Modern Classics: Mazda Miata, 1990 1998 modern classics auto articles
Mazda MX-5 Miata (Japanese model (Eunos) shown). Click image to enlarge

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By Jeff Burry

In 2000, Mazda coined the phrase “zoom zoom” to describe what it calls “emotion in motion.” Ironically, fourteen years prior to this, in 1986, The Cars released a hit single titled “Emotion in Motion.” While Ric Ocasek of The Cars most likely never envisioned the phrase being associated with an automotive manufacturer, the phrase certainly does capture the essence of the Mazda Miata.

In 1988, Mazda manufactured 12 pre-production Miatas that would later become the world’s best-selling sports car, according to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2002.

The designers of the Mazda Miata (also badged as the MX-5) wanted to manufacture a vehicle that was both lightweight and affordable. At the time, there was little else on the market in North America that was comparable.

Modern Classics: Mazda Miata, 1990 1998 modern classics auto articles
Mazda MX-5 Miata (Japanese model (Eunos) shown). Click image to enlarge

The very first pre-production Miatas were built in the United States and England, taking some styling cues from the Lotus Elan, a 1960’s roadster that was widely considered to be one of the best handling sports cars of its time.

The very first car was unveiled in 1989 initially as the “Eunos Roadster” before undergoing a name change to “Miata”. The car was available for delivery here in Canada in May 1989, sold as a 1990 model. More than 75,000 Miatas were sold globally in that year.

The curb weight of the very first Mazda Miata was a lean 940 kg. This was partially achieved by a light-weight aluminum hood combined with an all-steel body shell that measured only 3,950 mm (155 inches) in length and 1,670 mm (65.9 inches) in width.

Modern Classics: Mazda Miata, 1990 1998 modern classics auto articles
Mazda MX-5 Miata (Japanese model (Eunos) shown). Click image to enlarge

The most identifiable feature on these first generation models was the pop-up headlights. The original cars were only available in red, white or blue combined with a black interior. In March of 1990 potential buyers also had the option of choosing a Silverstone metallic exterior colour. A hardtop could be purchased as an option for year-round driving, however the Miata came standard with a manually-operated black soft top.

To ensure a low introductory price of $18,590, the base model Miata came with manual steering, crank windows, steel 14-inch wheels and no radio. If one preferred a modest amount of luxury then “Package A” could be purchased and this would provide the owner with power-assisted steering, leather-wrapped steering wheel, alloy rims and a radio with cassette player.

For a little more, your Mazda Miata could be ordered with “Package B” providing you with everything in “Package A” plus head restraint speakers, cruise control and power windows.

The original Miata came with a 1.6-litre DOHC four cylinder engine producing 120 horsepower borrowed from the Protege parts bin. Zero to 100 km/h times were in the nine second range for this lightweight sports car often described by enthusiasts as possessing go-cart-like handling.

Modern Classics: Mazda Miata, 1990 1998 modern classics auto articles
Mazda MX-5 Miata (Japanese model (Eunos) shown). Click image to enlarge

A five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission was available however not surprisingly, the automatic transmission never really caught on, and these cars today tend to occupy more time on used-car dealer parking lots than their five-speed siblings.

The 1993 model year saw the offering of a special edition Miata that was badged a “Limited Edition” model. All LE cars came in black and featured red leather interiors, carpet and floor mats.

They further received an upgraded stereo, Nardi shifter, limited slip differential, Bilstein shocks, BBS wheels, front and rear spoilers, ABS brakes and stainless sill plates. Only about 1,650 of these LE cars were sold in North America making them a potential collector item today.

For the 1994 model year, the powerplant was upgraded to a 1.8-litre DOHC engine producing a more respectable 140 hp. The chassis was also stiffened to meet new side-impact requirements and the car came standard with dual (driver and passenger) airbags. A new colour (Laguna Blue Mica) was also added to the colour palette.

Modern Classics: Mazda Miata, 1990 1998 modern classics auto articles
Mazda MX-5 Miata (Japanese model (Eunos) shown). Click image to enlarge

The first generation model was produced and sold in North America up until 1998. Minor cosmetic tweaking (exterior colour options, cup holders, etc.) of the Miata ensued from 1995 through to the 1998 model years, but by that time Mazda designers were well under way in designing a newer second generation model that would see the disappearance of the unique pop-up headlights.

Unlike the older two-seat roadsters of the 60’s and 70’s (such as the MGB and Triumph TR4), the Miata combined the conveniences of a modern roadster with the reliability of a Japanese automaker. Sales worldwide remained brisk throughout the early model years with hundreds of thousands of Miatas being sold.

So how collectible are they? Generally speaking, the vehicle should be rare. There were indeed a number of limited edition Miatas produced during the early model years and a number since that time (MX-5s continue to be manufactured by Mazda today). However if you are simply in the market for a top-down, affordable driving experience with a true roadster-like feel, any Miata will do. This affordable roadster will provide you with much enjoyment while still allowing you to place food on the table for the youngsters.

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