Our Italian friends over at Demented Monkeys really love their cars. Especially the Mazda MX-5 (or Miata as it is also called). Often labelled as a “hair dressers car”, the MX-5 is the car that in many ways saved the image of the Japanese marque and has sold well over 900,000 of the compact little roadster.
Mazda make good road cars but they are nowhere near as popular compared to the likes of Toyota, Ford of VW, ranking 15th or so in the world. But the Mazda MX-5 offers something a bit different and has proven to be a huge hit since its debut in 1989. And the current MX-5, now in its third generation, continues to impress with a beefed up appearance, sharper styling and even sharper handling. The later is where the MX-5 has proven to be a winner.
The concept of a compact two seat roadster was nothing new in the 1980s, especially here in the UK where you could have bought anything from a Fiat x1/9, Triumph TR7, Triumph Spitfire, Alfa Romeo Spider, or a Reliant Scimitar SS1. Of all these cars the x1/9 was the best in terms of handling and was bags of fun to drive. But it suffered from a lack of attention from the Fiat top brass and was not developed further. The TR7 was more a comfortable cruiser than an outright sports car. While the Spitfire had the looks and was fun to drive, but was really on borrowed time. The Alfa Romeo Spider was also trapped in a phase of almost time warped non-development like the x1/9, but was still available. And the Scimitar was just too controversial looking for its own good, despite being well received by the motoring press.
Into the void stepped Toyota with the mid engined MR2 in 1984 which took the wedge profile and mid engine concept and gave it the Japanese treatment. Not wanting to miss the party Mazda launched the MX-5 in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. Its designers studied the chassis of the classic Lotus Elan from the 1960s as they wanted a car that was both light weight and could handle like it was on rails.
Combined with a lightweight construction, simplified mechanicals and a lively 1.6 litre, 116BHP engine, the new Mazda MX-5 blew its competition out of the water. And thrown into the mix was the reputation for Japanese reliability. It was a formula that its rivals simply couldn’t master and the fact the MX-5 is in its third generation shows it has worked and continues to be a success to this day.
For Mazda, the heart of the MX-5 was the driving experience with a huge emphasis on fun. The cars low centre of gravity and perfectly balanced steering and suspension allow you to chuck it into a corner. While its 1.6 to 2.0 litre engines are by no means powerful, there is just enough on tap to put a very big smile on your face. Its just right.
The Demented Monkeys take their Mazda MX-5 Miata for a blast round the Hungaroring. Something we need to add to our bucketlist!
So what is it about the Mazda MX-5 that the Demented Monkeys like? Well for one they are Italian (the Demented Monkeys, not the Mazda). And we all know Italians like their cars. Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lamborghini and Ferrari are all Italian of course and they have built some of the greatest drivers cars ever. So you can see the appeal of the MX-5. It takes all of the elements of the Fiat x1/9, the Fiat Spider and the Alfa Romeo Spider and mixes the best bits into a roadster who’s handling can impress even a Ferrari owner. Which is saying a lot.
The other obvious benefit of owning an MX-5 is the cost. They are cheap to buy and cheap to run, with the added benefit of being very well engineered and are built much better than any Italian made alternative. Its the perfect car for blasting around the foothills of Rome or the Hungaroring… yes the guys have taken theirs to Hungary to the renown Formula 1 circuit and had a blast chucking it around the track, only a few weeks after we were there watching Ferrari beat Mercedes in the F1. And in July they took part in a drive with many other fellow MX-5 owners to a place called MiataLand in central Italy, a unique B&B that houses a collection of some of the rarest MX-5 Miata’s in the world. Now that’s something you don’t hear about every day.
And that is the magic of the Mazda MX-5. Its just as good as a track day car as it is on the daily commute to work. The MX-5 is the car that the Fiat x1/9 should have become. Their rivals had lost sight of the vision of the perfect two seat roadster, a vision Mazda were only too happy to seize. And they’ve been doing a pretty good job with it for the last twenty six years.
It is no wonder then that prices for first generation, 1989 model Mazda MX-5s are on the rise. It was an instant classic when it was launched and it is now fast becoming an appreciating classic. And deservedly so. One more reason for the guys at Demented Monkeys to keep their Mazda MX-5 Miata. If we owned the worlds best selling sports convertible, we’d be keeping it too.