A Car of My Own

My husband gave me a new car for my fiftieth birthday. You are maybe thinking what I was thinking, and what I actually, stupidly, churlishly, began to say out loud: "You're giving the editor of a car magazine a new car?" But having worked for tips during my formative years, I instantly recovered, adding, "Sweetheart! That's just wonderful! I . . . I . . . I can't believe it!" I was holding the oil cap of a Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata, which I'd just dumped from the manila envelope he'd handed me. (A few words about my husband's joyful gift giving. He can't wait. He drives directly from the jewelry store to my office, three full weeks before Christmas, and hands me the pearls across my desk. He throws open the trunk of the car, pulls the new Ruger Red Label .28 gauge over-and-under shotgun-with special wood for the stock and a little woodcock engraving on the receiver, both of which he wrangled from the factory-from the trunk, and presses it into my hands. He grabs the front of my flannel pajamas, hauls me to a seated position in bed, and shouts, "Merry Christmas! Look!" and I am staring at an ice-fishing shanty he has assembled in the pre-dawn darkness, in the flower garden, just outside the bedroom window. It comes with a power ice auger that I can't lift. The longbow and wooden arrows. The kayak. The camouflage Ruger .12-gauge over-and-under duck gun. He is a serious sport.)

He was so excited about the Big Gift that I don't think he noticed my initial gaffe and beamed proudly as I turned the heavy billet aluminum oil cap in my hands. My own Miata. And it very slowly began to occur to me that I never have access to a convertible press car the rare times I need one. Michigan has teensy windows of convertible opportunity, sandwiched between bouts of bone-numbing cold, torrential downpours, tornado season, occasional plagues of locusts, and the typical summer's blazing, breath-sucking heat. (But it's a wet heat, we like to add.)

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Mr. Jennings had, all on his own, talked to senior Mazda management and finagled a deal that would allow me to choose any color of paint and leather as long as it was in the Mazda system. I conveniently wanted titanium gray metallic, one of the two current Mazdaspeed Miata exterior colors, the other being a rather obvious velocity red mica. I inconveniently wanted brown leather, rather than the red-stitched black leather interior that distinguishes the Mazdaspeed line.

Miata chief engineer Takao Kijima turned up a rich saddle brown leather, complete with a matching Nardi steering wheel, left from a limited run of 2001 special-edition Miatas.

The rest needed no additional finessing. The 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata package is quite fabulous as is, with its newly turbocharged, 178-horsepower engine (that's 25 percent more than the base car), tuned suspension (larger front and rear antiroll bars, stiffer springs, tuned Bilstein dampers, lowered ride height, and retuned engine mounts), quickened steering response, and striking five-spoke Racing Hart alloy wheels wrapped in Toyo Proxes R28 P205/40R-17 high-performance unidirectional tires.

Nothing needs to be done to the interior, either. The instrument panel is tidy, easy to grasp for an old five-decader like myself, and the 225-watt Bose system has six speakers crammed in that tidy little two-seat cabin, the better to listen to the six-disc CD player.

My stunning one-off roadster arrived just in time to drive it up from Mazda headquarters in Southern California to the mid-August festivities on the Monterey Peninsula. My Miata made the scene at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, at the relatively new Quail concours event, and at both the Bonhams auction tent across the drive from the Quail Lodge and the RM Auctions in downtown Monterey. We drove the entire length of Seventeen Mile Drive on four separate occasions, the last to cap the weekend at the packed Pebble Beach concours.

Why stop there? We mailed our luggage home, packed two small duffels with shorts and T-shirts, and set off directly from Pebble Beach on Sunday afternoon, packed like sardines, for Michigan, 3000 miles east.

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