The To­tal MX-5 fleet

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

Cor­ro­sion woes and bro­ken parts af­flict some, but Ben­nett’s new tyres are just fine

Just like you, we know from first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence that MX-5 own­er­ship has its up and downs, and this is­sue the lat­ter in­cludes a fair sprin­kling of rust... But not once has any of us said, ‘that car’s gotta go!’


What’s that stink? Surely it’s not me? Oh. Sorry about that. Can’t help it though, be­cause my front brake pads are on fire… That’s over-drama­tis­ing the sit­u­a­tion a tad, I sup­pose, be­cause there weren’t ac­tu­ally any flames, but there were wisps of smoke snaking their way out through the spokes of my pur­ple Ro­tas, and that dis­tinc­tive aroma of over­heat­ing fric­tion ma­te­rial.

Putting the MX-5 into neu­tral on a slope and then re­leas­ing both the hand­brake and the brake pedal con­firmed what my nos­trils had al­ready told me – that at least one of the brake calipers was bind­ing be­cause the car wasn’t rolling any­where. Time for a quick call to the AA: you pay all that money, you might as well use them ev­ery now and then.

Michael the AA man turned out to be a bit of an MX-5 fan and had a mate who owned a much-mod­i­fied ex­am­ple. He stripped down and cleaned the off­side front caliper but ad­vised that this was a very tem­po­rary so­lu­tion and that I should get to a garage and have the caliper re­placed as soon as. A quick phone call to an­other Michael, of the Clev­er­ley Re­paired Cars va­ri­ety, and my mk1 is booked in for a re­place­ment caliper the fol­low­ing day.

AA Michael’s pre­dic­tion of a short-lived cure turned out to be de­press­ingly ac­cu­rate, be­cause from the mo­ment I pulled out of my drive­way, the er­rant caliper was press­ing the pads hard against the disc again. Af­ter a cou­ple of miles I had to stop to let the pads cool down and the smoke dis­si­pate, be­fore trav­el­ling the last three miles at about 40mph.

At Clev­er­ley’s, Vince was wait­ing with the re­place­ment caliper. I’ve never had to think about it be­fore so I was sur­prised to dis­cover that it was a re­fur­bished unit; it seems they don’t make new ones any more. And af­ter all these years, why would they? Vince con­firmed that the caliper and pads were ‘bloody hot’, al­though the smoke and smell had al­ready con­vinced me of that sev­eral

miles back down the road.

Vince is clearly well prac­ticed in the art of MX-5 caliper re­place­ment, be­cause the new one is in situ in what seems like mere min­utes, de­spite him hav­ing to blow on some of the bits to cool them down. He then rail­roaded me into also buy­ing a new pair of wiper blades be­cause he hates see­ing peo­ple driv­ing around with rub­bish wipers!

Sure was nice to cruise back home again with­out the smoke and pong, and with a much smoother brake pedal ac­tion. How­ever, and as Vince had warned me, with the brakes now per­form­ing as they should, the pads didn’t bite as quickly as be­fore, so I had to quickly re­learn my re­la­tion­ship with the mid­dle pedal.

Soon af­ter­wards I took my mk1 down to Bris­tol for the MX5 Own­ers Club Spring Rally; on re­flec­tion, of­fer­ing to also trans­port my daugh­ter back down to Bris­tol Uni from our home on the Suf­folk/nor­folk bor­der at the same time was per­haps a bit mean. Still, we did man­age to stuff all her many clothes and study books, to­gether with my overnight bag and her ham­ster in its cage, into the Mazda. Had to keep the roof up, though, to use the shelf be­hind the seats for ex­tra stor­age, and I don’t sup­pose Grace was very com­fort­able hav­ing to perch with feet up on the seat for most of the 250mile trip, but we made it there with­out bick­er­ing.

A few weeks later the mk1 was pas­sen­ger-less but filled with cam­era gear for a trip down to East­bourne to visit The MX5 Re­storer (page 66). In­ter­est­ing place, in­ter­est­ing guys. With­out doubt my car will soon make a re­turn visit for some sill work, al­though my wife He­len – of the Mariner Blue mk1 also on these pages – also wants her car at­tended to. Do you think it counts if I say ‘I saw them first’? Hmm, that was my con­clu­sion too.

From The MX5 Re­storer I headed off for an­other 150 miles or so north-west, to drop in on a cou­ple of Daves, who are trad­ing as Dave­fab (see page 11), the ‘Fab’ bit be­ing for ‘fabri­ca­tion’. The qual­ity of the work these guys do is stun­ning, and I’m go­ing to test out their cold air in­take sys­tem – which pulls cool air from the low­pres­sure area at base of the wind­screen, on the other side of the en­gine bay’s bulk­head. Michael Clev­er­ley is ar­rang­ing for me to use a Suf­folk-based rolling road to get some be­fore and af­ter power fig­ures, so I’ll let you know how that goes in the next is­sue.

To be able to in­stall the Dave­fab in­take, the washer bot­tle has to be re­lo­cated to the other side of the car, so I’m also tri­alling a low-pro­file fab­ri­cated alu­minium washer bot­tle, which again sits at the base of the screen.

A Dave­fab black painted alu­minium trim panel that fits into the en­gine bay be­tween the head­lights, is pure van­ity, but may in­spire me to clean up the en­gine com­part­ment a lit­tle. Or even a lot...


Well that’s em­bar­rass­ing. Since its last MOT I’ve only driven 460 miles in my Mazda. Seemed like more. But that’s not what the odome­ter says. Shame on me…

Given that Mr Clev­er­ley is only five miles up the road and he’s just had shiny new MOT equip­ment in­stalled, it made sense to take my car to him for the test. I was briefly con­cerned that I wouldn’t make it, though. Trick­ling through town in fourth gear I prod­ded the throt­tle and the en­gine started splut­ter­ing. It re­gained its com­po­sure as I hit coun­try lanes, but when I slowed for the next vil­lage and then ac­cel­er­ated in third, it did it again. It’s the sort of stuff your car does when it doesn’t want to pass the emis­sions test…

Emerg­ing from his smart new Por­tak­abin of­fice, Mr C didn’t think it would be an is­sue. Prob­a­bly the plugs. Maybe the ig­ni­tion leads. No big deal. Let’s get on with it, shall we? Yes, let’s. Part of his new MOT rig is a fancy Snap-on Sun four-post lift that sits flush with the floor to make it eas­ier to get re­ally low cars aboard, but be­fore my car gets to ride sky­wards it has to stop in front of an­other piece of equip­ment with a mon­i­tor on top, and firstly have the afore­men­tioned emis­sions test. It runs very clean, ap­par­ently, and would pass the test for more mod­ern cars. Which is a re­lief.

Drop­ping the front wheels onto a roller set into the work­shop floor, Mr C first per­forms the brake test on the front wheels, then rolls the car for­ward and does the same for the rears. Then it’s time to move up to the far end of the lift’s ramps to place the front wheels on a pair of pneu­matic vi­brat­ing pads: later on these will be used to gen­er­ate the equiv­a­lent of some bru­tal cor­ner­ing forces through the whole sus­pen­sion sys­tem, to check for play in the bear­ings and joints. And when I say bru­tal I re­ally mean it – the front tyres’ side­walls de­form so much I’d swear they’re about to

pop off the rims.

Mr C goes through the full gamut of MOT tests us­ing his high-tech kit, and then calls me over while the car is up in the air for its far more low-tech un­der­side in­spec­tion. I’m guess­ing that when he says it’s the rusti­est sus­pen­sion he’s ever seen, he doesn’t mean it as a com­pli­ment… None of it is an MOT fail, but the sills are cer­tainly head­ing that way and go down on the sheet as an ad­vi­sory. My hus­band and To­tal MX-5 ed­i­tor has re­cently been down to see the guys at The MX5 Re­storer [see page 66], so that may be where my mk1 gets to spend the win­ter. I’d bet­ter start sav­ing, be­cause I think it could be a big job…

While my car is on the ramp it seems only fair to give Mr C the chance to play with his so­phis­ti­cated new align­ment equip­ment, too. He clamps on some re­flec­tive plates to each wheel, which are what the cam­eras on the big alu­minium cru­ci­fix in front of the car fo­cus on to gauge pre­cisely how the wheels are an­gled for cam­ber and toe-in or toe-out. I’m not pre­tend­ing I fully un­der­stand what any of the read­outs that Mr C shows me ac­tu­ally mean, but at least the ba­sics of ‘green is good’ and ‘red is bad’ make sense.

In the 23 years that I’ve owned my mk1 it has never had its ge­om­e­try checked, so it’s re­as­sur­ing to hear that de­spite the red graph­ics, the car’s sus­pen­sion is in rea­son­ably fine fet­tle in terms of which way the wheels are point­ing. Mr C reck­ons that it’s mostly within tol­er­ance of its orig­i­nal fac­tory spec­i­fi­ca­tion. But that’s not good enough for him. He wants it per­fect. Or at least, as close as he can get it. So he oils the ad­juster nuts and grabs a cou­ple of long-han­dle ring span­ners and gets busy.

De­spite the un­der­body cor­ro­sion, the nuts free off with only a mod­icum of brute force from our strong-armed MX-5 spe­cial­ist, and he’s soon wig­gling sus­pen­sion com­po­nents this way and that, try­ing to achieve the per­fect setup on the mon­i­tor in front of the car. It’s an ex­act­ing and pa­tient art, be­cause when you get one el­e­ment of the ge­om­e­try spot-on it af­fects an­other, and when you’ve sorted that part you have to move back to the first as it is now out of kil­ter. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the read­out on the mon­i­tor even if you’re not en­tirely sure what you’re look­ing at, but when Mr C achieves near equi­lib­rium on both sides of the car you can al­most reach out and touch his sense of pro­fes­sional pride.

Hav­ing driven my car so lit­tle over the past year I’d be fib­bing if I said that there was a huge dif­fer­ence in its be­hav­iour since the track­ing and cam­ber were sorted, but I do think the steer­ing is crisper and it’s more sta­ble in long cor­ners.


The older an MX-5 gets the less likely it is to be used as an every­day car – un­less it be­longs to me, that is. It’s not that an old MX-5 won’t han­dle day-to­day use, it’s more the fact that they’re now ful­fill­ing the role of sec­ond or even third car. But why ra­tion the fun? For me an MX-5 rep­re­sents cheap, dis­pos­able mo­tor­ing, es­pe­cially the mk2.

I bought my 1998 mk2 for £1400 in March 2015, with the full in­ten­tion of us­ing it un­til it falls apart. Its cheap pur­chase price isn’t an ex­cuse for ne­glect and abuse, more a nod to not be­ing too pre­cious about it: it’s a very lib­er­at­ing way to run a car. Rain or shine, all year round, the MX gets used and I get to en­joy ev­ery mile. Which ac­counts for its rapidly es­ca­lat­ing mileage.

It was pretty cheap be­cause it al­ready had 98,000 on the clock – af­ter run­ning a mk1 to 135,000 miles, this didn’t re­ally bother me. We all know Mazda me­chan­i­cals can take it. In the in­ter­ven­ing 27 months or so I’ve pushed up the mileage to over 120,000.

Costs? Me­chan­i­cally: three oil and fil­ter changes, new front discs and pads, and a caliper. Cheap mo­tor­ing. Un­for­tu­nately there’s also a body­work is­sue. Reg­u­lar read­ers will re­mem­ber the hor­rors un­cov­ered by our Tech Guru, Michael Clev­er­ley. The rear sills and arches had been mas­ter­fully bodged and so we had no choice but to fur­ther bodge it through its MOT last Septem­ber. I should have been dis­traught, but when you’re only in for a few quid, then you tend to take a more philo­soph­i­cal, year-on-year, ap­proach. If it passes this year’s MOT, that’s a bonus. If it doesn’t, then I’ll take a view on what to do/spend. If it’s not worth re­pair­ing, then, hey, I’ll have had nearly three years of very happy and very cheap mo­tor­ing.

Right now all im­me­di­ate ex­pen­di­ture hangs on the above. It could re­ally do with a new hood for the win­ter, but there’s no point if the rot wins. There’s a scrape at the rear and an or­ange smear, where I re­versed into a Biffa bin. I would have been mor­ti­fied if I’d done that to some­thing of value, but in this car it’s just a bat­tle scar.

Why not sort the body­work? It’s not eco­nom­i­cally worth it. The rough­est of es­ti­mates start at £3000 and where do you stop? The front chas­sis legs are with­out doubt go­ing the same way as the rears, but the rot just isn’t quite so vis­i­ble and is evad­ing the at­ten­tion of the MOT tester. Per­haps one day Mazda will go the same route as Bri­tish Mo­tor Her­itage and its ‘new’ MGB bodyshells and start pro­duc­ing ‘new’ clas­sic mk1 and mk2 shells. Not such a daft idea, I reckon.

It leaves me with some­thing of a quandary though, in terms of where I go next. Best case sce­nario is that my trusty/rusty mk2 can be coaxed through an­other MOT and win­ter. But what if it can’t? I re­ally like the mk2 MX-5. It’s just that lit­tle bit more re­fined and suitable as an

every­day car than a mk1, so I’d be pre­pared to get an­other.

Should I spend more and get a re­ally good one? No, I don’t think so. Be­cause then I would get all anal about it and I wouldn’t want to take it out in the rain, or drive it through the win­ter. It would, there­fore, be­come a sec­ond car… Be­sides, these days, a re­ally good mk2 is one that has al­ready had its body­work sorted. Any­thing else will end up in the bodyshop even­tu­ally and on that reck­on­ing I might as well just get an­other cheapo mk2 and con­tinue on my merry way.

Or there’s the mk3 op­tion. Tempt­ing, but would re­quire more fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment.

Rot isn’t as much of an is­sue and they are gen­uinely mod­ern, with such niceties as air-con and heated seats and rather more room. Re­ally early ones can be picked up for as lit­tle as £4500, but I would have to have a 2.0-litre. Like I say, tempt­ing and a con­tin­u­ing climb up the MX-5 lad­der. At this point I usu­ally start to think about leas­ing a mk4, but then re­al­ity sets in. When it comes to cars, I’m a born cheap­skate.

But back to the trusty/rusty mk2. Last is­sue I re­ported on hav­ing some new tyres fit­ted, but didn’t have a chance to elab­o­rate on their per­for­mance. Now I can, hav­ing put over 3000 miles on them. The tyres are from Ital­ian maker Da­vanti – its DX390. This is the same rub­ber used as con­trol tyre in the

5Club Rac­ing MX-5 Cup. It’s not a track­day tyre, or some­thing su­per sticky, just a bud­get road tyre, that Da­vanti claims punches above its weight. Scor­ing well in manda­tory EU tests for wet weather per­for­mance and noise, I was happy to try a set and any­thing had to be bet­ter than the tyres of Far East ori­gin that I was cur­rently run­ning.

A few thou­sand miles down the line, what’s the ver­dict? Well, let’s just get one thing clear. Proper tyre test­ing is a massively com­plex and time­con­sum­ing job and well be­yond our means, so all I can do is give you a feel for the Da­van­tis based on... Well, based on ex­actly that: feel. Firstly, the ride qual­ity is greatly im­proved. My old tyres seem­ingly had rigid walls and so gave the dampers a bit of a hard time. The Da­van­tis of­fer a new level of com­pli­ance and work well with the var­ied road sur­faces in my neck of the woods. Grip is up both in the dry and wet, but most no­tice­ably in the lat­ter, which is where re­ally cheapo tyres are of­ten scar­ily de­fi­cient. Sure, my Far-east­ern cheap­ies were a right gig­gle in the wet and on round­abouts, but there was al­ways the un­der­ly­ing prom­ise of fall­ing off the road. The Da­van­tis of­fer a level of wet weather grip that is far, far su­pe­rior. Of course, be­ing an MX-5 you can still have wetweather fun, and if I want to be a hooli­gan I just have to try a lit­tle harder. As well as be­ing able to lean on the Da­van­tis in the wet, they are also far bet­ter in terms of wet brak­ing and res­o­lutely refuse to lock up.

Rec­om­mended? Ab­so­lutely. If I didn’t know what they were and it was sug­gested that they were any of the pre­mium brands, I wouldn’t be sur­prised, be­cause that’s what they ‘feel’ like. And at £58 a cor­ner fit­ted, they’re ex­cep­tional value.

Michael the AA man makes a tem­po­rary fix to the siez­ing front caliper: re­place­ment, and soon, was his rec­om­men­da­tion

MK1 1.8Run by: Brett FraserOwned since: 2016To­tal Mileage: 117,558Lat­est costs: £150

Be­low: Dave­fab’s cold air in­take and low-line washer bot­tle: the weld­ing is su­perb. Be­fore the in­take is fit­ted, Fraser wants to put his car on a dyno to get a ‘be­fore’ power out­put

Right: Fraser’s mk1 parks up withJames Peach’s stun­ning RS Lim­ited that you can read more about on page 56: some envy was sup­pressed

Bot­tom: the of­fend­ing front caliper was a bit too hot to touch for a while but as soon as it cooled a lit­tle Clev­er­ley’s crew were straight on it

Michael Clev­er­ley logs on to his fancy new MOT test­ing equip­ment while He­len’s early mk1 waits pa­tiently to be­gin

Re­flec­tive plates al­low the sys­tem to mea­sure cam­ber and toe-in/out

MK1 1.6Run by: He­len FraserOwned since: 1992To­tal Mileage: 63,553Lat­est costs: £0

Align­ment hits the sweet spot

Brake bal­ance read­out

Sus­pen­sion could prob­a­bly do with some wire brush­ing...

Ad­juster nuts freed off more eas­ily than the cor­ro­sion sug­gested

Ben­nett uses his mk2 as an every­day work­horse and it wears the scars to prove it

Les­son learned – don’t back into Biffa bins. Got it?

Look what’s back

The hood’s a bit tired

MK2 1.8Run by: Steve Ben­nettOwned since: 2015To­tal Mileage: 121,030Lat­est costs: £0

Da­vanti tyres are per­form­ing bet­ter than ex­pected – they’re the con­trol tyre for an MX-5 race se­ries

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