I never liked the Miata.
Yes, I’m well aware that it’s the most commonly modified and track-driven car in the world. When it debuted, it was the only car in production that combined a 50/50 weight balance, low center of gravity, front-engine/rear-wheel-drive layout, and a double-wishbone suspension with classic roadster styling and small-car agility—I know. And according to the faded sticker on the left, front quarter-glass of mine, Motor Trend voted it “Car of the Year” right off the bat.
The British loved its performance and the fact that it was styled after their own Lotus Elan. The Japanese loved it for the same reasons, but also for its friendly, caricatured, nonthreatening appearance—the exact reasons I didn’t. Inarguable performer or not, I just couldn’t get past how girlie the car looked.
But then I actually drove one.
The first-generation NA6 Miata is as raw as it gets. Little more than a motorcycle with two seats and four wheels, part of its charm stems from the fear of impending doom you’ll feel driving one amongst today’s SUVs and nearly as big domestic sports cars. Another is that from the shifter, to the pedals, to the wheel, to the seats, you’ll feel it respond to every input you give it. Spend more than 10 minutes behind the wheel, and you’ll feel the car morph into an extension of your very being. You’ll feel exactly where every inch of it is, and where it will go, no matter what you do. And the Miata’s lack of a roof—even if mine did have a functioning one, or a stereo to match (what do you expect from an $800 car?), I’d never use either.
In stock form the Miata is slow, has a washy suspension, brakes to match, and is borderline dangerous with virtually no rollover protection. But it’s strong enough in one redeeming quality to make you forget nearly all of its shortcomings: soul. It just doesn’t have enough of it to make you feel like any less of a hairdresser while driving it.
Fortunately, we have the aftermarket to fix that. Even better: we can do it for surprisingly little coin, if spent cautiously.
Headlight conversion: $75
The Miata’s large, round headlights—you either love them or hate them. Coupled with its gawking grille, they’re pretty damn hideous. Not to mention difficult to see the road over, especially if you’re slouching in your seat, trying not to be seen driving/riding in a stock Miata. Using some hardware from Lowe’s, a pair of driving lights from AutoZone, plug-and-play HID retrofits from eBay, some common tools, and a little ingenuity, we converted our Miata’s pop-ups to low-profile fixies in one day, for a slightly less anime-character look.
The Miata is blessed with beautifully stretched fenders front and rear, but like most Japanese cars, it came stock with narrow, boring wheels in way-too-conservative offsets. It’s also blessed with one of the best suspensions in the game, but cursed with sky-high stock ride height. We had our work cut out for us.
Our first call was to BC Racing for a set of their BR-Type coilovers: inverted monotube design, aluminum body construction, full ride-height adjustability (all the way down to super slammage), spring preload adjustability, included aluminum top hats, 30-level simultaneous compression/rebound damping adjustability, choice of spring rate, and even available damper re-valving to match, all for under $1K. Stock spring rates are 8kg/mm front, 6kg/mm rear. We opted for 10/8s.
Next up, we needed to fill out those wheelwells. As much as we love the look of stock-fendered Miatas slammed on wide, flush-fitting wheels with stretched rubber and death camber, the whole combo only looks proper when done just like that. We still wanted to keep the option of wider tires, proper camber, and a slightly higher ride height for rub-free track days. Our solution: 15x8 0mm-offset XXR 002 wheels, 195/50-15 General Exclaim UHP radials (for the street—something in a 225 width for the track), and Racing Lifestyle fiberglass flares.
Say what you will about inexpensive USDM wheels, but we won’t cry when drifting one into a curb costs us $85 and a trip across town to replace it. Likewise, at about $64 each and available anywhere, our General UHPs offer everything we need in a street tire, including increased width over the stock 185s and ridiculously long tread life. And those flares, while not cheap, are also easily replaceable in the event of unforeseen gnar. Win, win, win.
It’s unlikely for a small, low roadster like the Miata to flip over, but it does happen. And when it does, if that roadster isn’t equipped with a worthy rollbar, its occupants usually don’t fare too well. This is why organizations like the SCCA and NASA (as well as virtually every track in the country) require one to be installed in any Miata that sees a track. Hard Dog manufactures track-compliant bars in a variety of options for many different vehicles: Constructed of mandrel-bent 1026 steel tubing (1.75-inch outer diameter, 0.120-inch wall thickness), the M1 Hard Core double-diagonal one we added to our Miata is easily the best out there. It’s heavy, the installation is a bitch, but it just might be the single most important mod you make to your roadster. Plus, it looks badass.
We tackled the first round of upgrades with our car way back in the August ’08 issue, via a trio of bolt-ons for Power Pages. Upgrades shown here further increase performance, and also prep the car for track duty, giving it a more menacing appearance in the process. Best of all, every step was taken with a real-world budget and resources in mind. No fab shops, professional installers, or thousands of dollars thrown away on ultra-rare JDM whatever—just proven, effective, low-cost products installed in our home garages, by us, with common tools. Be sure to visit importtuner.com for the step-by-step install process of every modification above, as well as some additional tech and photography.
Modification List and Prices
|Rally Manufacturing Ultra Beam driving lights||$29.99|
|Xenon Vision H3 HID conversion kit||$29.99|
|BC Racing BR-Type coilovers||$999.99|
|XXR 002 15x8 +0mm wheels (x4)||$340.00|
|General Exclaim UHP 195/50-15 tires (x4)||$256.00|
|Racing Lifestyle Café Racecar flares (x4)||$300.00|
|Hard Dog M1 Hard Core rollbar||$495.00|