OK, here’s a bit of a question based on a pipe dream sparked by Zippy’s cost of fuel discussion a bit back. I am anything but a gear head. I know little to nothing about cars, especially “older” cars. I have always had a fascination with them, but nothing that resembles a deep Y-Chromosome love for the machines.

I have always been interested in the idea of getting an old Roadster-type vehicle. One that might need some work, but it “simple” enough that I can use a wrench and a ball peen hammer to fix it. With a little work, I could get it running and save a few buck and have fun driving to work.

With that in mind, is there a such a beast that exists? If so, what would it be?

The “simple” aside, what roadster-type vehicle would you want if you could have any? Let’s say it has to be pre 1990.

i’m not just saying this because i own one. i am a gearhead and a pretty damn good shadetree mechanic.

honestly, the most reliable, simple, and fun to drive roadster is the miata (mx5).

good versions of the first gen can be had for $2k ('89-97), second gen for $5k+ (99-05).

they are easy to maintain, the engines are overbuilt and over engineered. they are rear wheel drive, and the gearbox is still one of the best on the market.

you can drop the top in less than 10 seconds from inside the car.

other than that, a pre-'90 roadster i would consider would be a datsun roadster (fairlady). if you’re willing to forego the roadster experience, i would also consider a porsche 914/6.

I purposely said roadster-type as I am thinking two-seater, ideally a convertible. A Porsche would be tres cool. More than anything, I am looking for something that is fun to drive but I can easily maintain as a second car that is more fuel efficient.

I will start looking at the Miatas.

What happens when you start talking about things like Astin Martins?

OMG. What a weird topic. I just decided to import my '74 914 rather than sell it and buy a Miata.

I would tend to agree with Kung Fu. The Miata is the more sensible choice. They are very cheap to run and reliable. However…we’re designers, we should be like Icarus and reach for the sun…right? In that case the choices are limited:

  1. Brit sportscar (Triumph, MG, Austin-Healey). These are unreliable, but stylish. Also, expect the purchase price to be elevated due to demand. They also rust, so finding one near BC may be hard. Expect to pay $10k

  1. Fiat spyder. This is a great car. Beautiful (designed by Pininfarina). In 1970 when R&T tested roadsters, the Spyder easily beat the Brits and the 914. However, as Fiat is no longer in NA, parts will be hard to find. Reliability is an unknown to me. Prices are sometimes more reasonable. Expect to pay $6k-10k

  1. Porsche 914. This is the designers choice. Quirky as all hell. I bought my '74 when I was 16 (1994). They rust like hell too, so watch out. I can give you pointers on what to look like if you get serious. The advantage is the mechanics are as straightforward as you can ask for. You can change engines in one without special equipment in about 2 hours (I’ve done it two or three times). I think anyone could rebuild one of these engines if they wanted. Parts are cheap as you can source nearly everything from VW (1/3 the price of anything that says “Porsche”).

Expect to pay $6k-10k for this as well.

Aston Martins are mega expensive and complete rubbish.

The 914 will get you around 28mpg city/35 hgwy. The others around the same too. However, you will be emitting about four times the CO2 as a Civic.

Another point. All of these cars are slow as hell. Much slower in acceleration than anything sold today. The defrosters are marginal at best, heaters are sometimes non-functioning. They are unexpectedly roomy however. Especially the '14…they almost have a bench seat in them. Very practical.

I had a buddy that fixed up an old MG, might try that?

I’ve still got my first car, a 78 caprice classic, and i wanted to take the engine out of it and put it in something tiny, much like a miata. not really ideal for mpgs though.

I would reiterate the Miata as long as you are under the ~6’ mark. Once you get above that point it becomes a pretty tight squeeze (unless you do some modifications to the seat padding).

British cars are classy but rubbish. Expect to spend more time fixing it than driving it.

The Miata is a great car, great fun to drive, easy to find parts, and they’re easy to find. If you’re looking for a fun daily driver this is absolutely the way to go.

On the flip side if you’re looking for a occasionally driven usually broken weekend car, you can consider the Triumphs, the Alfa Romeo Spyders, or perhaps something 2+2 and german like a VW Cabrio or BMW 3 Series convertable.

Hands down I would say Miata though.

Something like this?

PM if you need some miata shopping pointers.

i have a close friend who is 6’6" and drives a miata. a simple seat mod helped him considerably. i’m 6’0 and have no issues with the car.

i specifically refrained from mentioning italian and british roadsters because they are, quite frankly, repair nightmares.

i have driven miatas that have over 200k miles on the odo that drive as well as mine with half the mileage.

i get about 30mpg in mine in mixed driving, but like any car it depends on your driving habits and how well you maintain the car. for a miata, keep the oil changed and replace the plug wires about every 25k miles and you’re fine.

you can individualize/customize these little cars very easily to make it unique to your style. it’s been sold all over the world for almost 20 years, there are some very unique items you can get or fabricate to make it your ‘own’.

i have driven versions of the miata with built motors, turbos, superchargers, and individual throttle bodies. very cool stuff. i have had a s/c and a turbo on my car over the years

the engine is non-interference with hydraulic lifters, so destroying this motor is pretty tough to do. they were originally engineered for turbocharging, they are quite stout. in the miata north-south layout, they are very easy to work on.

Anyone have any thoughts on the Mazda RX7?

70’s 80’s mercedes SL’s (350, 450, etc.) can be had in good condition for about $10K. and a heluva lot more style than any miata. also not bad in parts/repairs since there are so many still around and everything can be ordered direct from MB if needed.

a littlte more coin, but a really nice looking car are the 60’s-70’s SLs. 280SL, etc.

i’ve never driven a miata, and heard good things about the ride, but always kinda found them a bit pedestrian in styling and border line girly, myself.


Hehe…this is my hang-up as well. Need to drive one to see if I can get over that :wink:

I likey that Merc!

Which Generation? Again - maintenence nightmares. The Rx7 might as well be British. My uncle has an “FD” Rx7 (third gen, the round sexy one) but it’s had the engine rebuilt more times then anybody can count and still has issues with the turbos spewing oil everywhere. Also not a roadster, though the second gen was offered as a convertable. I’d avoid it though.

FC rx-7s are reliable in n/a form. stay away from the turbos on this car.

go drive a miata through some curvy roads or hammer through a cloverleaf, tell me how girly it is after that. :wink:

i know another industrial designer here in la (trans designer) he has a very interesting miata:

Yeah the Miatas are tons of fun…make a great weekend racer too. My roommate in college runs in the Spec Miata class at a bunch of tracks out in the Mid-atlantic region.

The car is a lot less girly once you throw in a roll cage and some fender dents. :laughing:


i ran some ‘wreck’ miata class events. it a blast being on a track with 30 other cars of the same spec.

mazda has done an excellent job supporting these cars despite their age.

the miata is a design inspired by the 70’s lotus elan, but more reliable.

That’s a cool looking car!

Was driving to a poker tourney last night, and saw a old fiat x19 (mid engine T top) buzzing along, I had one for a while and that little sucker was a blast and about as thirsty as a baby squirl.

Not that I’m recommending you buy one of these…

…But this post reminds me of my first car - purchased when I was 17 - long before I had any idea that “industrial design” even existed.

Fiat X1/9 - amazingly fun car to drive. Similar design to the Toyota MR2 *but conceived well beforehand) Targa roof like a Porsche. The only drawback was the engine was located behind the seats - and there was a trunk at the back and the front. Accessability to the engine was a real issue.

That being said - It cost me about $3800 back in 1988 and I pretty much fixed everything with duct tape and it ran for years. Would love to have it back…