The Mazda MX-5 is the best-selling sports car of all time. In 30 years, across four generations, more the one million examples of the two-seater convertible have been sold.

When the MX-5 was launched in 1989, the small roadster was virtually dead. They had once been the default choice for anyone wanting a fun, fast, affordable car. But as the Eighties dawned, the emerging band of hot hatchbacks assumed that role. By the middle of the decade, the VW Golf GTi and its ilk had killed off the – ancient – MGB, MG Midget, Triumph Spitfire, Triumph TR7 and Fiat 124 Spider. Only the equally ancient Alfa Romeo Spider clung on.

By 1989, front-wheel-drive, tin-topped hot hatches had a stranglehold on the affordable performance car market. When the rear-wheel-drive, open-topped MX-5 arrived, it wasn’t just a breath of fresh air, it was rekindling of something that many had thought lost forever.

Mazda unashamedly copied the seminal 1962 Lotus Elan in creating the MX-5. It was tiny and light, had just enough power, ideal weight distribution, feelsome steering and a delightfully neutral chassis balance. In other words, it was the perfect roadster.

Enthusiasts loved it, even if the cutesy styling led to the MX-5 gaining a reputation as a hairdresser’s car. Subsequent generations have altered the recipe, but the flavour has remained the same.

Sadly, the MX-5 didn’t quite launch a revolution. Within the next 10 years, Fiat, MG and Toyota launched direct rivals to the MX-5, but the little Mazda has stood alone for the best part of 15 years now. Hot hatches, meanwhile, continue to florish.

Which brings us to the gallery we have here. You see, the Mazda MX-5 enjoys an unusual distinction. With the exception of the original Mini – and possibly its BMW-built progeny – there have been more special edition versions of the MX-5 than any other model line sold in the UK. We count no less than 40.

Why so many? We’re not entirely sure. It’s not as if Mazda has much trouble selling the MX-5, so we can only assume that the marketing department has a rather overactive imagination. It’s not just a UK phenomenon, either. It seems like every market has had a bewildering array of limited-run MX-5s.

Here we bring you a gallery of most of those UK-market special editions – there are about half a dozen that we couldn’t find a decent image of. We haven’t got space to dissect the specification of them all, but suffice it to say each one got a unique combination of wheel, body colour(s), upholstery, interior trim and other detail touches.

We will, however, highlight two that we think are the most interesting and they happen to be the earliest. First, the 1990 BBR Turbo which wasn’t so much a special edition as a factory-sanctioned turbo package developed by Brodie Britain Racing – still tuning MX-5s to this day. Bolted to the 1.6-litre engine, the BBR Turbo produced 150bhp and pretty startling performance. Fortnunately, the chassis was beefed up to cope.

Some 750 BBR Turbo cars were sold through Mazda dealers, which included the limited run of Le Mans special editions. Built to mark Mazda’s first – and so far only – win in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was finished in the race car’s livery.

1990 Mazda MX-5 BBR Turbo

By Graham King