What is it?
Launched in 1989, the legendary Mazda MX-5 began as a humble two-seater roadster that offered the feel of a sports car on a friendly budget. Over 30 years and four generations later Mazda has managed to sell over a million MX-5’s, even being mentioned in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling two-seater sports car worldwide.
When new, the car sold for approximately £16k. Nowadays, the roadster is one of the cheapest open-top, two-seater sportscars, with prices for used examples starting as low as £1,500.
Even after being around for 30+ years, the MX-5 Mk1 is still a head-turner. The car tested and shown throughout the pictures is a Eunos Roadster, imported from Japan, but aside from some minor badge differences it is largely the same as the Mazda – both aesthetically and mechanically.
The design was largely inspired by the Lotus Elan in the 60s and it’s ever-classy design has held up well in modern times. The car we tested was a British Racing Green model, which caused some upset during its release, as the colour was typically associated with high-end sportscars such as a Jaguar. But this only enhanced a useful point – the MX-5 was made to be the budget-friendly successor to the famous Lotus Elan.
Highlights of the MX-5 include its polished metal door handles, 15-inch alloy wheels, and most famous of all, pop-up headlights.
Continuing to inside the car, you’ll find an array of blast-to-the-past controls including a radio cassette player, cigarette lighter, and a simple dashboard. The cabin is the perfect combination of old and new, with enough of each to keep drivers comfortable and satisfied – just remember that your indicator is on the right side of the steering wheel please!
It looks the part, but does it perform?
Originally, the car was available with just the single 1.6-litre engine producing 114bhp but in 1994 a later 1.8-litre model was offered, providing an extra 14bhp. The Japanese classic can go from 0-62mph in a humble 8.1 seconds and reach maximum speeds of up to 128mph.
While it may not sound like much, I’m sure many can agree that once that roof top is down and you have the wind flowing through your hair on the country roads, it’s hard to not love this little sports-car.
Despite having to haul around 990kg, the 50:50 weight distribution combined with the quick throttle response and a sharp-shifting gearbox encourages you to take full advantage of its acceleration. It is a significantly rewarding car to drive that handles well.
The later 1.8-litre version also came available with a limited slip differential, further elevating the precise handling of the MX-5. The option to add power steering was also widely available, which worked beautifully while not surrendering a lot in terms of way feel.
While the MX-5 is a joy on back roads and tight corners, the Mk1 does start to show its age on motorways. The cars short gearing means that long journeys are accompanied with a buzzing engine and deafening wind through the fabric rooftop.
Sounds good so far… but is it reliable?
With its release in 1989, many were sceptic of the MX-5’s reliability with it being heavily inspired by its sixties predecessor that spent just as much time off the road as it did on.
However, all it takes is one look around to see just how many MX-5 Mk1’s are still on the road to determine its reliability. Engine troubles are few and far between, with only the earliest models (1990-1991) having had frequent problems, typically due to the crankshaft pulley bolt.
The most common MX-5 problem must be addressed – rust. While some cars are better than others depending on owners, blocked drain holes in the sills can often fill up with road crud, allowing water to become trapped within the sills and rotting from the inside out. Thus, sills may look sufficient on the outside but hide lots of decay within – a particularly expensive problem.
So, what’s the verdict?
Affordable, entertaining, and mechanically simple, the MX-5 Mk1 is a great little roadster for those looking for something to drive on the weekend or those looking to expand their car knowledge.
You’ll smile when those headlights pop-up and no doubt become part of one of the many thriving MX-5 communities, with people always looking to stop and chat to you about this roadster. Need we say more?