Shunji Tanaka, former head designer of Kawasaki, has passed away at the age of 75. You may be familiar with Kawasaki’s then-radically designed bikes which were a sharp departure from its models in the ’80s moving on to the ’90s. I’m talking about machines like the early generation ER-6N, as pictured above, as well as the early Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R sportbikes.
Back then, Shunji Tanaka was responsible for breathing new life to Kawasaki, as the 2000s were undoubtedly a sharp turning point for all companies in the motorcycle and automotive industries. Indeed, we still see hints of Tanaka’s designs even in today’s crop of Kawasaki naked and sportbikes. According to Tanaka, every single project had to give emotions. This ethos, in fact, still holds true for Kawasaki’s designs, as evidenced by the likes of the Z1000 and its Sugomi styling, as well as the radical designs of the Ninja and Z H2 range of supercharged machines.
Before modernizing Kawasaki’s bikes, Shuji Tanaka was also the Chief Designer of Mazda, wherein he was responsible for designing one of the most popular sports cars in the world, the Miata. Known as either the Miata, Eunos Roadster, or MX-5, depending on where in the world you’re from, this tiny little sports car proved that you didn’t need big power in order to have an awesome driving experience. Its friendly design made it look like it was happy just to be around, and gave off an aura that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously.
It goes without saying that Shunji Tanaka has left quite the legacy in both the motorcycle and automotive industries. Both Kawasaki and Mazda continue to build on what Tanaka started, with Kawasaki’s sportbikes looking sharper and more aggressive than ever, as well as Mazda’s MX-5 now looking like a more serious, grown-up sports car.