A slow car driven fast

Michael's Miata parked at a scenic overlook on California Route 9
Michael’s Miata parked at a scenic overlook on California Route 9.

“A slow car driven fast is much more fun than a fast car driven fast. You feel much more; the car is more alive.”

Michael J.

Like any other car enthusiast, Michael places his 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata on a pedestal, and for good reason. The “NA” is the go-to car for any enthusiast born after 1990, simply because it has that rare combination of fun and affordability. You can usually find them on Craigslist for as low $2,000, and its production numbers and abundance of parts means that the NA will be cherished by enthusiasts for a long time.

There is another quality about the NA that makes it memorable: it’s lack of speed, and how it copes with it. Michael said it best; it’s not a fast car. It has a 1.6-liter inline-four, which on a good day makes about a hundred horsepower and some change. But its five-speed transmission with short gearing and low body weight makes the car feel faster than it actually is. Even with bald tires, the car was happily gripping the pavement along the s-curves and hairpins on CA Route 9. This is where we see the NA shine. This car was designed for feeling the curves. A slow car driven fast was indeed fun.

Take the interior for example. There’s nothing in it to distract the driver. Everything is simple and straightforward. Even opening the convertible top isn’t a spectacle like on modern cars. The convertible top is just a means to an end in the quest to make a car focused on the feeling of driving. In this regard, the NA positively eccentric.

Michael is also an eccentric, in that he cares more about how the car feels to drive rather than if it can sync with this phone’s music library. Michael also believes that the simpler and lighter the car is, the better it is overall. Colin Chapman certainly would agree. However, a simple and light car does not necessarily make a car fun to drive. There’s much more to it than that. It has to feel good to drive. Michael’s other car, a Hyundai Veloster Turbo Rally Edition manages to achieve this despite its abundance of “distractions” as Michael liked to put it.

In a way, the NA flies in the face of what car companies today believe a millennial would want to drive. There are no gadgets or mood lighting; no backup cameras or parking sensors. There are barely any cup holders. It’s just you, the car, and the open road. As far as cars go, it’s the equivalent of an old pocket knife versus a really nice German multi-tool.

The thing is, that old pocket knife is all you really need.

Michael sits with his Miata at the Route 9 scenic overlook
Michael sits with his Miata at the Route 9 scenic overlook.

Note: I originally wrote a version of this back in early 2017 before I started Corkscrew’d. The essay was the description for one of the first photo sessions I ever shot. It featured my friend Michael and his 1990 Mariner Blue Mazda Miata, named “Bloo”. We took a trip up Route 9 through Felton, California, and ended our excursion on Skyline Boulevard. I saved the short essay because I wanted to revisit it someday. Now that I’m blogging regularly, I feel that now is a good time to post it again.

I’ve edited the essay a bit for more clarity. Also, Michael no longer owns the Veloster, and now drives a 1991 Toyota Celica instead.

-W

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