The cars we loved.
Think of Mexico and what comes to mind? Not cars, even though many are made there in factories from the US Big three and others. For most, the images are not good and certainly the perception is that Mexico could not produce its own home grown car. All of this is why the founders of a long time bus building company set out to build what would be Mexico’s first real sports car. The Mastretta MTX would be that car. Mastretta Automotive was founded by two brothers Daniel and Carlos Mastretta who would follow in the shoes of Diana and VAM, two south of the border car companies who built cars in Mexico as far back as the 1950s and 60s.
Unlike those trailblazers, Mastretta’s car would go a step further and be completely designed, engineered and built in Mexico without an outside company supplying major components or pulling marketing strings. The very ideal of a Mexican made sports car forced the question, what does Mexican sports car design look like? The answer would come oddly enough in 2008 at the British International Motor Show. The Mastretta MTX (MTX for Mexico Transverse Engine) would be a compact car intended to compete with the Lotus Elain. The show car was a prototype with a 115 hp VW four cylinder engine from the fourth generation Jetta. The overall look was reminiscent of a mashup of Nissans Mid-4 concept car of the 80’s with vaguely Lamborghini, Lotus and Ferrari elements. Interesting and unique, the MTX created a great deal of speculation and skepticism. Skeptics were encouraged further by the protracted development cycle that lasted for years until final production and release in 2011.
The few cars released to the media as of the summer of 2010 have been nearly complete prototypes. Some almost dealer ready while others were using stand-in components. For the most part, the most important elements like the aluminum bonded chassis, mid mounted powertrain and 2.0 litre engine was in place. At 240 hp, the turbocharged Ford Duratec engine tuned by Cosworth was capable of moving the lightweight MTX to a top speed of nearly 150 mph with a 0 to 60 time in the low 5 second range. The engine also promises to be as durable as any in a Ford (ha take that Lotus!).
Inside the cozy two seat quarters was a simple race car inspired interior with a control console that is the model of simplicity. The dashboard design itself resembled a deconstructionist sculpture with its exposed surfaces and odd openings. It’s very stark, but was intended strictly for the business of driving as opposed to entertaining the driver with electronic distractions. Low profile tires on 17” rims fitted topped off with Borla exhaust and Hella Xenon headlights complete the package. Early information suggests that all MTX cars will be equipped with manual five speed transmissions, combined with the lack of air conditioning and stereo should heighten its serious driver street cred.
Although the reviews based on late prototypes were encouraging in print publications like EVO and Autocar, some reviewers were not so kind. England’s Top Gear Magazine was the source of one of the most scathing reviews, prompting Mastretta to make some running changes. Mr. Clarkson’s mean spirited (but funny) review seemed to ignore the fact that nearly all of what’s left of the English automotive industry worth having is foreign owned. The fact that Masertta responded with improvements instead of arguments suggests that if the Mexicans were willing to offer solutions instead of excuses. Driven by national pride, the Masertta work ethic suggests that the MTX might become a contender that may one day warrant less bias from the (English) press.
The European market remains as one of the most important to Mastretta, as evidence by their arrival first in Europe vs. Mexico’s own International Autoshow. The 150 cars expected to be produced are in 2011 are destined mostly for Europe and the United States with only 45 slated for sale in Mexico.
Daniel Masettra summed it up best when he said that “we needed to produce a great car because Mexico had no tradition of producing sophisticated sports cars”. Even with the relatively small numbers, the MTX might become a hit with its target market. For those who might want an occasional track day weekend racer that can be driven every day at the cost of a Ford Focus ST, the MTX might be the car. At around $60,000 (USD), the price is similar to the Elise, so the MTX will have to do more than offer better performance (a tough challenge). For some the novelty of being the rare “Mexican sports car” might be enough.