At the intersection of Italian design and Japanese technology, Mazda unveiled the MX-81 Aria concept at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show. It was Mazda’s first model to receive the MX badge (for Mazda eXperimental), a moniker the Japanese automaker would reserve for vehicles that pushed boundaries, and the futuristic MX-81 set the standard.
Marc Deschamps, head of design at Turin-based coachbuilder Bertone, designed the MX-81 and borrowed styling cues from the 1979 Volvo Tundra concept. The prolific Italian designer Marcello Gandini had created the wedge-shaped Volvo concept, which Volvo ultimately rejected. The collaboration with Bertone began in the early 1960s when Mazda hired Giorgetto Giugiaro to work on the first-generation Familia and Luce 1500 show car.
Painted in an attractive gold hue, the futuristic Bertone-designed MX-81 was based on the Mazda 323 and powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine generating around 130 hp. Italian design flair and Japanese engineering resulted in a minimalist yet eccentric four-seater coupe.
It featured a large and airy greenhouse, pop-up headlamps, aerodynamic wheels, retractable wipers, and vertical taillights mounted on the C-pillars. The windows were flush with the body, helping with aero. Interesting quirks included the fixed side windows with a small glass section that you could lower from inside (a bit like the Subaru SVX, a Giugiaro design from decades later), an all-glass rear hatch, and a single driver-side mirror. For the full story, check out this article from Motor Trend.