Mazda MX 5 Mk1 1989 1997


WHEN BOB HALL and Tom Matano first fleshed out the Mazda MX-5 project in the mid 1980s, they set­tled on a car that was not only light and ex­cit­ing to drive, but af­ford­able and easy to work on too – a front-en­gined, rear-drive road­ster around which an en­thu­si­ast com­mu­nity could blos­som. Those foun­da­tions have proved key to the Mk1 MX-5’s longevity.

‘Sim­plic­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity is ab­so­lutely built into the MX-5,’ says Iain Flem­ing of the MX-5 Own­ers’ Club. ‘It’s de­signed to be me­chan­i­cally man­age­able, and you can buy full ser­vice kits for £145 from places like MX-5 Parts and Au­tolink. Any­one with a socket set can do it, and there’s loads of help on fo­rums and how-to videos.’ The Mk1 MX-5 cel­e­brates its 30th birth­day next year, and though around 15,000 re­main in the UK, num­bers are drop­ping faster than you can un­latch the hood and toss it over your head. So it’s in­evitable that val­ues will rise, mak­ing the bar­gains avail­able now se­ri­ously tempt­ing.

‘A project car can be £1000 but it’ll need an­other £1000,’ es­ti­mates Flem­ing. ‘Re­ally nice cars are out there for £4k-£5k.’ Ja­panese im­ports are noth­ing to be scared of, and the com­bi­na­tion of spe­cial edi­tions with low miles and lit­tle cor­ro­sion means they’re of­ten highly de­sir­able.

The Mk1 launched with a 1.6-litre twin-cam en­gine, a 1.8-litre ar­riv­ing from 1994. We’re driv­ing a tidy 1.8, its 128bhp tug­ging along just un­der a tonne. It revs keenly, and there’s fun in work­ing it hard to 6500rpm and flick­ing through the six-speed gear­box’s tightly spaced ra­tios. The ride is sup­ple, the steer­ing sweetly re­spon­sive – though the unas­sisted set-up is sur­pris­ingly heavy when you chuck it at a fast cor­ner, and many own­ers pre­fer up­rated Meis­terR sus­pen­sion for sharper han­dling.

This is clearly not a fast car, and our other two picks both trump the Mazda for driver en­gage­ment. Nor is it par­tic­u­larly re­fined: there’s al­most as much wind noise with the hood up than down. But as an af­ford­able road­ster that will re­con­nect you with the fun of driv­ing, a me­chan­i­cally de­pend­able clas­sic you can use ev­ery day and main­tain your­self, the MX-5 ab­so­lutely stacks up.

Elan’s in lu­ence doesn’t ex­tend to the MX…5’s cabin. ‘Sim­plify, then add plas­tic’

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