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The Old Car Guru on the Hill

Published on August 21, 2013

Perhaps it’s a quiet little secret of mine.  O.K., yes, I occasionally look at………sports cars.   Mia Culpa. I am guilty……of occasionally thinking about cars other than bona fide antiques.  Actually I have been quietly keeping an eye on Miatas for quite a while—they have been around for some 23 years now. 

It goes without saying that I have always coveted sports cars, even back to my teen days. When I was in the Navy a buddy had a 1958 Triumph that we tooled about California in.  It was thrilling, but I never got to actually drive it. When I was in Viet Nam for many months at a time on an aircraft carrier I used to plan out elaborate scenarios –dreams really– for when I got back to the States. I would buy an MGB or a Corvette and drive it across country back to Cleveland.  That dream sustained me through wartime.  And it also goes without saying that, since then I have never really considered a sportscar a possibility because, let’s face it, they are not really practical for………moving your things around from state to state when you are in the Navy………..or when you are newly married and have stuff to move about………..or when you have young children and are cash strapped.  You get the picture. Sports cars are basically self indulgences that you might buy on wild impulse when you are young and unencumbered, or when you are approaching senior moments, bucket lists and such, and realize that you might only have a few years left to enjoy one of those fleeting indulgences that is still within your reach.

So it is that a couple weeks ago I drove my 1970 Volkswagen convertible up to the meat market in Tanglewood and parked next to a Mazda Miata sitting in the parking lot, top down, all decked out. Of course I gave it the once over, thought longingly about days of yore, and went on my way.  Upon coming out of the store and back to the car I noted that the Mazda owner was doing the same with my car. We met at the cars. He admired the VW and I his Miata. The two cars also drew some onlookers who came up to look and comment. Someone wanted to buy the Volkswagen; it seems that somebody always wants to buy the Volkswagen.  Usually this is a case of nostalgia—somebody remembering the good times of long ago—but in this case it happened to be a young fellow who evidently wanted to hot rod it– soup it up.  So I quote him $30,000 (about three times it’s value) and that seemed to send him on his way.  I don’t like to see good antiques cut up, radically altered, and destroyed, so I try to politely send these people on their way.  But the Miata owner and I did talk and agree to meet at a later date. It came out that he was the editor of the Northcoast Mazda Miata Club newsletter. Steve Greenlaw, of Chagrin Falls, was extremely knowledgeable about these Miata cars and I took the opportunity to find out more. Having admired these cars from a distance I really did not know much about them.

This is Steve’s second Miata; he acquired his current 1992 model about a year ago. Steve went on to explain that there are three basic incarnations of Miatas: the first generation is cars from 1990 through 1997. For some reason Mazda skipped a year in 1998. The second generation ranges from 1999 through 2005, and the third generation is from 2006 through the present.  According to Steve, Mazda Miatas are arguably the most popular sports car ever produced.  They were conceived to fill the void of the popular British MGs and Triumphs that were discontinued in the 1980s. But unlike most British Sports cars they were made to require very little upkeep (defined as constantly tuning, retuning, fixing, working on).  Steve notes that in general, if you follow the maintenance guidelines and don’t abuse them, very little seems to go wrong with these cars.  They are fairly simple, basic cars with traditional rear wheel drive, four cylinder engines and basic manual shift transmissions though automatics can be purchased. The most recent incarnations from 2006 and up are considerably more sophisticated with electronics. They are a little bigger, more powerful car than the first two incarnations.  While there are a few people that race them and/or are involved in Moto cross, a vast majority of owners tend to leave them basically stock and prefer to drive them for pleasure. I also read that speculators tended to buy them up and warehouse them for 10 years or so thinking that they could get big money for almost new ten-year-old sports cars with no miles on them. This did not seem to come to pass.  Consequently the used car market has many available with comparatively low mileage and use for fairly reasonable prices.

I got to drive Steve’s Miata, around town for about a half an hour or so. The car is low to the ground, and requires a certain way of entering and exiting the car, as do all other sports cars.  It is not particularly roomy and there is no extra room for my legs (I am a big man with long legs).  But once inside it was very comfortable, with plenty of headroom.  If I were to buy one I would remove the inside door pull on the driver’s side to make for a much more comfortable fit with my legs.  Apparently many other people have done the same with their cars.  I once had a 1989 Dodge Omni that I liked very much but had to do the same to as soon as I bought it. At any rate the Miata handled extremely nimbly and was a lot of fun to drive.  I see possibilities here.

A second very positive aspect of owning a Miata is the Northcoast Miata Club.  This is a very active social club of Miata owners who get together for a wide range of social activities like meeting at restaurants, driving events, tours, meetings and such.  Steve puts a fairly comprehensive newsletter out monthly and there are affiliations with dealerships and repair facilities.  Steve notes that the average ages of people in the club are between 50 and 75 and couples are the norm.  If you see a group of Miatas on the road or at an event, it is most likely this group of people.

Again I see possibilities here for me.

Some of the things I have great and increasing difficulty doing is getting up and down, over and under, and restoring my old cars.  I have said that my current Model “A” is likely my last attempt at old car restoration.  I have had to rely far too much on others to finish it.  I really like the car and enjoy driving it. It is my connection to my past.  It is here for the duration. But as I have gotten older and had to cope with this arthritis I have thought increasingly about a modern dependable car with all the amenities, heat, modern electronics, and air conditioning, protection from rain…….. a car that you could take anywhere, anytime and that I wouldn’t have to restore. I enjoy driving.   I see some possibilities here in these Miatas.

 

Skip Schweitzer

About Skip Schweitzer

Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.

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