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L.A. Auto Show 2015: Meet 'Mr. Miata'

Among the automotive dignitaries roaming the halls of the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday was veteran designer Tom Matano ¿ the man known as ¿Mr. Miata¿ and credited with the design vision behind the original 1989 two-door convertible.

Among the automotive dignitaries roaming the halls of the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday was veteran designer Tom Matano, the man known as “Mr. Miata” and credited with the design vision behind the original 1989 two-door convertible.

What does he think of the new, fourth-generation Miata, unveiled by Mazda earlier this year?

“Not bad,” Matano said. “I like the lines, and when you drive it, you capture the spirit of the original.”

Matano, born in Nagasaki, Japan, but raised in Tokyo, came to the U.S. as a young man — the first time booking free, but uncomfortable, passage on a freighter owned by a relative — and soon was a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Today, and for the past 14 years, he is executive director of the School of Industrial Design at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. In between, he worked for GM, BMW and, for 18 years, Mazda.
Matano was invited to join a celebratory unveiling of the fourth-generation Miata, but he declined, telling Mazda executives that if he didn’t like what he saw, he would not be able to control his emotions. “I told them, ‘I might make a face or a frown,’ by accident,” Matano said.
So Mazda gave him a sneak preview, the night before the official unveiling. Matano doesn’t remember now, he said, whether he made a face. But he liked what he saw.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spiderhas earned the nickname "Fiata."
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spiderhas earned the nickname "Fiata." (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
He seemed less enthusiastic about that “other” Miata — the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, shown to the U.S. market at Wednesday’s auto show. That two-door, soft-top sports car, which sports a powertrain built by Mazda and a body designed and manufactured in Italy, has been so closely compared with the Miata that some folks have begun called it a “Fiata.”
“For the fourth generation, it was essential that Mazda not do something retro, and they didn’t,” Matano said. “I haven’t had a chance to really study it, but it seems that Fiat maybe decided to go the other way.”
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