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

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

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Mazda MX5
1400 21995 GBP
  • Mazda MX-5 ON SALE NOW

    £20,995 £20,995

    ONE owner Mazda MX-5 Recaro Edition presented in Ceramic Metallic comes with the following specification; Black leather and alcantara interior, heated Recaro seats, multi-function leather steering wheel, climate control, DAB radio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone, Bose sound, cruise control, key-less go, rear park assist, automatic Xenon headlights, rain sensor, automatic dimming rear view mirror and 17" alloy wheels. Part exchange welcome, competitive finance available. Viewings welcome by appointment only. Body: Convertible Transmission: Manual Mileage: 995 Fuel Type: Petrol Registered: 2016 (16) Doors: 2 Engine Size: 2.0 Finished in: Ceramic Metallic

    • Year: 2016
    • Mileage: 995 mi
    For sale
    01235 762033 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER


    Interested in this vehicle? Please email us at info@auto-invest.co.uk or contact us directly by telephone on 01363 83909 £ 3,895. If you are interested in any of the vehicles on the website, please get in contact with Auto Invest either by emailing us at info@auto-invest.co.uk or contacting us directly by telephone on 01363 83909.

    • Year: 2004
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £9,350 £9,350

    Air Conditioning, Full Leather, ABS, Multiple Airbags, Metallic Paintwork, Immobiliser, Remote Central Locking, Electric Mirrors, Radio, CD Player, Cruise Control, Parking Sensors, Alloy wheels, Service history OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK - A SELECTION OF UP TO 200 CARS AND VANS AVAILABLE. Click on dealer 'VISIT WEBSITE' link for many more large photographs of this car. We are a West Sussex Trading Standards Approved 'Buy with Confidence Dealership', West Sussex Trading Standards 'Approved Buy with Confidence.

    • Mileage: 39070 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £2,995 £2,995

    Full Leather, Immobiliser, Remote Alarm, Remote Central Locking, Colour Coded Interior, Heated Seats, Sports Seats, Power Steering, ABS, Air Bag, Colour Coded Body, Electric Mirrors, Electric Front Windows, CD Player, Front Fog Lamps

    • Mileage: 56700 mi
    • Engine size: 1840
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £12,995 £12,995

    Satellite Navigation, Full Leather, Air Conditioning, Heated Seats, CD Player, Remote Central Locking, Power Steering, Electric Windows, Electric Mirrors, ABS, Isofix, Immobiliser, Alloy wheels KENT'S LEADING MX-5 STOCKIST !! WE HAVE A LARGE SELECTION OF 2 & 4 SEATER CONVERTIBLES/CABRIOLETS ALWAYS IN STOCK, OPEN 7 DAYS, PX WELCOME, FINANCE AVAILABLE, 12 MONTHS MOT www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk, FOR FULL DETAILS AND MULTIPLE PICTURES PLEASE VISIT..www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk

    • Mileage: 30000 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £17,890 £17,890

    Variant name:SPORT NAV ,Derivative:MK4 (ND) ,Variant: 1.5 131ps Sport Nav (Only 5k,Superb colour,leather seats,higher Sport Nav spec,Cost New 23465 THIS ONE SAVE 5575 !!!) OUSTANDING PURCHASE ~ ONLY 5K MILES ~ COST NEW £23465 ~ SAVE £5575 ! ~ THIS ONE ONLY £17890 !! ..... We are delighted to offer for sale this beautiful,low mileage,superb spec,latest model Mazda MX-5.This particular example is the top spec 'Sport Nav' model finished in the most desirable Soul Red Metallic with Black leather seats with Red stitching.We acquired this ex-demo direct from Mazda UK and having covered only 5k miles the entire car is in pristine 'as-new' condition throughout.The car when new was fitted with Mazda tailored carpet mats and it comes complete with the remainder of the manufacturers 3 year warranty along with the balance of 3 years European roadside assistance.OUTSTANDING 'SPORT-NAV' SPEC INCLUDES : Special Soul Red Metallic Paint,Black leather heated seats with Red stitching,Satelite Navigation,16" Gunmetal alloy wheels,Piano Black electric heated door mirrors,rear parking sensors,auto headlights,adaptive front lights,rain sensing wipers,auto-dimming rear-view mirror,smart keyless entry,lane departure warning system,premium BOSE sound system with nine speakers (including two driver and two passenger headrest speakers),LED daytime running lights,climate control air-conditioning,cruise control,adjustable speed limiter,7" colour touch-screen display,multimedia commander,integrated Bluetooth with steering wheel mounted controls,DAB radio,body colour co-ordinated interior upper door trim,Piano Black fashion bars,electric windows,steering wheel-mounted audio controls,leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob,engine start / stop button,CD player,USB and iPod connectivity,driver and passenger front and side airbags,Dynamic stability control,traction control system,hill hold assist.

    • Year: 2016
    • Mileage: 5890 mi
    • Engine size: 1.5
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £7,990 £7,990

    Full Leather, Heated Seats, BOSE Premium Audio, Climate Control, Air Conditioning, Multiple Airbags, Isofix, ABS, Multi-function Steering Wheel, Cruise Control, Adjustable Steering Column, Alarm, Immobiliser, Remote Central Locking, Electric Mirrors, Electric Windows, Front Fog Lamps, Metallic Paintwork, CD Player, Electric retractable hard top, Alloy wheels, Full service history One Private Lady Owner From New. Fantastic Condition And Drives Superbly. Full Service History With 7 Services. Brand New MOT With No Advisories. Both Keys. Includes 6 Months Unlimited Mileage RAC Platinium Warranty, Extendable To 24 Months. HPI Clear, With Certificate. Great Finance Deals On Offer. Ring To Arrange A Test Drive. Part Exchange Welcome. Open 7 days a week. All major credit/debit cards accepted.

    • Mileage: 69924 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £10,995 £10,995

    Electric retractable hard top, Air Conditioning, Heated Seats, CD Player, Remote Central Locking, Power Steering, Electric Windows, Electric Mirrors, ABS, Isofix, Full Leather, Immobiliser, Alloy wheels, Service history KENT'S LEADING MX-5 STOCKIST !! WE HAVE A LARGE SELECTION OF 2 & 4 SEATER CONVERTIBLES/CABRIOLETS ALWAYS IN STOCK, OPEN 7 DAYS, PX WELCOME, FINANCE AVAILABLE, 12 MONTHS MOT www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk, FOR FULL DETAILS AND MULTIPLE PICTURES PLEASE VISIT..www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk

    • Mileage: 33000 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda Mx-5 2005

    £1,400 £1,400

    I'm sad to be selling my beloved little mazda mx5. It's a icon special edition in dark silver and it's a 1.8. As it's the icon edition it has leather heated seats, leather steering wheel and leather door cards. 15" enkei alloy wheels. Air conditioning. It has a hard top with a heated rear screen which alone sell for upto £400. The soft top also has a gl heated rear screen and is in great condition. The car has done 170,000mi but don't let that put you off as it's mechanicly sound and has had a new alternator 2 months ago. It has also got MOT until June 2017. It has been regularly serviced and it doesn't miss a beat.  The car has coilover suspension so can be lowered if .  The only bad bits are mainly cosmetic. It has had a dent in one of the front wings which has been pushed out but is still rippled  so would idealy need replacing and are only about £50 on ebay. It has a small hole in the front bumper and can be seen in the pics. It has a small crack in one of the tail lights but this has never bothered me. And also the rear tyres are just under 3mm so will need replacing soon, again tyres are also only cheap in this size.  With hardtop £1400  Without hardtop £1200  If you have any questions or would like to view the car please private message me.

    • Mileage: 170000 mi
    • Engine size: 1839
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £8,995 £8,995

    Electric retractable hard top, Air Conditioning, Parking Sensors, CD Player, Remote Central Locking, Power Steering, Electric Windows, Electric Mirrors, ABS, Immobiliser, Front Centre Armrest, Height Adjustable Seat, Head Restraints, Multiple Airbags, Alloy wheels, Service history KENT'S LEADING MX-5 STOCKIST !! WE HAVE A LARGE SELECTION OF 2 & 4 SEATER CONVERTIBLES/CABRIOLETS ALWAYS IN STOCK, OPEN 7 DAYS, PX WELCOME, FINANCE AVAILABLE, 12 MONTHS MOT www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk, FOR FULL DETAILS AND MULTIPLE PICTURES PLEASE VISIT..www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk

    • Mileage: 25000 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £5,495 £5,495

    Air Conditioning, Full Leather, Heated Seats, CD Player, Remote Central Locking, Power Steering, Electric Windows, Electric Mirrors, ABS, Isofix, Immobiliser, Head Restraints, Front Centre Armrest, Adjustable Steering Column, Steering Wheel Audio Controls, Alloy wheels, Main dealer service history KENT'S LEADING MX-5 STOCKIST !! WE HAVE A LARGE SELECTION OF 2 & 4 SEATER CONVERTIBLES/CABRIOLETS ALWAYS IN STOCK, OPEN 7 DAYS, PX WELCOME, FINANCE AVAILABLE, 12 MONTHS MOT www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk, FOR FULL DETAILS AND MULTIPLE PICTURES PLEASE VISIT..www.maidstoneautocentre.co.uk

    • Mileage: 36000 mi
    • Engine size: 1999
    For sale
  • Mazda MX-5

    £21,995 £21,995

    Air Conditioning, Colour SatNav, Powered Folding Mirrors, Rain-Sensing Wipers, Satellite Navigation, Xenon Headlamps, Alarm, Anti-Theft System, Central Locking, Immobiliser, Keyless Entry, Remote Alarm, Remote Central Locking, Cruise Control, Multi-function Steering Wheel, Parking Camera, Parking Sensors, Power Steering, Trip Computer, Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, Air Bag, Auto Lighting, Premium Cloth soft top, Metallic Paintwork, Front Fog Lamps, Electric Windows, Power Hood, Push Button Start, Bose, CD Player, Radio

    • Mileage: 375 mi
    • Engine size: 1998
    For sale
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