I’ve written on this blog in the past about my desire to someday own a Miata, specifically a second-generation or NB model with the optional 6-speed transmission. At last the time has come and the hunt was on for the car that’s been yearning to belong to me since the early 2000s.

The beauty of the Miata is that Mazda made so many of them and they are tough little cars. This means that there’s a lot on the market and prices are reasonable. It also means that if you look at one and you don’t like the color or there’s a crack in the leather seat cover, there are probably a few other options a few Craigslist postings away.

I started by researching the marque and reading about how to tell a good example. And by started, I mean I’ve probably been doing this off-and-on for the past 10 years. Thankfully, because it’s such a popular car there are whole dissertations on what to look for in used model and what to expect in terms of maintenance. All of this information would come in handy, but in some surprising ways.

It took two weeks of browsing Craigslist and Cars.com to arrange a day where I could take some test drives, so I set up a Sunday where I would drive about 90 minutes away to look at 3 examples. All were from the 2001 model year and all were optioned with the 6-speed transmission. The first was painted the limited edition Midnight Blue Mica. Cosmetically, it was nearly perfect except for a small hole in the top and an aftermarket stereo. How did it drive? I don’t know. The owner wouldn’t let me drive it unless I had cash in hand. Since I left my sack with the dollar sign on the outside at home, I needed to move on.

Next up was a silver example. In the photos for the listing, the car had black wheels. They appeared to be OEM, but I didn’t know that was an option. On closer inspection, I saw that they were in fact painted black, which is maybe... less than ideal. It had a few other cosmetic flaws and would probably need to have the power window motors replace but mechanically it was sound, with a recently replaced clutch. Another plus: it also had a brand new top thanks to a lawn care accident. The price was very reasonable, so it was definitely still in the running with the caveat that it would need some cosmetic work that would still have been within my budget given the rather low asking price.

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The last car was a limited edition British Racing Green SE model with a wooden steering wheel, shift nob, hand brake handle, and dash accents from Nardi Torino. Apparently, this car is a 1 in 3000 special edition. Mechanically and cosmetically sound, with only a little over 64,000 miles on the odometer, the car would not need much else except for a regularly scheduled timing belt/water pump replacement, a brake job, and a new power mirror adjustment switch on the dash. I fell in love pretty much right away, but I tried to play it cool.

Wheel, shift knob, hand brake handle, and dash accents by Nardi

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This car belonged to a very nice retiree who was selling his Miata to pay for a new paint job on his 1973 Corvette. A fair trade I think, selling a future classic to keep a current classic alive and well. And here’s where all that Miata research paid off. The first thing I did was get on the ground and look under the car at the spots that tend to accumulate rust. Then I looked over the engine bay with same care. At this point, the owner noted that I “looked at a car the way he would.” Later, when I pointed out that the battery was not the original because it wasn’t a sealed unit, he would remark that I seemed to know more about the brand that he did.

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It was clear in those 30 minutes that this was the Miata I’ve been waiting for since my early 20s. All Miatas are special, but this one was just a little bit more special to me - a Japanese sports car that takes the best of the British roadster and adds a touch of Italian flair. In a sense, I feel like this car found me. I had to go through years of “sensible” cars, an aftermarket stereo, and a set of spray painted rims to get to it. We negotiated a price that we both thought was fair and the deal was done.

EDIT: I don’t want to give the impression that the other two cars I looked at were poor examples of the marque. If the green Special Edition wasn’t available, I would have probably gone for one of the other two.

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At this point, I think it’s important to pause and reflect on the privileged situation in which I find myself. As I see people around with family or financial problems (or both), I feel incredibly thankful for my family and the life we’ve built together. Not everyone can buy an expensive toy like a collectible car to drive when the weather is nice. In this case, patience, lifestyle, and a lot of luck have afforded me the chance to live my motoring dream.

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Enough sentimental waxing. I need to research how to change a defective power mirror switch. And I need to buy a hat with a wider brim. Sunburn is a real booger.

Posted July 4, 2016