Turn One: Don't Go at It Alone

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Written by David S. Wallens

From the Feb. 2010 issue

Posted in Columns

There’s an inside joke on the GRM message board: The answer to all automotive queries is “Miata.” Have a question about which car to buy? The overwhelming majority will recommend Mazda’s roadster.

Need a daily driver? Miata.

Need a track car? Miata.

Need an autocross car? Miata.

Need a car for a family of four? Two Miatas.

We certainly gave the Miata some attention in our last issue, and I still remember the first time I saw one—this had to be back in 1989. While home from college for spring break, I ventured into the city for the New York International Auto Show. Mazda had their new roadster on display, having recently introduced the car at the Chicago Auto Show.

Honestly, it didn’t impress me. I guess I was just looking at the numbers. No rotary? Only a four-cylinder engine? Where’s the fun in that? If I remember correctly, I spent more time looking at the Viper concept. Hey, I was just there as a college kid and had only recently purchased my first car.

Fast-forward to the warmer months, and the Miatas started to show up at school. The cool kids had them. I, however, was not a cool kid. I still drove my ’82 Accord, which, truth be told, was a major step up from walking.

My friend Steve, also an early Accord driver at the time, mocked the Miata owners. Hey, their parents bought them brand-new cars; we were busy learning life lessons at the time. We were allowed to be a bit jealous.

“Biff, where is my Miata?” he would jokingly sneer through his teeth while panning the dorm parking lot. Then we’d walk to our destination—even at a buck or so a gallon, gas was still expensive. Parking was also tight, too. Once you had a good parking spot, you tended to keep it.

My first real outing in a Miata didn’t take place until I came to work at the magazine. Our 1994 Miata R project car’s arrival coincided with my first days at the office.

“Oh, now I get it,” I thought. The car never lived with me, but I enjoyed the rare moments I got to spend with it—top down, cruising about. No disrespect to the quick front-drivers I grew up on, but this thing was special.

No, it didn’t have a rotary, but it didn’t need one. The car had just the right balance of power, handling and life. I loved it. So, I guess those guys at Mazda—including friends of the magazine Norman Garrett and Dean Case—knew what they were doing.

Jump ahead to Christmas Eve 1998, and finally I bought my own. After searching the ads—this was before craigslist, eBay Motors and so on—I zeroed in on the right car. It was an A Package version located at an Orlando Chevy dealer. Asking price was $6800. Remember, at the time it was only 6 years old.

The price seemed fair to me, I just wasn’t willing to pay the dealer fees. I saw them as something akin to bait and switch, and I pressed for the extra costs to be dropped. The tipping point came when someone spilled some coffee in the sales manager’s lap. “Fine, take the car,” he said.

So, what do Miata owners do? They eventually get others to buy one.

A few years later, my brother told me he wanted to buy something sporty. His initial desire to buy a new Subaru WRX quickly became the hunt for a Porsche Boxster. At the time, $25,000 bought either car; nothing against the Subaru, but that kind of money for a Boxster seemed like a steal.

I supported his decision but offered some caution: If something major ever went wrong with the Porsche, he’d be up a creek. Now, for a fifth of that amount, I explained, he could buy a decent Miata. Plus, even if the worst-case scenario happened and the Miata blew up, engines are nearly free. At the time, our friend Rob had several sitting in his garage.

My brother went on a quest for his perfect Miata—no red or white cars, as it had to be something unique. Black cars were high on the list, but he already had a black car and knew how tough they were to keep clean.

He finally found a great deal on a 1996 Montego Blue Miata at a local VW dealership. It’s a rare color that changes between green-blue and blue-green. It looks good on a Miata.

This one had some hail damage, but that proved easy to repair: A friendly dent guy fixed the hood, while we scored a mint deck lid in the correct color for $75 via miata.net. For another $75, the seller threw in a perfect rear panel—you know, the one that fits between the taillights and tends to fetch real money.

My brother still has the car and drives it regularly. He lives in Atlanta, which is a good place to have a Miata. We have a lot of friends in the area who know the cars well, and Joe at RSpeed has been helpful when parts and repairs are needed.

Well, the number of Miata fans in the family has grown again: Our dad recently purchased one. His is also somewhat rare, as he bought one of the 750 Generation Limited cars imported during the 2006 model year. No, it’s not the one that Andy Hollis would take autocrossing, but it’s a neat, unique model.

Among his first questions after purchasing the car: Is it supported by a club? BMW and Porsche owners have national clubs that operate on the local level; is the Miata so blessed?

“Well, sort of,” I explained. There was once the Miata Club of America, but it kind of imploded. The result is a network of independent Miata clubs.

However, the car is still supported by a very active online community. Between our message board—remember, “Miata” is the answer for all questions—as well as miata.net, clubroadster.net and others, Miata owners have plenty of opportunities to chat, meet up and help each other.

And that’s a big point of our sports car world. There’s no reason to go at it alone. No matter who you are or where you live, the love of sports cars doesn’t have to be a one-person hobby. Either you need to inflict others with that love or just find the right people to hang out with.

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