If one were to study the lineage of sports cars, one of the most important classes of car would be the British roadster. The MGBs of yore were small, very lightweight, not terribly powerful, and tons of fun. Cars like the Lotus Elan (which the earlier Miatas look suspiciously similar to) might not have beat a Mustang on a drag strip, but they did decimate American muscle once corners were involved. 

The problem is that all of those old British cars are wired with nothing but wishful thinking, so Mazda made a faux-British roadster with Japanese reliability and build quality. It was an instant classic.