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Which car should I have bought?

The time has long passed when you can influence my choice (this was back in 1996), but this page has morphed into a blog about the life of the car.

The choice below was based on two premises: the car had to be interesting, and it had to be the only one of its type in the car park at work. Of course, it had to be decent looking, practical personal transport and affordable as well.

In the end the choice came down to two, the MGF and the Mazda MX-5. Driving both of these was fun, and it was very difficult to decide between them, but I was persuaded by the nostalgic feel of the Mazda, recalling my days with a Triumph Spitfire Mk 2, in contrast to the more modern atmosphere of the MG. The MG is probably the better drive, but I also like the lower looks of the Mazda, and the longer bonnet. You cannot see the MG's bonnet from the driving position, and, apart from the low windows and open top, it's more like driving an ordinary fast car; in the Mazda you know you're in a sports car.

The Mazda is a bit basic, not even a clock, let alone electric windows or central locking, unless you go for the posh version. I can live with that.

my mx-5
Day 1

Another picture
And another

So, it arrived on 5th September 1996, in British Racing Green, with alloy wheels. And the sun did shine. Indeed the sun has shone on odd days throughout September and October, and the car has done lots of trips in its natural state; winter, though, is now beginning to show itself. Even so, there have been topless days in November and December, and even January - with heater full on and a woolly hat.

I've almost got used to the indicator and wiper stalks being the wrong way round. I'm all right with the MX; it's when I get back in Cath's Citroën ZX that I start flashing people when I want to wipe the windscreen.

I'm also beginning to find out about rear-wheel drive; I managed to spin it on the spot from a standing start while trying to turn right on a wet road. It probably looked quite good from outside, as I ended up going just the way I intended. I've also been practising on the snow in the car park at work.

Once so far, it has failed to start, due to flooding, despite the electronic injection system. That had better not become a habit. It's up to 22000 km now. Average fuel consumption is just under 8 litres per 100km (8e-8 m2 for SI enthusiasts).

Nothing has gone wrong yet, though I had to have one of the outside door handles changed when the chrome started to peel. The main problem at the moment is the June [1997] weather: cold, dull and wet.

Now it's July 1998, and it's still going fine, at around 48000km. Last April a colleague at work backed into it in the car park, so it's got a new wing, and a new skin on the driver's door. Oh, well.

I've established that you can keep quite dry in a thunderstorm with the top down if you can keep going at more than about 100km/h, though if you can't go that fast, and can't stop to get the top up, you get very wet very quickly!

We took the MX-5 to France this year, and discovered that with care you can pack in enough for two people for a week in a gite. This was using the parcel shelf though, so the top had to stay up on the journey there. Great fun top-down around the French lanes. Didn't see a single other MX-5 in the week, and very few Mazdas at all.

Into 1999 now, and 61000km. The windscreen wipers are starting to make a strange groaning noise, and the ~60000km service was a bit expensive. January 1999 became the first month when the top never came down, but it's been topless twice in February so far.

Driving home in the rain in May 1999 the headlamps started to dance up and down at random; fortunately, pressing the maintenance lifting switch made them stay up. It happened again a few days later, but most of the time they behave. Now nearly 70000km, and on the third set of rear tyres. (Fronts last me about 50000km, rears about 35000km.)

September 1999, three years old now, and it's had its first "MoT" (a UK government safety check that all cars have to pass annually from the third year onwards) and its 72000km service. Everything is still going fine, except that the dealer failed to fix the headlamp problem. Fair enough, I suppose, it happens only very rarely, so it's difficult to locate the fault except by logical reasoning. I'll have to get a copy of the wiring diagram and figure it out myself. Meanwhile, a gentle kick in the fusebox has temporarily cured it.

This is the first time I've had an MoT since 1978. I usually change cars about every two years. The MX-5 is just so good that I'm still happy with it after three years, and I have no plans to change it yet. Instead, we'll probably change Cath's Mazda 323.

Now at the end of 1999, and coming up to 82000km, and still going strong. While Cath's 323 was in for new brakes, I learned that my next service, nominally at 90000km, is going to cost me at least 550GBP, probably more. This includes a new timing belt. I bought it some special soft-top cleaning stuff a few weeks ago, but haven't tried it yet.

April 2000, and it's now had the big service with cambelt change, at 87000km. With the front brakes done at the same time, it cost 613GBP - ouch! And the brakes now squeak on RH turns. It's still fun. Cath has traded in her Mazda 323 and bought a Ford Focus Zetec 1.8, which is nice looking and fun to drive.

August 2000, and it's had its second MoT. Another kick in the fusebox ensured that the pop-ups worked when the headlamps were tested. Now 95000km and it's starting to feel less than new, but no serious faults yet. The brake squeak came back, but has been cured (for now at least) by taking off the nearside wheel and waggling the calliper a bit. It may be time to start thinking of servicing other than at the Mazda dealer, it looks much cheaper that way, and possibly better as well.

December 2000, now 102000km, and another new set of tyres put on the back (so now the fourth set on the back but still the second on the front). I've given it a new radio-minidisk system.

January 2001, and it's had its nominal 101000km service at 103000km. This was at an independent chain (Lex Autocentre) for a change, as I think the car's getting too old to keep paying Mazda dealer prices. So far services have cost (km - UK pounds): 14k - 151; 29k - 262; 43k - 180; 58k - 290 (all at Milcars Radlett); 72k - 140; 87k - 613 (at Bament Mazda, Northampton); 101k - 49 (at Lex). That's a huge difference, but of course the cheapies don't do loan cars and other expensive extras. Servicing and maintenance has cost so far roughly 1.6p/km.

March 2001, and a change is in sight. The MX-5 is going to be replaced at five years old, and probably then 120000km. I shall go back to something small, cute and cheap - maybe a Twingo or even a Smart. I'm considering keeping the MX-5 for sunny weekends and using the new one for commuting.

July 2001. Passed the 116000km service and another MoT test. It passed despite the pop-up relay not working on that day, and me forgetting to leave the headlamps up. I gave it a new front numberplate and wiper blades, and replaced the bulb in the interior lamp. Service and MoT at Lex cost 119GBP. Now the car's going into a gentle semi-retirement, with the bulk of the commuting being left to a Smart Passion. The MX-5 will come out on sunny days, or when I have a long trip, or when I just feel like a change. We still have the Focus as well for normal car jobs.

During the five years I've lost both Mazda dealers that I've used. Milcars have moved from Radlett to Watford, and Bament have stopped doing Mazda and changed to MG and Rover. I know that Mazda's sales figures are right down (presumably because of the incredibly boring current 323 which may be competent but is nowhere near as distinguished as the last one), but isn't going with Rover now a desperate gamble?

Top-down days over the whole five years have averaged about one day in five.

September 2001. It now has new Euro-GB number plates, and I've at last used the soft top cleaning kit that I bought back in 1999. It worked magic on the plastic rear window. It's odd, using the car only now and again; it's like meeting an old friend you've lost touch with for a while.

January 2002, two new front tyres at 116000km (so now the third set on the front).

May 2002, and soon time for another MoT. With the better weather, the old lady will get out a bit more; three weeks is too much for the battery now, it needs a top-up charge before starting. New Mazda batteries are expensive, and smaller than the generic replacement batteries; I need to find a Mazda dealer to buy either a battery or a revised fixing kit for a standard battery. The alarm system is getting unreliable, sounding off by itself at odd times. The exhaust rattle, which has been developing over the years, is now getting almost annoying enough to fix. Apart from that, everything is pretty much OK. The Smart's done 20000km.

June 2002, and it's now had the MoT and service, at Lex again, and over 200GBP this time as it needed new HT leads; the old ones were cracked. These seem to be something else that Mazda makes expensive, the local car parts chain doesn't list a compatible replacement, and Lex wanted 80GBP for them. Now 121760km. At nearly 6 years it's getting to feel more like owning an old car, with several things that need watching. Rear pads are said to be 80% worn, the rear anti-roll bar drop link bushes are delaminating. The seats are starting to rattle a bit, and I think the top's leaking more often than it used to.

Got caught in a thunderstorm. As usual, I just kept on going, letting the rain fly over my head, but this time it was different. The rain just got heavier and heavier, until I couldn't see through it and I had to slow down. Then I and the car got very wet. Eventually I crawled to a place where I could pull up safely, peering through not only the rain, but splashes on the inside of the windscreen and on my spectacles. Got the hood up. Did the rest of the journey like that, and I had to leave the car outside overnight, so it didn't get a chance to dry out. Next morning I got another soaking from the seats, and even from the catches clamping the hood to the top of the windscreen, which had filled up with water. Of course, everything inside that hadn't been wetted directly was now wet with condensation. A couple of top-down runs seem to have got it all dried out though, with no harm done. It's what an open-top car should be designed for!

With my old Spitfire, the hood came right off, along with its frame, and the whole lot was stored in the boot, or left at home. In summer, I left the car with just a tonneau. Then, when it rained, and the journey was fairly short, it was usually better to get wet in the car than get wet fiddling around for ages trying to put the hood up. The car got less wet with the tonneau zipped back to uncover only the driver's position, but it didn't help the driver much.

Now November 2002, and I have a squeak from the clutch operating mechanism. The driver's door lock is starting to play up. I had someone look at the exhaust rattle, and they diagnosed a loose heat shield on the front section, not worth replacing for this they say. They hit it with a hammer and the rattle went away - for a few miles. The Smart got itself a little biffed and its headlamp doesn't aim straight anymore, so the MX-5 is back on daily commuting while we wait for parts. MX-5 at 125500km (Smart at 28300km).

December 2002. Smart parts are hard to get apparently, it's still unmended 6 weeks on, so the MX-5 is piling on the miles in horrible damp and muddy conditions. It got a new battery, the original Mazda type which fits in easily but costs nearly 80GBP, and some new wiper blades.

Now it's nearly February 2003, and the Smart is still not mended. I took the front skin off to reveal the naked smart and improvised mounts for the broken headlamp using steel strips. It's back on the commuting run now, and the MX-5 is resting again at 129000km.

March 2003, and the Smart has finally gone in for repair, 132 days after it got broken. The repair took half a day. Spring is here and the MX-5 came out for a business trip to Oxfordshire, followed by lunch in the garden of a pretty rural pub, and a top-down trip home.

June 2003, and another service and MoT. The suspension bushes that were delaminating last year were not mentioned this year, but the handbrake wasn't working. This fixed by new pads, and new front pads too as they say they're 75% worn. All that lot was 240GBP at the same independent chain, now called Nationwide Autocentres. I've done 10000km in the MX-5 this last year, though it's supposed to be retired; the Smart's done about 16000km in the same time. Took it to work today, and drove back top-down even though it was raining part of the time. It's still such a cute car.

September 2003. The Smart has developed a fault and gone into dock. Meanwhile, the good old Japanese Mazda is back in daily service at 134000km, and the sun has been shining every day. The Smart is going to have to go. But what to get next that's small enough and cheap enough that I can still keep the MX-5?

October 2003. The Smart dealer has proved incapable of fixing my car in a sensible time, so it has gone. For the full story see my cars page. A small Fiat has been purchased to replace it, and the MX-5 can go back into semi-retirement, at about 136000km. At last I've bought a workshop manual and I've probed the wiring for the pop-up lights. They would come up with the headlamp flasher switch and the maintenance switch but not the normal lighting switch. The problem was traced to the retractor control unit, which came apart quite readily to reveal a little electronic circuit. A few checks found a dry joint on diode D2. With this joint re-flowed all now works properly.

May 2004. Another year, another service and MoT. This year the car has done only about 7000km (now 139000km). It passed the MoT first time, but the garage remarked on a slight gearbox oil leak and a noise from the clutch release. The bushes that they mentioned two years ago are apparently still OK. This was at the same place again; this year it cost 129GBP. There's a new Mazda dealer appearing locally which could be useful for parts, but I doubt I'll go back for servicing.

December 2004. Now on the fifth set of rear tyres, at about 143000km. The clutch pedal squeak is now more permanent than intermittent but the exhaust rattle is pretty much the same. Left it for a few weeks with the interior light on, but the battery seems to have survived the deep discharge at least for now.

April 2005. A local independent garage had a look at the clutch and decided there's nothing needed apart from lubrication of the pedal bearing. It's OK now, and I'm 40GBP lighter.

June 2005. It's not fixed, the clutch still squeaks. The MoT passed for the seventh time, at the same Nationwide Autocentre, with a service it was 149GBP this year. They sprayed some silicone around the clutch actuation mechanism. Now at 144000km; not many miles this year, only about 5000km. At next use, there was oil on the garage floor, leaking aound the oil filter; re-fitted at another branch of Nationwide, and seems OK now.

October 2005. Now 147000km and the driver's side door mirror has seized. It's a simple thing, the sort that you have to open the window to adjust, and it just won't move. The small Fiat has changed from a Seicento to a diesel Panda.

Things change, it's now February 2006 and for various reasons the MX-5 stayed in the garage for 3 months, almost forgotten. But when asked to go again, it started first time, all it needed was some air in the tyres.

June 2006 and time for the annual service and MoT again. Nothing needed doing this time, at 148086km so only 4000km this year. Cost 177GBP at the same place.

Now on 5th September 2006 it is 10 years old. And the sun shone again. Odd to think that now the Mazda is the same age as was the Spitfire when I bought it. That was a rusty old banger. The Mazda's not quite good as new, but it's nowhere near finished yet! Ten years passed at 150000km.

June 2007 and yet another MoT and service at the same place, 205GBP this time (I forgot my discount coupon). Still on the same exhaust, still perfect emission figures and nothing else needed doing. But only 3000km in the last year, now 151000km.

February 2008 so now about eleven and a half years old, about the age that the Spitfire was when it was sold for parts as an MoT failure. The Mazda is still going, though I realised when I put petrol in on its first run this year that the last time I bought petrol was July 2007. Must use it more this year. It started first crank after spending 85 days unused over the winter.

June 2008 and MoT time. Service and MoT cost 550GBP. It failed the MoT on two broken springs, at opposite corners, which added to the cost. But only 800km up on last year. That low a usage is not good for it. The brakes are rusting away faster than they are wearing out. Maybe it's time to sell it, or maybe I'll use it more. Maybe it's time to start leaving it outside so that it's easier to use, not having to move two other cars to get at it.

March 2009 had a sunny and warm period which brought the MX-5 out for a couple of weeks solid commuting. It's now insured for overnight parking on the road, so it can be left out. Up to 156000km, almost as much use in the last 6 months as the previous 3 years combined.

MoT time again in June 2009, the same 550GBP as last time as the other rear spring had broken, and we changed the remaining old one at the front as well. Garage also commented on the rattling heat shield which has been there for at least seven years and a windscreen chip which they'd not noticed the previous several years. Now at 158000km.

2009 July 22nd and the landmark has been passed, the old girl is now officially old:
odometer reading 10017 miles
yes, she has passed 100,000 miles (161000km).

Not as shiny as the in the picture at the top (could do with a wash after six weeks daily use), but still smart for a 13-year-old:
odometer reading 10017 miles

Noticed a ticking sound from the front left-hand wheel while coming to rest, and a vibration in the steering wheel in heavy braking. This traced to a badly warped brake disk left-hand front. Both disks replaced with parts from MX5parts.co.uk and all is well again.

2010 February 27th: out of hibernation after 154 days of rest during a long, snowy winter. The battery needed a top-up and the tyres needed a bit of air but then out for a top-down spin in some welcome sunshine. The Panda is going to be replaced soon, so the Mazda will have seen off three commuting cars.

2010 June. The first real failure. In the middle of a short local trip the engine started to misfire, mostly on acceleration; it was OK at constant speed and idle. Couldn't see anything obviously wrong. Took it to a local garage used by several local MX-5 owners (Worldwide Motors in Newport Pagnell) and they diagnosed faulty ignition cables. They fixed this and with a full service and MoT it cost about 250GBP. All is well again now, and the sun is out as well. 164000km. The Panda has been replaced by another diesel Panda.

2011 June. Another service and MoT, back at the same chain in Hemel as I've been using since 2000, now owned by Halfords; Ken, the man in charge there, has been the same all through, despite 5 different owners and 3 different business names. 202GBP. Nothing needed doing beyond the service. Now 171000km. Some expensive work looming such as second cambelt change due at 174000km.

2012 February. A beautiful, sunny late February day for the first run this year. Started (just about) after 66 days of the worst of the winter. Still the same magic.

2012 March. A sunny early spring with frosty mornings, a few weeks on the commuting run. Two new rear tyres at 175000km. Had new fronts last year and the tyre place hadn't seen tyres of that make for ages; it had taken 9 years to wear them out. Just into April, 110000miles (177000km).

2012 June. Another service and MoT at Halfords, 206GBP this year; a few more "advisories" but no urgent work was needed. The suspension bushes that were "delaminating" back in 2002 have re-appeared as "perishing" this year. Now 177000km and the timing belt change is due and quoted at 205GBP but not decided yet. A slight whine has started which I can't trace, maybe a bearing but a bit high-pitched for that.

2012 September. The exhaust, still original, saw its first failure: the chromed tailpipe, about 30cm long and right-angled, cantilevered from the last box, fell off on the way to work. This was at 16 years and 182000km. The car still got me home.

tailpipe missing
And there it was - gone.

2012 October. A new back box, cheap, fitted at "The Garage" in Old Wolverton for 149GBP (Mazda part about 350GBP). So far they have fixed the heat shield rattle as well; sounds odd, I've had that rattle for more than 10 years, like a sort of audible tachometer.

2012 December. Nice day, time for a quick run to keep everything ticking over after a month resting. No clutch. The master cylinder reservoir was empty, with a suspicious damp patch under the slave cylinder. Topped up and was able to get the run in, but more expense and another sign that it's getting to the age when there'll always be something failing or about to fail.

2013 April. After 117 days hibernating, we're back on the road again. The lights still worked, but I gave the battery a top-up charge before attempting a start. Fired first time but spluttered out; OK on second crank. The clutch master cylinder was still full. The tyres needed some air. The brakes graunched for the first few stops. Then back to the same magic. The "new" radio has packed up; long wave went ages ago but now both FM and the minidisk are silent; oddly, it still makes beeps on button presses and it sings its little song when you switch it off.

I borrowed some ramps, had a look at the clutch slave cylinder and saw fluid at the boot end. A cheap replacement bought through MX5parts.co.uk seems to be OK so far. Took about an hour to fit.

2013-04-20. Well perhaps I haven't quite fixed the MX-5 yet! Took it to CMK this morning, and as I was leaving the car park to come home I wasn't able to select any gear, it was behaving as if the clutch wasn't disengaging. Stopped engine, selected 1st, started in gear and drove the car onto the verge. Checked fluid, still full. Felt pedal action, normal. Started engine and tried again, all working. Got home without further mishap. Hmm. Air bubble that cleared itself? Clutch seizing? Odd gearbox problem?

2013 June, Service and MoT at Two Wrestlers Garage in Newport Pagnell, 217GBP.

Into 2013 August and the clutch is now properly fixed. Seems the cheap slave cylinder I fitted was also faulty. Paid Two Wrestlers Garage to fit a more expensive one and now all seems good. Getting used to driving without a radio, and learning not to worry about all the new noises I hear. Now 17 years old and old enough to drive itself. 186000km.

The end is near. Caff's car got written off so I've been using the Mazda a lot commuting to work while she uses the Panda. I'm beginning to think, as I hear each new noise, that a 17-year-old car is getting more of an enthusiast's project than an occasional fun car. It's still great to drive, away from the speed that gives the worst wheel-wobble, but I'm sure it must be rougher and noisier than it was all those years ago. It also burns a lot more fuel than the little diesel Panda, which shows up clearly after a few weeks (Panda 4.89 l/100km (58 mi/UKgall) over 79000 km and 3.5 years; MX-5 8.11 l/100km (35 mi/UKgall) over 187000 km and 17 years). Those averages hide the fact that for the last 4 years or so the consumption has gone up slightly (8.5 l/100km recently (33 mi/UKgall)).

A Fiesta has been ordered to replace both it and the Panda. More gadgets and comfort are expected, it promises even lower diesel consumption than the Panda, and it'll be in a striking blue colour. But the top doesn't come down. Not being Japanese and a Mazda, it failed on day 6 at 800 km with an engine fault indicated.

And so came the final day, 2013 October 2nd, when off the faithful Mazda went, at the start of its long journey to its new home in Cornwall.

Overall 6236 days (just over 17 years), of which about 12.5% (795) were days that I drove it with the top down.

mazda at 17
The last few days, the Mazda at 17.

The choice was:

Car Source Price £ on road Insurance gp = £/yr Availability Plus Minus
Mazda MX-5 1.8i Mazda dealer 15895 with radio and alloys 12 = (399 fixed from Mazda) 3 months looks, price, hooked after first minute of test drive, just like my old Spitfire no frills, no local dealer
MGF 1.8i selected Rover dealer 17216 with metallic paint 12 = 300 6 months looks, value, lovely to drive lots of them around, driving position is a little high and bonnet is short - feels more like driving a hot hatch
Fiat Coupé 16v Fiat dealer 18358 17 = 700 in stock looks expensive, quite a few about
Fiat Barchetta Fiat dealer 14695 16 = 550 3..4 months gorgeous, rare in UK, price includes ABS & PAS left-hand drive, no demo car available
Fiat Bravo 1.6SX Fiat dealer 11718 5 = ?? cheapish, stay with good Fiat dealer fairly boring
Suzuki Cappuccino Suzuki dealer 10000 to 14000 used (were 11995 new) ? = ? local dealer sees 1 or 2 a year tiny, rare, open ~600cc high-revving turbocharged engine, no longer imported
Renault Twingo personal import only ? ? = ? ? cute, rare in UK, probably cheap left-hand drive, hassle to buy

These are the results of the voting buttons from when this page was asking for your views:


nib 2020-10-29

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