He has the ideal garage: a 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental with gorgeous Gurney Nutting bodywork, a thoroughly modernised 1951 MG TD, this 1993 Miata, a Palio 1.6 GTX, an Innova turbodiesel, an Alto 1.1 and a 1986 Kinetic Honda. He sold his Super Four recently and we are sure it’s going to be replaced with something quite exciting. Amir Ali Jetha, a Mumbai-based businessman, obviously is a complete motoring freak. We were pretty impressed with his diligence in bringing his driving nostalgia to life. Though he’s still not finished with building his dream Miata, we thought it makes for a very special story... in his own words.
I’m smiling like an idiot as realisation finally hits me... I’m driving my very own Mazda Miata, right here in Mumbai. The familiar cockpit and controls bring back fond memories of driving my last Miata in the United States. The responsiveness of the engine and the feedback from the road is amazing. I snick through the gears using the wonderful short-throw gearshift, keeping the rev-happy engine above 5000 rpm as I approach the Mumbai-Pune Expressway with the top down and the wind in my face. I love the sensation. Lonavla arrives all too soon, but the twisties beckon and the car begs to be pushed harder. I run through a series of turns in second and third gears, holding the rpm between 5000 and 7000. My butt is inches off the ground and I power the car through the apexes, balancing understeer with rear-wheel push. The Miata remains completely poised and hugs the road, despite the abuse being inflicted upon it and seems to react just as well to my thoughts as it does to my inputs. I enjoy the car and road without fear of the American Highway Patrol pulling me over and bringing a premature end to my idea of pure unadulterated driving pleasure. Local road conditions in and around Mumbai leave much to be desired, and in a hard-sprung car like the Miata, make for a jarring ride. But if you know where to look around, there are roads with good surfaces, and on those, in a Miata, it’s a whole different game. I bet it will make a driving enthusiast out of anybody.
British Racing Green, tan top and interiors, 14-inch alloys, Nardi wheel, shift knob and e-brake lever, limited slip differential, stainless steel sill plates and speaker covers, and the sweetest sounding exhaust note I had ever heard. These are but a few of the details I recall from the first time I laid eyes on a Mazda Miata in the US way back in its first year of production in 1989. A test drive later, I was hooked!
Six years later I finally made the purchase – a base model with no frills, not even an A/C (who needed one anyway, with the cool northern California weather and a top that was easy to drop?). Very soon it became obvious that it was the car of choice for my wife and I, and many an argument ensued to gain driving rights. Driving the Miata in the US was for me therapeutic; I looked for reasons to go out driving. The perfect back-roads, the wonderful scenery and the cool weather, and the Miata’s eager engine and spot-on handling were terribly inviting – but it was tempered only by the fear of getting a speeding ticket. And that fear had me driving the car at the very edge of (and sometimes just beyond) the legal limits. The wonderful roads made driving the Miata a true pleasure, where one could truly appreciate the stiff chassis, perfect balance and go-kart like handling.
One experience with the Miata will remain in my mind forever. Within a few days of getting the car, we drove from Sacramento to Reno through a snowstorm at night, stopping en-route to mount snow-chains. We saw many a big SUV slide off the road as the drivers thought they were invincible in their four-wheel drives, but our little real-wheel-drive roadster trudged along in a few inches of snow and got us to Reno safely.
Over the next six years, we drove the car up and down both coasts and across the country. To battle the cold winter air with the hood lowered, I made a windblocker that sat behind the seats and buffered the wind from entering the car from behind – with that in place, even with the top down, the heater was able to handle all but the harshest of conditions. My last two years with that Miata were spent in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a perfect location in many ways except for the heat that made my non-AC Miata almost unbearable to drive. However, I loved my little roadster, so I stuck to my guns and drove it that way for the next few years. In the year 2000, with our first born about to arrive, we decided it was time to let the Miata go in exchange for a more practical car. It was a painful parting and from then on, I looked longingly at every Miata I passed and knew that someday, it would be back in my life!The Mazda Miata (also called the MX-5 or Eunos Roadster) is the best selling sports car on Earth.
One of the nicest things I have read about the Miata is by John Pearley Huffman – a famous American motoring journalist – which talks about the universal appeal of this car: ‘Though the Miata was developed in America and Japan, it has been a huge success throughout the world. With its tidy size, clean lines, simple drivetrain, outstanding handling and unpretentious character, the Miata maintains far-reaching appeal. There are Miata clubs in New Zealand where there are more sheep than people; in England, where this sort of car was invented; in Sweden, where it’s way too cold to drive with the top down most of the year; and in New York City, where no one drives. The Miata was, and continues to be, a phenomenon.’ The development of the Miata has spawned the revival of a whole new automotive segment – the roadster. The BMW Z series, the Porsche Boxster and the like owe their existence to the original Miata.
We finally moved back to Mumbai in 2002 and the odd Miata sighting in the city consistently brought back fond memories and a strong desire to own one again. I finally took the plunge a few months ago and bought a red NA (a first generation) Eunos Roadster with all the frills. My wife questions my maturity now that I have bought another Miata after the birth of our third child, but although she isn’t demonstrative about it, I know she is as excited about it as I am. With a little help from miata.net, an online community with a treasure trove of Miata related information, I have ironed out some of the problems, replaced numerous parts and upgraded some of the interiors. Amazingly, I was able to source most mechanical parts right here in Mumbai. Cosmetic parts like the top, door handles, weather stripping, etc were more challenging and had to be imported. The spec list now reads something like this: red, tan interiors, black top, Nardi wheel, shift knob and e-brake lever, LSD, stainless steel sill plates and speaker covers, alloys and an exhaust note that I never realised I would miss so much. What’s next? Why, British Racing Green of course – as soon as I get the rest of the car running just the way I like it.
So what is this mystical force that Miatas have for me? I think it’s the grin that I can’t seem to wipe off my face each time I drive it. I am a Miata junkie and will probably own and drive one for the rest of my life.