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1990 Mazda MX5 Miata - Persistence Pays Off

Andy Rowe has been through it all with his MX-5, and he’s finally ready for his close up.

Nate Hassler
Mar 26, 2012
Photographer: Eric Tong
Modp 1204 01+1990 mazda mx5 miata+cover Photo 1/7   |   1990 Mazda MX5 Miata - Persistence Pays Off

Living in Southern California, I see my fair share of Miatas on the road. Because of the small size, fun-to-drive nature and, of course, the fact that it doesn’t need to have a top if the driver feels so inclined, it’s no surprise that the MX-5 has been one of the longest lasting and most successfully sold convertibles of all time. That being said, not all Miatas are nice — a surfboard poking out of a ripped top with a rusted-out trunk lid is a pretty common state for these often neglected little cars near the beach cities. As sad as that may sound to the Miata lovers out there, the truth of the matter is that because there are so many of these cars that have been allowed to slip into the sad condition described above, the really clean examples are that much nicer to look at.

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Enter Andy Rowe and his dark-gray, widebody, turbocharged ’90 MX-5. Andy isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill Miata owner, not by a long shot. One look at his MX-5 and you’ll immediately see why. Andy is a Miata nut through and through, and his uniquely built example is enough to remove any doubt from the mind of even the most hardcore of player haters.

“I’ve been into cars ever since I first laid eyes on Matchbox cars and R/C cars as a little kid, and they have been my sole passion ever since,” Andy says. “Once I got my license and got a true taste of the open road is when it really started. The modifying bug hit me when I was a sophomore in college, and I picked up a ’95 [Mitsubishi] Eclipse GSX. While I spent most of my time with this car fixing it versus actually driving it, it did teach me how to be a great mechanic, so I owe a lot to that experience.”

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Andy ditched the Eclipse shortly and drove a modified Jeep while he put himself through college. The Miata first entered his life after landing what he calls a “real job” (What’s that? –Ed.), and he quickly got to work planning out the rebuild. “[The Miata] was bone-stock when I got it, with terrible paint, a blown motor and in need of a bunch of bodywork,” Andy recalls. “I towed it home and immediately began tearing it apart. My original plan for the car was to rebuild the engine, piece together a turbo kit and get it back on the road, but little by little I fell victim to ‘scope creep.’ I got a deal on a fully built motor, complete with all the paperwork, receipts and pictures from all the work that went into it. So now I had this amazing engine, and it just didn’t seem right to bolt on a simple turbo kit.”

The setup Andy ended up going with revolves around a fully balanced and blueprinted block, rebuilt from the ground up with a plethora of high-quality racing parts to ensure he can rev nice and high. The turbo system Andy has pieced together isn’t exactly an off-the-shelf setup, either; a Garrett GT2871R turbocharger is the centerpiece, forcing spent exhaust gases out through an ETD Shorty tubular manifold and custom downpipe and full exhaust. Andy’s is one of those cars where pretty much everything that can be changed or upgraded, has been. His engine bay is not only functional and powerful (298 whp on a modest tune), it’s also incredibly clean to look at. He has spent a lot of time ensuring that all his pipes, hoses, lines and hard lines are cleanly placed or out of view entirely when possible.

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To get the power to the rear wheels, Andy decided to go with a route less traveled with an RX-7 transmission and custom rear end. “I started looking around at different options and realized if I wanted to make power, the [stock Miata] transmission and rear end were going to be holding me back,” Andy says. “I found a few write-ups about swapping in a RX-7 drivetrain and decided that was just the route I wanted to go because it would be stronger than the Miata 5- or 6-speed transmission, involve some custom fabrication work and, at the end of the day, be very unique.” Because Andy is an experienced fabricator, all of that sounded like a challenge he wanted to face, whereas a lesser tuner might shy away from a nightmare scenario like this. All said and done, Andy is running on a heavily modified RX-7 TII transmission and rear differential, held together by a custom adapter plate and kept in place by custom mounts. A shortened RX-7 driveshaft handles the work of getting things going to the rear end, while a lightened and balanced Miata flywheel and custom RX-7/Miata hybrid clutch clamp it down on the front end of the process.

As you may have guessed, this car is no dyno queen. After all, if we’re being totally honest, a horsepower figure of fewer than 300 horses isn’t exactly mind blowing. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a whole boatload of fun in a package weighing right around 2,000 lbs! To help ensure that the ride is fun and balanced, Andy paid plenty of attention to the suspension and braking departments. TEIN RA coilovers handle damping and spring duties, with an array of braces and bars playing support. Braking is taken care of via a Wilwood big brake kit up front and Flyin Miata two-piece rotors in the rear.

The exterior of Andy’s car is clean, yet aggressive in a subtle way.

The exterior of Andy’s car is clean, yet aggressive in a subtle way. Well, aside from the hood, the massive vent is a bit of a giveaway, but that’s OK — we like the way it looks. A set of AWR wide front fenders and rear flares are enough to set off the car’s stance and provide ample room for wider wheels, and aside from the turn signal intakes and carbon-fiber trunk lid, the untrained eye might not spot too much else out of the ordinary on this sleepy little convertible. The rollcage and bucket seats might not help the sleeper vibe, but that’s fine; Andy has spent the better part of three years building this car, so he wants people to know what’s going on.

Andy says his car will probably never be “done,” but he has come to peace with that mentality. “It’s become such a huge part of my life, and now that it’s up and running, it’s truly a part of my family,” Andy says. “I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished with this car, and the memories I’ve had building it I will treasure forever.” I appreciate that sentiment and hope Andy stays true to his word and keeps the car for a long time coming. Maybe now that it’s “done enough” to drive, he’ll get some track time or autocross events in this season.

Specs & Details
'90 Mazda MX5 Miata
Engine Mazda B6ZE inline-4
Engine Modifications Weisco 8.6:1 oversized turbo pistons; Pouter connecting rods; ARP main & head studs; new bearings & gaskets; lightened & balanced crank; Mazdaspeed high-flow oil pump & competition motor mounts; Boundary Engineering billet oil pump gears; Ford Racing water pump; powdercoated bronze water pump pulley & alternator pulley; ATI Super Damper; Gates Racing timing belt & alternator belt; fully ported & polished head; REV 0.5mm oversize intake & exhaust valves, valve retainers; Volvo valvesprings; re-ground Mazda blank cams (258 duration); Flyin Miata adjustable cam gears; port-matched intake manifold; Mazda 323 GTX valve cover; Moroso aluminum baffled catch can; 10 AN Earl’s Perform-O-Flex braided stainless catch can lines, stainless fuel lines, wastegate vac lines, water lines & oil return line; black AN fittings & adapters; dual feed billet fuel rail; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator; RC 750cc high-impedance injectors; Walbro 255-lph fuel pump; GT2871R ball-bearing turbo (0.60 intake, 0.63 exhaust); A’PEXi blow-off valve, 80mm power intake air filter; ETD shorty tubular manifold; Tial 44mm external wastegate; ETS Intercooler; powdercoated 2.5" stainless steel intercooler piping; 3 AN braided stainless oil feed w/ built-in restrictor; Golden Eagle billet vacuum block; custom stainless steel exhaust; 2.5" downpipe; 55mm Koyo radiator; upper coolant outlet modified for intercooler piping; 190-degree thermostat; Maruha Motors radiator cap; 12" Slim fan; Beatrush undertray; Flyin Miata oil cooler w/ thermostat, silicone lower radiator hose; all wiring & brake lines covered w/ Techflex & heat-shrink tubing at the ends; removed A/C, cruise control & airbags; relocated fuse box, relays, sensors & so on to out-of-sight locations
Engine Management Megasquirt stand-alone ECU
Drivetrain RX-7 TII Transmission, rear differential w/ LSD; custom-fabricated 0.5" aluminum adapter plate; modified clutch fork; custom mounts; modified transmission bellhousing; Polyurethane transmission mounts; Mazdaspeed competition diff mounts; custom front diff mount fabbed up & welded in place; custom RX-7/Miata hybrid hubs; shortened & balanced RX-7 driveshaft; lightened & balanced MX-5 Miata flywheel; Clutchnet 6-puck sprung Miata/RX-7 hybrid race clutch; de-powered power steering rack
Suspension TEIN RA coilovers; Racing Beat hollow sway bar (f), lower control arm brace (f); Boundary Engineering framerail stiffeners; Carbing 3-point strut tower brace; additional cross brace added above rear parcel shelf; driver seat brace added; wire-brushed, primed & painted rear subframe & all control arms
Exterior Audi TT Dolomite gray paint; AWR widebody kit (full replacement fenders (f), add-on flares (r); turn signal intakes; Autokonexion carbon-fiber trunk w/ integrated duckbill spoiler, carbon-fiber hood w/ custom heat shield; Rats back carbon-fiber head light covers; Axis Power Racing license plate trim; Spec Miata tow hooks (f/r); trimmed bumper & bumper support (r); shaved radio antenna; upgraded Sylvania headlights; R package front lip; JDM side winker repeaters; Aerocatch locking hood latches; JDM Eunos Roadster badges
Interior Hard Dog street cage; Momo T-frame bucket seat, vintage mahogany wheel w/ horn button, steering wheel hub; Simpson 3" 5-point harness; NRG carbon-fiber slim quick release; Mazdaspeed Time Trap; Rats Back carbon-fiber arm rest; carbon-fiber scuff plates; Saferacer rollbar padding; wire-brushed, primed & painted dash frame & pedal assemblies; custom Revlimiter gauge faces; HVAC aluminum dress-up plate; A’PEXi AVCR; AEM UEGO wideband; Auto Meter sport comp oil temperature, water temperature, EGT & voltmeter gauges; Alpine CDA-7875 head unit; Type R 6.5" speakers
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Work Equip 01 15x10" +0mm (f) & 15x11" +0mm (r); 205/50R15 Falken Ziex ZE-912 tires, 205/50R15 (f) & 225/50/15 (r); Wilwood big brake kit; 11" blank rotors (f), street pads; Flyin Miata 2-piece rotors (r), braided stainless lines; Porterfield R4S pads (r); Superblue racing brake fluid
Numbers 298.6 rwhp & 270 ft-lbs of torque

By Nate Hassler
182 Articles

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