It was some five years ago that I was wandering around the car corral at a summertime car show in Jefferson, Wis., and laid eyes on a red 1992 Miata. I dwelled there for a time admiring it and thinking about the possibilities. It was exceptionally clean and fairly low mileage but the owner wasn’t very flexible on his price and, besides, I had never given any thought to buying a Miata before.
I left the show that day without the Miata but somehow I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I saw the same car again, twice, at car shows the next season. The owner was no more willing to negotiate than he had been before, making me wonder why he went to the trouble of offering it for sale in the first place. On the other hand, I still was only half serious about buying one of these little roadsters, and wasn’t sure I would want an NA (first generation) version if I were serious about it.
Still, the experience kindled something in me and no matter how I tried to extinguish the flame, it kept relighting itself. Over the next year or so I looked at several Miatas and seriously contemplated making room in my garage for one. Each time, though, I would back away with my wallet still in my pocket and that space in the garage still empty. Until one September day three years ago.
An online search had turned up a green 2001 Miata SE at a dealer in Madison, Wis., fifty miles from me. The following Sunday my wife and I went for a drive and found ourselves in the dealer’s lot looking over the car. Car dealers are forbidden by law from operating on Sundays in Wisconsin so we were able to check it out undisturbed and, as a bonus, someone had left it unlocked.
The car was remarkably clean and the odometer showed just under 50,000 miles, an average of about 7,000 miles a year. Obviously, past owners had driven and enjoyed it but they had also taken good care of it. I would only be using it in the summers so I figured that if I took the same care that its earlier owners had, it could last me a long, long time.
Try as I might, I couldn’t talk myself out of it this time.
I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of the SE designation until after I had bought it. Mazda offered various special versions of the Miata from time to time. For 2001 they called it the SE (Special Edition) and all of them were painted British Racing Green, had tan, perforated leather upholstery, tan tops, shinier wheels and real wood Nardi steering wheels, shifter knobs and brake handles. They also came with a 6-speed manual transmission rather than the standard 5-speed. Mine was the 2905th out of 3000 built.
I could only drive it for about two months that first year but it got plenty of use the next summer and secured a special place in my late wife’s affections. That summer she underwent surgery for cancer and complications sent her back to the hospital three weeks later for a second surgery. The recovery was prolonged and difficult and the one joy she would have during this was going for rides in the Miata.
She couldn’t wait for me to come home from work so we could take the Miata out. I would catch glimpses of her out of the corner of my eye with her eyes closed and a broad smile on her face, as if in a reverie as we cruised the country roads in southern Wisconsin. She confided to me later that the only time she could forget her pain was when she was riding in the Miata.
The next summer, 2010, she was feeling much better and though the evening drives were fewer in number, she enjoyed them just as much. We also participated in a couple of organized auto tours that summer, one sponsored by Wisconsin and Illinois Miata clubs and the other, a three day event, sponsored by a large, Wisconsin based convertible club. A picture of her that I keep close to me is from one of those drives.
She didn’t get a chance to ride in the Miata this year. About the time I got it out of winter storage in March the problems that would lead to her death in June were beginning to unfold. Bi-weekly trips to the hospital for treatments left little time to enjoy such pleasures and, besides, her condition left her feeling too uncomfortable to get in and out of the Miata.
I think about these things as I face having to put the car away again for the winter. Yesterday was an almost perfect day for bombing around back roads in my little green roadster but there probably won’t be many more such days this year. Still, I’ll keep it ready for another month or so, hoping to grab even a short drive or two if the opportunity arises.
It also occurred to me that my Miata is ten years old this year. It still runs like the proverbial top, still shines up beautifully and shows only a tiny bit of wear inside. With a little luck and proper care, there is no reason why it shouldn’t see its twentieth birthday looking almost as good as it does today. I hope the car is still in my care when it does.
Happy birthday, Miata. And thank you.