As I write this, two cars sit outside my apartment building. I own both of them, and neither one will start. So I'm here to explain why the Mazda Miata is so great.
Owning a car is a huge pleasure for me. I'm still young enough that I remember my absent-minded high school dreams of pointing my steering wheel away from the fields surrounding my town and towards the mountains, losing myself in winding roads past tall oaks and reservoirs all the way to the ocean.
So when I finally (nearly) had the means, I bought myself an old car of my own, with manual steering and a carburetor and a curb weight under 2,000 pounds. I would finally have my country road cruiser, I figured.
The first thing you realize about owning an old car with lots of "character" is that there is a distinct break between owning a car and driving a car.
I can vividly recall catching a slide down the infield at Pocono Raceway, foot to the floor in third gear, just minutes after the car had completely cooked its brakes. I can remember the first flickering moment when the tail stepped out on a remote dirt road. I can picture, right now, that first terrifying moment when an 18 wheeler punched a hole in the air so big I thought it would sweep my car right off the highway.
These memories are not exactly representative of my ownership experience. That would be more like me, sitting at my computer looking at parts prices while a mechanic cuts me a new gasket. The last time I visited a racetrack with my car, I spent more time fixing an oil leak than wheeling through the turns.
Have you ever driven a Miata?
The first time I was behind the wheel of one, I'd never been in a car so small. The back window in the hardtop felt like it was bumping against the back of my head. The red pop up headlights that look so small from the outside rose up huge through the window.
The car had been lowered a bit, stiffened, tuned. Turning the car felt like I was running my hand on the pavement. I had come from driving the family's old Volvo wagon and I didn't know that steering could be so direct.
Years later I got my first longer drive in one, another first-gen, stock this time. The little exhaust bleated up the on ramp leaving West Sacramento, out into the dark of the night. The summer heat hung on enough so that I could keep the top down, and I looked up. The highway cut through a huge expanse of ag land, and there was hardly any light to block out the stars. So many stars. I'd never had that kind of view in a car, and I nearly lost it thinking that the tall SUVs rumbling by had no idea what they were missing.
What makes the Miata so great is that it gives you exactly what you want: driving. Not wrenching, not waiting for parts, not busting your knuckles — just driving.
I love working on my often-broken cars, and I like to think it makes my drives in them feel so much sweeter. But there are many days I dream of a Miata, when I could leave the drama of a nonfunctioning car behind and get back to why I got the car in the first place.
Photo Credits: Mazda