Upcoming Events

8:00 am Edgefield Cruise-In on the Square @ Sprint (formerly Greg's Gas +)
Edgefield Cruise-In on the Square @ Sprint (formerly Greg's Gas +)
Jul 20 @ 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Where: Sprint/Greg’s Gas Plus at 1295 W Martintown Rd, North Augusta, SC (just north of I-20 off Exit 1) – map We will leave from exit 1 in North Augusta by 8:15 and drive over[...]

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For Sale

2003 Madza Miata MX-5, 147k miles, 6 speed manual transmission, NEW top, brakes & tires.
$3800.00 OBO Call Charlie at 803-634-2155

Free Coffee or Brian & Donna Buy Some Friends

Members Attending: (from left to right) John Haff, Dennis Mason, Larry Garner, Rita Garner, Trudy Scott, Victor Yu, Brian Bogardus, Tom Varallo, Hal Scott, Kurt Breitinger, Karen Breitinger, Karol Mason, and Donna Bogardus

For the past 5 years Donna and I have participated in something called the Moss Motoring Challenge, where we cavort around taking pictures of our Miata with one of us holding a catalog cover while stopped near some sign or some “destination.”

Three years ago one of the challenges was “Coffee Shop with a Friend” which we had procrastinated on all year. So on the last Saturday of 2015, we set up a Club event and advertised free coffee to anyone who would come out and have their picture taken with us. David Adcock and Larry & Rita came out to Ridgecrest Coffee Bar in Aiken.

This year, 2018, when we saw “Coffee with a Friend” on the list of challenges we knew we were going to intentionally procrastinate until the last Saturday of the year and make it another Club event. Our previous spot, Ridgecrest Coffee Bar, had shutdown earlier in the year, so we needed a new meeting spot. Then we remembered the Inner Bean Cafe in Augusta, from a Hal & Trudy breakfast event a couple years ago.

Thanks to all who came out.

25 Years Ago – Winter 1993

Elevator Espionage

I get a lot of calls from my journalist friends asking why there has not been a competitor to the Miata entering into the market by now. It has been five years since the press introduction of the Miata and it is presumable that some other company would have tried for their piece of the sports car market pie by now.

The answer I give largely centers around the Capri and its lack of sales performance as contrasted to the Miata’s success.

It is hard to believe that the first Miata day model took shape over a decade ago. At that time the key words for the program were “Light Weight Sports” or LWS. The concept was crystal clear for those of us within Mazda – fill the gap left by the recently deceased British sports cars. Customers at that time were making do with Fiero’s and Honda CRX’s, but we thought a reliable MGB would be more to the market’s liking. Justifying 40,000 units per year (based on MG and Triumph sales in ’79-’80), Mazda headquarters in Japan gave the green light for our California studio to proceed.

Ford had received quite a bit of good press with the Barchetta show car in the late seventies – a small, two seat sports car based on Fiesta mechanicals (my, this all sounds ancient now…). A few product planners within Ford had been looking for a justification to build such a car for many years. In the early ’80’s, the chance came. Ford of Australia needed more export credits for a particular assembly plant. Putting two and two together, the powers within Ford decided to build an adapted version of the Barchetta in Australia for domestic sales and for export to the US and other markets.

The germ of the idea was great – a low cost two seater for the masses. Build it in an existing plant with as many existing parts as you can and you will have the afford-able answer to the British expiration. The plan was solid, but the execution began as a compromise from the get-go. It was decided to build the car on a Mazda 323 floorpan, in order to save money by not developing a new one. The choice was made to use the old tooling from the 323 line that had just been moth balled. Thus, a car destined to enter the market in 1990 was being built on a chassis introduced in 1982 and killed in ’86.

I recall riding in my hotel’s elevator while in Hiroshima and meeting new American faces each day. They were Ford engineers working on the Probe/MX-6 joint venture and the Capri project. They did not know of our plans to make a small sports car, but we were curious about how the “Barchetta” program was going and how it might be the death knell for our special car. “How is the 323 platform working out for the two seater?” I would ask, feigning knowledge of the project. “Fine, Fine. Front wheel drive is the only way to go with this niche market,” would be the reply, telling me they were locked into front wheel drive and mediocre handling performance from the start. It was a chess game, but as long as they stayed on that track, there was a chance the Miata would be “allowed” to be built.

The front wheel drive decision for the Capri was based, again, on cost. This was the one point that made the Miata possible. You may remember that Ford owns 25% of Mazda. The Ford Board knew about the Miata program and decided to let it co-exist with their Capri program. The two cars had completely different drivetrains and market focuses and were considered not to be direct competitors, sort of like the Midget and the MGB. The Capri was going to have two small rear seats and be priced lower than the Miata. The thinking (sound enough) was that the purists would buy the Miata and the more “practical” customers would buy the Capri.

There was a period of true pins and needles for us at Mazda R&D in 1985 when the Miata’s future was very uncertain. Internally, the MPV was competing for development money – the U.S. market was crying out for minivans at the time. Externally, Ford’s weighty scepter loomed over our little idea. Fortunately, all three vehicles were approved for production.

The rest, as they say, is market history. The Capri was scheduled to come out first at a low price. In fact, the Capri introduced at $12,800 six months after the Miata went on sale for $13,800. Very shortly afterwards, the Capri’s price rose to over $14,000. The press, as we remember, was ecstatic about the Miata and “kind” to the Capri. The market place rewarded the two cars in a less than equal manner.

Last year’s sales for the Capri were half those for the Miata, even with serious rebates and discounts from Ford/Mercury.

The problem with the Capri? There are none, really. It is a very pleasant 2+2 convertible with mild road manners and a reliable nature. Does anyone sneak out at night and wax their Capri? Is anyone drawn to chase headlights for hours, so enamored with the Capri’s character and style? Few are, if any. The Capri has a serious infection of that corporate disease – committee design. It pleases everyone and thrills no one. The lack of sales for the Capri has proven one thing – niche cars need to have stand-out personalities.

And there is that price. Basically, the Capri is a convertible Mazda 323 Hatchback. The convertible option costs around $2000 at retail. The 323 Hatchback sells for $7000. Put that together to yield a reasonable price for a Capri at around $9000. Trying to sell a $9000 car for $14,000 is a fool’s game in any market.

Now I can make my point, after a long winded prelude. The Capri and the Miata have staked out the only two viable ways of meeting this small sports car market in a modern world. You can take an existing design and make it into a sports car, trying to keep the costs down and make up for lack of character with clever marketing and alloy wheel programs. Or you can start with a clean sheet of paper and spend your money making your idea of the perfect sports car, praying that the almighty customer will agree with you. Both represent risky propositions.

These two cars have essentially cornered the market in low priced sports cars – there may be little room for anyone else. Could someone make a $16,000 car from scratch and have it be better than the Miata? Probably not – and that is not said out of arrogance, it is just that the Miata was developed with no competition in mind. Any car now developed would have to position itself among a few cars in the field and compromises would be inevitable. Can someone take an existing sub-compact design and make it a convertible “sports car” – maybe. The lack of Capri sales even after sustained rebate programs is probably scaring anyone away.

We have seen Toyota move the MR-2 up scale (into the $20,000 range). Honda’s new “CRX” is the Del Sol which is more money and less car than the Miata ever pretended to be. The Fiero is dead. Alfa Romeo sold less cars for the entire last year than Mazda did Miata’s in its worst single month. Fiat has announced a new two seater, but our crash tests and product liability problems may keep it out of the U.S. market. The MGB is alive and well with a V-8 engine and a price to match for Brits only.

So is the Miata king of the hill? Well, it is king of its hill, which is the “affordable” sports car market. It has been included in all of the automotive magazine’s “favorite car” lists for each of its four years of production. It has spawned the largest single marquee import car club in the world (us).

Does that make it the “best”? No. What makes it the best is that little smile that creeps over you when you crest that hill or clip that apex and the sun is just right and the wind is billowing over the wind-shield and second gear feels so good and the engine sings happily. Being able to reproduce that smile on 250,000 individual customers around the world is what makes it the best. It is a feat not easily accomplished in today’s automotive world.

For that, we must say thank you to Mazda, for persevering through that product mine field on our behalf.

Norman H. Garett III
Founder Miata Club of America

Copyright 1993, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

Car For Sale

2008 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring, PRHT, about 70,000 miles.
Paddle Shift Automatic, Black exterior/Saddle Tan interior.
Call (706) 863-6045 for price and additional details.

Tales of the Dragon

Members Attending: Brian & Donna Bogardus, Rite & Larry Garner, Dennis & Karol Mason, Trudy & Hal Scott and Tom Varallo.
Guests Attending: Hartmut Von Seleen

Friday: Tom had invited some members of the Greenwood Corvette Club to come along and it turned out that only one could join us. They would not be driving a Corvette and they would be meeting us at the McDonald’s in Elberton. Needless to say, Mr. Von Seleen’s Lava Orange 911 GT3 RS was easy to spot in lot.

In spite of the gloomy forecast, two of the five Miatas started the drive with their tops down. Our second spot of the morning was in Elberton and we almost made it before the rain started. Fortunately a VFW Hall with a covered entrance popped up at just the right time to save us.

We scrubbed the usual visit to the “Stonehenge of Georgia” because of the rain and everyone had already been there except Hartmut, no problem, he was more interested in driving, so that’s what we did. The next real stop was for lunch in Highlands at the Sports Page. On the way out of town, we blew by a set of cars parked near Bridal Falls taking photos. There was actually a decent amount of water coming over the falls this times, but they have put up barriers so you can longer park underneath.

At our next stop at the little gas station at the beginning of the fabulous Wyah Road, who should go by but the same trio of young bloods from Bridal Falls. There was a 1st gen MR2 followed by a Volvo C30 Polestar and a Fiat 500 Abarth. We waved as they went by and figured we’d never see them again, but a few miles down the road there was an 18-wheeler stopping traffic as it negotiated a sharp corner, so there they were. For the next 5 miles or so we hung around not too far behind them through the twisty parts. Eventually their youth and greater feeling of immortality led them to disappear from us off the front.

After driving the 200 miles to get Robbinsville, no one wanted to drive the 50 extra miles total to do a Dragon run, except for our Porsche driver and me. So instead of the two of us driving, I asked if I could ride along with him. “Sure,” he said. While the cost of the Porsche was roughly equivalent to the cost of all of our 5 Miatas put together, he promptly justified the high cost of the car to me by demonstrating how it would feel to do the trip in a low flying Blue Angels jet.

Saturday: I always plan a very early run through the Gap on these trips up here to avoid the traffic that eventually clogs the 318 turns later in the day. Usually I only get one other car to get up and go early, but this year everyone was up to a morning drive. Our early wake up was rewarded by a clean run through the Tail of the Dragon going north and almost unimpeded going back south. After the northbound run as we were stopped at the parking area, Dennis asked Hartmut if it would be okay if he rode the southbound trip with him, “Of course,” came the reply. On the way back, we stopped at the dam overlook to chat with several “kids” that were enjoying the same roads we were, as part of a Tougefest. At the Crossroads of Time we decided to head back to Robbinsville the long way so we could take the great drive of NC28 along the Cheoah Lake.

By the time we got back to the hotel we were about an hour behind the day’s schedule, but it actually worked in our favor because by then the early morning foggy middle 30’s had become mostly sunny middle 40’s making tops go down for the more hardy of our group. Our first stop at the Bojangles in Murphy is usually just a quick in and out, but it somehow turned into a full fledged meal stop. Once again the delay worked to our favor by allowing the temperature to warm up a little bit more. At the Hiawassee Dam Overlook, I asked if it was OK if we skipped the usual stop at The Field of the Woods because everyone had already been there except Hartmut, no problem, he was more interested in driving, so that’s what we did.

At lunch the weather was pleasant enough that we could dine outside at the Telico Grains Bakery. The return leg over the Cherohala Skyway went back & forth from nice to interminable, as we would get a clear run for a mile or two and get saddled with some knucklehead traveling 25 MPH. For a while there it seemed like we would never make it back to North Carolina because as soon as a slow poke pulled into an overlook another similar vehicle would exit the other side. It is never usually this busy on the Skyway, but I have to chalk it up to our slightly later time of day, but mostly it had to be the leaves and weather. Somebody let the word out that the fall color was later this year and we can vouch for the veracity of this statement, it most definitely was the best leaves I can remember for the first weekend in November.

Sunday: The Scotts were the first to head out on their way to Asheville. Brian & Donna left next with Tom in tow, right after we had to get the front desk to wake up some knucklehead who parked his truck with trailer behind a row of cars blocking us in. I don’t know when the rest left. I’m not sure which way the Masons planned on going home, but I know the Garners were going home via Helen, GA. If I had to guess, I’d bet Hartmut took that 911 GTS R3 back for one more run through the Gap before making his way back home to Greenwood.