Compiled by John Emerson
There were six Miata "color" cars produced in 1990. Three were A package cars and three had B packages, all with air conditioning. The colors were:
On the window sticker, in the block "Color of Your New Mazda" it says "Various Test Colors". All six cars have an "X" for the color code. The MSRP on Sunkist was $15,999.00 for an A package with air conditioning.
These six cars were removed from the assembly line and painted at the factory. The cars were painted completely so that the color is under the hood, inside the trunk and under the carpets. They were not painted some other color first. They were returned to the assembly line for completion and then shipped to the Mazda design studio in Irvine, California. The Irvine Design Center used them to evaluate new colors for future Miatas and MX-3s.
Sunkist (the orange car) spent some 14 months at the Design Center and accumulated about 1,400 miles. She was slightly damaged on the left rear fender; it was fixed and the fender repainted. Bob Hall and Mark Jordan recalled the damage but couldn't remember what caused it or how bad it was.
When they were finished with the cars, the Design Center offered them for sale to employees, and most were bought by employees or their friends. Sunkist was eventually to become my first Miata.
When the Miata was still only a spy photo in Autoweek magazine, I had decided that I would have to have one. I followed the magazine stories. When the cars were released for sale to the public in summer 1989, I tried to find a dealer who would let me drive one before I put down a deposit and paid the $2,000+ added dealer profit that was being charged at the time. No one would let me drive one, so I contacted a Mazda dealer in northern Utah from whom I had bought one of the very first RX-7s. He was willing to sell me a Miata for MSRP. I put a $500 deposit on the car via credit card and made plans to pick up the car in two weeks.
Before I went to Utah to get the car, I found a dealer who was willing to let me test drive a Miata. That car was a white A package without air conditioning. The car was so seriously under powered that I made a decision to cancel my order. I called the dealer in Utah and they agreed to cancel the order and credit the deposit back to my credit card. At the time, I wrote the Miata off as a toy, not worthy to be called a sports car, and I no longer paid any attention to them. I now believe that particular car's timing belt was installed with the intake cam one tooth off, and that was why it was so under powered.
Two years later, on the July 4th weekend of 1991, I flew to Denver for a four day weekend. I asked Hertz for a fun car, something in a convertible, expecting to get a Mustang. The woman at the counter said they had some brand new Miatas and that I could have one. I recalled my test drive and thought the Miata would be gutless at Denver's mile high altitude, and even worse since I was planning on spending some time in the mountains. However, I decided to try it, knowing that I could always bring it back and trade for something else.
This red rental Miata was a totally different car, performance-wise, than the white demo car I had driven two years earlier. It had reasonable power and I headed immediately for the mountains. Four days later, after running every mountain pass I could find, some of them several times, I turned in the car with nearly 1,500 additional miles on it. By then, I had already decided that I had to have a Miata. When I returned to Los Angeles, the search began. Ten days later, I was the proud owner of Sunkist, the only factory orange Miata!
The first private owner of Sunkist was Stu Schaller. He is a free-lance automotive researcher/journalist who already had owned a silver Miata. He was also one of the people who started an LA area Miata club called GLAMOR (Greater Los Angeles Miata Owners R***). I heard it was was later absorbed into the SOCALM chapter.
Schaller advertised Sunkist for sale in The Recycler, an LA area classified newspaper. Not knowing about the color cars, I almost didn't call, thinking orange might be a bad color for a Miata. I also suspected that the car might have been wrecked and repainted.
Fortunately, I did call and he brought the car to JPL, where I worked, during my lunch hour. I checked the car out and he told me some of the history of the six color cars and showed me copies of Miata Club of America magazine articles to verify his story. I bought the car on the spot for $9,000, a real bargain at the time. Sunkist had 14,000 miles on her by then and she was incredibly dirty. His girlfriend had been using the Miata to haul hay to her horse down a long dirt road. The paint looked a little faded, but a cleaner and wax job brought it back.
The orange paint had mica in it and under artificial light at night looked like Campbells tomato soup, or even a little salmon colored. In daylight it looked much like my previous Signal Orange '65 Porsche 911, only a little brighter.
I owned Sunkist for fourteen months and put an additional 14,000 miles on her. I had planned to keep her forever, but fate in the form of a Ford LTD changed that.
I was driving home from work, top down, one sunny summer afternoon, moving along at about 65 - 70 mph, flowing with light traffic in the fast lane on I-210 in La Crescenta, CA. There were two full-sized cars in the lane in front of me. The first one signaled and moved to the right. The one in front of me continued in the fast lane. The road was slightly up hill with a gentle curve to the left.
Suddenly, the Chevy Caprice in front of me swerved to the right without signaling. I was surprised to see another car about 100 feet ahead of me. A split second later, my brain processed the information that this car was STOPPED in the fast lane. Reflexively, I stood on the brakes, but I already knew it was way too late. There were sixty feet of rubber marks on the road to the point of impact. Both the police and I estimated the impact speed to be about 50 mph.
My Miata had been shortened about 2 feet on the right front, about 1 foot on the left front. It was obvious from the first glance that she was totaled. The driver of the car behind the van told me that the rear end of my Miata flew up in the air at impact and was visible above the roof of the van between us. I don't know if my heart stopped at the moment of impact, but it was certainly broken when I saw the front end of my Miata. It was made even worse because she was my first Miata and I had named her Sunkist.
I was sore but mobile, thanks to the airbag and the excellent seatbelt. Lots of bruises from the seatbelt and from my hands and knees hitting the dash. There were some minor surface burns on my arms from the airbag. My eyeglasses had been knocked from my face and were found on the freeway.
Side note: The Miata airbag inflator is made by Morton Thiokol. I had worked for Thiokol (the same company that makes the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters) in the 70s. One of the projects I was assigned to was the development of the airbag inflator.
The insurance company made a very fair settlement after I documented Sunkist's status as a true, one of a kind, factory produced car. As part of the settlement, I was allowed to keep Sunkist although they declared her a total loss which resulted in her having a salvage title. I sold her to Monster Motorsports in San Diego, the people who put the 5.0 liter Ford engines in Miatas. They planned to repair Sunkist and convert her to a Monster Miata. I convinced them at the time that it would be better to restore her with an original drive train. They had a new Miata engine, transmission, and differential from a Monster conversion ready to install. The original drive train (with only 28K miles) was ruined in the crash. They told me that it took very little work on the frame machine to correct the damage.
Sunkist sat for several years with little time being devoted to her repair. I tried many times during these years to buy Sunkist back from Monster Motorsports. We were close to a deal several times, but always he put me off. I even offered to trade a non-wrecked '92 Miata straight across for her. The last time I called, Dave informed me that he had sold the original Mega Monster and Sunkist was well on her way to becoming his personal Mega Monster with a 5.7 liter Ford engine and the full wide body treatment. It was a sad day when I realized that I would never be able to buy Sunkist and restore her to her original state.
I bought another Miata (red, 1991 B package) two weeks after the accident. I have now owned a total of eight Miatas, two of them Sunburst Yellows. Currently, in my garage is a low mileage Sunburst Yellow Miata. She has had her rocker panels and mud flaps painted in yellow to match the body and she is a keeper and suitable replacement for Sunkist. I have installed front suspension braces, JR swaybars and FM lowering springs with Tokico Illumina shocks. Under the hood, she now sports an FM/II turbo system, aluminum radiator, kevlar clutch and other go-fast mods. I have also swapped out the original open differential for a '96 Torsen differential.
This car gets lots of track events and usually posts the 4th or 5th fastest lap, after the modified Vipers, Turbo S Porsches, Cobras and other very expensive cars. I would have never felt comfortable modifying and driving Sunkist in this manner, so in this sense there is a happy ending to her story.
Skip Cannon - firstname.lastname@example.org
June 1997; revised and edited August 1998
What follows comes from an interview of Bob Hall, a member of the original Miata team at Mazda, by Miata enthusiast (and creator of the VOODOO shift knobs) Bob Krueger. Mas Kato, Bob Hall's brother-in-law, has owned one of the color cars, the teal Miata, almost since it was first sold by Mazda at Irvine (Bob and his wife, Mas' sister, owned it first for a short time). The following is a paraphrase of the 1997 interview of Bob Hall:
"NONE of the colors had a 'name'. per se. The closest thing to a name was the mix code for the color, and the only way that you'd know what that was would be to look at the tin of paint supplied with each car. Mas' teal car was 'named' H4143 (rolls off the tongue real easy, doesn't it?). Since I didn't see the other cars' cans of paint, I can't tell you the 'names'.
"Here's how we referred to the colors when we described them to people who'd never seen them. The orange car was referred to as 'orange' or, occasionally, 'Miura orange' (after the Lamborghini of the same name, because the color was close to the orange seen on early Miuras); the teal car as 'teal'; the dark metallic blue one we called 'electric blue'; the purple/magenta was referred to as 'raspberry'; the pale metallic green we all called 'ice green' (using the name of a similar color used on some 911s -- made it easier for people in the paint business to understand the shade -- like the orange); and the metallic pastel yellow we called 'pukey'. Well, aside from being referred to once or twice as 'metallic pus', we usually called it 'pale yellow metallic', mainly to avoid confusion with the limited edition yellow (1991 Sunburst Yellow now owned by Bonnie Lutz -- JDE) that was being prepared at the same time.
"Regarding manufacture, I think they were all done in late 1990 or early 1991. There was the space of about three weeks between the first one and the last one, and the yellow car was repainted once before it was put on the boat (it arrived as a 'two-tone' - the front and rear bumpers had darkened noticeably by the time the cars arrived at MRA.)
"What's not widely known is that the six color Miatas were part of a larger color study that included some 323 hatchbacks in a few really bizarre shades...two or three that were even more 'out there' than the six color Miatas."
Interview by Bob Krueger- email@example.com
A prototype 1991 Sunburst Yellow Miata with the B package is owned by Bonnie Lutz (email:firstname.lastname@example.org), a founder and past President of the Sacramento Chapter of the Miata Club (SAMOA). Its MSRP was $19,735 and its options included factory hardtop, limited slip differential, compact disk player, floor mats, and air conditioning. There was no charge listed for the Sunburst Yellow paint. This unique car had been used in advertising by Mazda at Irvine, California. Bonnie purchased it from the Design Studio in Irvine for $12,500. She is the head of the Yellow Registry, and edits an occasional newsletter for that group.
This article was assembled and edited by John Emerson from longer pieces prepared by Skip Cannon and by Bob Krueger. An edited version of Skip Cannon's article appeared in 1997 in the SAMOA Newsletter, MIATATUDES; a longer version also appeared in the first issue of the MX-5 JOURNAL in June 1998. Bonnie Lutz supplied valuable information. Please forward any current information on any of the "color cars" to John.
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05 June, 2001