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That Time Daihatsu Almost Made An Even Better Miata

Photo: Daihatsu
Photo: Daihatsu

Daihatsu, which happens to be Japan’s oldest car manufacturer, presented this extremely light Mazda Miata competitor at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show, only to abandon the X-021 Roadster project two years later in favor of the much smaller Copen kei car.

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The X-021 was slightly smaller than a Mazda Miata. It was also much faster thanks to it super low weight of just 1,545 pounds and the 16-valve 1.6-liter motor in its nose producing 140 horsepower at 6,600 RPM.

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Daihatsu’s roadster was more like a race car too, being based on an aluminum spaceframe and wrapped in fiberglass, with an upper and lower A-arm suspension at both ends, inboard dampers and a weight-to-power ratio of 11 lb/hp over the NA Miata’s 19 lb/hp. Running on 15-inch wheels and Dunlop’s then brand new Performa 8000 tires, all that translated to a top speed of 125 mph.

Illustration for article titled That Time Daihatsu Almost Made An Even Better Miata
Illustration for article titled That Time Daihatsu Almost Made An Even Better Miata

After the premiere at Frankfurt in ‘91, a second X-021 chassis was displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show. By the time the 1992 Geneva party was due, Daihatsu completed the second car, which was painted yellow, and even made it to the cover of Road & Track’s July issue.

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After testing the prototype at Daihatsu’s proving grounds near Kyoto, R&T was hugely impressed with the roadster, praising it for its more aggressive styling, minimal overhangs, pointability in a curve and ease of throttle steer.

While the X-021's Recaro bucket seats weren’t designed with the larger gentleman in mind, and legroom was limited as well, at least both Daihatsu’s fabric roof and optional hardtop shell provided plenty of headroom.

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With its purposeful interior, funky styling and superior performance, R&T was wondering whether this could be the right tool setting up Daihatsu’s glorious return to the American market.

No dice. Daihatsu decided it would be smarter to focus on its domestic customers with cars one size below the X-021, finally launching the 660cc turbocharged Copen Roadster in 1999.

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Meanwhile, the Mazda Miata became the Mazda Miata.

Daihatsu X-021 at the Osaka Auto Messe 2014. Photo: Wiki Commons
Daihatsu X-021 at the Osaka Auto Messe 2014. Photo: Wiki Commons
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Daihatsu X-021 at the Osaka Auto Messe 2014. Photo: Wiki Commons
Daihatsu X-021 at the Osaka Auto Messe 2014. Photo: Wiki Commons

European writer of Jalopnik, based in Budapest.

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DISCUSSION

Chariotoflove

Too bad they didn’t make it. They would have sold like hotcakes. I’d buy one now.