Classic Cool: NB-Chassis Mazda Miata

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Mar 3, 2020 | 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 
(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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