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SHUNJI TAKANA, one of the founding fathers of the Mazda MX-5, has passed away in Japan this week. He was 75.

Takana-san worked alongside Tsutomu “Tom” Matano (of Holden Torana fame) to sculpt the NA-series MX-5. The first-generation of Mazda’s iconic roadster was developed under the then-secret Offline 55 program, which aimed to create an affordable two-seat convertible with strong ties to earlier British roadsters suh as the Lotus Elan and MG B.

The announcement of Tanaka-san’s passing was made on social media with a simple statement that read: “I am so sorry to announce that Mr Tanaka, the chief designer of the NA MX-5, has passed away on December 12 at the age of 75”.

According to the statement, Mr Tanaka’s final words were “I have no regret in my life.” The artist and sculptor had a hand in the designs of many Mazda models (including the stunning early 1990s 929) before moving to head Kawasaki’s design department.

Tanaka-san was poached from Mazda at a time when Kawasaki’s designs needed a shot in the arm and his entries into the Streetfighter segment left an indelible mark on the early-2000s motorcycle scene.

While working at Kawasaki’s K-Tec design division Tanaka-san penned classics such as the ZX-10R, ZZR1400, GTR1400, Z1000, ER-6n, and even several motocross machines, many from half-formed models he inherited from other designers. “Take apart, rebuild, and refresh” was Takana-san’s credo.

But, for motoring fans, it’s clear Tanaka-san will be remembered most for his contribution to the design of the MX-5. At the time of its conception, Tanaka-san described the model as a “Swinging Time Machine” that would combine the wind-in-your-hair feeling of early British marques with the quality and reliability Japanese models were then famous for.

Initially, the US-designed MX-5 (Miata) was criticised by Takana-san for being too American. Never one to mince his words, he said at the time that early prototypes have “eaten too much steak and forgotten the delicacy of Japanese cuisine”. He subsequently re-sculpted the vehicle using Japanese Noh masks as his muse.

Takana-san’s legacy is set to live on when Mazda reveals an all-new MX-5 in the near future. A replacement for the ND-series – which has been on sale since 2015 – the next-generation MX-5 will likely feature a mild-hybrid driveline and may include a supercharged petrol engine.

The next-gen MX-5 is tipped to draw on the design language of recently launched Mazda models. A frontal treatment based on those of the CX-30 and MX-30 could be applied to the low-riding two-seat sports car, which is likely to retain angular headlights and an upright grille.

The cabin is also tipped to receive a significant makeover through the addition of premium features such as a digital instrument panel, high-end switchgear and a revised infotainment array.

Let’s just hope the next MX-5 does not stray too far from Shunji Tanaka’s classic. The motoring world owes him that much at least.

By Neil Dowling