Welcome to Old School vs New School, the series where we pick out the cars from the good old days, and pair them with their spiritual successors. Last week we pitted the Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9 vs Peugeot 208 GTi. This week it’s the Mazda MX-5 NA taking on the younger Mazda MX-5 ND.
Cast your mind back to the modifying scene of the late-1980s and the go-go nineties. Was it all TSW Venoms, asymmetric Delta bodykits and badly smoothed tailgates with number plates cabletied back on to please the rozzers? It’s easy to be cynical, but the bare bones of what we used to do in those days were pretty similar to what we’re up to today.
Sure, back then it was all about outrageous bodykits, big rims, neon lights, and massive audio installs… but doesn’t that sound familiar? Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course, there are some things that were massively popular which have since totally gone out of fashion – everyone used to rock Lexus lights, headlights swaps from random different cars were popular, every other Saxo had four 6-inch exhausts… but a lot of the things that went out of fashion have come back around.
Like what? Well, three-spoke wheels, big aluminium spoilers, wide-arch kits – the difference is that people are focusing more on quality. It’s all in the details, from your obsessively smoothed engine bay to your impeccably retrimmed interior, and there’s a lot more awareness of rare parts; if you spend a year tracking down an obscure OEM+ spoiler that was only available in Austria for six months in 1994, the chances are that people will recognise it when you roll into a show.
The internet has broadened everyone’s horizons, and it’s also inspired a oneupmanship that keeps so many builds truly world-class. The days of building something over the winter and debuting it at a springtime show are largely over, as people are documenting their builds on Instagram, everyone’s open and aware, and it’s all about being the person who’s using the most original ideas to win the most peer approval.
With all that being said, some things really don’t change. At the heart of the tuning scene, now as it was then, we all want to run a car that goes fast, looks cool, and makes rowdy noises. The technology’s moved on, and the bar of quality gets raised time and time again, but we’re fundamentally still doing what we’ve always done. Long may it continue.
That’s enough of the chat, let battle commence!
THEN: MAZDA MX-5 (NA)
The buzz around the MX-5 has been strong since day one. When this eager little drop-top appeared in the late-eighties, it showed Europeans in one fell swoop how making a sporting roadster was done properly.
What the Japanese design team did was to take every element of the classic British MGs and Triumphs and whatnot and make them actually work – so here was an affordable two-seater ragtop that’d be reliable and fun.
What it also offered was hilarious tail-out mischief, possibly the best gearbox ever made, and endless tuning potential; although NA MX-5s were all nat-asp, the engine was specifically designed to be turbocharged.
BBR Turbo conversions abounded and, while the UK tuning scene was initially a little cynical about what it unfairly reckoned was ‘a hairdresser’s car’, the early MX-5 has become a proper dream machine.
MAZDA MX-5 (NA) SPEC
Performance: 130bhp, 0-62mph – 7.7s
Top mods: BBR Turbo, K&N induction, hardtop, chrome rollbars, sleepy-eye mod, Gaz coilovers, WORK wheels
Price then: £14,249 (in 1990; equivalent 2018 price adjusted for inflation: £30,789)
Price now: £1,000+
NOW: MAZDA MX-5 (ND)
The new MX-5 is a true successor to the 1989 original. It’s also a car that makes us feel really confused, because we actually like the less powerful version more, which is weird because more power should be better in all circumstances, right?
But the new MX-5 is available as a 1.5 and a 2.0 – both are great, but with the 2.0 you’re on the brakes reining it in all the time, whereas with the 1.5 you can keep the throttle constantly pinned.
They’re both hilarious though, and while there are still people who call it a hairdresser’s car (these people are berks), the MX-5 is just as popular as it ever was.
…well, popular with buyers in general, that is. On the tuning scene? Not so much. Yes, people are modding NDs, but not the extent that they were with the NA. That’ll probably change in a few years when the used prices start dropping!
And the BBR turbo conversions are still popular, that’s worth bearing in mind.
MAZDA MX-5 (ND) SPEC
Performance: 129bhp/157bhp, 0-62mph – 8.0s/7.1s
Top mods: BBR Turbo, Wilwood brakes, Status bucket seats, Tein coilovers, Rocket Bunny widebody
What would you choose?
Words Dan Bevis