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1991 Mazda Miata - Mean Machine

And you thought Miatas couldn’t be cool

Damon Young
Nov 11, 2013
Photographer: Matt Kwok

If you were to go out and stop random people on the street to ask them what they think of the Mazda Miata, you’d probably be lucky to hear an adjective other than “cute” or “little.” Let’s face it: Even though we all know the Miata is just about the most capable, entry-level RWD roadster out there, the public perception tends to lean toward it being a chick car. Despite the fact that most enthusiasts would thoroughly enjoy ripping around the track in one of these compact two-seaters, many of us just can’t get past the car’s reputation.

Adrian Chu chose to step up to the plate and challenge this common misconception. From the beginning, he saw the potential in the little roadster and set out to build one that would put an end to the girl-car stigma. Adrian is a lifelong automotive enthusiast, and his first Japanese car was a ’91 Honda CRX. A light platform with a built NA engine and a host of suspension modifications, the CRX proved to be an awesome starting point for Adrian to attend local autocross events and track days. The Honda taught him to properly set up and drive a car fast.

2017 Mazda Miata
$24,915 Base Model (MSRP) 26/33 MPG Fuel Economy

In fact, Adrian had so much fun tuning and racing his CRX that he decided to pursue a career in the automotive field. He enrolled in an automotive service technician program and eventually landed a job at a local performance shop called Garage Five Performance in his hometown of Richmond, British Columbia. Despite all of his schooling, Adrian found that the real learning doesn’t begin until you’re working in the field every day. “Working here has taught me what you learn in a classroom is only the tip of the iceberg” he explained.

1991 mazda miata sparco sprint bucket seat Photo 2/8   |   1991 Mazda Miata - Mean Machine

As Adrian’s automotive knowledge base expanded, he sought to move away from his CRX and into an RWD platform. Despite the negative societal connotation, he was immediately drawn to the potential of the Japanese roadster. “It’s such a great platform to start with: rear-wheel drive, lightweight chassis, near 50/50 weight distribution, and double wishbone suspension front and rear. Once you drive one, you know right away it’s a driver’s car.”

The first challenge would be to find a Miata to purchase. In June 2006, a bone-stock Miata (with a hardtop) owned by an older gentleman popped up, and with not a lick of rust on it—essentially, the perfect car to build on. Unfortunately, the car’s paint began to fade not long after purchasing it, turning it from a bright red color to a pinkish hue. This didn’t exactly help with the whole chick-car persona, but Adrian soldiered on.

His goal for the build was simple: “I wanted to build a Miata with some balls. No one will be calling my car a chick car. I wanted it to be capable in the turns as well as daily driving in the summer/spring. It had to look mean but still look clean and somewhat subtle,” Adrian recalled.

After stripping the car, the first order of business was to address the power issue. With the stock engine posted up on the stand, Adrian tore everything down to the bare block. A complete OEM rebuild was completed, but not without several aftermarket components tossed in along the way. The bottom end was beefed up to prepare for boost with Wiseco pistons and Manley connecting rods. A GReddy turbo kit was sourced to bring the power level up to the numbers Adrian had in mind, while the exhaust gases were routed out back through a custom straight-piped GReddy TI-C titanium exhaust system. Tuning is controlled by a MegaSquirt PNP engine management system.

While the motor was being prepped during Adrian’s spare time, the chassis was hanging out over at Starlite Autobody for a full makeover. The factory fenders were hacked up to make room for a set of N2 front and rear over fenders from MS Works. These fenders can be difficult to source from Japan, but fortunately, one of Adrian’s friends has a brother who lived in Japan at the time. He was able to contact MS Works directly and have the fenders shipped to the States.

1991 mazda miata momo steering wheel Photo 3/8   |   1991 Mazda Miata - Mean Machine

In addition to the aggressive over fenders, the exterior was toughened up further with a Garage Vary front lip, Autokonexion rear trunk spoiler, and dual projector low-profile headlight conversion. Once the bodywork was all said and done, the car was sprayed in a much manlier hue of Grigio Telesto Fighter Jet Gray paint.

With the exterior and powerplant items checked off the list, the interior required the same serious treatment. A Hard Dog double diagonal rollbar with built-in harness bar was installed to stiffen up the chassis and keep things safe in the event of an off-track excursion. The stock driver seat was ditched in favor of a Sparco Sprint racing bucket with an SRR harness, while the factory steering wheel has been replaced with a MOMO Monte Carlo unit. Lastly, a pair of analog AEM boost and air/fuel ratio gauges are aptly placed and relay critical engine information to Adrian.

Though the Miata is plenty capable of go-kart handling from the factory, there are always items that can be improved upon. A set of JIC FLTA2 coilovers were added to allow for proper suspension adjustment. They are further assisted by a pair of Flyin’ Miata sway bars, and a set of Super Black Coat 16x8-inch SSR Professor SP1R wheels wrapped in sticky Hankook Ventus RS-2 rubber complement the aggressive exterior perfectly but also indicate that this Miata means business at the track. An upgrade in the brake department was mandatory considering the newfound power and track abuse the Miata would be put through. A pair of Wilwood calipers and Miata Sport brake rotors combined with Hawk brake pads and Techna-Fit SS brake lines are a proven and worthy setup. As anyone with experience as a shop owner or technician can attest, it’s not always easy to find time for your personal project while spending long days working on customer cars and meeting tight deadlines. Even though it took years to complete all of the details and make his vision a reality, we’d say Adrian’s commitment has paid off in the end. The result of all those late nights at the shop is a Miata that not only looks tough, but also proves that with any stereotype there are always exceptions, this one being one of them.

Specs & Details
1991 Mazda Miata

Engine Mazda 1.6L turbocharged I4

Engine Modifications Megasquirt PNP management system

Engine Management GReddy turbo kit at 12 psi, Type-RS blow-off valve, TI-C exhaust with straight pipe; Yonaka Type 9 front mount intercooler, custom intercooler piping, AFM delete; Beat Rush aluminum under panel, radiator cooling panel; Five-O Motorsports 550cc EV14 fuel injectors, MAC electronic boost control valve, Wiseco pistons, Manley connecting rods, Koyo aluminum radiator, Mishimoto dual radiator fans, aluminum shroud; Samco radiator hoses

1991 mazda miata greddy turbo kit Photo 7/8   |   1991 Mazda Miata - Mean Machine

Drivetrain ACT XT Performance Street Clutch

Suspension JIC FLTA2 coilovers, Flyin’ Miata sway bars (f/r)

Interior AEM analog wideband air/fuel gauge, boost gauge; Hard Dog double diagonal rollbar with harness bar, Sparco Sprint bucket seat, MOMO Monte Carlo steering wheel, steering wheel hub; custom seat brackets

Exterior Grigio Telesto Fighter Jet Gray paint, MS Works N2 over fenders with seals, Garage Vary front lip, Autokonexion rear trunk spoiler, dual projector low-profile headlamp conversion, Garage Star license plate relocation bracket

Wheels, Tires & Brakes 16x8 +0 SSR Professor SP1R Super Black Coat, Hankook Ventus RS-2 tires 215/45/16 (f) 225/45/16 (r), H&R TRAK 25mm spacer (f) 30mm spacer (r); Work RS-R lug nuts, Wilwood brake calipers, Chikara Motorsports caliper adapter brackets, Miata Sport brake rotors (f), Hawk DTC-60 brake pads (f), HP+ brake pads (r), Techna-Fit steel braided brake lines

Numbers 220 whp at 12 psi

Special Thanks Starlite Autobody, everyone at Garage Five Performance for pushing the car in and out of the shop every day while we waited for parts and time to work on it, everyone who put in long work hours with me, and my girlfriend for putting up with it and reminding me that the car is doing no good just sitting there in pieces

1991 mazda miata garage vary front lip Photo 8/8   |   1991 Mazda Miata - Mean Machine
By Damon Young
22 Articles

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