1994 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Crapwagon
July 30, 2010
We all warn one another about driving the Miata. After all, it is, as Champ Car driver Paul Tracy so eloquently once described the cars of his rivals in the Indy Racing League, a crapwagon.
It crashes, rattles and shakes. It gasps, squeaks and moans. The seats are torn and so is the top, and the only good thing about the top occasionally losing its grip on the windshield header and flying open at exactly 54 mph is that it smells so bad that the fresh air is a relief. There's even the 24 Hours of LeMons sticker on the driver side window to remind you just how close this car is to scrap.
But as a guy who drove a car like this back when they were new and has experience in plenty of used examples, both street cars and race cars, let me tell you that every one of these first-generation MX-5 Miatas is like that.
Much of this we interpret as the creeping influence of entropy on this car, a sense that the weakening gravity well that still holds the car's components together after 179,769 miles will suddenly lose its force and the assorted bits and pieces will simply float off into space from lack of interest. But you should know that the MX-5 was always no more than a rumor of a car to begin with.
It's tighter than the Lotus Elan after which it was patterned, since it has a real unit-body monocoque instead of a slim backbone chassis, but the Miata still flexes and twists like any car without the structural reinforcement of roof. The suspension is meant to ride on the springs when you're driving down the freeway, but as soon as you get more than an inch of lean going in the corners the car is settling into its tall bump rubbers, which really provide the springing medium, as if you were driving some kind of Formula 1 car from the early 1980s. And while people here complain about the tiredness of an engine and gearbox that have miraculously survived 179,769 miles, the truth is that the engine runs smoother and the transmission shifts quicker than plenty of examples of this car that have half as many miles.
Of course the second-gear synchros in every one of these first-generation Miatas have been toasted by exactly the same kind of guys here who complain that you have to take the shift lever across the gate and then back again in a kind of double-clutch move to make all the gears line up in a happy way before you can get a clean shift into second.
But what I'm really trying to say here is that while this car might look pretty troubled in a cosmetic sense, it's really not that bad. The Mazda MX-5 Miata has always been an acquired taste, and this car just reminds me that I still like all these cars a lot. I'll never get to own a Lotus Elan 26R like the ex-Jim Clark car now being raced by my friend John Delane (pictured above), but this is close, even if it looks like a crapwagon.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 179,760 miles