From designing cars to teaching art, ‘always inspired'

COURTESY PHOTOTom Matano helped design the Mazda Miata MX-5. The model is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

My tag line is “Always Inspired.”

Recently, I was asked why I always end my correspondence, including emails, with these words.

It all started when I wrote an essay in my native Japanese. Its title roughly translates as “The World of TOKIMEKI = Inspired Sensations.” It was 1984 and I was working on the early stages of the lightweight sports car project at Mazda in Southern California.

One evening at home, I put pen to paper and began to visualize the car I was hired to design:

“A car starts to draw more attention than another, either it passes you on a freeway, or you see it for a split-second on a TV screen. It makes you want to find out what it is. You develop some expectations about how it feels to drive, how you might look in it, or the lifestyle you may lead with it. Then you may want to go to the dealership for a closer look.

Upon closer inspection, you are satisfied that your expectations and excitement were justified. You open the door, and the sight of the interior is so inviting, that you can’t help but sit in it. From the first turn of the key, the engine starts and sounds exactly how you imagined it would. With the first turn of the wheel, you appreciate how it corners and the way it stops. The car goes beyond initial expectations.

You take the car home, and, of course, take family members for a ride. You show it to neighbors and friends. Just before retiring to bed, you stop for one last look, and even say “Good night” to the car, or maybe even sit in the car one last time.

On your daily route, you start to think more challenging roads and new routes that will allow you to spend more time with the car. On your first out-of-town trip, you discover other aspects of the car’s personality that you weren’t aware of while in your daily routine. You discover the depth of the car more and more, as days, months and years go by.

Of course, even with the most prolonged driver-car relationship, there comes time when an owner has to part with the car. You part with fond memories, which you will treasure for a long, long time. And further down the road, you may even seek out and find the same model, buy it again and restore it.”

The car I envisioned, and went on to design, changed my life. The lightweight sports car became the MX-5 Miata and was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1989. Mazda celebrated the car’s 25th anniversary in September with the unveiling of the new fourth-generation MX-5 Miata.

From designing cars to my role as a teacher, I have treasured my journey and remain “Always Inspired.”

Tom Matano is executive director of Academy of Art University’s School of Industrial Design. He was a keynote speaker at the Miata launch at Mazda Raceway in September and was a judge of the 2014 Design Challenge at the Los Angeles Car Show “Sensing the Future: How Will Cars Interact With Us In 2029?”

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