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FeaturesMe and My Car: William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1 MX-5

Me and My Car: William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1 MX-5

When the roof is down you don’t need a million horsepower to enjoy this affordable sports car.

Wheeler Dealers inspired William Magrath’s love of cars but owning one of the best roadsters ever built has made him realise he’ll never make it as a hot-shot salesman. Here, he tells Charlotte Vowden why it’s a perky little runaround worth holding on to.

With pop-up headlamps capable of warming the heart of the grumpiest traffic warden, the Mk1 MX-5 is one of the most popular and best-selling sports cars ever built. The original made its debut in 1989 and more than three decades, 30-year-old William Magrath is here to tell the next generation of drivers why this roadster has a winning formula…

“Is there a particular kind of car that I go for? I like something cheap, simple, economical and fun; thats why I love my Mazda Mk1 MX-5. Its my pride and joy.

I grew up obsessed with Top Gear and watched a lot of Wheeler Dealers. I could barely talk when I started naming cars that I saw drive past the window at home, which really confused my parents because they arent interested in cars at all. Its a passion that came from nowhere but I think TV programmes have got a lot to answer for!

Ive always wanted to flip cars so that I can afford to move on and try something new, but I get too emotionally attached. The MX-5 is a keeper and my girlfriend Cat (who also wasnt interested in cars when we first met) doesnt want me to get rid of it either because her grandma had an almost identical Mk1 that she remembers going out in when she was younger. Its sentimental for her too which is really nice.

William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1

The MX-5 scene is massive, there are people involved all over the world, but Id hate to think that its just because they are going up in value and becoming more collectible. It was quite a competitive market when I bought mine, a 1990 model, for a thousand pounds in 2019 but prices are rising so its even more competitive now; my friend just sold a MK1 for three and a half grand that he bought for 800 quid in 2017 and he hardly put any money into it.

Id always wanted an MX-5, a few people I know have got one, and after driving a friends Mk2 during a road trip around Europe (which is pretty much the same car but faster) I thought Ive got to do it – I felt left out! I found mine, a 1.6 UK car with 115bhp and no real extras, on eBay and it was definitely a heart over head decision when I saw the shiny red car in the pictures; I think the seller knew he already had me when I went to see it in real life. 

It was a bit rattly when I took it for a test drive, the seller was kind of pushing me to put my foot down and drive it harder, but it had an MOT and was in half decent condition so I put a deposit down there and then. It had to be done, but dont do what I did; if youre going to buy a particular kind of car, see a few and drive them in quick succession (or ask the owner if you can go out in it as a passenger) so that you can get a feel for them and hear the clunks and noises they make. That way you can then compare them and make a decision based on that. It was only when I got it home and had a good look around that I realised mine had a few little gremlins!

Id only had it for four weeks when the head gasket went. Replacing the engine, which had 150,000 miles on it, was a bit beyond me so I sourced a younger used 1.6 engine with 80,000 miles on it for £150 and found an MX-5 specialist to fit it. The procedure was like a transplant and only took them five hours. While they were there they also fitted a new clutch but those are the only jobs I havent done myself.

William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1

After buying the MX-5, which was one of the first 10,000 made, I re-watched the Wheeler Dealers episode where they had a MK1 MX-5 to pick up some tips and it helped me spot a patch of rust on the bottom of the A-pillar – I would have never seen it unless Id known where to look – but I did automotive engineering as a degree so that’s helped a lot.

When something goes wrong its stressful but it strengthens your relationship with the car because once youve fixed it you know that it probably wont go wrong again… in the near future. Plus, spares are cheap and readily available; MX-5 Parts in Portsmouth have been lifesavers. Ive had full breakdowns that have cost me 30-40 quid to sort out, whereas on any modern car itd be hundreds, maybe thousands. The trials and tribulations do get you down and you think why am I doing this?but its worth it in the end. 

William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1 MX-5

The suspension was another issue, it was borderline dangerous because I think it was original so it was completely knackered and wallowy. I fitted a bit of an upgrade but wanted to keep a standard-ish ride height to make it usable because I drive it to work (I’m a manufacturing engineer) and dont want to be scraping on speed bumps. Some people put turbo chargers and massive body kits on their MX-5s but Ive tried to steer away from that and keep it as standard, although it has got a stainless steel exhaust and red tartan door cars. When its parked I see people look in and laugh but theyre laughing with me, not at me, because I dont take myself very seriously and neither does the MX-5.

The cabin is basic but its a really nice place to be. Its well designed and laid out, you feel cocooned in a good way, even with the roof down, because the centre console sits quite high and you sit very low; when youre driving along you can rest your arm on it. Sitting there in the tombstone seats (so called because theyre grey and shaped like little tombstones) you do feel like youve got a lot more car in front of you than there actually is because you can see the full bonnet but when you get out and look back at the MX-5 it’s tiny. Driving past big lorries doesnt scare me but my first track day did, that’s why I fitted a roll bar.

William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1 MX-5

My dad is a volunteer Blood Biker so I borrowed his full face helmet for the occasion, which is mandatory for anyone in a convertible, and managed to nudge 100mph. I was surrounded by cars that were going a lot faster so I tried to keep out of their way and with no ABS I had to be careful coming in and out of corners. I was really proud of the car because I pushed it hard and had no problems, I felt a bit smug.

I took the MX-5 on a skidpan when it was -4°C and it was so easy to control (the more powerful cars, including an AMG Mercedes, were slithering around) but I chickened out of doing it with the roof down, even though its one of my favourite things to do. Take the roof down and the MX-5 becomes a completely different car and gives you a completely different experience because you feel more of what is going on around you. Its also handy when the boot is full. 

William Magrath and his Mazda Mk1 MX-5

Cat and I took a 200-mile trip from Reading, where I live, to my parents house in Norfolk one summer’s evening with a blowup kayak in the back and the ores sticking up behind the seats. It’s a standout memory because the car made it there faultlessly and we arrived just as the sun was going down. Id like to get Cat insured and take the MX-5 up to show her grandma in Yorkshire. It would be a great road trip and a test of the car, but it’s also sentimental for her and the family so I think it’d be really good fun.”

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MX-5 Owners Club

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