Thirty years ago, Iain Robertson drove the launch version of a car that would become a world best-seller, even though removing his shoes was not so much in brand reverence but more to do with his being unable to fit in his big form.
Sportscars have sadly often been ‘off-limits’ to me. Having tested each version of the MX-5, from Lotus Elan-inspired inception to Samurai-influenced newcomer, I must be honest and state that, standing at two metres tall, I am NOT the archetypal MX-5 customer. My legs are too long and peering over the top of the windscreen upper rail is not exactly conducive to enjoying the wind-in-the-hair moments. Yet, my heart is full of admiration for Mazda, a company for which I harbour immense respect.
That first-generation MX-5 grew from its Japanese design team’s admiration of what proud British brand, Lotus, had managed to cram into its ultimate handling Elan two-seater. The Japanese have a long-standing automotive fascination for most things British. When Austin-Rover (a former UK car giant) decided to place ‘Union Jack’ enamel badges on its models destined for that market, Oriental car fans snaffled them up, like doggy treats on freshly-washed lino.
A car like the Elan was already iconic, when Mazda’s design team attended classic car auctions and gatherings, making acquisition bids that resulted in several European exports being effected. When the first MX-5 appeared, complete with pop-up headlamps, Lotus aficionados were curious but not up-in-arms. After all, where the quirky and awkwardly-funded, small volume Lotus was synonymous with unreliability, Japanese dependability was a virtual given. There were unlikely to be one-up winking headlamps from Mazda. By 2000, the MX-5 was already breaking world records.
In Mark Two form, the motorised lamps gave way to fixed lamps in a slightly larger (but no more accommodating) two-seater, as the company celebrated the model’s tenth anniversary, with an attractive blue edition. The MX-5 was already a strong seller, on its way to becoming a best-seller.
The third-generation was a stunning looking car. Its more coherent design also incorporated an electrically retractable hardtop, as an alternative to the convertible mainstay. It was an example of ingenious packaging, as it did not rob from the already meagre boot space. It also managed to lift a series of awards during its ten years of production, to add to the bulging cabinet reserved for MX-5 in its homeland.
The current generation was launched just three years ago, exhibiting a significant Samurai warrior look to its continuation of front-engined, rear-driven talents. The RF model was given more pronounced flying buttresses behind the cockpit, which lent it an air of BMW Z3/4 Coupe. Not quite into its first year, it was announced that a joint-venture exercise with Fiat would result in the forthcoming Fiat 124 Spider being built in Japan for the Italo-American FCA Group. It was a situation that would aid Mazda, which had production space, while also returning sportscar style to the Italian brand.
In its latest 30th Anniversary guise, complete with Guantanamo orange paint job, which is actually reminiscent of the firm’s factory racing cars, whether in convertible, or RF, forms, a fitting birthday party is not an excuse. Only 3,000 examples will be available worldwide, with a corking 400 drop-tops and 200 RFs (one fifth of the total) destined for our shores, which provides a measure of how important the model is to our market.
In addition to its Racing Orange paint, the MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition features forged aluminium Rays wheels that have been developed especially for the cars, in conjunction with Rays Co Ltd, and a 30th anniversary badge displaying the model’s exclusive serial number. Other orange-highlighted features include the brake callipers and, for the first time in the UK, Brembo front brakes.
The bespoke feel continues with orange accents on the seats, door trims, the dashboard, steering wheel, air vents and gear lever, while Recaro seats and Alcantara trim on the door cards and instrument panel enhance its appeal. The 30th birthday model also features Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity.
Marked out by its black two-tone roof, the Retractable Fastback (RF) is priced from £29,895, while the convertible is £28,095, both prior to any discounts being made available. The boss of the UK company, Jeremy Thomson, stated enthusiastically: “In the three decades since the launch of the original model over 130,000 Mazda MX-5s have found proud owners in the UK market. This is a sports car that has resonated with British drivers since the outset and four generations after its initial launch, it is as popular as ever, helped by worldwide sales well in excess of 1m (a figure achieved in April 2016). Yet, it has remained true to the original principles of being an affordable, lightweight and, above all, fun-to-drive roadster. Today it is the very essence of the ‘Jinba Ittai’ driver-and-car-as-one philosophy that is built into every Mazda.”
The MX-5 has never been about rip-snorting horsepower and creature comforts. It is well-equipped and it is zesty but the car is more about engaging driver fun and enthusiasm in a compact package that handles like a dream and never feels less than connected, in a traditional and respectable manner. Yes, it has been revised three times since its original launch but MX-5 has never lost its boyish verve, or enormous appeal.
With its unique detailing, generous equipment levels, relative exclusivity and bold Racing Orange paintwork, the 30th Anniversary Edition is the perfect way to celebrate three decades of an iconic sports car. As with all 2.0-litre 2019 Mazda MX-5 models, the 30th Anniversary features the new 181bhp version of the Skyactiv-G engine and both body types drive through a deliciously slick six-speed manual gearbox, with Bilstein dampers maintaining chassis balance, a strut-brace enhancing the car’s crisp handling and a limited slip rear differential for added stability and playful dynamics. UK customer deliveries will commence in the summer.
Forget the unattainability of some Italian, or German, sportscars, because Mazda produces an accessible, available and collectible two-seater that can drive them all into a cocked hat! If you desire an example, I would advise getting in your order fast.