Recent Posts

Recent Comments

25 Years Ago – Spring 1991

Then & Now

1956 Porsche 356/1500S Speedster & 1991 Mazda Miata
The Second in a series of wheel-to-wheel comparisons

In purely technical terms, a comparison of the Porsche 356 Speedster and the Mazda MX-5 Miata doesn’t compute. How can you relate a horizontally-opposed, air-cooled, rear-engine car of the Fifties with a front-engine, twin-cam, 16-valve machine of the Nineties, one that we currently accept as the state of the sports car art? You can’t.

So forget the specifications for a minute and consider the generally accepted definition of a sports car: a small, two-seat roadster built for just one purpose, driving pleasure. Now, in that context, put yourself back in the Fifties, and into the Porsche.

For that time the Speedster was very light and simple but also extremely sophisticated, neatly detailed and well finished. Just like the Miata today. The Speedster had a tight structure, supple suspension and precise steering. Just like the Miata today. The Speedster had a very reliable engine, developed from a high-volume production unit to give substantially more power and brisk if not exactly neck-snapping acceleration. Just like the Miata today.

Continue reading: 25 Years Ago – Spring 1991

25 Years Ago – Winter 1990

“A Greater Awareness”

By George P. Burdell

Mention driving up Interstate 5. Through California’s San Joaquin Valley. In the middle of June. Given that scenario, most enthusiasts will have the same reaction: B-O-R-I-N-G. Visions of an arrow-straight ribbon of asphalt stretching to a parched barren horizon, certainly not much fun in any car, let alone one as seemingly ill-suited to that type of road as the Mazda Miata.

And yet that is what I drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back earlier this year. Know what? It wasn’t at all bad. I had made the drive before in a number of other cars, all closed coup’s and sedans, and so I felt I knew I-5 well, a mind-numbing drone of 350-400 miles where the real trick is to try to stay awake while watching out for the CHPs and their airplanes.

Having driven I-5 in a Miata, it turns out I really didn’t know it at all, or at least the Miata gave me a greater awareness of the beauty and richness of the countryside I was traveling through.

I left L.A. after work, crawling through the usual bumper-to-bumper madness that we call (ironically) rush hour. I had decided that I would try to drive

the entire trip with the top down, but I really didn’t hold out much hope for that goal once I reached the heat of the San Joaquin Valley. As I began the climb out of the L.A. basin over the Grapevine, the traffic thinned out dramatically and I was able to bring the Miata up to a more suitable cruising speed.

Once I got into the mountains the air cleared, and I began to realize that with the top down the first of your senses to reawaken is the sense of smell. No more of that artificial, climate-controlled air, this was the real thing, unfiltered, unspoiled and unbelievably refreshing.

As I dropped into the valley the sensations kept coming. The oil fields around Bakersfield. The cotton fields near Buttonwillow. The freshly-tilled earth around Kettleman City. The cattle feedlots near Harris Ranch (maybe there is something to be said for filtered, sanitized air!). The grassy hills around Tracy. Always a new smell that had gone unnoticed on previous trips. The view from the car was exceptional, as expected (very helpful when looking for black and white airplanes). Somehow there is a different look to a sunset when seen from behind the windshield of a convertible singing along at 80 mph. Certainly other drivers view you in a different light. The people I passed, and was passed by, all seemed to look at me with a mixture of envy and enjoyment, especially the children in the back of the family wagon or minivan. I have never before

driven a car that elicited such wonderful smiles from children and adults as a Miata.

In a convertible you are so acutely aware of the temperature. During the course of the trip the temperature inside the car varied as I drove from cool in the mountains to warmer in the valley, cooling as the sun set. I didn’t really need to use the heater until I hit the Bay Area’s famed Altamont Pass, where the air, cooled by Bay Area fog (the world’s largest air conditioner), rushes through a gap and into the warmer San Joaquin Valley.

I finally reached my destination at about 12:30am, but so far from being tired I felt amazingly awake and refreshed, every detail of the trip a vivid memory.

The next day, I was able to share some of the same sensations with my very pregnant sister as we drove the Miata into San Francisco. It should be noted that she experienced no discomfort from what the Miata’s critics have called its choppy ride.

I retraced my path a couple of days later, and the experience was just as invigorating and life-giving as it had been on the trip north. I was left with a new appreciation for the Miata’s abilities as a long-distance tourer. If the Miata can make a previously boring drive seem like a new adventure, think what it can do on a true driver’s road!

Copyright 1990, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

25 Years Ago – Fall 1990

Miata Club of America Summer Events

Can you say Callaway?

By George P. Burdell

Do you remember the first summer camp you ever went to? Meeting different people that you were striving so desperately to find a common bond with? Suppose you found not only a common bond, but a passionate one – your sports car. Now throw in a healthy dose of maturity and you have an idea what it’s like to attend a Club Rally. Most of this past summer’s Callaway event attendees had never seen such an event before and all were pleasantly surprised to find that you can be a kid again.

The Miata Club of America 1990 East Coast Rally was held at the prestigious Callaway Gardens just south of Atlanta. Over 100 people were in attendance. Space Coast Chapter founder Chet Young even came without his Miata after testing the air bag!

What kind of people attend a Club Rally? The same kind that inspect your teeth for cavities, advise you on which stocks to buy/sell, and that are students at college. That is to say, all kinds. But the best of people, because Miata owners just want to have fun.

What happened at this rally? Let us tell you about the gymkhana, the road rally and the concours. The gymkhana was a slow speed driving test around some carefully place traffic pylons. Not everyone could conceptualize the need for slowness and multiple pylons were Eastingested by countless Miata mouths. Accuracy was key. Speed was a deterrent. So was manual steering. The course workers began to step back when certain drivers belted up.

The road rally was a timed course on public roads, outlined by very cryptic instructions. Finding the way was not as hard as staying on schedule, especially if you got stuck at a railroad crossing. Duane Simpson, our fearless racer, was seen making a U-turn in the rally (a definite no-no). Since he was driving the official Club race car, everyone who saw him made a U-turn as well. Lemmings, as they say.

Then there was the concours. These events are for those who really, and we mean really like to keep their Miata clean. Many were up before the crack of dawn, hotel ice buckets full of soapy warm water ready to hand wash their babies. How clean is clean? When was the last time you took Q-tips to your tire treads?

In addition to the outside events, there were substantial seminars. Mike Harris, service trainer for Mazda’s Eastern Region gave an excellent presentation on service basics. The Simpson brothers discussed the finer points of road racing and the proper lines for track driving. Road Show sponsored a clean-up/detailing seminar for those in the concours mindset. During the Friday night dinner, attendees were treated to an informative speech by Norman Garrett about the development of the Miata and the automotive industry in general.

The entire weekend wrapped up with a delicious cookout at a very lovely lakeside setting. It was even topped off with a three dimensional Miata birthday cake. In addition to the event winners, awards were given to:
Most Miles on a Miata: Charles Taylor – 46,530
Oldest Driver: Robert Moore – 61
Most Miles Traveled: Bradlee Shattuck – 1193 (from New England)
Chapter Attendance: Space Coast
Pylon Mutilation: Becky Simpson

And were there door prizes! A complete Millen Aero Kit, a Mazda spoiler and rear skirt from Monarch Mazda, and many others.

There’s more to tell but no space to tell it. Just ask anyone who attended if they had a good time. Will there be another Rally like this next year? Count on it!

Do you know the way to Monterey?

By Lyn Vogel

A contingent from SOCALM (The Southern California Miata Association) is invited to the Miata’s first birthday party during the 17the Monterey Historic Automobile races. We’re promised scenery. We’re promised racing. We’re promised a party with Bob Hall, Mark Jordan, Norman Garrett, and Vince Tidwell. We decide to go any way.

Day One – We gather the group from stops in San Diego, Annaheim, and Los Angeles. Our goal today is the swiss-styled village of solvang, 130 miles north of L. A. .

We are encouraged by the appearance of club member and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Hildebrandt. We want to know – Does he have a little magnetic siren for the top of his er, hood? Can he get us out of any tickets we may incur? Alas, bad guys await. He must return to his beat and we must travel without police escort.

Irony of the day: George Christensen’s Miata is rear-ended by a Honda next to the sign of one of our pick-up points, Disneyland – “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

Day Two – Some more join our caravan and we are now 35 cars strong. Freeway gaping from passing motorists is plentiful. We pass by a Miata billboard and it occurs to me that the sight of this many cars is bound to lead people into showrooms. . . (Mazda salesman to his manager: “No kidding boss. This customer on the floor says he saw maybe fifty Miatas on the road!” “. . . Fifty?” “Yeah! We’ve had fanatics in here before but this guy’s having delusions!”).

We stop halfway for gas and create the longest restroom line they’ve ever seen at this convenience store. Also stopped is a late model Rolls Royce. We do mental calculations as to how much money you’d have left over if you traded in your RR for an MX. We are depressed.

Back on the road to our overnight stay outside of Monterey our troop is passed by an impressive driver of a new Mercury Capri “X-R-2-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E”. She is aloof. She has her top up. She is bored.

The motel where we stay for the duration finds it is not only housing SOCALM, but the Bay Area Miata Association, The Bay Area RX-7 club, and the Alfa Romeo owners club. Car washing begins in the earnest and we quickly exhaust their supply of towels. Maid service is on red alert.

The night’s poolside reception is a success. there are impromptu speeches by Miata design team member Tom Matano, Mazda Information Bureau’s Fred Aikens, Wisconsin club president David Fogelstrom, and giving the “benediction” to the evening is the president of the Alfa Club. Presenting us with a bottle of saki he wishes us as much fun with our sports cars over the years as they’ve had with theirs.

Day Three – A day at the races! Laguna Seca is a viewer-friendly park with lots of spots to watch the action. Mazda has cordoned off a huge area calling it the “Hundred Car Corral”. The combined effortsWest of the Bay area and Southern California provide that many cars. We are giddy with pride.

Everyone is on their own for the next two days. enjoying the historics, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance a 1/4 scale red Miata birthday cake. Bob Hall’s Miata with special metallic teal green paint was on display as well.

Overheard during the weekend: Mark Jordan commenting on the mock-up birthday cake and its bumpy frosting, “I think it needs some surface development”. Bob Hall refers to the front tie downs in the Miata grill as “fangs”. Car nut Jay Leno visits the Mazda tent and tells a couple of jokes. Tom Matano remarks on one of the design goals of the Miata team, “People should want to go out to the garage and take one last look before going to bed at night”.

And outside the Club’s motel, didn’t we all see each other doing just that.

Copyright 1990, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

25 Years Ago – Summer 1990


By Barbara Beach

“What do you mean $18,000 in medical deductions?” he shrieked, as only an accountant can.
“I bought a Miata: I responded calmly, (as calm as one can while doing their taxes).
“A car is not a medical deduction” the accountant reprimanded.
“A Miata is” I argued. “In fact, I consider it THERAPY!”

It is possible that I may not win my case with the IRS, but anyone who owns a Miata can understand my point. As Will Rogers once said, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man”. I concur, and contend that the outside of a Miata is good for the inside of anyone! It certainly has been good for me. I have made more new friends and had more freeway “love affairs” (you know…those stolen glances and passionate smiles) window to window. I never had this much fun in my Chevy Van. Never once did I get a marriage proposal while driving it, but in the Miata I have had several (I will, however, have to wait for my suitors to either graduate high school or get a driver’s license). But a proposal is a proposal!

I would only caution you not to make the Miata gods angry. There is a certain unwritten dress code that one must abide by when Miata motoring. My biggest mistake was to make one

of those early morning ‘sweat pants, hair in curlers’ run to the dry cleaners. Upon leaving the cleaners I was shocked to find two men sitting in my Miata. While this is not what I would normally consider a crisis, it is when I’m dressed for my Phillis Diller impression. A Miata owner must be dressed to meet people. After all, we do represent an alternate way of motoring and have certain responsibilities!!

Observing my self-imposed rule, I was far more successful in my encounter with a top-down 560SL: Dressed as if he just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren full page ad, the Benz driver looked over as I languished in my Calvin Kleins and offered to trade cars. Tomorrow, lunch? You bring your pink slip, I’ll bring mine…Oh I’m sorry! There seems to be little loyalty left these days!

I was in quite a panic when I questioned my best friend as to what I should wear on an upcoming date with a man I really wanted to impress. “Relax, Barbara”, my friend laughed, “Flash a smile and wear your Miata!” I did and it worked! This car is not just transportation, it is a dating device! I can just see the classifieds now…’OUTRAGEOUSLY FINE FEMALE WITH TWO MASTERS DEGREES, UNTOLD WEALTH, AND A RED MIATA IS LOOKING TO FIND A MAN OF SIMILAR QUALITIES. SEND PHOTO OF YOURSELF AND YOUR CAR…’
I think I have stumbled on to something here…high tech automotive seduction. This car should carry a warning: CAUTION: DRIVING A MIATA CAN CAUSE AN INFLATED EGO, UNABASHED FLIRTATION, AND IN SOME CASES SERIOUS PROPOSALS.

The Miata is by no means a ‘singles only’ car. I do hope that all of you married Miata owners enjoy the car for its original intended purposes; starry nights, top down cruising with your significant other. As for me and my Miata…well, we’re just going out to play.

Barbara Beach (and her Miata) play in Vista, California. Barbara profiles other Miata owners (and an occasional man in a 560SL) in each Miata magazine.

Copyright 1990, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

25 Years Ago – Spring 1990

Stopping Traffic

by Peter Egan

On the first morning I drove our Miata test car to work, a black Mustang GT with side-pipes pulled up beside me at a stoplight. The owner, a rather Springsteenish looking fellow with curly hair and rolled-up sleeves on his T-shirt, looked straight ahead and didn’t give the Miata a glance. His girl-friend, however, climbed over his lap for a better look at the Mazda. “That’s it!” she said, shaking him so hard that ash fell off his cigarette. “That’s the car I was telling you about!”

Her boyfriend slowly turned his head and regarded the Miata sullenly from beneath a Gene Vincent spit curl. Then he looked straight ahead and draped his hand over his steering wheel. “I didn’t know they were so small.” he said, loud enough for all of us to hear. The light changed and he roared off in a cloud of rubber and smoke. The g-forces tossed his girlfriend back in her seat. Even in mid-whiplash, however, she managed to look back longingly at the Miata, like a child whose mother has snatched her away from a toy counter.

I grinned and took off in my own mini-snarl of revs and commotion. It’s as sheer flattery, this studied nonchalance of the Mustang driver. An automotive version of the “He ain’t so good” indifference people sometimes use on movie stars in restaurants. The acid test of fame and success.

That small incident, one of many, made it official: The Mazda Miata is the most noticed car I’ve driven in eight years of working at Road &. Track. Not literally official – I haven’t checked with Guinness or hired Price Waterhouse to tabulate the number of stares and shouts-but there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the most publicly popular car we’ve ever had in our test fleet, surpassing even Testarossas and Turbo Esprits.

The first week was really something. I’d be driving the Miata home from work, stop at a light, and the guy behind me would leap out of his car and come running up to ask if Miatas were already in the showroom. While he was talking to me, someone in another lane would be hanging out the window of a delivery van and shouting, “Hey, what kind of car is that?” When traffic started rolling, a Samurai-load of high school girls would roll alongside and one of them would shout, “I want one!” with the sort of swooning intensity that was reserved for Lennon or McCartney 25 years ago.

There’s something happening here, as Mr. Dylan would tell us, and it hasn’t abated, even half a year after the Miata’s introduction. And, frankly, I love all the clamor. It’s nice to see the concept of a small, affordable sports car vindicated by success, and it’s also good to see a car-any car-that generates this kind of loud, general excitement again. It doesn’t happen very often in this business.

Working for a car magazine through the Eighties, I’ve attended dozens of introductions for cars. We normally gather in a hotel conference room, have some coffee and sweet

rolls, and then watch a slide show in which alluring portions of the new car are revealed to us in a fan-dancelike photo montage while the engineering goals of the company are explained. Finally We are led into a dark room where the new car sits on a pedestal, the lights come up and the new model is unveiled.

With few pleasant exceptions, most of these unveilings have been fairly disappointing. The crowd gathers around the car, reporters raise their eyebrows or shrug, and finally someone slides up to you and says, “Jeez, with a clean sheet of paper you’d think they could have come up with something more interesting than this….” and someone else says, “Well, the rear end isn’t too ugly….” and a third party says, “The front end kind of reminds you of a Porsche 944, only not quite as clean …” and so on into the morning, damning with faint praise or trying politely to put another lost opportunity in its best light.

The pattern that emerges here, after a near decade of press conferences, is not merely a lack of boldness in design, but a tendency for designers to lose touch with the textures and shapes that the human eye admires in cars. In his critique of modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe noted that most architects were so busy impressing one another that they produced a whole generation of buildings in which no one wanted to live or work. The public was supposed to adapt to the taste of the architects, not the other way around, so our cities ended up being a collection of concrete boxes and places based on German worker housing of the Thirties.

That trend seems to be reversing itself in architecture. I’m seeing more new buildings I genuinely admire these days, where some of the more engaging styles from the past are being adapted to a modern vision of space and light.

Car designers-like architects, I think-have been watching one another more than they’ve been watching the customers who have to live in (and with) their cars. As a result, the past decade has brought us too many sports/GT cars that are heavier, wider, longer, vastly more expensive and so lacking in distinctiveness of line as to be anonymous or nearly invisible. Fast, sophisticated and serious, but not much fun.

What Mazda has done with the Miata is not so much reinvent the sports car as fill a huge vacuum, simply by remembering what a sports car is. They’ve built a car with a good power/weight ratio, rather than sheer power, so acceleration feels quick and spritely. They’ve also made it small enough to be nimble in traffic and parkable anywhere, and given it a front-engine/rear-drive layout for easy maintenance, repair and modification. It has a wonderful exhaust note and a convertible top, it doesn’t cost much (temporary gouging aside) and it is as a friend of mine in a Bluegrass band used to say, more fun than half a gallon of red ants.

The Miata also dos something few other cars have been able to do lately: It looks good to a lot of people. It may be derivative in its styling, and of course we have no way of knowing how the design will hold up 10 years down the road. But for right now, it looks good enough to stop traffic, and that alone is fair cause for celebration.

Copyright 1990, Road & Track Magazine. Reprinted with(out) permission.