Mazda designed a two-seater MX-5 Miata roadster to be free of unnecessary weight or features or even power.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Forget the folderol about the Mazda MX-5 Miata being an MG that doesn’t leak oil. It stands on its own as a great sports car because it’s simply a blast to drive.

The fuse was lit in the early 1980s, at Mazda’s California design center, by auto-writer-turned-Mazda-product-planner Bob Hall and by stylist Mark Jordan, son of General Motors design director Chuck Jordan. Their idea for a classic front-engine rear-drive roadster beat Mazda-Japan’s proposal for a "new-age" front-drive or mid-engine car. Work proceeded as a joint California-Tokyo project, and the resulting Miata exploded onto the market as a 1990 model.

Significantly, it was not parts-bin engineered, but was executed as an original design, a two-seat convertible laid down according to the sporting gospel of simplicity and lightweight. True, the basic 1.6-liter twincam engine could be traced to Mazda’s 323 subcompact. But it was turned lengthwise, greatly reworked, and freed of its turbocharger.

The rest of the Mazda MX-5 Miata was fresh yet familiar, a timeless idea reinterpreted for our times.

Tidy in dimension and unsullied by geegaws, the body provided enough room for a couple of six footers and a night’s soft luggage. The independent suspension used coil springs and double wishbones all-around. There was a disc brake at each corner and rack-and-pinion steering. The structure was impressively rigid thanks to computer-aided design and an aluminum powertrain truss. The top lowered in one easy motion, the ride was firm but not harsh, and the exhaust note appropriately snarly.

Mazda reworked a passenger-car four-cylinder engine for the MX-5 Miata, starting at 116 horsepower for 1990 and growing to 133 by 1995.

You could order power steering and windows, a CD player and cruise control. But these weren’t needed to enjoy the car. The MX-5 Miata seemed to have achieved a rare blend of modest but fully usable power, accessible cornering limits, and all-around good cheer. Plus, it was leak-free, and Japanese-reliable, too.

An automatic transmission was available shortly after launch, and anti-lock brakes were options for ’91. The engine grew to 1.8 liters and 128 hp for ’94, and to 133 hp for ’95. There was the club-racer R package and various luxury M editions, and base prices over the years went from under $14,000 to over $18,000. But nothing altered the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s character. It remains a communique from sports-car heaven.

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