The first-generation “NA” Mazda Miata MX-5 delivers one of the most ‘raw’ roadster driving experiences on the face of the planet. Nimble handling, optimal balance, and rear-wheel-drive make for a dynamic that feels fun at any speed. When configured in base model trim, its rawness becomes even more amplified. A base model Miata on steel wheels omits air conditioning, electric windows, and even power steering. If there ever were a car that drives like an adult go-kart, that is probably the one. Simplicity is celebrated and driving enjoyment is the only priority.
And perhaps that is why a man named Thomas Folse knew from a very young age that a bare-bones early Miata was exactly the car he needed to satisfy his dreams. While his classmates and colleagues dreamed of supercars and exotics, all he ever wanted was a stripped-down MX-5. And by sheer fate, he not only happened across the exact car, he also found one that had a remarkable 3,906 miles on the odometer despite being 30 years old. It was an experience unlike anything that had ever happened to him in his life. This is the story of how that car emerged from a 20-year slumber in a Pennsylvania garage and went on to be put back into service as a bona fide classic.
The pieces came together thanks to another Thomas (D.), who we recently featured on Curbside Classic in a story about his 1984 Cadillac Seville. The garage where that Seville spent two decades was also home to a miraculously low-mileage 1990 Miata MX-5 that was originally purchased by Thomas D.’s father in mid-1989. It just so happened that Thomas D. and Thomas F., who met through an online car community, came into contact and started chatting right around the same time Thomas D.’s father decided at 75 years old to part ways with both the Seville and the Miata.
The Miata had been the first of its kind sold in the region, and it was used sparingly for only a decade before being put away for long-term storage in Enola, Pennsylvania. Perhaps the intentions were to preserve the car, and perhaps the owner’s interests had grown in other directions by then. It was probably a combination of both.
But after years of sitting on flat tires and collecting dust, that Miata saw the light of day again in September 2019, when the eager Thomas F. and Thomas D. rolled open the garage door to blow the cobwebs and dust off the Seville and the Miata. The Miata needed a lot less coaxing than the Seville did to come back to life. Its 1.6 liter inline-4 fired up readily. “All it took to get this car running,” Thomas F. reports, “was some gas, some tapping on the injectors, and a new battery. Japanese build quality is insane.”
He describes what it felt like when he first laid eyes on the car. “I remember it like yesterday. It was a time capsule back into 1989. The car smelled like an old Japanese car and I love that smell.” The car made its way via transport truck to Arizona initially, where it underwent a freshening of fluids, tires, and other wear items to be sure it could be safely put back into service. Not long afterward, it made a maiden voyage on vacation through Utah and eventually to its new home in Texas.
What’s next for Thomas and his newfound toy? Many friends and fellow car collectors encouraged him to preserve the car in its ultra-low-mileage state, but Thomas had a different mindset. “Why put oil in a car if it won’t move?” he says. “This is a true driver’s car.” And drive it he has. The car now has over 16,000 miles so he’s effectively quadrupled the miles in less than a year that it took 30 years to accumulate. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Despite the fact that Thomas feels that Mazda continues to build good drivers’ cars (like his daily driver 2017 Mazda 6 with a stick shift), he wishes cars of today were as simple and enjoyable as that vintage MX-5. We tend to agree. Thanks, Thomas, for sharing your story!