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Project Miata: Part I

More bang, Less Buck: Three-Way Parlay

Robert Choo
Feb 26, 2004 SHARE
0404tur_02z+1991_Mazda_Miata+Front_Driver_Side Photo 1/9   |   Project Miata: Part I

As you can tell, cars are a very big part of my life. For 360 days of the year, I am either writing about a car, buying a car, selling a car or working on a car. On the day I was supposed to be writing about a car I was cruising my favorite Web site recycler.com searching for a cheap toy car to drive around. I came across a 1991 Mazda Miata loaded with modifications for $2,500.

A misprint? I decided to call. I left a message and thought nothing of it. The ad in the "Recycler" was a couple of days old; if it wasn't a misprint, the car would quickly have sold. To my surprise, the owner of the vehicle gave me a call. The car was still for sale. The Miata was better than I could have imagined. It came with Panasport wheels, Mazdaspeed headers and an HKS exhaust. Upon inspecting the car, the owner informed me the car was also equipped with a Mazdaspeed LSD, Tokico Illuminas, Mazdaspeed lowering springs, Eibach anti-roll bars, Hella H4 headlights and C's short shifter. It was too good to be true. I handed over the money to the owner and drove off with the Miata.

0404tur_01z+1991_Mazda_Miata+Engine_Bay Photo 2/9   |   Project Miata: Part I

We couldn't get Turbo's new Project Miata to pass the stringent California smog test. We had a feeling the 13-year-old catalytic converter wasn't working properly, so we called our friends at Brainstorm. With the car on the lift, we discovered our header and exhaust had a few rust holes. We replaced the parts with a Brainstorm 4-into-1 header, Candoo 2.25-inch exhaust, high-flow catalytic converter and passed the smog test with flying colors. The Brainstorm performance products also gave the Miata added boost. The Miata generated 122.3 hp and 97.0 lb-ft of torque to the engine, compared to 114.4 hp and 93.4 lb-ft of torque when we first brought the vehicle in.

After the Mazda was registered, it received the TLC it needed. The top was starting to fall apart and we could barely see through the vinyl rear window; a common problem with Miatas of this age. We opted for a top from Robbins with a glass rear window and had it installed by the crew at Brainstorm.

0404tur_04z+1991_Mazda_Miata+Wheel Photo 3/9   |   Project Miata: Part I

The temptation to start modifying the Miata was unbearable. A Brainstorm front and rear cross brace, along with a Brainstorm Solo I and Solo II-approved competition roll bar were installed. We were amazed of how well the cross braces and roll bar significantly stiffened the chassis. We noticed less body flex when we threw the Miata hard around a corner and also got better feedback from steering input. Although the Panasports looked great on the Miata, we decided to go larger and swapped for 17-inch Velox VX-6R one-piece wheels. The wheels were lightweight, tipping the scales at 16.5 pounds for a 17.0 x 7.0-inch wheel. For tires, we opted to go with the ultra-sticky Toyo Proxes RA-1. Despite a treadwear rating of only 60, the RA-1s seem to be holding up well with more than 2,000 miles already logged on them.

0404tur_miata10_z Photo 4/9   |   Project Miata: Part I

It was now time to set our goals with what we wanted to accomplish with our Project Miata. My passion for racing has switched from my roots of drag racing to more road course action. On top of that, I wanted to take the Miata drifting. The answer was clear: Build the Miata to compete in all three types of racing. Our first concern was addressing power production. We'll turbocharge the engine with an AVO Stage 3 turbo kit complete with ball-bearing T3 turbo and Link plug-and-play engine management. We're looking to push about 250 to 300 hp to the wheels so the bottom-end will be fortified with stronger internals. Up top we'll go with a ported-and-polished cylinder head with HKS cams and adjustable cam gears. Our guess is the Miata should be able to run low-13s to high-12s in the quarter on drag radials.

0404tur_miata05_z Photo 5/9   |   Project Miata: Part I

Our second item on the agenda will be setting the suspension for both road racing and drifting. A full coil-over system will likely replace the Tokico Illuminas and Mazdaspeed springs. We hope to get our hands on a full compression and rebound Variant 3 coil-over kit from KW suspension. Not only will the compression and rebound adjustment help tremendously on the dragstrip, but it also will allow us to custom tailor the suspension to handle the road course and drift course. The Toyo Proxes RA-1 tires work great on the road course but will probably be swapped out when it comes to drifting and drag racing. On the drag circuit, we hope to run BF Goodrich drag radials and for drifting, we'll use a set of Toyo Proxes T1-S tires.

0404tur_miata06_z Photo 6/9   |   Project Miata: Part I

Last, but not least on the list, is exterior modification. Hey, you have to look good while your racing, right? Not wanting to dramatically change the look of the Miata, we hope to add a tasteful body kit and spray the entire car since its age is starting to show in the paint. Finishing touches will also include sprucing up the interior and engine compartment.

We know we have a lot of work ahead of us to finish the project, but we're confident when the Miata is done, the hard work will pay off. As this article goes to the press, the Miata is already getting turbocharged. The extra power will most certainly add to the adrenaline meter and we can hardly wait to unleash a triple threat roadster.

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By Robert Choo
118 Articles

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