1991 Eunos Roadster J-Ltd

After 20 years of car ownership I began to realise what a special car the Japanese-spec Mk1 Eunos Roadster was. My first one had given me hundreds of great memories and years of bulletproof reliability. Later attempts to rekindle that experience with my UK Mk1 and Mk3 MX-5s fell short — neither were as raw or as reliable as that first Japanese import.

So, in early 2016 the hunt was on for a new Mk1 from Japan.

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Here’s a video of the car I found, won at auction, brought up to Scotland and tidied up a bit.

The background

In March, after weeks of trawling ads on eBay, Autotrader and MX-5 forums, I found a car that was in a bit of a state, but somehow felt perfect. It had a lot wrong with it, from the ugly sticker-bombed wheels to the interior and exterior parts that had been wrapped in weird carbon-effect yellow vinyl.

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But it also had a lot right: a bit of research revealed that it was a 1991 J-Ltd, a special edition run of just 800 cars, all of which sold out on launch day. The J-Ltd had a factory LSD and this car had been further tuned and upgraded over the years at R.S. Aizawa in Japan. The spec list included:

  • HKS mushroom air filter
  • Mazdaspeed exhaust header
  • Full stainless steel exhaust system
  • Stage 3 racing clutch
  • Fully adjustable coilover suspension
  • RH Alurad AD Cup wheels (16×9, ET 45 + 25mm spacers)
  • Okuyama roll bar, chassis braces and strut brace
  • Drilled discs and uprated pads all round
  • Various Mazdaspeed parts including lightened body panels

I think it was only its ugly presentation and paintwork that kept the auction price low. In the end I snapped it up for just £1,500 in the eBay auction. I picked it up the following weekend, taking the overnight train down to London Euston, then another train back out to Waltham Abbey where the car lived.

The test drive was pretty terrible. The car had only done 200 miles per year for the past four years, so it was running really rough. One of the chassis braces was loose, giving an awful clank every time I changed speed or direction. And the timing had been buggered about with, making it totally gutless under 4,000 rpm (which I didn’t dare exceed given the dangling brace bar) so it drove more like a burst 1.0L than a sporty 1.6. But I had faith in the car despite those problems and did the deal.

In hindsight, my timing was terrible. After a night on the train, barely getting a wink of sleep, I had to navigate the M25 and M6 on Good Friday, probably the busiest travel day of the year outside of Christmas. The 11-hour drive home was pretty hellish: I had no rearward visibility thanks to the vinyl wrap on the window; I couldn’t get the roof down because it had the hard-top on; I couldn’t risk the A/C because the belt was loose; the gear knob kept falling off; the yellow paint on the steering wheel started melting; and that loose chassis brace kept clanking around the whole way. More terrifying, the fuel filler cap stuck and wouldn’t open with the remote pull, so I was in real danger of running out of petrol. All things considered, it was probably the worst drive of my life.

Fortunately, all of the problems with the car were superficial. Within a few weeks I had:

  • Got it fully serviced, including new oil and spark plugs
  • Got a partial respray, fixing all of the minor chips and repairing a parking dent it picked up in my first week of ownership. I also took this opportunity to spray the windscreen surround black, matching the later J-Ltd years.
  • Got the wheels stripped, refurbed and coated silver
  • Replaced the nasty single din Mutant-brand stereo with a more fitting double din Kenwood unit (total bargain, btw: £90 for a flawless ex-display unit complete with Bluetooth, DAB and loads of great features).
  • Replaced the original, burst headrest speakers with new JVC units.
  • Stripped all of the vinyl wrap from the interior and exterior
  • Replaced the generic plastic gear knob (held on by electrical tape!?) with a custom CNC’d knob
  • Replaced the nasty painted leather steering wheel with a Nardi unit.

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I really love the way this car handles: the suspension is low, but also so stiff that it rarely has problems with speed bumps; the negative camber on the wheels, combined with almost zero body roll means it behaves like a track car in the corners; and the engine really comes to life from 3,500 rpm right up to the red line.

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With that there are some compromises, the main one being its inability to soak up large bumps. One particular ramp on the motorway near our house requires me to slow to 40 mph for a smooth transition. Take it at 70 mph and you’re airborne.