WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Corrosion woes affect the NA, so pay attention to the sills ahead of the rear wheels as rot can spread to the inner structure; ensure the drain holes from the hood area aren’t blocked. Look for poor quality patching. Original sills had a rougher, stonechip finish so smooth paint indicates previous repairs. Wheelarches go, and examine the scuttle and the windscreen surround as rot in the A-pillars isn’t unknown. The jacking points, floorpan, front chassis rails, and subframe mounting points will need investigation, too. Plenty of specialists can repair an MX-5 cost-effectively, though.
Check panel alignment, especially around the nosecone, as it could point to previous accident damage. The paint on the plastic nose can fade, too. And ensure you know whether you’re looking at an MX-5 or a Eunos import; genuine UK cars have ‘JMZN’ in the chassis number; ‘NA’ signifies an import. With so many around a Eunos isn’t an issue – often corrosion-free, they are usually better-equipped.
The original engine was the B6-ZE 1.6-litre twin-cam, with a 1.8 added in 1994 (power for the 1.6 dropped from 114bhp to a paltry 88bhp at the same time). Long-lasting with regular maintenance, check that the five-year/60,000-mile cambelt change has been done although the engine is safe if it does break. Correct anti-freeze levels are vital in protecting the alloy cylinder head, and it’s worth checking the units for a leaking water pump and oil seeping from the cam cover gasket, cam sensor seal, and the front crank pulley seal. The hydraulic tappets can clatter, usually because neglected oil changes have gummed them up – an oil flush may help. Renewing the oil and filter earlier than the recommended 9000 miles is wise.
The five-speed manual transmission is strong, but a sticky shift likely means that the rubber boot beneath has split allowing the lubrication to escape; it’s an easy fix. A leaky clutch slave cylinder isn’t unusual, but again it’s cheap and easy to remedy. Otherwise, just check for noisy synchromesh and whines from a tired differential (imports got a limited-slip item that’s pricier to replace). The presence of an automatic’ box means it’s an import, but it’s a reliable unit if lacking in driver engagement.
Keep in suspense
Check the double wishbone suspension for corrosion around the mountings, and for worn bushes; uprated rubber ones can be a better bet than polybushes. And the car might have been lowered, though not always with great results. They are sensitive to correct wheel alignment, too, so look for unevenly worn and mismatched rubber. The brakes are usually trouble-free but check for corroded brake pipes, seized rear brake calipers, and a poor handbrake, while later cars got ABS, so check the warning light illuminates and extinguishes correctly. Examine the power steering pipes and pump for signs of fluid leaks.
The cabin isn’t the last word in luxury, but it generally lasts well. Just check it’s not too shabby and water leaks haven’t left it looking mouldy. And look for scuffed and split leather in special edition cars. Replacement parts and cosmetic upgrades are plentiful though, so a refurbishment is straightforward. The convertible hood can suffer over time, and not unzipping the rear screen before folding can leave the plastic rear window cracked and opaque. Replacements aren’t especially costly, but look for a quality item if this has already been done. Factory items and good aftermarket ones are double-skinned around the rear quarter section.
The MX-5 can suffer from issues with the electric windows. If they’re sticky, lubricating seals is the usual cure, although frayed cables and failed motors aren’t uncommon. Make sure the pop-up headlamps work and aren’t misaligned, and look for a proper gel-type battery in the boot as fumes from conventional lead-acid items can cause rot to develop.