The term ‘tragic’ somehow does not do Andrea Mancini justice.
I mean, just how do you describe someone who owns nearly 50 Mazda MX-5s?!
From the time of setting eyes on one, in 1990, the genial Italian businessman fell in love with what would become the world’s most popular sporty roadster.
He bought his first example in 1998 and disposed of it two years later – to his ever-lasting regret.
“I vowed never to sell another MX-5 again, just collect them,” he says.
Believe it. The former keen amateur karter, who used to bang wheels with friend and later triple F1 grand prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella when they were youngsters, has (in mid-2020) 49 examples to his stable.
The amazing line-up contains multiple examples of all four models – NA, NB, NC and ND – spiced 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.”
Ownership of the largest MX-5 collection in the world aside, what truly sets him apart is a preparedness to share his passion through a unique business venture.
The appropriately-named Miataland (the MX-5 is known as Miata in the US and some overseas markets; Eunos in Japan) is a premium resort set on five acres (2.02 hectares) among the beautiful Umbrian countryside 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 that contains five contemporary, self-contained units, each named after an MX-5 paint colour.
Attention to detail is impeccable, viz, the wooden latticework on each bed base takes its cues from Mazda’s Power Plant Frame design.
Between the two buildings is an infinity pool, with sweeping views across the plains to the distant verdant 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 enjoy a relatively short, but memorable, drive over a myriad of quiet, scenic back roads.
Not all of the collection is available and fuel is an extra, but that’s a simply amazing deal. Given the duration of our stay, we were lucky to enjoy not one, not two but three drives.
First up, a 1994 Eunos NA RS-Limited, one of only 500 units made for the Japanese market, 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’re off to Montefalco, known far and wide as ‘the balcony of Umbria,’ because of its lofty position and handsome vistas of the fertile plain below.
It’s a 60km-round trip with very little traffic; the roads a jumble of twists, climbs and dips, smooth hot mix and rough patchwork of asphalt.
The RS’ 1.8-litre engine’s 157Nm of torque has it pulling eagerly, but smoothly, out of slow corners.
The MX-5 is renowned for its slick manual gearbox, but the short-throw shifts on this car are as satisfying as any I’ve driven.
Bilstein suspension, lightened flywheel, Torsen LSD 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; rare Recaro carbon fibre/Kevlar seats superbly supportive and hip-hugging.
For style and substance, this is a car that belies its 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 contemporary crop of MX-5 models, I’m well familiar with the RF.
To slip behind the wheel, lower the roof, and head along SP373, through green glades and olive groves, to Doglio, a tiny, hill-top village of less than 100 people, is to rediscover the RF’s many delights.
Despite a small weight increase (less than 50kg), it has the power (118kW) and torque (200Nm) to handle anything that comes its way.
The RF 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 head down the back roads to the larger town of Todi, in no less than the most powerful Miata to that time to carry the Mazda name, a 2004 Mazdaspeed NB in look-at-me Velocity Red.
Its specs make for impressive reading: 178hp (133kW) @ 6000rpm and 265Nm @ 4000rpm from the turbocharged 1.8-litre, twin-cam four-pot feeding off 7¼ 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 resolutely, corners flat and fairly launches out of corners.
It’s the harder-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 entirely appropriate in the context of Miataland.
Where else does a luxury resort include the use of a classic sports car in its tariff?
That surely makes it a ‘must do’ for any true-blue enthusiast visiting Italy.