MGB: The source of the Mazda Miata's DNA?

Where did the Mazda Miata get its sporting DNA from? Sure, it may have taken some styling points from the Lotus Elan, but it’s the essence of the original MGB that’s most noticeable from behind the wheel of the Mazda.

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wspohn SuperDork
5/7/22 12:37 p.m.

Guys, I agree completely that the Miata is a classic and sales numbers prove that as they did with the MGB, the biggest British selling sports car. I have to respectfully disagree with you slightly about the Miata being the modern equivalent of the MGB though.

From the technical angle, the comparison with the Lotus Elan is considerably closer - DOHC engine, 4 wheel disc brakes, inherently good handling.  The technical spec of the MGB is almost agricultural in comparison. Pushrod motor, rear drum brakes, and  on the later models with raised ride height, compromised handling and much reduced power output.  

I have always looked at the Miata as a kind of Elan that didn't break as much....   MG tried some innovative elements in their cars (my 1958 has a DOHC engine and 4 wheel disc brakes, for instance) but backed off that and contented themselves with 'good enough' as a design target.  I have to admire Mazda for doing a better job on the MX5.


BillKeksz New Reader
5/7/22 8:42 p.m.

I've often argued that the Miata is more MGB than Elan.

Mazda studied the Elan, and probably the 124 and Alfa Duetto, looked at its parts bin, and built something to appeal to those who wanted an MGB. More people remembered seeing B's than Elans at the time; certainly more had owned B's than Elans.
Production-wise, the B was a success that the Elan could never be. Mazda needed  success of similar magnitude.
I own an ND, and previously two NA's, an X1-9, and a B. All those are in the light sports car category, but the Elan is at the extreme end of that. Admittedly, my brief drive in an Elan is a very distant memory.



jeffrey vogel
jeffrey vogel New Reader
10/24/22 1:45 p.m.

owning a S2 Ealn and a NA series Miata, I can knowlegably weigh in. The MX-5 is a refined sportscar and both sporting and reliable in a way that the MG/TR/AH never was but the Elan is a refined race car for the road that begs to be driven swiftly at all time ,  differnt in so many ways despite there physical simialrity

GeoWeb New Reader
10/24/22 1:47 p.m.

I'm 82 now and I go back to the mid-fifties, so I grew up as a sports car fan in the era of the MGA/MGB, Triumph TR, Healey (big and small) and Jaguar XKs. I do remember the Lotus Elite and Elan. To me the Lotus cars, while advanced designs for their day, weren't/aren't for the everyday driver.

I have had a few mini-Mustang-style cars (Capri and Prelude) but my favouite car of all was the NA Miata. I had two of them (the first was written off in a collision, no my fault) and I went back to a Prelude after I put 200,000 km + on the second one (a lot of runs from Toronto to Daytona or Homestead, etc.).

The Prelude was really a better car for all those long haul runs. But I loved the Miata and, like the die-hard sports car guys from my youth, I drove it as much as possible with the top down. (and the NA Miata was an excellent car for top-down driving in almost any weather, light rain included).

I recently bought an NC Miata and I found to be a worthy successor to the NA.

Is the NA/NB more like an MGA/B or an Elite/Elan? I terms of being an everyman/everyday driver it's like the MG, in terms of design sophistication, it sure owes a lot to Chapman. For my part, i loved my Miatas for what they were; nostalgic comparisons to those other cars seem irrelvant. BTW, my dream car now would be an orignal Elan in good running condition. The Miata ND would be an good practical alternative.

MGWrench New Reader
10/25/22 7:34 a.m.

In reply to wspohn :

I will respectfully disagree with you.  Had MG been allowed to soldier on, the 1981 MGB would have had the O-series engine with SOHC and DOHC versions.  The MGB-GT was used to test multiple variations of the O-series engine and given any corporate support, 4 wheel independent suspensions and better brakes would have likely been found on the MGB or its successor.

wspohn SuperDork
10/25/22 10:40 a.m.

While I understand what you are saying, I think that the creation of BLMC in 1968 sounded the death knell for MG. The top brass were Triumph people and they quickly killed the MGC, prevented the MGB GT from being imported to North America so it couldn't compete with their new Triumph TR-7  and in many other ways favoured the TR product over the MG. 

The innovation in the 1950s - 4 wheel  disc brakes, DOHC engines, de Dion rear ends etc. either went into very limited production (MGA Twin Cam) or never made it past the prototype stage (EX  models that incorporated advanced bits like superchargers and the De Dions etc.)

I agree that had MG been allowed to continue, they would have looked to the O series, but there was little chance of that being allowed by the new administration.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/26/22 9:30 a.m.

In reply to jeffrey vogel :

I'd second that emotion that the Miata/MGB is more of a street car where the Elan is more of a race car .

wspohn SuperDork
10/26/22 10:06 a.m.

Funny, we had a direct comparison available in our vintage race club, between a Bugeye Sprite and a Lotus 7 using the same engine.  Lotus was a better slalom car but the Bugeye was faster  on the track as the Lotus piled air up under those fenders and became a fair bit slower on acceleration after 2nd gear.  IIRC the Lotus resorted to cycle fenders to equalize things.

RobMason New Reader
10/27/22 8:01 a.m.

As the owner of a MGA and a Miata (and past owner of MGB's, and Sprigets, and more MGA's), I would put the Miata as having more MGA DNA than MGB. Tom Mitano specifically mentions the driving qualities of the MGA in memo's sent to the design team. He used the MGA as a direct example as to how he wanted his new roadster to drive. The rawness, responsiveness, and analog feal of the MGA is much closer to an early NA Miata than the MGB. The B was softer, more of a cruiser than a supremely responsive bare bones sports car.

The sublime knotchiness of the gearbox and short throw of the lever, the gear ratios (almost exactly the same), the way you have to set it on the bump stops when cornering, steering ratios and responsiveness, the entire "feel" of the car is much more MGA than MGB, especially a rubber bumper one. I used many of the Miata alignment, sway bar, and tire/wheel specs in setting up my MGA for Autocross.

Surprisingly the MGA is faster through slaloms and corners than my ES Miata with the same tire (205 wide RT660's) though it's about 400lbs lighter than my porky NB which still holds it's own against sport models in ES. Other than the heavier feel on the non boosted steering and brakes, the MGA drives very similar to the Miata when pushed hard. It feels very similar to a STS setup NA Miata now, just with a little less power.

I initially wanted nothing to do with a Miata as it was a "fake" MG. However the first time I drove one, I was instantly reminded of the MGA's that I grew up with, not my MGB.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
10/27/22 10:00 a.m.

In reply to RobMason :

Great comments. We used an MGB because it was more similar in layout and of unibody design.

wspohn SuperDork
10/27/22 10:50 a.m.

As the owner of a dozen plus MGAs over the years (down to only 3 now) I can see what Rob is saying - despite the fact that the MGA was body on frame as opposed to the MGB unibody, the handling of the earlier car was as good as the MGB (and with stock spring rates even a bit better).

IIRC the MGB was the direct inspiration, though - as it was for the Pontiac Solstice (which I also own) - they took prototypes to the UK and ran them around with a 1960 Triumph TR3a, a 1967 Triumph TR4a, a 1969 MGB and a 1971 Lotus Elan Sprint.

(Article here if anyone is interested

sfisher71 New Reader
9/14/23 1:22 p.m.

In 1990, the first Miata I got to see up close belonged to my friend Miq. At the time, I was driving a 1971 MGB as my daily, while working on an E Production MGB for SCCA competition. 

Miq drove up to my house in his Miata, so naturally I parked the MGB next to it. The underside stampings were very similar in look and dimension, with similarly-placed longitudinal stiffeners in both, but of course the Miata's PPF and IRS were very different.

From above, though, the two cars had remarkably similar proportions. Length, height, and ratio of bonnet to interior to boot were within inches of one another, though the Miata's windshield was considerably higher than the al-you-minnie-um frame on my MGB's windscreen. 

Then we looked at the cars from the front, and the Miata was a good ten inches wider. 

Miq and I took his Miata to Crows Landing for an SCCA autocross, which would be the first time I drove his (or ANY) Miata. Miq took it out for the first run, then I hopped in for mine, helmet in place.

I turned the key and was subjected to a hideous grinding sound. Miq leaned in and yelled through the helmet, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO START IT IF IT'S ALREADY RUNNING." Note: stock exhausts are very quiet.

The starter waved me on course, where the first corner was a tight left-hander. The Miata (on Yokohama A008Rs, the hot ticket back then) turned instantly without complaint.

"Wow!" I thought. "This thing handles better than my race MGB!"

Next corner, a fast right. I turned down as I would have in the EP car --

-- and center-punched the cone, just inboard of the right-side pop-up headlight.

"Only it's about a foot wider," I reminded myself.

My fastest lap in that car, the third time I had driven it, was sufficient to put me in second place in class, behind the driver of a Porsche 924S who would go on to win his class in Salina that year.

Our next outing in Miq's Miata was at a Fiat Club autocross at the Pleasanton Fair Grounds. Despite a spin in my third run, my best time was enough to take first in class. The trophy was a digital stopwatch with a brass plaque engraved 1ST PLACE under the readout.

So naturally, I went out and bought a Miata of my own... seventeen years later.

THAT Miata, a 1996 set up as my track day and autocross toy, was the first car I'd driven at Laguna Seca (for the 20th Anniversary celebration) since my EP MGB. And I had almost the exact same reaction first time through the right-hander at the bottom of the Corkscrew, when I had to jink left to avoid taking the Zanardi Line through the dirt. The Miata just hooked up better than my old Production Category MGB, even though I was on sensible Michelin all-seasons, more suitable to the Portland rainy months than to fast laps.





Dwight New Reader
9/15/23 7:52 a.m.

In reply to wspohn :


 HAD BOTH...Prefer the 'B' as I first bought one in 1966... don't think I'd be comfortable in a Elan.. 

wspohn SuperDork
9/16/23 1:08 p.m.
Dwight said:

In reply to wspohn :


 HAD BOTH...Prefer the 'B' as I first bought one in 1966... don't think I'd be comfortable in a Elan.. 

Quite possibly not as most Loti were made for people of modest dimensions.

The one I lusted after for a long time was the Europa, which I really wanted to own - a minimalist performance car par excellence. I found a Lotus engines version, which is what I wanted and went to see it. Unfortunately it was so low that while I could fold myself into it, getting out was problematic - I couldn't picture myself crawling out of it on hands and knees in rainy weather (I am in the Pacific Northwest and we have a lot of that here).  I still wish I could own one, but it is not to be!

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