QOTD: The Last of the Fun, Attainable Sports Cars?

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Judging from a quick perusal of Twitter, 98 percent of auto journos eat, sleep, and work behind the wheel a Mazda MX-5 Miata, and the remaining 2 percent daily drive a bizarre French car or perhaps some 1970s Saab. It’s possible a few own a Ford Mustang.

This is a highly unscientific tally, mind you.

While there’s no shortage of reasons why the MX-5 continues to find its way into the garages and driveways of motoring enthusiasts, the Mustang harbors similar DNA, despite its impure lineage and ability to house two small adults in the aft seats. Both vehicles are affordable, tossable, rear-drive two-doors with a smorgasbord of aftermarket upgrades at their disposal. Also, both models left the factory in great enough numbers to ensure cheap buys for those stuck in the used market.

Eventually, like the fate of all living things, one of these models will cease to exist before the other also fades away. Which one lives the longest?

News related to both the Mustang (specifically, the balls-out Shelby GT350 variant) and the upgraded, higher revving 2019 MX-5 graced these pages yesterday, and this morbid thought came to me over a plate of spaghetti.

In a world rife with crossovers, and with both companies drawing the bulk of their volume from these portly family haulers, cars like the Miata and Mustang feel increasingly endangered. Just because Ford spared the original pony car in this round of car cutting doesn’t mean it’s immortal. Nor is the Miata. For now, both vehicles — especially the Mustang — serve as increasingly fragile filaments connecting the brands to their sporting past, to an era when “mobility” implied a lead-footed human driver with both hands on the wheel.

The Mustang’s appearance in mid-1964 signalled the end of the Baby Boom generation, and in calendar year 1966 some 607,568 cash-flush Americans visited their Ford dealer for a taste of low-cost excitement. It was an early high water mark for the model. A similar, if more modest, stampede occurred when the MX-5 returned affordable, two-seat fun to the automotive landscape in mid-1989. 1990 proved to be the model’s best sales year, with just over 35,000 little NAs sold.

Current volumes are a fraction of these long-ago tallies. Ford moved 81,866 Mustangs in the U.S. last year, while Mazda sold 11,294 ND Miatas — its best showing in a decade.

Fun, historical nameplates benefit both consumer and automaker, but it’s not hard to imagine Fiat Chrysler without the Dodge Challenger and General Motors without the Chevrolet Camaro. The Corvette’s place in this world, for now, seems unshakable, but Nissan could easily drop the Z without harming its sales or image.

At some point, niches become too narrow. Beancounters encourage execs to replace low-volume models with do-all vehicles infused with a hint of the older model’s appeal. Plant space and R&D dollars could better serve the company if put to use building something else, they’ll say. Thankfully, we’re not at that point yet. There could be many years of happy motoring in these models’ future. But didn’t Ford just tease a “Mach 1” electric crossover in Detroit?

As Robert Plant once said, your time is gonna come.

Let’s peer into our crystal balls. Just how long can the Mustang and Miata survive in an industry moving ever closer to autonomy and electrification, and with a public that’s falling ever deeper in love with high-riding utility vehicles?

[Images: Ford Motor Company, Mazda]