The Mazda Miata That Found Its Way Home: Time Machine Test Drive

Marty’s 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata

When you run into an old friend after 15 years, can you pick up like no time’s been lost?

Reunions are something I normally don’t do. The open-all-night nostalgia factory that is Facebook has pretty much killed them, anyway. But I am all about your serendipity, your stunning coincidences, your fated meetings.

It happened to me this week.

Most of the time, the “Man Reunited With Car After 15 Years” stories don’t grab me. I quickly scan them, maybe get a little misty for the folks involved, and then it passes.

This week, I bought a red 1990 Mazda Miata. For the second time.

Not another red 1990 Miata. The same 1990 Miata. My Miata.

How I bought it, sold it, and bought it again after a decade and a half still has me scratching my much less thickly haired head. When it’s my own reunited story, I’m apparently stopped in my own tracks.

Marty’s 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The first time around

Picture it: 1996. A callow youth cuts loose from a truly great gig for another, and bails when things get complex. He needs a car—and on a trip to his ancestral home, a much-needed game-reset flick of an existential switch, he buys a cheap, reliable, fun car to replace the expensive luxury lease that came and went with the regular paycheck.

The trade gives up leather and a CD changer, but in exchange he gets a near-perfect NA Miata. It’s red of course, a 1990, plated in Virginia but quickly bought and swapped into Maryland tags with just 27,000 miles on the clock.

That Miata came south with me, and…well, it’s simple, and trite, but true. It lifted me out of a rut when I’d hit a low point in my work life. I spent a summer recuperating with the buzzy thrill of the Miata’s four-cylinder, the barely-fitting-into-it. Throwing the top back during the breathtaking southern spring—and flipping it back for the three-week, three-inch-thick coat of pollen that came with it. It was the perfect backbeat to my first year here in post-Olympic Atlanta, when I struggled mightily to put together a freelance career, to scrape together something of a suburban life, temporary as it was.

I should have apologized to the Barbie Car several times, because Atlanta drivers even back then earned their reputation for being shitty. In the days before texting and driving, I was hit three times in two years. Once was technically out of state—on I-85, broadsided by a Georgia-plate truck outside the BMW plant at 85 mph (nice coincidence). I kept it on the road instead of spinning into a jersey barrier.

Then hail hit it. Then a dump truck didn’t see me at an intersection in it, and rolled halfway over the deck lid before I got out and waved him off to stop.

All were fixed along with some window regulators, an exhaust bracket, and plug wires, the NA holy trinity. And it was working beautifully by the time I decided I didn’t need it anymore. I tried to sell it a couple of times, more out of need than I was willing to admit to at the time. A curbstoner in southern Maryland offered me $1500 to take it off my hands.

Finally, in early 2000, I sold it. A bona fide bonehead move, since it only had 60,000 miles and was paid off. I just didn’t have a place to park it and had started to get press cars again in conjunction with this little web site I had just started to edit—The Car Connection.

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