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!
A super-low mile Miata like this is almost cruel and unusual punishment. There is no car that begs to be driven more than a Miata, which is why such a low-mile example is so rare. It is easy to see how “drive it” overpowered “keep it”.
Like with Thomas D’s story on his Caddy, I also know Thomas F. and watched the story of the Miata unfold in real time in the FB groups that we are all a part of. I’m glad that Thomas found his dream Miata, and I’m glad that he’s not keeping it as a garage queen and is actually driving it!
Cheer to ya Thomas!
This is a great find for Thomas. By all means he needs to drive and enjoy it. That’s what the Miata is all about. Having said that, I believe I’ll take my ’91 silver A package car for a quick spin right now.
I’d forgotten about steelies being the base wheel on these. That’s the one for me.
Great story, and happy driving!
“Base” in the US seems to more “base” than in Europe. Here, we all got power steering and alloys, as well as electric windows.
But it will have the same great driving experience – JPC is quite right, there is no car I know that wants to be driven like ans MX5 wants to be driven.
And welcome to the Curbivore MX-5 Owners’ Club!
That’s what I was thinking too, Roger, I’ve never seen one without alloys in Australia.
Agreed, they all had alloys. I think the first versions didn’t have power steering but I can’t remember about the windows. A friend had one from the first year for a long time, that I only drove once (swapped for a day when he needed a ute). It ended up with the glass rear window from a later car.
I didn’t realize steelies were a thing on these either, I love how purposeful they look, which is further enhanced by the white paint. Not that I don’t respect Miatas but there is a visual softness to the first generation in bright colors like red and the typical 90s blobby alloys I’m used to.
Lack of Power steering and A/C are even better, this kind of car needs neither
Back in the days before televised auctions of cars like the first Civic Type R, or the first C8 Corvette; I happened to go to my local VW-Mazda dealer during the initial Miata enthusiasm. I was there for some other reason, which is escaping my memory at the moment. On the floor of the showroom was taped the cover of the issue of Car and Driver that had an image of the Miata. I might have stepped on it by accident, only to have some salesman say, ‘that’s there because we ran an ad saying we had a Miata on the showroom floor!’ Great car. Dealerships that have been batting a thousand for thirty years in keeping me from buying one.
That is a cool story. I am not a huge fan of the steelies as they are generally “winter rims” here and the factory alloys are quite nice but I do love me a base car. No A/C and power steering keeps it pretty pure.
Glad to know that Thomas is driving and enjoying the Miata as it should be.
I also like the simplicity of the NA Miata. Mine has the A option package and A/C, but the condenser was damaged in a minor wreck prior to my ownership. A junkyard condenser was included when I bought the car, but it’s still collecting dust on a shelf in my garage. Should I decided to take the car on a road trip where it may be hot, I might get the A/C working again, but for now I haven’t needed to.
I recently had to replace the driver’s side window regulator after replacing the passenger side a couple of years ago. I considered upgrading to power windows (Moss Miata sells a kit), but I was already spending enough on a new clutch and flywheel at 155,000 miles.
I haven’t driven a stock NA without power steering, but I drove a friend’s car that had a number of mods in an autocross and found I couldn’t easily flick the wheel around cones like I can with mine.
It’s very rare to see a Miata with steelies. I’m not a fan of the look, but can respect keeping the car looking original. Were it my car, I’d get a nice set of daisies. Mine came with some 15-inch Scion wheels, but I’m getting new tires soon and will likely get new wheels as well.
As the owner of a 2019 MX-5, I have to say that while it’s a blast to drive as well, I sometimes feel like I’m missing out on something by not having experienced what it’s like to drive the original NA Miata.
“Japanese build quality is insane.”
Yes – especially from 1990. This time was the “bubble” for Japanese cars. This car is one of those. I have had my eyes open to the market for a Lexus SC300/400 or LS400 from the early ’90s, another “bubble” car.
I’ve had my Miata; won’t look for another but this was a first class score. No air, crank windows – great! A very astute, prepared buyer here.
I’ve wanted an SC 400 since the first time i saw one back in 1997. A friend of mine’s parents were very wealthy and his dad bought one new in 1996. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The only problem is I want a manual transmission and you can only get that in the V6 SC 300. That has kept me from buying either car all these years. Got to have a V8 and got to have a manual. Several years ago I got the itch for a first generation LS 400 and would still like to have a low mileage clean example of one.
KMC – The SC300 is an inline six, not a V-6. Smooth, just fine. You can find an SC300 manual. You can also find a JDM Toyota Soarer that can be a twin turbo inline six – though it will be a 2.5 litre (with more guts than the 3.0 in the SC300) and it will be RHD. Pretty special; same engine as twin turbo Supras from that era. The Soarer will probably have cloth interior but the SC300 was always leather. Good luck; I continue to look.
The SC300 had an inline six cylinder engine of about 225 horsepower, IIRC. It was the base engine in the related Supra.
I had a 1994 SC400 as a perk of my job in the mid-’90s. It was lightly used when I got it, as it had been my employer’s son’s car for almost two years. I used the car whenever I was in Palm Beach, and my job frequently took me off Palm Beach to West Palm Beach. I did not like that Lexus at the time, preferring to drive my subtly improved manual BMW 325. The Lexus guzzled gas, which I wouldn’t have minded since I wasn’t paying for it except that everyone I met on the island had a, “my neighbor got shot in the head pumping gas in West Palm Beach(or Miami) story.” It never dawned on me that most of them were probably talking about the same neighbor.
The Lexus SC400 was metallic black with silver BBS-basket-weave-style wheels with polished lips, and it attracted precisely the wrong sort of attention everywhere it went. I also remember that it adjusted the length of the radio antenna depending on what frequency you were listening to, necessitating replacement of the power antenna mechanism at each oil change. It usually needed new rear tires at oil change time too, in spite of that part of Florida being flat and laid out like a grid.
I have since experienced a number of Lexus products that have reset the bar for what luxury can be, and my employer had both a last-of-the-line Corniche and a Bentley 8 in the garage. That SC400 was not good enough to erase my West German car biases in one extended sampling, unlike an S2000 for example.
You’re implying to the original poster than the SC400 has far more issues that it actually has, specifically the radio antenna and tires.
I don’t know what your boss’s son did to that Lexus but nowhere in Lexus’ maintenance documentation does it say to replace the antenna at every (or even ANY) oil change interval, which I believe in 1994 was every 5000 miles. Perhaps you could provide some documentation to back up that assertation.
And if the tires needed replacement that quickly then it needed a rear wheel alignment, badly. The only vehicle of that era that wore tires that quickly was the original NSX, and as I recall Honda published a revised set of specifications for the alignment if an owner wanted the tires to last longer. That, or you were running Yokohama A008’s or Hoosier slicks etc… The NSX ran Yoko A022s with a treadwear rating of 120, the SC400 didn’t run anything near that aggressive.
More of the usual from CJ. It’s getting tedious. Did TTAC or Jack Baruth kick him out? He needs to find a more suitable home.
The antenna replacement wasn’t scheduled maintenance. It was always broken by the time an oil change was due. I don’t have documentation for repairs that I didn’t pay for of a car I didn’t own 25 years ago, although today I talked to the one person who might also remember taking the SC400 in for service in West Palm Beach about an unrelated matter.
I do remember that the tires were Bridgestone RE92s, and that I mistakenly avoided Bridgestone tires for years because of the ones on the SC400. I’ve since had great experiences with RE950 PPs and RE960 PPs on a couple of other cars, and the OE Bridgestones on my mother’s CUV look great after 35,000 miles even though I once drove the car over the mountains to Snowshoe during the summer at speeds that had me expecting to be putting tires and brakes on it before I returned it.
Wow, that’s great! My old ’92 was also a base model that came with steelies and precisely one option: A/C which I won’t do without, I’d rather try to lose the weight off my own body first to compensate… The steelies were replaced with Daisy’s, back when I had mine the purism ideal hadn’t set in yet (and the Daisy’s were lighter than the steelies so I didn’t have to lose as much to compensate for the AC 🙂 )
Enjoy the Miata, one of the best cars ever.
I love mine, it’ll turn 30 this month…..best car ever!
Mine also turns 30 this month. With my Impala, I have the build sheet, so I know it was built on November 4, 1963. But all I have to go on is the July 1990 sticker on the door jamb.
Last year, our family spent a week in Japan, and my contribution to our itinerary was visiting the Mazda factory and museum in Hiroshima. I got to see them building Miatas, CX-5s and even a Fiata. I showed the guide a picture of my Miata at end of our tour.
Oops. Wrong picture. This is the one from the Mazda museum:
Wow, what a find! Props to the finder for actually using it and not cashing out $35K by putting it in BringATrailer!
I would love to find an NA someday before it’s too late. Here in the midwest Miatas are thrashed within an inch of their life and discarded. Nice ones are only going up in price.
My dad is a big Miata fan and has an NC currently, he gave me his old NB2 but the wife did not feel safe in it and I sold it for a MKIV Supra.
Luckily in Oregon, we don’t have to worry about rust. I got incredibly lucky with mine. I had just finished reading about the new ND Miata in June 2015 and remarked to my wife over breakfast that it might be fun to find an original Miata for autocross and general fun.
Only halfway serious, I pulled up Craigslist and started scanning. A lot of them looked pretty trashed and/or were well north of 200,000 miles (a good sign for the Miata’s durability). But within 10 minutes, I came across one with 126,000 miles for $3,000. Looked decent in the photos if not pristine. “There’s no way that car is still available,” I said. But I went ahead and sent a message asking if the car was still for sale and what was wrong with it. The seller responded nearly immediately. The A/C didn’t work, and it needed a paint job.
I arranged to go look at the car, and while it definitely needed paint (which it got last year), the car was otherwise sound and drove beautifully. The seller said he’d had some no-shows and tire kickers with obnoxiously lowball offers. Fools. I had looked up the value on KBB and NADA Guide and knew his price was more than fair and cut him a cashier’s check for the full amount. I know I got a good deal.
My wife worries when I take the Miata on the interstate, but I feel reasonably safe. It’s actually a solid highway car for being so small and light. Doesn’t get buffeted around much by wind or big trucks.
Great story, along with the Seville. “The first-generation “NA” Mazda Miata MX-5 delivers one of the most ‘raw’ roadster driving experiences on the face of the planet.”?? Read the Morgan road test below…I guess it’s age!
Terrific find and story. Great for Thomas! A classic like this one is meant to be enjoyed.
I drove that car to my Prom! That very car! I can remember that I had more fun driving it to and from the prom than at the prom itself. You have a very awesome ride right there and I wish you all the best. Wish I had known my dad was getting rid of it to be honest, I maybe would have shipped it to Europe for some real road driving!
Thank you! I love driving it. It’s amazing. People call me crazy for driving a car with no AC in Texas. But in a car like this you simply just don’t need it!