Robbie UltraDork
2/24/17 10:43 p.m.

My first Miata. My first fly and drive. My first convertible.

I was excited. So excited in fact, that I hardly cared that United Airlines was over 1.5 hours late getting me to Boston (right on schedule for United, it would seem).

Collin picked me up from the airport and drove me back to his house. Winter in Boston may be a good time to buy a convertible, but it is decidedly not a good time to test drive a Miata that has tires that are advertised as "poor in snow". As we rode home from the airport, the rain turned to big flakes. By the time we got to Collin's, we were brushing snow off of a Miata in the dark to go for a test drive.

The Miata started right up and settled into a nice idle. A quick twist, and both headlights popped up and came on, as well as that familiar soft green glow of early 90s Japanese gauges.

Before we had moved 12 ft, the Miata was stuck in the snow-packed driveway. Oof, these tires were exactly as advertised. A quick push from Collin and we were off, though quite timidly as snow was quickly beginning to stick to the already wet roads. The 1000 mile drive in my immediate future is starting to loom large in the back of my head (and the pit of my stomach). I quickly run through all 5 gears. Clutch feels good. Brakes feel good. Wipers are working. Both blinkers click at the same speed. We go as fast as I dare on a curvy back road in the snow on bad tires (like, twenty seven miles per hour). We turn around in a parking lot entrance, and my attempted power pirouette fails immediately as the front tires wash out and I understeer straight forward, probably making me look like an idiot in front of Collin who I only recently met.

Seeing the conditions and noting that I would be getting a much later start than planned due to the flight delay (and maybe after witnessing my pathetic attempt at a snow maneuver), Collin very graciously offered me his guest bedroom for the night. On the surface I know I played it cool, but knowing deep inside that I was not excited to head out into the dark in an unknown $1500 car and a snowstorm at 10pm on a Wednesday night, I happily accepted his offer. We shared a pizza with Collin's wife Dierdre, I paid Collin for the car, did the paperwork, and went to bed.

I was tired but hardly slept that night. I was able to conveniently procrastinated away my problem of driving a Miata in the snow (if I have a superpower, it is procrastinating with zero guilt), and I was back to being only excited about my new purchase. I woke early and donned long johns, a turtleneck, and a jacket, said my silent good bye (didn't want to wake the baby), and was off.

A little bit of snow had settled in overnight. Judging by the windshield, about 2 inches had fallen. But it was warmish 30-35 degrees outside, and it was overcast with plenty of daylight. Car started, windows scraped, bags packed, and I was off. I think the extra couple inches actually helped me not get stuck in the driveway like I did the night before.

The streets were clean and mostly wet but not slippery. I was quickly on the highway, and going opposite the Boston commute (phew). Just as quickly, and now that I was exceeding 55 mph, I noticed that this Miata has quite the rattling problem above 55 MPH. The sounds is loud and uneven, more related to throttle position than gear or speed, and sounds like it is right behind my left ear. If you want to imaginge the sound, think of hitting the loose end of a piece of sheetmetal with a weedwacker. I only have 970 ish miles and 16 hours to go, how bad could it be?

I spent a little time driving along and listening and thinking about the sound. Engine? likely not, not related to engine speed. Transmission? maybe, but coincident to road speed rather than gear. Differential? again, likely not, because the frequency of noise doesn't seem to increase with road speed. "Well" I thought to myself, "If it't not one of those three, it is fine."

Yeah right. More like, "I'm quite confident I cannot isolate or fix this noise on the side of the highway in the snow in Boston" but I didn't want to admit that to myself.

So I pressed on a few more exits before I decided to stop for coffee and check it out in a safe place.

It was here that I decided to do my first mod to the Miata. Collin gave me this cup holder as part of the sale, and boy what a great improvement. Hey, I am american after all, and I enjoy my freakin' cup holders, okay? The gas station I stopped at actually had no coffee. What. Poked my head down to look under the car, and nothing seemed horribly out of place, so I hopped back in for another few miles.

Next up - the first driver mod. Ahhh, that's better. By now, I had texted Collin and he responded that he thought the noise was an exhaust hanger a little too close to a drivetrain component. Plausible, because honestly it sounded like that. After I got my coffee, I promptly made my first lapse in judgement - because somehow buying a $1500 convertible in Boston in February with a plan to drive it 1000 miles home in one day isn't something I consider to be a lapse in judgement - I reached down to wiggle the exhaust and promptly burnt my fingers. Nice, idiot. Tried again with my shoe, but couldn't recreate the noise. Oh well, lots of ground still to cover.

Now I was feeling great because of the coffee, and the roads and weather cleared up so I was really able to start opening the throttle. I found out that the noise goes away when traveling faster than about 75 MPH. As anyone who has ever had a wobbly driveshaft knows, there is only one real way to get out of the harmonic zone.

I'm now reading somewhere between what I think are the 1/4 tank and empty marks on the gas gauge, and though I normally stretch my tanks, I figured it would be really dumb to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere in an unfamiliar car simply because I'm not used to the gas gauge yet (or really have any justification yet that the dang thing even works). This may have been my only good decision all day. About 8.5 gallons? Assuming slightly larger than a 10 gallon tank, looks like the gas gauge is working. Score!

After another hour or two, my next mistake would become clear. I don't know if you have driven through upstate New York in the winter before, but if you haven't, holy moly does the weather change fast. From Boston to Buffalo (about 6 hours of driving) I experienced no less than 5 different weather patterns, maybe more. Snow, clear but overcast, sleet, clear and sunny, fog, clear, snow, etc. During the in-between phases when the roads are wet and the sky is dry, I found myself using the windshield washers liberally. I had to in fact, because on this particular Miata the pressure comes from the passenger side. As a result, the passenger side sprayed like a flushing toilet and the only pressure left at the driver's side was more like a kidney stone patient at 2am. So to get the driver's side clean enough to see, I had to run the washers quite a bit.

And that's when it happened, I ran out of fluid completely, right as the roads became dry and the salt solution evaporated from my windshield leaving a think layer of opaque salt behind. I could hardly see. Uh oh. Try the wipers. Smeared it and made it worse. Not good. As I slowed I barely even registered the exhaust rattle as it was, as we say in my line of business, no longer top priority. Luckily I made it into the right lane in behind a semi-trailer that I could still make out in front of me. I could not see road markings through the windshield, but I could make out the trailer (great visibility out the side windows, though). I didn't want to slow down and lose my semi-trailer beacon, but I did want to slow down because I felt like Luke Skywalker wearing the face shield when he is first learning about the force.

Do I wait for an exit? Do I drop anchor right here? I actually felt pretty confident following the semi-truck as I thought the likelihood of it running off the road and me following was low, as was the probability of something getting between us in this light traffic. So I followed the semi. About 3 agonizing minutes dragged on before I was saved by an exit. A rest stop even. Perfect!

Or so I thought. This rest stop was made up of about 25 diagonal parking spaces, 150 ft of sidewalk, and (no joke) 23 trash cans. I was the only one in it. And I had finished my coffee so I didn't have a lick of fluid in the car. You might say this boy scout was not prepared. Closest thing I had to a rag was the plastic bag that the trusty cup holder came in.

I learned that day that when road salt dries on your windshield, it turns back into, well, salt. And therefore it actually scrapes off quite cleanly if you have something with stiff edges like a crumpled plastic bag.

Back on the road I go. Now the roads were totally dry and it was beautiful out, so I was willing to get a few more miles in before stopping for wiper fluid. When I did stop for fluid (I was, in fact, learning from my mistakes), I bought two gallons, but they don't sell paper towels. The nice woman behind the register encouraged me to instead go into the bathroom and take a few handfuls of that cheap brown paper. Better than nothing I guess.

I cruised through Buffalo and toward Ohio, sneaking though the tiniest corner of Pennsylvania possible. The map said I was very close to Lake Erie, but with all the trees I would never have been the wiser. Traffic was really light during this portion of the drive, and the Miata motor was singing along at 4000-4250 RPM. For a car that had a small engine back in 1990, this thing really is effortless on the highway, and loves to go faster than 75.

I was also treated to a beautiful and extended sunset. Since I was driving west, I was driving basically directly at the setting sun. If the sky had been clear it would have been brutal, especially considering - boy scout sign - I did not have any sunglasses on me. Thankfully a sky full of clouds made for wonderful colors and soft evening light. Since I was traveling toward the sun, I figure I extended the sunset that I got to view by 'chasing it'.

Pulled into Toledo about 8 pm to meet my buddy Ian for dinner. He had driven down from Detroit to meet me. I was a few minutes earlier than him, so I stopped for gas. Might as well check the oil since I have time to kill right? Pull the dipstick, not even wet. Wait, that can't be right. Try again. Same deal. Crap. How dumb can I be? Buy a 27 year old car and hop in and drive for 750 miles without ever checking the oil? Geesh. Kicking myself I go into the station and buy two quarts of 5w30. Put one in and am halfway up the dipstick. Another 1/2 and I'm at the full mark. Ok, at least it wasn't totally dry. And I had been monitoring the oil pressure gauge, which never showed a problem. Still, what a bonehead move.

Dinner was great however, at a cool Asian fusion place called 'QQ'. And Ian made me feel better with a story of an Integra he bought and drove 90 miles home with no coolant. He also brought down my engine crane that I needed in the next few days. How do you fit an engine crane in a Miata you ask? Let's just say this: Start by finding a willing partner. Get plenty of fluid that contains ethanol. Make sure you have a quart or two of lube on hand. And don't ask questions in the morning.

With a full belly and a fuller Miata, I jumped in for the last 200 or so miles. Pleasantly, I could no longer hear the Miata exhaust buzzing. Unpleasantly, it was because now the engine crane next to me was rattling and banging much louder. Ugh.

Soon came Indiana, and as I was distracted by the welcome to Indiana sign I hit an expansion joint so hard my teeth slammed together. "Welcome to Indiana, enjoy our crappy roads". Luckily my tongue was 'at home' in its resting position otherwise I could very well have lost a piece of it that day. (Interesting fact that I learned after the drive: apparently a French firm owns the I-80 toll road through Indiana, and they make bank on tolls but mostly refuse to maintain the road. Since Indiana no longer owns the road, they are kinda stuck with the firm's BS. Nice.)

I finally pulled off the highway around midnight, weary from the beating and banging of the engine crane next to me. I was less than 10 minutes from home, and I was very eager to get there. But I just bought a convertible, and I hadn't had the chance to drive top-down yet. So I pulled into a parking lot, and folded the top down. In Chicago. In February. At midnight. With an engine crane riding shotgun. You couldn't smack the smile off my face.

And like the phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship, I followed the soft green glow of the gauges all the way home.

Robbie UltraDork
2/24/17 10:44 p.m.

Over a week late but took me a while to type up and stuff. Please critique my writing - I hope the story was fun to follow along and that readers get to experience some of the trip!

stafford1500 HalfDork
2/25/17 6:14 a.m.


John Welsh
John Welsh MegaDork
2/25/17 6:41 a.m.

You'll enjoy the automotive straightforwardness of the '90 Miata. No nanny stuff. Abs was an option but pretty rare at the time.

Your route took you near my house. I am about 6 miles straight north of Exit 118 on the Ohio Turnpike. I would have gladly come to your rescue anywhere between Cleveland and Toledo.

Fun times ahead with the Miata.

AngryCorvair UltimaDork
2/25/17 2:19 p.m.

Count me as glad the green glow wasn't from a coolant leak. Congrats on completing a most excellent adventure!

SyntheticBlinkerFluid UltimaDork
2/25/17 5:13 p.m.

Nice write up.

Interesting that the Indiana Toll Road is no longer owned by the state. Don't know why they would do that. Seems like a stupid idea IMO. In all honesty, they do maintain it, I was stuck in god awful single lane traffic for 30 miles each direction every couple days for months while they repaved it from 94 to South Bend a little over a year ago.

paranoid_android74 UltraDork
2/26/17 9:21 a.m.

Great write up and glad to hear it was a pretty smooth trip!

What are your plans for the car?

Robbie UltraDork
2/26/17 2:07 p.m.
paranoid_android74 wrote: Great write up and glad to hear it was a pretty smooth trip! What are your plans for the car?

Plan is to drive it! Maybe I can convince someone to go to a tsd rally with me.

I've been telling myself for the past 3-4 years I would buy a convertible in winter. Finally made it happen this year. Collin (seller) threw in a brand new soft top, and a used but much better suspension with the purchase of the car, so I will be swapping those on in the near future as well as addressing the rattle.

Smaller things I plan to do as well:

  • grease (probably add zerks) to all the poly bushings
  • get the AC working
  • add the plastic side cover that is missing from the driver headlight
  • fix cruise - all the buttons are there, but it has a silly anti theft feature that is using the cruise buttons
  • fix airbag system (not plugged in currently giving me blinky airbag light)
  • put some better speakers in the doors and this car is wired for headrest speakers, might figure something out for that
  • whatever else I want! The car was cheaply repainted orange from the original Smurf blue, so I may try to go back to blue through vinyl wrap
Robbie UltraDork
2/27/17 5:15 a.m.
John Welsh wrote: You'll enjoy the automotive straightforwardness of the '90 Miata. No nanny stuff. Abs was an option but pretty rare at the time. Your route took you near my house. I am about 6 miles straight north of Exit 118 on the Ohio Turnpike. I would have gladly come to your rescue anywhere between Cleveland and Toledo. Fun times ahead with the Miata.

I figured I was swinging right past you. I thought about calling a few grm folks for dinner but bad planning got the best of me.

QuasiMofo MegaDork
2/27/17 5:23 a.m.

Congratulations and thank you for the read Robbie.

cmcgregor Dork
2/27/17 11:21 a.m.

Nicely done!

I'm glad you decided to spend the night. I certainly wouldn't have ventured out in that weather, especially at 10PM. The unknown is much easier to deal with in the daytime.

Glad to see the old girl (mostly) behaved for you, too - I'm sorry about that rattle, that really does sound pretty obnoxious.

I hope you get many years of enjoyment out of the car. It was my first Miata, and I decided that I liked it so much, I had to have a nicer looking one - which I also did a fly and drive for.

Gunchsta New Reader
2/28/17 3:20 p.m.

Awesome! Nice write up and thanks for sharing. I wanted to do this exact trip, for this exact car actually, but couldn't justify it as I already have more than enough cars. I must have brought the for sale post up on my computer a hundred times... I'm glad you had fun and I too hope to someday fly-and-drive.

Congratulations on a successful trip and enjoy the car!

Robbie UltraDork
2/28/17 3:38 p.m.

In reply to Gunchsta:

Thanks! Are you in the Chicago area?

smokindav Reader
3/10/17 6:35 p.m.

Nice trip report. No Miatas for sale in Chicago?

Robbie UberDork
3/22/17 3:46 p.m.
smokindav wrote: Nice trip report. No Miatas for sale in Chicago?

Seems that everyone in Chicago wants 3k for a clapped out stance car, and only goes up from there. I've been looking for quite a while but never caught a good one. I'm sure they are out there...

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