When shooting recently ended on the movie "Always," director Steven Spielberg presented identical Mazda Miata sports cars to his four stars.
There are those who believe the cars came with higher celebrity status than their recipients--Richard ("Jaws") Dreyfuss, John ("Roseanne") Goodman, Holly ("Broadcast News") Hunter and Brad Johnson. They certainly will still be selling furiously when "Always" is relegated to videotape and a $19.95 manager's special.
Since this mechanical bonsai arrived in July--and was reviewed in these pages in June--more than 20,000 Miatas have been sold. Esquire called it the car you wanted to "pat on the butt." Those who wondered if America was ready to drive back to a future with motoring a top-down, two-seat, visceral reprise of the '60s have their answer.
And Miata mania has become a permanent passion stuffed with all the mythology, apocrypha and tall tales of any genuine folklore.
A Miata Club of America had formed before the car was in dealer showrooms, and by the end of this year, said founder Norman Garrett, the group will have registered more than 5,000 owners.
The basic sticker price on the car is $14,000. Immediate popularity resulted in dealer overpricing, to Mazda's dismay--up to $5,000 over sticker. It hasn't really slowed. This week, six months after introduction, private parties are advertising scantily used Miatas ("always garaged . . . 160 miles only") for $25,000.
Prior to summer, ex-journalist Bob Hall was just another manager at Mazda's product planning and research division in Irvine. Then he accompanied the Miata to public unveilings as one of its major conceptual lights. Hall's life has been public appearance upon television interview on top of profiles in news magazines that haven't mentioned a car designer since the death of Enzo Ferrari.
Then there have been queue crashers who flew to Detroit and Kansas City to buy Miatas no matter the markup. Not a wise move: Michigan and Kansas cars do not carry the same emission packages demanded by pollution-conscious California.
"We've heard of several Miata owners who ran into difficulties when they tried to register their out-of-state cars in California," said Mazda spokesman Fred Aikens. "In some cases, there still isn't any resolution."
Unresolved and unregistered, however, the Miata becomes a very attractive planter.