The just-released pics of the newest Miata certainly do justice to their subject, but probably don’t do justice to the history of the subject. Building on a tradition now 25 years young, the Miata has a very special place in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts across this country – and around the world. And if most Miatas are special, than the Miata specials, both in concept form and when offered in a limited production run, are even more so. They take its expressive personality and inevitably make it more expressive, more personal and – in a nutshell –more Miata.
With the advent of the all-new MX-5 next spring, a quick recap, then, of those Miatas that grabbed our attention via eyes, heart or – in the case of an early Monster Miata – the scruff of the neck. These three are but a fraction of the special models offered by Mazda – as concepts or in limited production – over the last 25 years. But they’re fully representative of directions Mazda could take in the next five, as the 4th gen Miata is supplemented with models to engage us or (hopefully) enrage us.
It was twenty years ago, while working for a community pub in the Dallas area, that word came of a local physician with a Monster Miata. That, of course, was created with the addition of a small-block Ford into the engine bay of an otherwise uncorrupted Mazda. Not a new idea, to be sure; even Carroll Shelby hisownself didn’t invent the idea of big(ger) displacement under the hood of an import (Carroll might have called ‘em ‘furrin’). And as outrageous as the concept was, the end result was more tractable and professional than you might have thought.
Takeoffs – of course – were immediate, burnouts were second nature, and average fuel consumption was (probably) in the low teens. The doctor, Lane Dykes, was absolutely thrilled. And while I don’t remember driving it (and I would remember driving it), the view from the passenger seat was just as discombobulated as the view from the driver’s side, and that was mostly sideways. We left the car (and article) thinking the recipe was just a bit too much, in the same way we consider the 427 Cobra an overreach when compared to its 289 predecessor. (Not that we wouldn’t take one if handed the keys, but we’d build a 289…)
In a much more contemporary vein, but with a similar let’s-scare-the-bejesus-out-of-‘em goal, was the SEMA-spec Super20 (pic above), constructed to commemorate the Miata’s 20th anniversary. Built using the then-current 3rd gen platform, the Miata’s stance was exaggerated with widened track, flared fenders and big-ass 16-inch rubber. The installed hardtop concealed a fully integrated, beautifully executed roll bar – one we hoped we wouldn’t need. And under the hood was an aggressively massaged 2.0 liter Mazda mill fitted with a Cosworth (you remember them…) supercharger. And while our route was limited to a simple run up and down Interstate 5 from Fullerton, CA to La Jolla, there was no denying the Super20’s visceral appeal. Unlike the Monster, there was no overkill, and no discombobulation (at that point I was too old…); there was simply the urgent pull of what we remember as just under 300 horsepower matched to just over 2,500 pounds. Like the Monster, the Super20 was a screamin’ demon, except ‘screamin’ and ‘demon’ were both lower case. And we wanted that car in the worst way.
At the opposite end of the Miata’s Venn diagram is the MX-5 Superlight, built at approximately the same time as the Super20. But if the Super20 exhibited the boundless energy of Southern California, the Superlight reflected the boundless efficiency that is Europe. Built by Mazda Motor Europe R+D in Oberursel, the Superlight was the roadster laid bare, reducing – as the press blurb suggested – the MX-5 to its core attributes. Eliminating the windshield and retractable top may compromise the Miata’s day-to-day utility, but spoke loudly to the design team’s minimalistic intent.
Inside, the a/c – for obvious reasons – was nixed, as were rugs and floor mats. (But then, in most Japanese homes you’ll have removed your shoes, anyway.) And with the deletions there were, of course, additions, but those were constructed of lightweight alloy or carbon fiber. Under the hood was the typical 1.8 liter mill, but with curb weight reduced to but 995 kilos, the 1.8’s 126 horsepower would prove adequate. And while we didn’t drive this one either, improvements to intake, exhaust and suspension would have made the Superlight appropriately visceral – if not Superfast.
At 2,200 pounds, the Superlight is very close to the reported curb weight of the 4th gen Miata, coming – as reported – next spring. And while not super light, the new platform is a viable means of creating special Miatas weighing closer to one ton than two. We’d envision a Super30 – within the next five years – combining a turbocharged 1.5 liter triple (call it 225 horsepower), carbon fiber wheelset and an absolutely skeletal interior (look at racing bicycles for inspiration). The end result should/could be 2,000 pounds, 0-60 in five seconds and a top end of 140. Top speeds are academic, but we’re looking for a relaxed 80 miles per hour – and this menu should provide it. Keep the price point comfortably under $30K and you have a cocktail with wide appeal, despite its relatively narrow focus.
And if given four years to put it in the showroom, this scribe might (MIGHT) be able to afford it.