Open up, take a seat, drive off: some mazda engineers transformed a suitcase into a subcompact car in 1990
Instead of walking through endless corridors, overpasses and underpasses and the same duty-free stores to the S-Bahn or the cab stand after landing at the airport, you open the suitcase you brought with you, sit down in it and drive off. What sounds like an absurd idea became reality for a handful of mazda engineers in the early nineties. The developers built a vehicle that fit into a suitcase – and thus anticipated today’s micromobility with its e-scooters, hoverboards and monowheels.
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Mazda organized the "fantasyard" ideas competition in the early nineties, in which groups from different divisions competed against each other. Here, seven engineers from the transmission department launched the suitcase car. the idea convinced the organizers and the developers were given a small budget to realize the concept.
From today’s perspective, the fantasyard competition seems to have fallen out of time in view of ever tighter budgets and increasingly competitive markets. On the threshold between the eighties and the nineties, however, it fit in with the spirit of the times. At that time, mazda, which was originally founded in 1920 as a cork manufacturer and repeatedly made headlines with unusual ideas, scaled unprecedented heights in entrepreneurial terms.
Mazda rushed from success to success
The MX-5 sports car launched in 1989 not only turned out to be a success, it also saved the roadster segment from extinction. in 1991, mazda even achieved the greatest success in the company’s history: with the 787B, the manufacturer won the 24 hours of le Mans for the first time. It was the first overall victory for a Japanese car – and the only one so far in a race with a Wankel engine.
the suitcase car: a car for the luggage compartment
So things were going well at mazda – and for the engineers it was the perfect opportunity to devote themselves to ideas like the box car in addition to their everyday tasks. With the budget for the fantasyard competition, the developers bought the biggest samsonite suitcase they could find and a so-called pocket-bike, a motorcycle in – as if it had been invented for this purpose – pocket format.
1.7 hp and 30 km/h maximum speed
They then installed the engine’s 34-cubic-centimeter, 1.7-hp two-stroke engine in the 57-centimeter-wide and 75-centimeter-long case. the resulting vehicle is as simple as it is ingenious: you unfold the luggage compartment, insert the two rear wheels into holes provided for this purpose, open a flap in the other half of the case, insert the front wheel through it and take up space between the rear wheels. According to Mazda, it takes just one minute – and then you can travel short distances at airports or train stations at speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour. However, the car did not have road approval.
with these figures, the speedster and its creators won the fantasyard competition in 1990. the prize was presented by long-time mazda boss kenichi yamamoto, who was also responsible for mazda’s wankel engine program. After that, mazda’s luggage van had a short career as a company ambassador. The suitcase was shown on Japanese television and also attracted the interest of international media. That was so big that mazda had two more examples made. One went to the USA, the other to Europe, where it was exhibited at the 1991 IAA alongside the 787B racing car.
But the euphoria lasted only a short time. after 1991, the fantasyard contest was discontinued due to the economic crisis that hit japan after the bursting of a real estate bubble in the early nineties. The original prototype fared little better; it was shown on Japanese television until 1994, but was later destroyed in an accident. According to the company, it is not known where the european model remained, but according to mazda, the suitcase car destined for the u.s. does exist.
32 kilograms and not exactly economical
the fact that nowadays travelers do not more often turn their suitcases into vehicles after getting out of the car is most likely due to the limited utility value of the speeding piece of luggage, in addition to the dangers posed by the fuel it contains. Although series production was never planned, with a weight of 32 kilograms it is not really suitable for travel and exceeds the weight restrictions of many airlines. At the same time, it is anything but economical; according to mazda, it only manages about 20 kilometers on one liter of fuel.