It’s finally Friday! You know what that means: Time to play hooky from work and go for a drive!
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.
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.
Have I gone mad?…
…or is it just the sex appeal of those five spoke “Teledial” wheels on the 2000’s Alfa Romeo 156?
I have a fondness for wheels with simple geometric shapes. It must be because one of my first car obsessions; the 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. The wheels on that car had a simple five spoke design that consisted of basically a solid wheel with five circular holes cut out of it. It was so simple, when I sketched cars in my composition book during class, I always drew those wheels. In fact, I still do!
Recently I was chewing the fat with one of my best friends, and the subject of wheels came up. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting something a little more eye-catching for my Shinsen Miata, but finding wheels that I think look better than the stock five-spoke alloys is easier said than done. I could do what everyone else is doing and buy some JDM-style rims, but that option can get pretty pricey. Plus, I’m not exactly standing out at any Cars and Coffee events since there’s always a Miata with JDM rims anyway.
I started to lament that there weren’t a lot of aftermarket options that looked like my ideal design. I’d love to put Teledial-style wheels on the Shinsen, but my options were severely limited. Then, I had a thought: Why not look at used wheels from cars that used the Teledial design? I started doing more research, and almost immediately I found the ideal wheel.
And it belongs to a car never sold in the USA.
The (near) Perfect Wheels
Alfa Romeo has been using the Teledial-style wheel designs for decades, especially most recently in their current lineup of US-import vehicles. Of course, those newer wheels are pricey and too big for my diminutive Miata. Thankfully, Alfa Romeo made a 16-inch wheel that is nearly identical to the Miata’s stock wheels, and they’re pretty inexpensive (not factoring shipping)! The 2003 Alfa 156 and 147 had the option of a lightweight aluminum wheel with five circular “Teledial” spokes, and they look gorgeous. Aside from being based on a classic Alfa design, the treatment of the wheels is also nearly identical to the Miata’s, so they aren’t gaudy or too distracting like some other wheels I’ve seen.
I dug deeper trying to learn as much as I can about these particular wheels. I was worried that the wheel size and the lug pattern was too different from the stock Miata wheels to even consider as a replacement, but then I stumbled across Wheel-Size.com; a massive database for wheel fitment and tire sizes. With it, I was able to find the the exact specifications for both my Shinsen Miata’s Wheels, and the Alfa Romeo Teledial Wheels:
2003 Shinsen Miata 1.8L 5spd:
- Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
- Lug Pattern: 4x100mm
- Offset: 40mm
- Center Bore: 54.1mm
- Tire Size: P205/45R16
2003 Alfa Romeo 156 1.6L-2.5L
- Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
- Lug Pattern: 5x98mm
- Offset: 41.5mm
- Center Bore: 58.1mm
- Tire Size: P205/55R16
As you can see, not only is the rim size practically the same, but the Offset, Center Bore and Tire Size are incredibly similar! The only drawback to these wheels however is the lug pattern. Instead of the 4 lug, 100mm diameter pattern, Alfa Romeo utilized a 5 lug pattern 98mm in diameter. This means that if I were to find these wheels somewhere, I would need to rely on a PCD Wheel Adapter that changes the lug pattern from 4x100mm to 5x98mm. And that’s even if I find the wheels; because Alfa Romeo never sold this car in the states, all examples of this particular wheel is sold overseas. That means more shipping costs!
Alas, it might be more trouble than it’s actually worth. Still, I’d like to imagine how surprised people would get when I roll up with a Shinsen Miata using Alfa Romeo rims!