The End of an Era – My Car: 2001 Mazda Miata

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In the past when people talked about their babies in the office, I couldn’t relate. And the more people procreated/forgot to use birth control, the more overbearing I found these conversations to be. That is, until I realized how similar having a baby was to owning a car.

On March 17, 2007, I felt like a proud new father. I was nervous, didn’t really know what I was doing (this was my first manual car afterall), but incredibly excited about my future with this car. Yup it was a Miata.

I knew I was getting into a world of hairdresser jokes, but I didn’t care. To me, it was a light weight, rear wheel drive sports car, with a six speed manual gearbox, torsen limited slip differential, bilstein dampers, and an engine that was addicted to revving. To a car enthusiast seeing this list of features is like finding out the girl you like reads the Kama Sutra in her spare time for fun.

And to think I almost didn’t buy it; originally my heart was set on a purer-but-less-respectable-to-the-general-public first generation NA (smaller, lighter, but had those ridiculously cool pop up headlamps).

Trying to find one that had the right combination of kilometers under those tiny tires and a realistic price was like trying to find a girlfriend at a car meet. They are either pissed off because their boyfriends have dragged them there, or already have been leg humped by every other guy there. Either way they ain’t happy and it ain’t happening.

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An example of the first generation Miata that I longed for. None to be found for me.

And then I found an ad for a second generation (NB) Miata and decided to take a look. Why not? But did it HAVE to be silver? Seems kind of boring already. Strike 1.

I met “Wayne” who lived much too far away (strike 2) to take a look at a car I wasn’t even sure I wanted. Wayne was helping his brother sell the car since he had not driven it much. The car had high-ish mileage though; 135,000kms in 6 years (strike 3).

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An artist’s rendering of “Wayne”.

I asked the usual boring slew of questions (turns out his brother was the 3rd owner in 6 years – and like a child who has churned through too many foster parents I wondered why it had gone through so many owners in its relatively short life. Strike 4 – can we go now?), and then he offered to show me the car. We walked to his underground garage and as he clicked his clicker to the shared underground I watched and waited. Baited breath.

About halfway down the garage, sitting underneath a lamp in the dimly lit garage, was the gleam from the curve of the rear quarter panel. Hmm. I know I had thought the sunlight silver metallic would be boring, but I couldn’t think of a better looking colour to show off the car’s curves. There was just something incredibly classic about the silver.

Ok…maybe I had been a bit a bit quick to judge.

With the hardtop on, the Miata looked much more like the sports car that I knew it was. Only a few dings and scrapes around the car betrayed it of the 135,000kms that had passed under its wheels.

Wayne would take me for a drive, explaining each nuance of the car but I don’t remember any of it.

A week later I picked up a certified cheque and gave it to Wayne.

Deal. Done.

Being a man and thus a bit shallow, looks are important to me. And although I had wanted an earlier model for it’s purity, I couldn’t deny that this car looked more serious.

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Oh the curves. Something beautifully classic about the silver.

I’m not going to get into too much detail about the heritage of the Miata and why it looks the way it does, but I loved how they blended design cues from the classic British roadsters with newer Mazda design elements. I loved how the front face of the car formed a smile, as if to make it obvious that you would also have a dumb grin on your face while driving it.

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Smiles all around (car’s face and mine).

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Power “bulge” to show the might of all 142 horses.

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White faced gauges and chrome surrounds pay hommage to English classics.

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Subtle kick up on the trunk reminded me of the FD generation RX-7. Cool.

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more references to the FD generation RX-7 hear with the “coke bottle” shape from the side.

I loved how the stock Nardi steering seemed to fit my hand so well, and that no matter how I held the wheel it always seemed comfortable.

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Nardi wheel felt great in the hand. Like cupping your hands on some nice boobs.

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Trunk situation on a roadtrip with my videographer Derek. Camera gear, basic tools, and one pair of underwear between two guys which could be flipped for transfers.

I loved the way the engine sounded. With the after-market intake and exhaust system, the engine made a nice bassy note at lower revs and sounded slightly brash between 2500-3500 rpm. At 4000 the second cam profile would kick in, the engine catching a second wind as the hydraulic mechanism switched cam profiles, the engine note hardening as it accelerated towards its 7000rpm rev limit. It was in this range was where the engine sang most sweetly, sounding like a pair of slightly angry vibrating tubes as it crescendo’d towards the rev limiter. You could hear the hum from the intake too, although if you listened closely you could swear there was a sewing machine under the hood, making a “ticka-ticka-ticka” noise.

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THE HEART OF THE LION

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Aftermarket K&N intake made a lovely noise.

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Wonderfully blue-hued Racing Beat header gave the engine bay some street respect. SOME.

It wasn’t all roses and butterflies however. The car was not intolerable, but I would say that it could be …rather unforgiving. Every time I thought about some annoyance in the car it seemed to speak to me. In a rather rude way.

I couldn’t carry anybody around: “What more do you want? I let your girlfriend in. You should be thanking me.”

The car would shudder if I rode the clutch too much; which is common in stop/go traffic: “Why did you make me drive through this? I HATE THIS. GET ME OUT OF HERE NOW!”

I couldn’t take a nap in it because the seat wouldn’t recline: “This ain’t yo’ bed stupid-face”

I couldn’t go over bumps at speed or I would smash my head: “Take that you imbecile for going so fast over these bumps. You know they’re hard on me too right? Idiot.”

I couldn’t adjust the steering wheel: “Too bad for you, go-go gadget arms and legs. This car is built for small Japanese people. If you didn’t like it then why did you buy me? Stupid.”

The trunk was only big enough to fit a loaf of bread: “Don’t be a such a hoarder. Nobody wants this shit.”

Occasionally water would miraculously slip through the seal between the hardtop and my window and splash me in the face: “Wake up jackass!! HAHA IN YOUR FACE! Didn’t see that one coming, did you?”

I would have to put in premium fuel into this car to manage the high compression ratio it had: “You think its easy being me? OK pass me some of that 94 Octane Dom P you have there”.

However, on the right road the car morphed from a snarky, grouchy, complaining high maintenance girlfriend to your best friend.

The six speed manual I had was a tad notchy at times, but you could feel gears coming together somewhere in that transmission and that in itself was very satisfying. The pedals were perfect for heel-toe; I could modulate the brake carefully and blip the throttle while clutching in and shifting at any rev – Something I practised everywhere I went.

Was it ABSOLUTELY necessary to heel-toe into a parking lot? Always. And I loved the car for making me feel that way.

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6-speed shift was a bit notchy at times. Last owner was kind enough to permanently Loc-Tite the steel ball on, which burned your hand in the summer and froze it in the winter. Like reverse climate control.

The steering was good at speed, but if there was one complaint it was a bit devoid of feel, especially close to center. Perhaps if I had adjusted the castor a bit I could have resolved that.

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Cockpit was a lovely place to be. A bit tight for my 6ft frame though.

Then, when the conditions were just right (i.e. anytime there was sun, damn the temperature), I would put down the top. The exhaust note would fill the space around my ears, the intake would buzz in just the right way, the wind was in my hair and the car just made me feel good about being alive. I mean, the heater was on full blast most of the time, but life was good until hypothermia set in.

But I haven’t even talked about the Miatas strongest point yet – its handling. When I put my butt into that seat, and my hands on the steering wheel, it was like I was hard-wiring myself into the car. Everything I did, the car would do. Everything the car felt with the road, I would feel in my hands/butt. And more than this, I felt a bit special from where I was every where I went. I felt like I was driving a classic British road racer.

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Car looked good from every angle. Once you blocked out the guys making cat calls at you from their trucks.

So all chuft with myself and my new car, I was keen to show it off. Below are some of my favorite reactions:

“Is that your girlfriend’s?”
“That’s cute”
“Isn’t that a girl’s car?”
“Are you gay?”
“I’ve been looking for a nice girly car for my daughter. Are you selling it?”

And on and on it went.

My reactions to these ignorant responses went like stages of grief:

Stage 1: Denial
“Its not girly, and no I’m not gay. Its supposed to be a British roadster. Yeah I know Mazda is a Japanese car company. Anyway its small and light…NO I am not talking about my dick. Its actually very average sized. And no, not just for an Asian.”

Stage 2: Anger
“What piece of shit do you drive you car know-it-all sunova bitch? Don’t lash out at me because you have a small…oh. That’s actually a pretty good car. Oh yeah? Well you’re ugly. And probably stupid.”

Stage 3: Bargaining
“Seriously dude – put our cars into a corner and I will SMOKE you. Just let me keep up with you on the straights first. Hey – why are you laughing? You know what a real girly car is? A Beetle Cabrio. Not this though; this car is different.”

Stage 4: Depression “Why do I even bother to explain this to you? You are obviously stupid. And ugly.”

Stage 5: Acceptance
“Whatever dude. I’m going to drive my car and have fun. And this shirt colour is SALMON FYI. You know? Like fishing? Very manly. I’m sure you wouldn’t understand.”

However good I thought the car was on the road, it wasn’t until I took it to a track that its true talents were revealed. The car flowed so beautifully that through the slower, trickier back section of Pacific Raceways I was able to keep up with a Lotus Exige S and Porsche 911 Turbo (both of which would obviously leave me in the dust once the road got a bit straighter).

The car really felt a part of me here; when I drove well I felt one with the car and we made good progress. When I made a mistake, I had no driver aids or ABS to bail me out. I was a man of my own destiny. I loved that about this car. You couldn’t drive like an asshole and have huge engine power and computer whiz-bangs inside the car cover up your shit for you. It took skill to drive this car fast.

This car taught me that in order to become faster, I needn’t worry about how fast others were going, and that trying harder would actually make me slower. Rather, a greater focus on what YOU were doing and driving technique would give you the results you desired.

There is something very special about the level of focus you reach when you are pressing on in this car and flowing with it. The best way I can describe it is that it almost becomes a form of meditation. You are zen. You are in the oxymoron of driving very quickly yet your actions must be calm and your motions must be slow and smooth. There are no other thoughts in your head. You aren’t multitasking or worrying about the other parts of your life. Its just you, the Miata, and a track.

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Awesome trackday comparison between two very similar and yet different cars – RWD vs. FWD.

I had such a blast learning in this car that at one point I seriously reconsidered the deposit I had made on my new car, and to redo everything on the car that wasn’t perfect.

But as you know by now that isn’t what happened. Instead, I sold it. Why?

In the six-and-a-half years of ownership I had worked on my car, made new friends, and took it on some pretty epic drives across Canada and the US, braving all sorts of weather and racking up some serious kilometers in the process.

This car introduced me to the world of performance driving; my first autocross was done in this car, my first trackday, my first ice-cross event. Although the Subaru Legacy that came before this spawned 143Car, it was with the Miata that I felt obligated to keep learning and keep exploring. It pushed my boundaries. I learned an immense amount about my car and more importantly about myself in this car.

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Lining up to head out to Laguna with my fellow Miata brethren. Wooooooooo…..

But ultimately, I felt it was time to move on. I felt that as a car enthusiast, and as a reviewer of cars that I should try something different, to expand my horizons and step bravely into a world of a different car.

And in the end I did. I got a car that was rear wheel drive, light, and fun to drive. Yup – its a sports car. With a 6 speed manual, torsen limited slip differential…hmm this sounds awfully familar.

I haven’t forgotten the Miata; A memoir of Lakitu (the annoying guy in Super Mario that floated around throwing spiny guys at you) that I had tied around my rear view mirror in all those adventures now sits proudly on the mirror of my new car, in the hopes that my new car will carry on the spirit of the Miata.

Above all else, this car taught me to NEVER settle on a car that was “just ok” or “did the job”, or “gets me from A-B”. This car showed me that every journey can be an adventure, and that life is much too short to drive boring cars.

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I always tried to park near a visible spot at restaurants so I could gaze out lovingly at my car.

And as I watched the car drive off with its new owner, I wasn’t sad, but rather grateful for my time with the Miata. Farewell old friend.

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Miata leaving with its new owner. Sad to see it go, but also not overly cut up about it.

3 Comments Add Yours

  1. Patsan

    John, get one again when you turn 50
    keep it nice and drive it till die !

    Reply
  2. Kebs

    Great post! You should have taken a video of the dude driving off. Into the sunset kind of thing you know? Happy to have been a passenger at least once or thrice 🙂

    Reply
    • Jon

      Thanks Kebs! Yeah it was a special car. Stay tuned though – I have a video describing what it is like to be a Miata owner coming out and it will feature this car on its last road trip with me!

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