This story is reprinted from the October 2016 issue of Soft Top Hardtop, the MX-5 Owners Club’s monthly printed magazine. Members can access STHT online for free HERE.
After long deliberation I decided to buy my first Mazda MX-5. Why did it take me so long? Well I suppose I had better start at the beginning. When I was seventeen, and was training to be a vehicle technician. I came up with the idea to build a kit-car. My theory went along the lines it would help me learn more about cars in a very short period of time; well that was the thought anyway. I had always liked the Westfield Sports cars, but with only being seventeen they were well out of my price range. After speaking with my dad, it was decided that we would help each other build one. The only question remained was which one could I afford?
After some research, which was just before the internet had taken off, which meant lots of trips to kit-car shows, and buying magazines. We had found a company based in Nottingham, (I won’t mention any names just in case it gets me into any trouble, needless to say they have now been bought out, and I believe are doing quite well. This is no doubt down to a complete rebuild of the product). We had seen their cars at the shows. They were bigger than the standard seven type models, which meant there was a lot more room inside. It was decided that this was the one for us.
We went off to Stoneleigh Kit car show in May and placed our order. Some months later the kit was ready for collection. We hired a van and went and collected the kit. I will not bore you with build stories as this plays no part with my decision to buying an MX-5. The only bit that really matters is hat once the car was finally complete, took years rather than months. This was mainly down to the company telling us that the car simply bolted together.
This was important for us, as we did not have a garage. Instead we rented a single garage off the council with no electricity. What a big mistake! Anyway, let’s just say that when we finally finished the car I was fully qualified. So what was the meaning of letting you know all of the above I hear you say? Well this is the important bit. Once complete it introduced me to open top motoring. So years went by, and I enjoyed using the car when the sun was out. However with living in Lancashire this meant that the car spent longer periods in the garage then it ever did out on the road. Eventually I decided to sell the car to a guy who was fortunate enough to live towards Devon. It would hopefully mean that it would get used a lot more.
Now a couple of years went by and then I started to realise that I missed my open top motoring. So being older and wiser my thoughts turned to building a Westfield. The car I should have built when I was seventeen. I kept trying to convince myself and more importantly my other half that it would be different with the Westfield. I would use it no matter what the weather. Anyway needless to say it never happened.
Although this was only decided well after I had put down a deposit on one and getting all of the donor parts; some of which I probably still have to this day. So what stopped me? Well it was about the time when the recession hit us all. Money was getting tight because the majority of companies took the opportunity to look at reducing staff levels; and making sure that the staff left (I was lucky enough to be one of those at least) understood that there would be no pay rises available until things improved. The dream had to be put on hold.
So time went on, and life got in the way. I eventually had a house of my own and a loving partner to share my life adventures with. However, what was missing? An open top car of course! So after trying to convince ‘er in doors’ that what we needed was a Westfield. It was clear to me that this was just never going to happen. It did not stop me trying very hard to convince her though.
I now started researching other cars. This time it was easy. The internet is a tool that makes me wonder how my parents ever found anything they wanted? So my short list was drawn up of what the car had to have. For me number one was: good handling and a reasonable amount of power. Now number one for my little darling was all of the following: must look good; must be comfortable; must not blow my head off with the wind; must have a decent stereo with good speakers; must have a good size boot, so that we could take everything including the kitchen sink with us. You get the idea, but needless to say the list went on and on.
Anyway, I had been looking at the Mazda MX-5 Mk3. I had already dismissed the Mk1 & Mk2 because I had been in a few when I was doing recovery work. (I had taken a few to various specialist companies around the country). I am only 5’10” but always felt cramped. I already knew that Mazda had a good reputation of being good reliable cars. This was reinforced by my brother, who had already had two Mazdas. Granted none of them were MX-5s. But I had done well over 100,000 miles in both of them without any problems. Quite astonishing really.
I had also looked at a BMW Z3. (I used to work for BMW when the Z3 was in production.) I showed my little darling the pictures. The reply I got surprised me slightly in that it was the BMW Z3 that she liked? So I managed to find a local car for sale and we went to look at it. Now the car looked nice as it was the one with the wide bum, shall we say. (They did a few different versions of the rear end on the BMW Z3). So we both liked the look of the car and the straight six engine, this car had the 2.8 version and sounded awesome. Now I knew that there was a problem with some of the Z3 models. In that if they had been driven within an inch of their life, then the boot floor spot welds come away and the floor distorted. I had already talked to the owner before going to look and had agreed with him for me to take my ramps to look under the car. The floor was perfect however the rear differential looked like it had been sitting in a salt bath for ten years. I went out in the car anyway just to satisfy my curiosity.
Once back I knew that this was not the car for us. You forget just how far more modern cars have come on; and let’s just say that the scuttle shake and the lack of structural strength alarmed me. So the search continued. I went back to the Mazda MX-5 and found loads of pictures of the Mk3. At this point I had not considered the Mk3.5, due to the fact that it was a bit out of our price range for just a second car. I sat down with my little darling once again and showed her the pictures. I left her looking while I went to make us a brew. Upon my return of course I got a reply. I like the shape of this MX-5 I was told. Which one had she decided she liked the best? A Mk3.5 of course; with the face lifted front bumper and its lower stance due to the revised front suspension. Which at this point I had not read about. So in that moment it was decided. I had to start saving up!
I then knew that I had to find a Mk3.5 to test drive, as it was no point saving up to then have a go in one to be possibly disappointed again. I started reading up on the differences between the Mk3 and the Mk3.5, plus the option of the folding hard top. I had to admit that everything I read pointed to the Mk3.5 sounding like the better car for my needs, sorry our needs. My little darling, while costing me more, had been right. Let’s not tell her that though or else I will never here the last of it. It was obviously fate that I had gone to make us that brew. So let me finally get to the point, that’s if you haven’t already got bored and left for the pub! I decided to look for an MX-5 roadster, my theory was the folding hardtop made more sense with living in Lancashire. I managed to find a local MX-5 Mk3.5. One owner from new, very low mileage and being sold by the supplying dealership who had also completed all of the full service history. It almost sounded too good to be true.
I booked an appointment to go and look at the car. Got there early and managed to have a good nosy around the car before the dealership even opened. Once the salesman arrived we went through the normal sales rubbish, then it was finally time to go out and have a drive. I was excited to say the least. The salesman drove it first like they always do. Just before we swopped sides he mentioned that “the clutch on these models are very low, so don’t be alarmed if you stall the car, as everybody does it” he said. I thought straight away he obviously doesn’t realise that these can be adjusted then. Anyway whatever, something I can do if I decide to buy the car. So I was in the driver’s seat for the first time. Seat adjusted, electric mirrors adjusted, electric roof down.
A quick check of the clutch biting point so as to make sure I didn’t stall it. That way I thought I’m one up on everybody else straight away. Away off we went; no stalling, no drama and the car pulled away with what I thought was a reasonable first gear ratio. This was a plus for me as I find a lot of cars are spoilt by over low gearing in the first two gears. The car felt good, the gearbox was light and made for precise changes. Another box ticked. The salesman told me, “go in whichever direction you like” as I knew the area. Another plus side to buying a car locally. I decided to go over the top, this meant that there was a good variety of roads surfaces, some good, some rough. I thought “let’s test it for scuttle shake”. What can I say the car impressed me even more; not a bit of scuttle shake, the car just felt planted even with the roof down. I then started to approach a junction. I thought this is the last test I need to make, the all-important brakes.
Well what can I say, like all modern cars there’s just no drama. You press the pedal and the car started to stop reassuringly. What was more impressive though was the pedal feel. I don’t like woolly pedals that some manufacturers tend to go for nowadays. By that I mean you press the pedal and it goes down an inch or two before anything seems to happen. None of that rubbish here, no sir. It feels just like a brake pedal should feel. No false movement, just initial bite from the moment you touch the pedal. You can modulate the brake pressure just as you like, to get the car to do what you want it to do, just by altering the pressure on the pedal. I couldn’t stop a little sly smile coming upon my face. This was it. I had found the car I wanted. More importantly looking round the leather interior with its toasty heated seats, nice carpets, Bose stereo with decent speakers. Also had a reasonable high windscreen line.
I could hear a little voice in my head saying, “no blowing my head off with the wind” and a “decent size boot”. I had done it, not only had I found a car that I wanted to drive, but I had found a car that ticked all of the boxes that my little darling had laid down. Finally a grown-up’s car that still creates the fun to make you want to get behind the wheel, but still allows you to have some of the creature comforts that you want. Or more importantly what the other half demands! Needless to say, I bought the car, signed up to the Owners Club and continued to enjoy the summer!