NA Mazda MX-5 admiration - Blackbourn

By: Rob Blackbourn

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Mazda took a punt with the MX-5 - in under two years its sales figures beat 24 years of Alfa Romeo Spider sales

This comment by Cliff Chambers about the first model Mazda MX-5 in his recent Japanese Value Guide made me sit up: "A very good NA Series will now cost $20,000." While the MX-5 is a Japanese car that’s always on my radar, I clearly haven’t been paying attention. About five years ago in a ‘Top Buys’ article for Unique Cars Morley described the NA MX-5 in these terms: "Price range is $4500 - $8000. I still can’t believe these are so cheap. But it won’t last, not when you consider a good one is still the best thing. Ever."

Morley has now been proved right on all counts. No surprise that he wasn’t alone on the Unique Car team singing the praises of Mazda’s little front-engine, rear-wheel drive roadster at the time. Regardless of individual automotive preferences, I think we all reckon that Mazda absolutely nailed it with the MX-5, a genuine ‘driver’s car’ – in effect an improved and refined Japanese reincarnation of the traditional 1960s British sports car. Morley and Glenn Torrens in particular were fair dinkum in their praise for the MX-5 at the time – they both joined the ranks of NA MX-5 owners. For those who joined the club back then their favourite little sunny Sunday ride has proved to be a fine investment as well as a delight to drive.

I’ll never forget my reaction at my first sighting of the MX-5 at the Melbourne Motor Show (in 1989 I assume) when I spotted the recently launched NA model. It was maximum wow factor from front to rear for me. When you research the genesis of the MX-5 you learn that the prototype team was heavily influenced by the MGB, the Triumph TR-7 and the Lotus Elan.

| 2022 Market Review: Mazda MX-5


But my immediate reaction was that it was all about the Elan. The size, the lines, the general shape – they all said early-Elan to me. But better than the Elan. Cleaner and more integrated in its styling, particularly in the lines of the bonnet, front guards and nose. Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-Elans. I’ve always loved Lotus 7s and Elans. But this was better.

My enthusiasm leapt to the next level when I looked at the car’s underpinnings courtesy of plenty of lighting around the large mirror the car was suspended over. Again like the Elan, but better – all-steel monocoque, heavily braced front-to-rear along the transmission tunnel with double-wishbone suspension at each corner. As with the styling it was better integrated than the Elan’s fiberglass body on a steel-frame set-up. I couldn’t help examining the half-shaft joints on the independent rear suspension. Hallelujah! No sign of anything resembling the pesky Rotoflex rubber doughnuts that worried me on Elans. I like the strength of steel in driveline elements.

| Read next: Mazda MX-5 review 1989-1998

Anything else eerily reminds me of the failure-prone rubber/fabric universal joint that let me down late at night as an unlicensed teenage Austin 7 Meteor driver.

The Elan vs MX-5 stuff was front of mind because many years earlier I had looked seriously at buying an early Elan that showed signs of neglect. In the course of trying to work out what I would be letting myself in for to put it back on the road, I gave it a thorough going over, checking all its nooks and crannies.

Apart from assessing work needed on door hinges and body mounting points, crazing and cracking of the fibreglass and engine timing-chest oil leaks, I decided there and then the Rotoflex couplings would be junked and replaced with CV joints. But it didn’t happen – suddenly I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from Europe. So it was a case of: "Sorry mate, I’ll have to let it go. Gotta pack my bag."


A good mate of ours at Unique Cars, Paul Newbold, succumbed to the NA MX-5’s charms a few years back about the same time as Morley and Torrens. It took the place in his shed previously occupied by a Triumph Spitfire. However Newbold subsequently copped a bit of grief from Morley when sentimentality led him to make a more authentic connection with his happily misspent youth as the owner of successive MGs. He moved the Mazda on to make way for an MGA. Paul’s lovely MGA was featured as a Reader Resto in issue 448 of Unique Cars. Apparently, you can take the boy out of a real MG, but...


From Unique Cars #470, Sep/Oct 2022


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