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wae
wae Dork
2/23/18 8:32 a.m.

Laying in bed, trying to go to sleep two nights ago, I was scrolling through craigslist when I found an ad without any pictures offering a 1997 Miata for $1,200.  I usually don't bother with ads sans pictures, but it happened to be in the same city that I live in, so I went ahead and opened it up.  According to the seller, the car was in "good" condition, but suffering from a bad head gasket.  Reading further, the tires were new as was the clutch.  It's a manual and has a rollbar and only has just over 105k on the clock.  What really got my attention, though, was that the car was advertised as having a hard top.  I'm not an expert, but I know that those hardtops can command a good price all on their own, so at the asking price it didn't seem like I could possibly lose.  I showed my wife and remarked that it was a really good deal and she more or less demanded that I respond to the ad.  What an enabler she is!  I emailed right away and the next morning as I was getting in to work, the seller responded and we started going back and forth.  Turns out the car is parked at a local garage and they're the ones that diagnosed it as needing a headgasket.  I needed to swing by the kids' school anyway and it's about a quarter mile from there, so I went ahead and stopped in to take a look.

The underside has no rust whatsoever but there's a little bubbly rust spot towards the rear of the left rocker.  The paint is a little faded and oxidized, and the interior could use a good cleaning.  There are seat covers that hide some tears in the cloth seats, and I can't really inspect the soft top with the hard top on (or can I?  I don't know anything about these!  This is exciting!).  I confirmed milkshake in the crankcase, but the battery voltage was too low to start the car.  The battery is somewhat new so I suspect that either there's a drain, or something got left on (I'm envisioning hazard lights while waiting for a tow truck or something like that).  It was enough to turn the motor, though, so it's probably not locked up.  The headlight motors both work which is good -- I'm a total sucker for pop up headlights.

I called the seller and she said that she put the ad on craigslist that night at 9pm and has been inundated with emails ever since.  I couldn't help but try to talk her down, but she very politely held firm at her asking.  Can't fault a guy for trying, right?  Despite that paying asking price causes me physical pain, I relented and agreed to pay the $1,200 asking price for the car.  After that business was out of the way, we had a delightful conversation about the car and she asked what my plans were.  She seemed happy to know that I planned to fix it and enjoy it as a "fun car" and not part it out and scrap it or anything like that.  It was obviously her baby that she kept as a second car for the last several years.  We agreed to meet this morning at the courthouse to transfer the money and the paperwork.  There's a part of me that was a little nervous about the deal -- it's all verbal and over the phone and nothing would stop her from taking a better offer.  In fact, while I'd be a bit disappointed, I wouldn't blame her or be at all angry if someone offered her more and she took it.  (Not that I think that anyone here would try to poach my deal, but you know the Internet and all, that's why I didn't actually hit the "post" button until after I get back from the courthouse!)

As it turns out, everything went smooth with the title transfer.  We met at the courthouse this morning and chatted while the clerk got everything squared away.  Apparently someone did wind up asking her to take more than I had offered, but she declined saying that she had given her word and the car was sold.  She got a number of offers for just the hardtop, of course.  I kind of feel like there's some sort of karma with it, though, because apparently she was the second owner and when she got it many years ago a "fair" value was around $10k.  The story she told was that it was her friend's car and she had always wanted it, so when the car was going on the market she asked the friend if she'd take $6k for it.  The friend declined, saying that she wanted $10k but since this was going to be a second car it just wasn't worth spending that much for it.  The friend's dad, however, told his daughter to just let her have the car for $6k and they wound up just dropping it off in the driveway for her!  

My plans are actually pretty benign for this project.  I'm going to load it on the trailer and get it back to the workshop where I'll drain the fluids and pull the head.  I'll send the head over to Monarch to have them check it out for me and make sure it's not warped and if it's good, I'll get new gaskets and seals and put everything back together.  I'm actually going to do the radiator, hoses, water pump, thermostat, and timing belt while I'm at it.  That should be just under about $300 in parts from our friends at Rock Auto.

That will give me a chance to see if anything else is wrong -- did the headgasket blow because something else went wrong and overheated it or did it overheat because the headgasket just gave out?  From there, it needs a good cleaning, inside and out, and a polishing job on the paint to see if it can be saved.  From there?  I'm not sure yet!  I've wanted a Miata ever since I first saw a USA Today review of the car back when it was first released.  I got my first chance to drive one at the $2017 Challenge and it was amazing.  So in terms of where I go from there -- I don't know!  I'm just going to drive it and see!

No great pictures yet, just the ones I took in the rain yesterday:

AngryCorvair
AngryCorvair UltimaDork
2/23/18 8:39 a.m.

dang, that's a great find!

dherr
dherr Reader
2/23/18 9:19 a.m.

Yes, hell of a deal! 

wae
wae Dork
2/23/18 11:00 a.m.

Thanks guys!  I've heard people talk about awesome deals like this, but I've never been able to actually find them before!

Just placed my Rock Auto order.  New radiator, upper and lower hoses, thermostat, radiator cap, spark plugs, plug wires, water pump, timing belt, tensioners, head bolts, and the head gasket set for a grand total of $263.99 after shipping (from basically every warehouse Rock Auto has!).  Fun fact:  I'm saving about $15 by having it shipped directly to my workshop which is a commercial address instead of my home.  Same zip code and everything, I guess it's just the difference between a business address and residential.

eastsideTim
eastsideTim UltraDork
2/23/18 12:18 p.m.

Can’t wait to see this in person.  I see it already has cup holders added, I should do that to mine.

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/23/18 12:32 p.m.

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

Jerry
Jerry UberDork
2/23/18 12:54 p.m.

You're not helping my desire to own an NA myself, and the will-power I've exerted to not do that yet.

enginenerd
enginenerd Reader
2/23/18 12:56 p.m.

Wow what a steal! Hardtop in good condition can go for $1000-1200 so I'd say you bought a hardtop with a free car.

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/23/18 1:11 p.m.
Jerry said:

You're not helping my desire to own an NA myself, and the will-power I've exerted to not do that yet.

Would you like to own a championship winning MR class Miata?

wae
wae Dork
2/23/18 1:24 p.m.
eastsideTim said:

Can’t wait to see this in person.  I see it already has cup holders added, I should do that to mine.

 

They're actually not in very good shape.  I found what I believe are NOS Mazda ones for $25, though.

EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

Jerry said:

You're not helping my desire to own an NA myself, and the will-power I've exerted to not do that yet.

Come to the darkside.  Something something cookies.

enginenerd said:

Wow what a steal! Hardtop in good condition can go for $1000-1200 so I'd say you bought a hardtop with a free car.

Yeah, that's what really made me go for this.  I know that you don't always win by buying the cheapest thing you can find, but in this case there just wasn't any downside.

 

The gents at the garage were very helpful and got the car pushed up and out of their lot:

And after a short drive home:

I'm getting ready to go out of town for the weekend and when I get back, I have a woodworking project that needs to get finished up, so there won't be much in the way of updates, but now that the title is transferred and the car is on the trailer, nervousness has given way to anticipation!

eastsideTim
eastsideTim UltraDork
2/23/18 1:30 p.m.
EvanB said:
Jerry said:

You're not helping my desire to own an NA myself, and the will-power I've exerted to not do that yet.

Would you like to own a championship winning MR class Miata?

Do eet!

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/23/18 2:37 p.m.
wae said:
EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

I was thinking more along the line of rallycross. 

cmcgregor
cmcgregor Dork
2/23/18 2:40 p.m.

That's a great find! Even if the motor is trash, I'd say you're doing well on it.

Dirtydog
Dirtydog HalfDork
2/23/18 3:03 p.m.

Up here in NY, the car is worth around $2000-$2500, in fair condition.    I'd say, you did a bit of alright.   Carry on.

Cousin_Eddie
Cousin_Eddie Reader
2/23/18 3:38 p.m.

I didn't see a thermostat gasket on your shopping list. You might also consider getting a hose kit too. There are like 7 molded coolant hoses on the engine. A kit with genuine Mazda hoses is right around 90 dollars. I bought mine from Treasure Coast Miata.

Jerry
Jerry UberDork
2/24/18 6:33 a.m.
EvanB said:
wae said:
EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

I was thinking more along the line of rallycross. 

I think we all were.

wae
wae Dork
2/24/18 3:56 p.m.

In reply to Cousin_Eddie :

Thanks for the tip!

I think the thermostat gasket is in the head gasket kit but if it's not I'll go get one!

wae
wae Dork
2/24/18 3:56 p.m.
Jerry said:
EvanB said:
wae said:
EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

I was thinking more along the line of rallycross. 

I think we all were.

Rallycross?  Never heard of it.

MazdaFace
MazdaFace HalfDork
2/24/18 4:31 p.m.

Awesome find! 

Indy-Barely Functional-Guy
Indy-Barely Functional-Guy SuperDork
2/25/18 3:55 p.m.

Score!! 

It's pretty good looking too. I like the trunk spoiler

docwyte
docwyte SuperDork
2/25/18 5:09 p.m.

Great find!  I want a miata with a hard top for $1200!

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/25/18 6:32 p.m.
wae said:
Jerry said:
EvanB said:
wae said:
EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

I was thinking more along the line of rallycross. 

I think we all were.

Rallycross?  Never heard of it.

It's where you drive around cones in a field, but that isn't important right now.

eastsideTim
eastsideTim UltraDork
2/25/18 6:43 p.m.

Going to try to keep it under Challenge budget, at least thru October?  Hint, hint...

Jerry
Jerry UberDork
2/26/18 6:42 a.m.
EvanB said:
wae said:
Jerry said:
EvanB said:
wae said:
EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

I was thinking more along the line of rallycross. 

I think we all were.

Rallycross?  Never heard of it.

It's where you drive around cones in a field, but that isn't important right now.

Surely he's heard of it?

wae
wae Dork
2/26/18 8:06 a.m.
EvanB said:
wae said:
Jerry said:
EvanB said:
wae said:
EvanB said:

You know what owning a Miata with a hardtop means...

That even if the motor is totally thrashed, I can sell the hardtop, scrap the shell, and not be out any money? laugh

I was thinking more along the line of rallycross. 

I think we all were.

Rallycross?  Never heard of it.

It's where you drive around cones in a field, but that isn't important right now.

Where are we going to find a cone?  In a field?  In space?  At this hour?

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