The Zippy Red 90
by Terese Mac Davis
This little red 90 impressed me when I first saw it. Then I drove it. The thing was a rocket! It was real throaty sounding, had good paint
and this little sucker was fast! It had a tweaked up exhaust system.
It was beautiful when I bought it, the timing belt had been changed and Jet did the valve cover gasket, rear brakes, heater hose, etc. I
called it Zippy Red. It was the most powerful, fastest and coolest sounding car I’d ever had.
This was 2010 when the economy was tanking but people wanted cheap transportation. I had an appointment with a guy (Ed) on his
way down from Stockton to see the Zippy Red 90 and I’d told him I wouldn’t sell it until he got here.
In the meantime, another family came and looked at it. I was surprised and pleased by the number of calls I was getting. The family guy
really really liked it, but I had told him up front that someone was on the way, etc. He offered me $200 more if I’d sell it to him. I couldn’t
There was a tiny temptation, but I’ve always been afraid I’d lose a car by having it sold from under me. I once had a deposit on a car
and someone offered more and the guy took it and returned my deposit. I didn’t enjoy the experience.
Anyway, this was a couple of years ago. The guy from Stockton, Ed, emailed me recently and said he needed to sell it as soon as
possible. He had two kids, the car was too small and he needed the money for a bigger car. He accepted low blue book, as it was in
fair to good condition (which I lowered to fair condition). The torn window meant a new top, which I was afraid of.
ust Miatas, the restoration hobby that got out of hand, had ended in late 2009 after eleven years. The economy tanked and I had eight
cars I had to pay insurance on for the winter. I finally sold them all but two, which were my keepers. I was done. I didn’t want any more,
but I did enjoy my two Miatas in a whole different way.
I became a regular Miata owner for the first time. I went about fixing up the Tequila Sunrise and the BlueBerry, my daily drivers.
Anyway, this is just background. I had quit the Miata business for good. Then one of my cars came back. The owner wanted to sell it
after several years and lots of upgrades. He’d outgrown it. The license on this Laguna Blue 94 AT was NOLAST1. We became friends
over the years and he said he’d vowed not to buy any more sports cars (he was in his 70s). Then he bought an old restored MG and it
got the license plate LASTONE. Then he bought the Laguna Blue 94 from me and hence, the license NOLAST1. He sold it back to me
about three or four years later. I ended up owning that car three times!
It’s always a good idea to buy back my cars when offered because I’ve already done most of the restoration once and I know the car.
That was my first last car.
Then the same thing happened with my friend’s 95 triple black B. She’d had it for five or six years, outgrown it, and it had been sitting,
rotting in her backyard for a year.
I went after that one because it was a super car and I hated to see it die. She didn’t have the time, money or interest in fixing it to sell. It
needed a whole restoration again, and I was hoping to break even (I even made a little because I had a lot of the parts), but I brought
that one back to it’s former glory and sold it. That was my second last car.
I went back to being a (relatively) normal Miata person. We had our own little car club (called Just Miatas, of course) and have done a
few runs a year.
Then recently, Ed emailed me wanting to sell his 90 red. He’d had it a couple of years now and put a lot of miles on it, but I
remembered that car. It was special when I first bought it and absolutely stunning when I sold it to Ed.
This poor car had had a hard couple of years as a commuter car, and Ed was a typical long distance commuter. You get in, drive, and
then drive home. I don’t think it had been washed in a year.
It was just the kind of project I couldn’t resist. It was right on the edge of becoming a parts car. First thing I did was change the oil. It
This time I really tried to get before pictures (I didn’t). It was filthy inside and out, it had a ripped window and rotted top. But the body
was still good, and the original paint was still there for Bruce-the-detailer to bring back.
Now I remember all the times sweating bullets waiting for a car to pass smog. I put a new catalytic converter on it (for which Ed paid
half). In 10 cases out of 10.1, it’s the cat and it will pass with a new one. It failed again!
It was time to bring in our mechanic, Jet. It was the dirty oil that we were assuming was causing the problem. I had had the oil flushed
when it was changed, but Jet went back and flushed the whole top of the engine and the fuel system with Sea Foam Engine Cleaner.
He also moved the timing back a couple of notches and tweaked here and there. Eureka! It finally passed.
I had people to call! Ed was extremely relieved! I need to commend him for stepping up and keeping his promise to pay, even though
we didn’t have it in writing. I had paid him so little for the car that I just asked him to pay half. Jet was happy to hear, and so was
Riverbank Tire, who put on the cat.
Ed put 30,000 miles on it in a year. It needed a lot of elbow grease to get it back in shape. I have never seen such a filthy car! It was
full of trash, ashes piled on the floor, sticky, icky stuff and the top of the seat was torn.
Poor Ed was so hassled and overloaded with his family and job and didn’t have any time to get it ready to sell, so he contacted me. I’ve
always told new owners that if they ever want to sell, to call me and I might buy it back. I love buying my own cars back because I know
they’re good cars. I’ve owned several cars three times. People outgrow a tiny car.
When Ed and I first started talking (via email) he said he needed to sell it quickly and would rather just sell it to me, because he knew I
would take out all the hassle. He knew it was in bad shape. It was filthy… which is common in a commuter car that sees a lot of miles.
This little car carried his owner to and from work faithfully for almost two years. When you commute several hours a day, you live in
your car and it shows. He traveled from Stockton to Pleasanton (probably two hours each way). I know how commuter cars can get,
I’ve done it too, with a baby.
He knew I would clean it up and take care of all the things that needed to be done and he could walk away. He even offered to take a
check! He said ‘I trust you Terese’.
Now It’s got a new top, and I sewed up the little hole in the seat. Martin Castillo (my top guy) is very good and fast, and I love going to
his shop. Just watching him work and seeing all the fancy work they do on vintage cars and hot rods is a treat.
Each thing we did to the car changed it dramatically. The new top looked great. I washed the car twice and then went over it again with
a sponge and Simple Green. It looked better and I could see some shiny paint.
I shampooed the entire interior twice and vacuumed it over and over. It had been smoked in and had ashes everywhere and smelled
like a smoker. I put the top down for the whole first week. I used Febreze on it often and I shampooed it, seats and carpet. The dash
and door panels were washed down. It took forever to get the windows clean. All traces of smoke were successfully removed.
The oil was black and low before I got it changed. It was so bad I was only getting 30 lbs of oil pressure and down to zero! My oil guy
flushed the system and put some Risone in the oil because it had a little lifter noise (which went away).
I had reluctantly agreed to do the smog, but if it didn’t pass, Ed said he would take back the car or pay for a new catalytic converter or
whatever it took to get it to pass.
It failed smog. Miserably. It had been smogged a year before and was perfect. I put a new catalytic converter on it, because 10
times out of 10 it’s the cat. I took it in again and it failed again, though less miserably.
Ed stepped up and paid for half the cat. I remember what it’s like trying to raise a family and work and keep your job, etc. so I offered to
split the cost with him. I had paid so little for the car that he didn’t have much to kick back in.
I took it to Jet to go over it and fix the problem. (He remembered this car, too.) First he ran some Sea Foam Engine Cleaner through
the engine twice and also through the fuel system. (I say this like I know what I’m talking about..) He adjusted the timing and made a
few other tweaks.
Third time is a charm, right? It passed! Now I remember all the cars that I sweated bullets over passing smog. I had people I had to
call to give the news! Jet, Ed, my sister, and I forget who else. It was a big deal!
Ed didn’t want the car back, and had already paid bills with the money. If I couldn’t get it past smog, there was no way he could do it
himself, with no time and no money and no contacts. I also didn’t want to give up the car. Number 1 because it was one of the peppiest
cars I’d ever had, and number 2, if I didn’t fix it, it would be a parts car.
I let Ed off on the rest of the smog expenses and gave him a severe car lecture. “Change your oil … we almost lost this car for good. If
you do nothing else, change the oil every 3 to 5,000 miles. “
Such a beautiful little car it was, and so quick and a great throaty sound. Ed put some awesome speakers in it and four new Falken
tires, and I could fix everything again. Right now it looks a 1000% better just being washed and the trash shoveled out of it.
Jimmy fixed the headrest speakers and anything (mechanical) that was sticky or slow or not working and changed light bulbs and took
the wipers off so I could paint them and I took off the black luggage rack and cleaned it up and painted it.
Bruce-the-detailer buffed out the car. Bruce is a genius with paint. He also detailed the engine for me because I brought him some car
products from the Harley place that I knew he’d like. The wheels looked horrible, but I finally got the crud off. The new tires do look
So another one of my babies has come home again and is getting lots of TLC. Soon it will be getting a Miata smile from a new owner
Zippy Red got his new top, his paint buffed out, had new tires, and his car card was all finished. I put it on Craigslist and within hours
had several calls. The first guy who looked at it, bought it. It was his first sports car and he’d just moved to California from Illinois. He’s
really jazzed about it and got a wonderful car.
And Zip is no longer just a commuter car. He’s a sports car again and admired by the whole family. Total time to restore – two weeks.
This was my third last car since I retired!
by Terese Mac Davis
Published as part of the book, Just Miatas
Published in Sacramento Miata Owners Association’s newsletter, ‘Miatatudes’, November 2011
Copyright @ 2011 by Terese Mac Davis