Anybody who spends a good chunk of his life in Detroit is bound to be influenced by automotive culture. There’s good reason that it’s nicknamed the Motor City. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Chris Lee moved to Michigan when he was 15. Having always enjoyed cars, it was natural for him to pursue a career in the automotive industry. Deciding to utilize his natural artistic talent, he applied at the College for Creative Studies and devoted the next four years to perfecting his skills in automotive design. The majority of car enthusiasts who live within driving distance of the city that Chevy, Ford, and Dodge call home would be inclined to follow the crowd and get themselves a large-displacement muscle car. We are sure that you have figured out by now that Chris did the exact opposite. He chose the Mazda Miata—a compact, imported car that is commonly mocked for its popularity among woman, powered by an engine that has less than 2.0 liters of displacement and a meager four cylinders! Chris knew, however, that what the roadster lacked in brute force, it more than made up for in agility, response, and its “genetic disposition” to unexpectedly induce smiles. Sadly, the smile-inducing properties only apply to those who are driving the car. In stock form the exterior of the Miata may be best described as mild and unexciting. This became clear to Chris when he joined in with other car enthusiasts to be a part of the famed Woodward Dream Cruise. He was bombarded with insults and jokes at his beloved Miata’s expense. It was then that he vowed to build the car into a force to be reckoned with in the performance department, of course, but also with an aesthetic demeanor that screams business.
The car was already turbocharged at this point, so Chris set out to give the exterior an extensive makeover. Makeover may be a bit of an understatement in this case. Chris dove head first into what would be the most distinctive part of the car. He enlisted the help of his friend, Hideki Takamiya to help him source a set of Mazdaspeed N2 flares—a very ambitious endeavor since they have been discontinued for years. Chris and Hideki managed to source a set, one of the last two sets that Mazdaspeed had in a storage warehouse! The flares were immediately sent over to the United States. As soon as they arrived, Chris took an angle grinder to his immaculate ’95 R package Miata to cut out the quarter-panels and fenders. His friends were quick to point out that such an irreversible modification was devastating to the car’s resale value and that he was ill advised in doing so. “Who cares?” Chris replied. “It’s my car, and I want it to look the way that I want.” With his flares successfully mounted to the car, the next step was to source a set of wheels that could fill out such large wheelwells in a 4x100-bolt pattern, a mission in itself. After considering many manufacturers and doing extensive research, he decided on Panasport wheels. He found a small shop by his home that was a dealer for Panasport and placed an order for the massive gunmetal and polished rollers to be made in the size that he specified.
A decade ago, Miatas were not as popular as they are now. Sourcing parts consisted mainly of having parts sent in from Japan or making them yourself. Chris acknowledged this fact, embraced it, and built one of the most potent Miatas of all time. Long before you could simply open a browser, type in a few keywords in Google, and choose a set of coilovers for your car, Chris had put together a set of adjustable dampers and springs. For his dampers, he chose to go with Afco, a brand that is rarely spoken of by your average enthusiast. Afco was chosen for their durability and actual damping adjustment (no, their adjustment knob doesn’t click 32 times) as well as their use in real race cars. Along with Afco’s extended top hats and Tein springs, they completely revamped the Miata’s already competent cornering abilities. To help combat any remaining body roll, Flyin’ Miata sway bars were installed. An Auto Power rollcage keeps occupants safe in the case of an accident at the track as well as adding some rigidity to the already solid chassis.
Although it is practically impossible to tell now, this car was rear-ended in 2007. The accident damaged all four wheels, and several body panels. Around the same time, Chris was laid off from his job. It may have been easier to simply cut his losses and spend his insurance check on an ordinary car that would surely require much less maintenance and get much better gas mileage. As you’ve guessed, Chris decided to rebuild his beloved Miata—wider, lower and better than ever. New wider Panasport wheels were ordered, the flares were repaired and reproduced, and the damage from the accident was repaired and repainted. The front bumper is a custom piece that Chris created, using the original as a base. Mounted underneath and looking as menacingly as all hell is a Garage Vary front lip spoiler. As your eyes make their way rearward, you may notice the Project-G side skirts mounted to the rocker panels, a subtle addition that adds to the overall look of the car. Soon after, Chris was working for Saleen designing and driving their prototype cars for about a year, a job that he says was just as fun as it sounds. This brings us to one of the most interesting exterior pieces of this car, the rear diffuser. Mounted to the frame and sitting within a cut factory bumper is the beautiful piece of dry carbon “borrowed” from a Saleen S7. It’s not every day you see a Japanese sports compact car built using parts designed for a supercar meant to travel in speeds exceeding 240 mph.
If you are fortunate to ever catch this car with its hood open, one of the first things that is immediately noticeable is that this car is definitely no longer naturally aspirated, The custom turbo setup utilizing a Garret GT23R mounted on a Flyin’ Miata manifold brings output to 230 hp. Chris was eager to tell us about his custom V-mount intercooler setup, which was made using ADFX parts, quickly pointing out that an accurate temperature gauge is an absolute necessity when developing such a contraption. On the fuel side of the equation, a Fast Forward dual feed fuel rail feeds RC 550cc injectors, ensuring that the engine doesn’t lean out. Following combustion, the exhaust gases take a short trip through a custom 3-inch straight pipe before becoming a permanent addition to Los Angeles’s famous smog collection. Although virtually impossible to tell without actually driving the car, the rotational force generated by the engine is transmitted through a six-speed gearbox, originally from a much younger ’03 Miata.
Chris, who literally devoted his life’s work to making cars beautiful, now works for Five Axis design studio. His daily grind consists of designing and bringing to life concept cars mainly for Toyota/Lexus/Scion. Currently, he is working on Five Axis’ take on a particular rear-wheel-drive Scion that has been long awaited by automotive enthusiasts all around the world. His design background is plain to see as soon as you lay your eyes on his personal creation, a very select few people in this world could have built such an amazing car. Knowing that somebody like Chris has a hand in designing cars makes new introductions much more exciting as they are unveiled. Oh, and the Woodward Dream Cruise, Chris took his Miata on the cruise once more before moving to California. Although the majority of others taking part in the cruise who saw his Miata couldn’t tell what they were looking at, he got nothing but thumbs pointed up and well-deserved nods of appreciation
Behind The Build
Huntington Beach, CA
Modifying cars, custom build die-cast models, and drawing
"The Miata has always had the reputation of being a car for girls, but anyone who actually drives the car knows the true potential of what it can be. I wanted to build a Miata no one can dare to make fun of."
1995 Mazda Miata (NA8CE)
Engine (BP-ZE) Walbro fuel pump; Fast Forward dual feed fuel rail; 550cc RC injectors; custom 3-inch straight pipe; Flyin’ Miata manifold, turbo elbow, downpipe; Blitz blow-off valve; ADFX intercooler, radiator; Garret GT28R turbocharger; HKS boost controller; crinkle red finished valve cover; Link stand-alone; ARP head studs; Mazdaspeed motor mounts; oil cooler
Drivetrain ’03 Miata six-speed transmission; Exedy clutch; Miataroadster.com short shifter
Suspension Afco coilovers, custom extended top hats, Tein springs (14kg/mm front, 10kg/mm rear); Flyin’ Miata 25mm front sway bar, 20mm rear sway bar, front strut bar; Auto Power rollcage
Wheels/Tires 16x10 +0 and 16x11 +0 Panasport C8; 245/35/16 Toyo T1R; 245/45/16 Yokohama AVS Sport
Brakes Brembo Gran Turismo
Exterior Custom modified front/rear bumpers; Garage Vary front lip spoiler, taillights; Project-G side skirts, hardtop spoiler; Charge Speed canards; Round About mirrors; JDM side markers; Miataroadster.com carbon-fiber gas lid; Saleen S7 rear diffuser; Erebuni carbon-fiber extractor hood; Autokonexion Version 2 carbon-fiber trunk; Mazda Speed N2 flares; custom retrofitted Sylvania HID driving lights
Interior Appleseed Kevlar Version 2 bucket seats; Sabelt harness; Nardi Deep Corn steering wheel; Sparco Pedals; MOMO steering hub; Miataroadster.com gauge cluster, shift knob; flocked dash; custom carbon-fiber door panels with Miataroadster.com flocked upper pads; stripped interior with custom carbon-fiber panels; Defi gauges
Gratitude "I would like to thank Five Axis, Project-G, GarageStar, Miataroadster.com, and Autokonexion."