Good and evil, yin and yang, darkness and light; or a black Mazda Miata with a lovely interior. Not sure where I’m going with this overly epic entrance for a story of a car many might consider not-so-epic. Of course people on that side of the fence have never driven the topless, three pedaled, lightweight wonder (it hits the scales at just 2000 pounds). I admittedly was once a naysayer of the Miata with its feminine headlights and sub-130 horsepower engine. “I could never actually own one of those” “I’m way too manly to be caught driving a Miata”…ahhh classic fallacies that plagued the arrogant and naive mind of a young enthusiast. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey thus far, it’s that most of life falls on a spectrum – and letting a bit of your masculinity down in order to enjoy a beautiful driving experience is a good idea. It might just allow you to gain respect for a car that is endeared by millions. This is the story of how I ended up with my first Miata.
Sunshine and Miata
A good friend and two one-way airline tickets down to the growing city of Clearwater, Florida presented us an opportunity to not only reconnect over his family’s recent fix-and-flip home project, but also through the driving experience of a black 1994 NA Mazda Miata. A fair price and relatively low mileage, plus a seller who was willing to meet us outside the airport terminal made the decision an easy one. I liked the spec, and who could say no to top-down cruising around the gulf coast of southern Florida?
First impressions? All of the stereotypes of the underpowered, hyper-feminine car immediately subsided with the perfect gearbox throw and raspy inline engine strapped to a street legal go-kart chassis. Two smiles arose on our faces within the first two minutes of exiting the airport. The following week consisted of using the Miata to hop between hardware stores, beaches, and restaurants. And the real roadtrip hadn’t even begun– we knew we had a fun journey ahead of us.
After failing to apply enough SPF to avoid red foreheads and sunglasses tan lines, we commenced on our adventure home to the lovely state of Iowa with its grey skies and icy rain at this time of year. Maps had us pegged at 22 hours of total drive time– no problem for two dudes in a Miata. With the wind blowing through our manes, not even stop-and-go traffic in Atlanta could crush our moods. Even the cruise control, which had lived a longer life than either of us, worked flawlessly keeping the Japanese roadster comfortable at 80mph. We took an overnight stop in Knoxville, Tennessee to visit some old friends of mine before heading out the next morning.
The second leg of our journey home greeted us with dense fog and slow moving traffic due to a number of accidents in the Smoky Mountains. After being delayed by a few hours, we finally began to make some headway. Amidst a few long laughs in our confined top-up cabin, I noticed the NA Miata does not have a low fuel light– the gauge simply does its job, nothing more. Ahhh the simplicity ethos is found at every corner; how Miata. Well the needle was buried below “E” and there was only one more exit for the next 50 miles. I dramatically crossed all three lanes of the highway to catch the off-ramp where there was a lone gas station sitting to our right. We coasted right in feeling pretty good about our luck. Upon closer inspection, every pump had the dreadful yellow plastic cover over its handles, “Out of Service”.
Scrambling, we hopped on our phone’s map to find there was another station a ½ mile down the road. I quickly got the Miata to the stoplight with my left turn signal nervously blinking. The green light signaled my fellow intersection drivers to begin moving when our car began to sputter. I panicked and used the remaining fumes to cut across the oncoming traffic in order to make the descent down the hill where our needed petroleum oasis awaited. Minus a few honks and middle fingers, we used neutral and rolled all the way into the next gas station where an empty pump was ready to fill our 11.9 gallon tank. Now we were really laughing.
The Joys of a Road Trip
But our joie de vivre was soon crushed when we attempted to leave the gas station. The car failed to start, no one seemed nice enough to give us a jump, and the rain began to come down, heavily. Being in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee, on Sunday is not ideal for emergency automotive assistance. After a number of calls to various tow companies and parts shops, I convinced a friend of an Autozone cashier to come try and jump the battery. All I could think was maybe I had pulled old remnants from the gas tank into the fuel system and we were going to be stranded– neither of us were worried at all…ha. Thirty minutes later, a white, early 2000’s Chevrolet pickup pulled up next to us with a jump pack in hand. We popped the trunk, hooked up the battery and by all miracles, the Miata fired right up. We kindly thanked the man with a $20 bill and headed back on the road.
We decided to not turn off the vehicle the rest of the journey. At this point the rain had picked up significantly, and our chopstick-esque windshield wipers were trying their best to keep up. As we passed through the midwest, the sky turned to night crossing into the Indiana border. The rain worsened as ominous lightning and thunder began to envelope our little black car. Much of the civilian traffic either decided to avoid the highways that night, or they simply knew better than to be out driving in a storm of this size. That left us with just the semis and our dimly lit pop-up headlights.
The intensity of the rain continued to escalate until we were no longer able to see the lines of the road. I pulled over underneath a bridge and asked my partner in crime to check the radar. Maybe it would be best if we just waited this one out for a bit. To our dismay, the storm cell was massive, and it would be lingering over our route home for the next six hours. We made the executive (young, dumb, and overly-brave could also fit here) decision to journey on, white knuckles and all.
The rain finally subsided as we trudged through Illinois, and the Miata continued to hum along the interstate. We made a few stops at gas stations for restrooms and fried chicken along the way, and eventually arrived outside my apartment in Des Moines at 2:00AM in the morning. By this point our backs were quite sore, I was exhausted from battling the zero visibility driving a few hours back, and the brisk March air was quite the shock compared to the pleasant Florida sun just two days ago. We made it though, and we had created a long lasting memory in the process.
Over the next few months I worked on the Miata to get a new battery, replaced the bits of interior trim that had become brittle over the years, and had full paint correction done. In total I had invested a little over $5500 into the Miata. I used it for some nice evening drives around Des Moines in the summer, and have just listed it on a Cars & Bids auction this past week. From the minute I bought it, the Miata has forever earned my respect. I see why the simplicity, perfect handling, and excellent driver feel has grabbed the hearts of millions over the years. This is why we all enjoy the drive– it’s the experience and stories that we chase.
Thank you Miata,
Link to auction: Cars & Bids 1994 Mazda Miata