There’s probably a part of every car enthusiast that wants to own a first generation Mazda MX-5 (or Eunos Roadster as they were called in Japan, or Miata as the Americans called them). However, many blokes will hold back from taking the plunge as the diminutive size and feminine appeal of the two-seater is enough to put them off. Should they get over the image issue though, they’ll be treated to some of those driving dynamics that have made the MX-5 a legend in the automotive world.
With early 1.6ltr import models going for very little they’re one of the cheapest ways into rear-wheel drive fun you can get, although with just 115bhp they’re not likely to set your world alight in the acceleration stakes. The 1.8- litre models are a little better, with 133bhp as standard and almost one second off the dash to 60mph, but even so, most modern turbo diesels will out sprint an MX-5.
However, where the MX-5’s strength lies is in the chassis, with low weight, rear-wheel drive and a sharpness of handling that most modern cars would kill for. Get your speed up and head down a B-road and you’ll have a similar amount of fun than people driving much more expensive sports cars… which kind of adds to the enjoyment too. There are a few practicality issues.
Despite not much power, its lightweight build and rear-wheel drive can really keep you on your toes. Naturally, this can be fun too, although if your girlfriend or wife borrows it she may disagree. Plenty of MX-5s have found themselves in ditches over the years. This becomes more prevalent if you tune the MX-5, with supercharging and turbocharging options readily available. Ultimately though, if you want a cheap way into rear-wheel drive fun, that could also provide a first step into a great track day car, then a standard MX-5 is a great choice. Just watch out for the dogs out there!
Mazda MX-5/Eunos 1989-1998 Stats
Top speed: 114/123mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Sticky electric windows are a very common problem, although despite being slow they’re likely to keep working until you can’t stand it any longer. Being old cars there’s plenty known about common issues, with things like blocked or leaking radiators and sticky brake calipers, but generally they’re hard wearing.
Check for the usual signs of damage such as panels out of alignment, and also check for the rough finish along the side sills. This was a protective finish from the factory, so if it’s smooth it will indicate that repair work has been carried out.
Aside from this, make sure the roof is in good condition and that the previous owner always unzipped the window before lowering the roof, as a replacement roof could cost you a decent percentage of what you paid for the car in the first place.
MAZDA MX5 TUNING
Despite inherent good handling, an uprated suspension kit is the first port of call to improve that further. Replacing suspension bushes for polyurethane items is also wise as these are old cars and the factory ones are likely to be perished.
After that a full exhaust system and an upgrade to the 30mm larger 1.8ltr brakes (for 1.6ltr MX-5s) are good moves before you start tackling the engine. Uprated camshafts with pulleys can reap decent benefits, but for the ultimate a turbo or supercharger kit is the way forward.
You’ll need aftermarket management like a GReddy e-Manage, but 200bhp+ is readily available, and around 200bhp shouldn’t require internal work as the engine is based on the strong unit in the old 323 4×4 Turbo.