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The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
7/31/20 8:18 a.m.

[Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the December 2014 issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Some information may be different today.]

Story by Norman Garrett • Illustrations by Sarah Young

When Grassroots Motorsports came on the scene 30 years ago–back when it was called Auto-X magazine–the sports car world was facing sorry times. Famed brands like MG, Triumph and Austin-Healey had long left our shores, while Alfa Romeo’s Spider was still a carryover from decades earlier. The once-mighty Corvette was all new, yet rather bloated. Even the Porsche 911 faced an uncertain future.

Then came the Mazda Miata. This little roadster revived the flat-lining sports car market, and it was the real deal, too: rear-drive chassis, willing engine, five-speed gearbox, amazing looks and a fold-down top. It didn’t cost a mint, either. Twenty-five years after its release, the Miata is still a cornerstone of our scene.

Here’s what we’ve learned about the Miata over its lifetime: This thing is anvil-tough and can happily deliver decades of service–and that service can vary wildly. You can race one to a national championship or simply use it to fetch your Sunday coffee. 

If they haven’t already, people will soon begin to restore those earlier examples. The Miata is our generation’s MGB. 

Norman Garrett knows the original Miata inside and out. He served as that project’s design engineer–the guy responsible for placement of all the parts that make it go, stop and turn. 

A lifetime of sports car ownership, plus that handy engineering degree, helped Norman turn sports car theory into sports car fact. And, yes, he still owns an original Miata.–David S. Wallens 

Read the rest of the story

lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter)
lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
7/31/20 9:09 a.m.

- no top

- manual transmission

- carburetor or carburetors 

PMRacing
PMRacing UltraDork
7/31/20 9:30 a.m.

Driver engagement.  Being able to feel what the car is doing and being able to control it. Driving a sports car should be like a great relationship - equal communication between both parties involved. 

I need to go drive my Miata today...

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
7/31/20 9:39 a.m.

Great article. The results speak for themselves.

Bought my first in 2018.

Replaced it a year later. This will be a forever car for me.

Now it's time to go swap on the rivals for this weekend. Two days on the kart track at Daytona!

Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
7/31/20 10:17 a.m.

I haven't owned a ton of 'sports cars' but I've owned a Miata and a 911 among some other sporty things and a whole lot of stuff i modified to make 'sportier'. I've also driven a ton of stuff as a mechanic and driven a fair number of other peoples' cars at autocross. I think overall what makes me think a car is a sports car is if it comes off as very intentionally designed to be driver-centric and focused on the driver experience. The difference between the 996 911 and 955 Cayenne has been really interesting to me. The 996 C2 911 I had (totalled out in flood, 100% planning to buy another) seemed like it was 85% built to be a sports car but only 60% tuned to be a sports car.  The Cayenne S seems like 50% built to be a sports car but 90% tuned to be a sports car. I don't know if that makes sense, but basically the 911 seemed to get a lot of its goodness from its inherent shape and layout and power/weight ratio, while the Cayenne is inherently much less sporty in the majors of its design but actually seems like they tried harder to optimize what was there to make the experience 'sporty' for the driver. The 996 is still the 'most perfectly me' car I've ever owned (in old man gold with a tan leather interior heartheartheart), but while i wanted to change the 911's suspension, i DONT want to change the Cayenne's! That is some kind of record, because i change EVERY suspension. 

The miata i had was another car that seemed built to be a sports car but not tuned to be. Mine was mildly modded to go in that direction but it just needed to be turned up too much to justify its compromises as a street car, and i don't race enough to justify all that work. It didn't last long with me and i traded it off. I have driven a miata that was close, but it was near 996 money to replicate and nowhere near the 996 in overall enjoyment. I have a high miles broken MR-S and a disassembled 2ZZ engine for it to try. I am geniunely curious how that's going to turn out. I know i love the engine, and i know i love small toyotas, and the MR layout is something i'm excited to spend real time with... but it may turn out to be another car that's only great when you're racing it. 

Ultimately, im an instant-gratification type that wants my car enjoyment to happen literally as soon as i walk out to my driveway and turn the key. It has to give it to me on the street in normal life because i want to enjoy driving every single day (thus my passionate rants about traffic and density) and im never going to go to a track more than twice a month unless i hit the lottery, and most times it will be twice a year. In those terms the Porsches have been tops for me, so far. 

pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)
pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
7/31/20 10:37 a.m.

Yeah, no. This is like saying a great woman has a lot of body hair to keep her warm, child-bearing hips and a good dowry from her father. That was OK for cavemen, but times have changed.

I've driven a Miata, it was fun to drive on a summer day with the top down...but so is a Chrysler LeBaron. I've driven RWD cars and I can tell you that a 78 Cordoba was not any better because it was rear-driven.  If you pull the back seat from a 911 or M3, the car doesn't immediately improve by 50%. Modern DCT automatics are faster then gated manuals, period, full stop. The author spews nothing but old tropes that old people nostalgic for the MGs of their youth trot out over and over again.

A great sports car elicits passion when you drive it. A sense that you are doing more than getting from point A to point B. It is something attainable yet something special. It's a car that puts you into "the flow" when you drive it. In the 60's, that meant British Sports Cars so they all fit the description given. That is a narrow view.

To a younger generation, FWD hot-hatches and AWD rally specials can equally define what a great sports car is. When they were young drivers, these were the attainable cars that they could own, modify and race. Technology helped to overcome shortcomings of the layout, and they have fond memories of back-road blasts and track nights with friends. They are great not because of a particular layout - if that was the case only mid-engine cars with perfect balance and too much horsepower would qualify. They are great because they put up the numbers while putting a smile on your face. 

I can't argue the physics of RWD vs FWD, or the weight savings of 2 door vs 4 door, but I have put plenty of "great" sports cars on the trailer with a 4-door, economy car with FWD, and I have never enjoyed a Sunday blast through Southern Ohio more in anything else. 





 

wspohn
wspohn Dork
7/31/20 10:44 a.m.

I often see the assertion that the Miata was the new generation MGB.

I don't think that is very apt. 

The Miata is the new generation Lotus Elan, that stresses handling and lightness but doesn't break all the time. 

Four cylinder DOHC engine fully independent suspension = don't see much MGB in that.

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
7/31/20 10:58 a.m.

Agility , compact size and light weight.

To me, a  sports-car is the gymnast of the car world. In keeping with the athlete comparison, a gymnast can run competently with Usain Bolt on the same track, even if not competitive. Lets see Usain do a Gymnastic routine?

buzzboy
buzzboy Dork
7/31/20 12:08 p.m.

Sports Car to me means smaller, agile, driver centric car.

I don't really think about drivetrain, number of doors or roof type.

Matt330LS
Matt330LS New Reader
7/31/20 12:12 p.m.

Smiles per mile, in a small package.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
7/31/20 12:18 p.m.
lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter) said:

- no top

- manual transmission

- carburetor or carburetors 

 fully agree. Plus Light, small, and nimble. Something you put together yourself so you actually have a connection to the car. 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
7/31/20 12:40 p.m.

The biggest is driver engagement, manual transmission preferred, top or no top is fine. I still consider the BRZ a sports car even though it has laughable back seats and a tin top. Because it was an absolute hoot to drive. 

 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
7/31/20 12:56 p.m.

In addition to what I wrote above.

 

FWD need not apply.

 

Pete

Snowdoggie
Snowdoggie Reader
7/31/20 1:55 p.m.

Two doors. My 535is was a great car but it was not really a sports car. It was a sports sedan. 

MrFancypants
MrFancypants Reader
7/31/20 1:56 p.m.
z31maniac said:

The biggest is driver engagement, manual transmission preferred, top or no top is fine. I still consider the BRZ a sports car even though it has laughable back seats and a tin top. Because it was an absolute hoot to drive. 

 

I'm not a big fan of strict definitions when it comes to cars and how we classify them. I think a sports car can have four seats, or four doors, or be FWD.

Personally, all I think a car needs to have to be a sports car are an emphasis on handling and driver engagement.

Saron81
Saron81 HalfDork
7/31/20 2:00 p.m.
NOHOME said:

In addition to what I wrote above.

 

FWD need not apply.

 

Pete


Not a sports car? I'm not sure many would agree!

nderwater
nderwater UltimaDork
7/31/20 2:04 p.m.

Agility, thrust, and sound make a car come alive. 

I prefer lively handling, too -- I like feel directly involved in controlling a car that's scrambling for grip under me.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
7/31/20 2:10 p.m.

In reply to The Staff of Motorsport Marketing :

Wire wheels, cut away doors, convertible ( with or without top), nimble, small, light, fold down windshield, 

bonus points if hand crank started. 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
7/31/20 2:51 p.m.
Saron81 said:
NOHOME said:

In addition to what I wrote above.

 

FWD need not apply.

 

Pete


Not a sports car? I'm not sure many would agree!

The exact car that proved my point...I waited patiently ( no, wait, that is a lie)  with cash in hand to buy the Lotus until GM decided in its wisdom that it was going to be FWD. At that point me and my $$$ left the room and bought a Miata. Seems I was not alone in that departure.

I still ache for a Lotus, but not impetuous enough at my age to buy one.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
7/31/20 5:50 p.m.
frenchyd said:

In reply to The Staff of Motorsport Marketing :

Wire wheels, cut away doors, convertible ( with or without top), nimble, small, light, fold down windshield, 

bonus points if hand crank started. 

I didn't know you could browse the modern internet with a 56k modem and AOL portal. devil

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Reader
7/31/20 6:00 p.m.

The most literal definition is a car that was designed to perform well at motorsports. Along the way popular culture led us to believe that sports car = expensive car.  Now many "sports cars" are too expensive to do anything fun with or are designed more for rich guys to cruise around in, and many cheap/lightweight compact cars perform sports better than the sports cars. 

TLDR: I have no idea. Its kinda like the Supreme Court said about pornography- hard to define but you know it when you see it. 

jmc14
jmc14 Reader
7/31/20 8:43 p.m.

I wanted "my" sports car to be light, unique, have independent suspension, old school looks, good balance, V8 power, manual transmission, no doors, open top, be small and low.  Most of you know that I built my own.  I've driven it almost 1600 miles since May in the Adirondack Mountains of NY.  The more I drive it, the more I like it. I took a 45 minute drive tonight.  Having fun.

Here's a picture at the pumps. And, one with one of my daughters at our family lake camp.

 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
7/31/20 9:11 p.m.

I restored a 1990 Miata in 2005ish.  Guy spent $10k rebuilding what was at the time a $4k used car.  But it was his first sports car so it was important to him.

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
7/31/20 9:13 p.m.

@jmc14 lovely car and young lady.........just don't let her out on her own in the car as she'll be beseiged with marriage proposals at every light.

As for what makes a sports car for me it's something that has really great balance so can be steered with the pedals, excellent steering, a nice downshift gearbox and a revvy motor but still comfortable enough to stay behind the wheel for.more than an hour.

Some of the cars that I've driven that got the bill for me are Miata, Fiat X1/9, Porsche Cayman & 911, CRX, Golf GTI and Mazda Protege.

nderwater
nderwater UltimaDork
7/31/20 9:18 p.m.

In reply to jmc14 :

Always love to see your updates with this car!  That’s gotta be the hottest ride in E-Town (I’m from Lake George)

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