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25 Years Ago – Summer 1991

If It Can’t Be Done on Wheels…

By Member Terry Carr, Memphis, Tennessee

I had been reading about the Miata since they were first offered for sale in this country. I knew I wanted one, but probably for many of different reasons than a lot of your readers who apparently have a long relationship with sports cars.

I grew up in the Fabulous Fifties – you know, sockhops, car dances, drive-in movies, and hamburger joints. We were a more mobile society back then. We felt that if you couldn’t do it on wheels, it probably wasn’t worth doing at all. It was about the time I fell in love with the 1955-56 Ford Thunderbird. I pressed my nose to many a showroom glass until the fog from my heavy breath obscured my view. The idea of a lift-off hardtop for a convertible was more than I could deal with at the time. I swore that one day I would own such a car.

Well, that was a long time ago and though I have owned many convertibles since I was sixteen, I never got my T-bird. A few months ago I finally sold my classic 1968 Pontiac Bonneville convertible complete with a 400 cubic inch engine equipped with tri-power (that’s 3-deuces or a six-pack to you younger folks). I bought that car new at the insistence of my bride. Kay and I stood in the empty second garage we had built to house my toys (the other, a classic mahogany planked inboard motorboat) and cried when that car left. We get attached to things. I know it’s silly, but that car had a lot of memories attached to it.

My wife informs me that afterwards, my lip stuck out a lot, I got moody and became somewhat disagreeable. You see, that was the first time I had ever been without a ragtop. It was terrible. And, since I had given up motorcycles some years before, I had no panacea.

That sets part of the stage. Now, for the other part of the story. As I said at the beginning of this article, I had been following the progress of the little car from the start. I must confess however that my initial preoccupation with the Miata was the lift-off hardtop. I find it interesting that a recent Miata Magazine article eluded to some initial discussion regarding whether to even produce a hardtop. I’m glad they did, as I am sure Mazda is now.

I have been dickering with car salesmen all my life. Heck, I can even remember when buying a car used to be fun. That’s how old I am. I know what a car costs the dealer. Consequently, I try not to pay too much over dealer invoice when I buy. When the Miata first came out, I went to a local dealership and made an offer on a 1990.

At the time, I think they were selling in Memphis for about $3,000 over the window sticker price. The salesmen rolled around the floor, giggled, guffawed, and generally cut up when I told them I’d pay a thousand dollars over dealer invoice for a new Miata. The sales manager even came out of his office to get a look at the “weirdo.” He said it would be a cold day in you-know-where before I would buy one at that price. I remarked that it probably would, remembering how few convertibles are sold in that kind of weather, and left.

Over the ensuing months, I made periodic stops at the dealership and kept hammering away at the sales price. You see, the secret to buying a car is to make sure that they want to sell it more than you want to buy it. If and when the pendulum swings the other way, you are a goner. Once I walked out of a showroom over a hundred dollar difference just to make a point. Steve, the young salesman whom I had thoroughly frustrated over the months and felt truly sorry for, followed me out into the parking lot exclaiming, “Mr. Carr, you know you want the car. It’s only a hundred dollars!”

I looked at the young man and said, “When you get to be fifty years old, you learn one valuable lesson if you’re lucky, which will extend your life and end most frustrations.”

“What’s that?”

“You can’t always have everything you want.”

It wasn’t enough that I wanted a particular price – there were other considerations. It must be RED, have limited slip differential, and have a hardtop. Everything else was negotiable. Well, almost everything. There was one other small detail. Demand was fairly great in Memphis, so dealers were driving in cars from outlying dealerships. I once test drove a Miata that had over 300 miles on the speedometer. When I buy a new car, I expect it to be new; NO MILES and as few people under the steering wheel as humanly possible. Yea, I know, weird — but my car had to have less than 12 miles on it.

The phone rang a few weeks before Thanksgiving, just a month after I sold my classic Pontiac convertible. They met my price and the car was being off-loaded in California. It arrived at the dealership about three weeks later (on a transport truck) and I took delivery with just nine miles showing on the speedometer. It was a “B” package, which suited me just fine. I would have lived without the air conditioner, but Kay couldn’t have.

To say I love my car would be a gross understatement. I have experienced none of the problems mentioned in your magazine columns. Of course, I still have less than 1,500 miles on it; the hardtop is still in place, and the cloth top has never been out of its boot. But, I have put it through its paces. I am impressed, to say the least. I have a hard boot coming from Rod Millen and have already installed mud guards and door sills. When I first got my Miata, I couldn’t wait to have one like everyone else’s. Now I want mine to be different from everyone else’s. As time and money permits, I will continue to add trinkets.

My last teenager leaves home in a few months. Then Kay and I will strike out for parts unknown, taking advantage of some of your travel tips in the magazine. Until we see you on the road, take care and drive safely. You can find my red 1991 Miata easily. The Tennessee license plate reads, “TC’S MX5.”

Terry Carr is a clinical counselor working at a state college in Memphis, Tennessee. His wife, Kay, is an elementary school teacher.

Summer 1991 photo

Copyright 1991, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

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