Miata

Background

16 years ago, I bought a red 1997 Mazda Miata. It was a ton of fun, but I sold it in 2015 since I was moving to a high crime area without a garage. I knew the car would be vandalized and likely stolen, and I didn’t want to deal with that. I missed that car for years.

In January of 2023, I stumbled across a very similar vehicle: A red 1990 Miata. The original owner had it for at least 20 years, then sold it to a younger relative. In 2021, he sold it to the third owner, who was selling it.

Mechanically, the car was great. It had around 112,000 miles on the odometer. I couldn’t find any rust problems. Recent maintenance included replacing the timing belt, replacing the clutch, recharging the AC, and installing a new starter motor. Nothing leaked. The exhaust was colorless and smelled like rich fuel, not burning oil. The seller did mention that sometimes the car would not start, most likely due to a failing ignition switch. He had ordered a replacement but it hadn’t arrived yet.

There were some small issues. The paint (which was original) had faded from weather and time. Scratches were impressively minor for a 33 year old car. The battery hold down clamp was missing, as were the brackets for the spare tire and jack. The car’s antenna had broken off at some point. The second owner had installed an ugly aftermarket LED interior light. The sound system was original. It had an AM/FM radio and a cassette player.

I bought it.

Goal

My goal with this car was to turn it into a time capsule from the 1990s. No performance upgrades. No fancy customizations. I wanted a machine that looked and behaved as if it came off the dealership lot in 1990. If I did customize anything, I’d make sure I could restore it to original condition.

Restoration

I got to work. First, I vacuumed everything. (The seller had a very cute dog with white fur.) The engine compartment had quite a few leaves. leaving my shop vac looking like I’d tried to vacuum up a tree.

The driver side sun visor had lost a screw, so I found a replacement. Though the car is 100% metric, a #10x3/4in sheet metal screw fit just fine.

I removed the window tint. The original owner installed the tint in 2000. He’d managed to get a doctor’s prescription for window tint.

I replaced the windshield wipers with some fancy Rain-X silicone wipers. I kept the original frames in case I ever wanted to go back to normal wiper blades.

The ash tray had been replaced with a cup holder that had a broken tab. I replaced that.

After wiping down the interior, I took some Meguiar’s Ultimate Insane Shine Protectant to all exposed plastic. What a difference that made.

I removed the aftermarket LED interior light. I didn’t know until afterwards, but that part had caused an annoying rattling at 3,700-3,900rpm.

The pedal pads were worn, so I replaced those.

I printed some visor delete plates, keeping the original sun visors in case I ever changed my mind. Note: If you live in a hot area, you want to print these with something other than PLA filament. PLA’s glass transition temperature is 60–65°C, meaning it can soften or become tacky in the hot sun.

I ordered a battery hold down clamp (new), hardware to hold down the spare tire (used), and hardware to hold down the scissor jack (used).

The doors and trunk creaked when opening/closing, so I greased the hinges.

The windows were rather difficult to roll up/down, so I lubricated the window tracks. It’s important to use a rubber-compatible lubricant on the front window channel. Silicone lubricant is probably best.

The latches on the soft top were a little loose, so I tightened to