Concept Weekend Edition – Forbidden Colours: 1981 Mazda MX-81 "Aria" by Bertone


Here’s one for the Brown Car Appreciation Society, straight from the vault of Bertone. The 1981 MX-81 Aria, designed by Marc Deschamps is an attractively blocky hatchback with the best-looking glasshouse I’ve seen in ages. And pause for a moment to consider there’s a 1981 Mazda 323 GLC hidden underneath. That’s the magic of concept-car bodywork.

Forbidden Colours, then, is a song written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, with lyrics by David Sylvian. It was prominently featured in the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which in turn featured David Bowie buried up to his neck in sand.


The Aria is total ’80s, and reminds me of the Asso di Fiori concept that eventually became the Isuzu Piazza with seemingly zero modifications. It’s a kind of a shame the Aria didn’t make production, even if you can see details on it that were translated into the FC RX-7 for example.



Then there’s the dashboard with the CRT monitor steering… track? I’m going to be honest with you, that looks completely unsteerable.


You can also see Citroën BX or Volvo Tundra overtones in the design, and as Bertone styling house works those are genetically explainable.


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[Images: Mazda via]

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23 responses to “Concept Weekend Edition – Forbidden Colours: 1981 Mazda MX-81 "Aria" by Bertone”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    From what I know, the evolution of this design is as follows:
    1977 – Reliant FW11
    <img src="; width="600">
    1979 – Volvo Tundra
    <img src="; width="600">
    1981 – Mazda MX81 Aria
    <img src="; width="600">
    1982 – Citroën BX
    <img src="; width="600">
    In other words: The Bertone guys did know how to sell better than how to design. And the design did a circle from everyday cubism to crazy glasshouse cubism and back.

    1. julkinen Avatar

      <img src=""&gt;
      The Yugo Florida/Sana applies too.
      EDIT: No, it doesn't, it's Giugiaro. Scratch that, then.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        My communist uncle had one of those and he is still scratching.
        The Lada Samara (and all the three letter acronym Soviet variations) might be inspired by this design, too.
        <img src="; width="600">
        Generally speaking, the Italian design bureaus imho didn't really have a good decade in the 80s.

        1. julkinen Avatar

          From what I understand, the starting point for the Samara project was a Mk1 Golf – engineering-wise.

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            That's probably true. I was thinking about the general shape and appearance, that follows all the main styling cues of the Bertone design. Many other cars of Soviet origin had the same shape, examples:
            <img src="; width="600">
            Moskvich 2141 (AZLK):
            <img src=""&gt;
            But it's probably just the shape of the sinister hatchback that makes them all look like siblings.

          2. julkinen Avatar

            Yep. The IZH especially looks like a knock-off of a knock-off.
            As for the Aleko, remember this:
            <img src=""&gt;
            They used the Chrysler Simca Talbot Alpine 1307 as a blueprint, without batting an eye.

          3. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

            Even the pressed steel wheels are virtually identical. Imitation / Flattery etc.

          4. Sjalabais Avatar

            That's very interesting! I didn't know about the Simca-parallel. Seems odd now that I see it is all over the web. On the Wikipedia-page on the Aleko I especially like this insight into Russian bureaucracy:
            "It almost became the first production front-wheel drive car of the Soviet Union, but after development it took a further two years for Moskvitch to set up the manufacturing, and the Lada Samara arrived first."
            Holy macaroni! Has anyone here driven the Aleko? I've been in a Samara, but that was back in high school. The father of a friend of mine got a new job 120km away from home and bought the Samara with the following pledge: If the car would break down and he still had the job, he would have to get an apartment. If he found a job closer to home first, he would either go back to biking or get a decent vehicle. The catch was, he put down 300000 troublefree kilometres with just the appropriate maintenance before…well…he got divorced and moved. That's the last I heard of it, but I always think of him when I see a Samara.

          5. Jay_Ramey Avatar

            What's even crazier is that AZLK used the bodyshell of a Simca and outfitted the whole thing with a 2141 interior and drivetrain. So one actual Simca was used as a mule for the 2141 during its development.

        2. Jay_Ramey Avatar

          Whoa, good point. I never connected the Volvo Tundra to the 2108 in terms of design, seems to make sense now that you mention it.

  2. dukeisduke Avatar

    Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence? I loved that movie. The ending is pretty ironic.

  3. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    If you ever get the chance to look at early 80s issues of the journal "Car Styling" you'll notice an interesting trait about the dashboards of Japanese concept cars of that period. That is, you'll often note the presence of the keyboard from an actual pocket calculator, complete with +-/*, presumably solely to increase the button count.
    Or for working out re-entry equations.

    1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      You can never have enough buttons, dials, levers, lights or switches. I'm disappointed that none of the buttons on the control yoke of the preceding concept is red, or marked 'FIRE'. They probably retained the miscellaneous calculator button because it was easier to keep the calculator keypad, and it forms a nice rectangular block. Besides, in the glorious future, every car will have a computer! Might be handy to be able to keep up with your expense account on the road. But given how badly Volvo's band speedometer worked in practice, trading my steering wheel for a string of Tootsie Roll sausages doesn't inspire confidence.

  4. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    A handsome, crisp design. But a design that needed a lot of design development to be really sweet. It also looks like it would generate enormous frontal lift at speed. Not to mention that fixed side windows have never been popular, and that the bent rear glass would produce immense distortion and safety problems. I'm not sure that putting it on the piazza in front of the Milan cathedral was the finest ad exec decision either.

  5. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    But wasn't it nice to see (and see out of ) all that glazing.What exactly is the reason why we've gone from this level of glazing to gunslits like the Audi TT and new Camaro? Is it really because people don't feel safe being able to look out at the rest of the world? Have our vehicles become, not transport through, but refuge from, the world?

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      That is what they say. I think it is an embarrassment that even station wagons have windows so tiny that it is impossible to use them. The latest Hyundai and Peugeot station wagons in Europe are not even recommended sold without a parking help.
      Remember that Volvo SCC concept with glas-triangle-pillars? It never went live because of the additional cost, but a lot of cars would clearly benefit from something like that.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Since nothing happens on Hooniverse today and I don't have a life, I return to post this image from
        <img src="; width="600">
        Imho they saw something coming that the whole industry doesn't seem to care about. Or they just do the maths that people either buy and maintain complicated electronics in order to be able to park their cars – or scratch them off so their dealers get something to do. Classic win win from the industry's standpoint.
        Comparison a-pillar 2004 Volvo S40 and 1977 Volvo 242 (it has since only become worse):
        <img src="; width="600">
        <img src="; width="600">

        1. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

          It happens to the best. Or worst, since we're talking about visibility.
          <img src="×705.jpg&quot; width=500>
          (this is the best angle I could find)
          <img src="; width=500>
          (I think Jack Baruth posted a picture from the driver's seat, but I can't find it. It looked even worse. I can't fit my head into the one on my desk to check.)

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            Excellent follow-up! The practical limitations of the Lamborghinis I buy for small change and dirty love are a huge part of this everyday annoyance. And we haven't even started about the rear view or Isofix troubles yet.

        2. Vairship Avatar

          Strangely enough, that SCC A-pillar doesn't even look all that hard to manufacture. In my flawed memory I thought it was a 3-dimensional truss structure fabricated from little elements, but here it looks like a 2D structure that could be NC-cut or even pressed, then rolled into the right shape. Slap on some glass on the outside and Bob's your uncle!

  6. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    Can Babyshit Brown be the new Silver? Vote now…….

  7. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
    C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    In that Bertone design, I see SVX and Mistubishi Starion immediately.

  8. dr zero Avatar
    dr zero

    For some reason, I can see a bit of the 1989 323 Astina in the concept, despite the 8 year gap.
    <img src="; width=600>

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