Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

| 5 Jan 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

Why you’d want a Mazda MX-5 (NA)

The first Autocar & Motor full test of the Mazda MX-5 in early 1990 was headlined: ʻBRILLIANT!ʼ

Despite its performance being comfortably eclipsed by the Ford Fiesta XR2i, the MX-5ʼs perfect classic sports car packaging, breathtaking chassis balance, instant throttle response, ʻinvigorating exhaust noteʼ and slick gearchange confirmed that the world still needed pure sports cars, even if coupés seemed to make more practical sense.

Modelled closely on the original Lotus Elan, the MX-5 added durability and practicality to the ideal roadster package of front-mounted twin-cam ʻfourʼ with rear-wheel drive.

A great deal of effort had gone into getting the balance right, including fitting moulded-plastic front and rear ends and an aluminium bonnet, and mounting the car on specially developed Dunlop SP Sport D89 185/60 R14 tyres.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

Spectacular pace wasnʼt the aim – moderate performance helps keep insurance costs down – but Mazda UK knew some customers would demand more, so a BBR turbo kit was available almost from the start.

Supplied via dealers, it offered 150bhp+ and raised the top speed to 131mph, with 0-60mph in 7.2 secs.

Mazda UK also commissioned TWR to supply a hardtop with a heated rear window, headlining and interior light, all missing from the factory lid.

MX-5s sold like hot cakes – it would go on to become the worldʼs most successful sports car series – so it was no surprise that other makers jumped to bring out their own roadsters.

Mazda responded with an improved 1.8 in 1993. Its stiffer bodyshell, higher gearing, larger fuel tank and driverʼs airbag had advantages, but dulled performance so it was no faster than the original 1.6 – and from that point on the 1.6 was detuned.

The stiffer chassis allowed slightly more supple suspension, but the MX-5 was still a firm-riding, focused sports car.

Our timeline shows the UK specs and special editions: each market had its own, and just over 50% of production was sold in the USA (as the Miata), but many cars now in Britain are Japanese imports, badged as Eunos Roadsters.

UK chassis numbers are prefixed JMZ, while Japanese ones start with NA (the designation frequently used for Mk1s). Eunos specs are often higher, but rust protection was inferior.

In 2018, Mazda launched a Eunos restoration programme in Japan, reflecting the modelʼs iconic status and increasing desirability.

Images: James Mann

Mazda MX-5 (NA): what to look for

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

Trouble spots

Please see above for what to look for before you look at any NA Mazda MX-5 classic cars for sale.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)


The revvy and lively twin-cam Mazda 1.6 was detuned from 1994 when the 1.8 was introduced, so later 1.6s (as here) are more cruisers than sprinters, but still great fun to drive.

Check the engine number matches the records, look for signs that it has been well maintained and check the service history for cambelt replacements.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)


Look at the radiator and coolant condition: an original unit will be silted up by now, and overheating can lead to a failed head gasket.

A new rad for a first-generation Mazda MX-5 is less than £100.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)


Check the soft-top material and plastic window for damage and clouding on an NA MX-5.

A full replacement is around £1000 fitted, though a secondhand one for a DiY swap costs far less.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)


This is one of the first areas where rust appears and is rarely repaired properly.

Keeping the sill drains clear keeps rot at bay (and is a sign of a careful owner).

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)


Assess the seats for wear (especially cloth on outer bolsters) and carpets for damp from soft-top leaks.

Good used trim is scarce now that fewer Mk1 Mazda MX-5s are broken.

Mazda MX-5 (NA): before you buy

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

A well-maintained MX-5 is very durable, but neglect of service intervals will shorten engine life considerably, so look for signs of regular maintenance.

A rattle on start-up is common with hydraulic tappets, especially if oil changes have been neglected, but isnʼt a big worry in itself.

The cambelt should be replaced at 60,000 miles or six years, but is non-damaging if it fails.

Early 1.6s with a small-bolt, short-nose crank pulley can suffer a broken crankshaft – check the pulley isnʼt wobbling.

Poor running can often be cured with a new airflow meter.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

Head-gasket failure is not uncommon, usually caused by overheating from a clogged radiator – so check coolant and oil carefully, and use a proper tester if in doubt.

Also check for white smoke from the exhaust on start-up; blue/grey smoke indicates a worn engine. A full engine rebuild costs c£3000 (£3600 with fitting).

MoT history on UK cars will often flag up past corrosion and mechanical issues that may or may not have been repaired properly.

Check for signs of a car thatʼs been thrashed on track days – it may have repaired accident damage and worn-out dampers.

High mileage isnʼt necessarily bad if maintenance has been meticulous – a cared-for NA Mazda MX-5 can top 200,000 miles with ease.

Infrequently used cars suffer other issues, especially sticking rear calipers.

MX-5 electrics are generally reliable, but ensure that everything works, including the pop-up headlamps and electric windows, and especially the air conditioning (if fitted).

Mazda MX-5 (NA) price guide

  • Restoration: £500-1000
  • Average: £1500-3750
  • Show/rebuilt: £5-12,000+

Ranging from 1.6 autos to special editions (excluding rare BBR Turbo)

Prices correct at date of original publication

Mazda MX-5 (NA) history

1989 NA launched in the USA: 1.6, 114bhp. On sale in North America May, Japan September

1990 On sale in the UK; BBR Turbo available to September ’91 (c850 built), then renamed Le Mans to December ’91 (24 built)

1991 Limited Edition (250 in UK); ABS and auto (not UK) options

1992 SE (350)

1993 1.8 launched, plus detuned 105bhp 1.6 with auto option for USA/Japan

1994 1.8 available in the UK, with stiffened shell; 1.6  now 89bhp in original body; 1.8iS Sports pack with stiffer suspension

1995 California (300) and Gleneagles (400)

1996 Monaco (450), Merlot (600) and Dakar (400)

1997 Monza (800), Harvard (500), Classic (400) and Berkeley (400)

1997 NA replaced by NB

The owner’s view

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

“My wife wanted a two-seater sports car,” recalls Paul Vowles. “I looked at NC MX-5s, but didn’t like them as much – I prefer the looks of the NA and it’s more collectible.

“When this example came up in Tunbridge Wells I didn’t hesitate: I bought it unseen and had it delivered.

“It’s only done 13,900 miles from new and had been stored well – the previous owner said that the passenger seat had never been sat in!

“The Monaco is a basic spec and had the Eunos bonnet badge as standard – I’ve changed the wheels because I prefer these, but I still have the originals.

“Because of the car’s low mileage, I don’t use it a lot – we have an NB as well that gets used more – and I try to avoid taking it out in the rain.

“I do really enjoy driving it, especially early in the morning when you can hear the birds in the trees – it’s a delightful little car.”

Also consider

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

The MGF (left) and Fiat Barchetta are alternative buys


Mid-engined sports car with great ride and handling, but prone to sill/subframe rot and head-gasket failure. Well looked after or properly repaired they are top value and fast, especially VVCs.

Sold 1995-2002 • No. built 77,269 • Price now £750-5000*


Left-hand-drive only, this Punto-derived, front-wheel-drive roadster has great looks and a 130bhp 1750cc twin-cam, so is a bit swifter than the MX-5. Engine variators fail, but the galvanised body isn’t too rot-prone.

Sold 1995-2005 • No. built c75,000 • Price now £2-7000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication

Mazda MX-5 (NA): the Classic & Sports Car verdict

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Mazda MX-5 (NA)

The NA Mazda MX-5 is now well into classic status, but it remains a great-value sports car that is equally at home on the road or the track.

Modifications are common (up to a Jaguar 3-litre V6 conversion, which commands big money), but original cars are increasingly sought-after and a hardtop is a bonus for year-round use.

Search high and low for the best you can find, look after it, and it will reward you handsomely.


  • Simple and reliable
  • Everything to keep it on the road is widely available and inexpensive
  • Strong club, enthusiast and specialist back-up



  • Many have been modified, neglected or crashed
  • Values don’t justify restoration costs
  • It is still a few years before early UK cars reach tax-exempt status

Mazda MX-5 (NA) specifications

  • Sold/number built 1989-’97/431,506
  • Construction steel monocoque with aluminium powertrain-link structure, aluminium bonnet, plastic front/rear panels
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 1598/1839cc ‘four’, Bosch L-Jetronic injection
  • Max power 89bhp @ 6000rpm to 128bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Max torque 100lb ft @ 4000rpm to 110lb ft @ 5000rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual, RWD; optional LSD; auto option on detuned 1.6 in USA/Japan
  • Suspension independent, by wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering rack and pinion, optional power assistance
  • Brakes discs, with servo/ABS
  • Length 13ft 1in (3990mm)
  • Width 5ft 6in (1675mm)
  • Height 4ft (1220-1230mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 5in (2261mm)
  • Weight 2093-2244lb (950-1020kg)
  • 0-60mph 9.9-8.9 secs
  • Top speed 112-116mph
  • Mpg 22-34
  • Price new £12,995-17,595 (1.6i-1.8iS,1995)


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