On the afternoon of my 16th birthday, my dad took me down to the Fremont DMV to take my driving test. I had been driving pretty consistently on Sunday mornings to church and back with pops, along with a bunch of other random errands, but this was totally nerve-racking. Not because I didn’t know how to drive, but because if I failed my driving test my life would be over. Everything I lived for for the past decade and a half, a real-life red-blooded driver’s license holder, would be in vain. How could I possibly go on?
And then it happened. On that day in history, Dr. Jack Kevorkian would be convicted for second-degree murder due to administering assisted suicide, the Melissa virus would infect Microsoft Outlook, and I would receive my California Driver’s license.
I remember going home that night excited as an angsty teenager could possibly be, wondering when and where my new found liberation would take me. Then my dad said perhaps the most trusting words he has uttered, “you can take the Miata out tonight”. A Friday night. Free to roam. Without parents. With a convertible. Top down. Music blasting through the headrest speakers.
Made for hairdressers.
The MX-5, Miata to most, is a small, moderately powered, rear-wheel drive convertible. Those ingredients were a true recipe for fun. The specific specimen I was driving that evening was a 1996 MX-5 M Edition in Montego Blue Mica with a tan interior and top, and an automatic transmission (now let us never speak of this again). Many derogatorily label it a “hairdresser’s car” as it seems like it was made for “style”, but those of who have driven or owned one know it is a different story. I drove that little car any chance I could get and I never knew it was “uncool”.
So what car should I buy?
So let me give you some advice on all the questions you have on what car to buy for yourself. (I’ll save the 7-seater SUV post for another day.)
Q: What should my first car be?
Miata’s are extremely easy to drive and have excellent sight lines with the top down. The top pops off so that you potentially have no B or C-pillars. It has enough power to be fun and not quite enough power to get in to horrendous amounts of trouble. If you wreck it, a used Miata is so cheap that you just go and get another one!
Q: What should I buy if I am looking for a fun, affordable, safe and reliable car?
It checks all the boxes!
✅ fun: rear-wheel drive and the top comes off
✅ affordable: dirt cheap
✅ safe: maneuver your way out of trouble, because it’s tiny and handles like a go-kart. also, you bought one with a manual transmission so you will be a more alert driver
✅ reliable: a simple car that will run for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of miles
Q: What car should I buy as a commuter?
A light, tiny car that sips fuel and will always start right up. If you opt for the manual (you will opt for the manual) it has an easy clutch and has one of the most journalistically praised manual gearboxes. Manual with traffic you ask? You need something to do. You might as well shift!
Q: What track day car should I buy?
A: Porsche 911 GT3 RS
I’m kidding. You can’t afford that. Miata.
We were recently on the hunt for a larger family hauler and ended up taking a long look at the new Mazda CX-9. As we were waiting in the showroom for the salesperson to find the keys I opened the door to a new 4th generation Miata that was sitting on the showroom floor. I climbed inside and imagined myself as a 16 year-old, top down, music blasting, tearing up Bay Area backroads. I didn’t tell anyone then, but that week I had serious thoughts of selling my M3 for a… wait for it… Miata.
Just a few months ago I had a coffee meeting with a family friend looking for career advice. He was the boyfriend of the family who we sold our trusty Miata to so as we wrapped up I asked him if he remembered the little “purple Miata”. “Of course!”, he said. “… but it was sold a few years ago. I think it is actually here in San Francisco though! I’ll see if I can get you in contact with the owner.” I went home and told my wife, and like a small child who found a lost dog, asked her if we found the Miata if we could ~keep~ buy it. I planned to take it back in to the fold, restore it, and present it to my dad as a gift. She took one look in to my puppy dog eyes and said yes. I can still remember the day we sold that car. I was home from college on a holiday break. I was outside washing my car when our family friends came to drive it away. My dad is by no means a car guy, but I saw him stand there in the driveway for a good 10 minutes, staring in to the empty street, imagining good times and great memories. Until we meet again, little Miata…