Automotive history

Ad Break: The Mazda MX-5 set motoring back 30 years

by Antony Ingram
14 August 2023 2 min read
Ad Break: The Mazda MX-5 set motoring back 30 years
Images: Archive

Ah, see what they did there?

Ordinarily, you might consider it a bad thing to set something back 30 years, though you’d not know it judging by the actions of some prominent political figures, but in this March 1990 advert for the fresh new Mazda MX-5, it was tapping deep into nostalgia for a period of motoring that seemed long abandoned by the early ‘90s.

The MX-5’s backstory has been repeated nearly as often as the Mini’s, so we’ll keep it brief here, but the genesis goes all the way back to the late-1970s when an American car journalist, Bob Hall, met with Mazda’s R&D chief Kenichi Yamamoto and impressed upon him the need for a traditional European open-topped sports car, just without traditional European open-topped sports car quirks.

How much is your car to insure? Find out in four easy steps.
Get a quote

Yamamoto agreed, and in the mid-1980s development cautiously began, at the hands of just a dozen designers and engineers, at Mazda’s then-new California studio in Irvine. Well-executed development mules – and a positive reaction from Californians wherever the prototypes went – convinced Mazda to put the car into production. It debuted in February 1989 at the Chicago auto show and arrived on UK shores in early 1990 – which is when our clever ad appeared. And there you go, the history of the MX-5 condensed into only two paragraphs.

The car undoubtedly met Hall’s expectations, too. The MX-5 is oft-compared to the Lotus Elan, but in truth those involved in the project used numerous small sports cars for inspiration, and the end product – unfailingly reliable, better built, easier to drive, and relatively watertight – was as full of genuinely original thinking as it was a throwback to any 1960s roadster.

All this would have been for nought if it didn’t also drive well, but despite a few dissenting voices here and there, the little Mazda was among the best-driving cars at any price point. It was responsive and adjustable, steered, gripped and handled beautifully, and was as happy being driven hard as it was pottering along looking pretty. In-period, before age made their bodies rustier and more flexible than when they were new, only the modest performance and a relative lack of comfort for some drivers could be counted as reasonable criticism.

Many of the MX-5’s highlights shine just as brightly today, and arguably more so in a market where the only modern equivalent is… well, the current MX-5. After a flurry of imitators arrived in the 1990s to capitalise on the Mazda’s success, the market has since dwindled to just the Mazda itself, and a few cars that have since moved significantly upmarket in search of profit.

And while prices for good, early MX-5s have been going up for a few years now, they’re still a bargain for what you get. The Hagerty Price Guide puts an ‘excellent’ example at just over £7,000, less than half that of a Peugeot 205 GTi – the kind of car that killed off roadsters – of the same age.

Mazda’s 1990s ad also reminds us just how good an early MX-5 still looks, even if it cheats slightly by removing the front numberplate that sullies the styling in all countries that require one. Funny how more than 30 years later, Mazda’s 30-year throwback still seems as appealing as ever.

You may also like

The Mazda MX-5 Had No Chance of Success | Revelations—Ep. 33
The Mazda MX-5 Had No Chance of Success | Revelations—Ep. 33
Does This Mazda Duo Make for a Great Two-Car Garage?
Does This Mazda Duo Make for a Great Two-Car Garage?
Mazda Spirit Racing MX-5 & Mazda3
Mazda Will Get Its Mojo Back With Spirit Racing Sub-Brand
A story about

Your biweekly dose of car news from Hagerty in your inbox



    This article has cheered me up ! I have a 1989 eunos roadster which will be affected by the ULEZ charge in a couple of weeks. I am not going to scrap it – no way – Khan is a DICK-TATOR. I will go out for a drive every couple of weeks or so, until he’s kicked out of office or until it reaches 40 years old.

  • refugio bravo says:

    I have a 1991 miata, 71,000 miles, I love my baby, I drive it once in a while, it is a perfect car to drive around on curvy roads.

  • Nicholas Cox says:

    Having been a two seat Roadster fan since my late teens, I owned MGBs until I was in my early 60s! Then my eureka moment, a friend brought his 1.6 MK2 around for a test drive and I was smitten by all the superlatives in this article. I went out and bought a a 1999 1.8 MK2 and have never looked back- what a car. The designers deserve a medal.

  • Ted Morton says:

    I ordered my Miata in March 1989, took delivery in August of that year, entered it in its first autocross about a week later, and just had the 300,000-mile service done. For most of those miles, it’s been my only car and it’s still my daily driver.

  • Jason Miller says:

    Bought my 97 NA MX5 in 2005 and have used it as my daily driver ever since in Brisbane Australia. Great car, steers beautifully and styling has never dated in my opinion.

  • Brenda says:

    Nice to here these story’s i have a 90 love it summer car everywhere i go i get a comment i love your car what kind is it cherry red licence plate topless

  • Susan Nixon says:

    I also had a mx5,1.8 1999,in gold ,still in prime condition with 18.000 miles on the clock ,with hard top ,it’s my baby lives in a garage xx

  • Sophie says:

    I was lucky enough to be offered a swap, a Y reg NB model for my old V reg Celica se, I paid £100 for the celica and had 2 good years of driving from her, but fancied something a little more “Me”… so I did the swap.
    Had to buy a new roof because the vinyl was split, and also bought the hard top for it… I have to say that apart from the fact I have more carrying capacity on my motorcycle, my little MX5 is my favourite car I have ever owned… I’m doing a little bit to her when I can, but the big job is coming up… the rear arches need welding 😔. Will get that done as soon as I can.

  • Steve Schumm says:

    Having had a 1960s Sprite and a 1995 MGF, I bought my 2006 NC MX5 early last year after relinquishing my Triumph Bonneville motorcycle and, due to illness, have only used it this year mainly.
    Hood up or down, it has served me well and I hope to use it more and more. Some welding underneath was necessary and also replacement of brake discs, calipers and pads. A lovely little sports car for an old geezer.

  • John says:

    I’m 79 years Young and have had my 1990 MX-5 since 2010. I have also built and repaired hundreds of British sports cars for over 40 years. My l’il Miata brings me joy Every time I fire it up and plan on keeping and driving it til My End. It presently has a little over 338K miles and still running Great. It probably has around 80 to 90 horsepower now but still breaks the tires loose from the Get Go. Definitely the BEST l’il machine I have been the Caretaker of.
    GOTTA LOVE IT!!!!! and I do!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic
Hagerty Newsletter
Get your weekly dose of car news from Hagerty UK in your inbox

Thanks for signing up!

Your request will be handled as soon as possible