x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

My Car: Rare Mazda MX-5 is ready for the track, or field

Osama Rashid uses his Mazda MX-5 for racing, but it also comes in handy for day trips.

Osama Rashid doesn't have to worry about what his wife thinks about him going on track days in his MX-5, as she's a petrolhead, too, and goes along with him. Satish Kumar / The National
Osama Rashid doesn't have to worry about what his wife thinks about him going on track days in his MX-5, as she's a petrolhead, too, and goes along with him. Satish Kumar / The National

Track days and IT - the two words go together about as well as mayonnaise and a freshly ironed shirt. You'd never expect a devotee of one to be found in the other, yet that's exactly what you get with Osama Rashid, owner of this exceedingly rare, first-generation Mazda MX-5, and an IT department employee at the Dubai Stock Exchange.

The 27-year-old Pakistani was looking for a cheap track day car - and a birthday gift for himself - when he came across the MX-5 on the internet.

"It was an impulsive buy, as it was being offered for the price of a brand new Apple MacBook Pro, so I contacted the seller immediately and met him after work," he recalls.

Even with that low cost of entry, Rashid knew better than to bring a toy like the Miata home without clearing it first with his better half.

"I sent my wife (who is also a petrolhead and gladly accompanies me to track days and car meets) a few pictures of it via BlackBerry, I paid him a downpayment immediately once I had done a vehicle history report check outside his house. It had a clean history and had spent all its life in Texas, so I knew it could withstand the heat here."

Nevertheless, for many, buying a car like this is undoubtedly a huge gamble. First unveiled in 1989, the MX-5, or Miata, as it's known in North America, was created as a Japanese tribute to classic British roadsters like the Triumph TR5 and MG Midget. It has since gone on to huge success, becoming the best-selling convertible sports car in history, yet was never officially sold here until 2007, when the third generation arrived.

Unsurprisingly for a market that favours huge horsepower or giant SUVs, the numbers that sold were low. Rashid says many people just don't know what his car is.

"I've never had a stranger approach me and offer to buy it, but I do have a line of friends waiting to take it off my hands should I get bored of it (which I doubt will ever happen). There's the constant questions by people who mistake it for a Z3 as it's still a relatively rare car in this region, and I know of just one other first-generation Miata in this city."

In true Japanese car form, he hasn't had to spend much on it to date besides a few choice personal modifications to make the car more habitable for occasional use.

"The car is still stock with the exception of the BBS rims, the 330mm steering wheel (I couldn't stand the huge stock steering wheel with the air bag), and an aluminium gear knob, for better grip and comfort," says Rashid. "It costs less than my daily driver to maintain as I order my parts from overseas."

"I did contact Galadari [the Dubai Mazda dealership] so that I could give it to them for servicing but they were unhelpful because it's a US-spec car. So much for customer service," he notes.

Of course, few would choose to use a tiny roadster as an everyday car for the morning commute and the weekly shop. For those chores, Rashid has his trusty 2006 Nissan Tiida.

"It's the polar opposite of my MX-5 Miata, with no cruise control, no power windows, no electric mirrors, a slushbox, an A/C that actually works and freezes, jelly suspension and enough space to fit a whole month's worth of grocery shopping as compared to the Miata's rear trunk, which is slightly larger than a glove box and can barely fit a duffel bag."

Rashid bought the car to use it on the track and he has kept true to his word, although it's far from the fastest thing on the asphalt. Inevitably, it's time to bolt on some modifications.

"After being overtaken by a Civic and a Jazz thanks to my granny shifting, I felt it was time to really make it track and auto-cross-ready by splurging on getting an anti-roll bar, wider rims and coilovers to increase its already phenomenal cornering abilities."

But the track is only one facet of the MX-5's skillset - it's also a great convertible cruiser, and the latter is of one of the best things about owning it, says Rashid.

"Thankfully, the weather is still cool these days, and I find nothing more de-stressing than driving it with the top down with my wife and exploring new routes. So far, we've taken the new Fujairah road, the Hatta road and, recently, a drive to Kalba with the Evolve motor club. Feeling the wind flying past my hair and the sound of the engine and exhaust is intoxicating."