Once again, and without payment, we hand over the keys to Mark Longland. If you’d like Mark to make it to the next round, please text MARKY BABY CHIPS AND GRAVY to… hang on, this isn’t the X Factor. Um, here’s a Mazda…
How grotty does the latest example of the World’s Best Convertible (fact) need to be to fall within N2G reach?
The MX-5 is well documented as being a favourite drive of many a petrolhead, myself included. The essence of motoring in an agile, cheeky, and affordable package. Oh, and you get to BE OUTSIDE whilst hooning it once more around a roundabout. Mazda has done a sterling job in ensuring the ‘5 (or Miata for some of us) has remained a favourite despite enduring nearly 30 years of automotive industry change. We now have the award-winning the fourth generation ‘ND’ model on sale; however these are mainly of appeal to 40-something DINK (double income, no kids) sorts. Meanwhile, the Mk1 models that aren’t 96% oxide and 100% guaranteed troubles are now going up in value, some heading north of £5k. Here at N2G, our budgets are somewhat (read ‘considerably’) truncated. So then, how can we get a slice of the most recent Jinba Ittai (are you drunk? Ed) action in time for Summer? To the classifieds!
The variant that we’re most eager for is the Mk3, or NC. Launched in 2005, the NC received mixed reviews, with the MX-5 faithful sceptical of the more grown-up approach apparently taken by Mazda this time around. Increasing the usability of the ‘5 was clearly more of a priority to Mazda, as more wiggle room for occupants and their belongings was provided. The Mk3 embraced its larger dimensions and weight increase with a pair of new aluminium block 1.8 and 2.0 litre engines, so at least the power was upped to match the increased girth. Girth is used here in the loosest of terms; overall the NC gained somewhere between 50 to 100kg from the previous generation. To the purist this was seen as enough to upset the whole purpose of the car, yet to the humble amateur it may be questionable.
That’s not to say that the NC was a bus to throw around. It retained the cheeky-handling character of its predecessors, still able to skip through chicanes for fun, and still only weighed in at 1,200kg max. The steering precision of the Mk1 is what was most missed, but this is nothing that couldn’t be remedied with some aftermarket dampers, maybe some uprated bushes, if you so wished.
One thing is for certain though, the NC gained a more refined cabin. These days the Mk2 interior is looking dated, whereas the Mk3 still looks fresh despite being 10-years old. Furthermore, to aid the practicalities, the NC was the first MX-5 to be offered with a folding metal roof. Again this was seen as heresy by the faithful, adding precious kilos to their favourite featherweight. Ultimately though, it’s probably the one you’d go for in the UK if you’re like me and terminally anxious some Herbert will wreck your ragtop.
In 2009 the NC received a facelift and some mild tweaks to the engine and chassis, and there were several special editions thrown in to the mix along the way, all with fancy paint and interior schemes. However it’s unlikely we’ll see any of these in our price range.
One thing that may stand in our favour, though, is the fettle of the amateur modifier. It’s not uncommon to find ‘5s in various states of modification; some minor and cosmetic, right through to the extensive and buried. This could work in our favour, particularly if some of the modifications aren’t to, well, anyone’s tastes. Keep an open mind (and maybe one eye shut) and we may be able to bag an NC for 2k…
First example that catches the eye: a ‘5 in a striking crystal blue metallic. A 2014, 59k miles, manual, 1.8, manual. For 1,500 notes. Talk to me. Closer examination reveals that this is an NB. Balls. First registered in Guernsey, registered to the mainland in 2014, hence the date. Devils and details, etc. It’s a fine example nonetheless, but an NC is still the goal and this one feels a little like cheating.
After repeated searches there weren’t many NCs around for £2k or less. Actually there weren’t any. So let’s employ a little creative licence and work it backwards; find an NC for as little as possible and see how far off £2k it may be. Fortunately we found one quite quickly.
A pre-facelift Mk3 from 2006 (56 reg), 1.8 manual with 83k miles, with a FSH for £2500. The 1.8 is the smaller of the two engines offered for the Mk3, but it has the all-important third pedal. Unfortunately though, it’s listed as Cat D due to a repair “early in life”. Not that you could tell from the pictures as it looks very clean and justifiably well-maintained. Four new tyres, new pads and discs all around. Could be a genuine one, this. Though the nagging from the Cat D status may never leave you, no matter how many times you check the history.
If we use this car as a gauge then: Cat D, add 20 to 30k miles, look for a 1.8, maybe an automatic, maybe some questionable service history, and I’m certain you’d find an NC for less than £2k. If these are some of the things you’re willing to overlook (and yes, overlooking Cat D can really bite you in the arse), then it’s achievable. There are many ‘ifs’ and several ‘buts’ to accompany this one, though if you’re keen enough to bag the most recent version of the World’s Best Convertible (fact) for less than two grand, I say go for it! Just don’t expect it to be any good.