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’