If you haven't read my NB Miata review, you should (click here). If you don't care for it, that's fine too, this is cooler anyway since I get to share with you the experience of modifying one of the most popular track cars. Now to get the sponsorship issue out of the way, unless I say that I am sponsored by a certain company, treat any brand name mentioned as something I paid for with my own money. I wouldn't install low quality parts on my car even if I was paid by the manufacturer. On the other hand, I would be more than happy to spend money on a quality part for my car and represent the said manufacturer.
Before I start, a little bit of background information.
I purchased my first Miata on eBay for 1500 bucks as a Christmas gift to self, and it was by far the best 1500 dollars I've spent. The car needed paint, had more than a few body flaws, needed a new soft top and had eight owners before me. The battery was held on by a shoe string, it had different size tires on each corner, and it didn't pass SMOG the first time. Yet to me it was perfect, as it was mechanically stable and got me from point A to point B. My girlfriend absolutely adored it, and it was cheap to modify. To put that in perspective, I bought three (albeit low quality) ESM 010 15x8 wheels with two Federal RS-R tires for $125. A new soft top? 200 bucks. The used parts market is insanely diverse, and there are so many of these cars out there that parts are stupid cheap. I bought two good doors, a hood, a set of fenders, a front bumper, a new dash, a new soft top, wheels and tires, bigger brakes, stainless steel lines, brembo rotors and NA8 calipers with Hawk HP+ pads, all for under 1600 dollars! Anyway, you get the point, the car is dirt cheap to run and I could justify virtually every single dollar spent on it. I even took it to a dyno, and it made a whopping 81 wheel horsepower. But more than anything else, I adored the driving experience.
When I got the car, it was all stock, minus the protege wheels. The car was sluggish and very numb to steer (mostly because the power steering leaked). It rolled like a boat, had blown shocks, and overall felt like a death trap. It didn't have any assist features, no such thing as traction control or ABS- both were controlled using the driver's foot. The engine was a small 1.6 unit that was pulled from a 323 Turbo and de-tuned to be placed in the front of Roadster chassis. The transmission shifted nicely, but whoever says that it's one of the best shifters out there must have not driven that many cars. Until you try driving an S2000 or a manual TSX, you don't know what a great shifter is. If anything, the shifter in the Miata is more reminiscent of the 1985 Land Cruiser- and believe it or not, that car has one great shifter that would put some modern sports cars to shame. No seriously, if you ever get a chance, drive a manual 1985 Land Cruiser.
Back on topic, the car came with a pathetic little open differential that used a 6" ring gear, which gave way during the second autocross event I took it to. I soon replaced it with a beefier Torsen unit from a later model Miata. It had a 7" ring gear and utilized thicker axles and a larger drive shaft. It goes without saying that driving this car after swapping the differential became a more enjoyable experience, as it felt much nicer mid corner and in corner exits. Brakes were also weak to start with, for which reason they were upgraded to the bigger calipers and rotors from the later model car. Any miata equipped with a torsen and NA8 brakes is a worthy competitor, so much so that racing organizations will add at least half a point for the torsen alone when classing for the competitive series.
The car was far from safe, so I yanked out the only airbag it came with, and installed a roll bar. Some say that a roll bar can do more harm than good in a rear end collision, but I'd rather smack my head on the roll bar padding than have it sheered off by asphalt in case of a roll over. The chassis on the Miata could use some stiffening, and the roll bar contributed greatly in this area. I also pulled the useless power steering, and that alone was one of my favorite modifications to the car. It was now more direct, way more responsive and far more predictable. The next items to be deleted were the non working A/C and cruise control, and while I noticed no difference there through the butt dyno, lap times didn't lie. The car was slightly faster around the auto-x circuit and on the race track. Oh and the race track? That's where the car really came into its own. You really don't appreciate the importance of getting the lines right until you drive a momentum car, the kind of car that requires you to stay on the gas the entire time if you want to make the most of your current lap- that's the Miata. This little thing was unforgiving every time I made a mistake. You can't brake too late or too early, you have to nail all the right apex points and miss all the wrong ones, and then you just stay on it until you're flying into a corner with the car slightly sideways, questioning your own sanity. If you try hard enough, you will break a few records, and many more egos while you're at it. On the other hand, if you make a mistake mid way through the hot lap, the rest of it might as well be invalidated. At that point, you've lost all the momentum you've gained, and fixing that is a feat in itself.
Everybody knows that one way to compromise for lost time, besides improving your skills as a driver, is by modifying the car prior to the event. The modification that made a major difference for me, was changing out the tires. The tire I used was the Federal RS-R, a decent tire for the money (you can read my review of the RS-R here), but the size (205/50-15) and compound alone were a big enough difference to wear down my pads and rotors at an intense rate. I also refreshed the car by wrapping it in 3M 1080 hot rod red, and doing some body work. Overall, the car was doing great, that is until one day I blew the engine. Details aside, if you ever have an engine that leaks oil, make sure to top it off constantly. I got so wrapped up in the daily work schedule, that I neglected to pay attention to my car, and while it's no excuse for what happened- it certainly serves as a good enough explanation.
A build was inevitable, but an unpredictable hospital stay which resulted in 4 surgeries this year alone made me think hard about the way I wanted to go with this. The build got pushed back at least 6 months, and since I didn't work in that time, I didn't have enough to go crazy with the car as I wanted. I was originally going to turbo the car, hence I acquired a turbocharger and a manifold flange, but then set that aside as funds did not allow me to go crazy with building the engine. Then I decided to go with expensive tubular control arms, but instead chose to save my money and simply rebuild the ones I have. In this build, I will cover prices, parts, tools, basically everything build related. Furthermore, I will include all the rules I must abide by if I want to fall in the right Roadster Cup class for next year. The key was to direct as much of my resources as possible towards safety for the first year, and get that out of the way. Once safety is taken care of, then I can worry about less important items on the list. Here's the list of planned/in progress/done modifications. All of what you see may, and probably will change over the course of the build.
-Found a good, used 1.6 block. The head was cut and polished, and finished off with new gaskets all around.
-Upgraded the transmission to one from a '97 Miata, since they don't get stuck in reverse.
-Swap the differential bushings, Torsen differential has already been installed.
Handling and brakes:
-Koni Shocks and H&R Springs.
-Energy Suspension bushings, rebuilt the existing control arms and had them powder coated in red.
-205-50-15 Hoosier tires wrapped around 15x9 Konig. Will need to flare the fenders to make sure all fits well.
-NA8 brake calipers have been installed, along with Brembo rotors, Technafit stainless steel brake lines and Hawk HP+ rear pads and PosiQuiet pads up front.
Weight reduction, safety and interior:
-Installed fiberglass doors and deleted the soft top. Fiberglass hard top coming up next.
-Dash delete- will be using some ABS plastic to hold my AEM gauges in place.
-Gutted the hood as well as the trunk
-Odyssey lightweight battery has been installed.
-Racetech HRV 4009 seat on the driver's side, with a custom low seat mount to be fabricated by Blackbird Fabworx. Passenger side is not yet decided, but will be used only for ride-alongs.
-5 point racing harness.
-6 point cage will be done Blackbird Fabworx.
-Will need a Hans integrated helmet as well as a Hans device. Might actually go as far as to get a full racing suit.
The build will be kept up to date on boosteforums.net as well as miata.net, so stay tuned for more awesomeness to come. The car should be somewhat roadworthy for the first Roadster Cup event next year, but I'm not expecting to win any trophies. R&D will proceed, more parts will be broken and replaced. This first year will be a "break-in" year, just to get the car properly prepared for the time when I will take racing more seriously.