Ask any Mazda employee for a date they remember and you won’t hear wedding anniversaries, birthdays or the first day of spring. You’ll consistently hear the 19th August 2008. The day the Mazda Furai, quite literally, died in flames.
Nagare & Nature
Mazda, known for their use of strong, Japanese design principles, debuted the Nagare concept in 2006, a sleek twist on an SUV that began a new design approach for the manufacturer. This new design language would be used as inspiration for their new wave of production vehicles and was inspired by “studying motion and the effect it has on natural surroundings: how wind shapes sand in the desert, how water moves across the ocean floor, and the look of lava flowing down a mountainside”. So, basically, super sleek and aerodynamic.
Over the following twelve months they debuted another three concept cars that shared the Nagare genes, but it’s the fifth and final one, which debuted on the 27th August 2007, that we really care about: the Furai. Furai, which means sound of the wind and furthers the Japanese culture of embracing all things natural, was a racecar, pure and simple. But it was also so much more. If you study the other four concepts in the series, beginning with the Nagare, then moving onto Ryuga, Hakaze and Taiki, you’re struck by how concept-y they look and feel. Proportions that are pushed a little too radically for your average day-to-day vehicle. Wheels that seem a little too big. Doors that look more like sculptures of clay. Because they were. But the Furai? It was real. A road-punishing, lap-time-destroying, fire-breathing monster that would chew your face off if you gave it a second. It was sexier than that teacher you always had a crush on, sounded like the roar of Poseidon with it’s 20B 3-rotor Wankel engine and had 460bhp on tap. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when it’s only pushing 675kg, which is one small person less than a Series 1 Lotus Elise, the thing moved. Like excrement off a garden tool. Naturally, both the media and car fans alike went crazy for it. And can you blame them? Just look at the thing.
Blaze of Furai
A few months later it arrived at the American Auto Show in Detroit and flabbergasted the audience. The Marketing machine kicked into full gear and rumours abounded of Le Mans racing debuts and limited production runs, before car fans got a glimpse of the beast at both Laguna Seca and Buttonwillow; furore was building. Every automotive journalist in the world was scrambling to get a crack at the whip, feel the ultra-stiff carbon structure beneath their bum as they threw it into corners with reckless abandon only for it to arrive on the other side begging for more. Enter Top Gear magazine.
With it’s worldwide reputation, the English publication was trusted as the first outlet to experience the thrill of being behind one of the most beautiful vehicles ever created. Little did they know that they’d be the only ones.
It’s the 19th August 2008. It’s late morning at Bentwater Parks, an old airfield-cum-test-track in the south of England. Top Gear have had the majestic creature in their hands all morning and things are going smoothly. Testing is complete, the video coverage all but finished and now it’s with the photographers to get the shots they need for the magazine. Priorities. After that, it’ll be lured back into it’s locker and shipped to Irvine, California, Mazda’s Advanced Design Studio in the US. The Furai roars into the distance, swiftly followed by the camera crew in their SUV. It leaves the pits and disappears into the collection of straights and curves of the familiar circuit. The crew are desperately trying to keep up with the Mazda as it downshifts and upshifts and flows like water through the bends and sweeps of the test track. Until they notice a spit of flame licking the bulkhead in the rear engine bay, a strange noise now emanating from the vehicle. The flames grow as the Furai continues to devour the track, the SUV fighting to chase down the limp racecar in front, the driver completely unaware of the fire growing behind him. As are the safety crew.
You see, the vehicle is positioned in a small dip in the circuit, a tiny portion of the track that is out of the eyeshot of the firecrews waiting in the pits. What are the chances?
When the Furai eventually stops, flames are already reaching up the fender, burning the carbon-fibre protective coating and biting into the material itself. The driver leaps out as the fire devours the bodywork and the intensity continues to grow. By the time the crews arrive, most of the ultra-lightweight body panels are a charred mess, only the bones of it’s substructure remaining. Like watching a pack of vicious hyenas hunt an antelope, it’s slow, painful and inevitable. There’s nothing anyone can do. The concept car of the decade, and one of the most beautiful vehicles ever created, has been well and truly destroyed. Forever. So what happened next?
Soul of Motion
Mazda moved on from the Nagare design language in 2011 when they debuted the CX-5 Crossover and the new Kodo (Soul of Motion) design language. They continue to produce some great looking, supremely well-engineered cars, and we’ll soon be taking a look at the history of one of the most popular roadsters ever, the Mazda MX-5 / Miata. But despite all of that, there’s a strong feeling of what could have been that won’t leave until a successor is produced. Or the Furai is resurrected. But don’t hold your breath.