Although it probably wasn’t Mazda’s intention when it unveiled the RX500 idea automobile on the seventeenth Tokyo Motor Present within the fall of 1970, the radically angular but streamlined automobile turned a world favourite — as a Matchbox toy.
The RX500 was created by Mazda to showcase its rotary engine and the newest developments in security expertise. The automobile additionally celebrated Mazda’s fiftieth anniversary.
Mazda’s Cosmo sports activities automobile, Luce executive-class sedan and R100 compact sedan additionally supplied rotary energy, however the RX500 appeared like one thing else altogether, a glimpse into the long run. The automobile was wedge formed and had butterfly doorways. Not solely that, however to entry its 250-horsepower, 15,000-rpm 10A rotary engine, you opened a gullwing-style set of engine covers.
Amongst its progressive security options had been taillights that modified colours relying on whether or not the automobile was accelerating, cruising or braking.
The design was so common so shortly that British toymaker Matchbox gained the suitable to breed the automobile in 1: 59 scale.
“Well-known British toy automobile makers Matchbox acknowledged the potential of the RX500 and included it in its ‘Superfast program’ — a response to the 1968 introduction of Scorching Wheels by Mattel, which featured skinny axles and new wheels that made them sooner and extra enjoyable to play with,” Mazda famous in a current information launch.
“Why did Matchbox determine to incorporate this one-off Japanese supercar idea in its portfolio?” Mazda continued. “Matchbox’s largest gross sales market on the time was the USA and Matchbox was in search of futuristic fantasy and idea automobiles that might enchantment to youngsters in America.
“The RX500 completely matched these necessities, and with loads of curiosity in Mazda and the rotary engine in Europe as nicely, it was no surprise that the orange Matchbox RX500, launched in 1971 because the MB66, instantly turned a worldwide bestseller”
Mazda mentioned the inspiration for the RX500 was to develop a prototype automobile to analysis the habits of fiberglass-bodied automobiles and driving dynamics at pace in extra of 125 mph. This system started in 1968 below the codename X810.
“The concept was to research the concord between folks and pace in a future society, based mostly on potential future intercity visitors situations,” Mazda reported in its information launch. “An experimental automobile was required – one with a mid-engine, low air resistance and excessive downforce and, on the identical time, the smoothness of a rotary engine.
“The RX500 was additionally thought of as a possible successor to the Cosmo Sport 110 S, Mazda’s flagship automobile on the time.
“A fastidiously chosen workforce produced numerous fashions and studied their aerodynamic drag within the wind tunnel. Opposite to the unique plan of constructing a coupe, designer Shigenori Fukuda’s streamlined Capturing Brake mannequin, which supplied the bottom aerodynamic drag, was chosen.
“Fukuda-san drew inspiration for the RX500’s design from the movie 2001: A Area Odyssey, amongst different issues,” Mazda famous. “The automobile was to resemble a basic automobile as little as potential, so all kinds of design components from racing and aviation discovered their means into the RX500.”
Mazda mentioned probably the most notable change was the rear part of the automobile, “evoking a mixture between a spaceship and a jet fighter. “
Fukuda had labored at Mazda on automobile designed with Bertone of Italy, however needed some softer curves and contours slightly than what he noticed as monotonous straight strains.
Mazda additionally famous the automobile’s wrap-around windshield as a design aspect.
It identified that whereas the idea automobile had gullwing doorways over the rotary engine, the toy model had a merely hatch that opened to reveal the scale-version powerplant.
The idea had room inside for a driver and one passenger, with a wrap-around dashboard, AM/FM radio and shifter for the 4-speed transmission taken from the Luce R130 coupe.
With the 982cc rotary engine spinning out 250 horsepower and the automobile’s fiberglass-reinforced plastic physique over a tube body chassis, the idea weighed just one,870 kilos.
Though just one idea automobile was constructed, there are images displaying it in numerous colours. The automobile was painted inexperienced, however modified to yellow to match all different 1970 Mazda ideas. After the Tokyo present, the automobile was redone in silver.
The RX500 was restored by Mazda in 2008 and is on show on the Numaji Transportation Museum in Hiroshima.
So why didn’t the RX500 attain manufacturing?
“The oil value disaster of 1973 dashed any hopes of manufacturing RX500s,” Mazda mentioned, including nevertheless, “The disaster didn’t have an effect on the miniature version of the RX500. After its launch, the Matchbox mannequin remained on sale for over 4 years till it was reissued as a crimson Streaker mannequin in 1975. Manufacturing was discontinued in 1976.
“Then, between 1978 and 1985, the RX500 was once more out there in different colour variations in quite a lot of native markets. Thus, the small, profitable homage to the RX500 remained on toy cabinets for a complete of over a decade and has been bought numerous instances all over the world.”
A former each day newspaper sports activities editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek journal earlier than making the transition to writing for the net and changing into the writer of greater than 15 automotive books. Along with being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Occasions and The Detroit Information and was an adjunct honors professor on the Walter Cronkite College of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State College.