By on February 13, 2014

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The 2014 Chicago Auto Show marks the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Mazda MX-5. In that time, the Miata has cemented itself as the preeminent sports car for a generation of driving enthusiasts. Roughly a million of them have been produced. Having already written an encomium to my first car – a 1997 Miata - I am reluctant to go down that road again, not least because I have a habit of tearing up when I read it or see pictures of my old car. But I’m going to anyways.

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When I wrote that essay, I was struggling with whether to sell the Miata or not. Eventually, I did sell it to someone I knew, who promised to do what I was unable to do: garage it in the winter, wax it in the summer and approach it with a level of gratitude and appreciation that I frequently find myself constitutionally incapable of possessing.

Many of you will remember that I foolishly bought a shitty Volvo wagon in the mistaken belief that I could get away with having a trouble free beater. Eventually, I sold it and cut my losses after it nearly got me killed. A short time later, I bought another Miata, a 2003 Shinsen version that was owned by an older gentleman who no longer wanted to get in and out of the car every day.

My new Miata is qualitatively better in every way. It is newer, faster, sharper and did not suffer through 15 Canadian winters (it lived in Florida most of its life). But it does not have that modern day Elan look, the smell of hairspray and cracked leather, the atomized experiences of youth and misadventures contained in its metal flesh.

It was not the car that I was in during one evening drive, with the sun setting and the crackling Pioneer head unit tuned to the spotty classic rock station. I felt a boundless sense of optimism, the feeling that I could be anyone or do anything, no matter how foolish it may seem in hindsight. I wondered if life would ever get any better than that particular moment. I’m not sure it has.miatawinter

Most of all, I feel an ominous sense of loss, not just for my first car, but for my own innocence. Selling the Miata was the first time I attempted to put a dollar value on what a friend of mine described as a “4-wheeled rolling time capsule”. I sold the green Miata shortly before I broke up with my first girlfriend, and on one of my last drives with the car, we had a particularly awkward date.

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I loved her very much, and she loved me, but her mercurial disposition and extreme introversion made even basic interaction a challenging and unpredictable undertaking. That night we shared dinner in near silence, and I felt  frustrated and fed up with the situation. But I still remember us getting in the car, the rumble of the stainless steel exhaust, the “clomp” of the vinyl top folding down and the chilly night time air blowing around us. Suddenly, the mood lightened, and her stern expression gave way to laughing and giggling and her palm resting on mine as I rowed through the gears on the way home.

I will never forget the day I sold my car, the hours before when I picked up its hardtop from the storage unit, and had my brother take some final photographs with me standing next to it, just like I will never forget the eerie sense of dread and deja vu I felt on the drive over to her house on the night I broke up with her. It bore an uncanny resemblance to how I felt on my last drive in the green Miata on the way to the new owner’s house. By the summer’s end, two of the most important anchors in my life were gone.

When I missed her most, I would think of moments like these, rather than the extended silences, the impossible communication and the impatient, ever-so-contemptuous way that she’d speak to me. The longing for her is gone, but I miss those memories, and I miss my old car. Now, I’m dating someone new, someone as opposite from her as one can be. I am very happy. I have a new Miata too, but I am not quite as content with the car. I imagine that my feelings towards my new Miata are akin to what someone who has lost a parent feels towards whoever the surviving parent takes up with afterwards. You may harbor great affection for them, but it does little to extinguish the feelings of love and loss that still linger.

Even so, I am thankful every time I get back into it, now matter how rapid or opulent the prior week’s press car may be. I am grateful to own a car with a real cable throttle, a low belt line and a responsive chassis. Every now and then, I think of getting a new car, but I will not sell mine. I will hold on tight and not let go until the last possible second. I will not make the same mistake twice.

Here’s to the next 25 years.

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35 Comments on “It Might Be A Quarter Life Crisis, Just A Stirring In My Soul...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Kind of how I feel about my 1974 BMW 2002 and new BMWs. Sure, the new ones are better in every way imaginable…but I just can’t see them recreating the feelings I got tooling down the road in that brick on wheels.

    Cars connect us (at least the majority of us on TTAC). We get you, brother.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Bittersweet, man. I’ll say that overall, the girl, the car, the breakup are all good, more or less. We all go thru it at some point. The real cable throttle though? Now that’s money. I hate FBW throttles. They are not the same. Not one bit.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Quarter life crisis? Wait until the mid-life one strikes, you’re going to want to drive things you never thought you would and date the crazy ones that you were always warned about

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Well written Sir ;

    I’m way past those life dates but I do well remember the anticipation of the then new Miata Drop Top , at the time of introduction all the Auto Rags heralded it as ” the new MGB ! ” = a true Motor Enthusiasts Car .

    I’m 6′ tall with short legs so it turned out the windshield header is *exactly* lined up with my eyes , I guess I’ll never have a Miata but my Son bought a first generation one cheaply and we put a puffer on it and wow so much fun as long as the top was down (mostly , we’re in So. Cal.)

    This was the very first DHC I’d ever driven in Summer with the top down and the AC going full tilt , it worked like a charm .

    I always wanted a green one , now I’m going to read your previous story about that one .

    Lots here have had the mixed relationship with an iffy G.F. , me too , a true psychotic b*tch who I had to dump when her violence made the front page ,still and all there’s never been anyone who’s sexual chemistry even came close ~ not even the wild redhead I dated .

    Point being there’s no shame in living and learning , it sounds like you’ve got your priorities straight : she’s gone & you have another Sports Car .

    Drive that Miata fast , hard , far and wide ! .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    RangerM

    I keep telling myself I’ll replace the 1992 Miata I sold. Hard to justify with 3 kids.

    Although I still prefer the original, I figure so long as they keep selling new Miatas, I can wait for the kids to grow up.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    I’ve had an NA, which is an awesome, awesome car, but not that safe, or solid, or fast.

    And I’ve had an NC, which is a safer (side airbags standard on a 15 year more advanced chassis), more solid (RX-8 chassis with the weight stripped down so that it is within an ex-girlfriend of the ’94+ NA), more powerful car. But without the cool door handles and with a slightly higher beltline.

    Basically my advice is: If you only have one car the NC is the way to go. If you already have a daily driver the NA is the way to go.

    The NB I don’t really recommend at this point, since NC’s are starting to get fairly cheap. It is basically an NA without the charm (door handles, round pop-up lights, etc.), but without the safety, body rigidity and power improvements of the NC. There are certain parts, like the glass window top, that are nice to take off an NB and put on an NA.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    My first car was a 1993 Impreza L (AWD, 5MT). I started dating the first love of my life shortly after getting that car. After a few years, the relationship tapered off as I went to college and she finished HS. I ended up buying a 2001 Impreza 2.5RS (5MT) before my junior year in college and gave the old Impreza, which was on the same chassis, to my youngest brother to drive to school. My mom ultimately ended up driving it as her beater for a few years in the mid 00′s when gas prices spiked. On occasion, I’d get in that old Impreza to play musical chairs in the driveway, and there was definitely something different about the way the light came in the cabin, the way the steering wheel and shifter felt, and the aroma in that car that immediately took me back to being 16 years old and my first love. The 2001 Impreza was better in every single way than the old 1993, but it never recreated that feeling the way the 1993 did. There is certainly something special and nostalgic about your first… whether it deserved it or not.

    That 1993 Impreza went to the scrapper in 2009 when my dad decided to not fix the broken timing belt (brakes, clutch, and suspension were also bad). The 2001 Impreza was eventually sold to a friend who just traded it in on a car for his wife. For 15 years, I had those 1 of those 2 Imprezas in my life at least some way or another. My friend did pry the pink “I” badge out of the grille on the 2001 before he traded it and gave it to me as we sat atop a mountain around a campfire in the middle of January this year.

    Anyway, great story. Right in the feels. (sic)

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Your pants, sir, are as epic as Baruth’s glitter gold racing jacket.

  • avatar

    Derek, I’m never sure if it’s the car that makes the memories, or memories that make the car, but you captured that connection in a way lots of people can relate. I’m long past awkward dates, but still remember a few that lightened when I dropped the top on a convertible I owned.

    Great, now I’m going to be trolling Craigslist for Miatas again…

  • avatar
    jbreuckm

    My 2002 Miata was my first new car – I bought it straight out of college – literally the day that I got my first job I drove to the Mazda dealer and took it home that day. I drove it through one northern winter until I could afford a beater, and while I’ve upgraded my primary cars over the years, I’ve always retained the Miata. It’s paid for, insurance is relatively cheap, and the simple and affordable maintenance required on Miatas means that maintaining 2 cars is a luxury that I can thankfully afford.

    But yet, I still find myself itching to reboot my garage, to sell everything and start over with another summer roadster/family all-season sled combo. Would I be happier with a S2000, or an older Jaguar XK? Is it worth dumping the Miata, the car that I’ve personally maintained, installed a new suspension on?

    I simply don’t know. I suspect that I’ll always regret it if I sell the Miata, but there are a lot of cars out there that I haven’t driven and life is short and uncertain.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Personally, I’d keep the Miata. The S2000 is nice, but you know damn well every one you find will have had two previous owners, both of whom reamed the poor thing mercilessly.

      Besides, a one-owner, meticulously-maintained Miata is going to be worth something.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Your post brings up a basic truism in automobiles: With very few exceptions (the Corvette immediately comes to mind, C2′s will always be better than a C1), the first generation of a car is always the best. They’re the most narrowly focused design. Succeeding generations invariably try to be more civilized, more comfortable, and lessen (if not entirely screw up) the original intent of the car.

    If anything, the MX-5/Miata deserves an incredible amount of credit that the two succeeding generations lost as little as they did while going down that inevitable civilizing road.

    • 0 avatar
      Dweller on the Threshold

      Another basic truism: if you have a nice example of something older (well preserved, well maintained, etc.) and you sell it, you’ll never find another one that nice again.

      My 1996 M-Edition Miata (owned for 10 years) is not for sale.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    When I was 21…it was a very good year…

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Man the front license plate kills this car as much as any.
    Screams for civil disobedience!

  • avatar

    I really enjoyed this. Deep diving into your past and examining these things brings up a lot of feelings and they sort of spill out through your fingers of their own volition. We all have the moments and feelings. A big part of the affection I feel for my old Dodge Shadow comes from the people I shared it with and that real,feeling that no matter how bad things were I really could become anything. Its tough to capture that, you did a good job.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    My plans to buy an NC as a parent are veiled in the whispy justification that I can teach her to drive at autocosses in it and then give it to her when she’s licensed. It can’t hold a crowd, doesn’t lend itself to … well there’s no back seat. Seems perfect. Am I crazy?

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    Fine writing, Derek. Every time I think that I can’t stand to read another one of your Miata stories, you go and write something achingly nostalgic that touches me deeper than it should (that’s what she said). I must be the only Miata fan that greatly prefers the NB to the NA though.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Nice read. I have a 1991 Miata BRG and its a great car for top down driving. Have owned many old MG, Austins etc the Miata is the best of the lot. They start and keep running. Only thing is you have to use it as a second car and you have to keep it in a garage. For a DD i have a new car but when the weather is nice(NYC)i pull out the Miata put down the top and really enjoy the car.

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    I can relate. And it’s funny how memories of a car can make memories of times spent with ex-girlfriends seem better than they really were!

  • avatar
    RHD

    We’ve all had that impatient, contemptuous girlfriend with the “mercurial disposition and extreme introversion”… (what a precise description!) They are best as exes, and do not make good wives.
    Those that own or have owned a Miata have experienced a joy in driving that few other cars can provide, and those who haven’t, have really missed out. Anyone who is dismissive of a MX-5 has either never driven one, or, like the psychotic ex-girlfriend, is beyond help.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    Allow me to put another spin on your Miata nostalgia. I had a 96 that I bought new and kept forever. Like until it was totaled by my carelessness on a wet on ramp in 2012. Had it almost 16 years. It was great but the last couple of years I had been thinking it was time to replace it. The airbag light was illuminated and it was on its second soft top. But the biggest “problem” was that I was 15 years older than when I bought it and it was getting more uncomfortable to get in and out and to put the top up from inside. After it was totaled I got more for it than I could have sold it for (didn’t have to explain an airbag light to the insurer). After dallying with The idea of buying a Mini I replaced it with a ’12 PRHT model. My main thought is that I wish I had done it a few years earlier. Yeah the new Miata is heavier and not as simple and tossable but the proof is in the pudding: I’ve been driving it 50% more miles a year than I ever drove its predecessor. Yes it’s a second car to my 98 LS400 but it’s much more livable than the NA so gets chosen more often.

    It may be slightly less fun per mile but its improved usability means more miles which means more fun overall.

    So don’t look back. Maybe you got out of the NA at exactly the right time, before it started showing the warts mine showed me after over a decade of ownership.


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