Italdesign Ford Maya

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You can thank the Honda NSX for a number of things, but most notably its mix of a lightweight all-aluminum monocoque body, mid-mounted V6 engine, and incredible handling served notice to the world's sports car manufacturers—notably Ferrari, Lotus, and Porsche—that they could be beaten by any carmaker who tried hard enough.

Now imagine if that car was beaten by a year or two.

Introduced as an Italdesign concept car at the 1984 Turin Motor Show, the car was an evolution of the styling that also produced the mid-engined Lotus Etna, a more powerful V8-powered design.

Let's recall who was behind Italdesign: Car Designer of the Century (seriously, he won the award in 1999) Giorgetto Giugiaro.

After the motor show, Ford was like, "Uh…hey…let's see if we can make this work."

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After the first car was shown, things get a little bit more interesting. Ford commissioned Italdesign to complete a working prototype: the Maya would hit the road with a 140 horsepower 6-cylinder engine from the Ford Taurus…because the Yamaha-designed 220-horsepower engine which would appear in the Taurus SHO wasn't ready in time.

As an aside, wouldn't the Maya have been the perfect place for that engine?

Luckily for us, before Italdesign shipped that first road-going Maya to Ford for evaluation they allowed CAR Magazine to drive it! (A complete scan of the article is available here.)

It didn't begin well.

We are all set to go, but the Maya is not. It sits in a puddle of fluorescent green fluid, and it desperately needs petrol, lead-free petrol, of course. Enter a friendly mechanic, who examines Maya’s innards before he pours more green liquid into a plastic reservoir. ‘She loses coolant’, he confides, ‘but this should do for the morning.
— CAR Magazine

Concept car interior (click to expand)

Prototype interior (click to expand)

The road test goes into more detail than I'm able to in this format, but essentially: it turns heads, it handles very well, but the engine sucks. Differing from the concept is only really the steering wheel—the show car had every button known to humanity mounted on its boombox-like face.

Let's run down what made the Maya such a compelling design:

  • Targa top
  • 5-speed manual transmission
  • Unassisted steering that's—according to the road test—"…a delight to steer…"
  • Disc brakes all around
  • Fully-independent suspension
  • Neutral handling
  • All-steel monocoque body

The whole endeavour was very much thought out and headed for production it seemed. After the first prototype was delivered to Ford, they ordered two more; one in red (Maya II ES, believed to be fitted with the SHO engine), and one with a longitudinally-mounted engine (Maya II EM) that had a twin-turbocharged engine! 

You can tell the EM from the others by the vertical air intakes aft of the passenger compartment and longer, flat rear deck.

Where are the cars now? Could they have sold? Why didn't Ford produce it? Italdesign suggested that about 50 cars could be produced per day, at an on-sale MSRP of about $75,000 Usd.

As it stands, history is just that: history. But you bet if Ford knew that Honda was working on a mid-engined car, they would have probably given Maya the debut it deserved.


Sources / Recommended reading