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  • Erik JP Drobey

Saying Goodbye to a Dream Car

I know: it’s just an old Miata, not an air-cooled Porsche or an Alfa Romeo Montréal or a first-gen NSX.

It’s not powerful, or luxurious, or rare. It’s not remotely close to stock or pristine.

And it’s just a car, after all. A thing, however imbued with meaning and nostalgia.

Yet, once I sell it later this year, I will undoubtedly miss this 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata more than any other car I’ve owned so far.

The roadster from Hiroshima is one of my dream cars, and has been since I first read a New York Times article about its launch in 1989. At the time, I didn’t yet have a driver license, but I had already long been stricken with the “disease” to which Paul and Todd refer (one of the vectors for this affliction, I have to admit, was Knight Rider). In the MX-5, I instantly recognized the promise of this revolutionary concept. Here, finally, was a relatively attainable, presumably reliable, and nevertheless worthy homage to the British and Italian roadsters of the 60s and 70s. Unlike my brother’s 1969 Fiat Spider (great when it ran--which was seldom), the Miata represented anxiety-free, top-down motoring. Plus it had pop-up headlights, which remain one of the coolest automotive design features ever.

Another dream car from my pre-driving youth. I suspect a 1982 Trans Am doesn't drive quite as awesomely as KITT, however.

For many years, though, I either couldn’t afford to purchase or couldn’t justify the frivolity of purchasing a Mazda Miata. Life happened, and I needed more practical, more “sensible” vehicles (“tools for the job,” as the men in red and blue say). The Miata might not have been exactly an automotive white whale by Nate Kuhn’s definition, but it was elusive and desirable all the same.

So, five years ago, when I finally started shopping for a used Miata to drive as a weekend canyon-carver, I wondered: would the MX-5 live up to the decades of hype I had heaped on its diminutive, 2180-pound chassis? Would the roadster drive like the vehicular hero I had imagined, or would it drive more like a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am?

Turns out, I learned while I test-drove the car currently parked outside, that the Miata is more than worthy of those pop-up headlights. Thirty thousand miles later, I still find myself marveling at how enjoyable to drive that roadster is. What a great car!

I was fortunate to find a low-mileage example in such good condition, one that I could drive hard from the get-go, just as I had intended. That indeed was the intention: to just drive the Miata on the weekends and eventually, if it was still running, hand its keys to my son.

The MX-5 turned out to be more than just a weekend driver, though. With that car, I’ve been able to learn about and explore performance modifications. I even did a lot of the work myself--something I hadn’t intended and with which I had very limited experience. I taught my son how to drive with the Miata along some of the most beautiful, most enthusiast-friendly roads in Northern California. My son’s a very good driver, thanks to that experience--and to that car. I was able to experience autocross for the first time in the Miata. After I changed careers and landed a restaurant job, the Miata served very well and reliably as a daily commuter for awhile (time-permitting, I chose the twisty route to work every morning).

The Miata has been, in other words, a joy to drive and own. It’s not precious, which is what I love about it. It’s more practical than I had expected, as the passenger seat and footwell offer ample storage (especially with the top-down). My hockey bag and stick fit there like a linemate. What more could a rink rat wish for?

The Miata's got plenty of cargo space!

If the Miata is all that for me, why am I preparing to sell it?

There are practical reasons informing this decision. For one thing, the FR-S isn’t a dream car but does render the Miata less relevant. That 86 has supplanted the Miata as our weekend canyon-carver, and it serves me well as a daily commuter, too. Plus, newly equipped with new wheels and tires, the FR-S is, more than ever, a hoot to drive every day.

For another, my son is graduating from high school, and the proceeds from selling the Miata will help him buy a car of his own as he moves on to college and beyond. He still has the option of taking ownership of the venerable roadster, but he’s partial to hot hatches these days (that’s my boy!) and would probably love to drive a Fiesta ST or older GTI.

It’s also time. It’s time for me to move on, to recognize that I will have opportunities to drive other dream cars and learn from those experiences (Porsche Caymans and 997s, I’m looking at you). In the meantime, I can live with “just” the FR-S (for which I’m grateful every time I get behind the wheel).

The Miata, meanwhile, will hopefully move on to someone else for whom it’s a dream car. At just over 70,000 original miles, it’s got a lot of road yet to drive. Thanks to the latest EveryDay Driver podcast episode, I now know about RADWood and RAD For Sale, which seems like a perfect auction site on which to sell the MX-5.

Even as I type this piece, though, even as I prep the MX-5 for sale, I feel an irrational sense of pending loss. How foolish we enthusiasts are when it comes to cars. The Miata is just that, after all: a car. A thing, however imbued with meaning and nostalgia.


Erik JP Drobey lives in San Francisco. He chronicles some of his culinary and vehicular adventures on Instagram as @zjpd.

The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.

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