I remember it quite vividly. I was seven years old when my parents had announced over a medium rare steak dinner that they would be getting an annulment.
I didn’t really understand what that meant until they told me that they would no longer be living under one roof. They went on to assure me that things weren’t going to change, but of course, they were. In the coming years, I became their pingpong ball. At the start of the week, my dad would serve me up to my mom and then come Friday, she'd spike back. Naturally, I spent most of my days with my mother because that’s how the law works when you’re a minor, unless she’s incapable of doing so. It was the smarter choice too, since my mom was excellent at cooking and placed her role as a mother above anything else she did and still does in life.
One Friday afternoon, I could barely contain my excitement as I packed my bags and raced my way to the school gate. I saw no signs of any of my father’s cars, so I decided to gobble up on Nerds and wrestle with my friends. While I was pretending to be Shawn Michaels, a dark green Mazda MX-5 ever so slowly pulled up on the driveway. I was stunned by its ground-kissing profile and looks that suggested a top speed of 4,000 kilometers per hour - because pop-up headlamps! Much to my astonishment, it was my father on the driver’s seat. The weekend couldn’t have had a better start. A thousand points were won by Dad that day.
I sat in it most of the night, playing with all the switches and grazing my hands through the steering wheel. I stared at the gigantic dials and obsessed on the air-condition vents. I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, but I can tell you now - I was falling in love for the very first time. Eventually my father showed some mercy as I was being eaten alive by mosquitos, and because I was a fat kid that was always ready to eat, we headed to Whistle Stop for some Hainanese chicken and fried crablets.
In the drive to and from the restaurant, I touched everything in the car. I couldn’t stop looking at the tachometer needle swing nor could I stop looking at the gear lever every time my dad would swap cogs. I’d pretend to step on the clutch and emulate what he was doing in real time. It seemed like I was trying to piece together something so complex, when in truth, I was learning how to drive.
"Driving the MX-5 puts me in touch with that young, innocent, and troubled boy."
I spent many nights doing this sort of thing with him. It was in these late night drives that I bonded with him as he imparted lessons of kindness, gratitude, and humility. It became my happy place, a source of refuge. The stress of my parents’ separation took its toll on me. I suffered from depression and anxiety that only peaked in my teenage years. This meant that I got in trouble in and out of school.
I am almost certain that I am bi-polar, but I’ve gone undiagnosed simply because I’ve never felt the need to see a shrink and chug on some pills. I’ve always felt that I could battle the ever so slowly shrinking box - that is depression - by simply getting behind the wheel of a car. Ironically, the moment I strap myself in a car, I am free. As I grew older, driving became the ultimate expression of freedom.
Driving the MX-5 puts me in touch with that young, innocent, and troubled boy. It is a portal to my childhood. A lucid dream, except this time, it doesn’t have to end so abruptly. Many will argue that a Toyota Camry V6 will eat it for breakfast and spit it out on a straight. If you break the law, the large family sedan should get to Subic ahead of you, but you’d be missing the point. You see, the MX-5 is a romantic thing. Even more so in its RF specification, because you still get the killer looks but with a double dose of sophistication.
The retractable roof is an event in itself and bystanders’ jaws drop when you operate it in traffic. The size is perfect for driving and nothing else. There’s hardly any space for anything, let alone my two long legs. I could argue that they could have made it larger to accommodate the rest of the world’s genetic make-up, but I won’t bother. Like a Vera Wang dress that ladies from all over the world covet, fitting in it is your problem.
Flirting with Perfection.
The RF is also a far easier car to live with daily, because the wind doesn’t cause you to go deaf this time. The Roadster has horrible noise insulation, but I vote it as the ultimate choice for the driving purist - especially with the short throw manual gearbox. Tapping paddles is fine, but think of the gear lever as a handshake and a hug from a good old friend. It requires more, but it is undoubtedly more meaningful.
Dynamically, the Roadster is that bit sharper with less weight to carry on its shoulders. As a driving proposition, the Roaster is just perfect and I personally prefer its looks too. Think of the RF is a Cosmopolitan Cocktail - sophisticated, flavorful, and beautiful to look at. The Roadster, well, that’s a neat shot of Macallan 21. It’s smooth, effective, and above all else - original.
"Driving cars like these is what I always dreamt of as a child, whether asleep or in the middle of math class."
Regardless of which variant you like, all the hallmarks of what makes the MX-5 one of the best sports cars of all-time are present. It isn’t buried deep in the car’s computers and electronics. You feel it in the first 10 meters of driving. It even does traffic remarkably well, but naturally, it is in mountain passes and coastal roads that this car comes alive. When I get the wind in my hair and the sun on my face as I stitch together a series of corners, I am in ecstasy. The engine sings with so much soul, it makes the car dance gracefully with the wind.
Driving cars like these is what I always dreamt of as a child, whether asleep or in the middle of math class. It is by far the strongest anti-depressant in the world - the ultimate escape. I liken the al fresco experience to how Anna Oposa says that those who have not seen what lays underneath the ocean, have never seen the world as it really is. Likewise, I have never felt more joy to have the sky as my roof and a bed full of stars to light the way. And in my hands, a piece of motoring folklore that tingles the spine and sets my heart ablaze. Falling in love with freedom is a wonderful thing.