Jinba ittai. Rider and horse. That was the design philosophy of the Mazda MX-5. In English, it meant a blend of compactness, lightness, front-mounted engine, rear-wheel drive, well-judged suspension, no more than two people on board, and a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
This weight thing is an interesting one. To Shed’s knowledge, no car manufacturer has ever quantified or even considered the dynamic effects of uneven side-to-side weight distribution. In Shed’s personal NB 1.8 Arctic he reckons the left/right ratio varies between 45/55 and 85/15, depending on whether he’s on his own or not.
Talking of big girls, despite quite a few male buyers helping it to become the best-selling sports car of all time by the year 2000 and then helping it to remain in the Mazda brochure for 44 years, the MX-5 has always been negatively pigeonholed as a female sort of car because, well, you tell us. Was it to do with it not having enough power? This has always been a puzzler for Shed as he has never felt shortchanged on performance from his MX-5, especially now that his failing eyesight has reduced his ability to see an apex, let alone hit one.
He will concede however that turbocharging did bring an extra dimension of fun to the MX-5 experience. We all know about the aftermarket BBR turbos that have been around since the early Mk 1 days, but did you know that there was a factory turbo MX-5? The 2005 Mazdaspeed version of the NB 1.8 MX-5 (or Miata to be accurate, Shed is fairly sure none came to the UK) had 178hp, a 0-60mph time of 6.7sec, Koni shocks, beefed up transmission and brakes and a luxury interior spec including a Bose-labelled stereo that looked suspiciously similar to the non-Bose one in Shed’s Arctic.
Even in the States you had a job finding a Mazdaspeed because fewer than 1,500 were made, but if you missed out on one in period you only had a few months’ wait for a similar sort of power output in the shape of the gen-three NC MX-5. This all-new creation had a 47 per cent stiffer body than the NB plus new multi-link suspension at the rear and modern driver aids like traction and stability control. The 158hp 2.0 L-series engine was new to the MX-5 too. OK, so the 2.0 NC was still 20hp short of the NB Mazdaspeed but it was a healthy 34hp up on the NB’s 124hp 1.8 (an engine you could still have in the NC). Yes there was an additional 100kg to push in the NC but that extra weight helped to promote a more solid feel on the road.
Seventeen years after its debut in Mazda showrooms the gen-three MX-5 has now made another equally important debut in Shed of the Week. Here we’re looking at an early-ish one from October 2006. At £1,895 this is easily the cheapest NC on sale in the UK right now. The normal entry price for NCs is £2,500. The low price reflects its 147,000 miles, grubby interior and potential to go the way of all pre-ND MX-5s, i.e. to the scrapyard with terminal rot. Many gen-three buyers thought they were cleverly avoiding this curse but it turned out they weren’t.
Sure enough, the most recent MOT on our car in March ’22 revealed corrosion to a rear coil spring, rear subframe and suspension arm. The tester said they weren’t seriously weakened but remember this was nearly a year ago, which in MX-5 metallurgical time is equivalent to about ten years. The car’s uncanny ability to rust out in a dangerous manner wasn’t given a fancy name like jinba ittai but maybe it should have been because, like the glorious traditions of the shogun or samurai, the DNA code of metallic disintegration was religiously passed on from one MX-5 iteration to another.
The MOT tester of our shed also noted the presence of ‘side skirts’, or plastic sill covers. This was a spoilsport move by Mazda. At least on the NB you could clearly see the rust creeping along the sills and up the wheelarches and therefore know it was something you should do something about. Most owners chose not to bother, preferring to simply paint over the brown bits and flog the car off sharpish to some other mug at the beginning of summer. This failure to attend to corrosion was another puzzler for Shed who had his NB sills very nicely sorted out for a surprisingly small sum, safeguarding its continued survival for many more weeks to come.
The lack of adequate rustproofing by Mazda was yet another puzzler for Shed because he has been to Japan, where Mazda also sells cars, and he knows for a fact that it rains over there. There again, if in the not too distant past you were a UK-based owner of a Ducati motorcycle and you had the gall to complain to the factory about rust, the official factory response was to shrug and ask why you were riding in wet weather. Maybe that was Mazda’s view on its MX-5. Do you know one way or the other? As ever, all opinions, expert or ignorant, gratefully received in the forum.
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