MarkHiatt None
9/22/10 9:08 a.m.

The first car that ever stopped me cold was a Triumph Spitfire. Over the years it's happened with the Delorean, the 1990s Jaguar XK-series and the corresponding Aston-Martins.

You go to car shows and there they are again. Row after row of beautiful Triumphs and MGs. But these are 1960s cars. Even the 1980 models were 1960s cars, and a lot of water (and Castrol) has gone under the bridge since then. I'm fifty-three, now. I'm busy and not particularly fiddly. I remember handing my dad spanners while he worked on his BugEyed Sprite, but I don't know that I have the patience or talent to keep a nice Triumph a nice Triumph for very long.

A friend told me that the very best traditional British sports car ever built was the 1st-generation Mazda Miata. I can see what he's saying. They don't leak. The have great brakes. They have sparky ignition. You can get them with airbags and cruise control and FM stereo and you don't need a degree to get the roof up and down. Plus, there are dealerships in every town with more than 100,000 people and specialist shops in every other town. But I don't get that tingle from the Miata that I still get from others.

I'm probably going to make a decision soonish and I don't want to screw this up. How do you know how happy you might end up, before a project begins? How do I figure out which car would be right for me?

Gary Reader
9/22/10 9:42 a.m.

Mark, if you're a busy person with no spare time and not "fiddley," as you say, then by all means buy a Miata, especially a good first or secong gen model. I have a '96 and I'm very happy with it. A lot of people on this board own Miatas. You would be happy with one. But if you can squeeze in a few hours each week for fiddling with a vintage sports car, then a Spitfire would be an excellent starter project. And even the best Spitfire you can buy will end up being an ongoing project. Any vintage sports car for that matter. Check CL. 70s era Spitfires are the most predominant vintage sports car available and most of them are offered at reasonable prices.

With prices as they are these days, and especially at this time of year, you could buy a used Miata and a Spitfire and still not have invested too much in the hobby.

KaptKaos Reader
9/22/10 11:34 a.m.

Spanners and BugEye in the same post?? Something doesn't compute, but I digress.

Start with the Miata. The misses and I owned a '94 for several years. At the time, it was our only car. Great little car. Goes, stops, turns, everything.

After owning that, decide if you want to move to a classic. If you're happy, stay put.

Lastly, one of the things that people often forget about owning a classic is the cost of tools. Even if you have most of the work done for you, you will begin to acquire tools. If you don't have some already, make sure you get some and have a place to keep them.

Good luck!

foxtrapper SuperDork
9/22/10 1:45 p.m.

You figure out it's the right car by driving it. Seriously, go out on some test drives. Some cars just don't fit, so find out. There's nothing wrong with that.

I agree with your friend. The Miata is the best british car I've ever owned. My Spitfire spends a whole lot more time sitting in the garage because of the Miata.

The Miata is a dead nuts reliable car. If you lust after british cars, but don't love to work on them, the Miata probably is just the ticket for you.

Tom Heath
Tom Heath Webmaster
9/22/10 1:49 p.m.

First off, welcome to the community!

MarkHiatt wrote: They don't leak. The have great brakes. They have sparky ignition.

This made me giggle. Well played.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my miata, but when I drive a TR6 or other genuine British sports car, it's a whole different experience. The Miata is almost too good and too refined to offer the same experience.

I'd suggest finding the best-condition British sports car in your budget and enjoying it. I've seen some of our staff members' cars used as regular daily drivers with only a minimum of upkeep because they were fixed the right way once. Tommy's Spitfire and Joe's TR6 come to mind.

Buying a freshly finished restoration and having the number of a good mechanic might be the best way to really scratch that British car itch. It may not be be dead-solid reliable, but it should be good enough to enjoy. The Miata is an incredible roadster, but it will never be British.

I feel terrible recommending against one of my favorite cars. It's like talking behind the back of a friend.

rconlon HalfDork
9/22/10 2:19 p.m.

Possibly that 90's Jag would scratch the itch. It is modern and with decent support if you are willing to pay extra for servicing it. The driving experience is nothing like old British sports cars and, once sorted, a used Jag can be a daily used Jag.

How to know what is right for you?

Set a price you are willing to pay. Set a level of finish you want. Set a type of car (convertible, coupe, 60's, 80's etc...) Go looking at a lot of cars with an open mind and get the one that seems to call your name. It could be an Alfa or BMW or LBC but this will be the one that you will forgive for not being perfect and you will bring to reliability. Some owners don't keep their classics long and some do. So you are not stuck forever with it and classics generally go up in value and not down.

Cheers Ron

ddavidv SuperDork
9/23/10 5:30 a.m.

Miata. British cars are fiddly, and are made of materials of unspectacular quality. My Mini has been very reliable, but then it's only got 35,000 miles on it. It does hopelessly leak oil though. Panel fit is horrible. Interior parts are warped and coming unglued. The fasteners are made of material that is easy to snap off or cross thread.

Miatas give you the open air, sports car experience with none of the drama. Yet, they still ooze character, just like the British cars. Mazda really got that one right. I've had traditional British and Italian sports cars and if I went back to a roadster I would get a Miata.

MarkHiatt New Reader
9/23/10 10:40 a.m.

Thank you all for your considered responses. I know on some level what I'm asking is "Who should I marry?" There are a lot of skills a good wife should have, some you can even mention in a family magazine. But there are so many levels to this one.

I just feel instinctively on some level that I am not going to be happy with a car that needs a lot of attention every five hundred or a thousand miles. That moves me more into the Miata/XK8 side of things, I suspect. I do love those '90s Jaguars... and one of the presenters on Fifth Gear (man, I miss that show) said they were a pretty easy way to have a lot of fun and get your money back at the end, if you needed.

I'm going to wait for that first killing frost, and start looking. Still, the local British car club is having a drive-in and show in a couple of weeks. I do like the idea of joining up with Her Majesty's Royal Motoring Patrol and going for breakfast and such with all of those guys and enjoying THEM playing with their fiddly cars.

Thanks, everyone.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid Auction Editor
9/23/10 11:18 a.m.

Hey Mark, I'm Andy Reid and I write the Buy and Sell column in Classic. I have owned every single car you have mentioned and I really like the Miata as well.

That being said while it has a lot of the qualities that made the Lotus Elan and MGB great it is not a British car.

I also understand not wanting to deal with a ton of service issues with the car you get but wanting a nice experience. I am a bit the same now, I currently have a 1969 Spitfire that needs love every now and then when I feel like dealing with it and have an Aston DB7 that needs little. I know the Astons are expensive but I would offer up as a possible solution a Jaguar XK8, either in convertible or coupe form. These cars have dropped quite a bit n price and offer a real British GT car experience for often under $10,000. I almost got one myself but found the DB7 for a cheap price and still sometimes wonder if it was the right choice, at least until I look at the DB again.

There is a great book on buying and owning the XK8 called You And Your Jaguar XK8 that goes over the entire history of the car, has a buyers guide and a service guide that is a terrific tool to have if yo think about getting one.

Hope this helps. Any opinions?

rconlon HalfDork
9/23/10 11:49 a.m.

I have a 1993 Miata (65,000miles) and do like it. It does everything well and offers a fine roadster experience. My wife likes it for being easy to drive, with A/C, PS, automatic, reliable and fun. She calls it her car. I did a fair bit of work on it to get it sorted - top, radiator, tires, hoses, belts, t-belt and more. I would get the lowest mileage, least used one that I could find and afford. There are some now over 20 years old with high mileage. Don't expect a 150,000 mile Miata to need nothing. NA NB NC models are all fine when lightly used and if not classics yet, they are getting close. The later MX-5 has a bit of Jaguar in the look and every mechanic will work on them. Cheers Ron

9/24/10 6:11 a.m.

A few years ago, my father in law decided he wanted a sports car. Being the person he is, he started pouring over the consumer reports and auto rating guides. After about the 20th time of coming around to me and asking what I thought of a particular candidate, I finally told him that a sports car is an emotional purchase. Owning one, by definition, defies cold logic. If he really wanted a sports car, he would have fixated on one from the start and no argument would have kept him from buying it.

I detect the same from the OP. More of a "Talk me out of it" plea rather than a need to select the right car from a herd. One thing to consider is if you are going to participate in the "social" side of a classic purchase, such as car club or shows, the Brit crowd and the Miata crowd are quite different! Figure mid-fifties for the Brit stuff versus 30 somethings for the Miata.

MarkHiatt New Reader
9/24/10 4:25 p.m.

I myself am mid-fifties!

I hope nobody talks me out of this. What I really hoped for was for someone to talk me into this.

Still, with Andy's remarks, above, I think I am probably looking for a Mazda Miata M-Edition, or a '90s XK8.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid Auction Editor
9/24/10 6:20 p.m.

Hey mark, good luck. I think a sports car is a terrific and fun thing to have in your life. Let me know if I can assist you in your search.

NCtim New Reader
9/24/10 8:22 p.m.


I'm 52, I've owned and restored many a British sports car (and tractors), frame-up. From MGs to big Healys and Triumphs.

You want to know what I lie in bed at night these days wishing for? I guess I should say, pining for. My perfect 1969 Triumph TR6 that I stripped to the frame and restored from the ground up, except better.

It wasn't supercharged or super-inducted, or super-anything, just restored and proper. Everything worked correctly and it was a beauty. I've spent the last six months online seeing if it appears anywhere.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you want the British sports car experience, love the low throaty exhaust note of a straight-six, want a little more cockpit room than a Miata, and BEST OF ALL, not be one of the thousands of gray-haired gentlemen I see every weekend cruising on the Blue Ridge Parkway in their Miatas, look for a reliable TR6 or TVR that is good enough to be a weekend driver.

Please note, I love driving the Miata and I certainly don't want to discourage Mark from exploring that avenue, but when we get to be 50 we have only so many garage bays left to muss up. You know?


NCtim New Reader
9/24/10 8:52 p.m.

In reply to KaptKaos:

Talk of spanners and British cars go very well in the same sentence IMHO. I can't begin to tell you how many original British service manuals I've read over the last 35 years that never mention something called a "wrench."

There was always a specific reference to a particular spanner number required for the procedure but never any mention of a "wrench."

Wrench is a word that conjures thoughts of brute force and British cars need a tender, loving touch.

Just like the lady who enjoys the Sunday outing in a drop top on a deserted winding road through the mountains or foothills.

Just saying in my old-fashioned way.

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