The Miata is the RV of the Car World (IMO) by Doug Reeves
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Late October '09


What is it with cars and planes and the people who play with them?  I fully intended to fly yesterday for a few minutes in the morning, but didn’t (I’ll get to that later).  The normal routine: up at 0520 and on the keyboard wrapping up the day’s edition, Susie up 0600, kids up 0630 and off to school 0720.  Lots of alarms on the iPhone.

Today was special, however.  It was the first day of fall and a storm line, with its accompanying cold front, had passed over the night before.  We awoke to 66°F for the first time in a long, long while.  This near perfect collision of time, temp, viz and kids-in-school happens but a few times a year if you’re a fan of the airplane.  All this calls for a trip out to the airport with the top down, MX-5 style!  Tomorrow will be hot and sticky again, but today it's cool.

I should first give a little history on my MX-5 purchase.  The truck I owned before it was an F-150 Gonzo Truckasourus.  Awesome truck, but so big and gadgety you’d swear it could stand up, unfold some rocket packs and fight crime.  Four leather seats bigger than those in a Cadillac and mirrors you had to fold in to get through the garage door.  Creep in until it bumps the front wall and you JUST have enough room for the door to close - literally one inch on both ends.  Expensive truck.  15mpg.  No room in the garage for anything else (can’t park outside – it rains frozen golf balls here).  So a couple years back, right before I traded my I.T. day job for full time self-employment, I traded it in on a Mazda MX-5 (formally called the Miata).  It gets nearly 30mpg, cost half what the truck did and freed up so much room in the garage I started thinking RV-3.  One of the best downsizing decisions I think I’ve ever made.  Ironflight called this 'shedding mass' in a phone call awhile back.  Come to think of it, the MX-5 might fit in the bed of the F-150.

The BBC show Top Gear recently did a piece on it.  Watch the first five minutes.  The center of mass is exactly between the front and rear wheels, it doesn’t have anything it doesn’t need and is designed using the mantra ‘Jinba Ittai’ – they talk about that in the clip.  It’s the top selling sports car of all time.  Of All Time.  That, and it’s 50% less expensive than its European luxury counterpart (BMW Z4), which leads me to my next train of thought.

The MX-5 is the RV of the car world, and I think the reason I enjoy it so much is because it drives like my RV-6 flies.  The perfect mix of weight and power, energy and nimbleness, cockpit layout and visibility, low cost and performance.  Jinba Ittai.

Let me walk you through how I got to this opinion.  After dropping Tate off at school and coming back home for a few minutes for email and websiite and dog maintenance, I got to thinking it might be a good morning to put on a sweater, take the top down and motor the back way out to 52F for a few laps around just to see if it really was 1,500’ OVC.  Gotta have a mission, right?

So, it’s about 0810 and I take the ‘back way’.  A little further drive, but containing a 2.5 mile stretch of road which has six 90° leaning turns with no stop signs and minimal traffic.  No blind turns.

The top is down, so the visibility is similar to that of the RV.  Sky everywhere.  The fit is snug and functional.  The controls are where your hands at rest would be and the sensation of speed, due to its low height, is amplified.  You feel the bumps.  Like the RV you get the olfactory inputs from the outside world, but unlike the trash fires and wildfire scents you would normally get, you smell freshly cut grass, manure and the occasional skunk.  It’s part of the deal when the top is down.   The temperature noticeably drops on your face as you dip into lower valleys for a moment.  Cool.

I approach the 2.5 mile stretch that I’m fond of.  No traffic conflicts and a dry road.  It takes the curve like it’s on Velcro.  Coin tray empties its contents onto the floor while Pink Floyd’s Division Bell comes out the speakers.  Rear wheel drive roadster taking a 90° turn - the car equivalent of the overhead break.

At the end of all this fun, the end of this playing like a ten year old….I pull into the airport so it can continue.  But it doesn’t – it has started to mist hard, and I'm OK with it.

Neil Peart wrote a book called 'Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times' that chronicles him driving from California to El Capitan in Texas in his BMW Z4, listening to the music of his past and present.  My drive to 52F yesterday, looking back, really was all about the journey.  It wasn’t a chore.  It wasn’t something that had to get done in order to have the fun.  I stayed out there for almost an hour talking with my RV flying buddy Kay, really about nothing.  And, it doesn’t have to be about anything.  Two guys in a hangar, surrounded by RVs in the morning cool, solving the world’s problems over a Dr. Pepper.

And it’s not pronounced ‘cars’.  It’s pronounced ‘CARS!!!’   Picture Tate and me on the couch watching Top Gear when Susie walks in to find us both with eyes glued on the idiot box, transfixed.   CARS!!!   At least that's how she says it.  Feel free to substitute the word PLANES!!! for when those shows are on, too.

Those perfect moments when it all comes together, the universe is in sync and the vehicle, whether in air or on road, is in harmony with its driver in a tight turn or wing-over, makes for the elixir of life.  I didn’t even fly my plane, but arrived back home with the same sensory contentment that a trip to the sky gives.  I am ready to face Mt. Email and the phone with a renewed spark.

Most days it's just a car getting me to the store and back.  Some days the plane is just a plane, getting me from A to B.  Then, when the time, temp and location are just so....they transform into something entirely different, and you feel yourself getting younger.  CARS!!!  PLANES!!!

And when the mission calls for multiple passengers and/or cargo, we take our family's car equivalent of the RV-10: the Honda Accord.  Reliable, efficient, comfortable to tour in and capable of transporting pretty much anything you can stuff through the door.

If you don’t live on an airpark, make the drive out more fun if at all possible.  That's my take on it.

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