I currently own six first generation cars and have owned fourteen since my first in 1989. All of them have been first generation cars with one exception, a 1999 NB model. I became interested in the Miata for the same reason as everyone else � the embodiment of the British panache with the incredible reliability of Japanese designed and produced automobiles, the best of both worlds. Volumes, literally, have been written about the history of the Miata, its impact on the marketplace and its importance to the history of roadsters. Perhaps no other car has had such an immediate and long term impact on a particular genre since the original 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang.
The question I�m most often asked is why do you own six Miatas? Well, the answer for five of them is that it is a labor of love combined with a belief that certain of these cars will some day obtain collector status. Certainly not on the level of a big-block Corvette or a Ferrari but there will be a niche market for pristine and complete cars that have been carefully and lovingly preserved.
What exactly constitutes �pristine and complete�? To start with, words like �mint� and �showroom condition� really have little room in the lexicon of collectors cars because unless they were driven home from the dealer and stored, mint and showroom ceased to exist with the first rock chip or surface rust on an undercarriage piece. Pristine signifies a 100% stock car with original paint, original body panels, no obvious paint flaws, very minor interior wear, generally less than 40,000 miles and mechanically, cosmetically and ergonomically correct. Complete is another term often misused in the world of desirable cars. In the case of a Miata, it means that the car has all the accessories that came with it including special edition floor mats, tonneau covers, boot covers, stereo system, and, perhaps most important, the �swag� that Mazda chose to include in a particular year. This ranged from a sequence plague for the 1991 BRG, to a numbered key ring, letter of authenticity and commemorative book set for the 1993LE. Many of these trinket items have been lost over the years, making their presence with a particular car all that much more important to top value.
Many people argue the collectable status of the cars by stating that there were simply too many produced. While 800,000 cars is certainly a number that Mazda can be proud of, realize that the total production is equal to about two years of production of the original Ford Mustang. So while 800,000 cars is a lot of cars, it is a relatively small number compared to some other collectable cars. Also, that 800,000 covers three generations of the car and while second and third generation cars may someday see a collector style demand, current consideration is for first generation cars.
In 1993, Collector Car Magazine drove a brand new 1993LE (the beautiful black over red cars) and proclaimed it as a future collectible car, actually exhorting readers to make sure they obtained the special documentation relative to this model. They followed up this article in 1995 when they declared that the list of potential future high value cars in the Miata line included the 91BRG, 92 Sunburst, 93LE, 94M and the 95M. Of course, any magazine written by a bunch of collectors takes a long-term view of values, pegging the fulcrum point of value as twenty-five years from date of manufacture.
Unlike many popular American cars, Japanese cars typically never distinguished their cars with different drivetrain packages. The Miata could be had with any engine you wanted, as long as it was a 1.6 or 1.8 liter four cylinder. Instead, Mazda chose to highlight certain models by producing special or limited edition models, adding content unavailable in the mainstream models. It started with the 91BRG, offering leather for the first time, polished doorsills, wooden shift knobs. Future special or limited editions added even more content until it peaked with the 93LE.
This creation of niche models was done in limited numbers, as many as four thousand for the 91BRG to as few as fifteen hundred for the 93LE. This has set these cars apart as being the most desirable of the NA cars. There are actually better driver NAs that these special editions but they were either created in larger numbers or were so popular as drivers (the �R� package cars) and racers that they accumulated lots of miles or lost their lives on the Spec Miata circuit.
I�ve been tracking prices of pristine NA�s for the last three years. The data banks I�ve used include auction data (I�m a licensed independent dealer in Virginia), state DMV records, completed Ebay sales, reported sales on Miata.net forums and asking prices listed in Autotrader.com, Cars.com and Craigslist. The three year increase for collectible level cars is 18%. Not a huge figure until it�s broken down even further. From 2004-2005, the average increase was 3%. 2005-2006 was 5% and the most recent data from 2006-2007 is 10% - clearly a trend in pricing. There have been recent sales of two 91 BRG cars with less than 20,000 miles each for $13,000 and $12,000. There is a 1993LE with 5,000 miles being listed for $15,000 and may have sold by time this is published.
Now, just as there have been records set in the pricing of certain cars, there are worthy cars that still change hands at prices much closer to book value. Uneducated sellers check the book value and put their cars up at that number. They are often surprised when they receive twenty phone calls in the first twenty-four hours of the ad. Some come to the realization that they have under priced their cars, pull them off the market and relist them at �adjusted� prices. However, some do sell them at the original asking price and another new Miata owner leaves with a big smile on their face.
By far, not all pristine NAs changing hands are going into the garage for posterity. Quite the opposite, most cars are still changing hands to be driven and that is still the best reason for buying a Miata. However, a noticeable number of them are being squirreled away with the hopes that the future will bring increased values. Whatever reason you choose to buy your Miata, buy the best you can afford. Treat it well, drive it hard and remember, at worst, NA cars have pretty much stopped depreciating. The low mileage NA you buy today for $7,000, will likely be worth at least that much fifty thousand mile later, something you absolutely can�t say about a new car.
Buyers should understand that Miatas have NOT reached the point where older ones can be considered an investment. Either do it as a hobby with the hopes of increasing value or don�t do it at all. After all, the Miata is still best at what it was originally designed to do � being driven in a spirited manner and enjoying the �oneness between horse and rider�.
This is a copy of the article first published in Collector Car Magazine in October 1993.