The Miata Reunion Brings Out The Best In Car Enthusiasts
Photography by Amanda Lappo
For a budding car fan, growing up as an expat in Japan in the 90s was like being in a worldly candy store. I can go on and on about the merits of that country to the point where it might sound like propaganda, but one thing’s for sure, when the Japanese get into something, they go all the way. They’ve turned making a simple cup of tea into an incredibly refined 4-hour ceremony. And the car culture is no different; if it’s a Ferrari, it’s the cleanest example in the world, if it’s a tuner JDM car, it’s received enough mods to make it as expensive as a Ferrari. Riding my bicycle to school humming engine noises (because it made it go faster obviously), I’d get passed by pristine NSX’s, 300ZXs, Skylines, and of course, MX-5’s.
The Miata, as it’s affectionately called in the US, holds a particularly holy place for Japanese youths. It’s actually the brain-child of these two cultures embodied by Kenichi Yamamoto, Mazda’s hear of R&D and Bob Hall, a Motor Trend journalist in a remarkable example of the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen or constant experimentation and innovation. In 1979 Bob suggested that Mazda build a sports car with Japanese reliability and English excitement, and 10 years later, Kenichi made it a reality. They certainly had no idea how profound of an impact it would have. Still, I witnessed it become a symbol of emancipation for an entire generation of young adults eager to find meaning through pleasure in a society that puts such brutal emphasis on work and sacrifice. With its bright colors, pop-up headlights, and simple two-seat setup, the car screamed FUN at you louder than a bouncy castle.
So it was with shameless enthusiasm that I jumped at Mazda’s offer to give us the keys to 2019 MX-5 and access to the Miata Reunion’s 10th edition taking place at the legendary Laguna Seca racetrack near San Francisco. We kicked things off by heading north from LA to Monterey with 3 other MX-5’s of various specs, including a very orange and Halloween season-appropriate 30th anniversary edition on the twisty backroads through Ojai, Paso Robles & Jamesburg.
The incarnation we drove is the 2019 RF spec; A retractable hardtop top 2.0 liter motor with a recent power increase to 181 bhp, a 7,500 rpm redline, a manual gearbox, Brembo brakes, Bilstein dampers, snug Recaro seats, and sporty-looking BBS wheels. It means business, and my god does it deliver.
From the first turns up the mountains of route 33, the car showed its mettle. It’s light (just over 2400 pounds / 1100kgs ) with relatively thin tires, so it’s nimble and direct; you can feel every movement of the car as it dances through the turns. The power is sufficient without being overwhelming, so you have the confidence to keep it revving high. Pair that with the retractable hardtop, and all your senses kick into overdrive faster than on any hallucinogen. The car simply devoured the miles, and suddenly, 9 hours later, we were in Monterey, dusty and buzzing with endorphins.
The MX-5 is sacred. How many sports cars at a reasonable price offer an exciting ride, perfectly balanced 50/50 weight distribution, a naturally aspirated engine, and a welcoming community of passionate owners you want to hang out with all day? I’ll just save you the time, there aren’t any.
With the Miata being the most successful roadster ever with over a million units sold and a widely popular spec race series which serves as the premier training ground for young racing talent in the US, you become acutely aware that you’re in the presence of an icon. That’s worthy of a celebration, don’t you think?
So, MX-5 owners on the West Coast must have some good karma leftover from past lives to deserve an event like the Miata Reunion. I was surprised to learn that Mazda is only affiliated with the event. They grant the Reunion access to the Laguna Seca track and host a tent to present their latest models. Asides from that, it’s the owners that make it happen, and the Miata Reunion serves as a pilgrimage for these enthusiasts. A contingent had driven down from as far as Vancouver (that’s about 24hrs of driving away).
Thanks to the tireless efforts of organizer Rick Weldon and a small team of 20 volunteers, over 2000 attendees gather each year at the track for two days of hot laps, cool and quirky car displays, and a plethora of after-market booths. Anything goes, from 500+hp power “Flying Miata” full LS-engine swaps to bright pink coil-overs.
And you couldn’t have a more diverse bunch of people, the youngest driver at the event was 16-year old Ellie, on her first track day alongside her beaming father while the eldest was 78-year old Dave, as combative at the wheel as any of us. You also had truly talented racers; the class lap time record was broken on Saturday, bringing it down to a mind-blowing 1:33. For reference, that’s as fast as the AMG-GTR and a GT3 RS 4.0. Dr. Bob, my driving instructor (or Eminent Educator as his business card said), was about to celebrate his 80th birthday. He estimates that his 1991 green first-gen Miata has seen about 50,000 track miles… on the same engine. It finally blew a gasket a couple of months ago which required some re-building, so he had a friend slap a turbo on it, close to doubling the car’s stock power and allowing him to hold his own with the Aventadors and GT3s he’s sometimes up against on tracks around the US. What a legend.
The Miata Reunion is truly a special event that every enthusiast should experience. Given the demand from other parts of the country, it’s now going on the road and will take place on the East Coast next year. Stay tuned on their site for further details (https://miatareunion.com/). Given the fun I had, I may fly out for it.