Every CL regular has heard of the $1500 Miata. It's something dozens of us have probably searched for in our spare time. But when the market for even 1.6L NA Miatas in any kind of decent condition is saturated with $4-$5,000 cars, the buyer must naturally ask himself one question – how much does a $1500 Miata really cost?
Well, here's my answer.
On January 9th, I shook hands on a Miata I found listed on the local D.C. Craigslist for $1500.
1990 with 210k miles – original engine and three owners (me included)
New top (glass window)
New timing, accessory and alternator belts
New water pump
New valve cover gasket
New PCV valve
New spark plugs/wires/boots
New cone filter (airbox delete)
Good clutch and shifter
Smooth running, no strange noises or rattles.
New brake pads and rotors (EBC Greenstuff + DBA drilled/slotted rotors)
All suspension components in good shape
New coolant and heater hoses
Issues at purchase:
Prior collision damage on front driver's side and rear passenger side – minor. Minor unit body damage was repaired prior to the P.O. purchasing the car.
Small coolant leak from radiator
Driver's side headlight droop
Catalytic converter heat shield loose and rattling (cat was replaced and they re-used the heat shield – poorly)
Oil leaks from CAS seal, front crank seal, drain plug and possibly rear main seal
Trans leak from rear seal and possibly drain plug
Torn inner tie rod boot – passenger side
Hood prop hinge retention bracket missing
Dipstick handle broken
Missing HVAC/radio surround trim piece
Crappy aftermarket head unit
Carpet, seat belt guides and other various interior trim pieces were removed for new top installation and never replaced – all retention bolts and tabs missing
Torn upper/lower shift boots
Missing shifter/center console insulation
Mismatched tires: 2 all-season, 2 summers, different sizes front and rear
Minor rust in driver's side rocker panel and passenger side door window frame, and some superficial rust in other places.
$1350 – Purchase price
$100 – OEM 14" Daisy wheels w/ good tires
$100 – radiator
$18 – radiator cap (preventative)
$24 – upper shift boot
$16 – rear main seal
$8 – oil cap (preventative)
$5 – cam angle sensor seal
$18 – camshaft oil seals (two)
$7 – crankshaft oil seal
$4 – main crank bolt
$4 – crank pulley Woodruff Key
$12 – transmission front & rear seals
$6 – hood prop retention clip assembly
$28 – headlight retractor arms (two)
$31 – valve cover gasket (preventative – valve cover had to come off for crank/cam seals)
$19 – tie rod boot
$27 – power steering pressure hose
$14 – dipstick
$100 – new head unit
$60 – new HVAC/radio surround trim
$20 – various interior and exterior trim clips and bolts
So the total damage, not including excise tax, tags, registration and inspection costs so far -- $1977. $200 of that was purely optional (replacing wheels/tires and the head unit) and could have gone months without a fix. Realistically, the radiator could have too, but I didn't want to chance it.
So that leaves us with a $1777 Miata that passes Maryland inspection and emissions, doesn't puke oil all over itself when you rev it past 3k RPM, and absolutely loves being treated like a Miata generally should – like a sports car.
So what's the catch? Well, you can't be afraid to tear your motor half apart to fix 210k miles worth of neglected rubber. It doesn't take much more than simple hand tools, patience and an internet connection, but if you're not mechanically inclined, it's not going to be terribly fun for you. If you're counting on a shop to do this stuff, well, let me put it this way: I spent $18 for the inner tie rod boot and $27 for the power steering pressure hose. The shop that did my safety inspection wanted $800 after labor to replace these parts, and that's some of the easy stuff.
So, if you have a couple torque wrenches (or maybe just a really nice one) and a few weekends to kill, then yes, there really are sub-$2k Miatas in this world. Good luck finding one -- I'm glad I did.