New Owners Guide to the MX5

(OK, this mainly concerns the Mk1, but some applies to the Mk2)


You’ve scoured the Buy and Sell, the Autotrader and the ‘Net. You’ve dragged your mate who’s got more experience in engines that the average Formula 1 team. You’ve seen dozens of cars and now you have it. Your very own modern classic. You’ve driven more miles in the last week than you have in the last month. Your cheeks hurt from grinning so much. You’re now the proud owner of an MX5, and welcome aboard!


Now the fun starts. You know it’s not a new car, even though it’s lines and looks are timeless. You have a dozen questions that need answering, and here’s the place to have them answered!


What does that oil gauge do? All I ever had before was a warning light!

If you have a Mk1 (with the flip-up headlights), it does exactly what it says on the tin- it tells you what the oil pressure is. It will start off high (over to the right) when started up from cold. This is because the oil is cold and heavy (or thick, if you like). As the oil heats up, the pressure drops. It should fall to below 2 kg/cm2 (on a Japanese import, it’s marked in metric) when the engine is warm and at idle. It will rise the higher you run the revs. The oil will take longer to warm up than the water, this is normal. The exact pressures at start-up and idle will vary slightly from car to car, depending on the oil used and the condition of the engine.

There are two readings that you never want to see on the oil gauge- full pressure and zero. Full pressure will indicate a blockage in the engine oil somewhere, and zero means that there is no oil running through your engine. Stop immediately and seek help.

Editors Note: For cars with a psi scale just below 30 at idle and 60psi at 4000rpm. Pressure relief valve activates at 88psi.


What is normal temperature for the engine?

Normal (warm) temperature for the engine is just to the left of halfway. The temperature gauge is not the greatest, if the temperature goes too high, it’ll zip over to fully hot in a matter of seconds, and you won’t have time to notice it creeping up if there’s a problem. Any higher than halfway, then you’ll want to pull over and check your water levels.

Due to the age of the average Mk1, a common cause of overheating is actually a dodgy radiator cap! If the cap is old, then the spring doesn’t work properly to allow water from the overflow bottle back into the radiator.


It’s a sports car, how much can I abuse the engine?

As much as you like! Wait until the engine is warm for doing it, though. Once the oil is up to temperature, fire ahead and have fun! If you meet the group for a run, you might notice us start the cars and let them idle well before we head off, and this is the reason!


How high can I let the engine rev?

As high as you like, the MX5 is fitted with a rev limiter, if you go off the scale, it will cut out the fuel until the revs drop to a safe zone. As far as changing gears go, the MX5 is designed to expect a gear change above 5,500 RPM, so Zoom Zoom! There is no harm done at all changing below this, the engine and gearbox are just designed to be driven! Many modern cars are not used to gear changes at high RPM, but the MX5 is!


What’s this four wheel alignment all about?

Welcome to the world of the sports car! The sublime handling of the MX5 is due to the geometry of the chassis, the set-up of the suspension and the rigidity of the “power plant frame”. That, and which way the wheels point! The wheels are fully adjustable in at least two directions- Camber (the lean over to the side) and toe (twist in or out towards the car body). The set up of the MX5 allows fine adjustment to suit different driving styles, probably more so than any “modern” car. There are two main settings used- stock and “lanny” settings. Over time, depending on how enthusiastically you drive the car, the wheels will move away from the original settings. It’s recommended that once a year, you get these settings restored at a decent wheel alignment place. Ask the members for your local four wheel alignment centre. It is as important to get the wheels aligned as to get the car serviced, in order to maintain the fun driving available from the MX5.


OK, what are “lanny” settings then?

A track driver called Lanny (figures, really!) developed an alternative set of wheel settings for people who really like driving. The settings tighten up the handling on the MX5 (and you thought it handled great already!), but at the expense of tyre wear during normal driving, and a tendency for the back end of the car to want to overtake the front! For experienced an enthusiastic drivers only.


What petrol does the car need?

Bog standard petrol does the job just nicely, thank you very much! Some people use a fill of “super” every now and then, just to clean out the engine of any carbon deposits.


How often does it need to be serviced?

The down side of having a sports car, is that it has a sports engine. If you’re using the MX5 they way it was designed to be used, then you’ll want to change the oil, oil filter and spark plugs every 6,000 miles or so (twice a year under normal driving conditions). Get really enthusiastic, and you’ll know when it needs servicing!


How much does a service cost?

Go to a garage, and it’ll cost €60 or €70, and that’s with cheap oil. They aren’t charities! However, all is not lost. You can very, very easily do it yourself. Come along to a tech day, and the world is your oyster! Well, maybe not, but you’ll easily learn how to do a service yourself! Even the most fumble thumbed individual can do a service. It’s also very, very satisfying to be able to service your own car. The MX5 is a very easy car to work with.


Wow! What’s a “Tech day”?

We gather together to do bits and pieces with our cars. Between the different members, just about everything that is possible to do to a car has been done at a tech day. Come along, drink tea, and have fun!


What tyres should I have?

You now own a sports car, you now need sports tyres. Toyo Proxes, Bridgstone Potenza, Yokohama Advan, Goodyear Eagle F1s, Pirelli P6000. All expensive tyres, but very good tyres. These tyres all behave slightly differently, so chat to other owners to get a feel for what you want your tyres to do, and which tyre does what. They are your only contact with the road, so the better the tyre, the more fun you’ll have! The real good news is that the MX5 is so light, the tyres don’t wear half as quick as they would on a typical family saloon!


I have real good tyres, but when I went around a roundabout recently, I kept going around, and I didn’t expect that from a car with such good handling- what’s the story?

The road was wet, wasn’t it? Welcome to the world of light-weight sports cars! The MX5 is rear wheel driven, and if you get too excited with the accelerator, the car will spin. You’ll get used to knowing when the back end is too “frisky”. With decent tyres in dry weather, it won’t be a problem. The MX5 is a sports car and acts like one. After a while, you’ll actually be trying to get the back end to do it! If you’re used to front wheel drive cars, it’ll take a while to “learn” how to drive, but it’ll be fun doing it!


How should I be putting up and down the roof?

If you are taking down the roof, undo the two catches, unzip the window, lay it flat, and push back the roof. To put it up, pull the roof up, zip up the window, and do the two catches. After a while, you’ll get so used to it that you’ll be able to do this almost with one hand! The beauty of the type of roof that the MX5 has, it’s easy to put the roof up or down to suit the weather. You can be halfway home, stopped at the lights, decide it’s too nice to have the roof up, and down the hood goes!


OK, is there anything oddball about the MX5 I should know about?

Yeah, they’re addictive, but I guess you already found that out! There isn’t really anything that is vastly different from other cars, if you’re in doubt just ask!

Many people end up doing little bits and pieces to make their car their own, so hide your credit card! Parts are relatively cheap, and there are many specialist suppliers out there. All MX5 owners are fans, and anyone who has to sell their “baby” is only going to do it under duress! Welcome to the club!