Roof tar, rivets, sheet metal, bondo, bed liner and industrial caulking. These were the ingredients that but Miata Dumpty back together again. Yes, it may not have been proper, sensible or pretty, but this motley brew of fixes were designed to keep water out of the Miata’s floor. And for two years, including two winters, it worked flawlessly.
When I last left off the tale of the $2,000 Miata, I had discovered the floor was rotting out at an alarming rate. After using s grinder to cut out the worst of the rot, I sanded down all the exposed rust and covered it in a layer of rust stop spray. I put a thick layer of roof tar around the edges of the holes I’d cut, and rivetted in new sheet metal. I put bondo on the smaller holes and let the whole deal dry.
Next, I applied the strongest caulking I could find along all of edges and holes underneath the car. After leaving that to cure overnight, I liberally applied several coatings of bedliner under the Miata, everywhere a repair had been performed.
Now that my car was waterproof, it was time to hit the road. Even with the structural rigidity of overcooked spaghetti and a drivetrain one third of the way towards a million kilometers, the MX-5 was still a blast to drive.
I loved driving the car across town on my weekly expeditions. The odd time I got to drive the car for several days in a row were a real treat. As long as there wasn’t a deluge of rain and temperatures were above ten degrees Celsius, the top was down, and I was grinning like a fool.
Speaking of that top, anyone who’s owned an early Miata knows the pain of unzipping that damn plastic rear window when putting the top down. By the end of my ownership I was getting pretty good at doing it from inside the car.
Surprising Winter Warrior
As much fun as this car was on a sunny summer day, I had just as much fun when the snow was flying. Despite having no ABS or traction control, a good set of winter tires strapped to the standard 14-inch wheels made the Miata near unstoppable in the snow (unless it was piled up over the hood)
The limited slip rear differential always found traction if the throttle was feathered properly. Stopping was never an issue thanks to the car’s light weight. And handling was fantastic – the car’s weight distribution and responsiveness was exaggerated in these conditions. I remember comparing it back to back with an AWD compact crossover after one moderate snowfall and I was able to corner at a higher rate of speed in the Miata.
Of course, all this control meant the MX-5 was a willing and able snow drifter. Fun fact, because of the car’s age and all the pieces missing from the floor boards, when performing an opposite lock slide, the car would flex so much the latched roof would start to pull away from the windshield and any water, snow or ice that was in the crevice would dump right into my lap.
Impeccable Track Record Over
As mentioned previously, this car lasted a solid two years. That’s $1000 a year, or $83 a month. Not bad for the fun I had. Aside from a minor oil leak, the car was also completely reliable during that time – until it wasn’t.
One day commuting home from work, the temperature gauge spiked way past the redline. I had noticed the car was running a bit hotter than usual earlier that day but thought topping up the coolant would cure the problem. Spoiler alert – it didn’t as coolant was now spilling out from under the car.
I pulled over to the side of the highway and let the car cool down. With the help of some friendly police officers who arrived a short time later, I was able to limp the car off the highway onto a sideroad where coolant continued to drizzle out from under the car.
I had the car towed home to assess the damage. Thanks to a friend’s mechanic, it was determined the water pump had died. But there had also been collateral damage. With the cooling fan working overtime, it had broken free from its bracket and sliced into the radiator – hence the leaking coolant.
All Good Things Come to An End
None of the repairs would be overly complex for someone with the proper knowledge, but that wasn’t me. When I added up all the costs for parts and labour, it exceeded what I was comfortable investing into a car that at any given moment could split in two, blow an engine and/or shatter a transmission.
Sadly, I made the choice to move on. The era of the beater Miata was over.