Over the years, the Hall family made the natural progression upward: from the TD to a Triumph TR2, an Austin-Healey 100-6, and finally to a 1966 Healey 3000 Mark III. Bob and his identical-twin brother, Jim, were born in 1953 and before they began school, their father let them practice "driving" while seated in his lap. When other kids were playing baseball or riding bicycles, the Hall brothers were motoring around vacant parking lots in the family car while their indulgent father read the paper at the sidelines. When they weren't driving, the Hall twins attended sports car races during the sport's southern-California heyday at such tracks as Santa Barbara, Riverside, and Willow Springs.
After high school, Bob spent six weeks as an exchange student in Japan. Back in Los Angeles, he learned Japanese by reading comic books with a dictionary in hand and by listening to Japanese movie dialogue in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo district.
Bob Hall began his working career as a cub reporter at Motor Trend magazine. After reading a story about Japanese cars that was full of mistakes, Hall accosted Motor Trend's editor at an auto show demanding an explanation. The editor agreed with Bob Hall that the story was a mess and admitted firing its author. When he challenged Bob Hall to do a better job, Bob submitted a manuscript and won a staff position for his trouble.
Soon Bob Hall was Motor Trend's Japanese expert, which provided him with a free pass to the Land of the Rising Sun. In 1976, he met Kenichi Yamamoto, today's chairman of Mazda Motors, and formed a lasting friendship with the man who perfected the rotary engine. Hall planned to stay at Motor Trend for a year or so as a break form his studies at the University of California. Instead he stayed five years, outlasting three editors. His brother Jim also worked at Motor Trend before taking a job at General Motors.
In 1978, Bob Hall moved to a new position-the west-coast editor of Autoweek magazine. He had already made up his mind that his ultimate goal was to work at a car company, preferably Mazda. That dream came true late in 1981 when he was offered a job at the US arm of Mazda Research and Development, in the planning department.
The seeds for the car that would ultimately become the Mazda Miata had already been planted. On one of his journalistic pilgrimages to Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima, Bob Hall was invited to spend a few minutes in open discussion with Kenichi Yamamoto, at the time the head of R & D. Mr. Yamamoto posed the natural question, "What kind of car should Mazda make in the future?"
Bob Hall remembers his response, "I shifted into over drive. I babbled at 70 mph (in a trans-Pacific hodgepodge of English and Japanese) how the RX-7 is a neat car, an A-plus sports car, but the simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, wind-in-the-hair, classically-British sports car doesn't exist anymore. I told Mr. Yamamoto that somebody should build one and that the Mazda 323 (at that time a rear-driver) would make the perfect platform for an inexpensive roadster. He put on his poker face so I had no idea whether or not the idea was sinking in. We discussed it for a few minutes, then moved on to other subjects.
"Then when I got back to the US, I tried to promote the idea elsewhere. I wrote a column in Autoweek fostering the rebirth of the roadster and cajoled you into spreading the word to Car and Driver!" (As C/D's technical editor in 1980, I wrote a plea to all the world's econobox manufacturers suggesting that they recycle their obsolete sedans by fitting them with new soft-top, two-seat body work.)
"Then months later, when Mr. Yamamoto visited the R & D offices in southern California, he surprised me. With a glimmer in his eye, he turned and said, 'Hey Bob, what about your lightweight sports car? Why don't you study that!'"
Bob Hall quickly discovered two camps of thought when the notion of an inexpensive roadster was aroused: those who immediately understood and appreciated the idea and those who could not be convinced of its virtue. Unfortunately, the timing was bad in the early eighties because the Japanese had just launched their quest for unbridled high-technology. The doubters felt that a lightweight sports car wasn't "new" enough to fit in with Mazda's future plans.