“Feel the difference” is Ford’s current strapline, the marketing banner under which all advertising media is placed. Peugeot sail under the flag “Emotion in Motion”, Mazda weave “Zoom Zoom” through their promotion and BMW brand themselves “Joy Machines”.
The thing is, it’s not obvious what exactly we’re supposed to be feeling when we’re searching for the difference, there doesn’t seem to be much emotion in a 207, a Mazda CX-7 is more “screaming kids” than “Zoom Zoom” and I can’t imagine your average sales rep finding much joy in his base model 318i stuck in another ten mile tailback on the M6 on a wet and miserable Monday.
All of which leads us to the obvious and hardly revolutionary conclusion that most marketing buzzwords and power phrases are just bollox really, a nonsense dreamt up by an overpaid advertising exec to convince his client that he is “on message” with their product and can create a new and exciting Zeitgeist for the entire product range with one catchy slogan.
Which brings us spiralling in the general direction of the Mazda MX5, perhaps the one car that could actually live up to its marketing tag, the exception, perhaps, that proves the rule. I’d fleetingly considered one during my varied and random thoughts toward a fun toy for the summer, an idea quickly discarded due to vague prejudices about Japanese blandness, an Oriental attempt at a faux British roadster. Trouble is, there’s no discounting the logical argument that they are (comparatively) cheap to buy, (comparatively) cheap to run, reasonably quick and with a terrific reputation. So when a tidy low mileage three year old MK3 example came in at a sister dealership in part exchange, and since The Blonde and I were passing on our way to Southampton anyway, it seemed worth giving it a quick punt up the road just to dismiss it once and for all.
We rolled up at the dealership mid morning and my colleague showed us to the car, gave us a quick demo of the hood (prod a release button, flick the catch back and drop the whole lot back behind the seats, five seconds flat), passed me the trade plates and left us to it. There was no denying it was a pretty little thing, more so still with the top down and we climbed in (well, fell in, MX5′s are a long way down the first time you get into one) to be greeted by a minimalist and stylish interior, comfortable supportive seats, and a proper sportscar driving position, all low slung, stubby gearshift and sporty wheel. It had a feeling of rightness to it, a feeling of, well, a feeling of Zoom Zoom.
We got comfortable (we’re tall people and the MX5 is a small car, we fitted, but only just) and I twisted the key, the 2.0 litre twin cam engine firing into life with a throaty bark. Palming the short little lever into reverse I backed it out of the line of cars on display and wound it out of the sales lot. We bimbled down the road getting used to a car quite different in character to either my company Fiesta or The Polite Hatchback.
Out of town I gently increased the pace, feeling the wheels pattering along the road surface telegraphing the topography straight through to us through firm (but never harsh) suspension, steering almost telepathic in its accuracy and directness, seeming to turn the car almost before I moved the steering wheel, placing me easily and eagerly on trajectory. Slotting up and down the gearbox was a joy, the short shift having an almost military precision to it. My prejudices melted into the roof down open air breeze. Snick snick, Zoom Zoom.
Warming more and more to the happy little car I pointed it at the dual carriageway and gave it some revs. As the gutsy engine barked some more and the speed piled on disaster struck. Even with the windows up, once we passed 45mph it just got too windy, buffeting us from all sides, The Blonde in particular suffering from a strange sensation of being beaten firmly over the head by some weird aerodymamic force, severe enough that despite slowing down and pulling off at the next exit she suffered a headache from it that lasted the rest of the day.
Deflated, we turned and soft pedalled the car back to the dealership at low speed, nice try but a non starter, if we couldn’t travel any distance with the top down it was simply a no go. Unaware of the fail, the little car continued to zoom zoom, but more quietly now as we crept back and reluctantly raised the hood and returned the keys.
And that was that.
The trouble is that Zoom Zoom is infectious, it gets under your skin and into your blood. The desire to Zoom Zoom again stays long after the car has gone. And after our holiday and after returning to work and normality, the Zoom Zoom continued to gently but persistently itch. Along with a memory of what a huge difference the wind deflector (a large mesh grille that fits directly behind the front seats and kills the backdraft vortex effect of air whipping over the screen and straight to the back of you head) made in my old Audi Convertible of a few years ago. I hit the Internet and the MX5 sites, had anyone fitted a larger deflector, and did they have much effect? A few replies, mainly positive. Maybe it would work. Was it worth the risk?
I thought about it a while more, and a couple of weeks later, since I happened to be in the area with friend James on the way back from another adventure, we swung by for another drive. My colleague tossed me the keys and went to find the trade plates, he didn’t seem surprised to see me back. We punted back out along the same roads and James tried holding the price board up between the seats as an experimental makeshift deflector, did it help? A little, it was hard to tell. I swung off the dual carriageway and took a B road detour back to the garage. The Blonde likes to travel the way she seems to glide through life, serenely and gracefully, and I mollify my driving to suit. James on the other hand has a fire breathing chest beating rolling thunder of a TVR, he clearly has no such reservations. I snick snicked down from fourth to second and gave the gutsy little car it’s head.
Now the car is causing me mild discomfort around my head, my face aches from grinning. I no longer just want this car, I need it.
That night I talk with The Blonde some more. I look at different wind deflectors, read more reviews, get insurance quotes, everything stacks up and I’m sure we can overcome this turbulence issue. Hopefully.
The next day I talk to the dealer and a deposit is placed, the day after that I visit the bank and raid my savings. I arrange a service and for a proper Mazda full sized clear perspex wind deflector to be fitted and we sort out the paperwork. But they can’t get the job done for a week, dammit!
The following day sweet nothings are whispered in the ear of the service advisor, strings are pulled, queues are jumped and two days after that my gorgeous little gunmetal grey sportscar is delivered to my dealership. It’s beautiful and it sits in the carpark winking amiably at me whenever I look out of the window at it. Which happens a lot. “Zoom Zoom” it winks, “come on, zoom zoom”. I leave early, I take the long way home, I grin, a lot.
That night I collect The Blonde. Roof down, wind deflector firmly in place, we sidle through the quiet evening out of town, heading for the dual carriageway. We’ve pressed the gamble button and the reels are spinning, will they land all cherries? Only one way to find out, I point the nose up the sliproad and ease on the power, snicking through the gears, fingers tightly crossed on the short stubby lever.
Thirty, forty, fifty, I glance across, we’re at discomfort speed but The Blonde squeezes my hand “it’s ok” she says, “so much better”. I press on, sixty, sixty five, hardly daring to go on. I hold my breath and ease it up to seventy, if it’s working now we’ve cracked it. I look across and she smiles, “no problem” she says, “it’s breezy but it’s absolutely fine, I can’t believe how different it feels”. I breath out, my relief is palpable and just briefly I gun the cheery car up to seventy one. Ish. We’ve cracked it! Phew!
I back off and slide off down the next slip road, pulling into a quiet turning and switching off the engine. I kiss The Blonde and hand her the keys before climbing out and swapping seats. It’s her turn to go Zoom Zoom. She runs the car smoothly and with ever increasing confidence down to the next town and we stop for some photos for the album. Then back to Blonde Towers where I give The Two Non Blondes (her sons) a ride out each. They approve. I run the car home late that night, roof down in the cool dark air, park it and pull the hood back into place before standing briefly and looking at it. It winks at me again, “good choice” it says. I have to agree.
Next day it’s back to reality and back to the Fiesta for the short commute to work. I can’t really take the Mazda in I’ve decided, we’re a Ford dealership, and anyway I’m saving it for high days and holidays, the Fiesta is for mundanities, commuting, shopping and general running about.
Five minutes later I’m halfway to work, the hood is down and the engine is growling happily to the tune of my right foot, a big silly grin plastered across my face.