Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 Published: 5th Oct 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mazda MX-5

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Early 1.6
  • Worst model: Later 1.6
  • Budget buy: 1.8-litre cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3975 x 1680mm (Mk2)
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • Club support: Top-notch
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Proof that you don’t need deep pockets to have plenty of fun
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Mazda’s blueprint for today’s everyday sports car that’s now 25 years old. Fun to drive, easy to own, utterly reliable and good value, it’s hard not to like the ‘new’ MGB although it’s more classical than an accepted classic – for now

With its classic rear-wheel drive transmission, all-round doublewishbone suspension and light weight, the MX-5 is the best modern sports car around full stop. Granted, it revived a concept seen decades earlier, but if it wasn’t for the MX-5, there’s a very good chance we wouldn’t have seen all those other affordable two-seater roadsters that proliferated in the 1990s. With its slick gearchange, perfect poise and beautifully weighted steering, the Mazda is one of the best ever drivers’ cars and it’s a recipe that Mazda hasn’t meddled with since its introduction into the UK a quarter of a century ago as you can discover in our road test of the latest generation elsewhere in this issue. But whatever MX-5 you opt for you’ll enjoy a real sports car that’s useable and affordable. Small wonder it’s hailed as the new MGB that 25 years on just gets better and better.


1990 The MX-5 goes on sale in 114bhp 1.6-litre form (unit taken from the 323 hatchback). There are just six exterior colours and two optional extras; metallic silver paint and an optional hard top.

1991 An officially approved Brodie Britain Racing (BBR) turbocharger conversion becomes available, pushing power up to 150bhp and torque to 154lb ft. ABS is also standard on the BBR, while the limited editions also start being released.

1991 The Racing Green and Le Mans specials surface, the latter to mark Mazda winning the event that year.

1992 The Special Edition complete with a tan interior and black paintwork but no mechanical changes is launched.

1993 Another Special Edition arrives, the SEII, with the same colour scheme as before but even more titivations.

1994 At long last a faster 1.8-litre engine replaces the previous 1.6-litre unit, with 130bhp on tap. There’s a standard car or a higher-spec 1.8iS edition. Safety side impact bars are fitted from this point on.

1995 A 1.6-litre car becomes available again, but now with just 88bhp. There are also a couple of further special editions released; the California and Gleneagles.

1996 Even more special editions for this year, in the form of the Monaco and Merlot.

1997 You guessed it… yes even more limited editions. This year’s are the Monza, Dakar and Harvard.

1998 The final Mk1 limited edition is the Berkeley before a facelifted Mazda MX-5 goes on sale, dispensing with the Lotuslike pop-up headlamps of the original. The new model has an all-new bodyshell, a glass rear window, revised cabin and more power. There’s 1.8i and higher-spec 1.8i S versions available, latter featuring power windows and mirrors plus alloy wheels.

1999 The Special Edition makes a return, with a 1.8-litre engine, green paint and a tan leather interior. There’s also a 10th Anniversary edition with blue paint and roof. The UK gets 600 copies.

2000 This year’s specials include the Isola and California, both with a 1.6-litre engine. The Icon and Jasper Conran meanwhile have a 1.8-litre powerplant.

2001 A facelift brings standard ABS, electric windows, central locking and a more prominent front bumper. The 1.8i S is replaced by the 1.8 Sport. These cars are known as the Mk2.5.

2002 The limited editions return with a vengeance. This year there are the Phoenix and Arizona with either a 1.6-litre engine or a 1.8-litre unit. There are also the Montana and Trilogy with the bigger powerplant only.

2003 The Angels and Nevada are this year’s specials in 1.6 or 1.8-litre forms; the Indiana gets a 1.8 engine only.

2004 There are yet more specials; the Euphonic and Arctic. Both come in 1.6 or the better 1.8-litre forms.

2005 The MX-5 Mk3 is launched in August with a more macho look and 2-litre power. It is also based upon the floorpan of the larger RX-8 and later on boasted a metalroofed Roadster but initial Mk3’s were criticised for a duller driving experience. There’s still time for yet another special edition on MK2s. This time it’s the Icon (again), and once again there’s a choice of 1.6 or 1.8-litre versions.


When 1960s racer turned respected journalist Paul Frere drove the MX-5 at its launch in the summer of 1989, it was clearly a car that was long overdue. Writing in Fast Lane, Frere noted: “For sheer, inexpensive fun, there is nothing to beat a well balanced, rear-wheel drive car with a front engine and a short gear lever rigidly mounted on a good, close-ratio five-speed gearbox. That is where the Miata (he drove a US-spec car) comes in. It has all the charm and basic features of the traditional British sportscar of the past with all the improvements modern techniques and computer-aided design have brought”.

Frere continued: “The Miata is very lively, though owners should take care not to tease the better of the hot hatchbacks, as in most cases the Miata would come out second best. But sheer performance is not the Miata’s target. Winding country roads are its favourite element, and here few cars, whatever the price, could be more fun to drive. The front end seems to be glued to the road. Understeer is as alien to the Miata as nippiness is to the Phantom VI. It responds to the slightest touch of the wheel and if under steady cornering anything gets out of line it is the rear, though it will cling on up to quite high lateral g if not provoked”.

When the first UK-spec cars landed here a few months later, Fast Lane was no less enthusiastic about this new icon: “Mazda has moved the goalposts with its new MX-5, unquestionably redolent of the ’60’s Elan. It is a long time since a major manufacturer produced such a car. It is the first time the Japanese have done so, and if the MX-5 proves to be a runaway success, as it currently threatens to do, we can be sure it won’t be the last”.

With the front-wheel drive Elan being launched around the same time, it was inevitable that comparisons between the two cars would be made, even though the Lotus was significantly more costly. Simon Arron drove both, concluding: “Climbing out of the Elan I was gobsmacked. It was quick, comfortable and handled well. At first, I even thought it was quite fun. Then I tried the MX-5, and in retrospect the Lotus seemed anaesthetic in comparison”.

When the MX-5 Mk2 arrived in 1998 it adorned the cover of the very last issue of Performance Car, pitted against the MGF and BMW Z3. The loss of its pop-up headlights was a shame, but chunkier sills and wider, lower-profile tyres improved the Mazda’s stance so it looked more purposeful.

Over several pages, the mag’s road testers explored every facet of each car but in the end it was the Mazda that took the spoils. The verdict came: “The MX-5 wins. Compared with the original, it’s a more mature car both in looks and attitude. Mazda has evolved it, lifted its dynamics onto a higher plane, and while it’s not as playful, it retains the original’s natural agility and responsiveness, and its sense of fun. Interior apart, it’s a better car all round and the best car here. Here’s to the next eight years at the top”.

Mind you, not everybody was so taken by this quintessentially British sports car from Japan. One famous Car columnist reckoned that if Mazda was so keen on showing us how to make a classic roadster for modern use it should have designed in ill fitting doors, a leaky roof and even a dashboard button to deposit a shot of engine oil on the driveway…

Of course if you buy a good MX-5 you’ll avoid these ‘pleasures’. Instead, you’ll have a highly useable and pleasing all weather sportster that boasts modern conveniences, rep-mobile reliability, a great fast-acting hood (there’s also a powered metal-topped option on the Mk3), good luggage capacity and fine driving manners when called upon. Small wonder so many classic enthusiasts run MX-5s as sensible daily drivers as well as second classics.


Chris Loader runs The MX-5 Restorer (www. in East Sussex, with business founder Gareth Smith. The company gets involved in every aspect of MX-5s, including sales of parts and cars, servicing and it’s even developed its own Speedster edition ( Says Chris: “Enthusiasts want the Mk1 because it’s got the purest design. Those pop-up headlamps set off the car’s looks and it has an aesthetic appeal that the later cars can’t match.

“A lot of these earlier models are now very rusty which is why you can pick one up from just £600. But such cars will need a lot of TLC in subsequent years which is why you’re better off spending between £2000 and £2500 on something that’s been looked after and which won’t need immediate expenditure. Those prices are for a Mk1; buy a Mk2 instead and you can get something decent for as little as £1800, although a Mk2.5 is more desirable which is why you’ll have to pay upwards of £2500 to secure something good.

“While a lot of Mk1 MX-5s are very tired, there are some cherished cars out there in superb condition. Track down a rust-free, low-mileage perfect Mk1 and you’ll pay anywhere between £3000 and £4500 for it. But some of the special editions can be worth even more – anything between £4500 and £6000. If you’re able to find a really superb Le Mans you could pay up to £10,000 for it.

“In terms of imports, I personally prefer the Eunos to the official UK-spec MX-5, as they’re always less rusty and better equipped. They all come with air-con and electric windows for example, and if you’re lucky there might be some JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) parts fitted”.

The Mk2 is significantly heavier than the Mk1, but it’s also noticeably more refined. As a result a bit of the agility and some of the feedback is lost, but the Mk2 and Mk2.5 interiors also have a more modern feel than the Mk1. As a result, each derivative has its own followers; it’s worth sampling each so you can work out which you prefer.


Chris Loader comments: “In standard form the MX-5 is a brilliant car and I don’t think it needs any modifications because it’s so great to drive and very easy to use. But there are lots of things you can do to tailor the car to be whatever you want. If you have a 1.6-litre car and you want to drive it hard, a simple 1.8-litre brake upgrade will improve stopping power. This uses the carriers from the 1.8-litre car; you can pick up the parts second-hand for around £100”.

The Mk1 has adjustable timing which can be set to 14 degrees instead of 10.

This allows the engine to become more free-revving so it feels slightly quicker. Also, while the Mk1 1.6-litre engine revs nicely, the 1.8 can feel as though it’s struggling to breathe. By changing the exhaust manifold, downpipe, middle and rear box the exhaust gases can exit more quickly. To get the best results, remove the standard induction system and fit an aftermarket kit which will greatly improve the Mk1 1.8.

If you want to upgrade the suspension, The MX-5 Restorer recommends Gaz Gold Pro coil-overs. Says Chris: “Once set up the ride is completely transformed, inspiring much more confidence in the handling of the car”. Most MX-5 experts say don’t go made with wider tyres as it spoils the car, as Mazda even found out with some special editions.

All MX-5s come with cats. On imports these can be legally removed from cars on an F, G, H, J, K or L-plate. There’s a changeover period on L so if you have a late one the cat would be required for an MoT. Removing the cat allows the engine to breathe better, increasing power and making the engine more responsive.

What To Look For


  • Engines rack up 200,000+ miles if looked after; Mazda recommended maintenance every 9000 miles or annually, but a caring owner will have done it every 6000 miles instead.
  • Because the cylinder head is alloy, the antifreeze level should have been maintained to prevent internal corrosion. The cam belt should also have been renewed within the last five years or 60,000 miles.
  • The earliest engines, which are the most sought after, are also the ones most likely to give problems. The water pump wears, so listen for knocking. A specialist will typically charge £120 to replace the pump, with a new belt usually £200.
  • Some early cars suffered from a worn crankshaft pulley woodruff key. Most cars are sorted by now, but check anyway; the faulty pulleys had four slots while the stronger design features eight.
  • An oil weep is normal, but there shouldn’t be lubricant all over the engine bay. The culprit is the cam sensor’s O-ring, at the rear of the engine; it’s an easy fix and even a specialist shouldn’t charge more than £50 to do the work.
  • All MX-5s featured a catalytic converter. Corrosion of the system is also an issue, but there are plenty of aftermarket suppliers who can provide something sportier, cheaper and more durable.
  • Any car with a BBR turbo conversion tends to get through exhausts more quickly than a standard car, because of the increased exhaust temperatures so it’s a good move if a stainless one is now fitted.


  • Earlier cars tend to survive better than later ones; according to expert Chris Loader, the least rusty MX-5s tend to be Eunos editions on a G- or H-plate.
  • Even though the MX-5’s panels are galvanised, major (or at least significant) corrosion tends to be a common problem. There’s also the spectre of poor crash repairs to deal with; having rear-wheel drive means it’s not unusual for an MX-5 to leave the road backwards in a fairly big way.
  • The key areas to check include the sills, wheelarches, sill end plates, front and rear jacking points, floor rails and the chassis rails too. Also be on the lookout for low-quality patching of corrosion; puting this right can be more costly than just doing the job correctly in the first place.
  • Also check the front wheelarches, which can bubble, and bear in mind that early cars can suffer from corroded door jambs, because the kick plates originally fitted allow water to collect underneath. The problem was quickly fixed, and Mazda sorted most claims under warranty, but it’s worth removing the trim to check their state, as it’s held in place by just two screws.
  • The boot is shallow, and some owners overfill it then slam the bootlid down, damaging it in the process. The bulge that results is obvious and not easy to remove; short of fitting a used bootlid, there may be very little you can do depending on the extent of the damage.


  • Don’t be put off by a grey import; to satisfy demand in the early days, many cars were imported from their homeland. The game is given away by the Eunos badging (which may have been swapped for MX-5 parts), along with a smaller number plate plinth in the bootlid. Despite reports to the contrary, these cars are built to the same standards as UK-market cars, and in many cases the Japanese-market editions are better equipped but the flip side is that they usually lack any service history.
  • If you’re considering buying an MX-5 and you’re in Sussex, think about taking it along to The MX-5 restorer, as Gareth and Chris offer a free pre-purchase inspection service that could save you shed loads.
  • Although interiors are generally durable, check the driver’s seat, which wears down the side; it’s a natural consequence of the driver getting in and out. Aftermarket seats and decent standard used items aren’t hard to find, but it’s still a useful bargaining point all the same.
  • Also check the hood, which lasts reasonably well but can suffer if the car has been cleaned badly (especially in a car wash) or not at all. The rear screen tends to get scratched; before stowing it should be unzipped or it’ll get creased. Also have a look at what state the zip is in; they often get broken by ham-fisted owners. Replacement hoods aren’t that expensive at £160 for a vinyl one; you can even get a mohair replacement complete with a glass rear screen for just £349. However, don’t forget that fitting a fresh roof can be laborious and costly; if the frame is damaged as well, it’ll be costly to put it all right.
  • The electrics are generally reliable, but check that the pop-up headlamps are working properly; their motors sometimes stick. If you’re looking at a Eunos, ask if it has air conditioning; if it has, make sure it’s working properly. Also check that the electric windows work properly, as the motors can burn out. They’re easy to replace; expect to pay £80 per side for replacement units.


  • Part of the MX-5’s charm is its ultra-sweet and beautifully direct gearchange. However, over time it can get sticky if the linkages aren’t lubricated, so go up and down through the box on a test drive and make sure all’s well – pay particular attention to the change between second and third gears. If any lubrication is needed, it’s an easy DIY job.
  • All UK-supplied cars were fitted with a five-speed manual, but those built for the Japanese market (badged Eunos) were offered with a four-speed auto. Buy one of these and you’re missing out on one of the most satisfying aspects of piloting an MX-5, but if you really feel the need to take the slush-box route, there shouldn’t be any reliability issues.
  • For a rear-wheel drive sports car, the MX-5’s suspension components are surprisingly durable. Shock absorbers and springs should last 100,000 miles, although many will have fitted aftermarket parts well before that mileage has been racked up. Bushes aren’t so long-lived, but they should still last at least 60,000 miles. Any car that’s needed fresh bushes well before this has probably been thrashed to within an inch of its life at every opportunity – so ask seller how many sets of bushes the car has had.
  • The Mazda doesn’t tend to get through tyres very quickly. However, many owners get rid of their car just as a new set of boots is due, so make sure there’s still plenty of tread on each corner.
  • Most (but not all) of these early MX-5 were fitted with alloy wheels; many of those that were initially supplied with steel wheels have had alloy replacements by now. Whatever is fitted, check the state of the finish – especially if the original Mazda items are fitted. Over time these tend to suffer from pitting after the wheels have got caked in brake dust then just left. It’s just cosmetic; reviving tired alloys is a straightforward job at around £35 per wheel.


Three Of A Kind

In period there were some who felt the Z3 wasn’t as dynamically accomplished as a BMW should be, but unless you drive the car on its door handles you’re not likely to notice any shortcomings. Choose from efficient four-cylinder engines and glorious straightsixes, including the rare and ultra-quick M Roadster. All are well screwed together but the four-pot cars are the most reliable of the lot.
It’s amazing how much MG you can buy for under £1,000, but while these cars are great fun, you have to tread carefully. Corrosion tends not to be too much of an issue, but tired Hydragas suspension on the F along with failed head gaskets on the F and TF are both a common spectre. Best buy is a non-VVC manual car, as the CVT is nasty and the VVC engine goes out of tune too easily.
With three generations to choose between – all eminently affordable – you’re spoiled for choice. All are mid-engined but it’s only the third-generation car which is a true convertible – and it’s also the most compromised of the lot in terms of practicality as there’s no boot space at all. But if you want a sports car that’ll just keep working and which is a blast to drive, then look no further.


Blissful to drive, well screwed together, durable plus cheap to buy and run, the Mazda really has got the lot. It’s not even that impractical either; as long as you don’t need to cart much stuff about the Mazda makes perfect sense even if you need to do the weekly shopping in it. What more could you ask for? Well, if it’s exclusivity, then look elsewhere because MX-5s are everywhere and for that reason more classical than a real classic – but don’t let that put you off! The Mk1 and Mk2s are most fun, the Mk3 the more palatial but common to all is sheer common sense even if it’s not quite a latter day Elan we’d all yearned for.

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%