Original is best... or is it?

| 24 Jan 2012

When I bought my MX-5 back in August, obviously I tried a few before plumping for one conveniently located on the other side of the country.

Up until I started my search, the only MX-5 I’d driven was Ian McHattie’s 16,000-mile concours example.

Ian's was a bog-standard UK-spec 1.8, so that meant no power steering and wind-up windows, and it was utterly brilliant. In fact, it was the reason I subsequently went searching for an MX-5 of my own.

The first one I tried was with a local dealership, and it had some suspension tweaks. A few hundred yards down the road, I summed up those tweaks by assuming that the suspension had actually been removed.

It was terrible – bone-shakingly hard and devoid of the finesse that Mazda had spent the GDP of a small country engineering into the standard car.

There’s a huge aftermarket scene for the MX-5, but when it’s so good out of the box, I was left wondering why you’d bother changing it.

It was therefore with a degree of trepidation – and some well-practised polite noises – that, after a fair bit of banter, I hopped into the Mk1 run by Dan Trent on our sister website – and open-plan office neighbours – PistonHeads.

Dan’s car is a Eunos, so there’s air-con and electric windows, plus power steering, which I must admit was a welcome addition around the streets of South West London. It’s also had some suspension work, and runs on 15in wheels rather than the standard 14s.

This time, however, the work had been done properly. Rather than simply lowering it and fitting stiffer springs, Dan’s taken a more 'overall' approach, and the guys at Performance 5 have upgraded the dampers and fitted chassis-rail braces.

Working around soft springs and good damping sounds like an encouragingly Lotus-esque formula, and means that the ride quality is maintained at the same time that the handling is sharpened.

It’s now a very impressive little car, and made mine feel – relatively speaking – quite soft and heavy.

Many classics have a similar range of upgrades to the MX-5, and I can certainly see the attraction if it’s something that makes the car more usable.

When it comes to the handling, however, there is a danger of confusing 'unpleasant' for 'sporty'.

I do keep having thoughts about the odd upgrade here and there, especially since it would make a cracking budget competition car.

But at the same time, standard MX-5s may well become increasingly rare in the future. Perhaps I’ll leave it as Mazda intended. For now...