The man who won an MX-5
In 1991 CAR magazine ran a competition to win the very first mk1 Limited Edition – meet the lucky man who won it, Steve Clark. Although he couldn’t keep it long, it turned him into a lifelong MX-5 fan Words and Photographs: Brett Fraser
Steve Clark won a Limited Edition mk1 back in 1991. To this day he remains a huge fan of the MX-5
You’ve got to be in it to win it, proclaims the National Lottery slogan. But for CAR magazine’s competitions in the 1980s and early ’90s, there was much more to being ‘in it’ than simply crossing off some random numbers on a form. CAR’S winners required acute powers of observation and calculation, and good motoring knowledge and perception, to complement that staple of most competitions, luck.
CAR made entry so tough because the prizes were so generous. A Fiat X1/9. Lotus Elan M100. A trio of Peugeot 205 Gtis. And in 1991, the very first Mazda MX-5 Limited Edition, with a – controversial, given it was three grand more expensive than the standard car – list price of £18,249. For Steve Clark, winning that car became a personal mission, and his determination to ensure that it would take pride of place on his driveway entailed making sure that the element of luck was reduced to the absolute minimum.
‘The competition ran across three issues,’ Steve vividly recalls, ‘and one of the questions involved trying to work out from a selection of covers, which issues of CAR had been the best and worst selling the previous year. I conducted a poll at work to obtain an informed consensus.’ And in a folder devoted to his entering and winning the competition for the MX-5, Steve still has the results of that poll.
But it was in the section of the competition that required calculation that Steve thought he could achieve an edge over other entrants.‘as an introduction to the competition CAR ran a feature on driving the Limited Edition to Paris. The question involved working out the odometer reading of the MX-5 once it had driven out to Paris and returned to the ferry port at Calais: you were told how many miles had been racked up during photographic excursions in the French capital and warned that the odometer was subject to a two per cent error.
‘At the time I was a cartographer for Ordnance Survey so I borrowed a largescale map of that part of France, spread it out on the kitchen table at home, and using pieces of string plotted the route and measured it very accurately. That’s how much I wanted to win. And how nerdy I am…’
Nerd schmerd: Steve’s meticulous approach did the trick.‘at 7.30pm on 24 June 1991, CAR’S editor, Gavin Green, rang to tell me I’d won the MX-5. I’ve even kept the page of my diary where I wrote that down. It was a very happy day in the Clark household.’
Yet it was a bittersweet victory, concedes Steve.‘my wife Sue and I had three little kids and a mortgage, and the day that I won the MX-5 we’d put the house on the market.we really needed some extra money to move up the property ladder, and at the time people were paying over the odds to get their
hands on an MX-5…
‘If I hadn’t been a petrolhead then moving the car straight on would have been a no-brainer. But I figured that with this being the Limited Edition number 001, if I kept it in mint condition then we could probably drive it for a few months and sell it for the same price as a new one. So we hung onto it for three months. Sadly Sue and I couldn’t do any of the romantic stuff you should do in a car like this – jump into it and nip down to the south of France, for instance – because when you’ve got three very small kids then your priorities are slanted very much in their direction.
‘Even so, when I sold the Limited Edition to the managing director of an oil company in London, I cried. Seriously. That car left me with a deep hankering for an MX-5 that I could actually keep: it was a passion that never died.’
It was a passion that was deferred, though. As the Clark kids got a bit older, Steve was distracted by another, earlier, love of his automotive life – an MG Midget. ‘In about 2000, I had the opportunity to do loads of overtime at Ordnance Survey and that provided the chance to get back into Midget ownership – between the ages of 19 and 23 I’d had two of them and used to fix them on the drive with my dad’s help. The second one was a mk2 with a 1275cc engine, and I decided that’s what I wanted again, a pristine one.
‘I managed to get hold of a one-owner wreck in very original condition, but when some specialists had a look at the bodywork they concluded it was too far gone for economic restoration. So I invested in a complete British Motor Heritage shell and over the next five years tweaked the brakes, fuel pump, electrics, and more.
‘We had some great fun with that car, but after about eight to ten years, I grew kind of bored of it: it felt old-fashioned. I considered sticking a Rover K-series engine under the bonnet, but then concluded that the car was too nice for that. So by 2014 I decided it would have to go, and there was only one car I could replace it with – another MX-5.
‘By this stage we actually already had an MX-5 in the household – Sue was running around in an orange mk2.5. But I wanted my own.we’re lucky in the Southampton area to have several good MX-5 specialists and for some while I’d been buying parts from Autolink for Sue’s car. I got to know the proprietor, Andrew, quite well, so asked him if he could help in my quest to source a car for me, as I knew that in the past Autolink had imported many a Eunos from Japan.
‘I’d already done extensive research into the model I wanted, and it had to be a [mk1] VR Limited. Even back then,
prices of really good condition standard MX-5S were stretching the budget of the funds released from the Midget, and VR Limiteds, if you could find one, were fivefigure sums. The alternative was to buy a car from a Japanese auction and import it: Andrew reckoned I could certainly get something within my budget, but because of the model’s rarity I might have to wait months.
‘A week later he calls me up to say that a VR Limited is coming up for auction in Tokyo: it’s a Combination B, so pearlescent green and only 800 made – Mazda also produced 700 Combination As, which are a burgundy colour. His Japanese connections have looked at the car’s details – Japanese auctions are very professionally run with extensive written and photographic reports on every car – and reckoned it was in as good a condition as you could expect of an
MX-5 that age. The mileage was comparatively high, but Andrew assured me that didn’t really matter.
‘So at Easter 2015 I was down at the docks to greet my new VR at the end of its three-month sea voyage. Fundamentally it was in even better condition than either Andrew or I were expecting. The hood and tyres needed replacing, as they do on all Japanese imports, but the big surprise was that it was fitted with top quality Tein suspension: quite a result. It was a fantastic base from which I could bring it up to a standard I’d be pleased with.
‘I quickly replaced the tyres, had the wheels restored by a specialist, and fitted a new, dark green, mohair hood from Mx5parts, which is based down the road in Portsmouth. I had the parking dinks taken out professionally and then the paint was detailed and colour corrected by Envy Car Care of Gosport, who also ceramic-coated the entire bodywork. The driver’s seat side bolster was very well repaired by Wessex Trimming in Southampton, and I had the cam cover cleaned and powder coated.’
Steve confesses to being a ‘detail geek’, a condition he blames on the mindset required for cartography, and is also slightly obsessive about the colour green, a combination evidenced throughout the VR. He’s changed the inner door lock colour from red to green, lined the centre console cubbies with green material, painted the script on the boot badges green, fitted green plug leads, and even swapped out the pink washer fluid for…you’ve guessed it. If you think that’s strange, so does Steve.
The VR Limited is now in such outstanding condition that Steve restricts its outings to fair weather days and never takes it out when there’s salt on the roads. ‘I’ve entered it in several show ‘n’ shine competitions, but I don’t take them too seriously. I do take the preparation seriously, however, because it’s my motivation for maintaining the car to the standard I want to keep it at. And the car’s won its share of silverware – top honours in the Mk1 Lightly Modified class at this year’s MX-5 Owners Club Spring Rally, for instance, and it was similarly victorious at the National Rally in 2015.’
While the VR Limited satisfies Steve’s lust for cleanliness and order, he also relishes the MX-5 driving experience. ‘Which meant I just had to get another one to travel to and from work,’ he chuckles.‘the white mk1 outside was given to me by an elderly gentleman. He was retiring and wanted to divest himself of a few things, so put an ad in the MX-5 Owners Club magazine saying he’d give away his car in exchange for a small donation to charity.
‘What you might call the ‘bidding’ process entailed writing him an email explaining why you were the right person for the car. He gave it to me because I had the best punctuation and my email was one of the few not to use the expression LOL!.
‘The car had been sitting for three years but really only needed new discs and pads. As well as using it for my daily commute, I’ve done a couple of trackdays in it. One was an MX-5 Owners Club track weekend at Bruntingthorpe where I learnt an awful lot. The other was at Brands Hatch where I spun off at Paddock Hill Bend and the session was red flagged.very embarrassing. But I’m not put off: I’m off to do another one soon at the Bedford Autodrome.’
Because as Steve proved after not winning CAR’S earlier Fiat X1/9 competition, there’s a lot to be gained from simply keeping on trying.
Different MX-5S, same driver (and thankfully he’s lost that suit…). Steve Clark entered CAR magazine’s competition to win the very first mk1 Limited Edition, and thanks to some diligent investigation and calculation, came away with the keys. He couldn’t keep it more than a few months, but years later bought an MX-5 he could hang onto – a VR Limited
Left: Steve’s ‘everyday’ MX-5 doesn’t have the same care lavished on it as the VR Limited. But he loves driving it and uses it for trackdays
Right: the shine in the engine bay matches the gleaming bodywork of Steve’s VR Limited. Cam cover is powder coated; green oil filler cap a rarity