The most successful sports car
Excerpted from The News-Press 10:26 a.m. EST December 4, 2016
Back in 1976, MotorTrend magazine writer Bob Hall told Mazda executives that “the simple wind-in-your-hair, bugs-in-your-teeth classic British sports car doesn’t exist anymore. And you should build it.”
American drivers were craving the thrill they used to get behind the wheel of a Triumph, MG or Austin-Healey. They also wanted a sports car with an engine that would start every time and a convertible top that wouldn’t leak.
Mazda’s leaders listened and learned. Hall eventually quit the magazine to join the California design team assigned to the Mazda MX-5 Miata. In Hiroshima, Japan, engi-neers worked to develop and build a nimble front-engine, rear-wheel-drive roadster that delivered reliability while preserving the rumble and romance of driving on the open road with the top down.
Miata means “reward” in Old High German, and the little-car-that-could certainly has rewarded those early Mazda innovators, becoming the most successful sports car of all time with global sales topping one million.
In its 1990 debut year, the dream machine seduced 35,944 U.S. buyers, many paying thousands over the $13,800 base sticker price. Weighing barely one ton and measuring only 155.2 inches long, the Miata’s inline 4-cylinder engine delivered a thrifty 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 25 mpg in city traffic. Color choices were limited to white, blue or red that first year, all with a black cloth interior.
Mazda masterfully elevated comfort and style for 1991 with its first Miata Special Edition. Only 4,000 were made, all referencing Formula One auto racing tradition with British Racing Green (BRG) paint.
Standard equipment included air conditioning, cruise control, a driver-side airbag and a CD player. High-back reclining leather bucket seats anchored the cockpit with its leather-wrapped steering wheel and stereo speakers installed in the headrests.
Chet Young (Photos: Stephanie Borden/Special to Grandeur)
As the 25th anniversary of Miata’s 1991 Special Edition is celebrated this year, one candle on that cake burns brightly for a North Fort Myers man renowned for promoting and preserving that Miata magic.
Chet Young was instantly captivated when he first drove his Special Edition, Build # 819, recalling “I felt that all the cars I had owned before had been preparing me to enjoy the Miata.”
It’s common for Miata drivers to say they feel “at one with the car.” That correlates with Mazda’s philosophy of jinba ittai, which translates to “horse and rider as one.”
To share his passion with other Miata drivers, Chet founded Florida’s first Miata car club in Melbourne, where he lived at the time. The Space Coast Miata Club is still active and has many original members.
Believing that the 1991 Special Edition would make history, Chet created a handwritten owners registry that year, recording each owner’s name and contact information. He added each car’s build number, the date and time of manufacture, and even the name of the ship used to transport each car from Japan to the U.S.
Chet’s registry quickly became a valuable asset when Mazda officials asked him to survey Special Edition owners about the company’s proposal to make British Racing Green a regular color on new models. Chet sent questionnaires to owners, compiled their responses and reported the owners’ opposition to his Mazda contact. Soon afterward, Chet got a phone call promising that Mazda would wait 10 years before painting another Miata British Racing Green.
That spirit of concern and collaboration still impresses Chet, who wonders “What other car company would even have asked for our opinion?”
Not long ago, Chet decided to simplify his life by pruning his car collection. Fortunately, his beloved 1991 Miata Special Edition is only a few miles away, under the watchful care of the Fort Myers nephew who shares his name. Marine consultant Chester R. Young says he has driven about 14,000 miles in the Miata, “all but 100 miles with the top down.” He is loving it.
The two live only a few miles apart, so Uncle Chet has an open invitation to take the Miata for a sentimental spin anytime. “It’s still in the family, and that’s what’s important,” he smiles.
You might catch these car guys at a Miata Club of Southwest Florida meeting or special event this season. New members are welcome, says Membership Coordinator Donna Noyes. For details, zoom over to the club website at miataclubofsouthwestflorida.com.
Miata Club of Southwest Florida