The original Mazda Miata had many fathers. Bob Hall, the journalist-turned-product-planner who originally pitched the idea to Mazda boss Kenichi Yamamoto; Tom Matano and Mark Jordan, who designed the first concepts at Mazda’s California studio and laid out a detailed future for the sports car; Toshihiko Hirai, the chief engineer, whom Hall credits as the true patriarch. There are others, including Shunji Tanaka, who turned the original concept into the production car we know and love. Per a Facebook post from a Japanese Miata club he was involved with, Tanaka-san died earlier this month, at the age of 75.
Born in 1945, there is unfortunately little information on Tanaka’s early life and career on the English-language internet, but his contributions to the Miata are documented in Brian Long’s Mazda MX-5 Miata. While also working on what became the sixth-generation 929 in mid 1986, Tanaka—by then a 15-year Mazda veteran—was given the task of refining the designs created by Mazda’s California studio. “When I found out that he was going to be the chief designer for the project, I felt that we got the right guy to maintain the subtle nuances of the surfaces we created in California studio,” Matano told R&T in an email.