Mazda MX-5

Can I have my car back, Dad

Mazda has revealed its new MX-5  and for me it’s a thing of beauty and encapsulates everything a sports car should be – light, rear-wheel drive, slick manual gearshift, brilliant handling and simply fun, fun, fun. Who give’s a toss it’s not particular fast and has a 0-100kph time of around 8 seconds. That’s not the point and well done Mazda engineers for keeping to its principles and not overloading it with every imaginable electronic device that supposedly helps us become better drivers. No wonder they’ve sold over a million of the little blighters since inception in 1985.

mazda mx-5
2015 Mazda MX-5 – courtesy of autobild.de

I’ve already singled it out as a potential first car for my son when he is old enough to start driving. His mother may not agree though, but what does she know? I can’t think of a better car to kick his driving career off. There’s only two seats so no late night joy rides with a bunch of his mates. It’s manual, so in my book will teach him how to handle a car far better than an automatic. It’s not a speedster, so no point in out running the cops or trying to burn off some dill in a Commodore. And of course, I will want to drive it, often.

Brand new, it will cost around $40k for the 1.5 litre model and closer to $50k for the 2 litre, which sounds about as expensive as a tinder date behind your third wife’s back. A quick glance through the classifieds suggests that it holds its price rather well too, with 2011 versions asking over $34k, and even 10 year old examples going for between $15-24k.

But when I get around to looking for one for my eldest (the jury is still out whether I’ll be asking him to stump up the cash or not – it doesn’t hurt to suggest he can chip in at the very least right?) will we be purchasing a money pit?

As I have written in an earlier post regarding a car older than a decade:

Carsguide.com.au tells us to “check that the Mazda’s engine starts easily, idles reasonably smoothly and doesn’t blow smoke from the exhaust under hard acceleration. The gearbox should be light and positive in its change action and not balk or crunch even on the fastest of changes.”

The soft top needs to be in good condition with no stitching missing. Hopefully it has not been used to race or run around too many tracks. A roll cage and things like a fire extinguisher would be a big give away. As with any car this old, if the numbers on the odometer do not align perfectly, you could be staring at a car that has been clocked. At this price though, I don’t care how limited edition it is, it would need to be exceptional to hand over your hard earned.

Anything else?

Well, the brake callipers are known to seize a bit but there are plenty of reconditioned parts available.

MK1 and MK2 models are prone to rust unfortunately, less so in Oz of course, but it’s well worth checking. Overseas this is probably the biggest MX5 killer outside of a teenager with a leaden foot. Areas of concern need to be the rear sill sections, rear wheel arches and the front chassis rails near the front subframe mounting. Thoroughly clean the drainage holes regularly and you can mitigate the issue.

For 1990-93 cars the o-ring on the CAS sensor (crank angle sensor), situated on the back of the cylinder head, can perish and start to leak. Mazda moved this to the exhaust camshaft for the 1994-95 model cars and began calling it the CPS (camshaft position sensor), but they are one and the same in case this crops up at some stage – confusingly, later models get both a CAS and a CPS and become two different things, but that’s another story. Anyway, on 1.8 litre cars the oil can drip onto the coolant feed pipes for the heater matrix and this will eventually make them burst. It’s worth replacing the cam cover gasket when changing the cam belt too as this can start to weep oil.

The slave cylinder in the clutch can sometimes fail and the clutch pedal will sink to the floor. Luckily, replacement units are not overly expensive.

The transmission tunnel has a tendency to get warm but reading the forums there seems a cheap remedy by changing the rubber turret boot that sits under the centre console.

The judder of noisey tappets can easily be silenced by an oil change and apparently can disappear entirely by using a fully synthetic oil.

If the timing belt has been overtightened you may hear cam belt whine and timing belts need to be changed every 100,000 kms.

Finally, if the engine is misfiring, it is not uncommon for the HT leads to fail, particularly the shortest it seems – HT (high tension) leads carry the sparks from the ignition system to the spark plugs. If that doesn’t rectify it, you may be looking at replacing the coil pack, which is more expensive.

All in all though, with some research and a bit of work, we may find one of these little things in our garage within the next five or six years. There are plenty of parts available, some great forums and when the sun’s out on a decent road, there won’t be many better places to be ignoring my son’s pleas of getting behind the wheel.

Useful links and forums:

Mazda MX-5 Clubs of Australia – http://www.mx5.com.au/

Australian Mazda Owners Clubhttp://www.ozmazda.com/

MX5 Mania – www.mx5mania.com.au

Piston Heads – http://www.pistonheads.com/gAssing/topic.asph=0&t=803271&mid=0&nmt=Common+MX5+Faults+%2F+Buying+Guide

2010 mazda mx5
2010 Mazda MX-5 (Miata) – courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Now that’s expensive

Give us an expensive break

Finally commentators are waking up to the ridiculous over payments Australians make every year for second-hand cars. You may have noticed that over the last 18 months I have raised the spectre of just how much the Australian market is being ripped off and has been for many years. They are bloody expensive, people.

Though it has slipped of late, the Aussie dollar has been on par, or close to it, with the USD for years now but we have seen no realignment at all. Fives years ago the European manufacturers suggested that they would alter their pricing for new cars given time, but it seems there is no respite in sight. Australians have been happy to pay twice as much for their luxury import than their counterparts in the UK, and even more so than those in the States. As with the price of housing in Sydney, it’s all about supply and demand I guess. And so the knock on effect is that second-hand prices remain artificially high compared with other Western nations.

I was never too sure where Michael Pascoe stood on this previously, as I have often found myself in disagreement with him. I assume then that he must have been out shopping for a new or used Euro barge recently, as I don’t remember it bothering him before. Nonetheless, on this I feel he has it spot on. The Government can help with a reassessment of the luxury car tax, considering we will soon be a redundant car making country, but that is only 33% of the problem over 60 odd grand (or 75 grand for something deemed more fuel-efficient). The rest of the gouging stands firmly at the manufacturers door.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that buyers of new cars hardly want to see  their pride and joy’s worth cut in half over night, but surely something has to give? Maybe we should boycott buying new for a while and see what happens. Either that or allow those enterprising enough to go and buy second-hand overseas and make it a little easier for them to bring it in to the country.

To read what Michael Pascoe had to say, visit: http://www.smh.com.au/business/driving-the-status-quo-20140902-10bbuw.html and let’s get a few more famous commentators to join in.

Alfa Romeo GT Research

Should you buy … an Alfa Romeo GT?

Price when new: from $79,990 
in 2006

Price March 2014: $11,990 – $35,000

I’ve been hesitating before commencing this post. Why I procrastinate is simple. It’s time to consider an Alfa.

Yes I know. I want to walk home, it’s great to look at someone else’s and don’t they tend to rust like there’s no tomorrow? All things that people who don’t own an Alfa tend to say.

Well this was true at one time, but the last 10 years has seen Alfa improve its products and its maintenance issues are no worse than any other sporty car out there. All Alfa’s are now galvanised so rust is not the problem it once was, if it ever was an issue in Australia. Hot climates have tended to affect certain cars more than colder climates however, so particular parts were prone to shredding themselves, like the differential. But more on that later.

No, the real reason that I hesitate to review an Alfa is because I have never driven one. Other than the 25 minutes with Nadim in an earlier post, the closest I have come was as a passenger hurtling down a steep hill in a mate’s Alfa Sud. It took the quickest time to manage the 1 in 4 gradient replete with two almost hairpin bends, and much of the blood to my head. I remember clambering out, brushing red dust from my trousers, amazed we had survived and marvelling at the little Sud’s cornering ability. Its red line hugging 1.2 litre engine, its skinny tyres scrabbling for grip and it’s throaty 4 pot burbling away, you could almost forget that every panel was rust eaten to the core.IMG_4766

So 25 years later is there an Alfa out there that would be worth a second hand punt? Probably a few, but I am focusing on the 156 based GT, a car built between 2004 and 2010, and in 3.2 V6 incantation. It has the grunt, as well as the looks, to match any coupe out there.

Barely 80,000 GT’s were made worldwide, in 1.8 TS, 2.0 JT, 1.9 JTD or 3.2.V6 guise. Given the global majority tend to be the diesel, which never seem to crop up in Australia, the 3.2 V6 has the exclusive tag. It has more power, it has that throaty rasp we have come to expect from Alfa’s V6’s and it only gets better the more you floor it. It is acclaimed as one of the greatest engines ever produced.

The most expensive versions available today are the 2010 Centenary editions (in celebration of Alfa’s centenary that year). Only 100 reached Australia clad in special colours (Rosso Alfa, Atlantic Blue, Black and Ice White) and all came laden with airbags, leather, VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control), ASR (Anti Slip Regulation), EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and ABS.

Mechanicals

Engine: 3.2 24v V6, six speed manual

Top speed: 243 km/h

0-100: 6.7 seconds

“It’s is all about keeping up with the maintenance, e.g. oil and filter changes, cam belt changes every scheduled service”

IMG_4772

As already mentioned, this is a world class engine that is as happy revving to 7000 rpm as it is tootling around town. But putting such a heavy engine in a small front wheel driver tends to come with a few problems. The most notable is torque steer that only exacerbates the sub standard differential. The diff has been known to fail from as little as 30,000 kms and when it does shards can pierce the gearbox, as well as the bell housing, meaning an expensive rebuild as well as a new, but rubbish diff.

So, if you are considering this car, budget for a Q2 diff upgrade if it has not been done, and negotiate with the owner. Be preventative and it will save you thousands down the track and improve your driving experience drastically. Isn’t this after all the reason you want to buy an Alfa in the first place. Price wise, it’s upwards of $3000 to repair a broken diff, maybe much more if it’s chewed up the gears. The Q2 can be fitted for less than that.

Tony Dron, from the UK’s The Telegraph, wrote  great article explaining more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/carreviews/2744796/What-a-difference-a-diff-makes.html

Belts

Cambelt changes for the V6 were lowered from 72,000 to 60,000 miles or 5 years. However Alfa revised the 2 litre down further to only 32,000 miles/3 years, so my advice is reduce it further for the V6. If you are not sure, either walk away or budget to replace the belt as soon as possible. Change the timing belt at the same time

Water pump:

Worth changing this when you remove the cambelt. The original used a plastic impeller that was well known to crack over time.

One owner suggests to use the water pump from the 3.0 GTV which had a metal impellor and thus lasts longer. According to the forum member there “are no compatibility issues with this. I have found that if you use a pattern pump, some cambelt tensioning tools will not work on them. Its not a major issue and competent mechanic should be able to work around this.”

Ensure oil levels are topped up, as an engine with low oil suggests poor maintenance.

Flat spots or an unwillingness to rev may indicate a faulty air flow meter (MAF)

Brakes:IMG_4756

The 3.2 V6 has the largest stoppers in the range with 330 mm (13.0 in) ventilated discs at front. The GT comes as standard with anti-lock braking system with electronic brake force distribution and hydraulic brake assistance.

Suspension:

Suspension was toughened up for the GT to improve handling but the front wishbone and anti-roll bar suspension bushes can wear. A squeak from behind the dash can alert you to the change. For the rear, check the rear hub bushes and rear radius arms, for if these are faulty it can lead to uneven tyre wear.

Clutch:

It’s hardy but can become heavy with age. If the gear lever does not move easily across the gate you will need a pair of bushes in the pivot point on top of the gear box. Another $200 or so.

Internal:

There has not been too many issues electrically but  check all the warning lights come on and then switch off after approximately 3 seconds. If they don’t, you know what to do.

External:

The tailgate can leak slightly and has a habit of squeaking in its aperture, but regular silicon spray silences that.

Paint fades, especially red into pink.

Rust can still be an issue but at least it won’t be hiding, it will be clear as day say on the roof or around the front screen.

A poor panel fit or variations in paint colour indicate there has been an accident.

The front undertray is prone to grounding as you drive over speed bumps, which is a legacy of the 156 platform.

Conclusion

So is it worth it? After spending less than half an hour in Nadim’s GT, I can say yes, as long as you maintain it fastidiously, it is worth it. The sound, the traction and the power delivery overcomes all and it really is a car you should try before you discount it. Like with many of the cars Rezoom reviews, if you are prepared to budget $2-4000 per year to keep the car in fine fettle, then you may become like the rest of the Alfisti, well and truly hooked.

Forums:

http://www.alfaowner.com/Forum

http://www.ausalfa.com

http://www.alfaworkshop.co.uk  – brilliant resource, even gives ideas, parts and prices

http://www.alfaclubvic.org.au/forum

The Alfa Workshop – http://www.alfaworkshop.co.uk/alfa_gt_guide.shtml

 

Alfa Specialists (Sydney, NSW):

  • Automoda Service Centre, 85 Queens Road, Fivedock NSW 2046

Phone: +61 2 9744 7112

http://automoda.com.au/

  • Max Oddi Automotive Alfa Repairs Pty Ltd

29 Moore St, Leichhardt NSW 2040

Phone: (02) 9552 2054

  • Alfamotive

81 Railway Parade Marrickville

02 9519 8501

http://www.alfamotive.com.au

 Spares:

EB Spares in the UK, who offer excellent, reliable service

http://www.ebspares.co.uk/news77.htm

http://www.ebspares.co.uk/alfa_147/Q2_diff_for_6_speed_manual_cars/

By: Gabriele B. - CC BY 2.0
By: Gabriele B.CC BY 2.0