1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 1999 Mazda Miata
Modern Classics: Mazda Miata, 1990-1998

Manufacturer’s web site
Mazda Canada

Article and photos by Michael Schlee

Photo Gallery:
1990 Mazda Miata

Ok, this isn’t really a Final Drive — well, at least I hope it’s not. This Final Drive is going to be a bit different as it is more of a Project-Car First Drive than a This-Car-Might-Not-Even-Make-It-To-The-Wrecker Final Drive. For those of you reading this that are regular members of our Autos.ca Forum, you may have read about my recent purchase, a 1990 Mazda Miata. After extensive floor rot repair, I finally got it on the road last week and began to discover the ‘nuances’ of a 23-year-old car with 308,000 km on the odometer. Below are my unsorted, random ramblings after an initial 100-km drive.

1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5. Click image to enlarge

0 km – Before getting too comfortable in the vehicle, I decide to take a quick drive around the block to ensure it will move under its own power, and more importantly, that I didn’t do anything detrimental during my repair work, like cut a brake or fuel line. As I back up, I eyeball a small puddle of engine oil. I have a bottle of 10W-30 in the trunk, I should check the level later.

1 km – Everything appears to be A-OK, so I am ready for a longer drive. I adjust my seat and find that there is a surprising amount of room in the car, even for someone over six-feet tall like me.

2 km – The Mazda badge on the back of the car falls off. Hopefully that is all I lose during my trip.

3 km – My seat back is relentlessly rubbing and squeaking against the hoop roll bar.

4 km – I begin to realize just how Spartan this vehicle really is [Ed. – The Spartans walked everywhere, Mike… Our thoughts and prayers are with you]. No air conditioning, no cruise control, no ABS, no airbags, no reinforced doors, no traction control, no tilt steering… no problem! Right??? Right???

1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5. Click image to enlarge

5 km – The lack of modern safety gear in this car starts to circle around in my head as I am stopped at an intersection beside a Ford F-150. My head-height sideways gaze is parallel to the top of the Ford’s wheels and my sightlines underneath the truck are so clear that I can see buildings on the other side of it.

7 km – I’m getting hot so I figure it is time to activate “Roadster Mode”! The back window needs to be unzipped before lowering the roof and this is done easily. The roof neatly folds down and I am almost ready to go.

7 km (still) – The crank windows, namely the passenger side, require herculean strength to lower. Add in the fact that the aftermarket Pioneer speakers stick so far out that the window crank smacks it on every rotation. I give these plastic handles on the crank about a month before I snap one off in my hand.

13 km – I have discovered the headlight button on the dashboard that raises and lowers the pop-up headlights even when they are turned off. Like a fool I spend the next several minutes popping my headlights up and down as I cruise down the road.

36 km – Still playing with the headlight button. Up, and down, uuuup, and dooooown…

39 km – I enter the highway and mosey up to speed. The car takes its sweet time making it to highway speeds, but once there has no issue maintaining them.

41 km – Miata’s indicated speed of 120 km/h equals a wailing 3,800 rpm in top gear (5th).

1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5
1990 Mazda Miata MX-5. Click image to enlarge

42 km – I realize the Miata’s indicated 120 km/h speed is actually 109 km/h according to my far more accurate portable GPS device.

43 km – I get brave and push the Miata to an actual 120 km/h according to my GPS device. The tachometer now indicates an engine-detonating 4,150 rpm. I decide that keeping the car below an actual 110 km/h is probably best.

59 km – After 20 km of highway driving I realize this car drives straight and true and is more solid mechanically than I gave it credit for; just maybe we shouldn’t try any high-speed passing maneuvers.

78 km – Now on city streets and am beginning to realize the engine and transmission are as loose as MC Hammer’s pants. They rock and roll in their cradles and are screaming for new mounts. But that is not going to happen, I’m too cheap.

81 km – It’s not just the engine and transmission that are loose. The car sounds like a bag of nails in a blender as you drive down the road. Metals bits and pieces are squeaking, banging and clanking as I go down the road.

83 km – I attempt to drown out the ‘mechanical noises’ with the stereo. It has a whopping two speakers. I am having trouble mastering the aftermarket deck and begin mashing buttons in an attempt to turn on the stereo. Michael Bolton begins pounding through the car singing something about a man and a woman and loving. I can’t figure out how to turn it off or change the channel, so I just remove the faceplate. Problem solved.

95 km – As I approach the end of my trip, I have concluded that this little roadster is slow, loud and rough, but a hell of a lot of fun. Every drive will prove to be an adventure; especially in the winter.

100 km – I stop the car and find the windows are magic. They defy gravity and are much easier to wind back up than wind down. I try to one arm the top back into place by grabbing the handle located behind my head to the right. I fail miserably and must turn around and use two hands. Now all I have to do is zip up the window and I am all set. The zipper is a bitch and I can’t get it to work. As of this writing, I am still in the car park fighting the rear-window zipper.

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