There’s not a lot to be said about the Mazda Miata that Jean Jennings and Jamie Kitman — two of the car’s most abiding and eloquent devotees — haven’t already said better. But I can’t resist making note of an anniversary: It’s been 20 years since Mazda gave us our first glimpse of the car, at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. The first George Bush had just been sworn in, the Berlin Wall was still standing, and the Ford Probe and Dodge Colt were on Car and Driver’s 10Best list.
A breezy week spent behind the wheel of a vanilla-colored MX-5 Grand Touring demonstrated that Mazda’s little masterstroke is still as exuberant and talented as ever, and although a few things have changed over the years (a bit more power, a few more inches in the cockpit) the things that matter (the way it goes and turns and stops) haven’t. The car’s original guiding mantra — rider and horse as one — remains intact.
The Miata (or, as Mazda insists, the MX-5) has buried a lot of would-be rivals in these 20 years: good, bad, and ugly. The Toyota MR2 Spyder comes to mind. And the Honda del Sol. And Ford’s Australian-built (and, ironically, Mazda 323-based) Mercury Capri. Well, now we can add GM’s short-lived Kappa cars to the pile. You could even make the case that the Miata throttled a high-dollar roadster or two along the way (the 1990s Lotus Elan comes to mind, as does the four-cylinder BMW Z3, a car that even Neiman Marcus and James Bond couldn’t save). And we’ll never know how many automakers’ daydream roadsters just plain never happened because the Miata existed. Plenty, I suspect.
Rest assured, there’s more to celebrate about the Miata’s big Two-Oh than the fact that its maker hasn’t screwed it up in all those years. If the car was brand-new this year it’d be terrific. Wrote Mrs. Jennings: “We were so crazy about the Miata that we created the very first Automobile of the Year award in its honor.” High praise, well-deserved. Happy birthday.