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Rummaging for a Roadster (updated)

By  January 21, 2013

Miata3My obsession with the little red roadsters has hit full boil recently. Just a couple of months ago, I was talking about how I must acquire a roadster, after a quick drive that I shared with one. Now with the Rabbit recently being paid off, it’s more of a possibility than ever.

Although I’ve wanted one of these for about 4 years now and have always been curious about them, it was not until this past year that I started gathering advice from friends of mine that are Miata owners, reading through Miata.net, and really learning all that there is to learn about these great little cars.

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This first example is a 1991 model with 110,000 miles. From the lack of the black area at the bottom of the side of the body, I could tell that it had been repainted. This was both a positive and potentially a negative. The paint looked good in the photos, but photos can lie, and it could have been covering up body damage from a wreck. The current owner claimed that it was painted by a friend who is now retired. So, we’ll see. It’s been re-listed a couple of times and it keeps grabbing my attention. I like the earlier style wheels a lot. Even though I used to hate them when the car was first released, they’ve really grown on me over the years.

Well, I went by today and took it for a test drive. It was quite a hoot to drive. The paint looked good in person, although the tailpipe was painted which would be a non-issue for some, is kind of a pet peeve of mine. The interior was in great shape for being old enough to buy it’s own beer. The “Car of the Year 1990” sticker was even still on the little side window. The top was indeed brand new and went down without a hitch. But the alignment was pretty far off (minor issue, easy to fix) and the engine made a noise at full throttle that could be minor or could be major to fix. If I knew more of the way Miatas work, it probably would have been a good fixer upper, or perhaps if it wasn’t going to be used for track duty and was just for puttering around town. So, although it was nice, I decided this one wasn’t for me. I got some practice with using stick for the first time in a little over 10 years and it got me out of the house, so I’m happy I drove it.

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Tomorrow (technically today since it’s after midnight) I’ll go check another one out. This one is a 1995 model for five bucks less. So, it has a slightly larger version of the little four cylinder (1.8 liters versus 1.6) and the body should be a little stiffer. It’s got slightly higher miles on it, but really when you get to cars this old, I’m hoping that 17,000 more miles won’t amount to much of a difference. It’ll be more down to how well it has been taken care of throughout the years and how much of the original car is still there and in good condition. These mid to late ’90s Miatas are pretty much the best of the best as far as the NA generation Miatas go. Not as stiff as the NB’s but not as floppy as the earlier NA’s. I’ll report back tomorrow with either an edit to this post about how it went or a triumphant announcement of my receiving a new project car. Until then, happy hooning.

Full disclosure: I’m keeping the listing numbers out of these craigslist listings to not affect their ability of being sold when or if I do not buy them. Any opinions expressed by me about these cars is my opinion and I am not a trained mechanic. If you’re in the market for a first generation Miata and you happen upon these cars on your local craigslist, please go and test drive them to see what you think. As I said, I am not a trained mechanic and someone with more mechanical knowledge could possibly fix any issues that I run across. It never hurts to test drive.

UPDATE: I apologize for the one day delay. I’ve got good news to tell, I bought the ’95! Yesterday, my wife and I drove out to Orlando to take a look at the car and about half way there, we discovered we’d left our cash at home. We continued on to Orlando to take a look. There was no guarantee we would buy and it wouldn’t hurt to take a look since we had the day off.

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At first glance, the paint looked older than what was on the previous Miata, possibly original (always a good thing), with a smooth appearance and very little orange pealing. I was a little let down to find out that the original factory wheels had recently been stolen, but not that let down because I preferred the earlier style wheels anyway (plus it meant a price drop). They can be found for pretty cheap, so no big deal. The thing that really sold me on this car was that just about everything works and with it being a ’95 it has the larger 1.8 liter engine. Not to mention that the 1.8 felt like it was in much better working order than the previous car I’d driven. This car has its imperfections, yes, but considering I was working within a limited budget, I decided that being able to get a 1.8 would be worth having to fix a few things, especially since in my area they’ve been extremely rare at this price for the past few months. Most I’ve seen are either in good condition but cost a couple thousand dollars more or are affordable but have very high miles and a ton of wear.

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The interior on this one is not as “like new” as the ’91 but not too bad. It’s got a working CD player that’s not factory original, but what would you do with what would have most likely been an old cassette player? The seats are in good shape. The top has a very small 1 inch crack in it but does not leak. A new top will probably be needed in the next year or so, but it’s not an immediate need since this car won’t really be used every day and I can keep it in the garage.

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There is almost no rust, just a little down by the “baby teeth” (front tie downs). I’d like to replace one taillight lens since it looks like the car was in a minor fender bender on the passenger side rear. It has been fixed and painted as good as new and the lens looks brand new on that side. The driver’s side lens however, is very faded. But again, it’s a cheap and easy fix. There is a small wiring issue that I’m already tracking down in the passenger side signals, that causes them to repeat faster than normal. All that said, it starts reliably, turns and shifts well. It’s a little notchy, but I’ve read that this is normal and there are a few gear oils that possibly could be used to alleviate that.

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Hellooooo down there!

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So, I ended up putting some cash down to hold it until the next day and started the most productive evening of garage cleaning in my entire life. Part way through it, I saw my friend John Louros posted a comment on my instagram telling me not to be in a hurry to buy. Oops… Well, he is correct. No one should ever be in a hurry to buy a car. And I wasn’t really in a hurry so much as I’ve been combing through these cars for months and the 1.8 has been so difficult to find. So, we’ll see how it goes. But I do appreciate the advice, John.

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This is about halfway through the cleaning. It always amazes me how much space is wasted in the average garage. Mine (even after cleaning) is not a model of efficiency, but at least I try.

I also appreciate the advice from another friend, John Stasny, because although this car is a little rough around the edges, his advice helped me immensely in looking it over and seeing what could be fixed, what was worth worrying about and what seemed like it wasn’t. So, although it’s not the perfect former garage queen that many of my friends have been recommending, it will hopefully serve me well in it’s new capacity of project car once fluids and belts are changed and I get readjusted to manual shifting after a ten year hiatus. In my next post, I’ll be showing the photos that my wife took on the wild ride back home this afternoon. Top down all the way from Orlando to Tampa.

2 Comments

  • Dont think you can possibly go wrong with a Miata, everyone loves them regardless of year. We have an MR2 Spyder, and while I love it, honestly you are better off with the Mazda. Cheaper to buy, cheaper and easier to maintain and find parts for. I would recommend taking your time and looking around, Craigslist in Tampa is chock full of scammers. When a legit good car gets posted it is gone in minutes, if one has been reposted a dozen times then there is probably something wrong with it. You want to wait for that perfect garage kept original Miata that some guy has owned since new and babied, it is definitely worth the small difference in price: a $3k Miata is usually really a $2k Miata, and a $5k Miata can be had for $4k in this market, cash talks and no one has any money around here.

    FYI – As much as I love our convertible, I find that around here it isn’t as much fun as you would think. Sitting in traffic with the top down kinda sucks when its hot, there are not too many places to just cruise unless you head out to the country. And my own personal pet peeve is the smokers, in a convertible you just get blasted by the poison puffers at every light and often while following them too.

    • That’s funny because I considered an MR2, but much of what I hear is about how much they cost to maintain and I’ve heard the price to buy one has been creeping up lately. I love the gen 2’s but so does everyone else. I was pretty much looking for something that would be a cheap alternative to a Lotus Elise, since those are still way out of my price range. Also thank you for the advice about scammers. I didn’t know about that was the case around here. It did seem like a few good ones I’ve seen have gotten swept up pretty quickly. Orlando is close to here at least and they seem to have more of a turn over, so there’s always something new to check out.

      Smoke really is a problem, I agree. Even in my wife’s Rabbit that has an air filter on the AC, it’s still a problem, along with pollen and lawn clippings. But this won’t really be a car that I commute in unless/until my wife and I eventually get jobs at different locations. So hopefully it won’t be too bad. I mostly chose the Miata because, like you said I love them as does seemingly everybody. They’re like the Radiohead or Led Zeppelin of cars in that way. I also missed having a manual transmission and a cable actuated throttle along with a low curb weight. And I’m really wanting to give autocross a try without using my commuting car, so that if anything breaks I don’t have to worry about on Monday morning. I’m bound to find something that fits that eventually.

      Thank you very much for the advice!

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