Eeny, Meeny, Miata. Should I Buy It?

1990-mazda-miata

Over the past 6 years, I have owned two NA Miatas. The first one was 1991 with the 1.6 liter engine and the second was a 1994 with the 1.8. I wanted to see if the more powerful engine made the car any better and it did. With the 25th anniversary of the release of the Miata happening this year, the itch has returned. It would be fun to participate in the festivities and getting to take a few laps around Lagun Seca would be a dream come true, but Miata ownership is the prerequisite. I have made some interesting automotive purchases as of late, so a few of you have suggested that I run any potential acquisitions by everyone. So here it is, for your review… a 1990 Miata.

1990-mazda-miata-rear

A craigslist “wanted” ad helped me find this bright red roadster. The owner has lovingly care for this car for the past 14 years. Timing belt changes every 60k miles, only synthetic used, and driven almost daily. The paint may look tired, but you can tell this car has been loved. The bra and dash pad would probably have to go, but the protection they provided is appreciated. A file full of maintenance records is included with the sale and even includes receipts from the previous owner. It was obvious that no expense was spared in keeping this one in tip top condition. The top looks new and the A/C blows cold.

1990-mazda-miata-interior

A road test proved that proper maintenance really can keep a car running like new. It wasn’t that long ago that I had driven a Miata, so either I forgot what it felt like or mine were nowhere near as good as this one. The engine revved freely and the gear shifts were so smooth that it was easy to forget that this was a 24 year old car. Some haggling has brought the price down to a seemingly reasonable $2,300. The only problem is, this one has covered almost a quarter million miles…

What’s a guy to do?

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Comments

  1. rich

    Buy it, know of some with that many miles that are being raced with no problems. Other then the other hundred on the track at the same time. A Spec Miata race reminds me of Formula Ford and Vee race back in the day. Placed bets on when the crash would happen not if one was going to happen.

  2. Don Andreina

    Yep.

  3. Don Andreina

    Definitely lost the bra, bro.

    • Jesse Staff

      Yep, it would be the first thing to go.

  4. Don Andreina

    Frigging spell-correct. ‘Lose’.

  5. Darrell Leland

    I would definitely grab one. I put the Miata on a list of collectible Japanese sports cars along with the 240 Zs, the 82-85 Supra, and a few others.

  6. C Bryant

    Correct.How did I do,Don?

    • Don Andreina

      Someone disabled your space-correct. Hehehe.

  7. Mohamed A Ragab

    Are you still asking ?! Go on buy it or let me in!!!

  8. Jim-Bob

    This isn’t a European car, it’s Japanese. So, miles are less of a concern as the Japanese, especially in the 70’s-90’s, really knew how to build a car to last. Even if something should fail, it’s usually not terminal except for a structural failure due to rot. Plus, for $2300, what else can you buy that offers so much driving pleasure?

    As far as it goes, I practice what I preach and drive high mileage 90’s Japanese cars every day. I usually cover around 30,000-40,000 miles a year (mostly delivering pizza) and so for me high mileage is normal. In fact, I was just driving my old pizza vehicle tonight (retired…for now). It still runs great and because of good maintenance and not letting it get too bad, I have a nearly rattle free old truck with nearly 400,000 miles on it with it’s original engine (original down to the rings and timing chains!). Nope, miles don’t bother me. As long as I can find parts for it, I’ll drive just about any old, cheap Japanese vehicle for years. They were usually built and sold in large numbers world wide, so parts are rarely an issue until you get past the 30 year mark. The Miata has such a huge following that I would expect trim parts to be reproduced soon, and the other pieces are shared with other models (like the Kia Sportage that uses a variant of the Miata’s B series engine). So, if you like it and it all works I say go for it.

  9. carl

    If u pass..contact me.. I will buy it. Please?

  10. Art

    Do it. Jus’ do it. Buy now. What a cheap entry to Laguna Seca and the memories that that day or week or month will provide. Imagine sitting in the stands of Laguna Seca watching the action thinking, I could have been there for only $2300.00.
    You will only get one opportunity to participate in the 25th anniversary events and will regret not doing it if you sit back wondering, will I?
    You can always sell after the event and still have the memories from being there.

  11. Mark E

    Sounds like you’ve done your homework well! I’d say go for it.

    I had a friend back in the 1980s who’s first prerequisite in shopping for a used Honda Accord was that it have at least 150k miles on it. At the time we thought he was insane but over the years the quality of JP cars has shown him to be a shrewd buyer! ^_^

  12. jim s

    i sent you a video of what to look for in rust in the bottom rails, which i hope you received. if it has no rust would you be kind enought to provide me with the contact information for the the car. that way i can and will buy it out from under you. thank

  13. Bob

    Why are you sitting on your hands? If this were on the other coast I’d have it in a shot! As it is, it would cost more to ship it than buy it!! What are you waiting for? As you already know Miata people have more real fun with their cars than any other sports car club out there. Buy it, drive it, have fun!

    • Thomas Bean

      Exactly…….price and “cost benefit analysis” works everytime. I almost wan’t to admonish with the old mantra, “…….if you have to ask, then…uh…you know what you want to do…yes?”.

      If I could just slip a gear and distract attention from a wonderful Miata fun wagon bargain….ahem..uh…don’t forget C5 corvettes are at the point they have lost half their value or more……..and….a ten year old snow belt midwestern vette with under 40K miles…is a steal at 18-23K. Just saying……..obviously. “A change will do you good”.

  14. Moondog

    Buy it. Not a fan but a running drop top that is sporty, affordable and you are familiar with the make. It is a no brainier to me.

  15. wcelline

    I’ve owned three… the last being the mazdaspeed model. Buy it…you won’t be disappointed. I long for that wonderful balance they have everytime I don’t have one ;-)

  16. paul

    Assuming as mentioned above, no rust, the car looks very well cared for, that said, this car is from the era of very few computers so all your dealing with is engine, trans, diff , suspension & wiring. The cars of today with all the computerization add another level of costly complication that I feel will make owning a high mileage car in the future much more difficult/ costly, I think we are on the cusp of buying cheap high mileage cars.

    • paul

      Should have written,on the cusp of the end of buying cheap high mileage cars.

  17. hhaleblian

    If you take a pass, call me. I’ll send a check immediately. Just what I’ve been looking for.

  18. cory

    I know boise has a very active miata club. my opinion is that this is the next 240z. as in people will start collecting them and driving prices through the roof. mechanical bits can be changed out pretty cheaply, body damage and rust costs a fortune. go for it

  19. Jack Long

    This is a no brainer fir $2300. Jump on it.

    • Thomas Bean

      Buy it………run it for a year or two…..sell it in Sweden for 6K.

  20. John H

    I have a dream that once I get through all of the Cisco certs I am in the midst of, I would be getting me one of these.But, I need one with a blown/worn out engine, and basically a basket case. Why? Self Loathing? No, to make a common mans affordable cobra crusher. I saw it on a show once with my favorite mechanic (link at bottom) and that was all it took. The transformation is amazing; and the Miata site is still selling the kits. – https://www.staceydavid.com/projects/19427/banshee-2299

    • John J. Garvey

      WHAT Miata site is selling the Banshee kit? Thank you.

  21. matt

    Offer 1700. You can always flip it when you’re done. Drop a 5.0 in it and tada, monster Miata!

  22. John

    buy it, I have a 2001 and love it. don’t let the high miles scare ya. these cars are beloved and the aftermarket for them is huge.

  23. Stuart

    I’ve had a 1993 and now a 2004 mazdaspeed (turbo) I actually liked the ’93 and the mods I did to it better, but you can’t go wrong. Trying to lowball this price is tacky. You didn’t mention how the tires are?

  24. Colnago

    Owned a 95 and an 03. Earlier model had better acceleration (gearing seemed to more than compensate for 6% lower lb/hp), handling (tires? wheelbase? cg?), and build quality. A much tighter package, IMHO. We couldn’t wait to get rid of the 03.

  25. Greg

    Buy it!

  26. Sid Member

    There is a reason there have been more Miatas built than any other sports car in history and it is more than the price.
    These are great cars and everyone should have a Miata on their bucket list.
    BUY IT AND STOP MESSING AROUND
    If this one ends up having a short coming then buy another one and have two of them.

  27. Tim H

    I bought my miata last year with 106K, 6lb turbo, megasquirt, hard dog hard bar, springs and adult owned with a note book full of receipts for 4200$. That puts you up to 150 hp. The upgraded parts alone were over 5000$. Drive one with a little boost before you settle for stock, get a good one used or drop another 5K in a stock one.

  28. DonM

    How could you possibly have more fun for $2300 with your clothes on??? This is a no brainer.

  29. Tim

    No. Don’t waste your money. If you want a fun roadster get an mg. The miata is for yuppies wives and men of the rainbow flag.

    • Achman

      That’s why it is the most raced car in the nation on any weekend…and why it has it’s own race series…which is the most popular and competitive in the nation…unlike the MG, which is for people like you who like to sit around, swilling Coors, looking at 80’s girlie mags and reminiscing about “when the MG used to run.”

      • DonM

        Civility, please.

      • Brian

        Ouch!

    • Jesse Staff

      Ah, the old “chic car” debate. In all honesty I would have agreed with Tim 10 years ago. Now after having driven and owned a few, I understand why so many people love them. Sure, a lot of women drive Miatas, but truth is, they must have pretty big kahunas to daily drive a rough riding little roadster. Try passing a semi truck in the rain and you will know what I mean. Perhaps women can enjoy them without feeling self conscious?

      Not sure when small sports cars transitioned from being manly to girly, but cars like the MG and the Miata have more in common than most people think. Just compare some photos of a Lotus Elan to a Miata. You will be surprised. I have never heard anyone call the Elan sissy though.

      Road & Track did a story on this very subject that is worth a read: http://www.roadandtrack.com/voices/columnists/avoidablecontact/avoidable-contact-of-midgets-and-men

      Admittedly, I did feel more manly in my Mustang GT. The burn outs were entertaining for the first few days, but I had so much more fun on a daily basis in my Miata. I actually looked for excuses to run errands and the best part was that I didn’t have to worry about getting stranded while out doing them. It does seem that most people purchase cars to make a fashion statement more than to enjoy them. That could explain why Minis have become bloated and BMWs have gained turbos. We are all entitled to our own preferences though and that is what makes the world of car collecting so interesting!

      • jim s

        great link since i love midget/sprites and like miata a lot, as well as a lot of other sports car. still waiting for the contact information on this miata, but i think you already bought it!

    • Jim-Bob

      Ummm…why the need for stereotypes and name calling? Are you afraid that your point won’t hold up to scrutiny if just the facts are examined? As far as it goes, ANY small roadster could be seen as a “chic car” by some people. However, driving a car like this is not about impressing everyone. It’s about impressing yourself and enjoying the company of others who are like minded. The only reason I don’t drive one is that I need more space and city fuel economy than a Miata can deliver…so I drive a 3 cylinder Geo Metro! :)

      • DonM

        I remember thinking MK4 Triumph Spitfires as “Chic (Sports)Cars” in the day… Then I became, shall we say, enlightened about stereotypes.

      • Brian

        That’s a good point! I’ve always liked, and once owned an VW Rabbit Cabriolet. Maybe not so much so now, but in it’s day seemed predominately piloted by women. I really enjoyed it, even with the top up (yes, you have to do it some days!), it had good head and leg room, was fun to drive but not fast, cheap to keep running, and got excellent MPGs (in 1995, I could go from dry tank to overflowing the filler tube for under $9.00). When it turned 15, I said goodbye – tired of rainstorm leaks (bad header seal) and a/c that overflowed ice cold condensation onto my acclerater foot on left turns! I still miss it on late spring afternoon, right before the sun starts to set…

    • tim motorclaimguru

      An Mg? over a mx5?….mg’s handle like a bag of spanners, rot like no tomorrow, are slow and are not the most reliable ( you have to remember in the uk British Leyland where on a 2 day week,and spent half their time on strike. The mx5 Miata are cracking little cars.
      The only good MG’s are one’s that you have rebuilt yourself, or have been built by costin.
      or one of these in fact
      http://www.topgear.com/uk/photos/mg-le50-first-drive-2012-07-13

  30. JimC

    First time I’ve commented & nearly didn’t (because everyone said “BUY IT”) until I read Tim’s “get an MG” comment.
    I’ve had 2 Miatas, a ’91 we bought in ’92 & sold in 2013 and a ’95 I bought in ’07 that had 28K miles & a supercharger. It has about 50k now & is in the permanent collection. I also own a driver ’64 MGB & a driver ’61 MGA. I do the maintenance on all of them myself, am a married heterosexual, well over yuppie age.
    I love my MGs, but must say that Miatas are way fun to drive & way more dependable than any MG ever built.
    If it isn’t rusty, BUY IT!

  31. Mark Wemple

    Bra usually means poseur. Someone who cares more for the cosmetics than the mechanics. Although, with almost 250 who knows. My rule is to never buy from a poseur. You’ll only know that from your meetings with the guy. FWIW, outside of racing, I still view the miata as a woman’s car.

  32. Brian

    In all honesty, only you know if you should buy it. For me, I have learned to listen to that little nagging that developes in my mind if there is something about a car that I don’t like or can‘t/don’t want to pay to fix or change. If you want it, can afford it, and family (wife) is on board with it, go for it!

    Personally, I’m abit more with Tim, above. Even though I’ll tried, I just never could warm up to these cars. I don’t fit well in them and I’m just not much into Japanese cars as a rule. No argument that they last along time, but I’ve found that, with proper care, American cars last long enough that by the time they are terminally ill, I’m way past ready for a change anyway!

    It’s all a matter of taste and choice, they don’t give me what I want in a car, but if your heart desires it and you feel good about buying it, then you should and enjoy it in the very best of health!

  33. Rich G

    If this were in central Ohio and assuming free of rot, I’d be all over it.

    High mileage well maintained cars are generally good buys at the right price.

  34. Chuck Foster Chuck 55chevy

    I don’t know, Stacey David says, “it’s generally considered a girl, sissy car, and about the farthest thing from a macho, hot sports car as you can get.” LOL, I remember when they came out, thought they were cool, but couldn’t afford one. A 240z would be cool, in fact you can still find them affordable in Texas. My sports car roadster itch was satisfied recently by being the first to call and buy a 1980 Triumph TR8 for $1500, woo hoo!

  35. Achman

    I’ve owned two, and miss them often. My last was an FMII turbo that I built exactly the way I always wanted, owned it for 4 years, never missed a beat.

    1. Check for short-nose crank model. Mine sheared off and was expensive fix.
    2. Rust
    3. Simple compression and leak down from local mechanic will tell you what you need to know about engine health. $75. Obviously you know Miata engines, when well-maintained, are legends for durability.
    4. One quick pull through all five gears will tell you all you need to know about engine health, as a prior owner, though.
    5. Check the CAS seal to see if it is leaking.
    6. With records like that, I would walk in with $2250 cash and absolutely steal that car. Strip the bra (moisture can ruin paint) and dash pad and put some new struts on it, and drive the snot out of it.

    • Jesse Staff

      I’m surprised that no one else mentioned the short nose crank issue! Thanks for bringing it up. This Miata was built in January of 1990, so it most likely has the short crank and weak bolt still in place. I couldn’t find any mention of it being addressed in the service records.

      Here’s a link that explains the problem: http://www.miata.net/garage/crankshaft.html

      Too big of a gamble?

  36. John

    Tell ya what. If you buy it and don’t like it, I will buy it from you that same day, just send me a note. I’ve been looking for a first generation Miata for a long while.

  37. MikeW

    If you haggled him down to your price, you should have given him the money.

  38. Bryan Cohn

    I’ve owned two Miata’s a 1992 in Yellow that had been modded for auto cross, HKS cams and ECU, header, Koni’s, BBS wheels, Monza exhaust, roll bar. IT. WAS. AWESOME. Stole it for $1700 in 2003, owned it about 6 months, a friend raced it at Solo Nationals (I was out of town) and it is still owned by the guy I sold it too.

    My 2nd is my current race car, a 95 built to NASA PTE specs. It is STUPID fun. Its less work, cheaper than and easier all around than any of my Formula Fords that I raced for 10 years previous. I am fast enough to win tires from BFG on contingency, I replace the brake pads every year and a half, rotors cost under $25, I just replaced a Koni Yellow shock for $124 (on sale) and it just runs and runs and runs. All I do is regular maintenance.

    The miles do not scare me in the least. I know guys that buy 100k plus cars and build racers out of them without touching the engine. 250k serviced right is nothing on any modern engine.

    Cars fit their owners. A Miata is no more a “girlie” car than a Minivan is a Mom car. The damn things are bought because they do what we want and need then to do. How many cars can be daily driven, run on a track day, take your child to school, zip along on a beautiful day top down, blow cold air or hot air when needed and get you into the Mazda Miata 25th party at Laguna? Isn’t the price worth living your dream?

    Buy it. Drive it for 6 months. Enjoy Laguna. Sell it. What are you going to lose, $200 in value, if that? Hell, it might go up in value due to taking part in the 25th.

  39. Abarthbill

    I am an active buyer for a Miata MazdaSpeed, here in Wisconsin. Can anyone give me advice on what to look for? Thank you for your help.
    Abarthbill

  40. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    Jesse…this is coming from a confirmed British car nut with 7 Triumphs (one being my HS TR6 I just re-purchased), 1 Standard and an Austin Marina race car (that last one may tag me for the looney bin, but we have a 1st, 3rd and 5th in class in three races). BUY THE MIATA! My late first wife had an 03 and it was a British car with everything perfect. Only reason I sold it was the memories.

    BUY THE CAR. You won’t regret it!

  41. Storm

    Jesse;
    I race MGs here on the other coast with a bunch of friends. We all love these self rustproofing (due to constant oil spray) Britmobiles and frankly drive the wheels off them. Back in 1990, I had the chance to drive one of the first models before it was released to the market and loved it. If I hadn’t lived in NYC and had a big dog I would have bought one in a heartbeat…especially after an impromptu race with a Porsche 911 showed it could more than handle the higher priced spread.
    The MGs have “soul”, but the Miata gets to me with its happy ability to run and run and never let you down. Those first cars drove so well and did so much with that free revving little 1.6L motor.
    I love racing my MGs, but for regular day to day use, particularly on a lovely sunny day, it’s hard to beat a Miata which gives you all the fun without any of the headaches of those earlier roadsters. As for them being “chick” cars…I don’t know. They are one of the most raced classes in SCCA history. To win with one you need to be a first class driver. It’s a car men and women can enjoy and you can refine it to your own desire. So maybe there are lots of women driving them…to me that just means Mazda was very successful in creating a car that could be marketed to a larger audience.
    If there is no rust and the short nose crank issue is not a problem, then it seems to me to be a great deal. Get it, enjoy it and if the emails from others are any indication, you’re likely to get all of your investment back should you decided to sell it in a month…6 months or more down the road…but what a fun and trouble free road it will likely be!

  42. thefatkid

    I have two Miata and 1990 NA and a 1999 NB. As you know they are bunches of fun to drive, and a great little car to slide around a corner. Parts are cheap, and readily available. I solved the Short nose crank issue in my by purchasing a motor from a 1993 NA. I consider the Miata engines disposable because they are so many out there at affordable prices. That said, I have not been able to kill one yet. They love to run to redline and kept asking for more punishment. I went out and purchased a Turbo so I can squeeze 200 + whp out of a 1.6L motor. If you are worried about the stigma associated with them put a nice hard dog roll bar in it. that not only mans it up it help provide lateral stiffness to the chassis, and even more importantly could save your life you decide to leave it shiny side upside down.

  43. Sean Smith

    Looks like fun! Do the laps then afterward you could sell it if you don’t still love it!

  44. Chris H.

    I owned (and would still own, were it not for a box truck tearing the side of the car off) a ’92 “c package” (BBS wheels, LSD, leather, wood shift knob and e-brake handle. I am 6’1″ and loved that car more than any other I’ve owned before or since. At $2300 you can’t really go wrong, as long as they’ve addressed the short crank nose issue, and with this many miles, it sounds like it’s been handled.
    Jump on it!!! I guarantee $2300 isn’t going to get you anything else as capable or fun.

  45. Tim H

    As for the chick car thing; If you think it’s a chick car, I just really don’t have much respect for your knowledge of sports cars. I don’t care what a drag car guy or a four wheeler or big truck owner thinks about my cars. And if you think your car has soul and mine doesn’t, well that is a personal thing, we can talk about when you catch me.

    By the way, when Datsun roadsters came out there were magazine articles that suggested they were for girls too.

    Oh ya and a miata is a chick car and a guy car and for me an old guy car! It is hard to find someone that on a sunny cool morning doesn’t want a ride in one.

  46. Tim "aka" Sidewayssam

    Well being a Brit, and on the other side of the pond to you guys, your Miata is our mx5 or if an import, a Eunos.
    I have had a few, and if you want to know how well they go, type in Eunos turbo,and sidewayssam on youtube and have a shufty! anyone who thinks there girly, has never driven one!
    If its well serviced , you wont break it, have a look at mx5nutz website,
    Also if any one wants help sourcing bits for European, British cars, let me know, and I will try an help, also worked on SAABS so know them well!

  47. Jerry

    I have a ’97 M Edition, a/c, LSD, leather, BBS wheels, Konis, Jackson Racing intake, RacingBeat ss dual exhaust and a hardtop. I’m 72 and have had this car for 25 years and love driving it fast and faster. No failures but only 60k on the clock. Hate the stereotype of a chick or rainbow car, mostly said by those in doubt of their manhood or with mommy issues!

    These cars are like having a happy puppy, more fun and love to play hard!

  48. Thomas

    For 2300.00 you cannot go wrong..I have wanted to buy one on more than one occasion, but when I worked at a Ford dealership we had two of them used on the lot, were I did try to get into them and drive them…being 6’5″ tall and weighing in at 250, the Miata was not quite a good fit, unless I could have found someone to grease the seat for me….but that does not mean that I would not love to have one…I am sure someone in my house would find it fun to drive…

  49. tim motorclaimguru

    What I do find interesting, looking at the comment above, so how do you guys view the lotus elan on your side of the pond? is that a girly car to?

  50. Brian

    So, what’s the final verdict? Did you buy it?

  51. Kristi Evans

    I read the follow up post before seeing this one. $2,300. I want to puke in my mouth over that. I’m stinking jealous.

    Great, great car. I’m so glad you grabbed it. Can’t wait to read about coming adventures with it.

    Kristi

  52. stigshift

    Anyone who doesn’t grin when in a Miata has no automotive soul. I’m 6’3″, 240 and fit just fine in my ’90!

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