I drove to work this morning in a Triumph TR4A (which is a near perfect ride for a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway) but due to an electrical gremlin found myself coming back in a bright red Mazda Miata (NC) borrowed from the Moss stable. Many automotive pundits have christened the Miata as the perfect British sports car and during the development process of the original car its designers surrounded themselves with a variety of classic British sports cars to use as inspiration for the diminutive roadster. Indeed, Bob Hall (who at the time was writing for Motor Trend) explained the brief for the car to the decision makers in Hiroshima by complaining that the “simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, wind-in-the-hair, classically-British sports car doesn’t exist any more.” Design chief Tom Matano would look at the Spitifire, MGA, MGB, TR3 and Lotus Elan when trying to get a sense of the right bullseye to aim for.
The plaudits earned by the Miata over the years have often referred to its status as the car that the British automotive industry should have built and there might be some truth to that thought.
I prefer to believe, instead, that the Miata is the car that either MG or Triumph would have built had labor problems – which begat quality control issues that led to poor sales – not occurred. In its essential DNA (and in the way that it drives) the Miata is every bit a modern interpretation of the Spitfire, MGB or Lotus Elan begat by a corporate entity and employees who collectively understood that quality, reliability and driving enjoyment are not mutually exclusive manufacturing principles for an affordable sports car.
In fact, the Miata is the evolutionary (rather than just the spiritual) descendant of the classic British roadster and – having usurped the MGB’s mantle as the world’s best selling sports car – it has more than proven its legitimacy as a “real” sports car. I have always been curious of the percentage of LBC owners that also have a Miata in their garage (and suspect that the number is significant) as it is a roadster that can be driven any day, any place and at any time. Maybe the next time your MG, TR or Big Healey is out on a sunny weekend day and you pass a Miata going the other direction you should take a moment to smile and wave as it goes by. After all, the car going by could very well be related in more ways than one to the one that leaks oil in your driveway.