A foray into "No service history"

Published on 4/16/2015

From bush-mechanic to a real beauty.

When I first started looking at MX-5s, I wanted an up-to-date one. Affordability meant I was looking at the NB model (from about 1998 to 2006), since the NC model (2006 to 2015) was still too expensive. Then one day a colleage arrives at work with this lovely blue NA model (1989 to 1998). It belonged to his girlfriend's dad, who was mostly out of the country, and he drove it occasionally to basically keep the battery charged.

So I drove the car, and made an appointment with the owner on his next visit to the country, and I bought it from him without hesitation. My wife wasn't prepared for this sudden gut-punch purchase, but of course, she loved it after the first drive as well.

I couldn't believe I had it in my garage!

Then the real issues started cropping up. First though, some history. I am the fifth owner of this car, as far as I know. Back in 1991, a Malawi gentleman imported five examples directly from Japan. Since then, this car was owned by three people, and driven within Malawi. The last of these owners moved the car to South Africa (along with two others) for safe-keeping at his family home in Tableview. This is where I bought that car. Since it was a direct import from Japan, this car is branded as an Eunos (Mazda's experimental luxury brand at the time, akin to Lexus from Toyota). It also comes with all the stickers, warning labels and else printed in Japanese. And of course, it is right-hand drive.

At this time, my wife had already bought me the workshop manual, and I was pretty familiar with the theory of maintaining it. I thought that I would have to do the odd fix now and then. Boy was I in for a surprise. It didn't have a service history prior to arriving in SA. Presumably it was serviced and worked on by non-Mazda workshops through-out its lifetime in Malawi. The radiator was brand new, but apart from that, everything else was pretty old, very dirty and in working condition. For about a week.

We were on our way to watch a show when it just died as we entered the parking lot. It got towed home by a friend (very carefully, on the tie-down hooks!!) where we tried to find the problem. By all conclusions it was an electrical one, but we couldn't find it. What we did find, however, was by-passed fuses, bridged fuses and an horrendous after-market alarm installation. It quickly became apparent that every single part of this car (including the interior) had been worked on by, presumably, people that didn't have the foggiest idea of how to dissamble anything. So, it had it's first trip on a flat-bed pickup to the dealer. They found that the main engine relay had burnt out, and replaced it with one that didn't look like the original, but worked. This was an omen that I didn't know to interpret correctly.

Soon, it was time to service the car. I instructed the dealer to do a full service, including timing belt. Beforehand I shopped around for brake pads, but couldn't find any. So, I had to order from the UK, my first of many part imports. The dealer didn't fit the brake pads correctly. The mechanic either broke, lost or took the custom pad-clips, and the car was returned with the pads rattling within the caliper, and generally not performing very well. I took it back, had a few words, and have never taken the car to another workshop for service. I realised then that I would have to learn to do all of it myself. The dealer mechanics are only trained on the new models, and I later found out they had also partially stripped the thread of the timingbelt tensioner's bolt, in the aliminium block, during that service. So I imported a brake fitment kit, and set out with my first socket set ever.

The difference in the clips were quite apparent.

Most of the rest of the year was quite uneventfull. We did regular trips over weekends, and later joined the local branch of the South African MX-5 Owner's club. I performed small tasks, like refit the radio completely and hooked up the seat speakers correctly.