This particular car story starts with a letter. Specifically, a letter Miata-owner Sal Latorre Jr. sent in to Modified a few months ago. Sal is one of many readers who wallow in the shadows, holding their collective breaths until they've read one-too-many sterile car features. You see, Sal loves to see cars actually driven. To see them beat into submission, with every last ounce of power squeezed out onto the pavement/tarmac/dirt. So when Sal's pent-up aggression bubbled over, he mailed a letter to Editor-in-Chief Peter Tarach, begging to see more cars within the pages of Modified actually driven-and driven hard. Let's face it, many of the vehicles that grace the pages of any automotive publication are just begging for a good flogging, while many pass by with nary a burnout.
Once Sal's letter reached us, a chain-reaction of sorts occurred: Peter agreed with Sal, then Sal suggested his boosted '94 Miata as a potential candidate of sorts and a few months later yours truly found himself at Roebling Road Raceway behind the wheel of Sal's car.
The story of this Miata goes back a few years, though. Sal and his wife spent some years living in the New York City area, specifically in the car-unfriendly streets of Brooklyn. The Miata's bumpers showed the ugly signs of the "parking by feel" technique that happens on a regular basis in the tight confines of the borough. The breaking point occurred one evening, however.
"I looked out at my car, and there looked like there was something in it," Sal recalls. "And some guy was actually trying to steal it. I ran out to the car, but by the time I got up to it, the guy had taken off."
That event of sorts, combined with the Latorres wanting an actual yard for their dog, moved the family back down to Atlanta, where Sal had spent some of his early years. The Latorres, their 25-lb puppy and a few personal items made the 1,000-mile exodus in the Miata, and shortly after arriving in Atlanta, the car went through quite a transformation. Sal had attended some BMWCCA autocrosses in the past, which helped him realize that with the Miata, he had quite a starting point for some sort of enthusiast-type machine.
"I fell in love with the Miata all over again," Sal says. "I realized I had a car that contained a rally-bred engine, and one that could learn to love some boost." From that point on, Sal took his time to make sure the project came off right.
Now, normally at this point in a car feature, the author swings the copy toward the specs of the vehicle. To be brutally honest, the same story gets told over and over again, in just about any publication, in just about the same order-background, engine specs, suspension specs, interior/exterior specs, closing thoughts. Rinse, repeat, for just about any automobile in the world.
While we've included the background of Sal's Miata (it feels prudent, as this car went through the hell of Brooklyn's entirely car-unfriendly environment for some time, and is hardly a "show pony" of a car in that regard), the important departure here is from specs to actual driving impressions-on an extremely fast and Miata-happy circuit in Bloomingdale, Georgia. Roebling Road's 2.2 miles are brutally quick, with high-speed sweepers and little elevation change, conditions that suit the Miata's lightweight, rear-drive setup. Sal also gave us a chance to drive the car to the track, which gave us a feel for the machine both on the road, as well as in its preferred environment. And it's no slouch out on the highway, hanging with just about anything that crept up on us over the four-hour trek from Atlanta to Roebling.
Upon taking to the track, one modification Sal performed is worth mentioning right up front-he added a Ground Control coilover setup, mated to KYB eight-way adjustable shocks. After taking a lap to get some heat into the RA1s Sal specifically brought for track use, the Miata enters turn 1 at somewhere north of 125 mph-not bad for a first hot lap, but not entirely surprising either as the turbo setup puts almost 250 hp to the rear wheels. The car squats nicely under braking as well, and there's little front dive or porpoising as you come off the whoa pedal. The Miata tracks-out nicely up to the exit curbing before the entry to turn 2, and loves the slightest touch of trail-braking to get some more rotation going (this could also be attributed to the off-camber nature of turn 2's entry). Turn 3 is where Sal's Miata really shines, and it's also where we felt he might have become a little worried about things-turn 3 is normally taken flat in a Spec Miata racing machine, and we didn't lift in Sal's car. From turn-in to apex to exit, the Miata just sticks, and a quick scan down at the speedo showed more than 100 mph in the middle of the corner.
Sal's Miata finally gets to flex its transition prowess in the turn 4-5 section, as the car changes direction with the dexterity of a damn mountain lion. And it doesn't take much effort-the rack on the Miata (and all Miatas) is awesome, with just the slightest adjustment getting the car "bent" back over to the left of turn 5. Through the carousel of turn 7, the Miata is hustled as other similar lightweight machines are-start squeezing power mid-corner, waiting for the eyes to scan up and grab the apex. Heading into turn 8/9, Sal's Miata is approaching 100 mph. A slight lift just before turn-in helps the front end with some bite, and then it's right back to the loud pedal heading down the front straight. Thus completes a lap at Roebling Road, in a car that's seen a little bit of everything on the East Coast.
The go-kart cliché has undoubtedly been used with the Miata before, but this is one that packs 250 whp. It's like a go-kart with a Hayabusa strapped to the chassis (which is surely out there somewhere), but in an apparent contradiction, handles the bumps and holes of surface streets with awesome compliance. Not only does this Miata get driven, it also gets driven relentlessly on the track. It's exactly the kind of car Sal wants to see more of in automotive publications.
"It's really exciting to be a part of this," Sal says. "It's something I feel car magazines are lacking, cars that are actually driven."
We couldn't agree more.
1.8-liter BP-ZE bottom end ('94) w/ ported BP-4W head ('99).
Port matched intake manifold, GT2560R, ceramic coating turbo manifold and turbine outlet castings, 550cc RC injectors, 15" air-to-air FMIC, Ferrea 1mm oversize intake and exhaust valves, Ferrea valvesprings, Ferrea titanium valvespring retainers, GFB blow-off valve, GReddy Profec B boost controller, Hondata Heatshield intake manifold gasket, PWR 40mm Radiator, 2.5" stainless steel downpipe, Flyin' Miata 2.5" stainless exhaust, MagnaFlow high-flow catalytic converter, TDR radiator cowl cover
FM Link replacement ECU w/ keypad
SPEC Stage 3 clutch, lightened stock flywheel
Wheels, Tires And Brakes
15x7 +38 Chaparral S15 wheels, Maxxis MA-V1 195/50R15 tires, HPS street performance pads, ATE slotted rotors
Ground Control coilover kit, Eibach Pro-Kit springs (425-lb front, 300-lb rear), KYB AGX 8-way adjustable shocks, FM sway bars, FM Strut Tower brace, Racing Beat adjustable heavy-duty sway bar links
Rspeed LRA Headlight System, Garage Vary front lip spoiler, MiataRoadster.com hood risers, NACA duct intake headlight lids, OEM-style R-Package Rear Lip Spoiler, KG Works Trunk Spoiler
Hard Dog double diagonal roll bar, Voodoo shift knob, Westberg boost gauge, Alpine CDA-7892 head unit, Clearwater headrest speakers, I.L. Motorsport Center Console
247 rwhp at 6800 rpm, 217 rwtq at 4500 rpm; numbers were obtained at 12 psi on 93-octane pump gas
My wife for being so supportive of my hobby, Robert Mcmurray for the top-notch paint work; I'd also like to thank Joe, Hector, Taylor and the whole gang from Rspeed (rspeed.net), without their knowledge, products and mechanical wizardry of all things Miata I wouldn't have been able to fulfill this dream