My Curbside Classic Update: 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata – Wheeeee!


It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since I wrote here about my “new” car.  But four seasons have come and gone, and my little Miata has happily been my occasional companion for every one of them.

This car was several “firsts” for me.  It was my first two seater, my first bright red car, and the first car I ever agreed to buy sight unseen.  As many ways as such a transaction can go sideways, it helps when you know and trust the seller as I did here.


When I left off from my story with this car, I had managed to go through a snowstorm, a carwash, and a quick zip into the garage, where it stayed until the salt was pretty much gone from the roads.  John had driven the car regularly through all kinds of weather, and I had no doubt that the little Mazda would do it.  I am also not naive enough to believe that a car that has lived most of its life in central Michigan will never rust.  It has and will undoubtedly continue to do so, but I like to think that I can at least not accelerate whatever corrosion is silently at work.


I will admit that, at first, I was a little chagrined that there was no hardtop with it.  I soon discovered that the little red convertible was plenty weather-tight, and neither wind, cold nor rain made driving the least bit uncomfortable.


Speaking of comfort, this car fits me like a glove, but I can see where folks taller than me (5’11”) would not enjoy this cockpit so much.  Getting in is a bit more like getting dressed when compared to the relaxed slide into the seat of my more customary land yachts.  My 6’6″ son was able to fold himself into it with the top up, and I wondered if top-down would make the experience better.  It did not, as he reported that the windshield header and sun visor were exactly at his eye level, requiring either stooping or craning (goggles would help here) to see ahead.  Driving it is out of the question because the steering wheel takes up all the space his knees need.


I will tell you right now that I have no fabulous stories to tell of scenic road trips or catastrophic but entertaining failures.  I did, however, develop a slight coolant leak in very early spring last year.  Did you know that these have nine coolant hoses?  I ordered the set of them and replaced my leaker, with the intention of taking some time later in the year to do the rest.  The rest, I have determined, is a really nasty job.  One wag on the forum that I joined offered that he would happily help anyone do an engine swap, but if you ask for help with coolant hoses, he will be busy that weekend.  The other thing that has kept me from finishing that job has been that every time I get near the car, it begs to go out and play.  Really, it’s like a puppy.  Only better, because it doesn’t whine when it’s alone in a cold garage. This car is just pure fun.  At least once I fall into it.


The car came along at a great time, because last summer it made car number four in a house with four drivers.  Actually car number five, as a certain Buick Lacrosse was living in the driveway too, and which needed to be driven occasionally to stay limber.  This led to the Miata living in the garage with its top down, with the daily decision on what to drive decided by the morning’s weather report.  This probably explains how I failed to exceed two thousand miles all year in the Miata.

As with any car approaching the age of twenty, there are some things I would like to do to improve it.  Other than the hoses, I need to remove and lube the speedo cable to quiet it down.  I am also trying to decide if the gear whine coming from the transmission is some tired bearings on the countershaft, or whether the box is just a singer.  The good news is that according to the wisdom on the forums, used transmissions are plentiful and cheap, as they seldom break.  And there is a glowing “check engine” light.  Prior owner John (SeVair) told me that it had been diagnosed as a sensor in the exhaust system that he had been advised to ignore because the car ran so well.  I have followed his lead, at least so far – because it still runs and drives just right.


This car has sort of made me acknowledge my bi-polar nature when it comes to cars.  As I look back on my roughly thirty car history, virtually all of them have been either big and nautical or little zippy go-kart-like things.  Very few of my wheels have been what most would consider “mid-sized”.  And among the little zipsters (the 85 GTI, the 83 Colt with the Twin Stick and the 07 Honda Fit are the others that come to mind) this one does the little zippy fun thing better than any of them.

The Miata also has the added bonus that it is almost perfect as an “old car” in that the thing is so simple.  It is no Model A, but as far as anything from the electronics era goes, it is hard to get simpler.  And there is such a broad and dedicated fan base that is there for parts and knowledge.


The only problem with the car is not really with the car, but with me.  Every once in awhile, the “old me” flares up, which means that my eye starts to wander in search of that new experience.  My Miata would easily sell for enough to finance one of the less popular Studebakers that occasionally pops up on my local List of Craig, and I have still yet to own a fuselage C body Mopar.  But then comes a nice warm day when I walk into the garage and see the little red Miata with its top down, saying “C’mon, get the Mrs. and let’s go somewhere fun.”  And then we do.