So as the 1980s were dawning, most manufacturers were leaving behind their open top heritage. Fortunately for sports car devotees, Mazda took a different approach (as, so often, this company has done).
In a marketing masterstroke, in early 1990 the firm brought to U.K. buyers what they yearned for – a brand new, soft top, two seater, rear wheel drive sports car, and designated MX-5. (It was also sold around the world, being known as the Eunos Roadster in Japan, and as the Miata in the United States).
It deliberately didn’t re-invent the wheel, but instead won hearts and minds because the model cleverly combined the traditional sports car concept with modern technology and engineering. In addition, as was so often the case with Japanese automotive products of the era, attention had been paid to detail, especially in terms of achieving excellent build quality.
The resulting MX-5 felt well put together, was lively and enjoyable to drive, yet also reasonably economical AND dependable. It was well-appointed and relatively comfortable too (although not everyone liked the design of the seats for long-distance motoring) and when compared with many two seaters, had a reasonably spacious luggage boot.
For classic sports car fans used to the ingress into the cockpit of rainwater and draughts, as facts of life on the open road, to have a snug-fitting hood that didn’t (usually) leak was also a real bonus. There were many potential customers who liked the idea of a sports car, but were not so keen on the potential niggles that hitherto had come as part and parcel within the experience of owning a soft top.
The MX-5’s curvaceous styling was distinctive and timeless in an under-stated manner, and the unmistakable, sleek frontal appearance was aided by flush-fitting retractable headlights.
Powering this newcomer was a fuel-injected, twin overhead camshaft 1.6 litre engine, developing 116 bhp and driving through a slick-action five speed manual gearbox. It produced eager, if not breathtaking, performance.
From standstill, the new Mazda was capable of reaching 60 mph in approximately 9.5 seconds, and ultimately the car could exceed 115 mph. More important for many buyers for real-life everyday motoring was the car’s ability to cruise easily on motorways, and its inherently positive handling, which helped to make the car such fun to drive
Standard-fit power-assisted steering helped make easy work of low speed driving in tight spaces, and the double wishbone independent suspension at both front and rear provided a commendable ride quality that was unexpected by many, and certainly more compliant than that of most traditional sports cars.
Standard equipment levels were impressive, with electrically-operated windows, high backed sports seats and a Clarion radio/cassette player stereo system all coming as part of the deal – and the new MX-5 was priced at a competitive £14,249.
For those seeking a faster experience, the 1991 Mazda-approved turbocharged Brodie Britain Racing (BBR) version developed 150 bhp. Just 850 examples were produced.
Many ‘special edition’ variants with standard engines (but differing mainly in paintwork and trim details) were sold in Britain too. Various ‘import’ models are also often encountered.
From the spring of 1994 the MX-5’s engine capacity was increased to 1.8 litres (the new motor being derived from Mazda’s 323 unit). This resulted in an improved power output of 130 bhp, plus greater torque (although on paper the performance figures were much the same as for the 1.6 version). Chassis improvements and suspension modifications enhanced body stiffness and cornering potential, respectively.