Moss Miata
The Miata of the Month from

December 2008

Tom Howlin and Sunny

Congratulations to Tom on the selection of his 1991 Sunburst Yellow Miata as the December Miata of the Month!

In late 1990/early 1991, Mazda was reeling - in a good way - from the enthusiastic public response to the Miata. Sales had exceeded even the most optimistic projections and Mazda was already looking at expanding the color palette beyond red/white/blue/silver. It had been decided that there would be a yellow car in 1992, so in 1991 they created a version of factory color code HZ, later to be better known by Sunburst. Not only is this the only 1991 Sunburst in existence, but it is the only US spec 5 speed Sunburst with the “B” package option from Mazda (there was one B package automatic produced in 1992 and sold in Hawaii).

This car was used by Mazda as a press car and then driven personally by Bob Hall. It was used in various magazine articles including a Road & Track issue that included it being driven by Indy car driver Danny Sullivan. If you have a collection of Miata Magazines, you will find this car featured on two of the covers and in one of the “then and now” articles. Mazda, wanting to make the best showing possible in the R&T article, built an engine “to exact factory specifications”. This created perhaps one of the most responsive 1.6L cars with a naturally aspirated motor. According to Mazda, documentation of the blueprinted motor is included in the model number for this special car; MIA 16 BHP (a designation you won’t find on any production Miata).

It was then sold by Mazda to Bonnie Lutz. Bonnie was actively involved with MCA at the time, was the organizer for 6 of the annual Gold Rush runs and at one time owned seven Miatas. Because she is a Miata aficionado, she was careful to preserve the documented history of the car including the original window sticker and every magazine that featured this car during it’s tenure with Mazda. This car was driven to many Miata related events and has been entered in numerous Miata based car shows, taking home a fair share of trophies. Bonnie had the car signed by Tom Matano at one of the events, a tradition that she started and continues to this day.

The car is extremely well documented and came with the original ad slicks/proofs for the print ad campaign promoting the upcoming 1992 Sunburst cars. All the magazines it was featured in are with the car as well as some slides of press photos of this car at various functions. It also has the original window sticker with a MSRP of $19,735 including the optional hardtop. There was no upcharge for the paint color as there was when the car actually went into production. This car was also used for the ad shoots to be included in the 1992 Miata brochure. It has long been rumored that the Sunburst never made it to the dealer brochure but this car came with a 1992 brochure showing it on page 15. Apparently there were a limited number of these brochures created and then the color was dropped and the brochures destroyed after a limited distribution.

Bonnie came to a tough decision in October 2008 and decided that it was time for this car to move on to its next phase of life. It was spending too much time under its car cover and not enough time in the eyes of the public. I was fortunate to be put in touch with her by Gary Fischman, the voice of the Miata community via the forum and website. Bonnie asked all the appropriate pre-adoption questions and the paperwork was completed and car loaded in California for its trip to the East Coast.

I am an active member of our local Miata Club and the Central Virginia Miata Club as well as attending regional events such as Miatas at Myrtle Beach and Miatas at the Gap. My goal is to bring this car to as many fellow enthusiasts as I can via events and car shows. It will be preserved as a little piece of the history of our cars, hopefully demonstrating the spirit of the original car to those that either weren’t born yet when the first generation were introduced, or at least weren’t old enough to drive.

The immediate plans for the car are a complete detailing and mechanical refresh. Although kept in pristine condition by Bonnie, it is still an eighteen year car with the normal accumulation of dirt and grime. The complete suspension is now out of the car and all bushings are being replaced, a-arms painted, shocks and boots being replaced. I considered pulling the engine to full detail the engine compartment and the engine but decided to get out the detail brushes and attack it while still in the car. The dent removal guy has already been out to the house to take out the few minor dings. The rear spoiler has been removed and the one hole left repaired and touched up (it was not installed by Mazda and was never in any of the photos so it had to go).

All replacement parts are OEM only. Tommy at Rosenthal/Finishline laughed at me when I called to order OEM shocks at $500 a set, knowing that there are much better aftermarket shocks available for a lot less money. He has been extremely helpful in tracking down little items that aren’t generally called for by the “normal” owner.

The goal is to have it completely finished in time to show it off at the Miatas at Myrtle Beach event in March. Bonnie and her husband Dave are attending the event from California to help display the car and talk more about the history.

My deepest appreciation for Bonnie for preserving this little piece of Miata history. Without her, this car may have become just another used up Miata and perhaps lost to the community. Although “Sunny” has moved to the East Coast, Bonnie will always be a part of the history of this car. She resisted several suggestions to put this car up at auction, including one solicitation to take it to Barrett-Jackson. She felt it more important that it remain within the community and be shown to other Miata lovers. I couldn’t agree more!

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