Even Miatas Aren't Cheap Anymore

·4 min read
Photo credit: Mazda
Photo credit: Mazda

Among the data points of the ongoing used car price boom lies an existential threat. The cheap Mazda MX-5 Miata, the bastion of accessible enthusiasm and budget racing, is going extinct.

It was bound to happen. E30 BMWs were cheap until they weren't. Same with old air-cooled Porsches. Muscle cars, too, back before the boom. The masses have a tendency to catch on to the good stuff and mess with affordable pricing. The internet is accelerating those trends, blowing our secrets and pushing us out of the market.

Photo credit: Mazda
Photo credit: Mazda

The sheer scale of the Miata experiment succeeded in suppressing prices for a while. Hemmings says 228,961 first-generation NA Miatas were sold in the U.S.Low maintenance costs and strong reliability helped most of them live a long life. NA Miatas were easy to work on, available everywhere, majority manual, and supported by a fanatica laftermarket. They became the natural choice for amateur racers, autocross fiends, weekend canyon bombers, or Sunday drivers. Miata was always the answer.

That very ubiquity may have gotten us here. The beauty of the Miata is that it isn’t precious. Cheap and plentiful enough that you never really had to care about resale, NA Miatas were modified, converted to race cars, abused, or neglected. One by one, the seemingly endless supply of clean cars dwindled. Rust ate many. Cheap mods worsened thousands more. Slowly, the $2500 Miata faded away.

Photo credit: Screenshot: Bring a Trailer
Photo credit: Screenshot: Bring a Trailer

Fate was already taking hold in the years leading up to today’s unprecedented car market. Then a supply shortage of used cars and the thinning of the herd combined to kill the cheap, clean, unmodified NA. You can see it in Bring a Trailer data, where auction prices for NA Miatas—already on an upward trend—have spiked even further. Bring a Trailer had never sold an NA for over $20,000 until November 2019. In the two years since, the auction site has had 12 examples cross the block above that mark. Meanwhile, the sub-$5000 Miata has evaporated from the site, with even base model cars with around 40,000 miles edging closer to $10,000 in recent months.

Long-time enthusiasts know this is no anomaly. Truly great cars often experience a similar depreciation curve, getting progressively cheaper until the supply is thin and everyone realizes prices won’t ever be this cheap again.

Photo credit: Mazda
Photo credit: Mazda

For a while, the Miata market was blanketed with false security. Mazda continued to produce roadsters of the same formula with similar success. The NB, ND, and yes, even the NC are all brilliant sports cars that still embody what made the original such a success. It seemed safe to assume that the minting of more Miatas would stabilize the market.

It’s here, though, that the NA’s success turns against us. Let’s revisit the numbers: Mazda sold 228,961 NAs here. A full 170,666 left the line before the Miata’s first mid-cycle update in 1994. That’s a success story that Mazda hasn’t repeated since. In the 16 years for which GoodCarBadCar has sales data, the Miata has never surpassed the first four years of NA sales. Even when you put them together: From 2005 to the first three quarters of 2021, Mazda sold154,889 MX-5s, not even surpassing the total number of 1.6-liter NAs built from 1989 to 1993.

Photo credit: Screenshot: GoodCarBadCar
Photo credit: Screenshot: GoodCarBadCar

The big worry is that enthusiasts are chewing through old Miatas faster than Mazda can replenish them. That’s caused a shift in focus. NB prices are creeping up, and today, there’s not all that much daylight between clean, well-maintained NA, NB, or NC MX-5s, with good examples often bunching in the $8000 to $15,000 range.

The ND Miata, beloved by the community and the automotive press alike, has held its value shockingly well. Especially if you want a limited-slip differential—and you do—you’ll find that pre-update Club-spec ND1s are still in the mid $20,000 range, while ND2 Clubs and Grand Tourings with LSDs basically have not depreciated at all. Even finding a brand-new Miata Club was difficult this summer.

Photo credit: Screenshot: AutoTrader
Photo credit: Screenshot: AutoTrader

In some ways that’s a good thing. Strong demand for new Miatas will ensure a future for what is arguably the most important vehicle for automotive enthusiasm. That, in turn, inspires competition from the likes of the Toyota GR 86 and Subaru BR-Z, keeping a steady stream of great, reliable, rear-wheel-drive, manual enthusiast vehicles on the market. But while I wait for those to dip below $10,000, forgive me for mourning the passing of the cheap Miata.

Photo credit: Mazda
Photo credit: Mazda

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