The Mazda MX-5, when it was unveiled in February 1989, struck a chord with both press and public audiences alike. It proved so popular, in fact, that 11 years later it was awarded the heady title of the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car by Guinness World Records.
Its success was justified. For starters, the compact drop-top wasn’t overly expensive; when it landed in the UK in 1990 it commanded a price of £14,249, which wasn’t dissimilar from that of many mildly sporting hatchbacks.
The Mazda – called the Eunos Roadster in its home market – also packed a series of traits that appealed to many an enthusiast. Its initial 1.6-litre 16-valve engine put out a sprightly 114bhp which was dispatched to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. It also benefitted from disc brakes all round, independent suspension and slick rack-and-pinion steering.
While 114bhp doesn’t sound like much today, the Mazda could do plenty with it – as it clocked in at less than 1,000kg, allowing its engine to propel it from 0-60mph in less than nine seconds. With the roof down, and engine on song, it felt even quicker.
The MX-5 was not just designed to appeal to enthusiasts, mind; it had an easily dropped manual roof, a comfortable and neat cabin, a decent amount of space and – in the UK market – creature comforts such as electric windows. All in, it was a practical as well as purposeful car.
That said, the diminutive little sports car was not the first of its kind – and drew much inspiration from classic British roadsters of the past.
HARKING BACK TO LESS COMPLICATED TIMES
If someone mentions ‘classic British sports cars’ then the likes of the fabled MGB will likely spring to the forefront of your mind. The MGB line, which replaced the aging MGA, kicked off with the drop-top Roadster in 1962.
It was a far more modern car than many of its contemporaries and the two-seat MGB Roadster was subsequently better packaged and more spacious. Its 1.8-litre B-Series engine provided adequate pep, too, and the rorty roadster was both affordable and easy to live with.
These plus points were among those Mazda was keen to emulate when it began designing its new sports car in 1983. The company wanted to develop a light, characterful car that would serve up the charms of classic two-seat sports cars. These had long been popular in the United States, a key market, but the line-up of models on offer was shrinking – so there was an opportunity to capitalise upon.
Mazda promptly put together a front-engined, rear-drive convertible that was small, simple and elegant. It wasn’t a retrograde offering, mind; the design was thoroughly modern and features such as electronic fuel injection granted cleaner, easier and more efficient running. It was also reliable, so it could offer the full-on British roadster experience with none of the drawbacks.
Mazda also drew inspiration from cars such as the legendary Lotus Elan, particularly on the exterior front. However, the Elan was a far pricier machine than the MGB – costing around £1,435 when new, whereas the MG was a far more accessible £834 in 1963. Consequently, the MX-5 is perhaps closer in spirit to MG’s offering.
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ONE CLASSIC TRAIT THE MAZDA COULD DO WITHOUT
While the Mazda corrected several of the MG’s foibles, many of which were shared with myriad British classics, there was one issue that did carry over – corrosion. Like numerous classics, the Mazda did not fare well when it came to withstanding rust.
Fortunately, as was the case with the MG, countless specialists sprung up to tackle such issues and keep the cars ticking along. This, coupled with the MX-5’s appealing capabilities and an extensive range of tuning options, has helped maintain the presence and popularity of earlier examples.
Buy a clean Mk1 MX-5 today and you’ll have a car that you’ll not only be able to drive and enjoy, but also one that won’t lose any money. Subsequently, just as it did the first time around, the MX-5 continues to hit that desirable sweet spot of blending fun, performance, practicality and affordability – as have its successors. So much so, in fact, that a total of more than one million MX-5s have now rolled off Mazda’s production lines.
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