Mazda has long been teasing the updated (and electrified) fifth-gen MX-5. But until that materialises, buyers looking for a two-seater roadster get a facelifted version of the current ND model, with a bit more tech and a reworked interior. The driving dynamics thankfully remain the same, so hark back to the original car released way back in 1989. Enthusiasts are more than happy with earlier NA and NB cars, considering how many are on UK streets, and there’s a ton of OE and aftermarket goodies to restore them to their former glory.
The Japanese carmaker has restarted making genuine parts for the first Miatas, but finding MX5 repair panels if your car has been in an accident or has accrued more rust can be a bit harder. Either you’ll be looking at stripped-down donor cars from yards or second-hand Mazda resellers, or if you’re lucky, new body parts, albeit at a steeper price.
Common Miata Bodywork Issues
Miatas are mechanically robust and can even take a few mods for more power. But before attempting any performance upgrades, check the condition of the chassis, suspension and bodywork. Rust, dents and scratches, as well as irregular maintenance and cleaning, are the main reasons that eat away at the paintwork and damage panels.
Rust is more of an issue in the NA and NB cars, mostly as a result of cracked soft tops and missing window seals, but can also be found in the wheel arches, the rear subframe, suspension parts, callipers and discs. This is a sign of how the car has been used and where it’s been parked. If caught on time, you’ll be saving yourself from expensive repairs while keeping the car’s fun factor and structural integrity intact.
If you’re buying a used MX-5, also do a thorough check for any signs of impact or collisions. Sure signs are gaps and mismatched panels, obvious differences in the paintwork colours or shades, the use of filler, instances of welding and a car that has a completely new paint job. The only way to assess the full state of damage is to completely disassemble the car or sandblast everything down and see what work’s been done. Anyone who’s bought a second car on the cheap knows what surprises lurk under a fresh coat of paint, and a bent bumper might be the least of your problems.
Lastly, dust, dirt, grease, birdlime, oil and other accumulated contaminants will chip away at the paint and gradually work through the metal underneath until blemishes and cracks are easy to spot. This shows how much care the Miata has seen throughout the years and the missed opportunities to keep the car in good nick.
Parts That Need More Attention
Not all Miatas have been kept the same way. The first thing to do when restoring a car with new or used Mazda MX5 repair panels is to figure out what needs work. The most damage will be obvious in the front and rear wings, the wheel arches and the sills. Front and rear bumpers are almost a given, but they’re also easier to find, and you can deal with minor damage without having to repair the entire bumper.
Rust is what usually kills the wings, but there can also be dents from head-on or side impact. The rear wing panels are also prone to rust and rotting, as are the rear wheel arch panels. Additionally, check how the sills are holding up, as any bends, dents or advanced corrosion here can compromise the structural integrity of the whole car. Moreover, dents in bumpers and bonnets can be easy to straighten out but can point to damage in front cross members or other load-bearing parts, which may also mean radiator or engine issues.
New or Used? Assessing Your Budget
You can go about choosing replacement body panels in a few different ways. If damage is contained to a single part, then buying that part now makes more sense. Conversely, if you find your Miata has seen better days, and needs more work, sourcing more panels can start to stretch your budget, especially if the bodywork is only part of the restoration process.
New panels can come at a premium and most are bare or galvanised for more protection. However, don’t rule out perfectly fine body parts from stripped-down cars, as they won’t need much work besides sanding and repainting. Again, assessing all the work that needs to be done, will give you a basic view of how much you’ll need to spend, and whether combining new and used MX5 repair panels is a viable option.
You’ll be getting panels that fit the right Miata model, trim and manufacturing year to rule out any problems with fitment. And ensure that parts are to OE standards in terms of materials and sizing, and are supplied with the right fasteners and fixings.
DIY or Call a Pro?
There’s a lot of work once you have the panels you need. You’ll want wrenches and sockets for damaged panels that are bolted on, angle grinders or cutting tools to get off patch panels, and welders to attach new ones. Stuck parts can be a hassle, and you’ll be relying on mallets or hammers to get them off, or rust spray to remove rusted fixings. Also, have a full set of replacement fasteners in the right size if they’re not supplied with the bodywork.
What follows is preparing the area that needs the panel replacement. With the old panel removed, get rid of surrounding and accumulated dirt, debris or rust. To attach the new panel, either use fasteners and bolts or, where welding is needed, tack weld the panel to prevent any fitment errors.
Consider rust protection and removal after that, then painting. Here, you can apply rust primer to bare metal, while sanders get rid of paint in used panels. A filler is used to tend to minor blemishes before primer and top coats are added with a sprayer. Most steps (especially painting) require you to use the proper PPE gear. For a seamless fit, also consider trim parts like seals where they are needed.
This can be too much for bodywork newbies, so calling in a friend in the know or a qualified bodywork technician should ease quibbles and get you the expected results. Just factor in the labour costs. And a structurally sound Miata looks the part, and with proper care, remains that way for years to come.