Miataland – Mazda MX-5 heaven

Andrea Mancini is a Mazda MX-5 ‘tragic’.

Andrea (pictured below) fell in love with the MX-5 from the time he set eyes on one, in 1990. He bought his first example in 1998 and sold it two years later –  to his ever-lasting regret.

“I vowed never to sell another MX-5 again, just collect them,” he said.

And what an amazing, eclectic collection it has grown to be. Andrea – a keen amateur karter who raced friend and contemporary three-time F1 grand prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella when they were younger – has just added a 40th example.

The amazing line-up contains multiple examples of all four models – NA, NB, NC and ND – along with numerous Limited Editions and one-offs. 

Ask Andrea which means the most to him and the answer is short as it is simple.

“I honestly don’t have a favourite - Every car has a history,” he said.

Ownership of the largest MX-5 collection in the world aside, what truly sets him apart is a preparedness to share his passion with other enthusiasts through a business venture.

The appropriately-named Miataland (the MX-5 is known as Miata in some overseas markets) is a high-quality, rural guest resort set on 2. 02 hectares among the beautiful Umbrian countryside (pictured) at Piedicolle, about 130km north of Rome.

Centrepiece is a 200-year-old stone villa, once owned by a Count, complemented by a sympathetically designed and built guesthouse (pictured) that contains five contemporary self-contained units. Between the two lies an infinity pool (pictured), with sweeping views across the plains to the distant mountains.

As a guest of Miataland, Andrea will hand you the keys to one of his beloved collection for each night’s stay so that you might drive the myriad of quiet, scenic back roads. During my stay, I was lucky enough to enjoy not one, not two, but three.

First up, a 1994 NA LS (pictured in hero image), one of only 500 units made, in Montego Blue, a chameleon car that – depending on light and shadow – appears to be various hues of blue, green or black.

With the morning sun glowing warm and bright, we point the Mazda’s snout towards Montefalco, known far and wide as ‘the balcony of Umbria’, because of its lofty position and handsome views of the fertile plain below. It’s a 60km round trip with very little traffic; the roads a mix of twists, climbs and dips, smooth hot mix and rough patchwork.

The LS’s 1.8-litre engine punches above the sum of its 99kW of power and 210Nm of torque, pulling eagerly out of slow corners with smooth delivery. MX-5 s are renowned for their slick manual gearbox, but the short-throw shifts on this car are as satisfying as any I’ve driven.

Bilstein suspension and 15-inch BBS wheels make for road-hugging handling, but also impressive is the way the car rides bumps and blemishes with accommodating compliance. The well-weighted steering is full of feel and feedback; the rare Recaro Kevlar seats superbly supportive and hip-hugging.

For style and substance, this is a car that belies its near quarter century of age.

Next day, Andrea offered his ND RF – that’s ‘RF’ as in retractable fastback, or fully fully-automated metal hardtop that can be opened and closed in some 13 seconds. As one of the current crop of MX-5 models, we are well familiar with the RF, road testing one for The Road Ahead only last year.  

To slip behind the wheel, lower the roof, and head along SP373 through green glades and olive groves to Doglio, a tiny village of less than 100 people, is to rediscover the RF’s many delights. Despite a small weight increase (less than 50kg), it feels as lithe and athletic as its soft-top siblings, handling, riding and responding in traditional MX-5 fun-feast fashion.

For drive #3, we headed down the back roads to the larger town of Todi, in no less than the most powerful Miata to carry the Mazda name, a 2004 Mazdaspeed NB in look-at-me Velocity Red (pictured below).

Its specs make for interesting reading: 178hp (133kW) @ 6000rpm and 226Nm @ 4500rpm from the turbocharged 1.8-litre engine feeding off seven-and-a-quarter pounds of boost. 

Roll the throttle on and the Mazdaspeed responds with no hint of turbo lag, going on to deliver its best with remarkable linearity. The acclaimed 0-100km/h time of 6.57 seconds feels right.

But, there’s more … with a host of chassis and suspension upgrades that includes Bilstein shocks, beefier springs, thicker anti-roll bars, strut tower brace, limited slip differential and wider rubber on (a first for the

MX-5) 17-inch alloys, the Mazdaspeed grips like Tarzan, corners pancake flat and fairly launches out of corners.   

It’s the hard-edged sports car that some always thought the MX-5 should be. And hugely enjoyable, as is the Miataland experience in total.

‘Unique’ is a word often misused and abused, but it’s appropriate in the context of Miataland. Where else does a luxury resort include the use of a classic Mazda MX-5 in its tariff? That surely makes it a ‘must do’ for any sports car enthusiast visiting Italy.

The writer was a paying guest of Miataland.

The Miataland MX-5 collection also includes:

  • NA M2 Inc model, #49 of only 300 units.
  • Mk2 Miracle SE, which Andrea bought new in 1990 and retains to this day
  • Light-grey 1990 NA BBR with 175hp (130kW) turbo engine
  • 1993 Eunos B-Spec Mazdaspeed, a Japanese Mk 1 model with Nopro design kit, 16-inch Panasport wheels, and supercharged 1.8-litre engine pumping out 195hp (145kW).
  • 1993 Mega Monster, built in California with a supercharged, 5.0-litre 400hp (298kW) V8 from a Shelby Mustang. #2 of 50, with less than 5000 miles (8000km) on the clock.
  • Eunos, with red bodywork reminiscent of a Ferrari GTO
  • 1994 Eunos M2 1002 in dark blue with light tan interior, one of only 150 sold
  • M2 1002A in black, ready to race with roll cage, race seats and lightweight wheels, sourced from the UK
  • 1997 Italian Limited Edition, #99 of 100
  • 2010 OpenRace Italia, in tricolour livery, one of only two built to represent Italy against 30 others in a Euro championship

And the latest, a (Nobuhiro) Yamamoto Signature, 1.5-litre ND finished in gleaming black with black and red suede/leather seats and boasting Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes.