A lucky listener of Boston’s WBUR, where Car Talk started way back in the 1970s (when Tom and Ray became volunteers), is going to drive away in the ultimate memento. When Car Talk closed its Cambridge offices, I got the office stapler—missing a piece of trim, I should add—but this listener is getting Tom’s last car, a 1993 Mazda Miata in what looks like battleship grey primer (but is maybe just dirt).
“It was an unusual choice for him,” Ray said. “Not because it was a convertible, or because it hadn’t been washed since the Clinton Administration. It was unusual for him because it was a rare Tom-car that started every day. Suddenly, he had no excuse for missing work, like he had with his ‘52 MGTD, his ‘63 Dodge Dart, his ‘74 Chevy, etc., etc.”
The thing of it is that although Tom would probably have resisted the “auto journalist” tag—sounds too much like work—that’s in essence what he was, providing service journalism with a smile and a wisecrack. And the Miata is fitting because these little Japanese cars are very popular with car scribes.
My Miata is a ’99 with 34,000 miles. I wanted one for ages, and spent years looking for just the right car, because that’s the way I am. Once I had the keys, I began to notice that many, many of my fellow ink-stained wretches drove Miatas, too. The principal reasons: a) We’re cheap; b) We’re poor—we drive fancy cars and stay in fancy hotels, but return to hovels; and c) we have a keen appreciation for cars that look and drive like Lotus Elans but don’t leave the landscape littered with parts “of the finest British manufacture.”
According to Sam Smith of Hagerty.com, “Car writers like Miatas for the same reason that ordinary people like Miatas: The cars are fun and pure of heart, and easy to keep alive. Add in a bit of motorsport heritage—there are more Miatas registered for club-level road racing in this country than literally any other car—and you've got a recipe for low-buck enthusiast catnip. The other big draw is cost. Or rather, lack of it. Almost anyone can afford a used Miata, and almost anyone can keep one running. Your dog could change the timing belt. A toddler could swap spark plugs. The cars are so light and so overbuilt that they go easy on everything—clutches and brake pads last forever."
It's almost comical how popular the Miata is among scribes. “I think all of us except one writer own or have owned a Miata,” said Travis Okulski, editor-in chief of [Road & Track](https://www.roadandtrack.com/). Okulski had a Miata as his first car, owned it for 16 years, then wrote an affectionate column when he sold it.
“Thing is, these cars don’t seem special if you look at a spec sheet,” Okulski said. “There’s nothing wildly innovative about them. But driving one worms its way into your heart. If you love driving, there isn’t a better, more affordable way to scratch the itch.”
Kyle Kinard, also of R&T, won his Miata in a Catholic school fundraising raffle in rural Idaho. "Never considered myself a 'Miata guy' before I drove the car home, now I can't imagine myself as anything else. With most classic car prices caught on the edge of an expanding bubble, it's nice to know that the Miata's simple, lovable, affordable charms are available to all. Everything on a Miata (save the soft top) is reliable as granite, even 30 years on."
Richard Chang, formerly the New York Times online auto editor and a producer at Red Bull Media House, never owned a Miata, but he understands the appeal. “I think a lot of has to do with the excellent handling and the fact it’s rear-wheel drive. That makes it the ideal autocross car, straight out of the box. Great driving dynamics. Low to the ground. Lightweight. Tighten the chassis with a roll-bar. Improve the suspension with some adjustable shocks. Throw on some good tires. And of course, it’s a roadster, so it’s fun with the top down. But mainly, cheap Japanese RWD cars that handle great will always have an auto journo following.”
Kate McLeod, whose work has appeared at Edmunds and Torque News and is finishing a musical called “I Love My Car,” was the proud owner of a 1993 Miata just like Tom’s, though undoubtedly kept in better condition. The car was a gift from her late husband, Jerry (“Dean of Auto Writers” Flint, who wrote for the* New York Times, *Wall Street Journal and Forbes.
“Jerry was so excited about giving me that car that he also got me a vanity license plate—LUCKYGRL,” McLeod says. “Driving that car for me was a different experience than driving other cars. As you know we drive pretty much everything, but in the Miata, I was one with the road, so connected from my brain to the manual shifter to the feet. I loved the understeer, flipping around the corners on the Taconic Parkway. I knew when I was in that little two-seater that I was GirlDriver, USA.”
Canadian car writer Benjamin Hunting often told me of his adventures with his Miata track car, including its sad end. “My Miata was smote by the hand of fate,” he said, “In other words, it drowned.” After a flash flood in Montreal, “The entire vehicle had been submerged for a two-day period and was now a mess of water, mud, and mold. The convertible that I cared for and campaigned for three years was a total loss.” Sad, eh? But Miatas are cheap and I’m sure he’ll get another one eventually.
I almost bought a Miata from my friend Eric Evarts, whose auto writing experience includes Consumer Reports and the Christian Science Monitor. But at the last minute, he told me he couldn’t bear to part with it.
“I bought my Miata after driving new test cars every week, as many as 2,000 of them,” said Evarts. “That kind of exposure to super-high-performance cars, luxury cars, convertibles and sporty cars confirmed the old adage: It really is more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow. Or as a fellow auto writer put it, you can be wailing on a Miata and having the time of your life, and then look down at the speedometer and you’re nowhere near getting a ticket.”
Evarts believes in having one vintage automobile at a time (I have two myself). “For years, I had as my collector car an original VW Beetle, which always brought people onlookers out of the woodwork to say hi and tell a story about one they had, or a beloved relative, or one they rode in a lot. But the Beetle was old, and always needed work. I eventually realized that I wanted a car that I could just have fun driving around, not one that I had to spend more time working on than driving. So I sold my Beetle and bought a reliable Miata that I could have a blast with on sunny Fridays.” As to his aborted effort to sell me the car, “I couldn't bear to part with it.”
I can’t bear to part with mine, either. I’ve sold four cars since buying it, but the Miata stays right where I can get at it easily. So how about it, wanna drive a conversation piece—Tom Magliozzi’s Miata? It comes with his original neglect intact.