The Truth About Cars » Miata The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:46:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Miata Super Piston Slap: I Know What I Don’t Know Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:45:11 +0000

Were you ever taught something you already knew, something you normally teach others? That moment of surrealism came for this regional LeMons Judge while attending the Newbie School in a new racing series called the World Racing League. Baruth already gave you a tease: I set aside the idiotic ironic Indian Chief hat of LeMons for a weekend stint as a racer/pit crew/errand boy with the same team that brought you the iconic Ford Fairmont Wagon: now with more Granada.

To see the stance is to know it: Property Devaluation Racing made a worthy successor to their Fox station wagon.  So when these guys offered me a spot in the Granada and their similarly-spec’d Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, I took Friday off, forked over the fees, picked up another Fox Body loyalist from Hobby Airport (you might remember his Homer Simpson car) and hit the road for College Station.

I drove the Granada for 10 minutes during the Friday afternoon test ‘n tune session, and felt great: the Granada’s flat cornering with mild understeer was a natural transition from my street going Fox Body Cougar.  But the first day of racing?

Logging 100-ish miles in the Thunderbird was a different story: the Granada’s tame demeanor was replaced with something a (handling savvy) teammate later explained as body roll induced oversteer. The Thunderbird had razor-sharp turn-in, so sloppy steering inputs netted body roll which reduced the rear tire’s contact patch, easily inducing oversteer.  Lap 1 resulted in a huge spin entering a corner at around 50mph.  Lap 2 was no better: a similar wipeout left me bewildered, frustrated.

Both times I self-reported my impending black flags before the staff received word from the corner workers. Perhaps LeMons taught me well.

Not well enough. The Thunderbird’s owner’s words in my Nerdie helmet kit were clear: spin again and you’re out for good.  It was the reality check I needed, quickly swallowing my pride and methodically retracing the track at a slower pace. This let me understand how drastically the Thunderbird sits/lifts with my steering inputs.

Racing the Thunderbird was like a scientific experiment: repeat the process but alter a variable every time.  Enter the turn at the right speed, monitor your steering inputs and smoothly accelerate exit post-apex.  If you turned too hot, the rear tires howled: slightly dial the wheel back and they shut up.  Thank goodness for TWS’ banked oval, it was the only place I blipped the throttle, downshifted to 3rd and comfortably unwound the Thunderbird’s wicked Windsor V8 to pass “slower” cars. Sure I was slow and hyper-conscious elsewhere, but the banked oval experience continues to give me goosebumps.

Now the World Racing League is an interesting series: damn near any class of car races on the same track.  I was passed by far more professional drivers in LeMons cars, Spec Miatas and misc. track beasts to the point my left hand seemingly spent more time doing the “point by” for others than grasping the tiller. And a certain Poorvette absolutely clobbered every car out there, as you’d expect from the wholly under appreciated C4 Corvette.

I learned something besides the obligatory “damn that was so exciting I’d totally do it again” statement of any autojourno in my shoes: my racing technique toolbox just multiplied. The Thunderbird gave me a new set of tools, items previously more foreign than Portuguese.  So now I Know What I Don’t Know. Several of my friends suggested I embrace this new addiction to hone my skills, as I’m now a racer.

No dice.

Racing brought me a short term joy that I will gladly spend another $1000 in fees, gas, hotel, meals, etc. to replicate another weekend.  But the Thunderbird helped me cross a (final?) frontier: I did what made moonshiners so famous, racing/working on a boring car made from bits of more impressive vehicles. This experience crystallized my plan to write the definitive story of Ford’s underappreciated chassis.  I told others about this (including a working vacation to the Detroit Public Library) and they agreed: that’s a book they’d read.

Which isn’t exactly the point: like the benefits of grade school music programs, racing helps you in your real world.

It’s a deeply personal experience that everyone with a modicum of disposable income should try. Go race and then make yourself. Just don’t get motivated to write a book about Fox Bodies, that’s my schtick.

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New Or Used? : The Most Reliable Car In The USA Is A …. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:42:56 +0000  


Hi Steve,

What would be the most reliable car I can purchase for about $7000-8000? And what would be the upper limit on mileage that I would even consider?

Steve writes:

I grew up in the food import business. So to me, the answer to this question is a lot like asking my Dad, “What is the best cake I can get for $70?”

He would probably tell you that it depends on your ingredients, your cooking methods, your recipe, and what parts of the ingredients matter to you the most.

The ingredients when it comes to a used car is… the prior owner.

Like a pitcher in baseball who has an overwhelming influence over the outcome of the game, the prior owner’s maintenance habits and driving style has the greatest impact on the longevity of the vehicle when you’re shopping at this lower price range.

The cooking methods are… your own driving style and maintenance regimen. The way you cook those ingredients once you get them determines a lot of that long-term reliability.

My father’s Lincolns were rarely driven hard, and he took fantastic care of his cars. My mom was a rolling hurricane who routinely beat her cars to an inch of their metallic being. Some cars can easily handle the obscenity that is a person shifting from reverse to drive while in motion (Crown Vics come to mind), while other cars would likely be recycled into Chinese washing machines within five years (Chevy Aveo).

You need to be honest about the type of driver you are, the type of driving you do, and the types of wear you have commonly seen in your past vehicles. A diesel is often better for mountainous highways than an older hybrid, and a Lincoln Town Car will likely be a better fit for potholed streets than a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The recipe is usually… the manufacturer.  The ways you get to enjoy it depends on the way they built it.

Cars have their own unique manufacturing tolerances and varying quality levels built into their 180,000+ parts. Honda makes wonderful manual transmissions. Toyota is a world-class manufacturer of hybrids. GM and Ford make highly reliable full-sized trucks and SUVs, and BMW along with Porsche have offered sports cars that were truly the best in the business. The manufacturer that offers the best match for your automotive tastes will impact your reliability because, you will likely be willing to invest in the best parts if that car offers what you consider to be the optimal driving experience.

Does it sound like I’m evading your questions? Well, let me toss around the ingredients that matter to you the most then and give you a solid answer.

If cars to you are like water… no taste is the best taste… and you drive about 50 to 60 miles per hour on flat, boring, mundane roads, then find yourself a 2007 Toyota Corolla. Get a low mileage version with a 5-speed that was driven by a prior owner who knew how to handle a stick. 07′ was the last year of that particular generation and historically, vehicles that are later in their model runs tend to have fewer issues.

If cars are a matter of sport and passion, I have an incredibly weak spot in my heart for second generation Miatas. A low mileage version owned by a Miata enthusiast is a helluva deal. Here in the southern US, an 03 or 04 with around 60k miles would sell for around $7000. I also like the Honda S2000 and the BMW Z4. Those will have higher miles than the Miata, and the Z4 in particular may not match the Miata for reliability alone. But those two models may offer certain ingredients that are more appealing to you.

Finally, if you’re looking for that same automotive luxury and richness as a five layer coconut cake filled with Godiva chocolate flakes, and coconut that was flown directly from the Polynesian Island of Tofoa, the sad news is there are no reliable $7000 Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. However a 2001 Infiniti Q45 is a frequently overlooked luxury model that I would keep a keen eye on if I had $7000 to spend on a ‘rich’ car. One with less than 100k miles, if you can find it, would be a fantastic deal.

Oh well, gotta go and exercise. My morning cake came from an article I wrote a couple of days ago and I now have to remove all the calories that are stuck in my big fat head.


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Piston Slap: The Too Cool Miata? Tue, 19 Nov 2013 13:09:25 +0000 Capture

John writes:

Dear Sajeev,

Thank you for much good reading and practical knowledge for a very amateur do-it-yourselfer. My auto repair and maintenance skills are very limited, but I enjoy doing what I can myself. Even just the oil changes and having control of the materials used to perform it.

So you are looking for subjects, and here goes-this may resonate with any number of Miata owners. For about a year the CEL has been popping up a code (0126) that I read with a simple device purchased online that evidently means the engine is running too cold, which I have never even heard of, but why not? Insufficient combustion temp?

Anyway, I see that it must be the thermostat which is seriously buried in this car and beyond my meager skills to get to, much less reassemble.

Do you think there is any urgency to getting this repaired? Car runs just fine.


Sajeev answers:

P0126 always takes me back to my time as a wannabe car designer at CCS in Detroit: if I wasn’t spilling venom on the vellum I’d dabble in auto repair consultation. To wit, a good friend spoke of his Merkur XR4Ti that he left in Florida, missing it but hating how it always ate “engine sensors”. Now, as a self-proclaimed expert on all things powered by Ford’s EEC-IV fuel injection system, I found that rather odd. Further questioning lead to this comment: “Oh, I never drove it with a thermostat. It’s Florida, you don’t need a thermostat!”


If only I knew better back then, I coulda put him in check: EFI systems run at a certain minimum temperature to ensure the motor’s ideal health and efficiency. If not, you run the system in open loop, instead of listening to inputs like the Oxygen Sensors, MAF meter, etc to keep emissions down, power up, liquid smooth idle, etc. Take the thermostat out of the system and the sensors are never consulted.

Is that happening in your Miata? It could be running in open loop. Or not: modern EFI systems are somewhat more intelligent than Ford’s antiquated EEC-IV, but this needs attention. My advice is simple, this code is normally produced by a faulty engine temperature sensor or a…like my friend’s Merkur…a problem with the thermostat.

Instructions on removing the T-stat are here, and this suggests that 2006 models are plagued with T-stat problems. So perhaps it’s time for a new Thermostat, or perhaps you should re-install your thermostat and NOT RUIN YOUR MERKUR, SON!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Caterham Seven Turns 40 Tue, 28 May 2013 14:47:25 +0000 Engine-2013-4_2

The iconic Caterham Seven is on the cusp of celebrating four decades of uninterrupted production and sales; hard to imagine that one of Colin Chapman’s first attempts at a sports car would outlast everything he produced in the post-F1 era of Lotus – hell, it may even outlast Lotus itself.

Britain’s Autocar magazine managed to procure a brand new Caterham Supersport R, considered to be the top-spec Caterham available, as well as a 1981 model – not quite 40 years old, but basically the same spec as the car that was sold in the early days by Graham Nearn when he purchased the rights to the Seven from Colin Chapman.

Both versions still have the same basic look, a spartan interior and a Ford powertrain. But that’s where the similarities end. The changes made in the last few decades have apparently had subtle but noticeable impacts on the way the later cars behave – though the essence of the lightweight, sporty roadster is still there. In many ways, it’s a familiar story that’s played out with a number of cars available Stateside. The Miata, the Volkswagen GTI and the BMW 3-Series come to mind, though some have strayed farther from the ideal than others.

I’d be happy with any of them. Since I’d never daily drive one, an older version with a carburetted Kent engine and a crude 5-speed gearbox would then allow me to be happy with commuting in one of the $18,000 Dodge Journey Canada Value Packages being advertised in the newspaper right now. Then again, an FM Westfield is a pretty enticing package, and I wouldn’t have to tinker with carbs either.

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Hammer Time: Ramblings Of An Aspiring Kibbutznik Wed, 30 Jan 2013 15:47:18 +0000  
I must have been a kibbutznik in a past life. Whenever I buy something of value, I never have the urge to keep it for myself.

Perhaps it’s due to too many bouts of suburbia. A neighborhood with twenty lawnmowers. Thirty The Lion King videos, and fifty to seventy vehicles. All this redundancy seems to be a bit much for a guy who hates to see things unused by my family 98+% of the time.

Yeah. I know that most folks aren’t willing to share their ride. Some won’t even loan you Simba. But if I lived in a place where we all put a smaller chunk of our change into a ride, I wouldn’t go cheap . . . except for possibly an old Volvo wagon.

These would be my top picks. All used of course!

1st Gen Honda Insight
: These things are amazingly overengineered. The ride is surprisingly nice, mpg’s are 55+, the rear hatch can house an amazing amount of materials, and let’s face it, many rides require little more than two people these days. Did I mention these things only require two and a half quarts per oil change? Gotta love that.

Ford S-Ma
x(Euro-Spec Version): There’s something about a small diesel with superb handling, seven seats, and a shape designed for the wind that’s hard to turn down. I’ve heard so many good things about the Ford 2.2L that I would have to at least test this one. For the greater good of my fellow kibbutzniks of course. I’ll just have to make sure Baruth never gets the keys.

Toyota Land Cruiser
: I’m not thinking of the nice cushy ones that make Lexus seem unnecessary. I’m thinking about the ones that help fight wars. Heck. While we’re at it let’s throw in a couple of Toyota Hilux diesels into the mix as well. I relish the idea of buying utilitarian vehicles and not worrying about replacing them for a quarter century. Plus, if my neighbors ever have the misfortune of getting attacked by a few stone throwers, I want something that can hold a gun turret. Perhaps we can sell it as a Farago edition.

1st Gen Mazda Miata: 
Every kibbutz deserves a fleet of convertibles that can be thrashed about during odd hours and Sunday afternoons. Chryslers are definitely not my cup of tea for that purpose. Fords? I like the Mustang. Since Sajeev is still in love with a long list of old Fords I guess we should spring for just one of those. But no more! As for the Miata, I’ll take three. Preferably a 95′ to 96′ model with a stick and a long list of Murilee modifications.
Hmmm… I truly wonder what can be jammed in that four square feet of trunk space? Maybe a nuclear powered roto-plooker?

1970′s Malaise Era Whachamacallit:
 The type that can hold enough beer in the trunk for 30 odd friends and their associates. The type that sounds like a Harley once you saw off the catalytic converter. The type with a crappy cheap top that’s easy to replace, and a hood big and flat enough to serve as a bed for two at a moment’s notice. Throw in some thick leather interior adornments and a quartz clock (for Murilee’s sake), and you would have one hell of a vehicle for beer runs and random hooning.

Then we should consider all manner of bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, airplanes, golf carts, buses and catapults. A nice pair of running shoes. A lake. A river. A rowboat. A canoe. A kayak. A catamaran. A schooner. A tugboat. A yacht. A battleship!

Perhaps it’s time to start my own country. What about you? What transportation aplenty strikes your fancy in that, “Nice to have around… but I don’t want to own one.” kinda way?
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Review: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Wed, 21 Nov 2012 17:30:42 +0000 Back when I reviewed the Scion FR-S, I wrapped up by saying I’d want to check out the latest Miata before I passed judgment on the bang-per-buck value of the Subuyopet. So, I called up the PR flacks at Mazda: “Hey, remember how I didn’t totally trash the CX-5 I wrote about in July? Yeah, so now the entire Toyo Cork Kogyo organization owes me, which means I need a Daimyo Class ticket on the next flight to Tokyo, a BLACK TUNED MX-5 waiting for me, and an honor guard of eight dekatoras to escort me as I cruise around looking for an Autozam AZ-1 to ship back to Denver.” Disappointingly, what I got was a US-market MX-5 Club Sport dropped off at a shuttle lot at George Bush International in Houston, to which I’d flown Misery Class in order to judge at the fifth annual Gator-O-Rama 24 Hours of LeMons. I spent three days with a True Red ’13 Miata, mostly shuttling between my hotel in Angleton, Texas, and the race at MSR Houston.
You figure, hey, weekend at a race track with a Miata— get ready for a bunch of racy-sounding gibberish about “turn-in” and “performance at the limit.” Trail braking. Not this time; this track was crowded with stuff like ’73 Dodge Coronets and 560SEC Benzes bashing into each other, no place for a nice uncaged press car with 90 miles on the clock. Anyway, you can sum up the Miata’s track performance— as determined by racers who, unlike me, actually know how to get around a road course in a hurry— for the last 23 model years in five words: at home on the track. Now that we’ve got that established, this review is going to focus on the real-worldliness of this little red devil.
When I arrived at MSR, I took the Miata around the pits to do a little bit of “pre-sweating” of cheaters, and to pose the car with its Mazda racing brethren. Here it is flanked by the whiskey-still-equipped RX-7 and collapsed-barn find RX-2 of Team Sensory Assault.
The Miata hasn’t bloated much during the last couple of decades, as can be seen in this portrait of the ’13 parked next to the ’91 of Team Nucking Futs. The first-year Miata (in 1990) had a curb weight of 2,105 pounds; the 2013 manual-transmission version weighs 2,480 pounds. By the standards of Model Bloat, that’s impressive.
To be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable showing up at this track in a red Miata. The 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court has been hard on Texas Miatas over the years, destroying a couple in the (now discontinued) People’s Curse and generally making life difficult for the Spec Miata guys who attempt to bring their Texan brand of Mazda-bashing behavior to LeMons racing.
As it turned out, just about everybody who has anything to do with road racing— even those Mazda racers I’ve busted for cheaty-ass Racing Beat suspension parts at past races— loves the sight of a new Miata.
However, being around car freaks and racers makes one forget that the Miata has a much different image in the eyes of ordinary Americans, particularly those in edge-city suburban areas full of mouth-breathing Internet Tough Guys in Tapout shirts. Never mind that the Miata will obliterate 95% of testosterone-pumped cars in a real race— what matters is that the Miata falls somewhere on the machismo spectrum between fern bars and Hello Kitty when it comes to its image among non-car expert types.
Not that I’ve ever given much of a damn about that sort of thing, but the perceived manliness (or lack thereof) of this car became an issue while driving it on the rural highways south of Houston. Never in my life have I experienced so much hyper-aggressive tailgating, angry gestures, brake checks, and general highway assholery than in the three days of driving a red Miata with manufacturer plates on Texas roads. Did some joker put an Obama sticker on this thing? I wondered after my first white-knuckle drive to the track with one SUV grille after another looming in the rear-view. Apparently the sight of a little red sports car simply enrages Texas exurbanite males, in a way that all the rental Aveos and Corollas I’ve driven on the same roads never has.
This image problem reminds me of the one faced by certain dog owners. This is my dog, Jackson. He is 70 pounds of solid muscle, bred from a long line of water retrievers, fast, tough, and fearless (he’s also sort of a knucklehead, but we won’t go there).
Jackson is also a Standard Poodle, a breed that image-conscious American males cannot own if they feel even slightly insecure about their own masculinity. Decades of horrible haircutting jobs on no-doubt-mortified show poodles by those scary dog-show types (or, even worse, the mad-genetic-scientist abomination of the miniature poodle) have done to the breed’s image what decades of boring 24-year-old dental hygienists have done to the Miata’s image.
Which isn’t to say that driving the Miata Club for several days didn’t turn me gayer than Rob Halford right away. Fortunately, we had the Leather Daddy cap from the Macho Man penalty handy, so I could dress appropriately.
Now, if you’re going to go shopping for Tom of Finland prints in your Miata and it’s raining— as it was just about the entire time I had the car— you’re going to want a convertible top that doesn’t leak.
Soft-top convertibles almost always leak, at least a little bit, it’s a big hassle to raise and lower them, and they let in a lot of wind noise when the top is up. This is not the case with the ’13 Miata; it takes about four seconds and very little effort to operate the top by hand while sitting in the driver’s seat. It never leaked a drop, regardless of how wild the storms got, and the top remained unperturbed by high winds while cruising at 80 MPH.
The HVAC system is unusually powerful for a Japanese car (Detroit always wins in this category, because Detroit automakers test their climate-control systems in places like Death Valley and Bemidji). This came in handy when I got soaked by rain during the performance of my LeMons Supreme Court duties; the Miata’s heater was able to dry out socks fairly quickly (because the car’s engine was kept running for hours at a time during repeated sock-drying cycles, I was not able to get personally verified fuel-economy figures for it… but I did manage to avoid catching a case of Houston Jungle Rot).
The Miata Club is the sporty version, with six-speed transmission (the base Miata Sport makes do with five), 17″ wheels, and a bunch of snazzy trim bits. For this, you pay $26,705 MSRP instead of the Sport’s $23,720.
The engine in all the manual-transmission ’13 Miatas is the same 167-horse DOHC 2-liter unit, and if British Leyland had been able to come up with anything even half this good, we’d all still be driving MGBs. 167 horsepower feels like plenty of power in this car, though I did get my doors blown off in a drag race with the rental Malibu driven by the rest of the LeMons HQ crew.
The 4.10 rear-axle gear ratio and 0.79:1 sixth gear means that the Miata’s engine is spinning pretty frantically during highway cruising, and I’m assuming that’s one of the main reasons for the not-so-great-for-a-2,400-pound-car fuel economy (claimed 21 city/28 highway). Steeper gears would mean an intolerable reduction in fun, so the fuel-economy penalty is worth paying.
The climate and sound-system controls use simple knobs and buttons. Everything here makes sense, though I can’t help wishing (once again) that the science-fiction aesthetic of 1980s Japanese car interiors would make a comeback.
The Miata is reasonably civilized on rough pavement and long highway drives, a bit less punitive— but also a bit less grippy— than I found the FR-S to be. The word that always comes up in Miata reviews, stretching back to the era of Operation Desert Storm, is “fun,” and it remains impossible to avoid this word when writing about the MX-5. As 11,498 before me have also written, this car manages to combine the joys of an old-timey Italian or British open sports car with the ability to use the thing as totally functional daily transportation.
My quick-and-dirty gauge for judging the level of corner-cutting build-quality shortcuts is a glance under the hood at the electrical connectors. The MX-5 uses pretty decent ones, though one of these days I’ll need to get a press car while I’m not working at a LeMons race, so I can have the time to pull a door panel and look at the stuff that always fails first.
There was one mosquito-in-my-ear irritation that I’d have to remedy, were I to buy this car. See the oil-pressure gauge dead in the center of the instrument cluster, where your eyes are going to be drawn every time you glance down? It’s actually an idiot light, i.e. it registers an “everything is OK” reading when the pressure switch is happy. The “idiot gauge” is quite common these days, if disappointing in a car that’s likely to get thrashed on a race track at some point in its career (racers usually don’t notice gauges other than the tach in the heat of battle, anyway, which is why LeMons racers tend to install gigantic oil-pressure idiot lights), but what really drives me nuts about this one is that it’s not a binary OK/PANIC idiot gauge. No, it’s a ternary OK/OK/PANIC gauge, with engine speed determining which of two readings the gauge will display. So, if I buy a new Miata— which I’m now dangerously tempted to do— I’m going to pull out the gauge cluster, disassemble it, replace the offending gauge with the guts from a normal analog gauge, and add the appropriate sender. Otherwise, the sight of the ternary idiot gauge would offend my geek sensibilities every time I drove the car.
What else? The sound system doesn’t pack enough bass for those of us who appreciate 21st-century levels of boom, but the aftermarket can solve that problem easily enough. Other than the image problem and resulting disapproval from dudes with anxieties about their own Perceived Testicular Heft (henceforth referred to as PTH), the who-gives-a-damn fuel-economy penalty from the nervous rear gear, and a couple of minor annoyances so small I feel petty just mentioning them, this car has nothing but pluses. In fact, it’s the only car I’ve ever reviewed that I could see myself buying new (I felt that way about another Mazda… until I took it to the gas station), though I’d probably save the three grand and get the 5-speed Sport. Used 6-speed transmissions and 17″ wheels are readily available for reasonable prices, any time you feel the need to upgrade.
So, the MX-5 Miata Club is slower on the road course and at the dragstrip than is the similarly priced FR-S, but it’s easier to drive like a hoon and not die, Mazda has put decades of work into making it hold up to track abuse, the aftermarket will provide every imaginable performance upgrade for the next century, and it’s just an all-around better-balanced package. If you must have space for more groceries and/or can’t stand the idea of living with a convertible, the FR-S makes slightly more sense.

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Question Of The Day: Will There Ever Be A Successful Two Seat Commuter Car? Fri, 07 Sep 2012 14:29:39 +0000

The first generation Insight was a commercial failure. Eight years yielded fewer than 20,000 unit sold and a lingering doubt about the genuine interest in two seat commuter cars.

Honda tried again with the CR-Z, and apparently George Orwell’s early Animal Farm analogy about ‘four being better than two’ may be all too true for the American automotive marketplace.

Nobody wants an uber-frugal commuter car with two seats. It’s either four or no sale.

A lot of other two-seat vehicles have been unqualified failures as well. Chevette Scooters. Metro Convertibles. The Suzuki X-90 and the Pontiac Fiero. I’m sure that nearly every mainstream automaker has tried to sell some type of two seat commuter car with nary an Escort of sorts to be had.

This isn’t the only market where the fewer than four seat idea is struggling. Pickups have gone from three across as a near universal standard to an increasing exception. The Mazda Miata, a car that fetched price premiums and dozens of awards over the years, has experienced an avalanche of declining sales since the glory days of the early 90′s and now only averages about 10,000 units a year. In fact, last month it was one of the ten worst selling models in the United States… with the CR-Z performing even worse.

Even sporty icons like the Corvette and Nissan Z have little more than the crumbs of consumers past. The exotic and high end sports car markets may always have enough of a market to sustain themselves. But how about everyone else?

Is the two seat commuter car destined to be a historical footnote of automotive history? Will the Miata and Corvette ever be successful again? What says you?


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Boomerang Basement Bolides – First Place: Mazda Miata PRHT Thu, 09 Aug 2012 15:55:03 +0000  

The conventions of auto writing require that we come up with at least one labored metaphor for every comparison test, so here goes: You guys remember that movie It Might Get Loud? Obviously, the Scion FR-S is Jack White: deliberately stripped-down and retro, perhaps too self-consciously context-sensitive, adored without reservation by a bunch of people who have never signed a mortgage. The Genesis 2.0t R-Spec is the Edge: a lot of sharp edges and technical brilliance intended to cover up a fundamental deficit of talent.

The Miata? Well…


When we meet Mr. Page in the aforementioned movie, he is being chauffeured to an ancient English home. He is a sixty-ish man in a bespoke greatcoat: quiet, reserved, old. He tells a few stories in a voice that barely registers over the road noise and looks thoughtfully out the window at the lovely countryside and whatnot. You know he wouldn’t fit into the infamous dragon suit, and you wouldn’t want to see him in it even if he could manage the trick. Sure, he used to be a rocker, but now he’s a dead ringer for your college roommate’s grandfather.

Then, somebody hands him a guitar. Oh, look, old chap, it’s that 1959 Gibson he used to carry around. Frightfully ancient now, just like the fellow wielding it. Jack White is watching him dispassionately, perhaps wondering exactly why they’ve disinterred the man and the instrument for the movie when he, Jack White, is the man of the hour, he‘s the one who soaks the panties now, he‘s the one with the hipper-than-thou record company and super-precious Nashville building chock-full of limited-press vinyl records, this guy is as dead as Elvis, just doesn’t know it yet, and it appears Mr. Page is plugging in now, and might manage to give it a strum or something OH MY GOD HE’S PLAYING WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.

At that precise moment, anything and everything associated with the movie disappears and it becomes plainly obvious to everyone that, despite their millions of record sales and undisputed merits, Jack White and the Edge aren’t fit to carry Page’s dragon jockstrap.

The same thing happens as I, fresh from ten laps each in the FR-S and Genesis, hop in the Miata, loaf down the front straight courtesy of the never-impressive normally-aspirated MZR/Duratec/whatevs, and tap the brakes briefly before bending in for Turn One. Well, this car is cramped, and it’s slow, and OH MY GOD IT ISNT EVEN CLOSE. This is a sports car. Pay attention, Toyota. Once upon a time, you guys made a sports car. You made a few of them — the star-crossed turbo second-gen MR2 and the miniature-Boxster MR Spyder — that equaled or surpassed the greatness of this particular Miata. You know how to do it.

More importantly, Mazda’s made it easy for you. The Touring-spec power-retractable-hard-top Miata is the least charming MX-5 in history. To begin with, it’s too big, it sits too high, and it has neither the Elan-through-a-copy-machine charm of the first-gen car or the sleek sports appeal of the second-gen. It weighs too much and it sure as hell costs too much; no matter which country you call home, this is probably the most expensive car of our trio and it delivers the least content by some large margin.

It’s possible to whip the “NC” Miata into shape as a race car, as I know from experience. Our test car, however, hasn’t received that sort of fettling. Instead, it has a folding metal hardtop. Why? The Miata has always been a convertible. It makes sense that way. For more than twenty years, however, people have been demanding a Miata Coupe. Other than a very brief Japanese-market production run of 200 NB Coupes, Mazda’s never felt like responding to that request. Instead, we have the PRHT. I can’t see weekend warriors spending the extra money for it over the soft-top, and the people who want a Coupe want one for reasons of weight and stiffness which the PRHT explicitly fails to address. Call it the “Miata New York”; it only makes sense if you live in an area where people cut soft-tops open to steal whatever’s been left in the glove compartment. We didn’t ask for a PRHT, but we aren’t a color rag and we don’t get free Honda S2000s with signed-over titles sitting in the glove compartment so we can go play SCCA racer on someone else’s dime. Instead, we got what happened to be in the press fleet, and that was the retiree-spec PRHT. Ugh.

Going into our test, I was reasonably certain that the hardcore, touge-tofu-dorifto FR-S was going to humiliate the Miata. It made sense: a newer, faster, stiffer car should win against this thoroughly-compromised end-of-run special. I could not have been more wrong. The FR-S and Genesis are both far too large and clumsy to compete. You don’t realize how big the Scion is until you sit in the Mazda. Yes, the current car is pretty monstrous by Miata or Elan standards. No, it’s not a 1.6-liter NA. It’s not that good. (Full disclosure: your author owned an ex-SCCA National Solo Winner Miata “C” package ’94, purchased as a surprise gift for his wife, who drove it twice and pronounced it “weak” before returning to her Stage 3 SRT-4.) It’s still good enough, however.

Against an MR2 Turbo, the Miata would seem slow, weak, prone to pushing. Against an MR Spyder, the Miata would seem like a bit of a Bayliner, truthfully, particularly in tight sections. Against the FR-S, the Miata comes off like a freakin’ Caterham. It’s only a couple of inches narrower by the tape, but in practice it feels like the FR-S is a foot wider, a Testarossa to the Miata’s 308GTS. This is not something that anybody on the Internet wants to admit, but if you have to group our trio by driving characteristics, the Genesis and FR-S are in one basket and the Miata is in another.

It’s such a joy to steer around Toronto Motorsports Park; the Miata always communicates exactly what’s happening. Even at the more-present-in-magazine-articles-than-reality 10/10ths, I can’t imagine that anybody short of a ham-handed idiot could crash this car. Anything the Scion can do, the Mazda can do better. At a place like VIR, the lack of power and undesirable aero profile would cost the little convertible money, but on the Alan Wilson-style tracks with their short straights and compound corners the Mazda can deliver the tofu just as well as the FR-S. Naturally, the Genesis has so much more power that it just disappears into the distance regardless of track layout. You’d need an SCCA rulebook autocross course, complete with 45mph max corners, to equalize the two.

Driven in isolation, the Miata’s 167-horsepower four seems energetic enough, and as has been the case since 1990, the shift quality is outstanding. The brakes are thoroughly unremarkable sliding-caliper affairs but they work fine. All the control efforts are light and well-matched. It’s possible to get better steering feel in a production car, but you’ll need to hurry, since the 987 Boxster has almost disappeared from showroom floors.

The current Miata has been roundly criticized for its suspension tuning, and that criticism is valid. There’s more roll than strictly necessary and the car can feel a bit tippy-toe at times. For about $1400 you can do Koni Yellows and aftermarket springs. I’d certainly make that change on my personal car, but descriptions of the stock settings as “scary” or “uncontrollable” are either hyperbolic or incompetent. You’re not going to roll the car. I tried, believe me, mostly to upset our News Editor Derek Kriendler who was in the passenger seat at the time.

Mazda’s perfectly aware that the Miata is a third car for most of its owners, and they build it that way. What I mean is this: the interior is high-quality and clearly built to last. The plastics are durable, the vehicle is easy to service, and save for the aforementioned PRHT there’s no stupid gimmickry. There’s no SYNC system or the like, because Mazda understands you’re going to keep your Miata for ten or twenty years and by the time you’re ready to sell, today’s most advanced system will be as embarrassing as the “Your Door Is A Jar” electronic-voice system from a 1982 Datsun Maxima would be today.

At the end of our testing day (which, again, we shared with AutoGuide) we were informed that we had about half an hour with which to drive a shortened variant of the track. The AutoGuide crew heard this news and immediately ran for the FR-S, which was sitting next to my Boxster in the grid. Derek and I were between them and the FR-S. We looked at eachother… what should we do? As one, we turned away from the Toyota and walked back to the Miata to put fifteen or so more laps in. This current MX-5 may be the worst Miata in history, but it’s still the best car in this test. Deal with it, kids.

Images courtesy of Julie Hyde, who thought she was just coming along for the Mike Stern gig in Toronto that night.

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Mazda/Alfa Romeo Roadster Alliance: The Bright Side Of Consolidation Wed, 23 May 2012 13:54:24 +0000

Back when I was searching for my first car, I briefly found an Alfa Romeo Spider that looked like it would be in passable condition. Before I could even call the number from the classified ad, my father chimed in with his usual wisdom. “Oh, you don’t want to start with those. They were crap! Just get a Miata and finish!”.

Now, after 25 years of utter dominance, the Miata has finally consumed the last icon of European two-seaters, the Alfa Romeo Spider. Mazda and Fiat signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop new, lightweight roadsters specific to each brand. Both would be built at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant. While the new MX-5 is just around the corner, the Alfa would start production in 2015.

Alfa Romeo cars, particularly vintage ones, have an enormous following in Japan, and the tie-up with a “premium” brand will reflect well on Mazda, which is saddled with financial troubles and a gloomy future, despite a new wave of promising product. Unfortunately for Miata owners, it will be hard to harp on Alfas for oil leaks, electrical issues and other maladies once Mazda starts building the Spider to the Miata’s superb level of reliability.

The big question here is the implications for Mazda and a potential Fiat alliance. Mazda has been adamant about forming partnerships in order to ensure its survival, and Sergio Marchionne told Automobile this month that a broader partnership with Mazda would be attractive. When you think about it, a Mazda/Alfa partnership isn’t too much of a stretch…

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The Unimportance of Speed Tue, 22 May 2012 12:09:30 +0000

I’d like to lend you a car for the weekend. It’s going to be sunny, and you can head off early before the crowds get out. Take a nice road-trip: maybe, as I just did, blast up the Sea-to-Sky and into the rolling foothills beyond the Pemberton Valley.

Your choice, take anything below.
Car A: 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds
Car B: 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds
Car C: 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds
Car D: 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds
Car E: 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds

So, what did you pick? Click the jump to find out.

Apologies for the heavy-handed and clunky approach, but A through E, the cars are: 2012 BMW X5 alphabet-soup-with-the-V8, 2012 Volkswagen Passat VR6, 1984 Ferrari Testarossa, 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, and a 2012 Ford V6 Mustang. Oh, I almost forgot: you could also take a sixth option, Car F, which will do 0-60 in 6.9 seconds.

Lucky for me, that’s the one I chose.

And here it is.

Jack has already given us a piece on the pandemic prevalence of speed and power. His take? A call for a higher-bracket measurement; the 0-80mph benchmark that we now need to separate the nose-candy Fezzas from the front-driver family-wagens.

I’d like to pick up the threads of an earlier bit, one of his usually thoughtful screeds from the Avoidable Contact series. As Jack points out there, the world certainly doesn’t need a Hyundai Sonata that could easily walk away from Crockett and Tubbs if they miss even one shift.

But we’ve got one. We’ve also got a WRX that could go toe-to-toe off the line with my beloved Porsche 959, and in the Shelby GT500 we’ve got a Mustang that’s capable of outrunning the F40 at the top-end. A Mustang!

When I was a small boy, car magazines always had a page at the end of the review that included the various measurable properties of the car in question: 0-60, quarter-mile, skid-pad and so on. It was Very Important to memorize all this information, such that one was properly prepared for playground debate. If the new V8 Camaro pipped the V8 ‘Stang through the quarter, then it was the better car. If an available handling package meant the ‘Stang redeemed itself on the skid-pad, then it was better.

These things could be empirically and scientifically sorted out through the application of careful testing. We nascent gearheads had all the information required to bench-race any of the top performance cars and crown a winner without shadow of a doubt.

Then along comes something like the GT-R. With the heart-heavy sigh that comes from knowing this statement will probably cause unrelated debate, the Nissan GT-R is the fastest car in the world. If it’s not, then the gap is so close as to be unimportant. Godzilla has made the supercar irrelevant.

But there’s something missing about the car, a sense that perhaps instead of signing your name on the purchase order you should be handed an old-school NES controller: Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right A B Start. It’s not uninvolving – dear me, no – but it feels artificial somehow. It feels like cheating. Godzilla? More like God-Mode.

And another thing, it’s inconveniently fast for the road. I’m sure there are visceral thrills to be found on the racetrack – and if you own a GT-R, for God’s sake sign up for a trackday and get it out of your system – but I don’t live on or particularly near a racetrack. I live in a province with absurdly low speed-limits, an active police force, and a Motor Vehicle Act that allows the constabulary to take away your vehicle if you exceed 40km/h (25mph) over the posted limit.

There’s a place just before my freeway exit where the limit drops from 90km/h to 70km/h at the tail end of a long, straight hill. When I was driving a Hyundai Genesis with the V8, I had multiple moments where I’d enter the zone without thinking, having picked up a few extra klicks in the whisper-numb Korean without noticing it, and have to quickly correct my speed. I’m not normally in the habit of driving without an awareness of my velocity, but the effortless wafting of the Genesis was very deceptive, as with so many modern cars.

Power is no longer a luxury item. It is a universality of the modern motoring experience. What’s more, from an enthusiast’s perspective, it’s a real-world liability.

We are all suffering from a glut of horsepower. It’s a silly measurement anyway: bragging rights for Victorian steam-donkey owners. Real joy is not doled out in pound-feet or kilowatts and cannot be measured at the drag-strip or on the skid-pad. True driving pleasure is entirely an ethereal thing, which is why it’s so hard to get right.

“Driving a slow car fast is more fun than driving a fast car slow,”; it’s a tired old saw, but not without merit. I’d change it to, “driving a fun car fast is more fun than driving a fast car fast.” Whether or not a car is enjoyable to drive is almost entirely divorced from its performance prowess.

We wait to welcome the FR-S and BR-Z with open arms, surely, but we also hail the CX-5 and the Sonic Turbo, the Kia Rio and the Volkswagen GLI. I hope that somewhere in a lab in Honda, engineers are studying the Fit in hopes of finding that last gleam of Soichiro’s original spirit.

The Miata (fine, MX-5) takes a lot of stick for being a “girly” car. It projects none of the be-louvered aggression of other sports-cars, and certainly doesn’t produce anywhere near the numbers.

But it’s not a car that’s about bragging rights, not a car for peacock strutting or posturing. It is, in short, not a car you drive for other people. It’s a car you drive for yourself. And that’s what makes for a truly great machine, no matter what the numbers might say.

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The Final Minute: Death Of A Miata Tue, 17 Apr 2012 13:30:00 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

“Light and shade” the man said, that man being the man, Jimmy Page. From a race that barely qualifies as a race, we go to racing at its two-fisted best… or worst.

The video above, taken from the Traqmate and rollcage camera of SCCA racer Kent Carter, will reward your attention. It demonstrates a lot of what is wonderful about small-bore amateur racing in just two minutes. There’s a bunch of actual on-the-limit driving, in cars for which the drivers are personally responsible. There’s passing, re-passing, skill, and anger. Finally, there’s a bleak reminder that you can get hurt doing this stuff.

Click the jump for comments from the driver.

Quoth Dr. Carter,

It’s a sad end to a great car. The JohnPhillipsRacePrep #91 was one of the first Spec Miata’s built back in 2004. The car was built by Tim Buck (formerly of Mazda now with Traxxis) and AWR Racing in California. While hard to get in and out, the cage is solid and safe… as proven again today. I acquired the car in late 2005 and have campaigned it in SCCA Spec Miata in the John Phillips Race Prep stable since then. John and I will miss this little Miata. Typical of Mazdas, this car has always been solid, fast and reliable (as well as safe). I have to give a shout out to the folks at Safecraft for the fabulous harnesses that kept me in my place and to HANS and Arai for keeping my head on my shoulders. There isn’t a single part of my body that isn’t sore today, but I’m really quite well and happy that’s the limit of my injuries. Also, a bit thanks to all the volunteers in the SCCA for working corners so we can race and especially to the wonderful team at Hallett.

It was a hard fought weekend at the SCCA BF Goodrich Super Tour at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit. This is a beautiful little track nestled in Oklahoma where Connie Stephens and crew run a great event. I have always run among the top 5 there. This time, however, I qualified poorly (19th) with a very pushy car on sticker Hoosiers. John Phillips had made major adjustments to the car between qualifying and the race to nix the understeer and by the first turn of lap 1, I knew I had a horse that could run for the front. By the beginning of lap 2, I was in the top 10 but I followed Adam Poland off in turn 1 and fell well back in the field. Determined to fight for a good finish, I rapidly picked off car after car culminating in the late-braking pass in Turn 10 on cars #62 and #73. The torque of the 99+ car allowed #73 to pull up along side me down the straight. I was fully prepared to run side-by-side into 1 with car #73, but never got the chance. His sharp move right punted me off the course and into the tires at a little under 90mph. This is the danger of falling back in the field in an amateur event: the quality of the drivers falls off rapidly in the back half of the field. Such is amateur racing!

A word about the steering wheel. This car had one prior high-speed encounter with a tire-wall in the past that left me with 9 screws in my right hand from the steering wheel. This may have weakened the shaft. While the internet is all abuzz about better welding techniques that would have prevented the steering shaft from failing, I’m thankful it did at that moment. Stronger isn’t always better. That said, this driver must learn when to give it up and take his paws off the wheel!

Glad you’re okay, Kent, and I look forward to seeing you back on track!

]]> 15
New or Used: What Offset Panther Love? Fri, 03 Feb 2012 15:00:46 +0000  

Dan writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

I’m a longtime TTAC reader and I was hoping you guys could give me a bit of advice about an upcoming car purchase. I recently graduated college, and with no debt to pay off and a fairly good income I’m looking to get myself a second car. My current car is a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis in incredible shape with around 130k miles on it, It currently has some minor powertrain and suspension mods as well. I have no plan on getting rid of this car, as it has quite a bit of useful life left in it and is extremely practical. I’d like to keep it as a winter car/possible project car, and the residual value of it (~3kish) is low enough that it doesn’t make sense to trade in. However, having wanted a sports car since I started driving, I’d like to go ahead and get one now that I’m in a position to do so.

My (possibly strange) requirements are as follows:
1. It must be fun and engaging to drive
2. It must be blue
3. It should be a convertible, preferably a 2 seater (I’m open to a fixed roof car as well, but would prefer a convertible)
4. Must be either a manual transmission or a dual clutch
5. I would prefer that it be a rear wheel drive vehicle
6. Fuel economy is a non-issue so long as it gets above 20 mpg highway
7. I don’t mind some maintainance, but I would like something thats fairly reliable and not TOO expensive to maintain (I don’t expect panther-like reliability but, for example, $1500 spark plug changes on a Boxster would be a bit much)

I can spend a max of $30-32k on it, but ideally I’d like to keep it ~$25k. I’ve looked at a new Miata, Mustang GT (Convertible is rather pricey), and the Genesis coupe (it’s not a convertible but I liked the looks and interior enough that I’d consider it). I’ve also given some thought to the following (newer, low mileage) used cars: Honda S2000 , Mazda Miata, Porsche boxster(mentioned above), BMW Z4, and a co-worker of mine also mentioned that I might consider a C5 corvette as well. I think they’re all great cars, and each has its own strong/weak points. The S2000 and the Miata are probably the most serious contenders, but I’m trying to keep my eyes open. I’m torn as to what I should get, and I’m also wondering if there’s any cars that I missed that are worth looking at.

Please let me know what you guys think, I’d love to hear back from you on this.

Sajeev answers:

Sir, I take offense to the notion that your Mercury Grand Marquis isn’t able to satisfy your latent sports car needs. You, my good man, need a proper tongue-lashing for such blasphemy.  Your disrespect of Panther Love, this website and the esteemed B&B will not go unpunished, that I promise you.

Of course I’m just kidding, but that’s really not the point.

There are only two cars that are ideal for your situation: a C5 Corvette droptop with non-stock tires (as run flat rubber is the work of the devil) or a Miata.  One of these covers the high performance spectrum unbelievably well (LS1-FTW) and the other is the stuff of “momentum car” legend. The question you must ask yourself: do you treat the gas pedal like a conventional light switch or a twisty-knob rheostat? Because each car demands a unique outlook on life.  You decide which one is right for you.

And finally, how dare you consider a droptop two seater when all you need is a $1000 Webasto moonroof retrofit on your MGM to solve this dilemma?

Steve answers:

I am lucky enough to have driven every ‘newer’ car mentioned on your list. The personalities certainly run the gamut and to be blunt, you won’t know until you drive them. Hey, worse problems can be had in this world.

My biased advice? None of them will offer even half the bang for the buck of a 1st gen Miata.

For less than $5000 you can get an exceptional sports car that can be customized and accessorized to utterly insane degrees. You name the sports car conversion you desire and chances are it’s already been done with a NA Miata.

Even in stock form these vehicles are absolute blasts to drive around town. I now enjoy a 95 model to such satisfying ends, that I haven’t even bothered putting an aftermarket stereo system in the thing. All it has is a gaping hole in the middle of the dash. But I don’t care. The tailpipe, pedals and steering wheel give me all the tuning I need.

So why blow $30k when a $5k does a better job of putting an ear to ear grin on your face?

Not only do the NA Miatas offer robustness, simplicity, and satisfy all of your remaining criteria. But they also have a lot of older owners who take good care of their vehicles and maintain them to a T.

Find a good one. Buy it. Keep it and drive the Panther when a road trip beckons. Good luck!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
]]> 60
Hidden Beneath Mazda USA Headquarters: Candyland! Wed, 14 Dec 2011 23:01:59 +0000 A couple months back, I visited Southern California as part of a triangular journey from Denver to the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 24 Hours of LeMons. Mazda’s PR flacks handed me the keys to an RX-8 at LAX (review coming soon, really) and I pointed the car’s nose south, heading beyond the Orange Curtain. Since the Impala Hell Project began while I was an art student at the University of California, Irvine and I was devoted to lowering Irvine’s property values while I was there, I figured I’d pay a visit to Mazda USA HQ in Irvine and see about lowering their property values.
Dave Coleman may be best-known for his work as the former Engineering Editor for Sport Compact Car Magazine, or as captain of the winningest team in 24 Hours of LeMons history, but he’s also got this interesting day job as a Mazda engineer. That means that, while in Irvine, I had no choice but to show up at his workplace (in a Mazda press car) and try to get him in trouble with The Man.
“Screw the latest press releases!” I barked at Coleman, who was jabbering something or other about this newfangled Skyactiv thing. “Show me the weird stuff in the basement!” Yes, below the dime-a-dozen-in-Irvine mirrored-glass office building of Mazda USA HQ is a magical subterranean place, where Mazda engineers can stash away all manner of weird and interesting stuff without worrying about the suits showing up and cleaning house.
It turns out that there’s some manner in which Mazda USA engineers can get their counterparts in Hiroshima to put, say, an RX87 Luce Rotary coupe on a container ship full of ordinary Mazdas and have that stuff show up in Irvine. The first thing I saw when entering the basement was a set of spare body panels for one of the ’91 Le Mans 787Bs. No, they don’t have the winner— they keep that car in Japan— but the 8th-place car is in Irvine. Put some manufacturer’s plates on it and take it for a spin on the 405, I say!
Do you like early Miatas? Here are the 14th and 15th Miatas to be built for the North American market.
A VIN that ends in 000014 is pretty cool, I think.
Here’s the blinged-out-and-flared Miata that Mazda took to all the car shows in 1989.
This oddball Miata is a full-sized, all-metal handmade prototype for the designers working on the second-generation version.
Here’s the RX-2 that Car & Driver ran in IMSA in 1973.
Then we get to the stuff that really gets me going. This 1967 Luce Rotary Coupe… there are no words.
Right-hand-drive, factory 8-track, skinny wooden steering wheel, the works.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the hood latch to work, so I didn’t get any shots of one of the only 13A engines in the world.
It wouldn’t be Mazda Candyland without a Suzuki RE5!
There’s a Late Malaise Era Cosmo in cherry red, just for a change of pace.
Then there’s this fine machine, which is the car that Coleman lured me to Irvine with in the first place: the most original, lowest-mile early Mazda GLC in the world!
It’s a 1976 model, with every hokey tape-stripe option Mazda had available.
7,505 miles on the clock!
Yellow plaid interior. Imagine being a car shopper in 1976 and saying to yourself, “Yes, I must have the yellow plaid interior in my new car!”
According to Coleman, this car is essentially a piston-engined RX-7 under the skin. How much power did that 1272cc mill make? 49 horses.
If I worked at Mazda USA, I’d be on the phone with Hiroshima night and day, demanding that they ship more ’71 Bongos and ’76 Roadpacers.

MazdaHQCandyland-105 MazdaHQCandyland-001 MazdaHQCandyland-003 MazdaHQCandyland-004 MazdaHQCandyland-007 MazdaHQCandyland-009 MazdaHQCandyland-010 MazdaHQCandyland-015 MazdaHQCandyland-018 MazdaHQCandyland-021 MazdaHQCandyland-024 MazdaHQCandyland-025 MazdaHQCandyland-026 MazdaHQCandyland-027 MazdaHQCandyland-029 MazdaHQCandyland-030 MazdaHQCandyland-032 MazdaHQCandyland-035 MazdaHQCandyland-036 MazdaHQCandyland-040 MazdaHQCandyland-042 MazdaHQCandyland-043 MazdaHQCandyland-045 MazdaHQCandyland-046 MazdaHQCandyland-048 MazdaHQCandyland-049 MazdaHQCandyland-050 MazdaHQCandyland-051 MazdaHQCandyland-052 MazdaHQCandyland-053 MazdaHQCandyland-054 MazdaHQCandyland-055 MazdaHQCandyland-056 MazdaHQCandyland-058 MazdaHQCandyland-060 MazdaHQCandyland-067 MazdaHQCandyland-070 MazdaHQCandyland-073 MazdaHQCandyland-076 MazdaHQCandyland-077 MazdaHQCandyland-080 MazdaHQCandyland-081 MazdaHQCandyland-082 MazdaHQCandyland-085 MazdaHQCandyland-086 MazdaHQCandyland-089 MazdaHQCandyland-091 MazdaHQCandyland-094 MazdaHQCandyland-096 MazdaHQCandyland-098 MazdaHQCandyland-102 MazdaHQCandyland-103 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 45
New or Used: I Want Something Like My Honda, But… Thu, 28 Jul 2011 14:23:37 +0000  


David writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

I’d like your take on a replacement form my 2003 Honda Accord coupe. It has a 4 cylinder and a 5 speed and has been a pretty good car.  But I miss rear wheel drive.  In my younger days, I’ll be 60 next year, I had a Porsche 912, a Cortina GT, various Volvos and VWs before I ended up with pick up trucks before the current Honda.

I like the Honda, I just wish it was a bit lighter and rear wheel drive.  What are my options these days for a RWD car that doesn’t break the bank, gets decent fuel mileage and is dependable?    I’ve been thinking a used Miata or S2000, but would prefer a coupe.  I’m not really into BMW’s for various reasons.  What do you two think?

As a replacement for the Honda I’d spend $15,000 to $25,000.

Steve Answers:

Cheap to own? Well there goes all the Benzes, Bimmers and Audis I could have recommended to you. A lightly used Corvette with low mileage from the mid-2000′s is also a prime option here. However given that you want ‘lighter’, you may also want ‘smaller’.
I would drive the Vette and see if that’s for you. Have you driven the Vette yet? Okay. If that’s not your speed then consider the following idea.
‘All wheel drive = Rear wheel drive in the USA’

In North America rear wheel drive only sells if it has a truck or European bent.  However when you consider all-wheel-drive into the equation the entire world becomes your oyster. Except you happen to want… two doors?

The Infniti G35 is an obvious choice. I would also consider a 2009 Ford Mustang GT or perhaps a slightly older special model like this one. Drive these three cars if you must have the coupe and see which one is ‘just right’.

Sajeev Answers:

David, its pretty tough to beat a Mazda Miata for your price range and requirements.  If it doesn’t come with the hard top, buy one separately.  Maybe you’ll be smitten by the added Honda interior refinement (in my opinion) of the S2000, and that higher power, high revving motor is certainly a sweetheart. Maybe the added punch of a Solstice/Sky with the turbo mill and a little extra bulk?

Funny thing is, I went to both the Pontiac and Saturn websites just to see if they still existed.  And they do! When you select the Sky, there’s a frame on the webpage that suggests you should also look at a (C5?) Corvette. And maybe you should: stupid amazing highway fuel economy with a stick, insane power and performance that simply can’t be matched by smaller roadsters.  Not that I expect you to divert from a Miata, but maybe the Internet knows better.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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New or Used: Drive First…Then Wait Tue, 28 Jun 2011 14:20:43 +0000

Chris writes:

Hi, love the site. I want a play car, but my wife and I have to agree on the purchase.

First, the details on our current situation. My wife drives a 2001 Suburban with 120,000 miles on it. I’m driving a 96 Cherokee 4wd with a 5-speed and 90k on the meter. We’re both happy with our daily drivers.

What I’d like to have is a car with, say, 50-75k miles on it, maybe built in the mid-2000′s, that we could take on trips. Perhaps something less thirsty for $4/gallon gas than the other two vehicles. And I’d like to stay in the $7,000 to $12,000 range, with a preference for the lower end.

I’ve got it narrowed down to a few contenders:

Lincoln LS V8 – wish I could get it in a manual.
Honda Civic SI sedan – might be too pricey.
Mazda Miata – I’ve had one, loved it, miss it terribly. But wife would prefer a car that seats 4.

I don’t do my own work on cars, so reliability and cost of maintenance is a big issue. I prefer a manual, wife prefers auto, but that might not be a deal-breaker either way. The main thing is that I want a car that’s fun to drive. She likes ’05 Mustangs too, by the way.

I’m not saying I’ll get what you guys recommend…but I just might. Thanks!

Steve Answers:

All of those cars you mentioned should be perfectly fine. The LS is a great touring car and the powertrain with the V8 is definitely one of the nicer ones of the past decade. The Mazda’s are perfectly fine as is the Honda. Though that may ride a bit rougher than you may appreciate.

Are you ready for my advice? Wait it out. Used car prices are through the proverbial roof right now thanks to a confluence of factors. Low levels of retail sales over the last few years have been paired with fewer trade-in’s. Dealer consolidations have severely limited competition for late model vehicles. Buy here-pay-here lots are now dominant forces at the dealer auctions along with the price premiums they seek for the common ‘credit’ challenged customer.

All of this means that your money won’t go very far at the moment.

Let me show you a brief example of what I’m talking about.

Make/Model/April 2007/April 2011/Net Change

Toyota 4Runner $13,000 $20,500 $7,500
Ford Explorer $ 7,100 $14,200 $7,100
Toyota Prius $ 11,600 $ 17,300 $5,700
Honda Civic $ 8,700 $12,200 $4,500

* Data courtesy of Kelly Blue Book. Chart compares three year old vehicles from each period.

What this data doesn’t tell you is that prices of used cars are up nearly 20% since January. This is also the first time in history where values of cars have not gone down after tax season. In over a decade in this business I have never seen supply as dry and expensive as it is right now.

If it were me, I would wait until October and the first half of November and revisit the car buying decision. By then you will have dealers and individuals who will be off-loading their vehicles for far cheaper prices since there are no ‘spending’ holidays. No bonuses, and no tax money to inflate the price of your next ride. The quality of the offerings should be far better as well.

Anything you listed for your next ride should be fine. Make sure both of you drive it first… and then wait. Let the current bubble deflate a bit.

Sajeev Answers:

Your wife likes 2005+ Mustangs? I think you just found your answer. While I am far from a late model, overweight Mustang cheerleader (Fox Body ‘fo life, SON!) they certainly have the right hardware. It only needs a few cheap tweaks to hit the sweet spot. A Mustang GT with more aggressive rubber, uprated dampers + sway bars and an SCT tune is stupid fun. On the cheap. And they are fairly reliable, even if I see many with anywhere from 1-4 shorted out taillights. They are in your budget, just try to find one with the premium package and the stitched dash top: it makes Ford’s interior bean counting far less revolting.

Keep the wife happy this time, you won’t regret it. And if you do, getting a Miata and a divorce isn’t the worst thing to happen to a dude. Probably.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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New or Used: Makeup Case Not Included Sat, 28 May 2011 20:39:25 +0000

TTAC Commentator Ronman writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve, hope all is well. I have a query for a friend. He is a photographer in California, and has recently felt the urge to buy a convertible. His requirements are kind of eclectic with a sort of tight budget.

Here it goes: he wants a convertible so that he can enjoy the sun in his neck of the woods, he wants one that drives well with some decent power and with the top down he would like to be able to use the car for tracking shots and the like. He would prefer a hardtop for safety reasons (theft) as some of his gear might be in the car at times. Also since his budget spans from 12 to 16k, he would prefer the used car he is going to ultimately buy not be a pocket burner in terms of maintenance. So a model that can be acquired with extended warranties would be preferable.

He’s already tested a 2002 SLK280, but he’s wondering what would be nicer on the mid term, the SLK, a similar vintage Boxter, or Audi TT convertible. I had advised him about the presence of the Honda S2000, Mazda MX5 (he said it’s too girly), and the Pontiac Solstice or Saturn equivalent (not sure if those slot in the budget) however he did mention that if it’s worthwhile he would try to up his budget somewhat. a 2 seater convertible is not a strict thing but it is preferable. So what do you and the B&B think?

Sajeev Answers:

Ronman, with those needs and that budget, your buddy is looking at what I sometimes call “The Dark Ages” of German value engineering. Buying a used model from this era (especially with no service records) is beyond stupid. The Boxster’s IMS engine failures and (some) Audi’s engine sludging are well known, but it takes more forum digging to learn all the expensive problems on the other models. And he better, unless he doesn’t mind surprise repairs that can be in the thousands.

Not that the new stuff from Germany is simply outstanding in terms of long term value, so I’d recommend your friend buys a hardtop MX-5. The GM Kappas are a good alternative, but finding a hard top might be tough. Maybe a Thunderbird, if he needs more space/comfort and wouldn’t mind the occasional retro kick in his photography.

And honestly, is a MX-5 any more “girly” than a TT or SLK? But I suspect he’ll buy whatever he likes on the test drive. And if its an SLK, TT or Boxster without reassuring amount of service records, be totally okay with rubbing it in when he complains about the repair bills.

Steve Answers:

Let’s see. Your buddy thinks the MX-5 is girly? Based on what?

I have yet to see one of those come with a standard make-up case. Seriously. Everyone from Jeremy Clarkson to yours truly likes the MX-5. Even a guy I met who deals with some of the nastiest scum of the Earth as a public defender in Northwest Georgia drives one. Four kids and built like a marine, I’m sure he would have gone for an old Wrangler if he was concerned that folks would see him as ‘girly’ in a car that a lot of guys like.

This isn’t even a question given his criteria. He should buy the MX-5 and load it up with whatever he likes. It’s wonderful to drive. Reliable. Sporty, and damn simple to keep up and maintain. All the German models your son mentioned were built at a time when German quality was a painful oxymoron. Skip em’.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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And the Winner Is… Sun, 15 May 2011 20:12:32 +0000
For most of the ’11 Goin’ For Broken race, the battle for the overall win seemed to be all about the Spin-N-Out Burger E30 and the Model T GT… but a lot can happen over the course of 24 nonstop hours of road racing. We had snow, gusty winds, dust storms, wild horses, and— eventually— a whirlwind of mechanical problems and black flags that knocked out the top two contenders. You don’t dare make any mistakes when you’ve got the winningest car in LeMons history looming in your rear-view, and Eyesore Racing’s ghettocharged Miata made its move at oh-dark-thirty this morning.

During a drinking bout with Judge Jonny a couple weeks back, several members of 2010 season champs Eyesore Racing indicated that they’d be re-theming their Miata with a full-on Manson Family decorative scheme. “If you don’t paint the car in full Helter Skelter mode,” we warned them, “you’ll be getting 100 penalty laps!” Thinking we hadn’t been serious about the Manson Family thing, Eyesore showed up at Reno-Fernley Raceway with their old Charlie Sheen theme from their last race. Big mistake! Facing those 100 laps, the team bought paint at Wal-Mart and spent the night painting revolutionary slogans and White Album lyrics on their car. I still gave them a few BS laps on general principle, but not enough to keep them from beating the Spin-N-Out BMW by 3 laps. Congratulations on your fourth LeMons victory, Eyesore Racing!

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And the Winner Is… Mon, 25 Apr 2011 07:31:29 +0000
The North Dallas Hooptie 24 Hours of LeMons is over, tornadoes, lightning, and all, and a most improbable team has taken the win on laps.

We’d been seeing the Miagra Miata for many races and had written the team off as a bunch of hapless black-flag magnets with a car that somehow managed to get British Leyland-grade reliability from a Hiroshima product. They never gave up, however, and their skills improved in parallel with the bugs getting worked out of their car. Over the weekend, it all came together for Team Miagra, and they took the overall win by a two-lap margin. Congratulations, Team Miagra!

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In Spite of Texas Tornadoes, Miagra Miata Holds Lead In North Dallas Hooptie Sun, 24 Apr 2011 03:32:09 +0000
You get some crazy weather when your traveling race series holds events in April; last weekend, we had to throw the checkered flag early on Saturday’s race session because blowing Michigan snow knocked visibility down to zero. Today, we had to end the session an hour early because a wild lightning storm swooped in and threatened to zap the corner workers. Minutes later, the tornado alert sirens started blowing. The members of the Miagra Miata team, no doubt donning their helmets and cowering in the nearest bunker, could console themselves with the knowledge that their team will start tomorrow’s race session as the race leader. Well, that’s if a funnel cloud doesn’t deposit their Mazda in the next county.

Meanwhile, the members of the Blue Goose Golf team, who spent much of the day battling for (and occasionally grabbing) the lead with Los Miagras, are probably gritting their teeth and grumbling about weak-kneed race organizers who let a little weather put a halt to their chase of that damn Mazda. We’ve been seeing the Miagra guys at the Houston races for quite a while, and they’ve always been utterly terrible underdogs, breaking the car and racking up tremendous quantities of black flags. For this race, all of the team’s drivers prepared by taking every possible race-instruction class and (we assume) undergoing painful aversion-therapy treatments that applied electric shocks to sensitive body parts whenever a black flag appeared in the field of vision. This team has been very fast and utterly penalty-free so far, which I never would have predicted for these former repeat miscreants. Can the Blue Geese catch the blue-pill-adorned Miata tomorrow? Will one of the E30s nipping at their heels pass them both? We’ll find out tomorrow… if the track is still there.

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Molvo! Thu, 31 Mar 2011 21:00:06 +0000
When you’ve got a team of LeMons veterans who have been racing a Volvo 245 wagon since the earliest days of the 24 Hours of LeMons and you want to add a second car to the stable, you’re going to face stern disapproval if that second car happens to be a BMW E30 or a Mazda Miata. Those choices lack imagination! There must be some way to make a Miata fit Bernal Dads Racing’s Volvo-wagon ethos… but what could it be?

Here’s the Bernal Dads’ original race car, a much-scarred veteran of countless Altamont and Thunderhill LeMons events and a true elder statesman of LeMons racing.

Here’s Bernal Dads Racing’s second car, a Miata that made its debut at Thunderhill Raceway for last year’s Arse Sweat-a-Palooza. Miatas aren’t really any quicker around a road course than, say, a fifth-gen Civic or Ford Probe, so a Miata isn’t necessarily a threat to run away with a race, but we’d prefer to keep the Spec Miata-ization of LeMons at a minimum. Every Miata or E30 on the track could have been a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz or Simca 1204— or a Volvo 240 wagon— and so the Bernal Dads weren’t able to ward off the razzing over their car choice, in spite of the Volvo grille slapped on the snout.

All that changed at last weekend’s Sears Pointless race. The Bernal Dads have made some changes to their Miata!

Yes, they’ve cut the body off a Volvo 245 and welded it atop a Miata. It’s a three-door, which makes it a Molvo 243.

At first glance, I thought this thing was just a really wonky-looking Volvo wagon; I was busy with other cars during the BS Inspection, so I didn’t grasp what lay beneath the Volvo skin until the next day.

When the Molvo came into the Penalty Box after an on-track mishap, I was puzzled by the bizarre rollcage setup. Then I noticed that this Volvo wagon had a Miata parked inside it. Molvo!

The Molvo finished 73rd out of 173, with a respectable best lap time of 2:20. LeMons HQ staff agonized over the choice of the Molvo versus the Datsun 250 GTO when it came time to pick the Organizer’s Choice award. Actually, the judges of the LeMons Supreme Court were strongly in favor of the Molvo, but it’s Chief Perp Lamm‘s race and he gave the OC to the nearly-as-amazing “Ferrari.” “Fine,” we said, “We’ll give the Judges’ Choice trophy to the Molvo.” And that’s how it worked out. Congratulations, Bernal Dads Racing!

Molvo-20 Molvo-01 Molvo-02 Molvo-03 Molvo-04 Molvo-05 Molvo-06 Molvo-07 Molvo-08 Molvo-09 Molvo-10 Molvo-11 Molvo-12 Molvo-13 Molvo-14 Molvo-15 Molvo-16 Molvo-17 Molvo-18 Molvo-19 Molvo-21 Molvo-22 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 13
Review: 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring Mon, 23 Mar 2009 16:30:06 +0000

I'll come right out and say it: It's my parents' fault. You see, my mom's just a couple of inches over five feet tall and my dad's only a bit taller than she is. But for some reason they passed genes to me resulting in me growing to 6'3". It makes for interesting family portraits but when it comes to cars, it sucks. I grew up riding with my knees shoved in the dashboard of whatever bench-seat-equipped sedan they happened to own at the time. And now I'm given a Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring to review. Genetics is a bitch.


I’ll come right out and say it: It’s my parents’ fault. You see, my mom’s just a couple of inches over five feet tall and my dad’s only a bit taller than she is. But for some reason they passed genes to me resulting in me growing to 6′3″. It makes for interesting family portraits but when it comes to cars, it sucks. I grew up riding with my knees shoved in the dashboard of whatever bench-seat-equipped sedan they happened to own at the time. And now I’m given a Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring to review. Genetics is a bitch.

Mazda deserves credit for not messing with the genetics of their diminutive roadster. From its inception it’s been true to its original design. While it’s gotten slightly larger over the years—mainly to accommodate safety regulations—it remains the modern-day incarnation of the classic two-seat roadster.

One thing they have messed with, though, is the name. While it’s always been sold as the MX-5 elsewhere, it was introduced in the US as the Miata and that’s the name most people know it by. When I told friends I was driving an “MX-5″ they had no clue what I was talking about. When I added “Miata” the light went on immediately. Miata has great brand recognition and why Mazda doesn’t leave it alone is beyond me.

A makeover for 2009 freshened the looks while still leaving it one of the most recognizable cars on the road. However the most questionable part of the facelift is the face. Mazda made the grill bigger and it now looks like one of the talking cars from the Chevron commercials. With a smiley grill and dimpled driving lights, “cute” is the only adjective that can be used to describe its countenance. And it does nothing to dispel the misconception that it’s a “chick car.”

Inside, as you’d expect in a car with a 91.7 inch wheelbase, things are kind of tight. The controls on the well-laid-out instrument panel are all within easy reach. Hell, everything in there is within easy reach. The Grand Touring trim level adds lots of toys like heated seats, cruise control and automatic air conditioning that are nice to have but don’t add anything to the fun factor.

Even though it’s . . . um . . . cozy for someone my size, the seats are quite comfortable (once they’re adjusted to their lowest and rearmost positions). The only real problem: trying to get my size 14EEE feet working the pedals correctly. Once I finally figured the proper two-step to keep my right foot off the gas and brake at the same time I was good to go.

I spent most of my time in Miata with the top down. Thankfully the weather cooperated because the one time I drove it with the top up I had severe MG-B flashbacks. I had to slouch to see through the windshield (as opposed to looking over it when the top was down). At least dropping the top was no problem—the Miata’s soft top has to be the best ever designed. It goes down with a flick of the wrist and can be erected without leaving the driver’s seat.

And top down driving is what this car is all about.  Twist the key (even with the “smart key” there’s a key-like protuberance to twist) and the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more eager to play than a Lab puppy with a new tennis ball. There’s no need to turn on the radio; the 167hp, 2.0L DOHC four provides the best soundtrack you could ever want.

Grab the shifter and you discover one reason to spring for the Touring or Grand Touring trim levels: they’re the only ones with a six-speed transmission. The shifter snicks through the gears with Germanic precision. You find yourself taking the long way around even for the short trip to the local Stop ’n Rob, just for the aural delights of the exhaust note and the haptic satisfaction from rowing the shifter.

And then, when the road gets curvy, you’ll find the $500 you dropped on the suspension package was money well spent. The Bilstein shocks and sport suspension tuning give you the sensation you’re in the world’s largest slot car without beating you to death in the process. It may not be the fastest car on the highway but that doesn’t matter. It’s one of those rare cars that’s fun to drive, regardless of how fast you’re going.

The MX-5 Miata was the first car I’ve driven in a long time that had me grinning every time I drove it (although the grin faded a bit as I extricated myself from it). If you’re looking for an antidote for automotive ennui, look no further. That is, if you have the genes for the job.

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