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1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap

1st gen. MX-5 owner faces infinite options but boost wins in the end.

Rushton Skinner
Jun 30, 2020
Photographer: David Salkil

It's been said a thousand times by nearly every auto journalist in history: "The answer is always Miata." Lightweight, fun, flickable and inexpensive, most enthusiasts accept its superiority while the ones that haven't been convinced, simply haven't driven one yet. They are also incredible project cars and there's an infinite number of directions to go. From trailer queen to track rat, someone can put a MX-5 through their personal filter and turn one of the most popular rear-wheel-drive sports cars of all-time into a story worth telling.

1990 Mazda Miata OEM Hardtop 01 Photo 21/21   |   1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap

This story is about Brandon Allen, owner of this first generation 1990 MX-5 Miata. Brandon grew up playing classic racing games like Need for Speed and Midnight Club with his friends and one of his buddies turned him on to Miatas early on. Brandon realized it was the perfect platform for a car guy that preferred hitting the corners fast rather than going in a straight line. The Miata is famous for being a sporty roadster that connects the driver with the road better than anything in its affordable price bracket. "A Miata is a driver's car," Brandon says, "and I wanted to keep it that way."

Living in Madison, Alabama, Brandon has a plethora of twisties to tackle and local autocross events to compete in. With those pursuits in mind, he wanted to improve the Miata's handling first, leaving power on the backburner. On a high school budget, one of first mods was a cheap set of coilovers. He admits that ignoring the advice of his buddies around him to wait and buy something quality was wrong, and sure enough, after two months the coils blew, causing his car to ride like a "shopping cart" as he tells us.

1990 Mazda Miata Roof Spoiler Photo 21/21   |   1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap

Since learning things the hard way, Brandon has been preaching a new mantra of "do it once, do it right," ever since upgrading to TEIN Mono Flex coilovers. He continued to beef up the suspension by installing new tie rods, control arms, and ball joints with polyurethane bushings to keep things firm while thick front and rear sway bars further reduce the already low amount of body roll from Mazda's roadster.

Upgrading the engine came next and, if you know anything about Miatas, sure they handle great, but lack power. Carving up backroads with his friends, Brandon had no problem keeping up in the twisties, but once the road straightened out, he and his Miata fell behind. In the summer of 2018, Brandon bought a 1.8-liter from a second generation NB2 model to replace the lackluster 1.6, hoping to solve his power deficiencies. In the process of replacing worn out parts and preparing for his new powerplant, he found himself upgrading everything he touched. "It was one of those things... It was like the intake and throttle body are fine but let's go ahead and get this Skunk2 unit. The coils are fine but let's go ahead and get the LS coils. I opened up a really big can of worms, but I'm glad I did," he explained. That can of worms got even deeper when his original motor snapped its crankshaft, a common weak point. To replace the crank, Brandon would've had to take out the motor, so he might as well hurry up and finish his half-ready 1.8L.

1990 Mazda Miata NB2 Miata Swap Photo 21/21   |   1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap

Most people would've done the bare minimum to get their baby rolling again, but Brandon was patient and realized he might as well not squander the opportunity to go big with the motor out. What was going to remain naturally aspirated became boosted by way of a Garrett GT2560R turbo, Kraken manifold and downpipe, DeatschWerks injectors and Radium fuel rail. Brandon ended up using a Megasquirt ECU to keep tabs on the 1.8L while a six-speed conversion allowed for a more favorable gear ratio. A custom exhaust system from Peter Farrell Supercars and 2.5" test pipe allowed the turbocharged four-cylinder to breathe easier. All of Brandon's efforts raised the original 116 stock horsepower to 250 - monstrous for a car that weighs just 2,200lbs! Plus, the Miata is still streetable, with its newfound power matching its cornering prowess.

Updating the exterior styling followed and luckily for Brandon, first generation Miatas have near-infinite aftermarket support that doesn't stop at just power adders and handling components. From the outside, the car looks modern and race-inspired with its fresh PPG repaint, rolled fenders and Jass Performance LED lights. Accenting the stock lines are carbon canards, a vented carbon hood, and Craft Square mirrors (one of only five sets in the U.S. for the NA MX-5).

1990 Mazda Miata Nardi Deep Corn Steering Wheel Photo 21/21   |   1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap

The interior was kept comfortable and retro. A tasteful Nardi wheel with Bride seats keep things simple while a Hard Dog rollbar increases rigidity and fits snuggly within the OEM hardtop. Eunos floormats, a Japanese only option, add some O.G. JDM street cred to finish the inside off.

Though this MX-5 started off as a simple daily to light up some backroads with friends, Brandon finds himself in a quality custom that looks as good as it goes. A lot has changed since he first turned a corner in his tiny 116hp Miata, but one thing has stayed the same, though: the answer is, and will always be, Miata.

1990 Mazda Miata GV Front Lip 01 Photo 21/21   |   1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap
By Rushton Skinner
11 Articles
1990 Mazda Miata Doubles Horsepower With Turbo NB2 Engine Swap
Tuning Menu
Car: 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata (NA)
Owner: Brandon Allen
Hometown: Madison, AL
Occupation: Collision Estimator
Instagram: @67whp
Power 250hp
Engine: 1.8-liter DOHC inline-four engine swap from NB2 Miata; Garrett GT2560R turbo; Kraken cast turbo manifold, downpipe; DeatschWerks 700cc injectors; AWR engine mounts; Skunk2 Racing intake manifold, throttle body; Radium Engineering fuel rail; Fuelab fuel pressure regulator; Mishimoto catch can; GM LS coils; Gates Racing Kevlar timing belt, billet water pump, 2.5" stainless intercooler piping; Peter Farrell Supercars cat-back exhaust; custom 2.5" test pipe with V-band clamps; Garage Star radiator cooling panel
Drivetrain: six-speed manual transmission conversion; Competition stage 4 clutch kit; Fidanza lightweight flywheel; ARP flywheel boots; Torsen differential with 4.3 gear ratio from 2001 Miata; rebuilt axles; 1.8L-spec driveshaft
Engine Management: Megasquirt MS3Pro PnP
Footwork & Chassis: TEIN Mono Flex coilovers; Flyin' Miata frame rail reinforcements, master cylinder brace; Energy Suspension polyurethane differential bushings; new control arms, ball joints and tie rods with Zerk fittings; MiataRoadster solid steel differential brackets; Mazdaspeed front sway bar; NB rear sway bar; SuperMiata adjustable end links
Brakes: 1.8L-spec pads, rotors, calipers; Flyin' Miata stainless steel lines
Wheels & Tires: 15x8" +20 Work Meister S1 wheels with silver faces and polished lips; 225/45R15 Hankook RS4 tires; Muteki lug nuts
Exterior: rolled/pulled fenders; Carbon Miata vented AD9 style hood, carbon fiber hardtop spoiler; OEM hardtop with shaved rear latches; GV front lip; CarShopGLOW front side markers; custom LED taillights from Japan; Jass Performance low profile headlights with LED conversion; shorty antenna; Craft Square carbon fiber mirrors; JDM Eunos Roadster front badge; Garage Vary carbon fiber front canards; Zeromotive carbon fiber rear canards; carbon fiber wiper cowl; PPG paint by Joe Hudson Collision Center
Interior: Nardi 350mm Deep Corn steering wheel in black perforated leather with red stitching; NRG Innovations short hub adapter with quick release; Tomei shift knob; MiataRoadster angled shifter extension; Garage Star seat rails; Bride Low Max seats in black with red stitching; G-Force four-point harnesses; ShirtsTuckedIn harness pads; Hard Dog double diagonal roll bar with harness bar' JDM door plates, Eunos Roadster floormats; sun visor delete plates; crackless dash; dyed carpet

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