Upon conversation over a deli sandwich, it was discussed that the first generation Mazda Miata “NA” may become the next 64-1/2’ Mustang. At first I was a bit dumbfounded, but it was later explained why this might be.
The Miata, much like the original Mustang, was an affordable sporty car. The idea behind the Miata was that it appeals to a variety of people, and they made so many that it would never become too rare. By this, I mean that a clean example of a Miata with pop-up headlights will never cost an arm and a leg, especially as the chassis marches on toward three decades of smiles per mile.
While I understand the initial basis for the Miata being compared to the Mustang, there are a few major points that still make me scratch my head as to whether this is a fair comparison. The first being the options list. The Mustang was designed as the car with a massive options list. So you could have a stripped down hair dresser 6 cylinder, or you could inflate the MSRP with things like a K-Code 289 and the Rally-Pac. As half a century has passed, only a handful of first generation Mustangs remain desirable, those being factory equipped GTs, Fastbacks, and the extra expensive variants that a Texas chicken farmer had massaged to SCCA dominance.
The Miata and Mustang were built for different market segments. Bob Hall will tell you that the Miata was meant to bring back the spirit of the classic British roadster, minus the shoddy build quality because the workers at British Leyland were on strike that week. However, one of the major differences is that the Miata was essentially the same car throughout its production. Whether it’s a 1.6 or a 1.8, the Miata never really had too many special editions to set it apart from the crowd. To be fair, this is why it was such an affordable car as well. The result is that for those who want a bit more of a hot rod, they are forced to modify the Miata themselves. This is where the aftermarket of forced induction and motor swaps comes into play. That’s not to say the Mustang isn’t a blank canvas for hot rodding either, but to many, the Mustang offered more to buyers right off the showroom floor. There’s also substantially more room to put different powertrains into a classic Mustang. The Miata, not so much…
In the end, I just don’t think the Miata has quite the cult status as the first generation Mustang. The Mustang was a new idea made to capitalize upon the Baby Boomers, as most cars were drab or well out of their price range. So it was a revolutionary idea in a very important time for American history. The Miata is a modernized take on a classic. There is certainly a strong enthusiast base for the Miata, but for just that…car enthusiasts. Hence all the spec racers, club packages, touring editions etc. If you bring up the Miata in conversation to the average person, most people will probably know what it is. If you’re sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with the family, absolutely everyone will know what a Mustang is. For all you know, Grandma may have a story or two about slamming gears in that Ford Toploader with the radio blasting, cruising just as fast as she can now…oh wait wrong car. My apologies Brian Wilson.