1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test - Miscellaneous

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda Miata: Holding Cups

April 11, 2014

1997 Mazda Miata

Yeah, I'm blogging about the cupholders in a Miata.

While not as bad as the "cupholder" in a C5 Corvette, the two in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 are pretty sorry. Like Millenials, they lack depth and the ability to hold on to anything for long periods of time.

But I digress.

You can make the cupholders work, but you'll need a couple of other items. Follow me to see how it's done.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Engine Update

October 14, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Look familiar? The engine shown in the back of our long-term Silverado belongs to Project Miata. After a hiatus, activity on Project Miata is chugging back to life. Rejoice! The Keegan Engineering-built long-rod engine has lain relatively dormant during this period, patiently awaiting several odds and ends and little fabrication jobs while I traveled the globe, worked on countless other projects and, hey, somebody's got to drink all this beer. In the meantime, the engine sat. And sat.

Hey, better slow progress than none at all. It could be worse. Just look at the House of Representatives.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Power Restored

May 23, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Holy crap. Project Miata's new catalytic converter has really reawakened this ol' tic-tac. To recap, the car had been feeling gradually less peppy, and finally the check engine light illuminated. At that point the car was also more detonation-sensitive than before and drivability had degraded a bit, too. But none of these aspects were overly prominent, just a collection of incremental nuances that I apathetically chalked up to age and hard use.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Chassis Stiffness

May 21, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

I decided to rotate the tires on Project Miata recently, and in doing so was reminded just how much chassis stiffness is afforded by its 6-point GT3 roll bar by Blackbird Fabworx. See that? In the picture above, there's a scissor jack supporting the front jacking point, and that's it. Both the front and rear tires are dangling in space.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Replacement Cat From Moss Miata

May 3, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

If you, like us, reside in California, you'll quickly find that replacing your catalytic converter is a thorny issue. The replacement cat has to carry an exemption order from CARB to be allowed for sale in California (a so-called "50-state" cat), and not all catalytic converter manufacturers bother to certify their cats thusly. As a result, choices can sometimes be slim, especially if you drive a car that wasn't sold in great numbers in CA.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Catalytic Converter Is Dead

May 1, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

Project Miata's check engine light is illuminated. This is why.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Pulling the Codes

April 30, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Project Miata's check engine light is on. This is the code that came up: P0420.

P0420 is a catalyst efficiency code. This could mean that our cat's not functioning properly, or an oxygen sensor is on the fritz or even something else.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Check Engine Light

April 29, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

While we've got a big upgrade in store for Project Miata. In the meantime, it continues to be driven. And, surprise, a check engine light.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: BHJ Dynamics Crankshaft Damper

April 26, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

That's not an underdrive pulley above, it's a crankshaft damper by BHJ Dynamics. I want to be clear about that, because friends don't let friends install a solid underdrive pulley on the crank of a production-based engine. It's one of the brain-deadest things you can do to an engine. Forget that the reduction in inertia will be essentially nil in light of the manhole cover (a.k.a. flywheel) bolted to the opposite end of the crank. The bigger deal with solid underdrive pulleys is the big gamble they place on the durability of your crank, bearings and oil pump.

Many Miata owners learned this the hard way when their engine's oil pump shattered to pieces shortly after installing an underdrive pulley on their turbo Miata. To understand why this happens, the nerds at BHJ Dynamics have written one heck of a .pdf technical whitepaper for you. If that reading's too dense this early in the morning, try this: imagine what it's like to be a crankshaft.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: TiAL Sport Turbine Housing And Wastegate

April 22, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

If you've ever been around aftermarket turbos, you can probably already appreciate the TiAL Sport stainless v-band GT28 turbine housing, shown here on Project Miata's engine, sans Garrett GT2863R turbo. No bolted flanges! The v-band inlet and discharge are seriously convenient, and they eliminate the possibility of threaded fasteners relaxing, galling or seizing in the manifold.

What you can't see is that the housing is investment cast from Nitronic 50, a high-grade, heat-tolerant austenitic stainless steel. Its properties at elevated temperatures are superior to traditional turbine housing materials, so the geeks at TiAL Sport were able to reduce weight by roughly one-third without a loss in structural performance.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Turbo Conversion With Garrett And TiAL Sport

April 18, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

When it comes to sorting out ancillary hardware like a turbo, wastegate and associated plumbing, an engine on the stand is worth, like, nine in the bush. That's how that saying goes, right? No? Well, it should.

One of the handful of reasons that Project Miata's new, stronger Keegan Engineering-built heart still awaits installation can be seen plain as day above. There are other, far less impressive excuses too, but I'll spare you the tedium of chronicling them here. Besides, there's a happy spinny thing to discuss.

Getting to Phase Two in Project Miata's power plant has been an incremental process. Clearly, we're approaching critical mass. Recall our goal for Phase Two of maximizing the powerband on 91-octane pump gas, an objective that requires flow, and this means turbo. No single piece of hardware influences engine performance more than does the choice of turbo. And corking up Keegan's long-rod 1.9-liter VVT BP with the wrong turbo would be counterproductive and just plain sad.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Racing

April 8, 2013

2013 Dodge Dart

Sometimes I think I'd like to go racing. Get a dual-duty car, a sturdy daily driver that can handle a monthly track day. Buy some dedicated wheels and tires, have Mike Monticello show me the best line around a track, then ignore his advice entirely. Work my way up to the Porsche Club and start embarrassing all the teeth cleaners and plastic surgeons (a tip from experience: if your dentist likes to go racing, find another dentist). The cars, the champagne, the trophy wives: it all looks like a fun time.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Two Valve Stems, But Why?

February 13, 2013

1997 Mazda Miata

I first noticed that the alloy wheels on our Miata had two valve stems when we last tested it and I intended to do a little research to find out why.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Door Bar Conflicts With Dead Pedal

February 1, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

I've never really cared that the door bar on our long-term 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata project car hinders entry and exit. Once again, I chalk it up to the character of a project car.

But the last time I drove the project Miata, I found that my left shoe kept hitting the door bar on its way to the dead pedal after clutch use. Not a huge deal, but the door bar leaves minimal width between it and the clutch pedal.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Screeeal

December 28, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Cold engine, a bit of throttle and a whole lot of belt noise. Project Miata has been relatively trouble-free given its age, hard use and modifications but it (literally) sounds like it's time to check the accessory drive belt tension.

The Kraftwerks supercharger kit uses a Gates belt. It's racy blue and has a heavy dose of Kevlar in its construction. I know these fancy belts make more noise than standard off-the-rack belts, but what I heard that day was clearly a full-on belt squeal a la 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. So, no, there's no "ah, those blue Gates belts all do that" this time around.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: To Laguna and Back

December 07, 2012


Remember that blog about a few of us going to Laguna Seca for a track day? Yeah, well I was one of those guys and I happened to be driving our Miata for the duration of the trip.

I've got a brace of photos, some in-car and roof mounted videos as well as some insight into the car, the drive and what it's like to get completely psyched out by a one way ribbon of asphalt.

If there's anything you'd like to know about the trip, the track or the car, let me know and I'll do my best to answer your questions. Until then, stay tuned. I'll have the first in a series of blogs after December 17th - after I figure out how to edit video.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 139,580 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Chasing The Squish

November 29, 2012

An upcoming (likely floody) track weekend lit a fire under my backside to re-tackle Project Miata's brake pedal feel. 

As mentioned many times previously, its pedal is rather soft. Always has been. Moreso than in any of the countless Miatas I've driven over the years. It's not that scary squishy pedal you get when there's air in the lines, it just has a very gentle ramp into actual braking force. And that's despite numerous brake bleeds (including cycling the ABS unit) and several pad changes. The calipers are in good shape and function normally, there are no leaks, pedal free play is about one millimeter, and it has stainless braided lines. Full ABS braking capability is still available when called upon. 

That leaves the master cylinder. 

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Rotaries Are Good For Something After All

November 27, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

We're not swapping a rotary into Project Miata, but we are in a very small way taking advantage of its bigger brother's infamous thirst.

If your Miata is turbocharged or supercharged, its fuel system is flowing a significantly higher fuel flow rate than stock. Fuel flow rate scales (roughly) proportionally to power -- increase the power by 50% and you increase the fuel flow rate by 50%. And all of it passes through the filter. From a filter design standpoint, higher fuel flow rates require more filtration media, which are those pleats of paper wadded up inside every filter canister. Manufacturers don't like to put any more filtration media into a filter than they need to because, hey, that stuff costs money. 

So what happens when you put 171 hp worth of fuel through a 100-hp filter? Hard to say without measuring, but its a good guess that the pressure drop of the fuel across the filter increases significantly. Higher pressure drop means the fuel pump has to work harder than it really needs to.

I have no idea when the previous owner of Project Miata last replaced the filter, which means it was time to replace the filter. In doing so, I wanted to find a filter that at least matches our modified car's horsepower and looked like it can be made to fit with minimal effort. Effort sucks. Being savvy with part interchanges is awesome. 

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: DIY NB2 Coil On Plug Option

November 23, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

If you're installing an '01-'05 Miata engine (aka NB2) into an earlier chassis, one of the things you'll have to deal with are the coils. The NB2's VVT hardware precludes mounting the earlier coils in the usual spot at the back of the head. You can adapt the stock NB2 coil-near-plug hardware to the earlier harness, but these coils are generally considered the weakest of the NA/NB coils (themselves not much to write home about), so if you're planning on boosting you may find that you'll need some kind of other solution. 

Beyond the jump is some kind of other solution.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Pro, You Say?

November 01, 2012

1997 Mazda Miata

Pro Fit?

False. I fit just fine.


Somehow, I am able to sit in this thing. I do have to sit down with authority to get my hips in the seat (I'm one of those 34 inch waisted editors Jay mentioned) but once I'm there, I'm not at a loss for comfort. The problems are my shoulders. They don't really fit too well between the bolsters, and for someone who like to sit back in his seat, having my shoulders forced up a bit feels a little awkward. I'm also not a fan of the super upright seating position. What works for Walter Rohrl, doesn't work for everyone. And no, sitting like him won't make you fast.

It's also too high for my tastes. But, as Jay noted, again, the seat has to be mounted on sliders to accommodate for a wide range of driver heights. So, I'm kinda out of luck there.

So, I can drive it, but can I track it? I guess I'll need to see if my helmet fits under the roof and between the bars.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 138,444 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Younger Brother

October 26, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Nope, it's not our car. Look closely (upturned decklid edge and different taillights) and you'll see that this is a second-gen (1999-2005) Miata that's sporting some mods similar to ours. It's got the hardtop, the serious roll cage and a set of aftermarket wheels, though the latter are black on this car versus our Miata's polished alloys.

Informal poll time: All things being equal -- whether bone stock or modded -- would you prefer a first or second-generation Miata? Here's a history of the Miata to help you decide. 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: Trip Out, Man

July 11, 2012


So there I am, standing behind a taco stand gazing at the trunk of the Miata hoping we never get the thing repainted.

Stare at it long enough and it gets all three dimensional, I swear.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 137,801 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Rattle Patrol, Driveshaft Edition

June 27, 2012


Sometimes you can locate and solve a weird noise in a car with a torx bit, a ratchet and three minutes. Then there are the noises that are more elusive.

*Updated* - more accurate intel inside

A few weeks ago Project Miata developed a very subtle skrik-skrik-skrik in certain driving conditions. In the space of a week or so it grew obnoxious, and the conditions more obvious -- the noise was happening in gear, clutch engaged, on the overrun (or while in reverse), and was not coincident with wheel speed. To me this was the telltale of a bum u-joint. U-joints on Miatas are not serviceable, so the whole driveshaft would need to be swapped.

Flyin Miata Salvage had on hand a 58k-mile driveshaft from an '04 Miata, and into the mail it went. A couple of days later I put the Miata up on our Rotary Lift to get busy. 

Replacing a Miata's driveshaft is cake -- drop the underbody brace (six bolts; it's already removed in the lead shot), remove the O2 sensor, drop the exhaust, then it's just four bolts at the diff and the driveshaft practically falls out.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Rattle Patrol

June 19, 2012


Project Miata has plenty of rattles and squeaks. Lately, though, there have been more noises than usual, particularly related to the hardtop. So while it was in my driveway for a once-over, I went on safari. 

For starters, the striker plate (the thing on the windshield header that the hardtop clasps onto) on the driver's side was missing one bolt, and the other had backed out halfway. Aha. They're T40 torx head metric bolts, not quite unicorns but certainly won't find them at Home Depot Motorsports. Not to worry. I found the missing bolt stowed away under the seat. 

Add a stiffer suspension to an old floppy car and then drive it for as hard as possible on murderous roads for thousands of miles and bash it over the kerbs of a few roadcourses and you, too, can expect to find hardware under your seat.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 137,576 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: KINOD Gathering

June 18, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: KINOD Gathering

Not too long ago, Miata enthusiasts fell into two general groups - racers and wine-and-cheesers. But just when you thought the demographics of a well-established car had settled into a groove, an unexpected thing happened -- a few years ago, younger drivers discovered the Miata. 

Among these guys is a microcosm of hardparkers, show cars, beaters, racers and just commuters. They're sociable, too.

A small group in southern California started meeting weekly at a local Krispy Kreme parking lot to then go on a drive. This meet then grew into KINOD (Krispy kreme In-N-Out Drive).

The sixth anniversary of KINOD was last Friday night at the usual spot in City of Industry. Like most car meet-ups, these guys swap lies, parts and just hang out. More than a hundred Miatas showed up at KINOD 6, and the variety was hugely eclectic. There really is something for everyone. That car in the lead shot is Blackbird Fabworx' Miata Challenge car. It's no show car, as it's currently leading the class championship.

I snapped a few crappy pics when cars were just trickling in. Then I got distracted by the aroma of donuts and fell into a food coma. My favorite detail? The guy who street-drives his deliciously patina'd Miata on Goodyear Eagle racing slicks. 

For more (and better) images, head over to clubroadster.net.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Exfoliated

June 18, 2012


Considering its age and the hard use Project Miata, our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata, gets, it was time for a little TLC. So on Sunday I washed, clayed and waxed it and in the process remembered how much I dislike detailing cars, even ones with minimal surface area like the Miata. The hours consumed, the tedium, the subsequent fear of birds defecating anywhere within a three block radius.

Ah well. It does look better now; a bit of gloss returned to the coat and many tiny scratches and blemishes ironed out thanks to the clay bar, aka magic eraser. If you've not used a clay bar, give it a shot -- the smoothness it imparts makes the wax go on and off sooo much easier. 

Its decklid is beyond any kind of hope, but waxed it anyway in a (probably futile) attempt to stem the rate of oxidation. After all, a little patina on a well-exercised car is good provided it doesn't evolve into neglect.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 137,576 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Role Reversal

May 25, 2012


You probably read the news that Fiat is piggybacking on Mazda's next MX-5 ("ND") to create the next Alfa Romeo sports car.

It's a funny twist of fate, considering that the original Miata was openly inspired by/a modern recreation of British and Italian ragtops like the Alfa Romeo Spyder shown above. Shortly thereafter, of course, the Miata became the very definition of the genre and the best-selling sports car in history by improving on its inspirations in every conceivable way, and today Alfa openly points to Mazda as being the global experts in rear-drive sports car manufacture.

Anyway, the Fiat-Mazda partnership is poised to be a very good thing for all parties involved including consumers. Mazda has been in desperate need of a stable partner ever since Ford sold off their remaining interest in Mazda a few years ago, as the absurdly strong yen in the meantime has taken an unusually high toll on the small, export-heavy Japanese automaker. As a result Mazda isn't taking in large profits these days despite high demand of the Mazda 3 and a promising start with the CX-5 compact SUV.

On the Italian side, Fiat has been looking for a way to revitalize the iconic Alfa Romeo brand in a global way. Sharing a sports car alone won't be enough to turn each manufacturers' tides, but it's a good start, and it portends future collaborations between the two automakers.

Development and production costs of the MX-5/Alfa sports car will be spread among higher volumes and Fiat will shoulder some of the burden, which is goodness in alleviating cost pressures on all fronts. As such, in an indirect way the partnership will facilitate one of Mazda's primary design goals of the ND -- to achieve the same 2,200-lb curb weight of the original NA car. This is an exceedingly tall order given the safety, NVH, stiffness and feature content demands of modern cars, especially in a car that's supposed to be as affordable as the MX-5 is.

But what I'm most intrigued by is the parts-swapping potential. The Alfa variant will likely command a higher point, have a different suspension calibration, styling and a 1.4-L turbo Multiair engine, whereas the ND is expected to have a feeble normally aspirated 1.5-liter Skyactiv four-cyl. Can you say engine swap?

And maybe, if we're lucky, Fiat will require a fixed-roof version of one or both cars be produced, too.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor  

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Steering

May 24, 2012

Miata steering.jpg

I marvel at how superb the steering is in our LT Project Miata whenever I get into it. It's quick, precise and has an excellent feel. This is the kind of directness you want in your sports car.

I don't exactly mind gripping that Momo wheel, either. 

No doubt a good portion of the credit has to go to the alignment set up by Jay Kavanagh. Never underestimate the value of a good alignment with the correct amount of camber and caster to make a car handle well. 

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 137,262 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Kumbaya

May 22, 2012

Miata kumbaya.jpg

Came out from lunch the other day and found this very nicely turned out Miata snuggled up to our long-term Project Miata. The driver was no doubt drawn to the sheer beauty of our green (and black) meanie.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 137,120 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Slide Right In

May 10, 2012


So many reasons to love the Miata in general and ours in particular. Here's one: Easy parking in narrow coastal city parking lots. Plus a bonus "ewwwww" from a passing 328i full of dim spending drones on leave from their first corporate job in Century City.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Plate Spotting

May 10, 2012

mazdamiata 040.jpg

I encountered this GT-R while commuting in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata and couldn't help but notice its license plate: "RTFMPLS." What a waste of a vanity plate for a GT-R...or maybe I just don't get it. Anyone want to give it a try?

By the way, I was able to pass him no problem in our Miata. OK, he did seem to be in a left-lane coma but still. Rush-hour traffic is a cinch in our little Miata thanks to its ample visibility and go-kart ability.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Totally Convincing

April 30, 2012


Saw this sweet Ferrari parked outside my house.

Bet it's almost as rare as a mid-'60s Mustang. 

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Poster Boy of Compact Space Parkers

April 13, 2012


OK, Mr. Kia Sorento, what is it about the word "COMPACT" and the parking space guidelines that you don't understand? Look at our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata in the same-size space.

(Photo taken at the Grove shopping mall parking structure in Mid-City L.A.)

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Its Life Flashing Before My Eyes

April 12, 2012

mazdamiata 035.jpg

The other night, L.A. was hit with a little bout of April showers. Normally, I don't sweat that stuff but since I was faced with a long-ish drive in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata, I have to say I was a little concerned. See, our Miata saw track time recently. (If you haven't seen the videos of Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr racing the Miata on Buttonwillow Raceway, do it now.) So its tires, which many before have remarked on for being grippy, have worn down a bit so don't evacuate water as well as they used to.

As I drove down the curvy, wet and pockmarked 110 Pasadena freeway, thoughts of Mr. White (Project Miata #1) flashed before my eyes. That would really suck if something happened to THIS Project Miata. 

The rain either brings cautious-to-the-point-of-dangerous drivers or those who drive wayy too fast for the conditions. So I just kept it to 5 mph slower than the speed limit and stayed out of everyone's way. The car danced a little when it hit wet bumps but nothing bad. And thank goodness for those effective windshield wipers.

We made it home without incident, but after considering how much time and effort has gone into this Miata, I realized that, for me, driving it is like driving an ultra-expensive car. "Please don't hit me!"

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 136,569 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Green Vs. Yellow

April 09, 2012


For those of you that skip right to this here Long-Term Blog and never see the homepage, we just posted a feature story on Mazda's MX-5 Super20 showcar that includes a substantial cameo by Project Miata. It turns out that these two cars are more alike than different despite the yawning age gap that separates them.

We had fun making the piece, especially the part where editor Josh Jacquot and I snaked the two sports cars through miles of Malibu's canyon roads for the photo shoot. Look, read, enjoy.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: Rattlecan

March 27, 2012


I got the opportunity to take our Project Miata out for a good spin through the Santa Monica Mountains. Normally I'm driving it home in traffic. This time I had an open twisty road. Going up the hills and through the turns I had a blast.

It wasn't until I was working my way back down the hill that I ran into trouble.

I was stuck behind a really, I mean REALLY, slow driver. On these narrow roads there are no pull offs, no alternate routes. Misery.

It was then, while using the gearing as a brake that I noticed an unsettling rattle coming from what I expected to be the exhaust pipes. It was the kind of piercing rattle that made your teeth itch. It sounded as if the pipes were vibrating on some suspension component during each sharp spool down of the revs. I tried to use the brake more often, but I still had to use the gearing with wuss in the Explorer ahead of me. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I just wanted to get out the car for some relief.

I got to a beach parking lot at the bottom of the hill and pulled in. With my cell phone flashlight app, I inspected the under bits. I looked for what I thought might cause the sonic terror, but I didn't see anything. Though at the same time, I'm not especially mechanically inclined.

I think this is part and parcel for a "project" car. Especially one we sourced so cheaply. Though it is fun to drive in my opinion, it needs a caretaker with greater compassion than I can provide.

Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: What Flashing Brights via Pop-Up Headlights Looks Like

March 23, 2012

mazdamiata 025.jpg

For the kiddies out there not familiar with pop-up headlights because they were before your time, after the jump check out what happens when I flash the brights in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Because it stays on longer than "regular" headlights, I'd say it's more meaningful, akin to the ol' stink eye, if you will.

By the way, sorry for the gloomy, blurry video. Couldn't tell how bad it looked til I got it on the computer screen.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Not For Me

March 20, 2012


The first time I drove a Miata was during the summer of 1989. It was one of the first MX-5s in America. It was blue, just like the one on the cover of Road and Track that March. I hated it.

Honestly, I don't remember much from that day behind the wheel. I just remember how disappointed I was. I was looking forward to the drive for months. But once I got behind the Mazda's wheel I knew immediately that it wasn't for me. It was too slow. Too small. And just too delicate for my New Jersey sensibilities.

Twenty three years later I'm still there.

Whenever I drive a Miata, any Miata, I'm always disappointed. Which is exactly why I dreamt up our Project Miata, because I'm still looking for a Miata I like to drive. A Miata I like to be in. I remember talking it up to the staff before we agreed to do it. "We can make it like a little Cobra," I said. Jay Kav bought in immediately and got to work.

But it still doesn't push my buttons, our car still leaves me cold.

It's not our car's fault. It's a cool little ride. Jay has improved it 1000% in every way. He did just what we talked about. But it still isn't for me. Every time I drive it I quickly wish I wasn't. It just doesn't do it for me. I can't help but feel like I'm driving something I'm supposed to like but don't. Something I'm talking myself into.

Where's the thrill? The tire smoke? The powerslides? Where's the intensity?

I still like the idea of a Miata. It just turns out that I like the idea much better than I like the actual experience. I always have and I'm pretty sure I always will.

Oh well, different strokes.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Clean Cars Run Better

March 19, 2012

mazdamiata 029.jpg

This morning I dropped our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata off at the car wash and ran into editor John DiPietro waiting for the Quest to be washed. "Glad to see the Miata getting some love," he noted as we watched the car wash attendant dry it off.

Apparently our Miata doesn't get to go to the car wash all that often, even though we're supposed to wash the long-term cars every Monday. "Why is that?" I asked JDP, curious to hear his theory. "Probably because people think that since the paint is faded and chipped it doesn't need to run to the car wash all that often. The whole 'no respect cuz it's not a looker' mentality," he hypothesized.

That made me sad. Our Miata should enjoy the same pampering as our other long-termers. OK, maybe not a detailing but certainly some TLC. I dunno, is a beater worth washing frequently?

In all honestly, I couldn't think of anything else to blog on this car, especially since I've already gushed about how much I like it. Yup, I STILL like it. And I love how smoothly it downshifts. Very forgiving when practicing heel-toe downshifting.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: The Fork

March 05, 2012


I could have owned a Miata.

The 23 year old me was in the market for a new used car. And being 1998, and right in the middle of the import scene in Southern California, the Miata was naturally at the sharp end of my list, right behind a second generation RX-7. With a few minor exceptions, my Miata would have wound up looking remarkably similar to our long-term Miata. Fat tired, low and with a hard top, it would have driven me to work during the week and through turn six on the weekends - a true dual purpose ride.

But then something unexpected happened.

One of my then housemates bought some obnoxiously loud '94 Trans Am from an auction. It was stupid looking and I didn't want anything to do with it, but after he racked up three tickets in six months, he needed to sell it. Fast.

And I bought it.

Why did I buy it? Because it was the fastest and loudest car I could afford.

For the five years and 65k miles that I put into it, it changed the way I thought about not just sports cars, but driving in general. I wouldn't be who I am today if I didn't have that stupid car for five glorious years.

Could I still own our Miata? Of course, but I'm glad I passed it over for this anvil.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Wait, What?

February 24, 2012


It could very well be the case that there's a supremely cool Miata comparison test coming your way on Inside Line soon.

Just sayin'.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Capable

February 16, 2012


Perhaps you're already a believer in the capability of the MX-5 platform. If not, the video after the jump should help. It shows a turbocharged first-generation Miata running at a pace similar to that of a Z06 Corvette. On the Nurburgring.

This guy's claim to fame is an 8-minute, 5--second Bridge-to-Ganrtry time. If you're not familiar, Bridge-to-Gantry timing is what's used on "tourist" days at the 'Ring, since on those days it's not possible to complete a lap without stopping to queue up at the gate. In other words, it's the most practical real-world measure of speed around the famous track. Check here and you'll see that this guy keeps some pretty good company.

Or just click through for the real fun.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Tuned By JKav

January 26, 2012


I put the key to our Miata back on the big board yesterday.  My two-week stint is over. In hindsight, it was (as well as fir any other editor who drives it) a pretty sweet deal.

I got to blast around in a modified Miata that I didn't have to do anything for. No scouring ads and wasting time looking for a used Miata (OK, I've actually done that before; I owned a '97 Miata M Edition just like ours for a few years). No late nights, bleary eyed, reading stale Miata forum posts on the Internet. No wrenching on my own accord trying to install aftermarket parts that just don't quite fit, or fix things that are breaking/not working on a 15-year-old car.

Basically, it was like renting it for two weeks. Then I got to give it back with a list of a few nettlesome things that need attention.

So a tip of my hat to fellow editor Kavanagh, who's been the Miata's handler since inception. He's done a great job with this car.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: What Year Would You Get For A Project Car?

January 20, 2012


Alright, so let's say you think our project Miata is so awesome (right?) that you want to buy a used Miata and start your own project Miata. Ah, but what year or generation would you get? Would you get a first-gen car (1990 to 1997) like ours and put most of your money in parts? Or maybe you'd go with a third-gen car (2006 and up), keeping it nice, and just do some mild mods. Or maybe the sweet spot would be a second-generation car (1999 to 2005).

I think I'd probably go second-generation.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: The Little Guy

January 16, 2012


I was amused yesterday when I did some grocery shopping and saw how even a shopping cart looks comparatively large when parked next to our Miata.  You probably get more cargo space in a shopping cart, too. 

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1997 Miata and 1991 NSX: The Other Downside to Being Low

January 13, 2012


Last Friday, Erin wrote about the NSX and how she mistook an E60 5 Series for an X3 because you sit so low in the NSX. It's pretty much the same with with our Miata. There's definitely that feeling of not wanting to get hit for fear of injury.

Not helping matters is that it's often hard to have a sightline of traffic ahead when you're so low. You typically can't see through the back window of the car in front of you because everything is either crossover SUV or new-style, high beltline sedan these days. Now you'll have to react solely to the brake lights of the car in front of you because you can't see anything else.

The worst part is that it's not the Miata's or NSX's fault that they're short. Everything else is just too tall.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: A Look Underneath

December 22, 2011


Last week we put our project first gen Miata on our cool, new 2-post Rotary Lift and photographed its underbelly for your enjoyment. Warning: It's 14-year old, very used car ugly under there.


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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: What The Heck Is This?

November 30, 2011

Miata side shot.jpg

This is our long-term Project Miata.

And this is what I found stuck between the passenger seat and the center console in our long-term Project Miata:

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Killin' the Wiggle

November 09, 2011


I spent a little time in Forza 4 the other night dialing out some of the rear-end twitchiness. Without any tuning, the back tires were prone to losing grip in an instant, which often led to some lap-killing tank-slappers.

Dialing out oversteer and rear-tire nervousness is fairly easy, and every generation of Forza allows for very detailed tweaks. In this first round, I simply reduced the spring rates and stiffness in the dampers and roll-bar. It made a world of difference.

I ran a few laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as a benchmark. After the rear suspension adjustments, I easily bested the baseline by four seconds. Feel free to grab the car from the Inside Line car club and run a few laps. Post your best time in the comments here and we'll see who tops the hot lap board. And yes, these are hot laps, not a standing start lap.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Telltale

November 03, 2011


As if the roll bars and the fat tires didn't tip you off as to the 'realness' of our Miata, then the little shiny silver thing hiding in the mouth would certainly do it. That's a real, honest to goodness intercooler (not to be mistaken for an interfooler). It's the sign of a boosted car, and usually one with a little extra sauce under the hood - even if it came equipped with forced induction from the factory.

And while some people prefer the full stealth look, one that gives no hint to the performance that lurks beneath the skin, I kinda like seeing subtle signs of speed like this. I think our Miata fits the bill pretty well - not that it couldn't use even more power.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 133,760 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Tuned on Forza

November 02, 2011


I spent quite a bit of time (and Forza credits) bringing our stock Miata up to the level of our long-termer. I piled on the supercharger, suspension, wheels, tires and roll cage, taking care to approximate the real-life mods by Jay Kav. It's even green with a black hard top, but I can't distress the paint to match ours.

I think I'll need to go in and soften the rear suspension a bit, as it's entirely too squirrelly in every corner.  In the 15 or so laps I turned, I could only muster a 1:26.773 on the Top Gear track. I'm convinced that once I fix the suspension, it'll drop another three seconds. Give it a shot, I'll re-tune the dampers in a week or so.

Also, to those who responded with their gamertags in the last Forza post, I'll send you a club invitation as soon as I get home tonight.

Thanks for Playing,

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: How About This for a Project Miata?

October 18, 2011

Photo from Lightweightmiata.com

One time I was driving up to Northern California via the "fun roads" on Forest Highway 95 and 166 West when I came across a Miata...pulling a trailer that looked like a second rear end. Weirrd and neat! What a cool way to expand a Miata's cargo space for use on a road trip. Naturally, I had to look online to see how much such a thing costs. Turns out there is a bunch of people making them themselves!

On this Web site Lightweightmiata.com, the DIYer meticulously documents his own Project Miata which starts with him purchasing a forgotten beater for $400 and ultimately cutting it in half with a reciprocating saw. His project looks pretty good but he also includes photos of other Miata trailers around the world. Some of them actually look amazing.

What does Project Miata editor JayKav think of all this? "Jeezus I had no idea so many people do / have done that." Of course, I don't think he has any of this in mind for our own Project Miata since its mission is a track-worthy street car rather than a cross-country roadtripper. But still pretty cool to see how other people are resurrecting forgotten Miatas.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: School Bus?

June 11, 2011


Yesterday I drove our Project Miata to my kid's school. Yes, it looked out of place. I loved it.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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1997 Mazda Miata: Look! It's an Engine!

May 06, 2011

miata engine.jpg

How refreshing to pop the hood on a car and see the actual engine rather than a giant slab of stylized plastic covering everything up. I know that sometimes those covers serve as additional sound insulation, but they're typically used to improve the underhood aesthetics (there's nothing sexy about today's plastic intake manifolds and a bunch of wires and hoses).

But in addition to making things like spark plugs and dipsticks more readily accessible, our Miata's unadorned engine allows gear heads like me to see the handsome cover for the double-overhead camshafts and the racy individual, aluminum runners of the intake manifold. Just another characteristic of these first-gen Miatas that I like. 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 130,956 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: Well, This is Awkward

May 04, 2011


Mr. White: Hey man.

Mr.Green: Oh, hey.

Mr. White: How's it going?

Mr. Green: Ah, it's good, thanks. How are you? I mean, yeah. Anything new?

Mr. White: Me? I'm good. Yeah, thanks. Doing good! I'm just getting some much needed rest back here. Chillin'. Totally. Life's good. Yeah, I'm good.

Mr. Green: Well, that's good. Good to hear.

Mr White: Hey, uh, are those my wheels?

Mr. Green: Ummm

Mr. White: I mean, those look like my wheels. They bought those for me. And that top. They bought the top for me too.

Mr Green: ...

Mr. White. It's cool, I mean they could have pulled my trunk out but I guess it was easier, you know, for the short term, to bring you in. Is that my suspension?

Mr Green: Yeah.

Mr. White: Ok. No, that's cool! Yeah, I remember how much fun I was. I was a lot of fun. Good times, man.

Mr Green: No, yeah. It's fun. Ummm, hey Kurt's coming back. I've gotta get warmed up.

Mr. White: Of course! Hey, don't let me hold you up man. Nice to see you and stuff. Glad we could... it's like we bonded man!

Mr. Green: Yeah, sure. It's been real.

Mr. White: Hey, one more thing.

Mr. Green: Yeah.

Mr. White: Yeah, uh, you haven't heard anything about me have you? I mean, I don't care, I'm just kinda curious. I'm kinda cut off down here. I'm still good. Nothing a hammer couldn't fix amiright? I'm easy to fix.

Mr. Green: Right. Yeah, no. I haven't heard anything about a crusher.

Mr. White: Ok, that's cool. Wait, did you say crusher? What about a crusher? Dude.

Mr. Green: Oh, I mean I haven't heard the word crusher. Not at all. Seriously. Hey, uh, gotta run. Will you be here... ?

Mr. White: Totally, I'll be here. Right here, man. This is my spot! Ha, my spot. Yeah, they should put my name on this spot. Totally. It's reserved for me. Cool.

Mr. Green: Ok man, catch you later.

Mr. White: Hey, is that a supercharger? That's cool. Pssshhhht! Love that noise! I like it, bro. Yeah, I was supposed to get that too you know...

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 130,912 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: Not the Usual Valet Parking Report

May 02, 2011


It depends on who you want to impress.

The valet guys in front of the restaurant are one thing. You know, the place with the flash cars and the flash people, the place where the pure power of money is always on display.

But impressing the guys at Auto Airport Parking is another.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Riders on the Storm?

April 25, 2011

Miata on Las Posas.jpg

It was Easter Sunday, I had no concrete plans but did have the Miata and the promise of some open roads. So my friend Fled (yes that's her name -- short for Elfleda) and I decided to head up Pacific Coast Highway towards Santa Barbara to go to Easter mass and get some lunch. Despite the gloomy (but cool looking) sky we saw later in the afternoon here on Las Posas in Camarillo, all we got was a little sprinkling earlier in the day. So nope, no storm. 

When I was shooting this pic, I was reminded just how timeless the style of the Miata is. These first-generation cars were produced from 1990 through 1997 and still look fetching to me. Yes, they were inspired by (and cribbed some of the styling cues from) the '60s Lotus Elan. But to my eyes, the Miata has an even greater purity of line and sense of proportion.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 130,772 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: No. There is Another.

April 21, 2011


Look at that paint! He must've paid, like, $2400.

As much as I like Panasports, I like our 949 6UL's better.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 130,597 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Adding Some Character

April 01, 2011


I like how our project Miata car has progressed. It's a ton of fun to drive around, but I think it's lacking a little personality. So I decided to mock-up some of my ideas. Above is the baseline -- a rough approximation of British Racing Green. Fair warning, the original image was an orange Miata and I didn't have the energy to give it my full Photoshop attention. There are some reflections and edges that are pretty amateur, but don't worry, things get worse. Much worse...

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Deja Vu Cockeyed Gearshifter

March 29, 2011


When I jumped into our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata it was deja vu all over again. Hadn't I seen this cockeyed gearshifter somewhere before? Oh yeah, that '84 Ferrari (pictured below). Fortunately our '97 Miata isn't as high-maintenance, plus it's actually fun to drive so I'll cut it some slack.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: 130,000 Miles

March 23, 2011

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: 130,000 Miles1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: 130,000 Miles

After a certain point, it can become more appealing to just let birthdays slip by unnoticed, instead of announcing them with sugary cake and garish party hats. Maybe the Miata was in that kind of mood when it quietly crossed the 130,000-mile mark several miles back without so much as a whisper.

Well, we didn't forget, old friend, so like it or not, here's to you. You don't look a day over, uh, 130,081 miles. 

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 130, 081 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: My Favorite Flavor of M

March 03, 2011

95 m edtion.jpg

Yes, that's just M, not M&Ms.  Our Miata is an M Edition, essentially a loaded version of the car that came with leather seats, a unique color and special wheels.  If we're talking strictly first generation here and I get to pick from the dizzying array of M Editions / Special Editions (as we point out in our comprehensive Miata history), I've got to go with the 1995 M edition.  The '95 M came painted a rich shade called Merlot Mica, which was nicely accented by the BBS wheels and tan upholstery.  Though I like the look of real wood trim, I prefer the tactility of leather for vehicle controls, so I'd replace the wood shift knob and parking brake handle.  Oh yeah, I'd also put in a Kraftwerks supercharger kit

Any Miata fans out there agree with my choice or have a different M Edition / Special Edition of the first-gen Miata they'd prefer? 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 129,745 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Aftermarket Is Not MySpace for Cars After All

February 28, 2011


The other day I saw spinners (to see what I'm talking about here's a video of 20-inch spinners on a Blazer) on a lowered, purple Impala. Another time a rear spoiler that looked similar to this one on a Civic. It's because of customizations like these that I had previously disliked aftermarket enhancements. Aftermarket stuff seemed to just give leave to car owners to treat their rides like a MySpace page. Chaotic mess with no rhyme or reason.

But the Project 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata opened my eyes to the fact that aftermarket could actually be used to improve a car's looks and performance (wuuut?), when you know what you're doing that is.

With the hardtop, Momo steering wheel, and 6UL wheels, to name a few, our little Miata stands out from all others in a good way. Subtle enhancements that make this a kick-ass sleeper.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: That's a Lotta Roadsters

February 04, 2011


Wow. The Mazda Miata roadster passed the 900,000-build milestone this week. Read more in this article by Autoweek.

I wonder what number our Miata is?

Congratulations, Mazda. Zoom Zoom.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Mottle-y Trunk Lid

February 03, 2011


Some of you debated whether that was oxidized paint or morning dew on the trunk lid of our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata in this post's photo, so here's a closer look. Yup, definitely not dew.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: A Case for the Soft Top

February 01, 2011


This will probably get me in trouble with Project Miata editor JayKav but it has to be said. I saw this Miata the other day on the way to the beach. Now, if this was a hard top the driver wouldn't have been able to take his boogie board (?) to the beach and his Saturday would have sucked.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Personal Hygiene

January 31, 2011


Not sure if you're aware of this, but there's a whole industry devoted to just making your car clean.

There are washes and treatments, lotions and potions -- all designed to keep your car looking good. You don't even have to do it yourself, as there are these big places where people will do it for you. They are called "car washes." 

It kind of makes you wonder how our poor old Miata ever got to looking so bad.  How many years did it suffer, parked in the back of some apartment without even a carport to keep off the sun? And yet it's never too late for cleanliness. Even in its worn and sun-bleached state, the Mazda still seems to sparkle once it's been to the car wash.

It's not that a little cleaning makes a car look like new. (This Miata will never look new again, no matter how hard you rub on it.) But when a car is clean, it seems like it's been prepared just for you. The connection is a little stronger in some special way. Even when you're just at the car wash and they tell you that your car is ready, it just seems like your relationship with the car is a little more personal.

It's always tempting to dismiss all that car wash stuff, those weird concoctions of chemicals that seem like patent medicine. Totally not worth the money. And yet if you keep thinking you're too smart to squander your money on such frivolous stuff, pretty soon your car starts looking as bad as this poor old Miata. So instead of saving money, you've actually squandered the intrinsic value of your car. 

So go to a car wash, maybe go off your usual menu and get something special, maybe a clay bar treatment and some good wax.  

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 124,711 miles.  

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Old's Cool

January 12, 2011

olds cool.jpg 

Behold a relic of the 20th century. It has no panic button. It does not cost $150 to replace. It has an actual shank that slips into the ignition and starts the car.

The key could stand for a lot of things in the Miata, which felt like old-school driving to me, as someone accustomed to 21st century automotive appointments. As my colleague Ron Montoya pointed out recently, the Miata's radio is out of commission at the moment, so what I heard was the engine and road (and a weird chattering at higher speeds, like an angry chipmunk on helium. Didn't seem like a serious problem). It does have a hardtop now, which seems to upset some of you, but even with that and closed windows, I could smell eucalyptus trees on my drive home. Finally, I felt the road. Did I ever.

I was very conscious of how low I was, flitting along like a minnow in streams of motor whales. That took some getting used to. ("I'm lower than that Smart. I'm lower than that 911. I'm lower than that Mini?" Yes. I was.) I flipped up the lights and drove that way through late-afternoon traffic. It made me feel more visible. I'm not sure I really was.

But for all that, once I hit about 65, the car seemed to come into its own. At whatever speed, it's extremely responsive, and in reading up on some Miata history, I found that Mazda was striving for Jinba Ittai ("rider and horse as one") handling. It's a fitting description. Side and rear visibility are excellent. I could pick on the heater, which forced me to choose this morning between warm hands and warm feet. But that's a mere cavil.

I wanted a Miata, back in the day. My instincts then were good ones.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 128,028 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Bugeye

December 07, 2010

Austin-Healey Sprite Mk I.jpg 

Driving this car home at night, it's kind of a surprise to see the popup headlights floating there on the Miata's hood. When the Miata was first introduced for 1990, it was kind of a big deal to have popup headlights on such a small, affordable car.

Of course, you can see what the consequences might have been otherwise, as the Miata could have looked just like the 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite MK I, the famous Bugeye Sprite, of which 48,987 rolled out of the old MG plant before the more conventional Mk II appeared.

Popup headlights were introduced by Gordon Buehrig's Cord 810 in 1936, then Harley Earl copied them for his Buick Y-job concept car in 1938. The 1963 Corvette Stingray popularized popup headlights. Lotus also was an early adopter, and I remember a field of unsold Lotus Elite Type 75s at Lotus East in Millerton, New York, sadly winking with one headlight up and the other one down because their vaccuum-operated systems had leaked.

Plenty of cars had popup headlights during the 1980s, but as DOT regulations about headlight height and positioning relaxed, the design fell out of fashion. Only Corvette guys seemed to notice when the C6 ended the whole popup thing when it was introduced with conventional exposed headlights in 2005.

These days popup headlights just seem wacky, but it's kind of fun to see the Miata get all animated when it opens its eyes at night and becomes a tribute to another cheap yet incredibly influential sports car of long ago.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 127,165 miles

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