RWD Alfa Spider to have Mazda genes
The current tough conditions in the international motor trade have produced some unexpected bedfellows, although this one must rank as one of the more bizarre.
Yet, when you look a little closer, it all makes sense.
Mazda and Fiat have signed a memorandum of understanding for the development and manufacturing of a new roadster for both the Mazda and Alfa Romeo badges, based on Mazda's next-generation MX-5 rear-wheel drive platform.
And there's the light-bulb moment.
Fiat is more aware than most carmakers that, in the eyes of the enthusiasts at which such cars are aimed, real sports cars are rear-wheel drive.
Witness the Mazda MX-5, according to the Guinness Book of World Records the most successful open two-seater in automotive history, and Alfa Romeo's iconic Spider, which was a cult car among the tifosi even before Dustin Hoffman drove one in The Graduate and propelled it to international stardom.
The Spider was introduced in 1966, and stayed in production for almost three decades, becoming one of Alfa Romeo's longest-running models, and arguably its most recognisable. When it was discontinued in April 1993, it was the last rear-wheel drive Alfa - until the advent of the hand-built 8C Competizione more than a decade later - and Alfa Romeo still does not have a compact rear-wheel drive platform.
Hence the tie-up with Toyo Kogyo, which does.
For Alfa Romeo to develop a new platform for one relatively low-volume model would make it prohibitively expensive, but the company bean-counters are well aware that a front-wheel drive roadster based on the Mito/Giulietta platform won't cut it.
The memorandum calls for Fiat and Mazda to develop two distinctly differently styled lightweight rear-wheel drive roadsters on the fifth-generation MX-5 chassis, each with a specific own-brand engine.
The memorandum doesn't say what engines are envisaged, but we would expect to see a tweaked version of the 1.4-litre Fiat MultiAir in the new Spider, and a similarly-sized Mazda SkyActiv engine in the MX-5.
Both cars would be built at Mazda's Hiroshima plant in Japan, with the Mazda version to be released late in 2014, and production for Alfa Romeo envisaged to start in 2015.
A final agreement is due to be signed later in 2012
The companies have also agreed to discuss further opportunities for co-operation in Europe.
Mazda boss Takashi Yamanouchi said: “Establishing technology and product development alliances is one of Mazda's corporate objectives and this announcement with Fiat is an important first step in that direction.
“It is especially exciting to be collaborating with such a prestigious marque as Alfa Romeo on a new roadster based on the next-generation MX-5, which is such an iconic vehicle for Mazda and recognised as the best-selling roadster of all time.”
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne commented: “This agreement clearly demonstrates our commitment to Alfa Romeo and the determination to grow it into a truly global brand. By partnering with Mazda, we will be co-operating with the recognised leader in compact rear-drive vehicles to build an exciting and stylish roadster in the Alfa Romeo tradition.”