Luck is a funny thing. Most people don’t remark on it unless something disproportionately good or bad happens to them, and boy howdy did I get lucky last week. Like, I should either go out and buy a fistful of lottery tickets in case I’m on fire or approach every situation for the next two weeks with extreme caution as though my good luck reservoir is as dry as my favorite martini. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Betsy.
Taaah Daaahh!!! I found my Miata! Ain’t she pretty? The name Betsy was my wife’s idea. We’re comic book nerds and this is a Japanese car dressed in British Racing Green, kind of a funhouse mirror reflection of a particular telekinetic ninja with a penchant for costumes that make women everywhere wince in sympathetic pain.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of how I found and bought her let’s get this out of the way...
2001 Mazda Miata Special Edition (#2,278 of 3,000)
1.8L 16v I4 (155 hp @ 7,000 / 125 ft-lbs @ 5,500)
Just over 47,000 miles
RWD, torsen LSD
Sport suspension featuring Bilstein shocks
For those of you who care less about the numbers and more about the feels here’s my one word review after driving her for less than a week: mirth.
If you checked out the MiataHunt2013 tag you might recognize the ad above. Or then again maybe you don’t because the previous owner (I’m going to call him Thaddius because lulz) deleted his ad pretty much as soon as I drove away from his house. Smart man, that Thaddius. I wouldn’t want my contact information up on Craigslist for longer than absolutely necessary either.
The long and short of it starts with that ad and with an E-mail that had become something of a form letter for me at that point. Would you please run me a CARFAX? Why are you selling? Was the last time it was serviced preventative or repairs? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? That kind of thing. Thaddius responded to me in record time and with all the right answers, except for the minor detail that he hadn’t and wouldn’t run a CARFAX, although he did send me a picture of the VIN on the dash. Personally if I was trying to sell a car on Craigslist I’d have a CARFAX report ready and waiting, but that’s just me.
He was upfront about the few negatives the car had against it and was communicative enough that I didn’t feel like I was talking to a seventeen-year-old who was only selling their car because their dad told them they had to, so I arranged to meet him the afternoon of the seventeenth. Thaddius lives about an hour north of me so I had plenty of time to work myself up with anticipation and then actively calm myself down in repeating fifteen-minute cycles. His car really looked fantastic and I was admittedly excited.
I arrived to find the car parked on his driveway and took a few minutes to inspect it without having to worry about the owner’s eyes boring into the back of my head while I did so. The brake pads seemed as new as he had suggested, the interior and tonneau top were in excellent shape, I couldn’t feel any evidence of a repaint when I ran my fingers between the body panels, and it was obvious that this was a car that had seen regular cosmetic care rather than just a hasty bath the day before someone was supposed to come by to check it out. The ad mentioned that the top would likely need to be “restitched” in the future and what I saw corroborated that statement; there was a section above the driver’s side that looked in need of repair and the stitching around the rear window (the line underneath the exterior lip) looked a bit stretched, although it still all looked like it would keep the rain out. Even with the less than ideal condition of the top I was highly encouraged. Time to meet Thaddius.
When the front door to this stranger’s house swung open I did a double-take. Had I accidentally stumbled upon the Addams’ household or was Lurch here the man who owned and (presumably) drove that NB in the driveway? Thaddius extended his hand to me and smiled, “You must be the guy from the internet!” he said. Still in shock at the sheer size of the man it was all I could do to shake his hand dumbly. Not only might he sell me his Miata but he had softballed that one in so nicely and I couldn’t even manage a half-hearted zinger. Dammit.
Seriously, the guy must have been at least 6’ 2” and two-hundred forty pounds. For any of you Jalops out there sitting on your beanstalk, wondering if a Miata is right for you I can tell you here and now that you’ll fit. At least in a NB.
We made haste to the driveway where he started to tell me a bit about the car’s history before popping the hood so I could take a look. I leaned into the engine bay and tapped the valve cover once (to make sure it was cool) before resting my hand against it to support my weight. A cold engine makes for a happy inspection in more ways than one. The first thing that caught my eye turned out to be the same exact first question that Thaddius had asked when he bought the car himself. The insulation on all the wiring looked to me like someone had stripped off the factory rubber and meticulously re-wrapped each line and bundle in black electrical tape. Not so, apparently. Thaddius said he checked and they came like that from the factory.
Satisfied that the hoses, lines, belts, widgets, and hamsters in wheels all looked like they were in the right place and in good condition I walked around to the rear and asked him to light it up for me so I could watch the tailpipe. There wasn’t any unusual wiggle from the car’s exhaust but it sounded like the starter was a little weak. Turns out he only drove the thing for a few minutes each week at this point. This is when Thaddius showed me his other Miata.
I don’t know what year or trim level it was, but he had a black NB under a cover inside his garage (yes, covered while under cover, seriously) that he’d modified to hell and back. Pretty tastefully, if I do say so myself. Huge brakes, substantial-looking rollbar, and a little engine work here and there, and all of these wrenches turned by the man himself. Turns out he bought the green one first and wanted to mod it but reconsidered when he realized just how great it was just as it stood, so he went out and found another on which he could get creative with a clear conscience. Bully for me.
Next up was the test drive and it was at this point that I realized just how wrong everyone else had been doing it. Thaddius drove with me in the passenger seat out to an industrial park that was mostly deserted but made for a terrific makeshift track. I soon found out that he had driven us there because he had cancelled the insurance days before but he didn’t jump out and let me drive as soon as we got there. Oh no, he put his foot down and showed me just how sticky those Yokohamas were. He drove that car hard, much harder than I would ever have felt comfortable driving a car I didn’t own, and the Miata didn’t even flinch.
I admit that I was worried until then. What seller wouldn’t want you to drive the car they want to get rid of? Was he hiding something? As it turns out he just wanted to show me what it could do in a place where neither of us would end up getting arrested. After a few minutes of what felt like multiple lateral G-forces to my non-racecar-driving brain he stopped and we switched. Added bonus to his display of the car’s capabilities? I felt more confident tossing it around a bit as well. I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel good.
By the time we were on the way back to his house I had pretty much already made up my mind and I was explaining the few details he needed to know about how I was going to fund the purchase. He seemed a little wary but he was willing to work with me. He agreed that he wasn’t just going to sell the car out from under me once I confirmed with him that I was going to start the process with my bank.
As I’ve mentioned before I didn’t own the Jetta outright yet, so after a couple of hours of working with my extremely helpful and awesome bank (USAA is amazing, if you have the ability to become a member I can’t recommend them highly enough) we had figured out a way to not only pay off my Jetta and raise the cash necessary to buy the Miata but my wife and I also ended up with lower monthly car payments in total as well. Hot. Damn.
I officially took possession of Betsy on 2/20 for $7,000 cash. Some of you might think that I overpaid but in the end I was so impressed with the condition of the car and the things I’d read about the ‘01 SE models that I feel it’s a completely justified price. I plan on replacing the top relatively soon but mostly because I have the cash due to the math my bank and I worked out rather than some sense of urgency that the top will leak the next time it rains.
I drove home that day on I-75 with the top down, conspicuously short a license plate, and with my wife and the title to the Miata close behind in her Mini just in case I got flashed by the red and blues. Once we got home I swapped the plate over from the Jetta and the next day during lunch I went to City Hall to pay my taxes, alter the title, and register my new car. It’s got to be the only time I’ve ever given the government my money with a smile on my face.
In case you’re curious about the way the state of Florida handles title transfers allow me to edumacate you. The first thing that I didn’t know about was how the title-holder has to sign a paper copy of the title. I was incredibly grateful to Thaddius for being such an upstanding guy once I got to the tax collector’s office because while I was purchasing the Miata from him he knew just what to do and followed through on it even though it was obvious I didn’t. Once both parties have signed the title the tax collector will make the appropriate changes in the state’s database and offer to keep the title in it’s electronic format for you. Florida does this thing where they keep everything digital so that people are less likely to lose their physical copies. Why they don’t keep a digital record and hand over a physical slip of paper at the same time is obviously far too complicated an issue for a civilian like me to comprehend, so let’s move on.
The second thing I didn’t know (and I’m glad I called my bank about this before I got to the tax collector) is that you can insure a car that isn’t technically titled in your name. In fact you must if you expect the state of Florida to retitle and register the car. Hello, life experience, nice to meet you! Yes, in fact I am nearly thirty and have never done this before, how did you know?
Jesus, I’m nearly thirty. Well, at least there’s a good chance I won’t need to waste money on a mid-life crisis in ten years now that I’ve got Betsy.
Oh, and by the way, the first person to correctly identify the reference in the title (without Google, you cheating cheatersons) wins a zillion internets from yours truly.