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Mazda MX-5

Published: 14th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • Know what you are buying: genuine MX-5 chassis numbers begin with JMZN, Eunos Roadsters start NA. Values are not necessarily too dissimilar these days, but pay special attention to Eunos mileage readings – it may have been altered when the km speedo was changed for a mph one, or the milometer may have been left in km with a new facia put over the top!
  • There is no long litany of rust spots with these cars. Early cars tended to bubble up below the sill tread plates and at the rear of the sills, but otherwise they are very durable. Rust and poor panel gaps are more usually the result of accident damage and poor repairs. Leave it as a better car will always be along soon.
  • A damp interior goes with sports car territory but MX-5s fare better than most and may be down to a torn or damaged hood, but could also be simply due to blocked drains at either end of the gutter behind the roof.
  • Misfires may be down to nothing more than water collecting in the spark plug recesses, or the HT leads need replacing. Exhaust manifolds can crack. Repairs acceptable, but replacement is a more permanent cure and parts are not cheap. Further back, all cars came fitted with a cat. If this rattles, then it will need replacing. If it is already missing from a post-93 car, it will need replacing for the MoT.
  • Look for signs of racing, as some cars have been run ragged. It may be difficult to tell whether things such as braided hoses are a road going performance mod or a competition tweak, but things like kill switches are a give-away.
  • If the handbrake has excessive travel or does not work too well, that part of the rear calipers may have seized. It can’t be freed off, but replacements are only about £80.
  • Check the tyres for uneven wear, and don’t immediately assume the worst. It is easy to knock the rear wheels out of alignment by careless kerrbing, and a four-wheel alignment may sort it out. How much of a gambler are you?
  • Electrics are very reliable, unless after-market equipment has been poorly added. The original type of small gel battery is very expensive though – bigger and cheaper ones can be used with a fitting kit, but make sure they are properly vented.
  • There are loads of aftermarket goodies available. Inspect these carefully to assess how well they have been fitted, and make your own judgements as to any value they add. Similarly, Limited Editions are only worth paying more for if you like the added extras they come with.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    All you could wish for in a modern MGB. Late 1.6s tardy

  • Usability: 5/5

    If there is a more user-friendly sportster, then let us know…

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Dubbed the ‘new MGB’ aftermarket support is now as good

  • Owning: 4/5

    No worries here; frugal and, for most, fairly easy to insure

  • Value: 4/5

    Still good value but there are some sad cars so shop around

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Simon Goldsworthy looks at the Mazda MX-5, the affordable spor ts car that brought fun back to the massses as in the days of the MGB and became the world’s best selling roadster

The MX-5 is a truly remarkable car, credited with kick-starting a worldwide revival of a whole genre of cars that had been threatened with extinction. As aging designs from the likes of MG, Triumph and Fiat were retired, it seemed that we had seen the last true two-seat roadsters that were affordable to buy and run, but still offered plenty of driving fun. Fortunately for us, enthusiasts working for Mazda in America were determined not to let this happen. They knew exactly what the market wanted because they were products of that market themselves, and they persuaded their bosses in Japan that the sums could be made to work. All they needed was a simple frontengined/ rear wheel drive sports car that took the best of the classic designs and repackaged it into a modern interpretation. It didn’t need to be fancy and it didn’t even need to be stupidly quick, just so long as it looked good and was fun to drive. The end result was the MX-5 to most of the world (MX-01 to MX-04 had all been Mazda Experimental cars), but also called the Miata in America as the dealers wanted a name as well as a number and the Eunos Roadster in Japan, the latter reflecting Mazda’s separation of its dealerships into Autozam for the cheaper models and Eunos for the more prestigious ones. Taking design cues from the immortal Lotus Elan, the initial design was spot on and it sold a staggering 45,266 cars in the first nine months of production. It has since claimed the title of the world’s best selling sports car, and continues today in third generation guise. But it is the first generation cars built from 1989-1997 that we are looking at today as a classic buy.

Which model to buy?

The first cars were the lightest of the lot, and their 1.6 engine was a lively performer. The 1.8 cars were heavier, and some prefer the ride that brings while others lament a slight loss of what can be terned as flickability. The bigger engines have more guts, larger front brakes and a raised back axle ratio, so overall performance is virtually the same as early 1.6s, and they do have the added safety advantages of side impact bars and airbags. In 1994 the 1.8 cars were revised slightly for the 1995 Model Year, with a lighter flywheel to encourage them to rev more willingly. They also got the option of a 4.3:1 back axle to improve acceleration at the expense of cruising speed. This was standardised from August 1995, so you may need to try a couple of different cars to find the one that best suits your needs. When the 1.6 engines were reintroduced in 1995, power had dropped to a tardy 88bhp. Plenty of users do not miss the extra power though, so if you are a gentle user then you may be able to pick up something of a bargain as most enthusiasts won’t touch them. Talking of bargains, grey imports from Japan may also come into this category. They are quite common, and no longer frowned upon in quite the way they once were. These often come equipped with luxuries such as air conditioning and automatic transmission which UK cars didn’t have, but may also lack a detailed service history. Incidentally the four-speed automatic quite agood match and if you fancy a self-shifter, then a Eunos will be your best option.

Behind the wheel?

MX-5 is now the world’s best selling spor ts car

There is plenty of room behind the wheel for tall drivers, although the more generous figures may find the wheel set too low for total comfort. Mazda set the engine well back and went to great pains to ensure a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution, and it shows in handling that is poised and sure-footed for most of the time although the tail can catch the unwary out on greasy roads. Some owners may prefer models with unassisted steering, but it’s horribly heavy at parking speeds and not may cars came without it. Power assistance is more common anyway, and we reckon offers a good compromise between feedback and ease of use plus will make the car easier to sell on.The gearbox was taken from the RX-7, but with the ratios revised to suit the MX-5. The gear change was carefully engineered to mimic the best of the classic shifts, right down to the metallic clack as the cogs are shifted (very MG Midget-like). The action is firm, but delightfully short and precise through all five ratios. First and second may feel a little stiff at first, but even this should ease up as the oil gets up to temperature. The engines are willing revvers, with a red line over 7000rpm. But with peak torque coming in well up the rev range, you do need to push it hard to get the best from it, and the fun doesn’t really start until you hit 4000rpm,. As a result, progress is not always as quietas you might expect but that’s entirely in keeping with a sports car’s character. Mind you, it will sit all day at the legal limit without complaint. And when you stamp on the throttle, a frame linking gearbox and back axle prevents any sniff of axle tramp from wasting the available power with wheelspin. Some Eunos imports even have a limited slip differential fitted too, which simply adds to the fun.

Ease of Ownership?

Aftermarket support is as good as the MGB

It couldn’t really be much easier. As well as your local Mazda dealer, the MX-5 supports a thriving aftermarket industry that is usually the preserve of British classics from the 1960s, and there is great club support too; small wonder the car is being called the ‘new MGB’. Servicing is a practical DIY proposition and there is a wealth of tuning and modifying knowledge and gear out there if that is your game. Servicing is hardly onerous, but don’t let that lull you into thinking it is unnecessary. Oil needs to be changed every 6000 miles if the top end is not to go clattery, and timing belts need religiously changing every 60,000 miles or six years, whichever comes first, although if a belt breaks then it won’t wreck the engine as it would on the majoroity of other modern 16Vs. There again if you like tinkering under the bonnet on a weekend to fettle your classic, perhaps the MX-5 is not for you – they are generally untemperamental and almost bullet proof in every respect!

The Daily Option?

Boot space on the first generation cars is not in the same league as a family runabout, but is still pretty generous in comparison to something like an MGB. The hood is also a great improvement, being superfast and simple to raise and lower as well as doing a fairly good job of keeping both wind and water out. The plastic rearscreen is not so nice though, being easy to scratch or crack if poorly folded – you must always unzip the rear window before dropping the top. In such cases, an aftermarket heated glass conversion is a big winter bonus, as is a similarly-equipped optional hardtop, which also adds to the vehicle’s security. Economy is good, with an average of 34mpg in normal use attainable and more miles available on a lively run. As for usability, these cars are a doddle. They are hugely reliable, can handle all weathers with ease and, despite responding to your inputs like a sports car, still remain totallydocile in traffic on the commuter crawl. The interiors are not exactly loaded with goodies, but are cleanly designed and ergonomic yet rudimentary enough so not to spoil that hardcore feel that’s so essential with a no nonsense sportster.

Timelines

1982

Staff at Mazda’s US operation carry out a full analysis of the Yank sports car market since 1945, and draw up a list ofdefining characteristics of what made such cars a hit. Little is done with the info at first but it proved essential by decade’s end.

1984

With the RX-7 moving upmarket and a fortuitous change of Mazda personnel, the analysis is dusted off and work begins on designing a two-seat roadster. Mazda’s US and Tokyo design teams submit competing interpretations, but the simple US formula is chosen.

1989

1990

MX-5 hits Britain with 114bhp from a 1597cc, DOHC motor, good for a 0-60mph sprint in around nine seconds and a top speed of 114mph. All have power steering. Official BBR Turbo kits sold through Mazda boosts power to 150bhp via a Garrett T25 turbo.

1991

The first of many, many limited runs arrive, mostly with cosmetic changes to paint, trim, wheels and cockpit although a Le Mans celebration model and Turbo are also offered. Rear spoilers also optional as are handling packages, the latter which are mostly forgotten to buyers.

1994

A minor facelift is accompanied by the introduction of a bigger 1839cc engine to cope with weight added by such improvements as side impact bars and airbags. Available as the 1.8i with plain steel wheels, or the better-equipped and more popular 1.8iS that adds ABS to the mix.

1995

1.6 engine makes return to UK inas an entry level model to counter the threat from MGF. Power is down to a disappointing 88bhp, but MX-5 still feels quick. Lower spec 1.6i and 1.8i are good sellers at the time, but less popular now in a more choosy classic market.

1997

Several more special editions see outproduction of the first generation MX-5, although sales linger into ‘98 alongside the second-generation cars. These use around 40 per cent of the original body, but incorporate many revisions. More muscular looks and fixed headlights now feature.

We Reckon...

Take one short drive in an MX-5 and you will quickly see why it is the world's best-selling sports car. It may not be the fastest thing on four wheels, but it is a wicked combination of classic fun and easy ownership. In short, it is one of the few cars that both your heart and your head can agree on.



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