(First Posted November 17, 2013) After having moved in order to remove a long and burdensome commute, I found myself with all sorts of extra free time that allowed me to contemplate once again driving for pleasure rather than from necessity. Of course, this presented the perfect excuse to (1) get the family car count back up to three, and (2) purchase something somewhat frivolous, in this case a 1992 Mazda Miata…
Everyone knows the Miata, which in 1989 debuted to rave reviews and accolades from the motoring press the world over– all of which, in this case, were justified. The car really was a little wonder that for a very reasonable price provided a very fun experience. That price became even more reasonable with age and mileage; in my case, it was well under $3,000 for a rust-free car with about 100,000 miles and no accident history.
I cannot recall the exact circumstances of the actual purchase, but I do recall re-reading everything about the Miata I could find and deciding that an early car would be my best bet. I did not have any specific requirements in regard to options, except that it had to have a manual transmission. I ended up with the last year of the initial series (1992) with the 1.6-liter four-cylinder (which became a 1.8-liter starting in 1993) and a very basic spec, option-wise.
Mine was “Classic Red” (which had faded a bit on the car’s plastic front and rear bumpers) and came with 14” steel wheels that I did not care for. I promptly replaced them with a set of 14-inch “Daisy” alloy wheels, bought for $100 from a gentleman in San Francisco who seemed to be running a Miata dismantling operation in his living room; there were parts everywhere, and for cheap prices. He said he currently had about a half-dozen Miatas in various states of (dis)repair.
U.S. Miata sales for 1992 totaled 26,636. Red was the most popular color, with 11,729, almost half of the total, wearing that hue. Also available were blue, black, white, silver and yellow. While yellow was part of a special edition (and the most valuable today), silver is actually the rarest color; only 1,475 silver Miatas were sold that year. Quite a contrast to more recent years, when almost every car has silver as one of its most popular colors.
The 1992 models look just like ‘90s and ‘91s – the differences include a rear cross brace added to the underside of the rear suspension and a remote trunk release. The only option I am aware of my car having is air conditioning. It had been a while since I’d had a car with roll-up windows, and it was a refreshing change. I was reveling in the lightness…
About that: Everything you hear about how these things handle and go is true. While not the most powerful car out there, a Miata seems much faster than it is. You sit very low, cocooned in a cockpit that seems 7/8-scale and where everything falls perfectly to hand. You feel every bump and ripple in the road, but not in a bad way. I suppose this was accentuated due to the lack of power steering, but it was so easy to turn the wheel that the car really did not need it.
The steering was wonderfully direct, and my commute down the curvy hillside roads to my work was a delight. The drive back home was even better, as I was able to do it pretty much full-throttle most of the way while trying to perfect a couple of tight corners.
Although my car was basic, Mazda equipped them all pretty well at any level. The seats were a very nice grade of grippy black fabric, the carpeting was just fine, the glovebox had a lock, there was a driver’s side airbag, remote releases for the fuel and trunk lids, and the gauges were large and easy to read.
On the outside this first generation has pop-up headlights; often they sag a bit with age but it is a simple adjustment to return them back to the flush position. The door handles are delightful little chrome finger-pulls. The attachment pegs for the optional hardtop are also attractive little chrome items up in front of the trunk lid. The trunk itself is fairly shallow and small but you CAN fit a set of golf clubs in there, not much else though. The trunk also contains a mini-spare and a small Panasonic battery specifically made for the Miata.
My daughter was now in preschool and moving into a booster seat so we got a red and black one to match and I used the car to pick her up on nice days. She said it was like a roller-coaster which was true. The top was very easy to take down and put back up, I was able to do it while seated in the driver’s seat.
Many say that since there is a plastic rear window it is better to place a towel between the folded part but I just let it go, it turns out replacement roofs are on the order of $300 or you can retrofit a roof with a glass window if needed. The roof itself was fine on mine, it sealed tight even when there was a bit of rain. But mostly it had the top down, since it was not my primary car and I was in California, what’s the point otherwise.
A fair number of people seem to dislike Miata’s or call them “girl’s cars”, but if you look it is hard to find a female driver of a Miata, especially an older one (Miata, not lady). The truth is they are fantastic cars, reliable, easy and cheap to fix, inexpensive to modify, even the consumables (tires, filters, etc.) are dirt cheap as either the size of the item is small or they are produced in abundance, usually both.
Working on the car is not difficult but it is a bit of tight squeeze in the engine compartment, especially as the oil filter is kind of hidden. I found it easiest to just take the front right wheel off and reach through the wheel well to get at it, since my hands are sort of meaty. I do not understand why any car manufacturer would not make the oil filter the absolute easiest thing to remove and while they are at it do it so it stays upright without spilling while removing it.
As stated above, through 1992 all had a 1.6 liter, 16valve, DOHC 4-cylinder engine producing 116hp@6500rpm and 100lb-ft of torque at 5500rpm. I had the 5-speed but an automatic was available. The power was not abundant but as long as you were not afraid to use all the revs, it was there and the car could certainly hold its own. A low weight of 2216lbs certainly helped, it is interesting to note that the easiest way to “add lightness” is probably for the driver to go on a diet, especially as I contributed almost ten percent more to that weight…
For me, it was mainly an in-town car, I took it across the Bay a couple of times and it was fine, if not anywhere near as comfortable as our other cars (obviously). It always got excellent fuel mileage, was a doddle to park anywhere and just put a smile on your face while driving it. It was a fun car and a great way to experience a convertible, eventually it was replaced with a car both very different and very similar that I’d wanted to own for a long time…(Note: Prior to reposting this COAL, I checked the license plate in the CA smog check database, as of last spring, this Miata is still on the road. For the last few years it has failed its first smog check but then passed upon retesting.)