MX5/Eunos Buying Guide Part 1

The market
Because of the huge number of MX5s built, there are often quite a few on the market at any given time and its apparent when you first start looking that prices vary tremendously for seemingly similar cars. Why can you pick up an MX5 on Ebay for less than £1000 while some of the specialists are asking for £5000 for a very similar looking car? Once you actually go out and start physically looking at cars, it often becomes all too clear: I know because I do this every week. Its amazing how many MX5s advertised as being in ‘superb condition’ actually need a new roof, a good service, a couple tyres, a spot of welding and a host of minor problems sorting out. Its also surprising just how many have been insurance write offs. Before you know it, you’ve blown £1000 on top of the purchase price. A cheap car is usually cheap for a reason. I reckon I spend on average £400-£500 on each car just getting it properly prepared for sale. I then like to keep my cars competitively priced and at least you know you are buying something that's genuine and decent.

The number one rule when buying an MX5
Its very simple: buy on condition and you'll invariably buy a better car. A two year old car costs more than a four year old car, right? And a four year old car costs more than a six year old car. However, when the car is over 12 or so years old, things change. Condition becomes very important, not the number of owners or the mileage or the letter on the end of the number plate. Condition is everything. I’ve sold some fantastic ‘G’ plate MX5s and seen some horrendous rust boxes 5 or 6 years newer.

Imports v UK cars
When I refer to imported cars, I mean cars that were originally sold in Japan (called the Eunos, by the way). I must admit that I’m a great fan of the so called ‘imported’ models: I say ‘so called’ because ALL MX5s were built on the same production line in Hiroshima, Japan. All MX5s were undersealed to the same standard regardless of where they were to be sold. We love chucking tons of salt on our roads here in the UK (the Japanese prefer snow tyres and snow chains) and generally, UK cars suffer more bodywork problems because of this. In fact I tend not to buy in many UK spec cars simply because of the rust issues.

The Japanese are very discerning when it comes to sports cars and consequently the Japanese imports are often of a higher specification than UK cars, with electric windows, air conditioning and power steering usually found as standard. The Japanese were also very fond of releasing special edition models, often with a really desirable specification, such as leather seats, LSD and uprated trim and suspension. Parts and servicing are no problem for an imported car – 99.9% of parts are exactly the same as the UK cars and there are a huge number of aftermarket suppliers. There are almost certainly more imported MX5s on our roads than original UK cars.

1.6 or 1.8?
I probably get asked about this more than any other aspect of an MX5 purchase. Lets look at the facts: when new, the 1.6 was good for 114(ish) bhp while the 1.8 produced 130bhp, an increase of 15% and had around 10% more torque produced lower down the rev range. However the 1.8 is a little heavier (50-70kg depending on exact model) so performance is not so different – an extra couple of mph on top speed and a couple of tenths of a second quicker to 60mph. Remember all these figures apply to nice shiny new cars: time and useage will have played a big part in how they drive now. In reality, a 1.8 has a little more low down power and seems to cope with motorway cruising a little more easily than a 1.6 but I reckon most people wouldn’t notice the difference. The 1.6 is a sweeter revving engine and a few well chosen modifications will significantly boost bhp and driving fun. In fact the 1.6 cars are the default choice for enthusiasts wishing to undertake serious tuning – fitting either super or turbochargers for example.
The real world answer is forget the engine and just concentrate on finding the nicest car you can. The exception to this is the late model UK 1.6 introduced in 1995: this was detuned to around 88bhp and is noticeably slower than the early 1.6 cars.

Special Editions
Mazda loved producing special edition models as a way of keeping interest in the car. Although engines are usually all the same, suspension, trim and equipment levels can vary tremendously. For example, two commonly seen specials are the V-Special (nearly always finished in Mazda’s version of British Racing Green) which has a rather eye-catching tan leather interior and a limited slip differential amongst other things, while the S-Special has uprated Bilstein suspension, an engine strut brace and a Nardi leather steering wheel as standard. The S-Ltd, on the other hand, has both leather trim and Bilstein suspension … I know - its complicated and that’s not to mention the other 20+ special editions!
The bottom line is that all are great cars simply because the original design was so good and after that, its down to personal taste and occasionally, money.

ModificationsLots of cars that pass through my hands have been modified so its worth mentioning. Theres a huge parts aftermarket out there and lots of folk like to chuck lots of money at their pride and joy. However this is not always a good thing: you have no idea of how many cars I come across that have had their suspension ‘uprated’ or ‘utterly ruined’ as I like to more accurately call it. Its great fun driving a car with ultra low suspension on a race track but not much fun when you can’t even negotiate a speed bump without removing the exhaust system. A car with super stiff suspension will also rattle the teeth out of your head in every day use, which isn’t actually much fun.
I’m not against modifications (my own car has a few) and there is certainly a healthy market for modified cars. Suspension mods in particular can make a tremendous, positive difference to the car. But the point is that the client needs to fully understand exactly what they are buying: therefore I will always point out exactly what modifications have been carried out on any car I sell, just to ensure that it really is going to be suitable for you.

High mileage? No problem...
These cars are getting on in years now and inevitably, some have covered a good few miles but please don't let this put you off - as long as the price is right of course. The engine in an MX5 is one of the strongest around (I can hardly resist the temptation to compare to the MGF...). Seriously, the engine in an MX5 will not only outlast the rest of the car, it will outlast the next car that it ends up in and probably whatever its fitted to after that. The highest mileage one I have sold had covered 270,000 miles and ran like a Swiss watch. The 1.8 can get a bit tappety and... thats about it. I'm always amazed at how many people miss out on buying a great car simply because of the mileage.
Oh and another point, if the worse happens and your engine explodes in a ball of flames, you can buy them secondhand dirt cheap, simply because no-one needs them!

Time for a story
I think this experience best illustrates the difference between buying from me and buying privately: a friend of mine recently agreed to buy an MX5 from a private seller so off he went to view the car and do the deal. When he saw the car, it was apparent that the seller hadn’t been completely honest on the phone: the front wing advertised as having ‘only a slight paint blister’ was actually totally rotten beyond repair. Anyway, a deal was still done at a much reduced price and off he drove. Then it got dark. Upon turning the headlights on, it was apparent all was not well: one headlight was very dim and almost useless and the rear fog light had been wired up so that it was permanently on, attracting the wrath of fellow motorists. Then the car started misfiring badly: he pulled into a service station only to find the bonnet was now well and truly jammed shut: it was dark, raining and he had a car that was running like a pig, had rubbish lights, needed a large handful of cash throwing at it and he was miles from home.
I could go on to tell you dozens of similar stories, many from my own experience of trying to buy cars that are described as 'immaculate' on the phone and just turn out to be complete pigs. I also get to hear the outrageously horrible stories my customers tell me about cars they have viewed and I guess that’s why they buy from me: every car is checked over thoroughly, every car is serviced, it will run properly and the new owner can get on with the business of enjoying his or her car without having to stick their hand in their pocket straight away.