TOKYO – There is something fishy about Mazda Motor Corp.'s Senku 4-seat rotary-engine concept car.

Its exterior is reminiscent of the dramatic stainless steel finish that makes the DeLorean sports car memorable even today, nearly 30 years after the last one was built.

But unlike the Delorean, the Senku is painted.

Its designer was inspired by a sushi chef's knife.

Franz von Holzhausen, director of Mazda's California design studio, says Senku designer Atsuhiko Yamada was struggling to find a way to make the concept stand out.

Mazda Senku concept

Dining one night at a sushi restaurant, Yamada became enamored of the chef's gun-metal gray blade. From that grew an experiment with a paint supplier von Holzhausen will not name.

“Only one guy in the world knows the formula,” he tells Ward's.

Richard Parry-Jones, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president-global product development, says the key rests with the miniscule metallic flakes in the paint.

Mazda and its supplier partner found a way to align all the flakes perfectly, creating the illusion of metal, says Parry-Jones, who has executive responsibility for Mazda by virtue of Ford's 33% stake in the Japanese auto maker.

The Senku's paint job doesn't have implications for mass production projects, Parry-Jones says. “It's very difficult.”

However, it is not the first time Mazda has been able to manipulate metal flakes to its advantage. When the MPV minivan was redesigned for '02, Mazda worked with Japan-based supplier Flex Products to achieve a high-contrast paint. (See related story: Flaky Paint a Study in Contrast)

Well received here at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Senku signals the future direction of Mazda sports cars, the auto maker says. (See related story: Mazda to Debut Senku Concept, New MPV at Tokyo)

emayne@primediabusiness.com