Remember that bit about the earliest examples being 26 years old? It shouldn’t be a cause for concern – MX-5s are very reliable indeed.
Engine woes are few. The very earliest cars, from 1990-1991, have the potential for engine failure due to problems with the crankshaft pulley bolt. It only affects a tiny number of cars though and it’s unlikely there are many problem cars left.
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The only common cause of 'failure to proceed' is that of the clutch slave cylinder. It’s prone to leaking, and after a while you’ll find yourself with an inoperable clutch. Luckily replacement is inexpensive and can even be carried out at home.
The other common MX-5 malady is rust. Some cars are better than others, but blocked drain holes in the sills are the biggest issue – they fill up with road crud, water becomes trapped in the sills and rots them from the inside out. As such, decent-looking sills on the outside may hide plenty of crustiness below.
This is rather a matter of personal preference. Some dislike the MX-5’s lack of originality and its cutesiness, others are drawn to the simple styling, classical lines and compact dimensions. It’s ageing well though, and the Mk1’s pop-up headlights will win plenty of fans…
If we’re talking general exterior issues, then the only main concern (aside from the aforementioned rust) is to inspect the roof. They’re fairly good at sealing out the weather, but they do wear, they do tear and they do rip. Plastic rear windows can also go foggy. A new one will transform the look of the car.
Incidentally, don’t write off Japanese Eunos Roadster imports. They’re invariably better-equipped than UK cars (all include a limited-slip diff, for example) and few MX-5s have a full service history anyway so buying one whose early years were spent in another country is not a big deal.
As with its reliability, one of the MX-5’s greatest attributes is its inexpense.
While solid, good-condition, non-modified cars can command £3000-£4000 and pristine, one-owner cars with low miles even more than that, finding an MX-5 between the £1000 and £2000 mark is not difficult at all. It might need a few tweaks here and there and there’s always the chance of rust, but most will be mechanically solid.
Of course, if you’re feeling brave then Mk1s can be picked up for as little as £500 or so (our Grand Challenge example cost £801). They’ll usually be pretty scabby on the outside (though rarely falling apart and almost always driveable) and may have a mismatch of original and aftermarket parts, but you’ll struggle to find a more entertaining car for the price of a sofa in the January sales.