I’ve occasionally considered a Miata to replace my 1975 for a while now, but I’ve never considered them for long because the NA/NB were reputed to be too small for my 6’2″ frame and the NC is just too portly.
The ND on the other hand, now that’s interesting. Very interesting. But I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger.
Over the weekend, somebody posted to craigslist a 1999 Mazda Miata, Green Mica, with leather interior. I won’t fit, but here’s a chance to confirm that, right? So I ask the guy if I can check out his car and possibly drive it. Initial impressions match the description. Paint is good, I don’t see any visible signs of corrosion, the engine is sound and the exhaust has a lovely tone. The white gauges are easy to read and perfectly visible from the driver’s seat. The top goes down easily. Off we go.
It drives just as I have heard it does. It’s not quick, but it’s not terribly slow. Like my MG, it’s fun to drive at speeds that are close to the speed limit or just slightly above. The smile it puts on the driver’s face is genuine. It’s a good car, I fit, and the price, while a little high, can probably be negotiated down to something reasonable.
More power and better technology. Slam dunk, right?
The MG? What does it offer? Well, to start, despite 24 years of progression between my 41 year old car and this relative youngster, the handling on the MG isn’t really any worse than the MX-5. Sure, it’s got cart springs in back and the design of Armstrong lever shocks dates back to the ’30s, but it all works and it works pretty well. I just spent an entire winter carefully rebuilding all the worn out parts in the front end and I can tell. This car used to love corners and last year I noticed it … didn’t. Today, I confirmed the love is back. The MG also offers history. I’ve owned this car for 16 years. I’ve replaced the engine, carpets, seat upholstery, door panels, cooling system, heater core, and the entire suspension with my own hands. My grandfather gave me an inheritance that is at least partially went into this car. It’s a part of me. And given how much blood I’ve lost to sharp parts, I’m a part of this car.
The Mazda offers none of that history. What it does offer is stuff that is easier to quantify. Twice as much power (the MG is woefully underpowered in the modern world, this cannot be over-emphasized). Significantly better gas mileage. A four-wheel independent suspension that provides good handling and doesn’t send every bump into your spine or go slightly crazy if you hit a bump mid-corner. Fuel Injection (love SU carbs. Hate the warm-up period). Airbags. Limited slip differential. Leather seats. A cupholder (just one, let’s not get crazy). A roof that can be closed with one hand—hell a roof that can be fully closed, period. Twin overhead cams using solid lifters—no valve adjustments. Heat that works. Windshield wipers that work. Washer jets that work (all three of these “work” in the MG, but not well enough to be of any use). It can be modified to carry my bike rack. Japanese cars of the late 90s have reliable wiring, engines that don’t leak oil, transmissions that don’t leak oil, and differentials that don’t have to be rebuilt every 30000 miles. Finally, there are the things I don’t even care about, like Cruise Control, Power Steering, power locks and windows, and (possibly) Air conditioning.
I’m torn. It’s the classic battle of sentimentality vs practical reality.
There’s always the third option. I stick on my original plan and get the ND Miata, which offers all of the advantages of the NB I’m considering, plus another 17 years of development, even more power, even better gas mileage, even better looks, and even more car payments. The thing is, the NA/NB are considered to be phenomenal cars and I only discounted them before because “I didn’t fit.” Now that I know I do fit, it’s hard not to look at them in a new light. And to bolster the argument, unlike the new one, the NB is available in green.
At this point, the plan is to ask Carl and Imported Car Services to inspect it, and maybe he’ll find something wrong and make the decision easy. I’ll know soon enough.
March 29th Update: Carl looked at the car, told me “I need to buy this car” and then told me everything I’d have to fix right away: a timing belt and the brakes. Yeah, that’s not enough to stop a purchase. So now I own two convertibles and a Subaru. It’s a bit excessive.