I Sold My Unloved Project Miata in Under an Hour. I Couldn’t Be Happier
The end of one chapter often signals the start of another.
Despite loving cars since the day I was born, real world concerns got in the way for years, and I only landed my first project car at the age of 25. We had an interesting relationship, and for all the charms of my 1992 Mazda Miata, we never quite fell in love. Even then, selling the only sportscar I ever owned was a tough prospect. Now, the car is gone, the deed is done, and I couldn't be happier.
My gut told me it was time, and it was. If you're out there and on the fence about selling your project car, I assure you, you aren't alone.
The problem I'd had with the Miata was that it was too slow, too beat-up, and at the end of the day, it wasn't a Nissan Silvia with a turbo motor under the hood. Regardless, even after writing all about my mixed feelings on the issue, it still took me several months to put things in motion. Selling the car would mean no more whipping around the hills in a drop top wearing my favorite sunglasses, and it took some time to decide whether that was an experience I was ready to give up. I liked to think the tired, ragged Miata made me look cool. It certainly made me feel cool.
After that piece went out, however, and I'd mused over the photos taken at sunset to represent the end of our relationship, I realized it was time. The car sat for two months, unmoved. I just didn't feel like driving the same old car in the same old clothes anymore. I was ready to let go.
Handling the Sale
I threw a three-month registration on the car and started the final prep work for sale. Even though I'd barely driven it and it was pretty bare inside, somehow this always takes longer than expected. I emptied the center console and glovebox of all the random screws and nuts and bolts that had built up over the years and took out the last few tools remaining in the boot. Vacuuming was then in order to get the carpets as clean as they could possibly be.
As documented in the many photos I took of the car, the bodywork was perhaps the Mazda's worst feature. Where it wasn't flaking off or missing entirely, the single-stage Crystal White paint was dull and flat. I thought perhaps the car might respond well to a cut and polish, so I spent a good $200 on an electric buffer and detailing materials. An hour's work in the hot sun made a minor difference, but it was plainly obvious to me the paint was beyond saving, given the large number of flaws in the finish.
Rather than muck around with smoke and mirrors, I uploaded my ad with sincere and honest copy describing the state of the vehicle. Since the pandemic hit, prices of cars have gone up across the board, and the dynamic surrounding Miatas has changed, too. Once a fun, rear-wheel-drive, manual roadster that could be had for cheap, most examples in good condition are now trading well into the five figures in Australia. This harmed the Miata's position as an affordable base for a trashbox or track build. Fortunately, this also worked in my favor.
I realized that my car was thus best positioned as one of the last cheap entries into an original NA Miata. It had crappy paint and a rough body, but also had great mechanicals, including coilovers and a limited-slip diff. Thus, it made for the perfect base for someone who wanted a fun car to hoon that they didn't have to feel guilty about "ruining" with modifications. Where versions with nice paint and less than 200,000 kilometers on the clock (about 124,000 miles) were trading for upwards of $13,000 (about $9,300 USD), I positioned mine at just $7,500, with an optional hardtop for a further $2,000 (that's approximately $5,300 and $1,400 USD, respectively).
I considered this a wise price point, given that I'd originally bought the car for $3,000 in 2016, paying an extra $1,100 to secure the hardtop roof from another seller. My friends quickly disabused me of this notion and told me to immediately relist at a higher price. I rushed to change the ad to $9,000 (about $6,400 USD) for the base car and waited.
It didn't take long to get a message, with an old contact of mine from the next state over quickly reaching out. A few words back and forth, and the car was sold, sight unseen. The interstate buyer is known in the Australian Miata community for flipping cars, as well as selling them for parts. His work made my car an ideal buy; valuable pieces like the Torsen differential and coilovers could be taken off and sold for good money. The car itself could then be reassembled with cheap stock parts and would probably still sell for around the same price he paid. A little body work could take that even higher.
In the end, I cut the guy a deal in the interest of a quick sale, throwing in the hardtop for a total sale price of $10,000 ($7,100 USD). The deal was done in under 40 minutes and the cash was in my account within two hours of putting up the ad. I was at once overjoyed that the car had sold so easily without having to deal with lowballers and tirekickers, while simultaneously lamenting that I needn't have wasted time and money trying to hopelessly polish it.
Some of my pals suggested I might have priced the Miata too cheap for it to sell so quickly. However, I was well aware that the car had a full 412,000 km (256,000 miles) on the clock with a rough body and interior to match. For me, it was the right deal at the right time, with an absolute minimum of fuss. Perhaps I could have sold the car for $500 to $1,000 more, but it would have taken more of my time and much more of my sanity. Realistically, I would have been happy if the car sold for just $8,000 all in after a few days. This result was so much sweeter than that.
My overarching feeling since the car sold has been relief. As much as I enjoyed the Miata at times, it had become a millstone around my neck. As it sat in my driveway, it was a constant reminder that I needed to liquify this asset in order to move forward and that if I made a mess of the sale, life would be more difficult in the short to medium term. Housing isn't cheap, and I needed to turn this sports car into coins to crack into the market.
With the Miata sold off and paid for, I could breathe easy. While it waited for pickup, I had a short pang where I wondered if I did the right thing. Moving it off the drive though, it was clear; this wasn't my car anymore, and that was okay. I'd gotten used to seeing it outside, but I can get used to seeing something else there, too.
The next day, when the truck showed up to carry it away, I handed over the keys and exhaled. I turned my back and walked away with a smile. It was done. The best thing about selling an old project? It tends to free up room for a new one.
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