Miata Pre-Production history (1988 though March 1989)

NOTE: UPDATED 4/22/2019 with new information

Miata's arrived in dealer showrooms April of 1989 as 1990 models.  All the car and trade magazines of the day praised the new Miata.  Convertibles had largely been gone from the American market for over 10 years and rear wheel drive sports cars were fast disappearing, so there was huge interest by the public.   


Back in 1989 some dealers were charging $500 just for the right to get you name on a list to buy one and then usually charging another $3000-5000 over sticker price.  You were somebody if you had a new Miata in 1989.  As the 1990 Miata is now over 30 years old and as someone who lived through the hysteria of the Miata hitting dealer showrooms back in '89 I find the pre-retail production cars  made in 1988 and into early 1989 to be rather cool.


There were nearly 500,000 Miata's made globally from 1989 to 1997 (the "NA" model) with over 100,000 made for the 1990 model year. The Miata was designed for and intended for the North American market so while they were manufactured in Hiroshima, their "home" market was North America.   To determine if a Miata is an early car you need to look at the manufacture date on the door jamb decal or the serial number of the VIN.  The last 5 digits of the 17 digit vehicle identification number (VIN) is the serial number,  so VIN JM1NA35xxL100100 is the 100th Miata serial number (note: the VIN serial numbers were not always sequential in relation to build date in the very beginning).  Export deliveries outside of North America started in September 1989 and those cars carried a different VIN prefix and separate, non-unique serial number from the North American cars.

  • All USA and Canadian Miata VINs start with “JM1”.

  • All MX5 built for the UK and European market have a VIN that starts with “JMZ”.

  • All MX5 built for Australia begin “JMO”,
  • JDM Roadsters use a 10 digit serial number that is split into two parts and starts with 'NA'.

No detail records are known to exist of the pre-production series.  The below has been assembled from several interviews of people that “were around during the Bob Hall product planner days"....

There were four early Miata pre-production runs prior to actual retail mass production. The Mazda process for pre-production series in 1988/89 was:  X -- > S -- > TTO -- > P -- > Mass Production

• X = Very early hand-made prototypes (Experimental First Stages)
• S = Hand-assembled prototypes. No automation or assembly line. (Sample Stages)
• TTO = Tooling Try Out.
• P = Pilot Production.
• Mass Production.

There could be multiple of each series if the project required it (ie, S1, S2, etc) and it wasn't really as "cut and dry" as depicted below.  For example, some interviewees mentioned two S1 series runs; one on Irvine and one in Japan, the TTO run was referred to as S3 by some, and hold-out VIN chassis numbers to be used for certain Operations or QA purposes then were reintroduced back in the development re-work rotation at a later date.  Also not mentioned below are the MP, "Mechanical Prototypes", these were hand created chassis and running gear prototypes using GLC/RX-7 running gear and other bits for evaluation and design purposes, some with fiberglass and otherwise mocked-up bodies.  MP pre-dates and somewhat overlaps the X series.

Prototypes.  The prototypes were identified internally with the X and S series.   They were hand done, not on an assembly line, with no VIN assigned. X1 (preliminary drawing) and X2 (final drawing) were made in early 1988 and used hand formed body panels, interior (dashes did not have graining and were smooth) and chassis parts (ie, hand welded control arms with full beads around perimeter).  The S1 series was made in summer of 1988 and was hand assembled from supplier provided sample stamped/formed parts. All the S1 units located in Irvine, CA were destroyed at a Long Beach salvage yard in late 1989, no records known to have been kept of designated cars taken to the salvage yard. The S2 series was made in fall of 1988. All market variations (Japan, USA, Europe) were made in S2. Most of the prototypes were eventually crushed or otherwise dismantled.  

"The [stainless] centre caps  [for the wheels] were machined out for the X-2 and early pilot build cars used for the earliest press drive in Japan. The supplier with the contract to produce the centre caps hadn't started up manufacture [of the production plastic pieces] when the first wave of US long-lead magazines flew in to Japan to drive the car around the Miyoshi test facility. As a result five sets of machined stainless centre caps were made to fit the wheels for photographic purposes.

The cars used for the first go-around by US magazines in Japan were X-2 and pilot cars which were not exported. The car in the US press fleet were all production models. The pilot cars in the 'States at launch were used for emissions certification and advertising photography, but were not released to the press.  bwob [Bob Hall]"

Tooling Try Out.   This series was the first to go down the Hiroshima assembly line.  They were used to verify machinery, tools and automation equipment to be used during mass production.  These cars were the first to be assigned VINs and were made in December 1988.  12 are believed to have been made. Cars pulled from this series were used for insurance  and government crash testing and all are believed to be destroyed. 

Pilot cars  About 25 cars ordered for the P1 series to be used for internal review and government emission testing. These were made in February, 1989.  Per US law these cars cannot be driven on public roads as they not certified yet and are typically crushed.  At least four are known to have survived in the US and owned by MazdaUSA in Irvine, CA.  The known cars have several paint pen markings of "P1-xx" (xx = serial) on various parts.

  • VIN 00014 is owned by Mazda and located in the basement warehouse in Irvine, CA. Blue. Chicago Auto show model. 
  • VIN 00015 is owned by Mazda and located in the basement warehouse in Irvine, CA. Red.  Chicago Auto show model.
  • VIN 00017 was privately held but sold back to Mazda and now located in the basement warehouse in Irvine, CA. White.  Chicago Auto show model. Provided by Mazda to one of the first SCCA SSC racers back in 1990 with an agreement it cannot be titled or driven on the road.  
  • VIN 00018 is/was in the San Diego auto museum. Donated by Mazda 
Another approximately 15 cars were ordered for a P2 series run for production approval, final road acceptance testing, exhaust note and ad photographs (Mark Jordan has a great story about how he got to drive several cars with different suspension springs rates at the test track to give his input on which one he liked the best!). Two are known to exist, most are believed to be located internationally (interesting note that many parts of those cars are stamped/labeled with "sample"). The chrome crossover tube for the valve cover breather was introduced during this series to remedy an oil pooling issue in the intake piping discovered during those track sessions, prior to its use the valve cover had no provisions for the chrome tube and the breather hose went directly into the rubber intake tube. US certification arrived during this series run so some of these cars could be legally driven on US roads depending on their date of manufacture. 

Pre-Retail Production run.  March 1989 build dates.  Approximately twenty cars assembled 3/20/1989 - 3/22/1989 with VINs that range roughly from 00053 to 00071 were used for final assembly line training and procedure verification, (ie, "first articles" in manufacturing speak). Items such as sales collateral, compliance labeling and interior materials were verified during this series.  These cars show unique paint pen markings on the chassis and drivetrain, presumably to serve as assembly line instruction.  4 cars are known in the US from this series and are privately held.  In at least two cases these cars were known to have been provided to dealers in April 1989 for showroom display purposes only and not to be sold until August 1989.  California Air Research Board (CARB) approved the Miata engine on 3/23/1989. 
Retail Mass Production.  Approximately twenty cars with VINs in the range of 00072-00089 were manufactured on the first day of official production Friday 3/31/1989 and released to Sales on Monday April 3, 1989.  They were intended for the general press fleet.  The first official Miata available for retail sale was serial 00090 , it was sold in the US.  Some of the Monday, April 3rd, 1989 production, roughly  VIN 00090 through 00172, were pulled from retail inventory to be used in the general press fleet and later sold as used cars.  The first week of Mass Production was approximately 250 cars.   Nearly 2500 total cars were made in the first month of retail manufacturing and then sold in the US.  Canada started receiving cars about late May/early June as assembled in May, 1989.  "Export" cars ("JMZ", "JMO", and "NA" VIN prefixes) were shipped generally starting in September 1989, typically with June though September manufacture dates.

Early Miata unique parts.  Throughout the 1990 model year several running changes were made (not all at the same time).  Early 1990 model year Miata's will have:
  •     Gloss black soft top latches
  •     No driver side hole in core/radiator support
  •     Tuned/Open baffle muffler ("B690")
  •     Top suspension spring perches are flat and not "cupped"
  •     Windshield wiper motor faces the engine
  •     No end brackets on soft top frame to stop rubbing of top
  •     Smooth case rear differential housing (used throughout the 1990 MY but gone by 1991 MY)
  •     Full length ECU cover plate plate without foam transition piece. (mid year change)
  •     Gauge cluster did not have two lower indicator lights for ABS and washer fluid
  •     "Dimple" suspension control arm eccentric nuts 


 March 1989 assembly date door jamb decals

Note the misspelling of "IFFECT" on March and early April made cars.  Fixed to "EFFECT" during the later April production runs

 Feb 1989 dated shock.





Excerpts from the book "Mazda MX-5 Miata Roadster" By Toshihiko Hirai .... 

The 1989 Chicago autoshow yellow "Club Racer" is thought to be  S2 prototype.  It survived the crusher by being repurposed into a "service re-work car" used to design and evaluate folding soft tops (Leon Dixon).  Afterwards it become the Club Racer. 

While there are several unique one-off parts in the interior of the Club Racer, the engine bay is the most telling in that there is no VIN stamped in the firewall and the existing Japanese market serial tag is blank (note the 323 GTX timing belt cover, unique intake piping, pilot exhaust header heat shield, as well as "sample" written on many parts)

The pre-production cars had paint pen markings denoting their order of assembly.  Below is "P1-17" fromVIN 00017 (meaning Pilot run, series 1, VIN 00017).  

Spare tire from a March assembled car dated 9th week of 1989 (Feb 26-Mar 3), wheel dated 3/10/1989

03/1989 fuel filler hose date and 02/14/1989 fuel tank vent hose date from a March assembled car.

9/1988 dated wheel from an early Pilot car

Stamped metal airfilter box from a Pilot car
No chrome crossover breather tube and no valve cover provisions for the bolts, breather inlet into rubber intake of a Pilot car.
 Single "Quarter" change holder in console of the approximately 40 pilot cars.
Prototype S1/S2 car put back into a service re-work with an early implementation of the chrome breather pipe during the pilot stage.  Note the lack of valve cover bolt provisions and the hand made/plastic welded access for the plastic intake pipe, but retaining the sample throttlebody and exhaust header heat shield from the prototype.

Copyright Randy Stocker 2006, 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduce or copied in any form without prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations with reference for noncommercial uses as permitted by copyright law.
PS.  I keep a registry of 1990 Miata VIN 00599 or less. If you own a 1990 Miata with VIN 00599 or less then send me an email with Name, city, state, VIN, manufactured date, color, package, mileage and a brief sentence or two about the car history (owners, dealer where purchased, mods, etc) to solomiata at aol dot com