Why you'd be mad not to love the Mazda MX-5 - Select Car Leasing
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Why you'd be mad not to love the Mazda MX-5

When it comes to sports cars, there’s one undisputed global champ - the brilliant Mazda MX-5.

Well over a million models have been sold worldwide since the first generation of pop-up headlight roadsters went on sale here back in 1990. And despite being three decades old, that winning Mazda MX-5 recipe hasn’t changed a bit.

We’re talking about affordability, a commitment to being lightweight, ingenious engineering, and plenty of power without ever being intimidating.

So what better way to find out more about one of the greatest automotive success stories than by chatting to the World’s largest MX-5 Club - Britain’s MX-5 Owners Club.?

Iain Fleming delivers the Club’s Central support function, oversees their National Events, Press, PR and Advertising amongst a plethora of requirements keeping a Club of this scale operational.

(Iain, grey polo shirt in centre of image, addresses members ahead of a parade lap at Silverstone)

He also writes for the award-winning Club magazine, ‘Soft Top Hardtop’, which drops through members’ letterboxes every two months.

It’s a thriving organisation with over 7,000 paid-up members from all corners of the planet, which is preparing for its 28th National Gathering the 2022 MX-5 National rally, taking place on Sunday 11th September at Sywell Aerodrome, Northamptonshire.

Iain has enjoyed an MX-5 love affair since he was able to buy one in 1997. Here he talks about the enduring appeal of the MX-5, why they’re more fun to drive than a high-powered Porsche, and why the latest generation MX-5 is arguably the best ever made.

About the MX-5 Owners Club

The Club was officially formed in 1994 just a few years after the MX-5 reached the UK and is preparing for its 30th anniversary. 

Iain says: 

“The Club has been around a long time. We’ve seen a lot of changes and we’ve seen a lot of cars in that time! Roughly 10,000 members now come and go through the Club annually, with MX-5s changing hands frequently, members are always joining and transient ownership goes largely with the nature of the car - people buy them and have fun, but frequently life catches up, needs change or family comes along. However, for many members it becomes so much more and personally I’ve fought to keep an MX-5 on the go through house moves and children!

"While the Club office is based in Scotland, there are 34 ‘Areas’ across Britain, with members from Shetland to the Isles of Scilly. It’s really lively and vibrant, there’s stuff going on in every area, all the time. A big benefit of being a member is that active and safe environment to get involved and participate in events wherever you are, amongst a huge range of benefits to help support your time with your MX-5.”

What’s the appeal of the MX-5?

When Iain was just a young lad, a friend’s dad bought an early Jaguar E-Type in need of full restoration and he and his friend, set to work on the nuts and bolts. Getting to grips with the oily bits of the E-Type fuelled a passion for cars, and for automotive engineering in general.

Attending a motor show where Mazda was unveiling the MX-5 for the first time left an indelible mark. He explains: 

“The chassis was on show, and I just poured-over all of this amazing engineering. It was fundamentally brilliant, lightweight, strong with double wishbone suspension. You could see how they’d dealt with transmission torque. And I just knew this car was going to drive and handle really well. I vowed to myself that I’d buy one as soon as I could.

“Innovative engineering is a huge part of the way the car was envisaged. I have been lucky enough to meet Tom Matano (Mazda's chief designer and who helped create the MX-5) a few times. Tom isn’t the nuts and bolts engineer of the MX-5, and he’s not the person who led the project, but he added the finesse and design - the ethereal parts that make the car what it is. He envisaged the distant future of the MX-5. You might say he started at the end of the car’s lifespan and worked backwards, he saw communities of owners enjoying and looking after their cars together.

“The MX-5 needed to be engineered in such a way that it was inexpensive, accessible, easy to work on, and had mechanical simplicity. Tom has gone on record to say that the vision he had has been so very nearly delivered by MX-5 Owners Club. He loves to come here when he can.
“Why is the car so special? Because someone like Tom had the forethought to think about what gives a sports car longevity, and life. He thought about the gear changes just being a little ‘click’, an extension of your arm. And he thought of all the tiny things that you might not necessarily think about - from the door handles and colours to the friendly face - that give the MX-5 its character.”

The MX-5 as a ‘blank canvas’

Iain reveals: 

“The MX-5 essentially comes as a blank canvas. Yes, you can buy a special edition which may have nicer seats, or special wheels, or a particular paint, but ultimately the car was designed to be adaptable and personalising them is fun. You can see that in our Club events. In 2019 we had over 2,500 MX-5s gathered and no two cars were the same! The MX-5 is endlessly customisable, and that’s also why it’s so popular.”

Iain’s MX-5s

Iain currently owns two MX-5s. Both first generation models, one a 1989 variant with sought-after ‘Mariner Blue’ paint and a 1.6 litre engine generating power of 115 bhp.

However his first MX-5 is, as he says, ‘perhaps not one I should own up to!’ It was a no-frills ‘Monaco’ special edition, available from May 1996 to January 1997, it was built to keep costs down with a detuned 1.6 litre engine that makes just 88 bhp. 

Iain says: 

“It was the basic MX-5. It’s a lightweight car with some redeeming features, but had no power steering and featured manual windows. Yet I still had some great times in that car. My wife and I were getting together during that period and I remember her dad asking me, ‘Why the hell I bought it?’ I threw him the keys, he went off for a drive, came back and said, ‘Okay, I understand’.”

The best generation of MX-5?

Iain is careful with his words here and admits picking a favourite generation MX-5 is a ‘politically loaded question’. But it’s generally accepted that the Mk1 is the ‘essence of the car’. The Mk2 was a refinement of the Mk1, and Iain says there’s lots of reasons why the Mk2 is actually a better, more comfortable car than its predecessor.

But he adds: 

“Unfortunately, as time has gone on, and especially in the UK, with the second generation MX-5 rust can be an issue. Decisions were made as to how the car was built which means it is more susceptible to corrosion than the Mk1, particularly the chassis rails. In places like California, it’s not a problem, but here in Britain, it’s a different story.”

Which used MX-5 should you go for?

Iain says the Mk3 - built from 2005-2015 - is one of the most popular models in the Club, and a car that was refined over its ten year lifespan, with the '25th Anniversary Edition' model from 2014 a near perfect version of that generation.

He says: 

“It’s a beautiful car - ‘Soul Red’ metallic paint, cream leather interior, powered retractable hard top, and loaded with options. It was an amazing buy. There’s lots of MX-5 editions and models, but if you asked me which one I’d get, it’s the 25th Anniversary, without doubt. They’ve got a great following across the world and have really retained their value.”

The MX-5 you can lease right now - the Mk4

Iain says his initial reaction to the unveiling of the Mk4 MX-5, in 2015, was…’underwhelming’. But it’s a car he now rates now as probably the best MX-5 of all time.

He argues: 

“I went to the press launch and at that point nobody knew what it might look like. They pulled off the covers and, being a dedicated, lifelong MX-5 fan, I wasn’t too impressed. Mazda had responded to the market, with cars needing to look stern, and the bubbly, friendly MX-5 of old had gone. The latest generation has a more angular and poised stance than previous MX-5s.

"But, actually, after some time it’s something that I’ve come to love."

"I recently took my MX-5 for a trip to my hometown, taking it on all the roads I grew-up driving on and I know like the back of my hand. Blue skies, roof down, the best of Scotland, zipping around Loch Lomond – it was memorably one of the best drives of my life. I came around a notorious 90 degree corner that arrives after a long straight, and at that moment I thought, ‘the Mk4 would do this just a little bit better’. It was a bit of a revelation to me.
"This most recent version of the Mk4 has become the best MX-5 made. If you were to go back to the original recipe and ingredients of the MX-5 and build it for today’s environment, you’d end up with the Mk4 and for me the Mk1 and the Mk4 are directly related.”

Wheeler Dealers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the Discovery UK show Wheeler Dealers, in which host Mike Brewer and his team take classic cars in need of love and return them to their former glory.

One recent episode featured a Mazda Speed MX-5 - a limited edition model that never came to the UK, but which features turbocharged petrol engine making 178 bhp.

Iain says that the MX-5 Owners Club had a big hand in making that episode a reality - and he even gave on-screen mechanic Ant Anstead some tips on what to look out for on their MX-5.

He adds,

"I was on holiday in California to attend the 'Miatas at Laguna Seca' event, Mazda USA had lent me a fourth generation MX-5 RF ('Retractable Fastback') which was new and exciting at the time. I went to the Wheeler Dealer studios primarily to meet with Ant, but the whole crew, including the directors and producers came out to inspect the car. A few months later, I learned the show was going to feature an MX-5, it had been decided that day, as the crew - all of whom had had a Miata at some point - were all discussing the visit and decided they'd put the MX-5 in the show."


Currently, the entry-level version of the MX-5 boasts power of 132 PS from a 1.5 litre petrol engine. That’s fairly modest for a sports car - about the same as a regular MINI Cooper.

But Iain argues the MX-5 doesn’t need heaps of power to be fun when it’s so light and nimble.

Iain says: 

“We recently had a Club member and Porsche fan turn up at an event, chatting about the difference between his Cayman GT4 and his MX-5 RF. He told us, ‘I’d take the MX-5 every day, it’s an absolute scream. You can drive it until you’re hanging on for dear life and having the most amount of fun you’re having in a car… and you’re still doing it legally’. That, to me, is what the MX-5 is about.”

The MX-5’s future

While the automotive landscape is changing fast in the UK, with a swing to electrification, Iain says we shouldn’t write-off the petrol-powered MX-5 just yet.

He adds: 

"I think we’ve got another generation of the MX-5 as we know it to come, probably within the next couple of years. We might see a lightweight mild-hybrid, furthering efficiency, but it’ll still be a combustion engine. 
"Would I welcome an all-electric MX-5? Of course, but I think that because the MX-5 is so small it poses problems when it comes to fitting it with bulky battery technology. I think future developments that we just don’t have right now will make it possible.”

** The 2022 MX-5 National rally takes place Sunday 11th September at Sywell Aerodrome, Northamptonshire, and it’s FREE for MX-5 Owners Club members to attend.

** You can join the club from just £38 per year

** You can lease a Mazda MX-5 with Select Car Leasing from around £310 per month.

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Thursday, 16/05/2024