The Miata and I had lots of fun back then, and the car would go on to be named this magazine's very first Automobile of the Year and a perennial All-Star; L.A. Style, "lifestyle" notwithstanding, would soon cease publishing. Flash-forward to the present, and I've been reunited with the Miata, but not for the first time. The example at hand is a second-year car (with the very desirable factory hard top) purchased new by Ray and Melenie Caldwell as a replacement for Ray's chartreuse '74 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia coupe and companion to Melenie's '73 VW Super Beetle. It was very sad when Ray died a few years ago, but his red Miata soldiers on as Melenie's daily driver. With more than 80,000 miles on the clock, the car is still tight, with nary a rattle or squeak.
I've worked with Melenie for the better part of thirty years, so this car is more than familiar to me, but I've come to appreciate it on a new level that transcends mere wind-in-one's-face fun. Its sheer competence is, in an unassuming way, simply astonishing. The short-throw five-speed is as easy to work as a video-game joystick, and the pedal layout begs for heel-and-toeing just for the heck of it.
Except for passenger and luggage capacity, there's absolutely nothing about this eighteen-year-old car that would cause one to think twice about taking it on a freeway or, better yet, a twisty byway, where its brilliant handling comes into its own.
Sure it's cute. But the essence of the Miata, its true gestalt, is its agility and how it makes the act of driving a very tactile experience, all at ordinary used-car prices. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, nothing came close back in the summer of '89. That's still very much the story today. Zoom zoom, indeed.
Engines: 1.6-1.8-liter DOHC I-4, 116-133 hp, 100-114 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Suspension, Front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes F/r: Vented discs/discs
Weight: 2116-2293 lb
233,830 (U. S. market)
(5 percent premium for detachable factory hard top)
Why not? It's a solid, reliable sports car with optimal handling, adequate power, and delightfully retro - but not cloyingly so - styling. Exclusivity isn't the point, but then again, there's lots of inventory, so you can comparison shop to your heart's delight. Parts and service can usually be found around the nearest corner, and you can count on economy-car mileage on regular-grade gasoline. For a good time with virtually none of the usual collector-car hassles and costs, the Miata is the way to go. It seems too easy, but that's part of the charm.