• When it comes to the question of lightweight, slick-shifting rear-drive roadsters with four-wheel independent suspension, the answer is always Miata.
• The Bring a Trailer auction site has listed this one, with a mid-1991 VIN number that falls on the right side of a major crankshaft redesign.
• Bidding is open on this 1991 Miata until Sunday, March 6, with current bidding at a mere $9750.
Those who know me understand why I’m keeping an eye on this car, my choice as Auction Pick of the Day on the Bring a Trailer auction site—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos. I have a soft spot for the 1.6-liter Miata because back in the day I managed to get my hands on one of the three original prototypes that were unveiled at the 1989 Chicago auto show. The red and blue ones went into the press fleet, but the white car, VIN 000017, ended up in my lap after a stint at the Mazda Service Training center, where it was taken apart and reassembled by countless mechanics. A group of us added a roll cage and got it an SCCA logbook because we were going to take it endurance racing, but that project was stillborn and I ended up with the car because, quite simply, it was being stored in my enclosed trailer.
I could only ever race that car because it could not be registered for the street, but I was immediately smitten by its sophisticated rear-drive chassis with independent double-wishbone suspension at each end. The 1.6-liter four-banger only made 116 hp at 6500 rpm, but that was enough to make it a Showroom Stock C (SSC) terror because its approximate 2150-pound race weight and well-balanced chassis made it the ultimate momentum car. The factory brakes were more than up for track duty, and the fact that the shift lever jutted directly out of the transmission made it one of the best-shifting manuals I can name. It was extremely easy to work on, too.
At one point I bought a red 1991 Miata very much like the one in the BaT listing, including the desirable A package that included cruise control and power windows. I bought mine for $850 from a California Highway Patrol officer because it had high mileage and a blown-out ring and pinion. I plopped in the engine from the now-retired race car and installed a spare diff I had laying around, and I finally had a street-drivable Miata. Soon after, however, I was encouraged to restore the old race car, so the engine came out and went back into old #17. My red Miata sits engineless in my garage to this day.
The Miata that is the subject of this auction benefits from the same advantage I found in the red car I bought: it’s a mid-1991 build that has the desirable “big nose” crankshaft that was installed starting at VIN 209447. All 1990 and early 1991 Miatas were built with short-nose cranks with a fragile keyway where the lower timing belt sprocket was indexed. The keyway was prone to breakage if the key was installed improperly or if the bolt was not torqued just so, which made it necessary to replace the entire crankshaft. Current advice for those changing a timing belt on the affected early cars is to not remove the lower timing belt sprocket if the front crank seal isn’t weeping. Some even go so far as to advise that you roll the car in fifth gear instead of turning the crank with a wrench when aligning the timing marks. But old motors eventually need to be rebuilt, so having the “big nose” crankshaft avoids a lot of hand wringing.
It’s not clear if the Miata in this auction has ever had its timing belt replaced. On mileage alone, it’s not necessary. But this car was built 31 years ago, and I’d want to confirm the age of the timing belt and plan on replacing it if it turns out to be original. The rest of the car looks very original, too. There’s a bit of wear, but only enough to perhaps keep it from going for top dollar. The headlight doors line up nicely with the hood, and there’s not much rust underneath, both of which suggest it has been treated nicely and stored inside in winter. The tires are the wrong size, but that’s understandable because 185/60R-14 tires are hard to find unless you’re looking for high-performance autocross rubber, which is very much available in that size.
This car shows only 17,000 miles and is currently in North Carolina, with bidding set to end on Sunday, March 6. It’d be a shame to see this car continue to sit mostly undriven, but I guess I have to come to grips with the fact that early Miatas might have become a classic when I wasn’t looking.
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