The Mazda Miata moved much of the enthusiast community near to tears when it was introduced in the fall of 1989 for the 1990 model year. Few thought we would ever see a British roadster re-imagined as a competent and dependable yet utterly charming automobile. Colors were originally limited to red, white and blue and several option packages that included niceties like air conditioning, power windows, and seat-mounted speakers. A nice removable hard top was offered as was an autobox, but this option mercifully proved to be unpopular. Few people were able to buy a 1990 Miata at anywhere near sticker price.
Base cars came with steel wheels, no power windows or power steering, and no air conditioning. The A and B packages added the various niceties missing from the base car. Along the way, various other option packages and new colors were introduced including the R-type with stiffer Bilstein suspension and a British Racing Green and tan leather limited edition. For 1994, the engine was enlarged to 1.8 liters with modest gains in performance.
The original 120 hp 1.6 liter was enough to power the 2,200-pound car to 60 mph in about 9 seconds. Without an abundance of low-end torque, early Miata drivers used the gearbox a lot. Happily, it was a great five-speed with suitably short throws and a nice direct feeling that was a byproduct of its conventional layout. Handling was neutral, brakes more than adequate, and the ratios were well-spaced enough to make the Miata a decent highway car and a 120 mph performer.
The wonderful thing about a Miata is the fact that while it resembles a fragile British or Italian sports car, it has the same DNA as the tremendously reliable Mazda 323. With a modicum of care, Miatas are capable of high mileage and reliable long term service. Things like power window switches and regulators can give trouble, timing belts should be changed every five years or 60,000 miles, and gearbox oil and vehicle coolant should be changed at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals. Other than the usual woes of any 20-year old car, Miatas aren’t particularly troublesome.
Many collector car enthusiasts often cite character as a reason to opt for a Triumph Spitfire or MG Midget for instead of a Miata, but that stance flatly underestimates the Miata. The passage of time has certainly thinned the ranks of early cars as well, which makes them even more intriguing.