The story behind the Mazda Miata/MX-5’s beginnings is now legendary. Forty years ago, a journalist at Motor Trend named Bob Hall met with Kenichi Yamamoto and Gai Arai, both bigwigs at Mazda, and innocently said they should build a “simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, wind-in-the-hair, classically British sports car”―and an inexpensive one at that.
Shortly after the conversation, Mr. Hall got a product planning job at Mazda USA and the rest is history. Few could have predicted that a wee little roadster like the Miata would score so hard. It is now credited with being the inspiration behind many modern sports cars and roadsters, and as far as I’m concerned, it injected life in what was a fairly monotonous car industry back in the late 1980s.
Passion and enthusiasm
Mazda, like a good number of automakers, exudes passion for its products, but none more so than its famous roadster. The one millionth copy is going on a world tour, with around 14,000 engineers, employees, enthusiasts, owners, and media members signing this special car that will ultimately end up in the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima.
I’ve loved the Mazda Miata/MX-5 since day one. I like to recount the first time I drove one, back in the summer of 1999 (the song will be stuck in your head now; you’re welcome) where I could not leave the car be. I’d wake up at 1 a.m., go for a spin, return home, and sleep for an hour only to be back out on the road at 4 a.m.
This car made me happy. This car makes people happy. The Miata is a happy car.
Driving happy does not require hundreds of horsepower
Without diving into all the numbers, the Mazda Miata was never meant to be a high-volume, high-performance car. However, the company made sure that the level of driving involvement and pleasure was second to none. I’m telling you right now: Short of the Porsche Boxster/Cayman duo, no other car under $100,000 comes close to the elation that comes with driving even a 116-horsepower 1.6L 1990 Miata.
Big power was never the goal for the Miata, although some Chevy LS1 V8s and Ford 302 V8s have once been shoehorned under the bonnet. To this day, the 2004-2005 Mazdaspeed Miatas have held the highest output at 170 turbocharged horsepower.
Today’s 155-horsepower, fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 is as good as ever. Go ahead, try one. I know a guy who did and ended up trading his 1965 AC Cobra replica for one even though he initially had no intention to get rid of his dream car. Perhaps the Miata should come with a warning of some sort…
Shamefully, I do not own a Mazda Miata or MX-5, but I’ve lusted after it for more than 15 years. When the world tour of the one millionth car stopped in Toronto recently, I was surrounded by owners and their cars and took this opportunity to speak with a few of them.
The first Miata that caught my eye belongs to Rod and Sylvia. The two main reasons why this car intrigued me were the rare colour and its slightly lowered stance. Honestly, as soon as I spotted the grey-haired owners, my curiosity ascended to a whole other level.
It turns out that the couple has owned the car for over 15 years and driven great distances with it (Toronto-Los Angeles three times!). The clock on the car now reads 201,000 km. On top of that, they enjoy driving the car hard, which explains the suspension setup. But the real kicker is what’s under the hood. Rod and Sylvia’s first-gen Miata is equipped with a hard-to-find Jackson Racing supercharger, boosting power from 85 to 135 horsepower at the rear wheels! Remember, the car weighs just 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs)! I’ve got chills and they’re multiplying.
The couple could not be happier with their little roadster and it shows. It clearly has kept them very young at heart.
His first car
My next acquaintance pulled up in a recently plated Classic Red 1990 Miata. I was captivated as the average age of Miata owners typically far exceeds that of the 16-year-old boy who was sitting behind the wheel.
I learned that this was Sam’s first car and that he was very pleased with it after just a few hours of driving since the purchase. I needed to know why he had selected a Miata and―God bless his young soul―his answers were perfect. He wished to work on the car himself, and these Mazdas are both reliable and not that complicated to navigate the mechanicals.
Understand that when he mentioned “work,” he did not mean fix. Sam has plans for a suspension and other go-faster bits with the intent of auto-crossing his car in the near future. One of his friends was on hand, as well, and I loved when he said that the Miata was so good that he now needed to get one for himself.
The final couple I briefly talked to were, in a word, cool. Sadly, I did not get their names, but their Mazda Miata was a third-generation Club Edition―a model we never got in Canada.
The main differences are Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential (although these elements were available), and the possibility to order the car without a power retractable hard top. Yes, the core reason for the purchase, in fact, was the ability to save 36 kg (80 lbs).
The very young couple replaced a second-gen Miata with this one, lining it up in the driveway with their CX-3. Mazda truly speaks to these young people.
A million more times
The one millionth Miata is just about done trotting the globe. After Toronto, it will make its way to the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show and end its 20-stop North American tour before heading to Australia and then returning home in the Museum.
Although the act of autographing a Miata carries a little less importance than signing a constitution, I’m proud to have left a small mark on the car’s history.
It made me happy. That’s what the Mazda Miata/MX-5 does best.