Reinventing the roadster Mazda MX-5 vs Lotus Elise, Renault Sport Spider and BMW Z1. Twenty-five years ago, the sports car market burst into life once more. James Page selects four of the finest modern classics from Mazda, Lotus, Renault and BMW. Photography James Mann.
The open two-seater wasn’t exactly dead by the end of the 1980s, but it was an endangered species. A generation earlier, enthusiasts were presented with an embarrassment of riches, from MGs and Triumphs to Healeys and Lotuses – only to watch them all fade away. And yet slowly the market flickered back into life, thanks in no small part to the runaway success of the Mazda MX-5.
The Mk1 raised the curtain on a spectacular encore for the breed, one in which innovation and entertainment went hand in hand with a retro ethos – in much the same way that Britpop reinterpreted the music of the ’60s for a new generation. The little Mazda was a modem car with the proven ingredients of a small-capacity twin-cam engine, two seats and rear-wheel drive. This was a time for getting back to basics, to offer an antidote to the increasingly heavy and compromised hot hatches that had become the performance cars of choice.
Today, these roadsters offer an attractive blend of usability and old-school thrills. Many of them are as affordable as they are ever going to be and boast impressive specialist networks. Whether you want to spend £2000 or £30,000, to stand out from the crowd or to fly under the radar, our selection should offer something a bit special from the PlayStation generation.