Shed of the Week | Mazda MX-5 1.8 (NC)

Don't judge a book by its cover – or an MX-5 by its mess…

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, 25 August 2023 / Loading comments

Shed’s late dad was quite a character. Often, ‘quite a character’ is the polite term for a git, and Shed wouldn’t challenge you over that in regards to his dad whose favourite phrase was ‘there’s nowt wrong with good honest dirt’. You were supposed to infer from this comment that he was a hard worker, when in reality he was just too idle to have more than one wash a week.

Shed Major’s catchphrase came back to haunt him once when an unpaid bill resulted in a skipload of horse dung being dumped into his front garden. Today’s Shed, a gen-three MX-5, looks like it might have been pulled out from the bottom of that heap. It’s been hanging around on PH Classifieds like the proverbial bad smell for a good few weeks now. Shed has had his eye on it all that time and now, with the price reduced to a mere £1,399, he presents it here for your nose-pinching inspection.  

Many of you will be looking for telescopic bargepoles at this point but those of you with less jerky knees will realise what could be on offer here. Underneath the crud is a very late (January 2009 registered) pre-facelift NC1. Cleaned up, it’s supposed to weigh 1,190kg. The 1.8 engine produced 125hp at 6,500rpm and 123lb ft at 4,500rpm and should be good for a mid-9sec 0-62mph time. The official combined fuel consumption figure is 38.7mpg and the annual road tax, or whatever you choose to call it, should be £290.

So far so good, and there’s more potential good news in the MOT history. Despite appearances to the contrary it’s actually not been left standing immobile in a yard for years. Months maybe, but not years. It’s actually done over 6,000 miles since 2020, most of it between June ’21 and the last MOT in November ’22 when the clock does seem to have stopped. The main fail item then (a broken anti-roll bar) plus the three other major defects picked up at that time (one reg plate bulb, one dipped headlamp bulb and some gunged-up windscreen washers) were all put right for the successful re-test, leaving the same advisory for a sticky rear brake caliper that this car has had for the last three years and which, as any MX-5 owner will tell you, is practically part of the MX-5’s design.

If you leave any car in the wrong place for long enough Mother Nature will efficiently cover it in a thick layer of bio-debris. The removal process won’t always be effortless, but the thought of what this one might look like after half an hour with the pressure washer should surely spur you on to greater endeavours. De-ponging the inside might not be as laborious as you might think, either, if Shed’s eyes aren’t deceiving him and the slightly dropped driver’s side window has been like that for a while.

Interior mould could then be an issue however, and that is nasty stuff. Shed remembers a TVR Griffith that a well-known UK motoring mag was running as a long-termer in the early 1990s. Well, ‘running’ was perhaps putting it too strongly. Reliability problems quickly transformed it from the car everyone on the staff wanted to take home to the one that the work experience bod was forced to drive. Workies were pretty rare back then, so often as not the car was left to fester untouched for weeks. Mould took a fierce grip on the cabin. An early Griffith is now worth decent money, so that car is almost certainly still knocking about, but at the time serious consideration was being given to writing it off.

Solid, MOT’ed NC MX-5s below £2k aren’t that common. Mechanically, they’re strong. 1.8s that sound diesel-ish might be suffering from nothing more than ‘gear rollover’ noise. This can be more prevalent in summer, but in any case Mazda said it was perfectly normal. Cambelt idler pulleys and tensioners could be rackety too. Low oil levels will create a nasty noise, as you might expect, but engines will often be OK when the level is topped up. Tough little blighters these.

Barn finds are all the rage on YouTube nowadays. Most of them seem to be in the US, Brits generally being too poor and/or stingy to let this sort of thing happen. The last thing Shed found in a barn was the postmistress, but that was pre-arranged so doesn’t count.

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