PH Fleet Update: Mazda Eunos Roadster

Okay, I'm a creep. But when I bought my Eunos back in January I pinged an e-mail to Mazda's PR boss to share the good news. He replied, "Very good. Do you have your racing licence yet?" Promising!

To be fair, he should accept a fair portion of the blame/credit for me buying the thing in the first place. Back in 2009 when the current car was facelifted and the original was celebrating its 20th birthday Mazda UK bought a fleet of Mk1s much like mine and sent them out ahead of every press booking for the newly facelifted Mk3 - and the Mk1 was, predictably, the hottest ticket in town.

Anyway. That e-mail was followed up by an even more promising "What are you doing on April 16th?" The answer turned out to be losing my racing cherry at the Rockingham round of the Britcar MSA Endurance Championship. I'd done my ARDS test the previous year, but this was my first opportunity to use it in anger and, boy, had I been looking forward to it. Like, for the last 30 years or so!

Jota Sport run Mazda's MX-5 GT, a nifty 275hp, 850kg super MX-5 mixing it with Ginetta G50s and SEAT Leon touring cars. 'My' car, identically liveried, was about 100hp down and 200kg up but still promised to be loads of fun.

Practise was a harsh lesson in the steep learning curve required from occasionally competent track day driver to racer, my co-driver and mentor Mike Wilds helping me through it with commendable patience. Having driven in F1 in 70s and Group C in the 80s he knew a thing or two about getting a car round a track quickly and didn't seem to mind babysitting another wannabe hack through his first taste of racing. Lapping around the 1:36 mark he was also five seconds faster than me. Hmm.

With not much power to play with Mike told me to get bolder and do all I could to maximise apex and exit speed. It worked, and I managed to dip into the high 1:30s. Then my first collision with motorsport bureaucracy - a last-minute rule change meant I was no longer eligible for Britcar. An invitation to join Ma5da Racing's Mazda MX-5 Cup was my lifeline and, it turned out, probably a better deal than having to dodge flying Moslers and Ferraris in the Britcar.

20hp down and 60kg heavier than the other cars in the race (here come the excuses) I was never going to be mixing it at the front and after I successfully ignored Mike's advice to make a clean getaway race one was a mess of silly errors, not least running into the back of someone going into the chicane. He was very nice about it and for race two I gave myself a stern talking to and, having got away much better, set about getting stuck into the midfield.

I might have been down on power and a bit heavier (you mentioned that already... - Ed.) but my brakes were miles better than anyone else's and, cheered on by the watching Jota boys, I made the most of this by goading faster rivals with heroic last-of-the-late-brakers brinksmanship. Several fell for it, and I was having an absolute ball. A chasing group towards the end of the race caught me out though, falling for the late braking trap but then capitalising when I got too greedy on the throttle and lost a load of ground in a spectacular slide that looked good but cost me dearly.

The car was a delight to drive though, invigoratingly loud through its twin centre-exit exhaust system, beautifully balanced and, if not exactly quick, honest and unthreatening even when four-wheel drifting at 80mph. More please!

And I was able to put the experience to good use a week later in my own Mazda on an extended road trip around Scotland with another MX-5-owning pal. Not four-wheel drifting round corners, of course, but using the same technique of driving around the lack of power by carrying speed rather than trying to build it.

And though plenty had waxed lyrical about the quality of the driving in the highlands this was my first real taste of proper Scottish roads. And it was a complete revelation. The scenery is, of course, awe inspiring in its beauty and scale but for a petrolhead the flowing, well-sighted and - mercifully - lightly trafficked roads are an absolute delight and, hand on heart, among the best I've driven anywhere in the world. Just pick a squiggle on the map and you can't really go wrong (Riggers would certainly agree with you there - Ed).

With just 115hp to play with you can enjoy them in relative innocence too, the open spaces a temptation that might lead to serious trouble in a faster car. And there's real satisfaction in carrying speed in the little Mazda.

It did make me pause for thought and, with my dispassionate motoring journo's head on, think how I'd assess this car were it presented to me on a press launch. Well, I'd probably say it was too slow, rather wobbly, possessed of somewhat vague steering and fitted with the cheapest, most plasticky interior known to man. As previously commented on - and still 'work in progress' - the suspension is also rather tired.

But you know what? I don't care. Because it's mine. Because, despite costing just £1,250*, it shrugged off being ragged senseless for 1500 miles and required nothing more than a gulp of oil. Even driven like that it'll do over 30mpg too. I really must get that suspension sorted though. I'm sure I was going do that last month though...

*Bloke logic dictates that when making such boasts any subsequent expenditure is, of course, discounted from the equation.

Photos: Dan Trent, Zak Loney

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Comments (11) Join the discussion on the forum

  • chazwozza 14 Jun 2011

    Good write up, if I could have one for a weekend warrior i'd love one of these but doesn't fit the bill right now... Be interesting to see how it goes when the suspension is done.

  • 5lab 14 Jun 2011

    mine (well a UK car, but similar age and same colour) just came back from a weekend at the ring. slow but fun smile

  • Mark Benson 14 Jun 2011

    I recently ended up with a 1997 Mk1 after going on ebay with a 'hypothetical' £1500 budget.

    My dampers and bushes need doing too, I'm sure, but so far I've been having too much fun driving it - even after only a month or two the car's really wormed it's way into my affections. Dare I say it, it's more fun than the Exige was on the Dales roads, I find I'm carrying far less speed while still being able to enjoy the car and have room to stop or swerve around the wooly bollards and cyclists on a Sunday morning blat.

    I'm lucky to have a track car, so I'm treating mine as a rolling restoration, just going to put it back to factory spec or close to and enjoy the public roads again (something most modern cars don't allow it seems).

  • SimonSaid 14 Jun 2011

    If the steering is vague then something is worn/broken - much as you are correct on the plastic-y interior, lack of grunt and wobbly body, vague steering is one thing that the Mk1 MX5 could never be accused of - this is the main reason people buy 'em!

  • Dan Trent 14 Jun 2011

    I should qualify 'vague' to be fair. It's still plenty chuckable but I'm assured with the P5 dampers it'll have a bit more front end bite. Merely a result of the worn dampers and suchlike as anything else - still heaps of fun and more responsive than most 'normal' cars!

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