The Beauty Of Dual-Purpose Cars, Epilogue - 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Road Test

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Beauty Of Dual-Purpose Cars, Epilogue

July 19, 2011

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata 

And here you thought this thread had ended. In a way, the adventure had only just begun.

First, please enjoy this idyllic photo of Project Miata parked rakishly on the side of a Carmel country road.


We'd done five sessions at Laguna Seca; the car had run like a top. Heck, it didn't even need to be refueled for the entire day. Miatas are great like that. No fuel slosh issues -- unlike in Dan's Exige -- that force you to keep the tank topped up. You can run that sucker full-bore on the track 'til it's literally almost dry and it won't sputter.

I know this because we run every stint in our LeMon this way. When it reaches 'E', you can still race for about 30-40 minutes before she sputters, at which point you back off and come in that lap to refuel. This kind of experience builds confidence, which can turn into overconfidence, which can bite you in the ass.

At the end of our track day Mike and I had planned on refueling our cars in Carmel on the other side of the Laureles Grade. Turns out the Laureles Grade is far longer and far steeper than I'd remembered from the other night, Carmel is two miles from the bottom of Laureles, and ... well, now I get to share that lovely lead photo with you. You're welcome.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata 

Unplanned guerrilla fuel stop resolved, we hit Carmel Valley Road again and had one of the best drives I've had in a long time. Then we hit 101 South for the long freeway slog back to Los Angeles.

It was dark now, and traffic was light. Temperatures had dropped to the high 50s. About an hour into our cruise, I went to downshift into fourth for some engine braking. No go. The gearchange lever refused to budge from fifth. Well, at least it's not overheating

Either the hydraulic clutch sprang a leak, or the master cylinder is dead. Slave cylinders usually wither with use in heat, not un-use in cold. We're hundreds of miles from home, and we'll have to stop for fuel in the meantime, so I'll check it over at the fuel station. From there I'll have to find a way to return Project Miata to Edmunds HQ and switch into a car that'll actually change gears.

Fuel stop in sight, I clutchlessly downshift Project Miata and switch it off at the pump. Pop the hood. All the fluid in the clutch's master cylinder reservoir is present and accounted for. Bummer. No easy temporary band-aid tonight, then, and there isn't a chance in hell this scuzzy, no-name fuel station will be able to poop out a Miata clutch master cylinder, especially at this hour.

The problem with having no clutch in a car that so recently had one isn't the driving. It's the starting. After you reach a halt, you bump-start it in gear with the starter, which is something that neither the starter nor the battery likes very much. In fact, it really pisses them off. But there I was, about to leave the gas station and ready to do just that, waiting for Mike to give the signal that a) traffic is clear, and b) the light at the intersection is green.

One out of two ain't bad. Bam, we're switched off at the red light just seconds after bump-starting it in the gas station. Good eye, Mike. As I wait, I'm convinced we'll have to push it, as there's no way the Miata's puny battery has enough sauce to take that kind of abuse again so soon. 

Fortunately, I was wrong (this has happened once before. Once.). It chugged to life on the starter halfway through the intersection, and shortly we were back on 101 South. Home free.

Or not. Remember what I said about light traffic and cool temperatures? Highway construction workers really, really dig that combination. So much so that, several miles later, they decided to close two of this freeway's three southbound lanes for construction. For this car, stop and go will be stop and stop. Mercifully, traffic flows easily through the zone and soon we're back at freeway speeds. Until the next construction zone.

This one's full of red lights and cars not moving. Eesh. I see AAA in my future. I also see an exit ramp right where the row of stopped cars begins. I dive off and trundle aimlessly around some unknown neighborhood at midnight just to keep rolling. Mike and devise a plan. He'll survey from the overpass and let me know when traffic starts rolling, which it eventually does, and then so do we.

It wouldn't be a road trip without some mechanical drama. Just like the old days.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor  

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