Having learned to drive in an old Alfa Romeo Spider, I have always been partial to two-seat roadsters. One of the best feelings in in my world is carving the back roads in a convertible with the top down, matching the revs on every downshift, and listening to the symphony emanating from the tailpipe. About two years ago I decided to recapture that feeling by buying another Spider just like the one I’d had before – but this time without the terminal rust. Nostalgia is a funny thing, however, and instead of a flood of memories from my youth with a Bryan Adams soundtrack behind them I spent the next several months trying to get an otherwise perfect Alfa to start, stop, and run properly. I remember thinking I should have just bought a Miata.
This past weekend on the heels of looking at two horrible German convertibles which were incidentally nothing like the pictures or the descriptions from the seller – shocking, I know – I went to look at a Miata that I spotted on Craigslist and just sounded like a good little car. With 82,000 miles, a relatively recent timing belt, water pump, and fluid change, and full books and records including the original window sticker. I bought it on the spot.
This is not my first Miata. In fact, it’s my third. In 1996 my wife and I bought a Miata as a wedding present to ourselves. It was a black/black 1994 A-package and was really a sweet little car. We kept it for about a year until we realized that a two-seater was really just too impractical for our young upwardly-mobile selves and sold it to my in-laws – who still have it to this day parked in a carpeted garage and used sparingly. The second was a red 1991 with about 160K on the clock, and was living proof that there are most definitely bad Miatas out there. It wasn’t really that bad, but it smelled like an ashtray when you turned on the blower and had at some point had some very curious body work that resulted in a strange weld line on the quarter panel which was rusting, naturally. I sold that car to a fellow who wanted to track it. I hope he’s still enjoying it.
This time around I wasn’t really looking, but have been thinking for a while that with the cold months upon us there may be some convertible bargains to be had. As I mentioned above, I had set out to go and look at the Mercedes 380SL and BMW 325iC that I wrote about last week, but they were both really quite awful. The BMW had little black and red bugs – lots of them – crawling in and out of the rockers and nary a straight panel to be found. The Mercedes was sort of dull all around, looked very tired, and it just felt dated. Moreover I’ve already got a four-seat convertible in the 300CE Cabriolet that serves double-duty as family convertible and casual cruiser, so I really wanted an honest-to-goodness sports car.
Say what you will about the Miata (and my elder brother-in-law most definitely will), but they were designed by car guys for car guys. The team that developed the Miata from the ground-up set out to recapture the look and feel of classic roadsters – cars like the Lotus Elan, MGB, Alfa and Fiat Spiders, and Triumphs – but with modern reliability and usability. The biggest problem is that they were probably too successful, and they made a car that was reasonably priced and that anybody could drive. What’s more, it was cute.
“Easy to drive” and “cute” added-up to a reputation as a girly car and took away somewhat from the fact that the Miata was excellent at being a sports car. Still, the cogniscenti among Car Geeks recognize Miatas for their handling prowess and essentially limitless upgrade and modification potential. Three generations in I am partial to the early first generation version with the peppy DOHC 1.6 liter four-banger and no passenger airbag – to me they feel lighter and more tossable than later ones. More importantly and to the point of being one of our Disposable Sports Cars – good ones can be had for the same money as a good TV or a MacBook – neither of which will get you from point A to point B in style.