Fam­ily Ties

When Jonathan Mccor­mack bought his mk1 MX-5 two decades ago, he never imag­ined it would be­come such an im­por­tant mem­ber of the fam­ily. Now with 160,000 miles on the clock he has no plans to ever let it go Words: Brett Fraser, Pho­to­graphs: William Neill/ne

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

When Jonathan Mccor­mack bought his mk1 MX-5 20 years and 160,000-miles ago, he never imag­ined it would be­come such an im­por­tant fam­ily mem­ber

Ac­cord­ing to the old adage, fa­mil­iar­ity can breed con­tempt. But in the case of Jonathan Mccor­mack, his long-serv­ing mk1 MX-5 has bred noth­ing but con­tent­ment. In fact, next year he has plans to get the in­evitable rust at­tended to and treat his trusty old friend to a full re-spray.‘i’m go­ing to con­sider it a fresh start,’ he as­serts,‘the be­gin­ning of an­other 20 years to­gether.’

Jonathan, a lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cer, lives not too far out­side Belfast, and from an early age in­her­ited – as if by os­mo­sis – the Ir­ish love of driv­ing fast: blame the com­par­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion and the glo­ri­ously chal­leng­ing, largely empty roads.‘yes, there’s a big rally fol­low­ing over here,’ he laughs, ‘so we like to go side­ways, we love our rear-wheel drive. The Cir­cuit of Ire­land went right near my house as a kid, so how could I not be in­spired by it? Mind you, you could say it was re­spon­si­ble for me stick­ing my dad’s Cortina on its roof… Luck­ily though, that’s the only ac­ci­dent I’ve ever had of my own mak­ing.’

Jonathan’s wheels haven’t al­ways been rear-drive sports cars, but that driv­e­train con­fig­u­ra­tion has tended to at­tract him most.‘the trou­ble was, when I first started think­ing that an MX-5 might be a good idea, back in 1996 or 1997, the prices of Uk-spec mk1s in Ire­land were still colos­sally high – I cer­tainly couldn’t af­ford the £12,000 that seemed to be the go­ing rate at the time. But then the mar­ket for Eunos mod­els im­ported from Ja­pan started to open up. Now there was a chance to buy a car for around £7000, brought in through the docks in Dublin, along with Toy­ota Cel­i­cas, Nis­san Sky­lines and the like. To me it was ir­re­sistible.

‘The MX-5 I chose from the im­porter had been mod­i­fied by its owner in Ja­pan for po­ten­tial mo­tor­sport du­ties. It had a very se­ri­ous Mighty Roll alu­minium rollcage that slot­ted through the rear bulk­head to con­nect with the back end strut tow­ers, as well as a light­ened fly­wheel, light­weight prop­shaft, and an up­rated clutch. It had some re­ally good wheels, too, light­weight mag­ne­sium rims from RS Watan­abe, which I still have in the garage.

‘When it ar­rived at the docks on

Fri­day 19 De­cem­ber 1997, I was so des­per­ate to drive it over the com­ing week­end that I gave the lads do­ing the prepa­ra­tion work a large crate of beer to get the job done in a hurry.

‘What I hadn’t re­alised, though, was that the tyres th­ese im­ports ar­rived with from Ja­pan weren’t le­gal over here, so the im­porter had swapped them for some cheap re­moulds with­out telling me. First night I had the car I spun it on a wet round­about: some proper tyres were my first in­vest­ment.

‘Up un­til 2000 I used the MX-5 purely as a road car, though stick­ing a cou­ple of black stripes on it proved to be a por­tent of things to come. I even used the MX-5 to get me to the church for my wed­ding, and the brides­maids ar­rived in two oth­ers. Our wed­ding cake was also in the shape of an MX-5 – and back in 2000

shaped cakes weren’t yet re­ally a ‘thing’ – with fig­ures of Ed­die Irvine and

Jac­ques Vil­leneuve push­ing the car with Louise and me in the cock­pit. The in­clu­sion of the F1 driv­ers is a ref­er­ence to how Louise and I met: I ran an Ed­die Irvine fan web­site, wrote some­thing about a rac­ing in­ci­dent be­tween Vil­leneuve and Schu­macher dur­ing the 1997 sea­son, she agreed with my opin­ion, we got talk­ing and a lit­tle while later got mar­ried.

‘It was around about then that I was in­tro­duced to track­days. I re­ally en­joyed do­ing them and the car han­dled re­ally well, so a friend sug­gested that I give sprint­ing and hill­climb­ing a try, es­pe­cially as the car was al­ready fit­ted with a very good roll-cage. Get­ting the car and my­self – Nomex suit, hel­met, race shoes – ready for mo­tor­sport only cost me £400 or so back then, and there I was, set up for a fun six years of com­pe­ti­tion. while I did en­joy the sprints, I pre­ferred hill­climb­ing.

‘Ire­land only has three race cir­cuits so the sprints be­came a bit bor­ing and pre­dictable af­ter a while. But there are ten hill­climb cour­ses, some of them lined with cliffs and rocks, and they could be very ex­cit­ing.

‘The MX-5 stood up to the ‘abuse’ very well, but all the fancy light­weight stuff that was on the car when I got it even­tu­ally broke. I also got through four diffs – the diff on the 1.6 has a de­sign flaw, at least when it’s be­ing used for mo­tor­sport: I’ve al­ways planned to fit an up­rated diff, but ev­ery time one broke

I’d be so des­per­ate to get the car run­ning again, that I’d just charge down to the near­est breaker’s and get an­other stan­dard item.

‘While I got an im­mense amount of plea­sure from com­pet­ing, I never ac­tu­ally won any­thing. On the hill­climbs I twice came sec­ond, though – I was beaten to the top slot on both oc­ca­sions by a friend with a 1.5-litre Fiat X1/9 who wouldn’t ever tell me pre­cisely what he’d done to his car to make it so very, very quick. But the lack of sil­ver­ware was never an is­sue be­cause we all had such a great time at those events.

‘I stopped com­pet­ing – or rather, put it on hold – when my wife got preg­nant. Un­til that stage I’d used the MX-5 pretty much as my daily driver, not just as a race car, and we went all over the place in it. We toured all round Ire­land, drove up to Scot­land and down to Lon­don and through Wales, and got to thrash it around the Isle of Man on an event where they even closed off the moun­tain road for us.we took it to the Nür­bur­gring, too. In Ger­many I de­cided to max it on the au­to­bahn – from 110mph to 120mph took for­ever, and those pop-up lights make a big dif­fer­ence to how fast you can go when they’re raised. That’s the fastest

I’ve ever been in the car, and al­though it was ex­hil­a­rat­ing to sit at that speed, be­ing flashed to get out of the way by diesel Mercedes sa­loons do­ing 140mph and more rather high­lighted the lit­tle Mazda’s lim­i­ta­tions.

‘With a baby on the way I just parked the car in our garage for four years. It went in there with all my spon­sors’ stick­ers still on it and my rac­ing num­ber – 23 – on the doors. And even now I haven’t taken them off.to me they’re like a time cap­sule, a re­minder of all the events and drives of the past 20 years. Next year I’m hop­ing to have the car prop­erly re­stored – I have had the rust at­tended to be­fore, but it has come back through on the sills and wings – and that will in­clude a full re-spray, prob­a­bly us­ing a sil­very gun­metal colour from the Alfa Romeo paint range.

‘At that stage the stick­ers will have to come off, but that’s OK be­cause I see it as a fresh start, the be­gin­ning of an­other chap­ter in our re­la­tion­ship. I would like the black stripes to make a

re-ap­pear­ance, though, but this time I’d like them painted on, not just vinyl stick­ers. I’m not sure if the teeth from the front grille will go back on – I bought them in a drunken ebay mo­ment from a com­pany called Auto Ex­pres­sion in the US, and though I’ve toyed with the idea of tak­ing them off again, my two kids think they’re great.

‘Apart from the pres­sures of mo­tor­sport de­stroy­ing the diffs, and the wear and tear that any car with 160,000 miles and more on the clock is likely to have suf­fered, me­chan­i­cally the MX-5 has be­haved very well over the years. Ev­ery year I take it in for an MOT, and ev­ery year it man­ages to pass. On one of the very few oc­ca­sions that it did have a prob­lem, that was very much down to me. Af­ter it had been sit­ting idle in the garage for four years, in 2012 I de­cided that I wanted to pick up my lad from his first day at school in the MX-5.YES, I should have checked it over be­fore go­ing any­where, but in­stead I shot off at full pelt to get an MOT. The wa­ter pump belt broke which in turn caused the ra­di­a­tor to blow up! Even so, I got it fixed, got the MOT and got to the school in time for the kids to come out.

‘Al­though we ob­vi­ously can’t all go out in it to­gether, my two kids love the MX-5, and I can see that my 10-year old son al­ready has his eye on it. My wife gets a lit­tle bit ner­vous about them go­ing out in it be­cause there aren’t any airbags, but the won­der­ful thing about the MX-5 is that it can feel quick even when you’re not ac­tu­ally go­ing very fast. My car has a straight-through ex­haust, and you can floor it at low speed, rush up to 40mph, and it sounds like it’s do­ing 100. The kids scream with de­light. I can’t blame them – I still can’t re­sist mak­ing the thing roar when I’m driv­ing through empty tun­nels!

‘Those years spent rac­ing have slowed me down on the road – it’s as though I’ve got noth­ing to prove when I’m away from the track. And there are other plea­sures to be had on the road: I re­ally like driv­ing at night with the roof down, watch­ing the stars. Some­times on those night trips I get a sense that this is now quite an old car – the lights are dis­mal com­pared with a mod­ern car’s, and ditto the wipers. But while mod­ern cars spoil you with their ef­fi­ciency and con­ve­nience, they feel so de­tached and clin­i­cal to drive.

‘Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to own 17 cars, but the MX-5 is the only one I’ve kept, which tells you some­thing about its charms. I’m never let­ting it go, it’s part of the fam­ily now.’

Even though he cur­rently doesn’t com­pete in it, Jonathan has kept the race num­bers and spon­sors’ stick­ers on his car, as a re­minder of the things they’ve done to­gether over the years

Jonathan Mccor­mack’s trusty mk1 – a Eunos im­port – has been such a key fea­ture of his adult life that he rocked up to his wed­ding to Louise in it: it also fea­tured as the happy cou­ple’s wed­ding cake

Left: Jonathan was an en­thu­si­as­tic hill­climber…

Be­low: what kid doesn’t love a car with a face? And big teeth

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