The Dark Glory That Is CraigslistS

Some things in life are equally as bad as they are good. Robocop, VH1 countdowns, and most cartoons from the ‘80s (M.A.S.K. anyone? That shit was my jam!) are just a few prime examples of this phenomenon. They’re all terrible, we all recognize this, and yet there’s something that prevents our hearts and minds from loathing them. Sometimes it’s nostalgia that casts the swing vote, other times the “thing” in question tears a worm-hole in the sense-taste continuum and is so bad that it loops back around to awesome, and occasionally a “thing” is just so useful and entertaining that it has to be loved. Craigslist belongs in this third camp.

When searching for a well-loved enthusiast’s car where else should one turn but the ubiquitous list created by the god of private sales and sketchy personal meetups, Craig himself? I took to my task in earnest, searching my local Craigslist geographic subsection for Miatas under $8,000. It wasn't the top end of my budget but it was close and I figured that if I couldn't find anything acceptable I’d raise my limit after a few days.

I needn't have worried since I apparently live in the nexus of previously enjoyed MX-5s. I got that previously enjoyed bit from a Rolex ad. Classy, huh?

For those of you who are curious about just where that nexus is located: Southwest Florida. On Craigslist my area is all umbrella-ed under the Ft Myers/SW FL section which covers three counties. Searching both by-owner and by-dealer for “miata” with a max price of 8000 and eliminating results that don’t have an image returns almost a hundred distinct ads. Eliminate the duplicates and you probably end up with about a third to a half of that* within the last month and a half. That’s right, there are currently thirty to fifty used Miatas for sale all around me, and that’s only using a single source. On top of that I’ve found that at least two new Miatas are listed each week, often more like four*. To say that SW Florida is silly with Miatas is something of an understatement (akin to saying that Thin Mints are passably edible) and after a little noggin scratching I think I've figured out why.

  • First and foremost is the weather around here. Personally I hate hot weather (and have ever since I became mentally capable of forming opinions) but I've had many people tell me that they live or vacation in my hometown specifically because of the climate. What better way to enjoy sunny Florida than with a ragtop? During the rainy season it only rains in the afternoon and for about an hour or two each day. That goes on for three or four weeks and then it’s back to blinding sunlight and temperatures that make me feel like I have my own personal hole in the O-zone following me around.
  • Tangentially related to the last point is the fact that the population around here swells to probably double its off-season size when the snowbirds show up. Lots of folks only live here six months out of the year so the car market sees a lot of turnover from people who show up, buy a car for cash, and sell it before they leave. The sweet spot for most of the dealerships is in the $5,000 - $8,000 range. Convenient, since that’s where my interest lies as well.
  • Additionally, the population around here skews heavily towards the geriatric. Lord knows old people love their warm weather. I’m fairly certain that there’s a strong contingent of retirees who buy and own Miatas in an attempt at a third (or sometimes fourth) childhood. Yes, there are tons of old people on the roads. You may weep for me if you wish to do so.

Bulletproof reasoning aside, my options were not what I would deem limited. There were plenty of potential rides just waiting for me and the first one that caught my eye was a blue NA for $2,500.

The Dark Glory That Is CraigslistS

Full size.

My brain was still in money-saver mode which, as I soon discovered, is not the best mode to engage when shopping for used cars that openly list cosmetic distress in the ad. The interior was worn and the upholstery ripped in places, the clutch felt too loose for comfort, and to top it off the CEL started flashing once I got it over 5,000 RPM after I’d let the engine warm up. It wasn't beyond saving by any means but I wasn't looking for a project. My first outing had proven to be more of a learning experience than a solid lead. Internet - 1, me - 0.

After that I changed my tactic a bit and went with something that was a little more expensive. $3,750 seemed like a reasonable price hike for an early NA that included a hard top.

The Dark Glory That Is CraigslistS

(This, by the way, was not his original ad. This one is far more organized and contains the answers to all of the questions I asked him. Mostly.)
Full size.

This one, as it turns out, was bought as-is by the current owner who had no idea about all of the listed aftermarket parts other than the fact that they were all in and/or on the car. That 3.5” exhaust? He wasn't sure if it was the whole system or just a tip. I got some good advice to ask if the car had ever been equipped with a turbo and his response was basically, “I don’t know. Why does it matter?” Oh, and one of the wing mirrors was missing but fuck mirrors, bro, just go faster than everyone else and you don’t need to look behind you! High five me, bro! High five me, bro!

Additionally in my research I found out that Miatas from 1990 and early 1991 had a rare quirk which could lead to serious engine problems, referred to by most of the internet as the “short nose crank” issue. This knowledge further cemented that I wasn't willing to take a chance on this one. Whatever, I was immune to discouragement. The turnover in the ads was high enough that I felt confident that eventually the right car would come along, and when it did I’d be there wiggling my ass, ready to pounce like a house cat on a laser pointer dot.

My first outing with the blue NA was exactly one week after I’d hit the dealerships. In the week that followed I contacted via E-mail and text at least five other sellers (including the silver one with the hard top above) and considered hitting up three others. Twice the conversation ended after finding out that they’d posted their ad in a section that did not correspond to the location of the car (They can’t all be doing it by accident.) but most of the time the negotiations broke down over a subtle detail. Like a salvage title or a car owned by a tow truck driver because the previous owner never bothered to retrieve their car. You know, minor shit.

For those who want to get a better picture of some of the stuff I was considering (and some that I followed up on) check the MiataHunt2013 tag. The comments are also full of inhumanly good discussions about various things to check for and pay attention to when buying old Miatas and I recommend them to anyone thinking about joining the Miata owners club. There are some Miata-lovin’ fools around these here parts, and I don’t just mean the kind of car lovin’ that Ray Wert pioneered.

Even with setbacks I could feel that perfect sweetheart of a deal just a page refresh away, so I kept checking. Some days I found nothing new but some days I would ask a friend (One whom I met here, on Jalopnik.) to run a CARFAX on a VIN for me since he works at a dealership and offered to help save me some dough. I was close. I could feel it in my bones. I could see it in her eyes. I could taste it in the wind. I think you get the picture.

But would my search really be over soon or was I merely deluding myself?

* - Disclaimer: I did not count or do math of any kind, I guessed. Do not flame me or I’ll sick Brian1321 on you. His rapier wit has been known to reduce grown men to weeping sacks of self-doubt. You have been warned.