Meet a true trendsetter!
The Mazda MX-5 proved to the world that drop-top roadsters didn’t have to be complex, unreliable and impractical machines like sports cars of the past. Instead, they could be nimble, reliable, comfortable, fun and provide discerning owners, both young and old, with a cheap little roadster with some real zhoosh!
The MX-5 revived the interest in open-top sports cars akin to the MGB and Triumph Spitfire. Though hopelessly unreliable and built with the care and attention of a third-world plumbing system, these drop-top machines had proven incredibly popular in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. The British were especially good at perfecting the formula when it came to open-top sports cars, with MG, Triumph, Austin-Healey, Morgan and many more painting the roads of the world in the colours of the Union Flag.
However, years of diminishing quality through self-destructive companies coupled with the widespread influence of hot hatchbacks resulted in the roadster becoming essentially extinct by the middle of the 1980’s. Triumph and Austin-Healey disappeared forever while the MG badge ended up on slightly tuned versions of the humdrum Montego, Maestro and Metro family cars.
In 1989, though, the roadster came back with a bang in the form of the Mazda MX-5.
The Mazda MX-5 married the unique blend of style, functionality and image only found on roadsters with the reliability and performance they deserved. With all the ingredients of the original sports cars of yesteryear now given the touch of Japanese mechanical fidelity, customers bought them up like hotcakes. Prior to the launch of the MX-5, the only other small, drop-top roadster you could buy new was the Alfa Romeo Spider; a forlorn carryover from the 1960’s which had been distorted by various, unappealing facelifts. After the MX-5 debuted, suddenly there were dozens of pretenders who attempted to usurp Mazda’s throne, including the Lotus Elan, the Honda S2000, the BMW Z1, the MG F and many more.
The MX-5 though could not be beaten and the car is still in production today, barely changed since the original of 1989. The car doesn’t need changes as it was right from day one, which is why it was, and still is, among the most popular driver’s cars you can buy both new and second-hand. The reliability and longevity of the original MX-5 can be vouched for in the fact that there are so many first generation examples still on the road nearly 30 years later.
So, what are the good things when it comes to owning a Mk1 MX-5?
It’s incredibly cheap and spare parts, as well as mint condition cars, are plentiful. It handles with the precision of a mountain goat, it has good acceleration, good brakes, a reasonable top speed, impeccable build quality, a smooth gear change, is unflinchingly reliable and has a crisp styling that one could almost describe as cute.
The good things well and truly outweigh the bad. However, even the best cars in history have their faults and the MX-5 is no exception.
Perhaps the main issue regarding the MX-5 is rust. During this period, Japanese cars were still notorious for rusting to dust in no time at all due largely to planned obsolescence on the part of their builders. While this had been the practice for Western builders up until the early 1980’s, the shameful waste when it came to disposing of cars less than five years old rather than keeping them earning money on the second hand market was still a prominent concept for Japanese manufacturers. The idea was simply that one would buy a car, drive it until it either rusted or broke, then replace it with the next-generation model. However, this doesn’t bode well if you’re someone who’s really attached to their car or wants to flog it on the second hand market.
The most prominent place to look for rust on the MX-5 is on the chassis and sills. Cars such as these are incredibly cheap to buy these days so even small accumulations of rust can be enough to write such a machine off. However, you’ll find most Mk1 MX-5’s that have survived to 2018 are likely due to much needed care and attention as well as a regular MOT to check the mechanics. As such, the MX-5 usually has the best second-hand reliability you can find on a car of this age.
Other issues are also down to general wear and tear, again due to the car’s age. Leaking roofs are a common complaint as the fabric deteriorates over time. Examples lased with thick green mold are dead giveaways, but even ostensibly pristine ones can be a cause for concern. A simple test is to spray the car with a garden hosepipe and see whether there is any leakage on the inside. Usually, replacement fabric is not too expensive to find, though help from a local mechanic or detailer would probably result in a more quality finish.
The biggest concern when buying a second-hand MX-5 is a strange version of the car known as the Eunos Roadster. The Roadster was the domestic version of the car as sold in Japan, therefore it doesn’t comply with UK road legislation. Many were brought over to Britain either due to their obscurity or as cheap alternatives with worn out Roadsters being decorated to look like MX-5’s and sold for knock-down prices; some even as low as £500. The result are second-hand Roadsters that are likely to fall apart after only a few miles. The best thing you can do is make sure the car has a full service history and receipts; if the dealer doesn’t provide them or has conveniently ‘lost’ them, walk away.
Another worrisome example to look for are heavily modified units that have been tortured to death by teenagers who only have a basic grasp of mechanics. Cars that have been lowered, given bodykits and other pimp-my-ride paraphernalia should be avoided at all costs.
Otherwise, the Mazda MX-5 is a car that will not let you down regardless of the task you place before it. It falls to #3 on this list as the car’s practicality is somewhat compromising when put up against the next contenders, but that by no means makes it any less of a car. It truly is the perfect, nostalgic drop-top roadster; possessing the same style and image as its forebears of the 1960’s.
- Comfort – 10/10 – Unlike preceding sports cars, the MX-5 was built to principles not unlike a regular car, including the comfort of the ride and the seats
- Practicality – 7/10 – It has more bootspace than most roadsters, but the two-seat configuration makes it only good for couples on a romantic weekend
- Reliability – 10/10 – “What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan” – Marty McFly
- Speed – 8/10 – For its size, it’ll certainly give you a buzz
- Handling – 10/10 – Perfection!
- Looks – 10/10 – Cute rounded corners and a smooth streamlined profile are only the tip of this car’s completely inoffensive image
- Equipment – 7/10 – A touch underequipped, but that’s not what you’re buying when you look for a 90’s roadster
- Price – 10/10 – Minters, of which there are plenty, go for astronomically low prices
- Value – 3/10 – Market saturation keeps the values low
- Total – 75/90 – Japan’s other 1990 hit which left its rivals quaking in their boots!