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

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

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

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