Although I have spent the last five years driving a 2008 Fiat 500 (1.2) it actually was not mine, despite the amount of effort put into cleaning it and the amount of photos of it I may or may not have posted on the internet.
It is my parents car and simply
convenient possible for me to get insurance on as it is “group 3” or something equally low meaning that rather than paying 2-3x the value of the car for a years insurance I could simply pay a significant percentage of the value of the car. Yeah, anyway…
While at university I worked during the summer months, and having saved some wages away during that time I left myself with some money planning to spend it in the used car market soon after graduation.
Excessive planning over which car to go for was undertaken, naturally. Originally leaning towards the more “banger” end of the market, with a large part of the budget to be spent on upkeep and repairs this gradually shifted towards spending almost all the budget on a more reliable newer car and minimal amounts to be spent on upkeep.
As close friends know the “car of choice” fluctuated wildly during the probably year-long research phase of this purchase. The original plan was a late 80s early 90s 3-series (E30) convertible, 318i most probably. This quickly evolved towards the 318is 2-door as old convertible hoods then seemed a bit of a liability (and 318is had a much more modern engine).
Shortly after this I skipped a generation to look at the E46 3-series, specifically the facelift 318Ci which appears as a sort of modern reincarnation of the E30 318is, with around 150 horses it was pretty much as fast as the base inline-6 models. The more research I did into this car though the more of a liability it appeared to be, with all sorts of issues plaguing the 4-cylinder lump and the E46 having more than its fair share of cooling and other issues.
There was then a foray into looking at a Mk1 Audi TT even.
At some point around this time I ticked over to the grand age of 22 and similarly reached the point of having had my driving license for 5 years. By spending far too much time on car insurance comparison sites I realised this appeared to have had a decent effect on insurance premiums as suddenly I could afford to look at the 325Ci as well. This kept my interest alive in the E46 for a bit longer as the inline-6 engines seem to be very reliable and the additional power (fun) would make up for any remaining issues with the E46 platform.
There was always a nagging issue with the 3-series though, and that is with its rep-mobile status. Especially the E46. The reason there is such a plentiful supply of these cars on the used market is due to what one can only presume was a boom of on the road “sales executives” bombing up and down the motorways in company bought bimmers before that whole financial crash thing occurred.
Unfortunately if you look at the people now driving these ex-repmobiles they tend to drive aggressively (dangerously) and fit various ugly modifications to their cars - think “angel eyes” on a car that never had angel eyes from the factory for starters. Sweeping generalisation I know, and believe me I know the merits of the car, but as silly as it may be the E46 never felt quite right for me because of this. I consider myself the opposite of an aggressive driver.
I took a step back and thought of why I was looking at these BMWs in the first place. It comes down to:
Where else can you get these components? Well, I then remembered the Mazda MX-5.
I am over 6ft tall and was somewhat concerned about the amount of space in the cars. Quick research suggests the Mk1 and Mk3 would be fine, although the Mk2 would be potentially a bit tight. I also learned that they are all a bit rust-trap-ish, and so started leaning towards the Mk3. When I discovered that occasionally an early top of the line 2.0 sport model would go within my budget (under £5,000) I became especially interested.
After a few months of watching I found one that had the specs I wanted, and after seeing one that had a heap of rust forming and seeing that this one didn’t, I was pretty much sold. I got it within my budget including a full on service, inspection and under-seal with my local garage and now hopefully I am set for a couple of years motoring as these Mazdas appear to be exceptionally reliable. Except for the rust, hence the under-seal.
The car is pretty fantastic. There were a few regular issues to sort that probably helped me negotiate it down considerably from the asking price as they seem more serious than they are (blocked drain holes, dead key fob for example, both fixed with less than £10 and under 15mins). Now it is just about the driving and the driving well, it’s great.
Moving from a base engined Fiat 500 to a top spec MX-5 that perhaps isn’t surprising, but having been into cars for so long and read so much about cars with “good” handling characteristics, I feel I’ve always known what has been missing from the Fiat 500 and now that I have it in the MX-5 I am basically in love.
The steering feel is the stand out change. Feeling I know what is going on underneath the car makes a world of difference. Combined with much more compliant (!) suspension and the grunt to leap between corners on a B-road and well, this car is just a hoot.
There isn’t much more to say at this point (a couple of weeks into ownership). I haven’t pushed it hard hard but I have certainly made the most of this last summer weather in October with the roof down regularly. I don’t plan on changing much on the car, perhaps if I have the cash in a bit I will do what I guess Mk3 owners call “the usual” which is to say Japanese-spec springs (30/35mm lower) and an alignment and then some visual changes I fancy, entailing a debadging of the rear and making the tail lights look less aftermarket by going aftermarket (tinting them red).
For now it’s just about driving it :-)
PS: I still love that Fiat 500. It will always be my “kind of” first car, and I will take any opportunity to go for a spin in it as long as my parents keep it. Such a happy car to drive :-)
Heard Mark Kozelek sing this in London the other week, and it was stunning. Really one of my all time favourites :-)