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.
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.
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.
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.