Good artists copy, great artists steal. Mazda literally stole the blueprint from Lotus when designing what would become the best-selling two-seat convertibles ever – the Mazda MX-5. The car made its debut in the UK in 1989, with more than a passing semblance to the Lotus Elan 1600, even down to the same engine displacement and similar dimensions. But while the Lotus was attainable only for the lucky few, the Miata upended the market to make a sportscar available for the masses. Tens of thousands were produced in the first year alone, and are still in production to this day.
The appeal of the Miata has been its timeless design. Little has changed in more than three decades, apart from swelling demand. The sub-4 metre, two-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster has evolved, become faster, and with the times. Currently, in its fourth generation, the car has spurred countless imitations, just like the Lotus.
The popularity of the Miata also boils down to proven Japanese reliability. You could have a car that you threw around the track on weekends, and also take you to work on Mondays. All cars were dependable, cheap to run, and cheap to service. The first 1.6 and1.8 litre 4-cylinder engines were bulletproof, fuel-injected and peppy, and ran smoothly with proper maintenance. Later powerplants focused more on efficiency and smooth delivery. Horsepower figures rose in subsequent models, as did overall weight, but the 0-62 times fell. The current ND Miata introduced in 2015 has seen the car grow lighter and shed a few inches, while retaining the driving appeal and impeccable handling of the first cars.
With relatively few mechanical issues, the Miata is still a fun and affordable proposition. But because it’s a convertible, it suffers from problems typical of the category. Rust can be easily fixed with replacement Miata exterior parts, which you can find in abundance new or used. Minor glitches, like damaged wiring or dented bodywork, are also cheaply repaired. If you find a used MX-5 in need of some work, the few pounds spent on replacement parts will get you a car that’s reliable, easy on the wallet, and most importantly, fun to drive.
The MX-5 has gone through a subtle evolution with each generation. The original NA Miata, with both the 115 horsepower 1.6 and slightly more powerful 1.8 litres with 128 bhp introduced 5 years later, came with well-packaged trim levels for the times, and the option of a soft-top or hard-top. If you’re lucky to get your hands on one of these, there are a few bodywork issues to look for. Rust still remains the number one problem, especially in the outer sills, as these were affected by blocked drainage channels and water accumulated inside. Steer clear of cars with advanced rust damage. Also, check the condition of the soft-top for any cracks or tears. A common concern for the hardtop was the rear window heater.
Any thirty-odd year car will need some work, and Mazda has restarted making replacement parts for all Miata variants due to high demand. The issues above are easily and cheaply fixed. Visible rust damage is fixed with new sills, and this is the first item on the shopping list for owners of the NC variant. Soft-top roofs are now available in a range of materials and colours, along with roof frames, mounting parts and rubber seals to better cope with the rain. The same goes for hardtops. These are sold with integrated rear-window heaters, including the wiring and connectors, and are quick to set up. Getting a new roof professionally fit is your safest bet, and labour won’t be too steep.
You can also find Miata exterior parts if there’s been collision damage. The chassis in the 1.8 litres NA has been strengthened compared to the 1.6, and all later models saw stiffer chassis for better handling and less body roll in the bends. Check for loose steering, the car pulling to either side or clunky noises on rougher roads. This might be a sign of worn-out suspension or steering, or possibly rusted or bent subframes. Replacement rear and front subframes are usually sourced used from donor cars, reworked, blasted and painted. Drivers also swap out old shocks, coils, hubs and other handling parts. Any major exterior damage is fixed with new replacement bumpers, front and rear wings, and inner wheel arches which are available for all cars. Alternatively, minor damage is repaired at an authorised Mazda workshop, preferably one specialising in the MX-5.
Another issue with early Miatas were the window electrics. NC and ND variants are better in this respect and there have been few reported instances. Manual and electric window regulators are cheap to swap out. Other problems here include burn-out wiper motors, broken rear-window heater switches, or faulty wiring harnesses. Also, check for the central locking mech in NB and NC cars. Inspect the condition of the window and windscreen seals, as these are the main culprits for water leaks and resulting issues with the windows.
A well-kept Miata can be livened up with some exterior trim additions. The small boot is nothing to brag about, but there’s more space available by fitting a boot rack. This can carry up to 35 kilos and doesn’t need drilling into the boot or panels, so is easily removed if needed. Pair this with a couple of gas strut bonnet lifters for easy opening and closing, which like the rack come in a chrome finish. Matching chrome mirrors are another item that gives some outward flair.
Sealing the car from debris, water and road spray is done with cheap exterior parts. A windscreen grille keeps things dry and clean in the cabin and the engine bay. Mudguards and wheel arch liners shield the arches and tyres. They are supplied with the relevant clips and caps and are quick to install. Other minor but functional items include plastic fog light surrounds, licence plate brackets, bumper liners and more. Shop for parts at dedicated Mazda MX-5 stores for the best deals.