The story was the same yesterday pretty much everywhere from Times Square and Baltimore to Southern California and the Texas/Mexico border: a record-setting cold snap, featuring freezing temperatures on normally sunny beaches and wind-chill alerts in every state but Florida and South Carolina. Most people stayed inside if they had the choice and bundled up if they didn’t. It was one of those days where everybody who owns a 4x4 pickup, SUV, or crossover secretly congratulates themselves for spending the extra money and enduring the top-heavy handling. In other words, it was the worst day imaginable to drive a tiny, two-seat convertible sports car.
For that reason, I was as surprised as everybody else when Mazda used social media channels to mobilize Miata and MX-5 owners to fire up their roadsters, drop the tops, and hit the road for an event the company hashtagged as . “Drop the top and drive safe,” the company said, accompanied by videos of a new Miata cavorting around what looked like an unplowed Rocky Mountain road.
As some readers may remember, my wife bought an ex-Skip-Barber MX-5 Club earlier this year. In a perfect world, that MX-5 would be tucked away for the season in a heated storage garage–but in our real world, it’s been sitting outside all winter because we are now up to three race cars in the family and we don’t have any covered parking available. In other words, we had no excuse not to put on our big boy and girl (snow) pants for a top-down winter adventure.
It wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. To begin with, in order to have a top-down winter adventure you have to actually drop the top. In the case of “Ava,” our MX-5 Club, that top was covered by a two-inch-thick layer of ice. After starting the car, something that posed no problems despite the fact that Ava had been sitting for a few months, Danger Girl and I set about the long task of carefully chipping off the ice without damaging the fabric. Forty-five minutes and three changes of gloves later, we were able to get the top down but not completely locked into place.
We had less luck getting the side windows to drop, but that was okay; top down and windows up is the default condition for 911 Cabriolet owners any time it drops below seventy-five degrees. At a dashboard-indicated fourteen degrees we didn’t feel too bad about cheating the wind a bit. It was time to set out on the snow-covered open road.
Several of the #MiataPolarBear taggers on Instagram have Blizzaks or other winter tires for their Miatas, making them year-round propositions if you’re a hardy enough fellow. We were still on the Skip-Barber-spec BFG summer tires, which meant that even light pressure on the throttle was accompanied by the quick-hissing sound of spinning rubber on pavement. Caution was the watchword here.
Still, with the heater blaring and speeds below 55mph the little Club was absolutely livable, even as the interior acquired a light frosting of snow. I spent a few winters in the Eighties catching rides to school and work in a friend’s old Fiat Spider, which had a semi-weatherproof top but suffered from a heater that was clearly designed around the needs of people living in southern Italy. I’d say that the Mazda was actually warmer despite the dropped top.
“Doesn’t the 2018 Club have heated seats?” Danger Girl shouted at me as we zipped down a nearly empty four-lane road.
“Yes, it does, at least as an option.”
“We should have a 2018 Club.”
“It’s your money.” I kind of hope she forgets about that, because although I think the current Miata is about the greatest street-focused sports car in history I’m tempted to prefer the NC-generation cars for their slightly broader-beamed proportions and stouter drivetrains. Right now, an early NC is about the greatest bargain in the used-car market. They last forever and they now have a remarkable amount of support in the aftermarket. Plus you can drive them in the winter, obviously.
After a quick fill-up and a few tail-out shenanigans in an as-yet-unplowed subdivision down the street, we parked Ava, put her top back up to a tinkling accompaniment of shattering ice, and headed inside for some uninhibited self-congratulation. I made a mental note to get her to a spray-and-wash on the next salt-free day, just to keep the underside from corroding.
A quick check of Instagram showed me that quite a few other owners had also risen to the challenge, including a few West Coast Miata drivers who were experiencing sub-freezing temperatures behind the wheel for the first time in a long time. With its cheerful winter challenge, Mazda had caused all of us to reconsider the amount of use we could get from vehicles that are typically considered “toys” or “summer cars.” Not that I’m going to get rid of my 4x4 Silverado or even my winter-tire-equipped Accord–but you’ll be able to find me on the road for the next #MiataPolarBear day, and plenty of other chilly times besides.