Lee would admit that he never really wanted a Miata. The son of blue-collar Southerner, he was raised on big trucks and muscle cars, the kind of vehicles where owners have cruise-ins instead of meets. And he's still that guy. Lee can string together a list of part names and models that sound like an outtake from Talledaga Nights. Despite that, however, the Purvis home was not altogether devoid of imports. There was a lifted Toyota truck in the driveway, and Lee himself purchased a Chevrolet LUV (a captive import by Isuzu) as one of his first cars. When he started to get interested into automotive culture, he explored the Japanese side of things, eventually landing at the Mazda Miata. While the Miata has long been known as a "hairdresser's car", its RWD layout and relatively cheap cost of entry has catapulted it as the prime gateway into Japanese sports cars. After a Facebook post joking that he reluctantly wanted one, his cousin replied that Lee could come take one that was rotting away in his yard. That was all it took, and Lee was a proud owner of tired, 25 year old bright blue roadster.
The Miata has taken a long road to get to this point. Remembering the first time I saw it, it had spray painted lime green accents, white wheels, and a "tongue" sticking out of the front grill. It was "cute", maybe. Time, however, heals all things. Lee has crafted the Miata as an opus to his own brand of wabi-sabi and Japanese touge racer function-first aesthetic. To put it bluntly, this Miata is rough. But it isn't from indifference or inattention. Although this look is certainly different than the patina of old American iron, there's a common thread. This car shows it age and wear with pride. It creaks, it crashes over cracks in the pavement, there's no power steering, no a/c, and the transplanted utilitarian Lotus Elise seats are only comfortable for someone under 5'8", 180 lbs, with enough natural cushion to offset their utilitarian design.
I think part of being able to pull off a derelict aesthetic is bolstering the project with enough style and substance to balance the wear. A stock Miata with bad paint and fading badges isn't interesting, it's just a disappointment. And therein lies the difference. Lee has paired gorgeous, period correct modifications with the car that give us as viewers a sense that there is a vision, and that he actually deeply cares about it.
Lee's recent move to these 14" Work Equip 01s has helped immensely. While the 4 spoke look certainly isn't universally popular, it works here.
Any mention of Lee's Miata has to go hand-in-hand with a discussion of the Average brand that he has helped craft. While we are usually a bit tongue-tied in explaining what the whole thing is about, this Miata, and its popularity, goes a long way to showing the value in the imperfect, forgotten, overlooked side of automotive culture.
Lee's next step for the Miata is more power, likely by the way of forced induction. While he certainly is a fan of the "drive a slow car fast" mentality, a recent change to a limited-slip rear differential and lower geared rear end has the car begging for a little more go. The Toyo R888 rubber also overpowers the stock 1.6L, preventing a lot of the fun that has made the Miata so popular recently.
I don't think that every car can pull this look off. If the paint is bad on your 2016 Scion FRS, you should fix it. And there's certainly nothing wrong with restoration. Lee himself owns a 20th Anniversary GTI that has been maintained impeccably well and looks like a car with a quarter of the mileage that shows on the odometer. But in the rare cases of cars with stories, cars that have been used according to their purpose, and cars that have the heart to pull off the resulting wear, there's something to be said for showing that off with pride.