A "sort-of" project thread if you like, as most of the project has been getting my car satisfyingly driveable, with one indulgent bit of bling along the way.
Late last March I decided to sell my Suzuki Samurai, bought on a bit of a whim after a Birthday Off-road driving day. I'd always loved off-roaders as a kid so after a bit of digging around I got a taxed and tested and rust-free 1989 SJ413 with some basic off-road mods. After driving most of the green lanes in my area, and seeing two of the closest pay and play centres close, the jeep was more often than not sat idle in my lock-up, occasionally coming out for some soft-top cruising, despite the laughably poor on-road performance.
I'd never had a longing desire for an MX-5, but my dad had considered one briefly many years ago but never took it further. I really enjoyed the open-top motoring feeling, and was excited to read of the internet car enthusiast acclaim poured on the little roadster, despite the rather cutesy looks.
I have to admit, once an idea bites I find it hard to let go and get rather impulsive. My dad was obviously enthusiastic too, and would be, if not a joint owner, insured on it and chipping in a cost every now and then. Despite not loosing any money on the Jeep, aside from maintenance, I slightly stretched my budget and bought the second car I viewed (in drizzle, whoops), a superficially tidy 1994 UK 1.8is in Classic Red with a hair over 100k on the clock. At £1800 it was perhaps a little over the odds, but a rust free body, hardtop and fairly recent new hood, very clean interior, good test drive and decent service history swayed me.
As I bought it:
The first little blip in ownership was a big corner of flat paint around the rear corner, not obvious in the wet. It looks almost like someone polished the whole car, then stopped when there was about 5% left to do. I've since dug deeper and found out the car had a full respray, and the sills repaired about 3-4 years ago. Not a bad result in that department! This information came when I met a previous owner at last years MX5OC spring rally, who said he'd only traded the car in as it was fading and going pink!
Freelance Mazda in Chatham, handily very nearby, gave it a once over and immediately spotted a leaking clutch slave cylinder and * front pads. The brake pad change turned into a replaced front caliper when it seized, the kind of costs I should have budgetted for as inevitable on a 17 year old car.
I was looking forward to getting rid of the 4 random tyres and getting decent rubber and a full alignment done and just enjoying the car. Alas a summer of headache began, when I noticed that when driven enthusiastically the coolant overflow would literally, overflow and lose coolant, coupled with gurgling noises when turned off from hot. Starting from the basics, I did the rad cap and stat with no joy so this progressed to water pump/cambelt, engine flush and new radiator, funded by selling the hardtop for a slightly disappointing below par figure. Frustratingly no improvement. A brief ray of light when another mechanic spotted the cooling fan intermittently wasn't kicking in possibly leading to over-pressurisation led to a new temp sensor, which cured the fan but still not the coolant loss. Mark at Freelance finally spotted it had a Mazda 323 head on the block, which should be the same in theory but it seems gasket channels etc aren't a perfect match causing all my trouble. I also had to question why the head had been changed in the first place. It seems the car has been in the hands of a well meaning tinkerer, who was good enough to undertake a fairly decent restoration on the body but bodged the mechanicals. I debated getting rid of her, but a quick trip to Garath the MX5 restorer gave me a bit more inspiration when he said the car was in fairly good structural nick, so perhaps worth investing some more. The car seemed to drive fine if you took it easy so I did potter about in it, but not with much confidence and an eye constantly on the temp gauge. She was SORNED for the winter late in September.
Fast forward to this year, a bit of saving and some of my Dad's early retirement fund made the most cost effective solution now within reach, a straight engine swap. Booking it in to a competitively priced specialist in Essex was a big relief. I decided to spare few expenses and get a new clutch and red silicone hose kit, as well as gearbox and diff oil changed. I've had the car back a couple of weeks and touch wood all seems well. The coolant levels and temperatures are solid as a rock, and if the specialist is to be believed, I have an engine with many tens of thousands of miles less use than before up the front now. It certainly feels stronger and more confidence inspiring now.
As is inevitable once a '5 is in your possession the modding bug bites, and I'd always been taken by minilite wheels. A browse of the MX5Nutz forum turned up a recently fully refurbished set of 14" RS Watanabes in light anthracite with polished lip, being sold be a '5 nut within a few miles from me. Yeah, I stalled for a bit but then decided it was too good not to miss. Much um and ahhing over tyre choice, and they were quickly framed by some Dunlop SP FastResponses. A wheel alignment on a hunter didn't quite prove the next best thing in sliced bread, but some very questionable and uneven final readings (although "in the green") mean either a moan and trip back or the extra expense to MX mecca of Wheels in Motion.
More outlays planned are limited to a panel filter, when a certain MX superstore sends me the right one this time, perhaps some subtle bling in the cabin and if I'm really indulgent a raspier exhaust. Lowering and/or suspension upgrades can wait for now. A mark on the front bumper where I nudged the garage door (it has an awkward, uphill 90 degree approach, honest!), and a rear bumper and numberplate surround respray are potentially in budget this year, and perhaps a full detail paint mop as the icing on the cake. Splashing out on some kind of FI may be very tempting in the future, but I think some of the car's charm is having to work it hard and feeling faster than you inevitably are.
Me and my dad are already planning the first roadtrip in June, taking in the MX5OC Blyton Bash trackday on the way up to one of my favourite places, for both driving and scenery, the Scottish Highlands. I've done all the good drives in my last few cars, a Focus, Fabia VRS and even an old Transit Ambulance/camper so can't wait to dodge the showers on some of the best UK roads in the wee red roadster!