AUSTRALIAN FANS CELEBRATE THE MAZDA MX-5, THE ESSENCE OF OPEN-TOP SPORTS CAR DRIVING
MX-5 Club Visit To Mazda Australia Head Office
Some car companies are famed for their product emblems. Any sports car lover can identify Porsche’s flat-six engine or Aston Martin’s front grille design, or even Ferrari’s Rosso Corsa red paint.
Some might argue they’re the real badges on these cars.
It’s an achievement for any automaker to establish such a product emblem. Creating them takes repeated success. Most of all, they take time.
If earning one emblem is an accomplishment, how do you classify a car brand with three? Two of Mazda’s highly regarded emblems are the rotary engine and RX-7 sports car.
The other, of course, is the MX-5 roadster.
Mazda reset the definition of driving enjoyment when the company pulled the covers off this dynamic two-seater at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1989. It was a revelation. Its formula of light weight and agile handling in a small and stylish package offered driving purity rarely seen since in the new-car world.
It’s one of many reasons why the MX-5 is still celebrated globally. Australia’s Mazda MX-5 Club of Victoria & Tasmania recently added to these festivities. More than 50 of its members in 34 of their cherished cars shared their collective joy during a visit to Mazda Australia’s national head office, just outside Melbourne.
The August event was also an opportunity to discover the company’s latest new model releases – the First-Ever Hybrid Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 – as well as take in the Australian brand’s remarkable Heritage Collection of classic Mazda vehicles.
“It’s hard to choose a favourite,” said John Read, owner of a Platinum Quartz ND Roadster, standing before the company’s 22 impeccably maintained classics. “There’s no stand-out in my mind. They’re all stand-outs. But I’d choose the NB MX-5 SP.”
There’s an audible certainty when he declares his choice, which makes sense when he reveals the role he played in obtaining it for the company.
“I had a hand in looking after Mazda Australia’s Heritage Collection and acquiring some of these cars.”
The Mazda enthusiast spent 28 years working at the company’s HQ and looks upon its impressive Heritage line-up with pride. But it’s the MX-5 SP that keeps catching his eye.
“They’re such a responsive little car. Just fantastic.”
The MX-5’s ability to convert the curious into owners and owners into fans is well known, a fact easily found with passionate collector Andrew Ogg.
“I didn’t discover them until late 2018, he says. “I’d go driving on Sunday mornings with friends and at the time I didn’t give much thought to the MX-5.
“Then a friend chucked me the keys to his car. After 5 minutes I was sold. I bought an SE two weeks later. To this day, it’s best car I’ve ever driven.”
That first purchase was step one down a slippery but exciting slope.
“I had a habit of buying MX-5s during the (pandemic-induced) lockdowns,” he says, smiling, before revealing his ‘habit’ parked five more MX-5s in his garage.
One of them was a discovery of a lifetime: an utra-rare NB MX-5 Type S Coupe.
“It’s one of 63 made and one of only two in Australia,” he says, speaking proudly about the shapely hardtop, which he secured with 60,000 kilometres showing. “I was very fortunate to be on an online auction ‘site at the right time. My wife saw it on the laptop and said ‘Not another one!”.”
“The Coupe now has 65,000 kilometres, so it gets used.”
Any other Mazdas on his wish list?
“An RX-7 SP would be fun.
“My day-to-day cars are Mazdas. It’s a bit of a disease,” he says.
Day-to-day Mazdas figure large for club member Julian Lieu, Mazda Australia’s Service Development Analyst. He displayed his heavily customised NA MX-5, which dials up the roadster’s original product concept to 11.
“I’ve tried to keep the car as raw as possible by taking it back to basics: no power steering, no air-con, no radio,” he says. “It’s driver-focussed.”
His white NA was one of the earliest MX-5s to arrive in Australia (it was car number 52) and is now armed with an arsenal of enhancements.
“I’ve done an ITB (individual throttle body) conversion, lowered the suspension and fitted meaty tyres. It’s got a roll cage and race seat and it’s ready for the track.
“I’ve owned it just over three years and I’ve done most of the work myself.”
The car retains its original 1.6-litre engine but its ported and polished cylinder head helps to generate 82 kW of power at the rear wheels.
“It weighs only 930 kilograms,” he says with a grin.
There’s a similar expression on the face of Tim Leong, Mazda Australia’s Product Specialist for the MX-5 model. He knows a thing or two about the MX-5 having owned seven, including his current NA in Montego Blue.
“The nicest thing about the MX-5 is its Jinba-Ittai, or they way the driver connects with the car,” he says, speaking to the audience of club members inside Mazda Australia’s presentation theatre.
“It’s the way the MX-5 drives. It puts a smile on your face.” Tim’s remark is fitting, given the natural expression found at the front of Mazda’s famous roadster.
“It’s got a smiley face,” says Leigh McMullen, standing next to his Dolphin Grey 2011 Special Edition NC2.
The passionate MX-5 owner has a long history with the Mazda marque, having owned 17 Mazdas after starting out with an RX-3 Coupe in 1977.
“My favourite is the one I’ve got now. I wanted something with a powered roof. It had only 38,000 kilometres on it when I got it, when it was 10 years of age.”
A theme of joy runs through the crowd of club members, an emblem of the passion universally expressed for Mazda’s iconic two-seater. It’s another reminder that the ideal sports car formula doesn’t necessarily involve large engines and loud exhausts. Instead, it’s about the experience it offers drivers, both dynamically and emotionally. The MX-5 proves time and again these are the two emblems of genuine sports car performance.
It’s a point one particular club member underlined at the end of the fun-filled afternoon. Mingling in the crowd was motorcycle sidecar racer Wendy Miller, an MX-5 owner uniquely qualified to judge the performance of any two-seater.
Wendy purchased her NA MX-5 eight years ago. She spent five years in the garage putting it together.
“I’ve raced it and I love driving it,” she says. “Put the roof down and there’s nothing like it.”
When asked how it compares to the thrill of swinging off a racing sidecar, her reply is simple.
“You don’t need a helmet.”