Stephen Cox blogs about enjoying top-down motoring without spending a lot of money.

You shouldn’t spend your life wondering what it’s like to own a small, fun sports car. With some careful shopping and a little homework you can get a fantastic pre-owned roadster for virtually nothing. No, it won’t be a Ferrari. It won’t even be a Porsche. But if you want the joy of true motoring, you can have it easily and at a ridiculously low cost.

There are a number of cars that fit the bill nicely. We’ll talk about each of them in separate blogs. But we’ll start with one of the finest used sports cars available today – the Mazda Miata MX-5. The Miata will make an average driver great. I’ve got thousands of miles in Miatas, both on the street and at full-tilt on some of America’s greatest speedways. Trust me, this car does not disappoint.

The Fun-To-Drive Meter peaks at “10” from the moment you press the clutch and slip it into first gear. The steering is tight, the suspension gobbles up curves, and the stock brakes are some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a street car. The Miata does everything that a small roadster is supposed to do and delivers fun at the same time. From a pragmatic standpoint, the little Mazda returns an average of about 30 miles per gallon overall, and nearer 35 on the highway. 

For convertibles, the top drops manually with about sixty seconds of effort. When driving with the convertible top up, wind noise is considerable. Above 65 mph, conversation with a passenger or enjoying music over the stereo system becomes laborious. But that’s the price you pay for open-air, convertible fun (although a removable hard top is available on most models). Miatas are mechanically bulletproof. They have very few major mechanical weaknesses and routinely offer 200,000 miles of service with modest repair bills and low maintenance costs.

The market is top heavy with affordable, two-seat classics like the MG, Fiat 124 and Triumph TR6, but I wanted something with modern comfort and reliability. I wanted air conditioning, a heater that worked and a seat that was comfortable on road trips. So I opted for the Miata instead.

I paid a little over two thousand dollars for a 1991 model with 135,000 miles. Now that’s affordable. Crazy affordable. Mine was fully roadworthy and came with a new convertible top, full service records, new tires and an updated aftermarket stereo/CD player. The engine pulls strong and the drivetrain is solid as a rock.

I figured that if I didn’t like the car, I could sell it with very little risk. If I did like the car (and I do), I would have two choices. I could either 1) get the body work done, paint it and essentially have a like-new car for years to come, or 2) sell it and spend more to get a newer model with the confidence that I would really love the car. I haven’t made up my mind yet but I can’t lose either way.

Mazda has sold millions of Miatas since the late-1980s. They are available on the used market anywhere. They are reliable, enjoyable and utterly affordable. If you want that classic, wind-in-your-hair feeling that genuinely replicates the great sports cars of the mid-20th century, a used Miata should be on your short list of candidates. You won’t be disappointed.

For information about the ’16 Mazda Miata, please visit

Stephen Cox is a racer and co-host of TV coverage of Mecum Auctions (NBCSN), sponsored by: