I Want an MX-5 Miata

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Feb 06, 2013

I want a Miata. Am I crazy? I think not. It’s probably the most sensible fun purchase I could make right now.

I looked at this Miata around the time of Hurricane Sandy--see the fallen leaves? (Jim Motavalli photo)OK, I don’t need a Miata, I just want one. It’s not the most practical car in the world (two seats, snug fit, not much good in the winter weather we have here on the east coast) but if I’m going to be buying a two-seat roadster it’s by far the most reliable, cheap and easy to find. I could want a Jaguar E-Type, a Kaiser-Darrin, a Morgan, an Austin-Healey 3000, a 230 SL Mercedes. Actually, I do want a 230 SL but I’m fully aware that they’ve soared outside my price range.

The Miata, the world’s bestselling sports car, has many advantages, including the fact that it was made in great numbers since 1990 (about a decade after the last non-dependable MGBs and Triumph TR8s were produced). The Miata was developed in Japan and the U.S., and combines the solidity of the former with the tastes of the latter. It has echoes of the Lotus Elan, but you don’t have to spend weekends on your back repairing it.

The MX-5 Miata is innovative. Edmunds points out, “The Miata deserves credit not only for reviving a dormant passion for roadsters, but for emboldening other manufacturers to pursue what at first seem to be whimsical ideas—and turn out to be good business. If it weren’t for the Miata, there probably wouldn’t be a Dodge Viper, Volkswagen New Beetle, new Ford Thunderbird, Chrysler PT Cruiser or Chevrolet SSR.” Yes, some of those cars (especially the handsome but stiff ‘Bird) are best forgotten, but the point is made—boldness can sell.

Two years in, before the end of 1992, Mazda passed the 250,000 milestone with Miata sales. By early 1999, it hit 500,000, and 750,000 was achieved in early 2007. The Miata never went out of production because it keeps selling, through a few facelifts and upgrades. Still, I’m partial to the earlier ones, with the covered headlights. A major benefit for me is that the big production numbers led to a whole cottage industry producing Miata parts and add-ons. It's nice to feel wanted. Very few companies support my Borgward passions. And people really go to town customizing these cars, and there are plenty of V-8-powered Miatas out there, reflecting various degrees of expertise. How about an MX-5 with a Corvette engine?

 Yes, that really is a Mazda MX-5 with a Corvette LS1 V-8 shoehorned in. It reportedly does zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds (with bald tires, the owner said), and will scare Ferraris. (Jim Motavalli photo)Because so many were made, they’re thick on the ground, and pretty cheap. Should I buy this one, from Craigslist? “MAZDA MIATA CONVERTABLE. MX5, 5 SPEED, MANY NEW PARTS. CLUTCH. CLUTCH MASTER, RUNS GREAT. 165,000 MILES SOME RUST ON REAR FENDERS, SEE PICS, ASKING $1,450.” Nah, despite the cheap price it sound beat, the rear quarters (a watch area on these cars) are pretty rusty, and I don’t like the fact the owner spelled it “convertable.”  
There are so many Miatas out there! Rusty cars, cars with bent lower control arms (“$100 in parts to fix!”), cars with high mileage, cars that have been raced (is it me, or do those roll bars really get in the way?) or pristine examples with big price tags. It’s an embarrassment of riches for an old car trader like me.
I intend to buy a car in the spring because, well, why would you buy a Miata in the winter? The car above is one I looked at around the time of Hurricane Sandy, but despite a great location (it was on the next street) I decided it had too many issues and I’d hold off for a while. I don't mind a fixer-upper--I took countless Volvos, BMWs and Dodge Darts from rough to ready. My price range: $1,500 to $4,000. It happens that I haven’t bought a car in decades, though I used to trade them like baseball cards. It’s the old story, you get married, have kids, settle down and the passions of youth fade into the background. I don’t actually have an empty nest, but it’s heading in that direction.
I’ll keep you informed as I look at likely suspects. My friend Eric, also a car writer and with approximately my profile, bought a Miata recently. Maybe it’s something car guys do at some point in their long journey on life’s winding highway.

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