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DRIVERS GET A CHARGE OUT OF MAZDA'S MIATA SPORTS CAR

DRIVERS GET A CHARGE OUT OF MAZDA'S MIATA SPORTS CAR

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LOS ANGELES - Ho hum. The woman's husband was boring, boring, boring. Dullsville.But, then, he bought a Mazda MX-5 Miata, and vroom! Suddenly, the guy was exciting again - turbo-charged, if you know what we mean.

That scenario might sound like something the advertisers cooked up, but Barbara Beach, the West Coast liaison for the Miata Club of America, swears on a stack of maintenance manuals the story is true.

``The Miata saved her marriage,' insisted Beach, who said owners of the roadster call and pour their hearts out to her. ``Her husband was getting boring, and when he got the Miata, he wasn't boring anymore.'

Beach, who earns her living as the executive director of the National Society to Prevent Blindness and owns a red Miata, fields a steady stream of calls for the club at (619) 727-8021.

Even before the car hit the dealer showrooms in July, Norman Garrett III, one of the engineers on the Miata design team, with the blessing of the auto firm, formed the club, which now boasts more than 4,000 members (with an age range of 12 to 70-something) and 10 regional chapters.

Miata Club president Vince Tidwell, a project manager for an engineering company, said he answers at least 15 calls and receives up to 50 applications a day from owners who want to join and commune with other Miata aficionados.

``We had no idea it would be this popular,' said Tidwell from his home where the club is based at 5394 Wylstream, Norcross, Ga. 30093.

``The club is not my bread-and-butter job,' he said. ``Will it ever be? If it keeps taking up more of my time, it will have to be.'

Members, who pay $25 annual dues, have waxing parties, barbecues, road rallies and races, and get together to swap information.

``This car - everyone likes it,' said Tidwell, who called the Miata the perfect marriage between American creativity and Japanese diligence. ``It's not terrifying. It brings out as many people as walking the new baby down the block.

It also brings out the entrepreneurial spirit in people. P.J. Morris is an Arlington, Texas, woman who loves two of life's little pleasures equally - her clothes and her Miata.

``We were trying to fit our luggage in our new Miata, but there was no room. My husband, Bob, said, 'Why don't you make (some luggage)?' ' recalled Morris. ``I said, 'I'm not sure I can do it.' The trunk isn't flat for any place more than 6 inches, I think. But I took out a few sheets of newspaper, a ruler, went out and measured it and made a pattern.'

After finding a suitable fabric, Morris sewed a large, odd-shaped suitcase that wrapped around the spare tire, an oval piece that fit over the rear wheel well. Accessory, makeup, tote and garment bags tuck in snugly in the remaining trunk area, completing the set.

``It utilizes all the space available, and we managed to pack everything, including my curling iron,' said the 51-year-old Morris, who enjoys three-day weekends in her Miata whenever she can.

Her husband has encouraged her to go into business making sets of luggage designed for the Miata.

``I thought, 'Why not? All I can do is lose money,' ' she said. The club ran a tiny blurb on Morris' idea in the Miata magazine, and she has received a handful of phone calls.

For many, the Miata (a German expression for high reward) inspired love at first sight, a love so all-consuming some buyers have reportedly paid up to $39,000 for the two-seat convertible, quite a jump from the $14,000 sticker price.

One look at the Miata made 35-year-old Candy Croteau giddy.

``My husband and I are very plodding, very methodical, very planning people,' she said. ``But we saw the Miata, and that was it. We had to have it. It was an emotional buy for us. We never even drove it until we walked out of the showroom with it. It's pretty silly.'

To Croteau, composer Burt Bacharach's ``gal Friday,' as she calls herself, the car recalls the best of European sports cars but with something many of them were missing - reliability.

She bought her first sports car, a 1967 MG Midget, with money she earned baby sitting.

``I loved the thing to death, but it was always in the shop,' she said. ``With the Miata, I feel like I'm recapturing the energy and freedom of those driving-for-no-reason days, but without the headaches of which part of the motor was going to disintegrate next.'

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