I got my subscriber's copy of TopGear Magazine today, and it's an extra-large 20th Anniversary issue. Naturally, after hearing the tragic news that the Mazda Furai Concept burned to the ground in 2008, I immediately flicked through to the explanation. I won't scan or re-type the whole article because you should buy the magazine and I might get in trouble or something, but here are some choice quotes from the three-column article spread out with many tragic pictures I won't put you through the horror of looking at.
After The Stig and writer Bill Thomas had done the actual driving and opinionating (Some Say The Stig does so telepathically through a talking dog called Hubert), the camera crew had their turn to play with the stunning concept LMP car. Charlie Turner writes:
"As we've been shooting I've spotted the Furai's central exhaust spitting a thin cone of blue flames on downshifts. It's this I want to capture on our last run. [Mazda factory driver Mark] Ticehurst, duly instructed, heads off at pace, and Lee [Brimble] and I jump into the tracking vehicle and barrel after him, leaving the fire and support crews at the end of the runway. We catch the Furai over the crest of the runway (which rises in the middle) and track it down towards the far end.
As Ticehurst begins to slow for the turn and drops through the gears, things start to go wrong. The Furai is making a noise less Le Mans racer and more... fatally wounded elephant. "That doesn't sound good," mutters Lee.
As the Mazda straightens, Lee and I spot the same small lick of fire deep within the engine bay at the base of the bulkhead. Priceless concept. Flames. Ah.
"FIRE! OH GOD, IT'S ON FIRE!" I state calmly, resisting the urge to panic. Ticehurst can't hear me, so I bury the throttle to try to catch him and warn of the danger. Unsurprisingly, even a wounded, smoking Furai is faster than a people carrier."
Eventually they get close enough that frantic beeping and headlight flashing grabs Ticehurst's attention. They then shout (calmly) at him that it's on fire and he throws out the anchors, jumping out of the car before it was even stationary.
Where are the fire crew? On the other side of the rise in the runway, completely oblivious...
Mr. Turner promptly thrashes his unnamed MPV up the runway to get them, but they're too late. The car becomes engulfed as the wind blows the flames forwards towards the nose. They eventually get to the car, their hoses blasting shards of charred bodywork off with their force.
"One of the fire crew rips at a door to get better access to the bulkhead. Still burning, it comes off in his hand. At first, I'm annoyed at the disrespect he's showing this priceless, irreplaceable concept car. Then I realise that's like worrying the Titanic's deck chairs are getting damp."
"From spotting the first flame to staring at the soggy, scorched carcass of one of history's most beautiful concept cars has taken less than eight minutes. The Furai is dead. Dead with shocking speed, savagery and finality."
Oh, and to clear something up, I've seen a few comments that they put the wrong fuel in it. It seems this is false:
"As the ethanol burns, it's clear the game is up."
I suppose it's just the result of a racecar with a body designed more for beauty than engine-cooling getting too hot.