Once on board I reflected on how absurd my situation was. I was on my way to Northern Ireland to collect an 18-year old car I had never seen before. Then I was planning on driving it over 600 miles home through Scotland in one day. In fact, I wasn’t going in totally blind. I had talked to the current owner, a member of the MX5 Nutz forum, and also had a fully RAC inspection carried out informing me that everything was shipshape. The inspector did highlight the very low, firm ride and ‘violent’ induction noise, and seemed slightly taken aback with my delight at the news!
I was collected from Belfast International and spent the morning looking round the car on the owner’s ramp, before taking it for a comprehensive test drive amongst beautiful scenery. I took one corner at close to a ton, the car cornering perfectly flat, Bridgestone semi-slicks clawing into the road. Feeling pretty happy with myself, the owner turns to me and remarks “I’ve taken that at about 140 in my [turboed] MX5.” The cash was handed over, and the owner took me for a bite to eat before I set off for the Larne to Cainryan ferry crossing. We had got carried away talking over lunch and I was now cutting things very fine, giving me just 30 minutes to cover the 30 miles to the ferry terminal.
The drive to the ferry was fantastic. It had turned into a beautiful day, the spring sun draping the mountainous scenery with a golden blanket. I really had to press on, overtaking whenever I came across another car and revelling in the gargling sound of the individual throttle bodies. I already knew I was going to seriously enjoy this car!
I had approximately 5 miles remaining and about 10 minutes in hand. I came round a corner that was like the slide on a helter-skelter round a mountain and my heart sank. Roadworks. Red light. Not just a small stretch either; I couldn’t even see the other side. 5 minutes later the lights shifted to amber and I planted my right foot. I negotiated the maze of the ferry terminal and pulled up to the gate for the ferry. As I pulled on the handbrake, I saw the ramp lift and I realised I was well and truly f**ked!
Thankfully the ferry staff booked me onto the 4pm crossing. However, I still had 600 miles to go from Cairnryan to Berkshire. It was 6pm when we touched down in Scotland, so my ETA was around 2am – still fairly realistic. My little white Eunos was first off the ferry and once again I pinned the throttle to the floor and roared off into the night.
A precautionary glance at the fuel gauge showed a quarter of a tank, so there was no reason to stop at the Cairnryan Esso. Pressing on, I caught a set of tail lights that I gained on slower than expected. It was a Jaguar XKR, and we blasted along the undulating coastal A75 towards Carlisle. About 45 miles later we were still going, when the road straightened and I squeezed the throttle yet again. This was greeted with a strange splutter, and then power ensued. I tried to put it down as being a common foible of a near 20-year old engine (despite being rebuilt in Japan just 5 years previously), especially as the fuel gauge was still reading a quarter of a tank.
Ok, I was a little suspicious of the gauge, seeing as since the first check we had gone 45 hard miles and it had not budged. Maybe these 5’s are more economical than I first thought, I hoped. How wrong I was. Five minutes later I was sat on the side of the A75, in Scotland, in a location the metaphor ‘the middle of nowhere’ was designed for. It was early spring and all I had for warmth was a hoodie – a week later they had one foot of snow! Thankfully my RAC membership rescued me and two hours later a bloke appeared with 10 litres of fuel. However, I still had 45 miles to go, no fuel gauge and what has turned out to be a seriously thirsty MX5 (it had averaged about 20mpg over the last year, due to a poor engine map). I pulled into Tesco Dumfries and filled the tank with precisely 40 litres of fuel. For reference, the MX5 has a 40-litre tank; I had just made it on hope and fumes.
By this point I was so far off schedule that I booked into a basic hotel. A hot shower and a comfortable bed felt like nirvana after a long and eventful day. Another 4am alarm brought me back down to earth. Luckily I had the presence of mind to grab a can of de-icer the night before, allowing me to continue back to England and ultimately home. Six uneventful hours of motorway later, during which I could only listen to Radio 2 due to the Jap-frequency radio, I pulled onto my driveway.
My overall impression of the car was one of relief and excitement. Bar the faulty fuel gauge it appeared to be a peach: rust free, exceptional handling and an engine note to die for. I did have a few modifications planned, including: replacing the double-din Japanese radio with something smaller with iPod connectivity, adding filter socks to the intake trumpets and sorting out a number of minor interior niggles. For the real anoraks, I’ve put a current spec list below:
1.6 NA6C rebuilt by RS Aizawa Japan in 2005
RS Aizawa Individual Throttle Bodies
Cusco engine damper
Cusco oil catch tank
Full HKS Silent Hi-Power exhaust (inc. decat)
Unknown SS exhaust manifold
Unknown camshafts (8500rpm + rev limit)
HKS Fcon V-Pro Gold ECU
Ohlins coilover suspension
Cusco front strut brace
Unknown half-cage/roll bar
15” RS Watanabe wheels
Uniroyal Rainsport 2 195/50 15 tyres or
Bridgestone RE01-R semi-slicks
Momo race wheel
Cobra Imola 2 seats
Pioneer component speakers