Look What I Brought Home!


Last Saturday, we asked you guys if we should buy a certain 1990 Mazda Miata. It didn’t fit the mold of what we normally feature here on the site, but the feedback was so positive that we decided to take the plunge. Sure, it’s not a “barn find”, but we think any 24 year old survivor that can provide this much fun for so little money is worth some press. We all have different tastes in cars, but after one drive in a Miata, we can bet that most of you would be converted.


The Miata provides a classic roadster experience without all the headaches. They are generally reliable and comfortable with a folding top that actually keeps moisture out. This will be the third one I have owned over the years and I just seem to keep coming back to them. They lack utility and it can get a little cramped inside for a big guy like me, but that’s not the point. With rear wheel drive, a five-speed, a curb weight of 2,100 pounds they can turn any errand run into a treat. Eventually the sensible side of me will force a sell, but it is always regretted later. Hopefully this one can stick around long enough for a few adventures.


When I started this Miata hunt, my goal was to find a car built in 1989. This year Mazda is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Miata’s debut, so I wanted something that was actually 25 years old. Well, I got close. January of 1990 is the build date of my particular car, so it hasn’t quite hit the quarter century mark, but it does still maintain all the features that made the early cars unique.


Normally, I would have been hesitant to purchase an automobile with so many miles (223k). My first two Miatas hadn’t covered this many miles combined, but low mileage isn’t always a guarantee either. The lowest mileage one needed wheel bearings from sitting in the garage too much. This car on the other hand was used and enjoyed in the manner it was meant for. The seller told me that it was their daily driver for almost 14 years. The thick folder of maintenance records proved that no expense was spared in keeping everything in working order.


My Classic Red Miata is equipped with the A Package. That means it came with power steering, cassette player, leather wrapped steering wheel, and alloy rims. That also means no power windows or cruise control here (Package B). The seller does think that it was ordered with the optional limited-slip diff though. They claim that it makes winter driving a possibility. We haven’t confirmed that one yet, but we have our fingers crossed. The original cassette deck has been replaced with an Alpine CD player that the seller received as a gift, but they hung onto the original and have promised to find it for me. One other thing that was added to this car was a lighted rear view mirror. It really does brighten things up inside, so that is staying. We haven’t decided what all we plan to do with the car, so your suggestions are welcomed.


As mentioned above, I’m not a small guy (6’2) so it can get a little claustrophobic inside on long journeys. I usually discourage modifications of any kind, but I am seriously considering breaking my own rules here in the name of comfort. There are many ways to get a few extra inches of headroom, so we will investigate and let you know which route we take.

We are excited to attend the festivities this September in Monterey where they will attempt to break the world record for the longest Miata parade. We are not sure about having to deal with the crowds, but the victory laps around Laguna Seca should make it all worthwhile. We may also try our hands at an autocross or two. Heck, we hear there are a few hill climbs in our area too! So, even if Miatas are not your thing, we hope you will follow the coverage of our adventures this summer in our almost 25 year old Miata!


  1. Connor

    Congratulations Jesse, hope you have fun with it, especially at the parade at Laguna Seca.

  2. Brian

    Congrads on the new ride! May you have many happy miles with the wind in your hair, sun on your face, and socket set in the tool box!

  3. Livermoron

    Coincidentally I read this last week – http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/1990-mazda-mx-5-miata-archived-test-review

    Reminded me I needed to get one eventually too.

    I am sure you’ll enjoy it.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Good read. Thanks for the link.

  4. Kristi Evans

    This is WAY too cool! My dad still has his – he took delivery on his ‘floor model’ and the only color he could get (silver), in January, 1990. I was a senior in high school and my brother had already left for the military. Anyway, it was freezing cold, but he got me out of the apartment late that first night, put the top down, blasted the heater and went for a ride on some backroad, Ohio twisties. I will never forget that ride. And my dad still has that car. He’s been through a few spouses since then, and the car is a darker silver, but that’s all. I can’t believe it’s still running, though it’s been babied. He got another around 2006. Red with a turbo or a supercharger – can’t remember which – and it’s pristine and red. It has about 10,000 miles and looks new. Also, no one wants to drive it over the old silver gal, who has a few dings and far fewer options (just like me, I suppose ;)

    I love the early Miatas – and they are still a treat to drive. Brings back wonderful memories. Thanks for the post.

  5. jim s

    get a hardtop, white would look good, but any color will do. see how much headroom you have first. if it has a limited slip it will help the car go but the first type of limited slip mazda used made it harder to get the car to turn because the limited slip is very slow to unlock on on snow and ice. but the slow to unlock helps when autocrossing. a least that was how mine worked.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Yeah a hardtop would be nice. Only problem is that people think they are worth about 50% of a complete car!

      • jim s

        your right. i too was surprised by the pricing.

  6. rich

    If your planning on doing any autocrosses or hill climbs you best start looking for a roll bar at least as one is required a bolt in cage would be even better. Good luck with it and enjoy the ride. We sure do with our Datsun Roadsters What you have now is a newer LOTUS Elan without the Lotus problems

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I have given a roll bar some serious thought Rich. I don’t like the idea of having to cut anything to install it, but it would be nice to have some protection in the unlikley event of a roll over!

      • jim s

        keep in mind a roll bar raises the center of gravity which make it more likely to roll over. just saying.

  7. Paul R

    My solution to increase headroom has been to put the top down and leave it down. Too cold? Too wet? What kind of sissies are we? Wear sun screen and motor on!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Good point! Some bomber goggles might be needed though if my head is poking above the windshield! Actually the problem isnt headroom really, it has more to do with my line of sight as Im sitting a little too high. I have some ideas that might help without modifying anything though.

  8. Shilo

    Miata’s are very cool. The English roadster that does not leak oil on your garage floor. I love them and once wanted one bad. But I test drove one and alas…..it was slow. I had it on the floor the whole time. I am used to driving V-8’s and I guess it is a hang up. Anyway, I never got one but still think they are cool and ya never know one day I may give in to it and get one. Congrats on your purchase, it is a very nice little car.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      They are slow, but if you keep the revs up, they are still a thrill to drive. Heck, I have more fun in it than I did in my new Mustang GT!

  9. DT

    how much is swedish scrap steel going for latley?

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Yeah, that reminds me. One of our project cars has gotta go now…

      • jim s

        saab or toyota?

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        I think the Toyota is going to be the first to go. :(

      • Brian

        I’m glad to hear the Saab is staying. The Toyota remind me of the ’78 Civic my mother has when I was a kid. It had no A/C and, since it was a two door with only pop out windows in back, the air flow to the backseat was not good = the “car sick special”! Not so much the good ole days.

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        Yeah it can get a little warm in there. Luckily this thing has one of the strongest fans I have ever seen in a car! It sure helps when sitting at stop lights on hot days.

  10. Mark

    Cool trivia question, ask anyone what is the best selling 2 seat sports car of all time, nobody ever answers Miata/MX5 but its true. In my mind that also makes it the most popular 2 seat sports car ever also, but dont tell that to the Corvette people.

    • C Bryant

      How many Miatas were produced?How many million?

    • C Bryant

      I went back and checked on Miata production and could only find a figure of 797,000.Corvette did that milleniums ago.And forget the word popular.If you set a Corvette beside a Miata and told anyone they could have either for free,I think you know which one they would take.Now if you put two side by side and said which one could you buy for $2500 there would only be one you could purchase.Miatas are good cars but get real.

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        Remember C Bryant, most Corvettes sold have been coupes, not roadsters. The defintion of “sports car” is still believed by many to only include convertibles. The addition of a roof would make it a GT. I’m not saying I totally agree with this as the lines have been blured lately. The Miata does hold the Guinness World record for best selling two-seat sports car though, so that must be how they define it. Over 900k Miatas have been sold since 1989: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/2000/best-selling-car-two-seater-sports

  11. Jim-Bob

    Congratulations! This should provide you with years of driving enjoyment at a very reasonable cost. Plus, I tend to think that these will see an upsurge in popularity soon, so the value will never go down. People in the mainstream collector car world in the US are just now starting to see past their prejudices and recognize that a good car is a good car no matter the country of origin or production numbers.

  12. John Allison

    I love it. Great little car. Message me when you get ready to turn it loose! I’ll take it off your hands.

  13. Edward Munday

    We Have Owned Our 94 For 7 Years We Are The Third Owners And We Know The First 2 Owners. They Are A Lot Of Fun And Maintinance Is Not that Bad. Its A Daily Driven Car.

  14. cory

    I would put some steel wheels on it. I know every one will think it is a downgrade but I always thought the steel wheels gave it a more classic roadster look. beyond that, drive and enjoy!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Funny you should say that Cory, as I was actually looking for a base model for that very reason! I have found some steel rims though and am tempted. It is good to know that there is at least one reader who would appreciate the “downgrade”.

      • Chris in Carlsbad

        I had a base model red ’91 that was riding on the OEM steelies. Replaced them with some 14 x 7 Enkei RPF1s that made their way to my current Miata – a silver ’91 B package. The stock “dasies” from the silver car were sold with on the red car.

        The steelies are still sitting in the Enkei boxes in my garage rafters. I haven’t figured out exactly what to do with them , but they don’t take up much space.

    • jim s

      buy 2 sets of steel wheels, 1 for everyday tires and 1 for stickys, and sell the wheels that came with the car. price the 4 of them at what you paid for all 8 steels.

  15. cory

    easiest way to check for limited slip: 7k rpm clutch drop. if you drew an 11, that’s limited slip. a 1 means normal differential. sure there are better ways but mine is more fun.

  16. jim s

    since it is a 1990 you want to look under the rear to see it the brace was installed between the rear lower arm mounts. it became standard in 92, i think.

  17. jimbosidecar

    I like these early Miatas (Miatii?) They sorta look like an Elan which is probably why I have a soft spot for them.

  18. Len

    I own a red one that was built in may of 89.It has 234,000 k’s on it.It drives excellant.Bought it 4 years ago,And we drive it as often as we can,and trouble free.Car has never seen snow and is kept in a heated garage all winter.Have never driven it in the rain and has only seen rain once since I own it,and that was on a car hauler behind the motor home.It is in show room condition,original perfect top,with no rust anywhere.

  19. Rancho Bella

    I am a pre ’75 certified Lotus nut…….having written that, and don’t tell anyone………I’m starting to like the Miata. Considering how many trouble free miles you can put on the these they are a great value.
    Mazda has made tens o’ thousands of them so there is no shortage.

    Will I sell the herd of Loti that inhabit the Ponderosa?…….no. But maybe pick up one like Mr. Jesse just did. Lower it, install a bump steer and some of the juicy after market go fast parts…………..what’s not to like?

    • Rancho Bella

      I forgot to mention how clean the engine looks…….did it come to you like that? if so, the ex-owner did a fine job of care.

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        Yep, the previous owner loved this car. I too prefer pre-75 cars, but I also like to drive them on a daily basis so the Miata is hard to beat.

  20. Mark E

    Wasted IMMEASURABLE amounts of time dreaming of owning one until I actually attempted to sit in one with the top up. About 1.5″ short in the headroom department for me. Still, if you like them, good buy, have fun with it! :)

  21. rusty

    good work…funny we must have been shopping at the same time for a sportscar..

    I did consider a MX5 but the one I drove turned me off [twas an imported early auto which didnt come to Australia originally..] but last week I bought something a little harder to find [well here about 175 imported] a Diahatsu Copen 660cc turbo roadster/convertible..the idea not as an everyday car as I need a ute..but as a way to lesson the blow of selling my Micro cars [goggo darts]. The only microcar sportscar available here in last 11 years..

    so as I am getting used to driving this new toy..but I guess you are driving yours everyday and definately more room in yours..hee hee


  22. sunbeamdon

    As I waste time sitting here in the BC high-country with a beer (Canadian of course) in one hand and a flyrod in the other waiting for a fickle fish to attack my fIie I found time to respond by typing with 1 finger (not that one guys!)

    Now my interest is picqued – I’m gonna look at Miatas when I get back to Seattle.

    Best of luck – remember – a Chevy small block can fit the Miata!

  23. Bryan Cohn

    I’m on my 2nd Miata, my first was a 1992 that was yellow, a rare color I’m told. It had been heavily modified and while a blast to drive on track or autocross, its noisy exhaust and stiff suspension made for an irritating daily driver. My current Miata is a ’95 with the 1.8, a hardtop and its my race car! :) It is utterly brilliant at its designed job, going fast on track and winning races, setting lap records and winning year end championships.

    All that said, keep your’s stock. If you plan to autocross it more than a few times make the investment in a proper roll bar from companies like Hard Dog, Flyin’ Miata, etc etc. They make bolt in roll bars that actually work.

    There are so many modified Miata out there that finding stock, unmolested cars is getting hard, similar to finding an stock Honda CRX, another hugely popular car that got modified like mad.

    Top down, favorite tune blaring, best girl by your side, road trip for ice cream on a Tuesday evening or a weekend in Monterey. It won’t get much better. Enjoy.

    • rusty

      yes thats what I found when scouring the internet [in Aussie] recently for MX5’s [only private imports were Miatas here as far as I know], perhaps one reason I stopped looking at them…but I reckon a bone stocker in good knick would be a lovely car…just finding one stock is a little hard now because they dropped value so dramatically no one cared if they modified as you do with old bangers. although ours are worth more here simply because all cars here are worth more than the states. Ours are possibly twice the $ of yours ..but thats still a damn cheap sportscar here due to the abundance of MX5’s sold here.. [traditionally we have always been much dearer whether new or secondhand.]

  24. Chris in Carlsbad

    Congrats, as you know, NA 1.6 Miatas are fantastic cars. I hope to hold on to my ’91 B package Miata for a very long time.

  25. Pete W.

    I also have a red NA (built 11/89) and have owned it since ’95. I still have no plans to sell it.

    I’ve added toys from time to time (never having had to spend much on repairs) including 15″ Panasports, Borla exhaust, chassis braces, adjustable KYB’s, Nardi wheel, etc.

    At 6′, it’s a tighter fit for me than my 280Z, (same 90″ wheelbase), but livable and definitely worth it. Might I suggest a couple of easy mods make it a bit roomier:

    1. Remove the driver side footrest. Believe it or not, you’ll easily gain 2 inches or so for your left leg.

    2. Shorten up the handbrake handle. Apparently designed for RHD, or because of the underside driveline bracing, it’s in a lousy spot and really should be on the right side of the console. There are fairly simple online instructions showing how to remove a few unneeded inches from it’s length, thus giving you a bit more thigh room.

    Both mods make a welcome difference for taller drivers.

    As for headroom, there isn’t a lot of unnecessary height left to remove from either the seat tracks or the foam itself, that I can see, The only other mod I could possibly suggest would be a thinly padded, racing style, seat.

  26. Joe

    Best of luck with your Miata! I still own a ’90 Base model (lowest production car) I bought new with the only two options I wanted, limited slip differential and AC (no radio). $14,200 delivered. Wanted the Base because I didn’t want power steering or any other frills. Had to search in 10 States and many delaerships before finding one who sold to me for list price, close to home. I used the car daily through 8 winters in the NE with 4 Pirelli snows. Even so, my car has no rust! But I can tell you the limited slip doesn’t help much if at all—car tends to move and drivt sideways and not good control on snow and ice—even with a 20 lb tube of traction sand forward in the trunk, which I would suggest. Without the sand it is trecherous. I added Panasports for the summer Dunlop tires, using the steels in the winter. For headroom and fall/winter, buy a used hardtop if you can find one. Mine is great, much more headroom, excellent visability, warmer compartment, light and easy to put on and take off, and rear window defrost. Try to find an old original Mazda Club shift knob (as originally designed for the car) which is black and very stubby—great feel and short shifts. Enjoy the ride!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Hey Joe, I was looking for your car’s exact specification! I wasn’t even sure if you could get the base model with A/C and LSD, but obviously you could. I too like the idea of a barebones car with just the essentials. I guess I could “downgrade” mine, but that would just seem wrong. If you ever decide to sell, please let me know!

      What’s a Mazda Club shift knob? I can’t seem to find any info about it online. Thanks!

      • Joe

        Hi Jesse, yes in 1990 the A/C and LSD were available options for the base model, along with a factory hardtop (which no dealer seem to have at that time). The base model came with radio delete (a bigger cubby covered the radio area) and roll up windows and the steel wheels (without trim rings which were dealer supplied parts items). I think I was extremely lucky finding one in the color (red) with and options I wanted AND without a mark-up. One dealer was happy to take my order with a $2000 mark up back then!! I passed of course. After searching throughout the entire East Coast all the way to Florida, I actually got mine 25 miles from home–the owner/dealer traded another dealer for mine, two hours away in-state on arrival. The original US national Miata Club was started by one of the American design engineers of the Miata–I remember his name as Norman Garrett. He designed this specific shift knob during the prototype stages, but it was later dropped and re-shaped for the OEM knob, maybe for cost or for being quite “unconventional” by Mazda when car went into production. The Club offered the knob to members back then in limited quantities and I was lucky to get one. It is heavy, maybe ceramic, small, round and short. Accentuates the short shifts and feels like a track car shift. Send me an email and I’ll send you a photo. Be happy to answer any other questions you might have about the early Miata. Thanks, but I love the car so much I’ll hopefully never will sell. Best car I ever owned, lowest maintenace cost, most reliable, most fun and the only car I ever bought new at list price. Will qualify for classic car insurance in January at only $100/year!!

  27. junkman Member

    There’s a guy who shows up at the local car shows that has a 5.0 mustang set up in it, said the kit comes from TX for about 4k. Talk about a rocket ship! You can do that next winter. but have fun for the summer, good buy.

  28. The Other Doug M. (West Coast) Member

    Great work, Jesse, just nothing quite like a little sun and wind. And I know those Japanese cars are such a joy to own and drive! Have fun!

  29. Sid Member

    Congratulation on your sports car find.
    It is the RIGHT color.
    I have always said that the only reason sport car manufacturers have ever painted sports car any color other than red is because they can’t make red paint fast enough.
    Eventually they run out of red paint and have to paint a few of them other colors like black, white, green, blue purple, orange and worst of all [no guts to commit to any color at all] silver.
    In my opinion every sports car in the world should be painted RED.
    RED makes it easier for police to single you out and give you the speeding ticket that you rightfully deserve.
    RED makes it easier for automobile-challenged persons to call out “Oh, look, there goes a sports car”.
    RED makes you more visible so dogs, deer, old people in wheel chairs and small children on tricycles can see you quicker and gives them more time to jump out of your way.
    Let’s all admit the obvious truth about sports cars.
    They are the one automobile that has an American God Given Right to drive faster than other cars on the road.
    Better brakes, better handling and most of all cooler drivers.
    When you get in that Miata and head for the grocery store remember all the above and keep your foot to the floor because best of all……
    It is a scientific fact that Red sports cars are invisible to police radar.
    If you don’t believe me just give it a try next time you see a radar trap.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Good one Sid! I will make sure to test your theory on my next grocery run.

  30. Kristi Evans

    This ^^^^.

    Best comment, possibly ever.

  31. John

    Remember our deal — if you buy it and don’t like it, I’ll buy it from you that day.

    It looks great — I suspect I will not be in line to get it anytime soon.

  32. Rev.Rory

    Let me know the particulars when you decide to off the Toyota, I’m looking for one close to stock. Already had my fling wit that era SAAB though, thanks.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I’m cleaning it now so I can take some photod and get it listed for sale!

  33. Scott Allison

    Jesse – They call Miatas a Girlie car.. but you stated “no power windows or cruise control here” So it’s a Man’s car! LOL!!!

    Congrats! and may you have another 200k miles of fun!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Well, mine has power steering and a/c though! That might disqualify it from being a real man’s Miata?

  34. RickyM

    My mate had a ‘grey’ import Eunos from Japan (normally called MX5 in the UK) that had been lowered. I’m 6’3 and it was a bit of a struggle to get in and out but once behind the wheel it was most definitely worth it !

  35. Pittbull

    I never understood why Mazda did not put their Rotary engine in the Miata.

    • jim s

      neither can i. i think it would make a great car.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Then they wouldn’t have needed the rx7! I assume they wanted to keep costs down so they could sell them at a lower price. Plus the four was more in line with the roasters from the past that they were trying to mimic.

  36. JACKinNWPA kustomm Member

    I say heck YES! well bought. tons of fun. I have liked them from day one yet never owned one.

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