Driving a (modern) classic

Published on 4/22/2015

Official bodies (racing, club, secretariats) won't classify the NA Miata as a classic yet, even though it's now well past 20 years. I've heard of it being referred to instead as a "modern classic" though. I don't really care either way, I'm just here to drive and own this car.

Using this car on a daily basis is simply one of the best continual memories I have of it. It being this old however comes with a set of problems that you constantly have to watch out for. One of these is cooling.

When I bought the car, the radiator was almost brand new. I didn't think I'd have a problem with cooling, ever. But, the South African climate can sometimes roll you a nasty one. It was one of those heat wave periods and while sitting at the lights on my way home, I suddenly noticed that the temperature gauge was right off the scale. Something was wrong, but it was the last stop on my way back and I had less than a kilometer to go. So I pushed through. There was still plenty of water left in the radiator as I found out when I made the rookie mistake of immediately opening radiator cap to check, which resulted in me almost ending up with third degree burns all over my face.

The problem was the thermostat. It had given up and locked off the circulation so that the water around the engine couldn't get back to the radiator. Driving around like this is a problem, not least because you're putting the water pump under tremendous pressure.

So of course I had to order a thermostat. I opted for a cheap Chinese knock-off, which is still going to this day. Naturally it would take a while to arrive, and I had to get to work the next day, so I simply took out the old thermostat. This is no problem, the only effect is that the engine takes much longer to get up to working temperature, so I had to nurse it and curb my enthusiasm for much longer. This added yet another flavour to my driving this car which I remember fondly. A few days later though, still in this heat wave, I noticed a hissing sound while waiting for a friend, and popped the hood right there in the parking lot. I found that one of the hoses had sprung a leak. This was obviously because of the pressure build-up on that last stretch home. It was a tiny hole, but it could spell disaster at any time.

Fortunately it was the hose feeding the heater under the dashboard. This meant that it was easy to by-pass it and stick it into the back of the engine to complete the flow. A friend helped to get a specially made hose for this, and I drove around with this by-pass until my order of a complete set of silicone hoses arrived.

The by-pass hose visible at the back of the engine, and the two ports on the firewall that wasn't connected any more.

The silicone hoses took about a morning to fit, and there are two small pipes that I just couldn't get too, and thus never replaced. But I think the yellow pipes offset against the engine and blue bay looks absolutely brilliant. One problem I had was the hose clips. These things are super finicky (perhaps because of the age) even with hose-clip pliers. In the end I simply replaced all of it with proper plumber fasteners.

Heater hoses being fitted.

By now, the wheel bearing noise were much worse, and so I had to get cracking on the hubs. I had to buy a special tool to pull the hubs off of the axles (and almost totally wrecked the one center bolt completely!). I couldn't pull the bearings from the hubs myself, or fit the new ones. My father-in-law took it all to a guy that had a press who was kind enough to assist.

The one rear hub pulled off the axle and lying on the ground.

So at this point the under carriage was almost completely refurbished or replaced, apart from the front brake disks. I had total confidence in the car's long range capability now. But before we move on, the fabric top ripped up during a highway blast. Instead of ordering a Robins or OEM top, I took it to a local upholsterer, together with a new rain-rail, who did a fairly decent job for a third of the price (including fitting). It's still looking neat and is weathering really well almost 3 years later.