was a very “traditional” sports car—front-engine, rear-wheel drive, compact, with just two seats and a fold-down top. In fact, sitting on the dais, for all intents and purposes was a Lotus Elan! The size, the looks, the specs—even the grill opening!—were near carbon copies of a design laid down by Ron Hickman, in 1962, for Colin Chapman. We all scratched our collective heads. Did Mazda really think they were going to get away with this?
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