The 1960s was the golden age for convertibles: Lotus Elans, MG Midgets, Austin Healey Sprites, Triumph TR6s, Chevy Corvettes and others. By the mid-70s, market forces, safety regulations and horrific build quality conspired to kill the open seat convertible. Ten years later, when large convertibles started to make a comeback. In 1989, Mazda’s California design team issued forth an Elan-evoking drop-top– without the leaky oil and the wonky electrics. In the next ten years, Mazda sold nearly 500k Miatas. To celebrate the model’s tenth anniversary, Mazda created a special Anniversary Edition (10AM) model based on the then-new second generation car (codenamed NB).
Unlike previous special edition MX-5′s, the 10AM was more than a simple paint and badge job. The biggest change: the brand’s boffins replaced the MX’s slick-shifting five-speed gearbox with a six-speed manual transmission. This close ratio gear box improved the car’s performance and made highway cruising a slightly less noisy and tiresome affair.
The Hiroshima-built bomber was blessed with Bilsteins; the sport shocks greatly improved handling– in exchange for a significantly stiffer ride. A front strut bar increased stability in the front end and improved steering feel (already telepathic). The package also included special polished wheels and high performance tires. Mazda sold the model in one color: a special shade of blue that was never used before or since. Interior changes included leather seats with faux blue suede inserts, special floor mats, blue carpet, chrome trim and a matching blue tonneau cover. In fact, the 10th AE was loaded to the gills, boasting every possible option (ABS, larger wheels, etc.) save a slush boy.
One area that was not addressed: performance. The AE deployed the standard second generation 1.8-liter, four cylinder, 16 valve engine BP-4W engine. By then, horsepower was up to 140 with 119 ft.-lbs. or torque– which gave no real improvement in performance over the first generation cars. The 0 to 60 “sprint” was still an eight second affair. The AE’s six speed required an extra shift, making the AE only a tenth of a second faster than a garden variety MX-5. That said, Miatas are about the joy of driving, not speed per se. The 10AM was not the best handling Miata; that honor went to the lighter 1999 Sport model [no AC or power options], and had the stiffer sway bars and Bilstein dampers. But the 10AM certainly upheld the Miata’s core values, carving corners with true elan.
Mazda limited worldwide production to 7,500 10th AEs. Each model was individually numbered, with a number plate affixed to the side of the car. In an unusual move, all 7,500 Miatas were identical in all markets, including Japan. A total of 3,500 were allocated for the US. To further distinguish the “10AM” from lesser Miatas, each car came with a numbered certificate of authentication. Buyers also received a blue key fob, a small scale model of the car and his and hers matching Seiko watches with blue faces.
While reviews of the 10th AE were mostly positive, sales were disappointing. Many new cars sat on dealer’s lots well into model year 2000. Needless to say, price was the hurdle over which poetential 10AM buyers would not jump. Mazda wanted the highest msrp ever charged for a Miata: $26,875, roughly $6500 more than the base model. The price was dangerously close to low-end roadsters from BMW and Honda and/or a used Porsche Boxster.
The aesthetics didn’t help. Not all aspiring 10AM-istas were enamored by the special exterior and matching interior colors. The chrome wheels, bright blue/purple hue and the near bordello like look of the interior required a certain level of extroversion that the model’s core buyers lacked. Eventually, all the AE’s were sold.
Driving the 10AM is similar to other 2nd generation Miatas. The six speed gear box shifts as smoothly as the usual five speed, with short, precise cog swaps. Unfortunately, Mazda’s gear spacing choices are questionable. There’s little to distinguish the spacing between 5th and 6th gear.
Many 10AMs were bought and stored as collectors items. Ten years later, it would appear that this was a bad investment. Low mile cars trading at in the teens. Higher mileage drivers in good condition are only worth 30 percent of their original value. With the large number of 10AMs produced, their value will continue to be flat, with little increase, if any, in value.
That said, given the Miata’s simplicity and reliability, buying a 100k mile 10AM for $9k gets you a garish but unique looking Miata that handles like a go kart. The 10AM is not for every Miata fan, but if you like/can live with the color scheme, it’s easily the best value in used second generation Miatas today. And that’s saying something.