My New Curbside Classic: 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata – The Niedermeyerization of JPC is Complete


Photo by prior owner


When I began writing for CC, I was the almost perfect Yin to Paul Niedermeyer’s Yang.  He hails originally from Europe, I am a native-born American.  He has mostly lived on the coasts, while I am a lifelong midwesterner.  He gravitated to sports cars that reward the engaged driver, while I was Mr. Luxury Land Yacht.  But as time has gone on, Paul and I have come to appreciate the other’s point of view on things Automotive.  After all, he seriously contemplated the possibility of owning a ’72 Ford LTD, and I have come to appreciate the appeal of the sports car.


Well, now I’ve gone and done it, and Curbside Classic is to blame.  When we met in Auburn in October, one of the fellows who joined us was John Eipper, better known hereabouts as Sevair.  John wowed us with his beautiful silver ’79 Seville and probably told us at the time that he also owned a Miata, but I don’t actually remember.  What I do remember is that John contacted me when he had some business in Indianapolis, and hoped that we might get a chance to meet.  Unfortunately, we were not able to make it happen, but his Miata came up in that conversation, including the nugget that it might come up for sale.  I might or might not have said something to suggest that I could potentially be interested.


Fast forward to the first week of 2015.  John sent me an email that contained the Craigslist link to the ad that was going up in the Detroit area.  I followed the link, read of his long ownership (stewardship, even) of this car, saw the pictures, and took a gander at his reasonable price.  It was then that I did something I have never, ever done – within ten minutes, I emailed him back telling him that he had made a sale.  Props here to Mrs. JPC who happened to be at hand at the time, and who blessed the transaction as an early treat for our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary.  (I am now starting to suspect that I had better come up with something pretty good for her, but that’s another matter.)

Actually, I have carried a bit of a Miata torch for quite a few years.  When our fleet went from two to three a few years ago, a Miata was on my short list.  As was a Town Car, as the Niedermeyerization process was not yet completed.  So of course, I bought a 1996 Honda Odyssey.  I say “of course” because the Oddy was what almost every one of my car purchases has been, namely the right car in the right place at the right time.  My best cars have always found me instead of the other way around.  Go looking for a car, and you have to sort through endless dreckmobiles or decent cars that are priced as though they are ’69 Chargers.  But when a car stops you with a “hey you – yeah, you – commeer”, you would be wise to indeed ‘commeer’ and take a look.


Photo by prior owner


As you know, I recently sold the famous Grand Marquis, and was happy to be back down to three cars.  But with the ’93 Crown Vic having been sort of adopted by my middle son who may not be home this summer, we faced a summer with two cars and three people.  In my experience, this often winds up with someone being inconvenienced and cranky.  But not now.  We have read of the long, carefully considered car searches of other contributors here at CC, not the least of which involved charts and tables.  But not here.  Red Miata?  Boom – wrap it up, I’ll take it.

About that red – I am actually not a “red car guy”.  But I have never refused the right car because of the color, which comes with what I have described as the “used car equipment package.”  In other words, you get what you get.  But maybe I can rethink this.  John the seller pointed out the resale boost should I change my mind, and my son (also John) looked at me incredulously and said “Look at it – it’s supposed to be red.  That’s just what one of these is! ”  Good points, both.


What we have here is an eighteen year old Miata that John owned for almost fifteen of those years.  158,000 miles, and some significant things addressed in the last fifteen thousand (like a redone head and a new clutch).  It is hard to tell how well a late model car has been cared for, but with an old one, it is simple.  This car has been in a good home.  Which I know, now that I have taken possession (or perhaps I should say custody.)  Rear wheel drive, a stick shift and a top that folds down.  And functional air conditioning that does not rely on R-12 refrigerant.  This car checks all of the right boxes for a completely usable three-season car that can be a toy at the same time.  Really, there is no reason I could not drive it in the winter too, but I would prefer to limit its salt intake for its future good health.

Yes, I know.  It is neither a Mopar nor a Studebaker.  Sorry if some of my formerly like-minded friends here are disappointed that I have joined the other team.  Truthfully, had a 68 Newport or a 63 Lark in similar condition for similar money grabbed me by the lapels, I might have a different set of keys in my pocket right now.  But one of those would have likely been much rougher for the price, and been significantly less safe as a daily driver.  Sure, I might get flattened by a Suburban, but the driver of a 1960s car would not likely fare any better.  I would prefer not to spend the next thirty years with a turn signal stalk in my arm.


So, here we are.  As I write this, I have owned the car for twenty four hours, with the only wheel time being on a very snowy and slippery trip from northern Indiana to home, where it was immediately run through a wash to get the salt off (note to self, stash a towel for next time) and parked in the garage.  Sorry, Honda Fit, but you are eight years old now, after all.  But in that few hours behind the wheel, as this car and I began the process of getting to know one another, I think that we will make a good team.  So thanks, CC and thanks, John.  I guess I’m a sports car guy now.  Soooo, all I need are driving gloves and one of those hats.  But as I think about it, I have not been completely Niedermeyerized.  When John mentioned that he might be ready to let go of his Corvair, I felt absolutely no emotion.  None.  So there is still some JPC left in here after all.