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Mazda MX-5 Mk1: Buying guide and review (1989-1998)

Mazda MX-5 Mk1: Buying guide and review (1989-1998) Classic and Performance Car
Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1
We’d never try to dissuade you from buying a rear-wheel-drive Lotus Elan, but owning one can be fraught with problems. Sure the handling is sublime, but they can be fragile and expensive: what you need is a tougher, cheaper alternative. Cue the MX-5. Okay, we’d be stretching the point if we were to say that the Mazda is as good as the Elan on an empty B-road, but you’d be amazed what a close-run thing it is – and when you think you can buy a perfectly decent early MX-5 for little more than two grand, suddenly the British sportster starts to look a tad expensive. 
It was all thanks to Mazda that the affordable two-seater rag-top was revived in the late 1980s; without the MX-5 there’s a good chance we’d never have seen the likes of a fully-open MR2 or the MGF. With its rear-wheel drive, double-wishbone suspension all round and an ultra-low weight, the MX-5 was genuinely a true masterpiece; a turning point in the evolution of the car. 
Yes, it was only reviving a concept seen decades earlier, but as the 1980s were becoming the 1990s, everyone assumed the world had changed too much for such a model to be commercially viable. Mazda proved the doubters wrong. With its slick gearchange, perfect poise and beautifully-weighted steering, the Mazda showed potential rivals a clean pair of heels before they were even out of the starting blocks. 
Which one to buy?
Believe it or not, the earliest MX-5 are more than two decades old, and with thousands sold in the UK there are plenty to go round. Although there are frequently MX-5s for sale at about the £1000 level, you really need to spend double this to get something decent – and even better if you have closer to £3500 to spare. The most recent low-mileage cars can still sell for £6000, but the car has to be really good to command that sort of money. 
The number of special editions is also bewildering; some are more worthwhile than others so don’t pay over the odds for a car that differs from standard simply by having an unusual paint job. The bottom line is that any MX-5 in fine fettle will be a hoot to drive – and you don’t need to spend a fortune to secure something worth keeping. 
For 1994 the engine grew from 1598cc to 1839cc. It looked similar but was actually a different unit, torquier and more powerful at 128bhp. It was joined later by a re-introduced 1.6, with power down from 114bhp to 90bhp to suit
a basic, entry-level car. 
Various UK special editions proliferated, approximately mirroring the Japanese-spec V Special (beige leather trim), S Special, S Limited, G Limited, R Limited and others. Most Eunos models had a limited-slip differential, viscous in the original 1.6, Torsen later. Automatic transmission was available in the Eunos, while from 1994 UK cars could be had with wind-up windows, steel wheels and no power steering, a deletion that fundamentally changes the car’s chuckable character for the worse.
Long-term, the pure, early 1.6s with the ‘daisy’ wheels are likely to rise fastest in value. There’s also the UK-only BBR Turbo, with an officially sanctioned turbocharger conversion by Brodie Brittain Racing to squeeze 150bhp out of the early 1.6. These are rare and desirable, especially the Le Mans edition in the green and orange colour scheme of Mazda’s 787B, which won Le Mans in 1991.
Not all cars were equipped with power-steering, and while there aren’t many established classics which feature such a system, you’re much better off buying an MX-5 that has it. Few assisted systems offer the feedback of the Mazda, which is why you should be prepared to pay a premium of up to £500 for the right car with it. 
Performance and specs
Engine 1598cc, four-cylinder
Power 113bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 100lb ft @ 5500rpm
Top speed 117mph
0-60mph 8.5sec
Fuel consumption 34.5mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Wheelbase 2265mm
Length 3950mm
Width 1675mm
Height 1225mm
Kerb weight 970kg
Common problems
• You’ll struggle to find an engine more durable than an MX-5’s; it just keeps on going as long as it’s serviced properly, with 200,000 miles no problem at all. 
• However, even if everything seems spot on, take a look at all the fluid levels, which will give some indication of how much care the previous owner has taken. 
• Also ask when the last service was performed; Mazda recommended maintenance every 9000 miles or annually, but a caring owner will have done it every 6000 miles instead. 
• Using flushing oil at every service is a good way to stop the hydraulic tappets chattering on start-up, which is one of the main issues with the engine. Lift the bonnet and listen for a noisy top end as the engine is started. 
• The servicing regime should have taken the condition of the coolant into account; because the MX-5’s cylinder head is made of alloy, it’s essential that this is kept in tip-top condition, with anti-freeze concentrations maintained. 
• The cambelt should also have been renewed within the last five years or 60,000 miles; any car should be on at least its third by now, even if it’s covered barely any distance. However, if the belt does break, the pistons and valves won’t collide with each other, so all is not lost. 
• The earliest engines, which are also the most desirable, are the only ones likely to be suffering from any kind of malady. The motor itself is fine; it’s the ancillaries that are the problem – specifically the water pump. These tend to wear, so lift the bonnet and, with the engine ticking over, listen for a knocking noise. If the pump has worn, it’s a good idea to get the cambelt replaced at the same time, as it’ll probably need doing before too long anyway. 
• A fresh water pump is available for £40, while a specialist will typically charge £120 to do the work, plus the cost of fitting a cambelt (usually £200 on its own). 
• Some of the earliest cars had a problem with the crankshaft pulley’s woodruff key groove wearing; it can potentially wear to the point where the crankshaft is wrecked. Most cars have been sorted by now, but some will have escaped the system so take a look at how many slots there are in the crankshaft pulley. The potentially faulty units will have just four slots; if there are eight, the stronger type of pulley has already been fitted. 
• MX-5 powerplants also tend to weep oil, but it shouldn’t be all over the engine bay. The culprit is the cam sensor’s O-ring at the rear of the engine; fixing it is simplicity itself and even a specialist shouldn’t charge more than £50 to do the work. 
• Exhaust systems can give a few problems. First, they all had a catalytic converter fitted, and you need to make sure it’s working properly; the best way of doing this is to put the car through an MoT and see if it passes its emissions test. 
• The rest of the system can corrode, but you don’t have to go to Mazda for a replacement; you’re better off looking to one of the many aftermarket suppliers who can provide something sportier, cheaper and made of more durable stainless steel. 
• Because the exhaust sits close to the road, there’s a good chance it’s been grounded at some point, so get underneath (which is easier said than done!) and see if it’s been bashed about. If the car sounds very rattly from beneath on start-up, it’s probably because the exhaust’s heat shields have worked loose; they’re easily screwed tight again. 
• Any MX-5 that’s had a BBR turbo conversion tends to get through exhausts more quickly than a standard car, because of the increased exhaust temperatures; again, the fitment of a stainless steel system is the perfect fix in this scenario. 
• Finally, if you’re looking at a model on an M or N-plate, check the state of the downpipe and listen for blowing. A welding fault on cars built at this time can lead to the metal separating, resulting in blowing and the need to fit a new downpipe. Mazda fixed most under warranty, and any car that’s lasted this long should be fine – but you never know. 
• Over time that fantastic gearchange can get a tad sticky through a lack of lubrication of the linkages, so go up and down through the box on a test drive and make sure all’s well – pay particular attention to the change between second and third gears.
• For a rear-wheel-drive sportscar, the MX-5’s suspension components are surprisingly durable. Shock absorbers and springs should easily last 100,000 miles, although many owners will have fitted aftermarket recalibrated parts well before that mileage has been racked up. 
• Bushes aren’t quite so long-lived, but they should still last at least 60,000 miles. Any car that’s needed fresh bushes well before this has probably been thrashed. A four-wheel alignment check pays dividends in handling. 
• Because there isn’t much power available and the kerb weight is very low, the Mazda doesn’t tend to get through tyres very quickly. However, many owners get rid of their car just as a new set of boots is due, so make sure there’s still plenty of tread on each corner. 
• Most (but not all) of these early MX-5 were equipped with alloy wheels; many that were initially supplied with steel rims have had alloy replacements by now. Whatever is present, check the state of the finish – especially if the original Mazda items are fitted. Over time these tend to suffer from pitting after the wheels have got caked in brake dust then just left. 
It’s just a cosmetic thing, though; reviving tired alloys is a straightforward job at around £35 per wheel. 
• It might be incredibly reliable, however MX-5 successfully emulated the traditional British sportscar in the way that it likes to rust. Although the panels were galvanised, a number of design floors and water drainage issues mean that the it’s now very difficult to find a Mk1 that hasn’t had or at least doesn’t need some welding.
• Make sure the drain tubes that exit in front of the rear wheels are clear. This is the number one cause of rust, which spreads to the sills. The rear of the sills is the most obvious place, but you should also check the front wheel arches and windscreen surround. 
• Early cars can suffer from corroded door jambs, because the kick plates originally fitted allow water to collect underneath and stagnate. Mazda quickly realised there was a problem and revised the design with a rubber pad underneath, yet there’s still a chance that you end up looking at a car affected by rust. 
• Because the boot is so shallow, some owners try to cram in too much then slam down the bootlid, damaging it in the process. The bulge that results is very obvious and not easy to remove. 
• The electrics are generally reliable, but check that the pop-up headlamps are working properly; their motors sometimes stick. 
• If you’re looking at a Eunos, ask if it has air-conditioning fitted, as it’s an option that was frequently specified by the first owner. If it is, make sure it’s working properly as the older R12 refrigerant is expensive to replace. 
• Check that the electric windows work properly, as the motors can burn out. They’re easy enough to sort; expect to pay £80 per side for replacement units. 
• Although interiors are generally durable, there are one or two weak spots. The first place to check is the driver’s seat, which wears down the side; it’s a natural consequence of the owner getting in and out. Decent standard used seats and aftermarket items aren’t hard to find, but it’s still a useful bargaining point. 
• Also check the condition of the hood, which tends to last reasonably well but which suffers if the MX-5 has been cleaned badly (especially in a car wash) or not at all. The rear screen tends to get scratched; unzip before stowing it or it’ll get creased. Also have a look at what state the zip is in; they often get broken by ham-fisted owners. 
• If the worst comes to the worst, replacement hoods aren’t that expensive for a vinyl one; you can even get a mohair replacement complete with a glass rear screen. However, don’t forget that fitting a fresh roof can be laborious and costly; if the frame is damaged as well, the bill to put things right won’t be small. 
Model history
1990: MX-5 goes on sale in 1.6-litre form. There are just three exterior colours to choose from (red, blue and white) and two optional extras; metallic silver paint and a hard-top. 
1991: An officially-approved Brodie Brittain Racing (BBR) turbocharger conversion becomes available, pushing power up to 150bhp and torque to 154lb ft. Anti-lock brakes are standardised, while the limited editions also start being released: in 1991 there are the British Racing Green and Le Mans specials. 
1992: Special Edition goes on sale. 
1993: Another Special Edition arrives – this time it’s black both inside and out. Side-impact bars are also fitted from this year. 
1994: A 1.8-litre engine replaces the previous 1.6 unit, with 130bhp on tap. There’s a standard car or a 1.8iS edition, with power-steering, a radio, alloy wheels and electric windows. 
1995: A 1.6 litre car is available once again, but now with just 88bhp. There are also a couple of special editions released; the California and Gleneagles. 
1996: There are more special editions this year, in the form of the Monaco and the Merlot. 
1997: This year’s limited editions are the Monza, Dakar and Harvard 
1998: A new MX-5 goes on sale, dispensing with the pop-up headlamps of the original. However, before the Mk1 disappears there’s still time for another limited edition, the Berkeley.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.mx5oc.co.uk
• www.mx5nutz.com
• www.mx-5.com
• mazdaownersclub.co.uk
• www.mx5parts.co.uk
• www.moss-europe.co.uk
• www.mx5city.com
• www.mx5heaven.co.uk
Summary and prices
Blissful to drive, well screwed together, durable and cheap to both buy and run, the Mazda really has got the lot. As long as you don’t need to cart much stuff about the MX-5 makes perfect sense, even if you do need to keep an eye on any rust spots. 
Pick of the bunch is the early 1.6-litre car, as it’s better balanced than the 1.8 that superseded it and more powerful than the later 1.6. Don’t be put off by a grey import; to satisfy demand in the early days, many cars were brought over from Japan. These have Eunos badging and a smaller number plate plinth in the bootlid. UK-supplied cars’ chassis numbers start JMZ while Japanese editions kick off with NA. 
In many cases the Japanese editions are better equipped. However, you do need to make sure there’s a decent service history available with the car; many grey imports don’t have much paperwork with them, so you could end up buying a liability. 
While prices do start from less than £1000, you should be looking at cars from £1500-£2000 for something usable. Perfect cars have actually been commanding significantly higher premiums - with top cars selling for more than £5000. For pure enjoyment you can’t beat a cheap and cheerful example, but if you intend on keeping yours for a while then it pays to seek out the best you can afford. 
Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Mazda MX-5 Mk1
Last updated: 15th Jun 2016
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Mazda MX5 cars for sale

819 Search results
Mazda MX5
785 24765 GBP
  • Mazda MX-5

    £9,000 £9,000

    Variant name:1.8 Se ,Derivative:SE ,Variant: 1.8 Se Mazda MX-5 1.8i SE 2dr

    • Year: 2011
    • Mileage: 31839 mi
    • Engine size: 1.8
    For sale
    Eden Motor Group-Eden Mazda Taunton
  • Mazda MX-5

    £3,475 £3,475

    Anti-Theft System, Immobiliser, Remote Central Locking, Cloth Upholstery, Twin Air Bags, ABS, Power Steering, Electric Windows, CD Player, Heated Glass Rear Screen, 15'' Alloys Supreme blue 1.8i MX5, just 33000 miles from new. Previously supplied by ourselves., *** HPI Checked-Comprehensive Warranty Included-Finance available-Part exchange welcome- similar vehicles always required, immediate cash settlement-see website at www.sportingcarsussex.co.uk for more stock***

    • Mileage: 36000 mi
    • Engine size: 1840
    For sale
  • Mazda Mx-5 2003 in good condition

    £1,375 £1,375

    Lady owner for ten years, always garaged, full service history, MOT until December 2017. Very good condition for year, no bumps or scches. Quick sale . please ring suzanne at 01403 700221

    • Mileage: 49000 mi
    • Engine size: 1798
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £5,000 £5,000

    Digital clock, Fuel filler release, Headlamp on reminder, Oil pressure gauge, PAS, Remote boot release, Water temperature gauge, 4 speakers, Single play CD/Radio, Antenna, Body colour bumpers, Body colour door handles, Day/night rear view mirror, Electric windows with one touch open, Electrically heated door mirrors, Green tinted windscreen, Halogen headlamps with levelling, High mounted rear brake light, Vinyl soft top with integrated heated glass window and soft top cover, Centre console storage box, Cloth upholstery, Cupholders, Door pockets, Drivers footrest, Front centre armrest, Front head restraints, Front seatback pocket, Interior light, ISOFIX front passenger seat child seat compliance, Lockable glovebox, PVC Handbrake lever, Silver int, Call us today about the finance options on this vehicle. Part exchanges welcome.

    • Mileage: 50500 mi
    • Engine size: 1798
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £5,995 £5,995

    Full Leather, Alarm, Anti-Theft System, Central Locking, Locking Wheel Nuts, Remote Alarm, Remote Central Locking, Front Centre Armrest, Head Restraints, Heated Seats, Adjustable Steering Column, Multi-function Steering Wheel, Power Steering, Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, Brake Assist, Isofix, Multiple Airbags, Front Fog Lamps, Metallic Paintwork, Premium Cloth soft top, Electric Front Windows, Electric Mirrors, CD Player, Radio, Steering Wheel Audio Controls, 18'' Alloys

    • Mileage: 43265 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £10,495 £10,495

    Variant name:Roadster Coupe Sport Tech ,Derivative:Sport Tech ,Variant: 2.0i Sport Tech 2dr Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech 2dr.Bluetooth telephone connectivity,Cruise control,Digital clock,Fuel filler release,Headlamp on reminder,Oil pressure gauge,PAS,Remote boot release,Trip computer,Water temperature gauge,7 speakers,Auxiliary input socket,Bose Premium Audio system,Radio/6 CD autochanger,Antenna,Body colour bumpers,Body coloured door mirrors,Chrome door handles,Chrome grille surround,Chrome mesh grille,Dual exhaust pipes,Electric front windows/one touch facility,Electrically heated door mirrors,Front fog lights,Green tinted windscreen,Power retractable roof,Centre console storage box,Climate control air conditioning,Cupholders,Door pockets,Drivers footrest,Front centre armrest,Front head restraints,Front seatback pocket,Front tunnel storage net,Height adjustable front seats,Interior light,ISOFIX front passenger seat child seat compliance,Leather gear knob with silver insert,Leather handbrake lever with silver release button,Leather steering wheel with audio controls,Leather upholstery with heated front seats,Lockable glovebox,Silver interior door handles,Sports seats,Stainless Steel Scuff Plates,Windblocker,3 point ELR front seatbelts with pretensioners,ABS+Electronic Brake force Distribution,DSTC-Dynamic Stability and Traction Control,Dual front airbags,Fasten seatbelt reminder,Front seatbelt force limiters,Passenger airbag deactivation system,Side airbags,Supplementary restraint system - central control unit and crush sensors,Alarm with interior movement sensor,Immobiliser,Remote central door locking,Superlocking,Limited slip differential,Sports suspension,Amber/red dashboard,Silver dash trim,Silver finish meter rings,17" alloy wheels,Tyre puncture repair kit

    • Year: 2012
    • Mileage: 27694 mi
    • Engine size: 2
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £9,995 £9,995

    Variant name:Roadster Coupe Special Eds Sport Black ,Derivative:Sport Black ,Variant: 2.0i Sport Black 2dr Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Black 2dr

    • Year: 2011
    • Mileage: 35000 mi
    • Engine size: 2
    For sale

    £6,950 £6,950

    MAZDA Mx-5 MX5 SPORT ROADSTER HARD TOP CONVERTIBLE finished in Copper Red Mica Metallic , 37,904 miles with black leather interior only 2 previous owners from new., with outstanding features listed below !.....;Features include Electric Mirrors, MOT, Tinted Windows, Adjustable Steering Wheel, Climate Control, HPI Clear, Front and Side Airbags, Remote Locking, USB Connection, Auto Dip Rear View, Driver Airbag, Metallic Paint, Heated Door Mirrors, Sports Pack, ABS, CD Player, Heated Seats, Folding Hard Top, Power Assisted Steering, Twin Airbags, Alloy Wheels, Digital Climate Control, Leather Interior, Hard Top, Spare Key, 3 Month Warranty, Catalytic Converter, Electric Windows, Passenger Airbag, Trip Computer, Alarm, Cruise Control, Ipod / Bluetooth Conn, Front Heated Seats, Snug Top, Warranted Mileage, Bose Sound System, Electric Roof, Multi Function Steering Wheel, Traction Control, Air Conditioning, Colour Coded, Immobiliser, Front Fog Lights, Service History, V5 Reg Doc, AUX Port.;;Only GBP 6,950;;

    • Mileage: 37904 mi
    • Engine size: 1.999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £10,850 £10,850

    Bluetooth telephone connectivity, Digital clock, Fuel filler release, Headlamp on reminder, Oil pressure gauge, PAS, Remote boot release, Sanyo TomTom satellite navigation, Trip computer, Water temperature gauge, 6 speakers, Auxiliary input socket, Single play CD/Radio, Antenna, Body colour bumpers, Chrome door handles, Dual exhaust pipes, Electric front windows/one touch facility, Electrically heated door mirrors, Front fog lights, Green tinted windscreen, Premium cloth soft top with integrated heated glass window and soft top cover, Alloy pedals, Centre console storage box, Climate control air conditioning, Cupholders, Door pockets, Drivers footrest, Front centre armrest, Front head restraints, Front seatback pocket, Front tunnel storage net, , Call us today about the finance options on this vehicle. Part exchanges welcome.

    • Mileage: 27275 mi
    • Engine size: 1798
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £11,995 £11,995

    Climate Control, iPod Connectivity, Central Locking, Locking Wheel Nuts, Remote Central Locking, Cloth Upholstery, Sports Seats, Adjustable Steering Column, Cruise Control, Multi-function Steering Wheel, Power Steering, Stability Control, Traction Control, Trip Computer, ABS, Twin Air Bags, Metallic Paintwork, Premium Cloth soft top, Electric Mirrors, Electric Windows, CD Player, Radio, Immobiliser, 16'' Alloys WE ARE PLEASED TO OFFER THIS VERY NICE MAZDA MX5 SE, FINISHED IN METALLIC RED WITH CONTRASTING BLACK SOFT TOP.HAVING ONLY TRAVELLED 8496 MILES BY ITS ONE LOCAL OWNER, THIS REPRESENTS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO PURCHASE A CONVERTIBLE MOTORING ICON.

    • Mileage: 8496 mi
    • Engine size: 1798
    For sale
  • Mazda Mx-5 2003

    £785 £785

    The good: More desirable Mk 2.5 with 3 spot headlights and white dials, the car drives really well and the engine is in great condition, always starts first time, new tyres all corners, immobiliser, Mohair roof, cheap to run.   The "added character": The exhaust is loud but still maintains engine pressure, there is some corrosion around the arches.  

    • Mileage: 97000 mi
    • Engine size: 1597
    For sale
  • Mazda MX5 1.8 litre -an outstanding example.

    £1,750 £1,750

    Mazda MX5 2-seater sports in outstanding condition both inside and out. This car was first registered in Jersey in 1999 and spent the first 8 years of its life on the island then imported to England in 2008. Excellent bodywork in racing green - a part re-spray was carried out in 2016 to address stone chips. 140 bhp twin cam engine, restored alloy wheels, very clean interior and under bonnet. Mot until April with no advisories (I am prepared to have a new MOT carried out). Nardi steering wheel, service history. One of the best!

    • Mileage: 85 mi
    • Engine size: 1840
    For sale

    £3,990 £3,990

    BEAT THE SUMMER RUSH WITH THIS STUNNING EXAMPLE OF THE EVER POPULAR MAZDA MX5 - BODYWORK and INTERIOR IN SUPERB CONDITION - FREE 3 MONTH NATIONWIDE WARRANTY and BOTH KEYS, Upgrades - Metallic Paint, Next MOT due 03/07/2017, Standard Features - Alarm, Alloy Wheels (16in), In Car Entertainment (Radio/CD), Body Coloured Bumpers, Power-Assisted Steering, Remote central locking, Sports seats, Steering Wheel Mounted Controls (Audio), Immobiliser, Electric door mirrors, Airbags. 2 seats, Grey, This car comes complete with both keys, a clean HPI report and warranted mileage. We can offer nationwide warranty upgrades extendable up to 3 years from the UK's best car warranty provider which can include cover against MOT failure at very competitive rates please ask for a quote - PART EXCHANGE WELCOME - All major credit and debit cards accepted - Deposits Welcome. This car is ready to be driven away! --- Alexander Paul GB Specialist vehicle sales, putting the client first. Save time and money, discuss your requirements with us first before buying elsewhere. Call us now to book your viewing and test drive. Viewings available 7 days a week by appointment only to assure you of our best attention. Out of hours viewings also available. LOW RATE CAR FINANCE AVAILABLE

    • Mileage: 60000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.798
    For sale
  • MAZDA MX-5 1.8 Icon Convertible 2005

    £3,250 £3,250

    getaround in the ultimate small convertible. This 1.8 MX-5 from Mazda is the sought after Icon model that looks stunning finished in metallic silver with contrasting full black leather interior. The car has a really low mileage that is conducive to its immaculate condition. It has a full service history that includes the all-important cam-belt change. It comes with the owners book pack, past mot's, two keys, locking wheel nut and HPi certificate. Phone, text or email for an appointment to view this car soon.;;

    • Mileage: 55000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.839
    For sale
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