Classic Cool: NB-Chassis Mazda Miata

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Sep 5, 2021 | Mazda, Mazda Miata, Classic Cool | Posted in Vintage Views | From the Feb. 2020 issue | Never miss an article

Of the entire Miata line, the NB-chassis cars sometimes seem to be left out. Ignored.

They lack the original Miata’s retro touches and didn’t get the refinements found in the later cars. Call it the forgotten middle child–like Jan Brady, Meg Griffin, or the Baldwin brothers not named Alec or Stephen.

Yet this second-generation Miata, basically a facelifted version of the original, still deserves a seat at the table for a few simple reasons: It’s faster than its predecessor yet usually fetches less money.

Is it much faster? Okay, just a few ticks, but faster is faster. Let’s time-travel back to the July 1999 issue of GRM. At the time, the NB Miata had just landed at dealerships, and that issue contains a head-to-head comparo between a fresh-off-the-boat 1999 Miata Sport and a well-developed 1994 Miata R–the autocross-ready packages for each generation. Both cars wore fresh BFGoodrich Comp T/A R1 tires.

Darrin Disimo, who has since won an SCCA national title, handled the driving. Final lap averages: 27.576 seconds for the early car, 27.274 for the newer car. Just think what will happen with more development, we concluded. (And race results show that, in fact, new did replace old.)

Then there’s the price advantage: Hagerty says that a good 1997 Miata is now worth $7300, while a 1999 car in similar condition should bring in $5900. And when you start looking at the top end of the field, the premium for the earlier car grows to nearly $10,000.

Is the NB-chassis Miata really that different from its predecessor? No, not really. On the outside, the popup headlamps were replaced with contemporary fixed units. Sadly, Mazda dropped the chrome door handles. Designers smoothed out the interior a bit, too, and fitted many examples with a cool (and comfortable) three-spoke Nardi steering wheel.

The mechanical bits received a few upgrades, too: bigger brakes, lower rear roll center, stiffer chassis. While displacement remained 1.8 liters, horsepower was bumped from 133 to 140. One more thing that helped acceleration: Mazda replaced the 4.10:1 final drive found in the 1994-’97 cars with the 4.30:1 used from 1990 to ’93. Weight remained right around 2300 pounds.

Mazda produced the NB-chassis Miata through 2005, adding some updates along the way, including the limited turbocharged Mazdaspeed model. Good cars are still out there.

Practical Guidance

Our Expert
Wesley Saunders
Treasure Coast Miata and Jeeps 
treasurecoastmiata.com 
(772) 263-3142

On all cars, watch for rust, rust, rust–then expensive rear quarter panel damage. After that, it all can be fixed or replaced at a very reasonable price.

Plan for the slave cylinder to need some attention. This is the weak point, and we only use the Exedy brand (Daiken clutch) as it’s the only one that holds up over time like it should. Consider replacing the master and uncooperative pigtail line with a stainless steel line when doing the replacement.

If the shifter wobbles when in gear, then the nylon bushing needs to be replaced. While doing that, replace the transmission seal and the rubber insulator. Virtually every car we see needs all three.

All the suspension boots we see need to be replaced. The components hold up well, but the torn boots certainly accelerate the wear.

Next is the timing belt: Get a kit with all the seals, and only use Mazda seals and gaskets. Our kit uses only those and Gates parts.

Parts availability is really generally pretty good. Because of the racers, the LSD rear differentials are always hard to find. Window regulators don’t have much support, but we do rebuild them. Mazda does really well in supporting parts for these cars, considering their age. Special model items can be difficult to find.

The best advice is to start with a very good example, as it’s cheaper to spend more on an upfront purchase than to build quality into your car. New paint and convertible tops are expensive considerations, for example.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, mileage isn’t all that important with the 1990–2005 Miata. These cars will run into the 300,000-mile range.

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Comments
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Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/5/21 1:33 p.m.

Note: the 2001 refresh brought bigger brakes and a number of chassis stiffeners (including changes to the tubs). It also dropped the two-cat CA emissions cars that can be very expensive to deal with in the case of a primary cat failure and picked up 10% more power. Also: functional headlights. It did get a bit heavier. 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/5/21 2:26 p.m.

The first of this generation is known as the NB1.  The improved 2001-2005 is an NB2.


I've owned a 2001 sport, which I sold when I bought my 99 sport. Besides the VVT and chassis bracing, a difference between my two cars was that that particular NB2 came with a six speed. I  preferred street driving the newer car, but it wasn't as competitive in the E Street autocross class that I compete in, especially with the six speed. 
 


 


 

alfadriver
alfadriver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/5/21 2:31 p.m.

All I know it an NB Miata is the only car I've bought new, and I still have it. (I don't count leases). 
 

One of the best cars I've ever owned. Vs the '95 it replaced, it was a better car in every respect that mattered to me. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/5/21 3:02 p.m.

NB1 vs NB2 is used in some US based forums. Sometimes you see NBFL (Face Lift) or other bits of alphabet soup I've not managed to decipher. And that's not counting what happens in the UK, where they use Mk1 and Mk2 and lord knows what for the later cars. I think I've come across Mk2.1.

It's not a Mazda designation like the NB chassis code is. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/5/21 3:05 p.m.

The story is really about the 1999 model vs the 1997 it replaced. Things like the rear end ratio only apply to the five speed cars, as the 6-speed/3.9 also appeared in 1999. 

There's a Mazda publication called the "service highlights" that goes into the NB changes in beautiful excruciating detail. But the main thing is that it's not really a new chassis, it's just an update so there is lots of interchange. I just finished driving a 1990 with a 2004 drivetrain :)

wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L)
wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/5/21 5:53 p.m.

The NB is the best looking Miata in my opinion. I like the curves, and am old enough that pop up headlights aren't that special. Not one generation I'd kick out of the garage, though.

triumph7
triumph7 HalfDork
9/5/21 8:12 p.m.

If you want to talk about a forgotten Miata I would think that's the (unloved) NC.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/5/21 9:35 p.m.

It isn't forgotten, magazines like GRM are trying hard to make it the Next Big Thing :) But between that push and the increased recognition of the NA as a true classic, the NB is definitely under-recognized.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
9/6/21 8:13 a.m.
wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) said:

The NB is the best looking Miata in my opinion. I like the curves, and am old enough that pop up headlights aren't that special. Not one generation I'd kick out of the garage, though.

I'm old enough that I think sealed-beam lights are superior to any aero lights, though, so NA wins for lighting, if you want to see at night.

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
9/6/21 3:21 p.m.

If I get another Miata it will likely be an NB.  I like the look better than the NA, but all my former Miatas have been NA.  I won't test drive and ND because I'm afraid I will buy it.  The NC has never been very appealing to me.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/6/21 4:45 p.m.
Pete. (l33t FS) said:
wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) said:

The NB is the best looking Miata in my opinion. I like the curves, and am old enough that pop up headlights aren't that special. Not one generation I'd kick out of the garage, though.

I'm old enough that I think sealed-beam lights are superior to any aero lights, though, so NA wins for lighting, if you want to see at night.

Stock for stock the NB lights are better on a purely fuctional basis (in terms of illuminating the road), but I'm told it's easy to drop some high quality LED upgrades into the sealed beam mounts and quite a bit harder to make the non-projector NB1 headlights that good.  You can swap in NB2 projector mounts, but then you need the ugly NB2 bumper as well. :)

 

 

KyAllroad
KyAllroad UltimaDork
9/7/21 8:51 a.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:
Pete. (l33t FS) said:
wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) said:

The NB is the best looking Miata in my opinion. I like the curves, and am old enough that pop up headlights aren't that special. Not one generation I'd kick out of the garage, though.

I'm old enough that I think sealed-beam lights are superior to any aero lights, though, so NA wins for lighting, if you want to see at night.

Stock for stock the NB lights are better on a purely fuctional basis (in terms of illuminating the road), but I'm told it's easy to drop some high quality LED upgrades into the sealed beam mounts and quite a bit harder to make the non-projector NB1 headlights that good.  You can swap in NB2 projector mounts, but then you need the ugly NB2 bumper as well. :)

 

 

While I have an NA with the super cool pop-ups, there is a very definite aero penalty to driving with the headlights up.  (2 seconds a lap on NCM West)

NB bodywork will swallow a bit larger tires than the slightly more svelte NA.

car39
car39 Dork
9/7/21 9:50 a.m.

I recently purchased my first NB after 3 NA models.  It's a 2000 with under 60k.  I like that it's a bit easier to drive long distance, not as cramped as my previous 90.  Not as strained on the highway, but still good on the twisties.  I don't know if it's this specific car, but everything I touch breaks.  Snapped a lug stud changing tires, and I wasn't anywhere near the end of travel, and was doing it by hand.  Worked on the dash vents, the dash developed small cracks.  We've taken to calling it Carmilla, because it's British Racing Green ( I know, Emerald Mica) and a Royal Bitch.  I still like it, though.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/7/21 11:53 a.m.
car39 said:

I recently purchased my first NB after 3 NA models.  It's a 2000 with under 60k.  I like that it's a bit easier to drive long distance, not as cramped as my previous 90.  Not as strained on the highway, but still good on the twisties.  

This is an interesting case of perception. 

Is that a 5-speed or a 6-speed? Based on the black interior, I'm thinking the former. If so, it's spinning just as fast on the highway as a 1990-93. The interior volume is unchanged relative to an NA, so it's not any roomier. 

To me, the big improvement of the NB was the manual steering rack. The manual rack on the NA feels like it was rushed through development in a few weeks because some purists claimed that Real Sports Cars have unassisted steering (spoiler alert: it was) and it's not great. The NB manual rack is rare but feels much better.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
9/7/21 4:32 p.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:
Pete. (l33t FS) said:
wheelsmithy (Joe-with-an-L) said:

The NB is the best looking Miata in my opinion. I like the curves, and am old enough that pop up headlights aren't that special. Not one generation I'd kick out of the garage, though.

I'm old enough that I think sealed-beam lights are superior to any aero lights, though, so NA wins for lighting, if you want to see at night.

Stock for stock the NB lights are better on a purely fuctional basis (in terms of illuminating the road), but I'm told it's easy to drop some high quality LED upgrades into the sealed beam mounts and quite a bit harder to make the non-projector NB1 headlights that good.  You can swap in NB2 projector mounts, but then you need the ugly NB2 bumper as well. :)

 

 

I don't want to illuminate the road.   Lights that put an extremely bright spot right in front of the car make it hard to see 100 yards down the road.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
9/7/21 4:33 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:
car39 said:

I recently purchased my first NB after 3 NA models.  It's a 2000 with under 60k.  I like that it's a bit easier to drive long distance, not as cramped as my previous 90.  Not as strained on the highway, but still good on the twisties.  

This is an interesting case of perception. 

Is that a 5-speed or a 6-speed? Based on the black interior, I'm thinking the former. If so, it's spinning just as fast on the highway as a 1990-93. The interior volume is unchanged relative to an NA, so it's not any roomier. 

To me, the big improvement of the NB was the manual steering rack. The manual rack on the NA feels like it was rushed through development in a few weeks because some purists claimed that Real Sports Cars have unassisted steering (spoiler alert: it was) and it's not great. The NB manual rack is rare but feels much better.

...Curious.  I thought the Na Miata racks were just narrower FC racks.  Is this not the case, or is its being the case the reason why it wasn't as good as it could have been?

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/7/21 4:52 p.m.

I have no idea what their background is. I just know that the manual rack was a short development time last minute addition, and that they're not great. 

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