By the turn of the ’90s, the roadster wasn’t a new concept; but the subsequent years saw a rush from all manufacturers to produce one.
Despite the UK’s questionable weather, we tend to have a strong love affair with the convertible. The thing is, once we get a hint of sun, we flock to the beaches in droves looking to take in as many of the rays as possible. Who can blame us, we don’t get much of it… The same applies to the convertible; its style somehow sits harmoniously with our way of thinking.
It’s also the reason why you’ll see so many middle-aged chaps looking for any excuse to drop the roof down, whether that be in the winter or the height of summer. However, there was one car that sparked a revolution during the ’90s, with an almost gold-rush-like approach to building a roadster.
It’s 1989; the roadster market is all but thinned out with hot hatches taking over from the illustrious sports car as more and more manufacturers produce powerful versions of their somewhat run-of-the-mill hatchbacks. Up steps Mazda, with a vision of what ’90s motoring should entail and that of course is topless.
The MX-5, unveiled in 1989, was harking back to an era of ’60s motoring with the likes of the MG Midget and MGB; small, back-to-basics driving with a punchy engine, rear-wheel drive, two seats and three pedals.
The chain reaction that it sparked from then on in was something of a revolution. MG had tried to introduce a roadster before Mazda, with what is now called the MGF, whose plans lay in foundation as early as the mid-80s; if only Rover Group had the money to commit to such a project how the future would have been different for the brand.
The Mk1 MX-5 took the market by storm, lapping up hot-hatch aficionados left, right and centre; it pays to be first as we look back now to the MX-5 and label it a proper classic. As mentioned, the years that ensued saw a boom of roadsters arrive. While the Italians already had one foot in the doorway with the X1/9, Fiat Group decided to intensify its interest in this market by introducing the new-generation Alfa Spider from 1994 and then the Fiat Barchetta in 1995, but by this point the MX-5 had been on sale for some six years, with Mazda readying a second incarnation from 1998 onwards.
The revolution even met the gates of the big guns in the form of Bayerische Motoren Werke and its Z3 in 1995. From here, roadster fever settled in Stuttgart with Mercedes releasing the SLK in 1996 and Porsche doing the same thing with the Boxster, whose success helped propel Porsche forward to what it is today.
It took then another two years until fever had spread the 150 miles from Stuttgart to Ingolstadt, with Audi feeling the need to introduce a model of its own, the TT. Success with this model then triggered a continuation of the model right up to today with the Mk3.
Opel/Vauxhall decided that it too should get in on the action. However, instead of producing a new model off its own back, it decided to piggyback with Lotus and the Elise, which had cemented itself as a serious performance car amongst its contemporaries. The Elise was as bare bones as it could get during this era, with cut-back interior features, a cramped cockpit and a K-Series engine to boot.
This wasn’t a new formula for Lotus though, as lightweight was at its heart and if anything, the Elise was a nod back to what Lotus heritage was all about with the likes of the Seven and the Elan.
The car put Lotus back on the map and out of the red. With that expertise, Vauxhall released the VX220 (Opel Speedster elsewhere), which was available with a removeable targa-style roof.
Revolutions like the MX-5 are few and far between. What ensued afterwards was a fight to lap up more and more clientele. The damage had already been done, the MX-5 became the success story of the 90s, a car that’s still the answer today when the question involves a small sports car on a budget.
Mazda cashed in on its model with the latest Mk4 iteration celebrating the model’s 30th anniversary. Not bad, eh?
If it’s important to you, it’s important to us…
Whether your pride and joy is a 90s roadster or not – if you’re looking to insure it, give Peter James Insurance a call on 0121 506 6040 or visit www.peterjamesinsurance.co.uk
Free on Sunday the 23rd June…? Why not come and celebrate 30 years of the MX-5 with us at the Peter James Insurance Bromley Pageant of Motoring where you’ll see some great examples. The Peter James Insurance team will be on hand at the show to discuss visitors’ insurance options and answer any burning questions. Follow this link to purchase your tickets for the Bromley Pageant.