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I HADN’T THOUGHT of the Miata as a “Classic Bit” until I unearthed a photo from its Japanese introduction. (If it’s not a classic photo of the car, it certainly is of me.)
In fact, the Miata and I go way, way back. I was the R&T guy selected for a one-on-one preproduction clinic held at Mazda’s Hiroshima headquarters in 1987. They sat me down and began with a multimedia presentation focusing on English sports cars—MGs, Morgans, Triumphs, Austin-Healeys, Lotuses, wind-in-your-hair elemental open sports cars. Then we turned around to a curtain that opened to reveal Mazda’s “lightweight sports car,” as yet with no name disclosed. I recall being struck by its resonance with sports racing cars of the 1950s. Last we moved to another room where several prototypes in different stages of assembly gave engineers opportunity to show me the car’s design and construction. I didn’t drive one at that visit.
This came in October 1988 when photographer John Lamm and I ventured to Hiroshima for the long-lead introduction of the now-named car. This time I got to drive several MX-5 Miatas—including a Mariner Blue one around Mazda’s Miyoshi Proving Ground. Known for its Global Road Circuit replications from around the world, this venue was perfect for exploring Miata virtues. I recall savoring lap after lap until they flagged me in (so these nice people could go home). Lamm caught a particular nice cornering shot; me, wearing my proper English stringback driving gloves.
The car had its world introduction at the Chicago Auto Show in early 1989. By mid-year, R&T got a Long-Term Miata, another blue one, VIN …0100348, which is still in the family. This is in both the extended sense (Andy and Patty Bornhop drove it on their honeymoon) and otherwise (ditto, Dottie and me). In fact, Dottie and I have owned this Miata since early 1992.
For a long time, it has been my favorite sports car. The Miata’s limits can be explored without earning points on one’s license or scaring hell out of the populace. It’s nimble, with excellent communication and predictable response. All of its attributes are balanced, in concert.
Our Miata has a bit less than 90K miles, a low-mileage 1990 example indeed. However, inevitable age—especially of its rubber insulation bits—has resulted in a fair number of rattles. There are things like the (rollup) windows, the hardware of the top (still one of the world’s best to raise or lower) and a few other rattles of untraceable variety.
As a last fillip, our Miata is autographed—in the glovebox—by Toshihiko Hirai, project chief of the original MX-5 program. In fact, several months after he autographed our car, Hirai-san sent me another glovebox from Japan, this one with a note saying the new signature might be more clearly rendered. I still have it as a spare. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012
I love the photo! Fabulous!
Good luck with the blog. I have that issue (and hundreds more) tucked away in my storage unit.
I just saw the September issue in B&N, most of the staff is still listed on the masthead, except for Matt. R&T is not R&T unless it’s produced in California. Being away from Detroit is always what made it special.
As soon as I clear away my backlog of work and after you have a few more posts I’ll do a write up on your site for AutomotiveTraveler.com. If I don’t get it posted by Labor Day, please send me a reminder to do so.
Isn’t being back in control of your publishing destiny so empowering?
Editorial Director, Automotive Traveler magazine, AutomotiveTraveler.com
Great start on your blog Dennis. Now you have a chance to show the real renaissance man that you are.
Wilbur, the Fit electric, and this……all interesting tidbits one does not find elsewhere. Thanks, Dennis, and best wishes with the new venture.
Good observation from Richard re: the staff being quartered near Motown. I’m just as concerned re: both mag staffs being so close together regardless of where they are. There are a lot of concerns in my mind…….
Dennis, I love your new blog! The blue Miata story is interesting to me because I was working at CBS Publications in Newport Beach when it was tested, and I know you’ve been a loyal owner of its lookalike almost ever since.
Did you have a chance to see the story in today’s Los Angeles Times about the 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Von Kreiger Special Roadster? My husband and I think it’s gorgeous, with its slinky, sensual lines and Greta Garboesque persona. As a former Automobile Quarterly managing editor, I thought it might have been covered in a past issue but can’t find any mention of it there online. I wonder if it had ever been written about before now?
Here’s the L.A. Times link to the story:
Will you be at Pebble Beach this weekend when the Roadster is auctioned? If so, have a blast, and let us know just how fabulous this car is in person.
I’m looking forward to being a regular reader of your blog!.
Dennis, Loved the Miata piece and everything else you have done since redirecting your many talents. Keep it up. I was also amazed to see the caption saying John’s shot was done in Japan. Looking at the image I would have bet good money that you shot that on Glendora Mtn. road.
I vividly remember reading that article in R&T all those years ago. Even got my wife to sign off on buying one, when they were released.
Alas, “we” became pregnant before the deal was closed, and we opted for a 4dr Civic instead. Still have that Civic, in fact, my son is driving it now. Sadly my wife passed away in 2010, and a year later I finally bought the Miata I had long hoped for, a very low mileage 2002 in Sunlight Silver.
Good luck with the blog, Dennis! I write this from the Big Island while I vacation and think about my ’91 back home and where I think the Miata was officially released? What great roads here to test a new sports car!
Oh, I still have the original R&T that included your article. I read it a couple of times a year while enjoying a beer and thinking about my Miata during the rainy winter months when it’s tucked away.
This is what makes cars like the Miata so special.
We all own regular cars that get us around, but it’s the Miatas of the world that define us as car enthusiasts.
For sure, along with my MGA I think I have two examples of cars that really define “sports car”. And the Miata makes a great parts getter for the A 😉
Unfortunately, I don’t own a Miata, but still have the March 1989 R&T issue titled “Sports car revolution!”, with the Mazda two-seater and the Nissan 300ZX on it. Besides the photos, what I remember the most is your praise on the little Mazda. Good article! The MX-5 instantly entered in my dream garage. Cheers from Mexico City! Rogelio Rivera-Nava (former chief editor of Car and Driver Mexico, who once met you at R&T office, in California).
A 1.8 liter Miata in it’s most basic form has always been of interest to me. I think you could buy one without PW, Locks, AC, or PS, basic steel wheels? Or, was that just the 1.6 out the first few years? Anyway, that is to me the ultimate fun simple reliable car without distracting BS features.
The last of the cars I would own. New cars have too much crap in them. Annoying. Pure fun! I want.
I have kept my 92 VW GTI 16v because NOTHING VW or anyone else for that matter has made even remotely attracts my attention. They are too heavy. Too over taxed with unnecessary options. Give me a fun sporty car, like the Miata.. before they got all bloated following generations.
I own VIN 00064. Love it!
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