QOTD: The Last of the Fun, Attainable Sports Cars?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Judging from a quick perusal of Twitter, 98 percent of auto journos eat, sleep, and work behind the wheel a Mazda MX-5 Miata, and the remaining 2 percent daily drive a bizarre French car or perhaps some 1970s Saab. It’s possible a few own a Ford Mustang.

This is a highly unscientific tally, mind you.

While there’s no shortage of reasons why the MX-5 continues to find its way into the garages and driveways of motoring enthusiasts, the Mustang harbors similar DNA, despite its impure lineage and ability to house two small adults in the aft seats. Both vehicles are affordable, tossable, rear-drive two-doors with a smorgasbord of aftermarket upgrades at their disposal. Also, both models left the factory in great enough numbers to ensure cheap buys for those stuck in the used market.

Eventually, like the fate of all living things, one of these models will cease to exist before the other also fades away. Which one lives the longest?

News related to both the Mustang (specifically, the balls-out Shelby GT350 variant) and the upgraded, higher revving 2019 MX-5 graced these pages yesterday, and this morbid thought came to me over a plate of spaghetti.

In a world rife with crossovers, and with both companies drawing the bulk of their volume from these portly family haulers, cars like the Miata and Mustang feel increasingly endangered. Just because Ford spared the original pony car in this round of car cutting doesn’t mean it’s immortal. Nor is the Miata. For now, both vehicles — especially the Mustang — serve as increasingly fragile filaments connecting the brands to their sporting past, to an era when “mobility” implied a lead-footed human driver with both hands on the wheel.

The Mustang’s appearance in mid-1964 signalled the end of the Baby Boom generation, and in calendar year 1966 some 607,568 cash-flush Americans visited their Ford dealer for a taste of low-cost excitement. It was an early high water mark for the model. A similar, if more modest, stampede occurred when the MX-5 returned affordable, two-seat fun to the automotive landscape in mid-1989. 1990 proved to be the model’s best sales year, with just over 35,000 little NAs sold.

Current volumes are a fraction of these long-ago tallies. Ford moved 81,866 Mustangs in the U.S. last year, while Mazda sold 11,294 ND Miatas — its best showing in a decade.

Fun, historical nameplates benefit both consumer and automaker, but it’s not hard to imagine Fiat Chrysler without the Dodge Challenger and General Motors without the Chevrolet Camaro. The Corvette’s place in this world, for now, seems unshakable, but Nissan could easily drop the Z without harming its sales or image.

At some point, niches become too narrow. Beancounters encourage execs to replace low-volume models with do-all vehicles infused with a hint of the older model’s appeal. Plant space and R&D dollars could better serve the company if put to use building something else, they’ll say. Thankfully, we’re not at that point yet. There could be many years of happy motoring in these models’ future. But didn’t Ford just tease a “Mach 1” electric crossover in Detroit?

As Robert Plant once said, your time is gonna come.

Let’s peer into our crystal balls. Just how long can the Mustang and Miata survive in an industry moving ever closer to autonomy and electrification, and with a public that’s falling ever deeper in love with high-riding utility vehicles?

[Images: Ford Motor Company, Mazda]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Zackman Zackman on Jun 12, 2018

    Wait a minute.. are you saying that somebody actually buys a Miata new? I never heard of such a thing! I can see both of these disappearing. After all, we boomers are getting older and young people have no money and those who do aren't gonna buy a Mustang! For one thing, it's a Ford and they are going much upscale. The Miata? Too small and no room inside. Those buyers buy BMWs, Audis and the like. The rest buy CUVs. Get used to it!

  • Jerome10 Jerome10 on Jun 12, 2018

    I'd bet the Mustang name lives longer. The Miata should live longer. What I've never understood though is why neither of these cars has been leveraged into some sort of sports sedan. Or why Ford makes no Lincoln vehicle on the Mustang platform. I (if there is any hope left in the auto enthusiast world...which I'm not sure there is anymore :( ) would like to think that a small, nimble, RWD fun sedan from Ford or Mazda would actually do decent numbers. Certainly enough to prop up development costs and such. And yet it is never done.

    • Nlinesk8s Nlinesk8s on Jun 13, 2018

      I plan to buy a Miata soon, but it'll be used. If Mazda made a modern version of the gt6 based on the Miata, that wasn't 36k, I'd buy new. The RF is a little pricey for my budget though.

  • Ras815 Their naming scheme is almost as idiotic as having a totally separate Polestar brand for EVs that look exactly like...de-badged Volvos. But you can tell it came from the same idiocy.
  • Dukeisduke "The EX naming convention is used for the automaker’s new and upcoming EVs, the EX30 and EX90."Only upcoming when they can figure out the software.
  • SCE to AUX I've always said that consumer/business pressures will reign in government decrees, as they have in the past in places like California. That state has moved the goalposts many times for "ZEV" mandates.But the problem is the depth of politicization of the EPA. Mfrs need continuity and long-term commitment to requirements, not living on a 4-year political cycle of who's in the White House and Congress. Your President - whomever that is - isn't going to be around forever.Ironically, backing off the gas means handing a greater lead to Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid, (and possibly H/K/G). The whiners have begun heavy investments whose ROI will be extended by years, and their EV sales will reduce even further.It's like the coach granting his players less practice time because they're tired, while the other team stays fit - that's how you lose the game.
  • Dukeisduke The administration is slowly dribbling out details of the change - it's like they don't want to piss off environmentalists, the auto manufacturers, or the UAW. John McElroy covered this very well in today's installment of Autoline Daily: AD #3751 - 2024 U.S. EV Sales Could Grow 43%; China Price War Spreads To ICE; U.S Vehicles Biggest Ever, Also Lowest CO2 - AutolineAlso, even though vehicles in the US have gotten larger, heavier, and more powerful (thanks to the shift away from sedans to trucks and SUVs), according to a year-end report by the EPA, in 2023, average fuel economy was at its highest ever, and CO2 emissions of new vehicles were at their lowest ever ( The 2023 EPA Automotive Trends Report: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Fuel Economy, and Technology since 1975, Executive Summary (EPA-420-S-23-002, December 2023 ).
  • Golden2husky How about real names instead of alphabet/numeric soup?