There must be a special place in heaven for first generation Miatas. Particularly the red ones, with BBS alloy wheels, a Momo steering wheel and a free flow exhaust. I loved that car. One of the few cars we graced with a name – “Fend la bise” (literally “cuts the wind” – the English language equivalent would be “runs like lightning”).
We bought “Fend la Bise” when we were living in the south of France, at the extreme south of the Lyon area, less than 100 miles from the real “Provence”. Nice weather, great back-roads, gorgeous landscapes, powerful smells (the lavender fields). The car was perfect for the place and the time.
I had been looking for a convertible for a while – I had tested “cabrios” based on hatchbacks, but they gave you the impression of driving from the bottom of a large bathtub, as if sitting in a big under-steering jacuzzi. We found the Miata in Lyons, an early first generation model. It was already 10 years old when we bought it. With the Miata, it was love at first sight – it was a beautiful car, with everything designed for the pleasure of driving – the low seat, the incredibly direct shift lever, the very responsive engine, it made you feel you were at the wheel of a single seater (like a Formula Renault or something of that sort). When you were turning the steering wheel, the car was rotating around your butt, and you could feel the rear suspension at work and the Michelin tires slide just a bit. Grandiose.
I’ve never experienced that in a car again (I bought a 3rd gen Miata seven years later, it was a good car but nothing like Fend la Bise).
Mazda did not have a very dense dealer network, but being part of the Ford group, could rely on Ford dealers to provide routine service to its clients – the Valence Ford dealer only had one Mazda specialist, that everybody in the dealership called “Zoom-Zoom”. Zoom-Zoom only had to work on the car once, when the very special battery common to all 1st gen Miatas died, and had to be replaced by a conventional lead-acid battery that ate 1/3rd of the luggage compartment.
The car was perfect on the back roads and the week-end drives in the local canyons, but also usable day to day, for the commutes and for the occasional drive to the airport – I even drove it in the snow once.
Unfortunately, shortly after we bought Fend la Bise, I started working on a project that would ultimately lead to our expatriation to the US. In spite of what my HR department tried to pretend, it was impossible to bring Fend la Bise with us, and we had to sell it.
Of all the cars I’ve owned so far, it’s the car I liked the most. Would I buy a 1st Gen Miata again if I found a nice one? Probably not. The car was perfect for the life we were living in the south of France 20 years ago. I’m not sure it would be a good fit in Atlanta in today’s traffic conditions. You can’t bring the past back. When it’s over, it’s over.