1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda Miata: Holding Cups

April 11, 2014

1997 Mazda Miata

Yeah, I'm blogging about the cupholders in a Miata.

While not as bad as the "cupholder" in a C5 Corvette, the two in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 are pretty sorry. Like Millenials, they lack depth and the ability to hold on to anything for long periods of time.

But I digress.

You can make the cupholders work, but you'll need a couple of other items. Follow me to see how it's done.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Exiting the Roll Cage

October 25, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

See that fat metal bar just waiting for someone to stumble over it and break his neck? That's our 1997 project Miata's roll cage bar and while it's a useful addition on track days, it can make getting out of the car during everyday use a hassle.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Aftermarket Seat Is a Hug Machine

October 23, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Ever heard of Temple Grandin? She's a famous, very smart autistic person who's done a lot for autism awareness. During much of her life, she's worked with livestock, and one of her inventions in this area is the hug machine. I know this not because I'm well read, but because I watched the HBO movie about Grandin starring Claire Danes.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Hide-And-Seek With the Seatbelt Latch

October 21, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

I recently did a story on the best vehicles for obese drivers. One of the things I learned while researching the story is that obese drivers are more likely to drive without wearing seatbelts. The reason is that the seatbelts on many vehicles are too short to accommodate their girth, making it difficult for larger drivers to fasten their seatbelts and wear them in comfort. There are solutions for this, of course, such as seatbelt extenders, but many of these drivers simply throw their hands up in the air and choose to go forth without being properly strapped in.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Busted Air Conditioning

October 11, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Don't let that blue light fool you. Even though it's implying the air conditioning is turned on in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata project car, trust me, the system definitely isn't producing any cold air.

Which is a fine thing to find out as you're driving home ahead of a hot southern California weekend.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Speaker Distortion

October 8, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The passenger-side speaker on our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata project car exhibits major distortion now when you use any real volume.

To be honest, I initially thought this distortion was related to the door bars we had installed by Blackbird Fabworx. My guess was that the speaker was touching the bar, thereby causing the rattle, but turns out that's not the case.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Synapses

April 4, 2013

1997 Mazda Miata

I can't remember when I last drove a modern five-speed manual. Might have been our former long-term Mazda 2. Five-speeds don't come through the garage too often these days.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Door Bar Conflicts With Dead Pedal

February 1, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

I've never really cared that the door bar on our long-term 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata project car hinders entry and exit. Once again, I chalk it up to the character of a project car.

But the last time I drove the project Miata, I found that my left shoe kept hitting the door bar on its way to the dead pedal after clutch use. Not a huge deal, but the door bar leaves minimal width between it and the clutch pedal.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Aftermarket Seat Tips, Version Two

January 21, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

After living with our modded 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata and its aftermarket seat over a weekend, I realized I left out a couple of key seatbelt-buckling tips.

I failed to mention that in order to feed the belt through the seat hole on the center tunnel side, you actually need to position your butt up on the left-side seat bolster so that your right leg is out of the way. No biggie, just not your typical seat-belting method, eh?

The other extremely helpful tip is to slide the seatbelt receiver back slightly, so that it's closer to vertical. This makes it a straighter shot for the belt.

One last tip. If you're hopping into the Miata at night, just don't be in any kind of a rush. I found out (when I was in a rush in a very dark parking lot) that the interior light doesn't work. Not sure why I've never noticed this before. But it made it even more of a challenge to snap the belt into place, since I couldn't see anything that was going on in the extremely tight space between that heavily-bolstered seat and the center tunnel. Plus, you can barely even squeeze a hand in there.

But you know what? After a couple of fumbling runs, I actually got reasonably good at the whole process. Even in the dark. Some might call it a nuisance. I call it part of the character of a modified car.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 140,508 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Aftermarket Seat Tips

January 16, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

This was my first stint in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 since on-site Project Miata guru Jay Kavanagh installed an aftermarket racing seat. As such, I now have some key tips for anyone driving this car.

Tip Number 1
Be sure to remove everything from your pockets before getting into the extremely restrictive confines of the seat. That means everything, but particularly that cell phone in your front pocket. Because once you're in this seat, and especially once you're buckled in, there's no getting anything out of your pockets. Ever again.

Not to mention the fact that, apparently, Dan Frio doesn't appreciate people pocket dialing him.

Tips Number 2 and 3
Before you try to buckle yourself in, gather as much seatbelt slack as possible (this tip courtesy of JayKav) prior to slipping the belt through the hole in the seat.

But even more important, especially for those of us short of leg, be sure to buckle the belt before you move the seat into its proper forward position. Skip this last step and you'll be hard-pressed to pull the belt far enough back to clasp it into place.

Follow these tips and this seat won't seem like such a hassle, leaving you to revel in its unbelievable lateral support. Just the thing for canyon runs and track days.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Less-Speedy Getaways

October 24, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Less-Speedy Getaways

In most cars, you click the seatbelt's metal tab into the receiver so quickly and easily that you don't even need to think about it. 

With Project Miata's new seat, there's a bit of work required first -- since this is a single-piece shell, the tab must be fed through the lap belt slot in the side of the seat before it can go into the receiver. Your right hip wants to block the slot while you do this, and then you've got to navigate the tab-slot action between the seat and trans tunnel. I expect to hear some grumbling from other editors the first time they strap in. Here again, it helps to be slim.

A bit of technique goes a long way here -- I've got it down to a few seconds now. And once secured, the stock lap belt lays across the hips much better with this seat than it did with the stock seat after its foamectomy. Same for the shoulder portion -- its routing through the new seat prevents the slow retracting belt action you get when you have rollbar and stock seats in a Miata.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: It Helps To Be Slim

October 23, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

When it comes to the stock seats in Corvettes and first-gen Miatas, driver width isn't really an issue. That's because the seats are flaccidly bolstered, so the flesh just sort of floats on the top surface of the seat. As a result the stock seats will accomodate a variety of body morphs equally well. Or poorly, if lateral support is something you seek in a seat.

With Project Miata's new seat, the opposite is true. The seat's deep sides place a practical limit on the driver width that will fit comfortably between them. We've got a couple of 34-inch waistlined editors that fit in the new seat... snugly. Anyone larger won't be having it.

On the flip side the support from the new seat is just bonkers -- it holds you the way a mother cradles a baby. There is simply no comparison to any street seat. 

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Too Hot

October 19, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

I hate driving our longterm 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata when it's hot outside. The reason? It's even hotter inside the car. 

I've noticed this in every first-gen Miata I've ever driven for any prolonged period of time -- the cabin gets nasty hot. Recently we experienced some unseasonally hot weather here in SoCal, and driving Project Miata around in it reminded me how I'd rather park this little green tictac during hot weather than deal with its steamy cabin.

Why is this? Well, first, the a/c in first-gen Miatas is kinda weak. Despite having only a tiny cabin volume to cool, the stock a/c just can't keep up with summer-like California weather. It blows cold air, just not enough of it.

But tepid aircon is not the root issue. The main problem is that there's another heat source besides the pavement and the ambient air that's pummeling the cabin with calories -- the exhaust. 

The exhaust in a Miata runs down the driver's side of the transmission tunnel. Due to proximity and insufficient shielding, heat from the exhaust and catalytic converter simply bakes the entire transmission tunnel, and then the tunnel radiates like a giant hot plate into the cabin. Just hover your hand over the carpet on the trans tunnel and you can feel the heat! Don't put anything that's temperature-sensitive into the console cupholder -- it'll melt. 

This radiant exhaust heat also takes its toll on the rubber boots surrounding the shifter, which lead a relatively short life in Miatas as a result. 

Want swamp ass? Sit in a Miata in Los Angeles rush hour traffic during August. And were the hardtop not in place, it'd be even worse -- the last thing you want in a California heatwave at midday is the sun screaming down on you. 

Next time this thing is on our Rotary Lift, I'm putting some heat shields in the trans tunnel.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Shut The Buzz Up

May 25, 2012

Miata key buzzer.jpg

Our long-term Miata has one of the most annoying key buzzers I've heard. Put the key in the ignition and open the door and it just incessantly buzzes at you--whether the car is on or off, doesn't matter. Key in, door open and let the annoyance reign.

On the bright side, I guess you won't ever forget and leave the key in the ignition...

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 137,265 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Plate Spotting

May 10, 2012

mazdamiata 040.jpg

I encountered this GT-R while commuting in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata and couldn't help but notice its license plate: "RTFMPLS." What a waste of a vanity plate for a GT-R...or maybe I just don't get it. Anyone want to give it a try?

By the way, I was able to pass him no problem in our Miata. OK, he did seem to be in a left-lane coma but still. Rush-hour traffic is a cinch in our little Miata thanks to its ample visibility and go-kart ability.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Another Reminder This Is a Driver's Car?

April 27, 2012

mazdamiatacupholder.jpg

This cupholder in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata is not attached securely to the center console. In fact, whenever I went to take a sip from my shake, the cupholder would come up and off, still attached to my cup. Because of this I've felt compelled to take corners and turns more gingerly for fear of flying drinks. Not that I'm hating on this. In fact, I can respect it. I know, it's a 180 from my time in our Porsche 911. But this just goes to show that our Project Miata, like our old 911, is only for straight-out driving, not multi-tasking. Oh that every car were like this. By the way, careful out there, National Distracted Driving Awareness Month is almost up.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Things To Like

April 16, 2012

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Below is a list of things I like about our Miata project car, starting with the one I find most appealing.

  1. Pedal placement. Cliche, right? Maybe, but every time I drive one of these cars I'm in awe of how right this is. That's a relatively small size 8.5 Piloti covering a good portion of both pedals. Sure, I'll admit I didn't drive it hard on a track so I can't comment on the effectiveness point like Kurt did. Still, during street driving, heel and toe use is awesomely easy.
  2. Bump travel. It's an often-overlooked yet critical component of making a first-generation MX-5 work right when lowered. And, holy crap, is this thing ever lowered. Yet it can still be driven hard into an unexplored corner with little concern. It's a trait my boosted Miata distinctly lacked back in the day.
  3. There's some measure of chassis rigidity. As long as we're crapping on my old Miata, here's another area where it fell measurably short. Now I'm not saying this car is a structural masterpiece -- no, there's still some twist in there -- but it's certainly better than stock.
  4. It's not perfect. There are years of patina both inside and outside this car, which makes it somehow more endearing. I see the value in items that are well worn but still work right and this car is a perfect example. Kudos to Jay Kavanagh here.
  5. There's no urge to drop the top and sunburn my scalp -- something I did far too often when I owned a soft top Miata.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor 136,655 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Master of the Obvious

March 30, 2012

1997_miata_seatcage.jpg

Kurt's about to do something interesting with Project Miata over the weekend, so that gives me time to make some mundane observations right now.

Driving a recovering convertible with a fixed hardtop and rollcage is as cool as it is inconvenient. I put 50 mostly freeway miles on the 1997 MX-5 last night and noticed that with the driver seat tracked back in my preferred position, it rubs continually against the cage. It really is time for a new seat, but you know, it's so tight in this cockpit with a cage, I might still have this issue.

Another thing I noticed last night is that even with its upgraded suspension, wheel/tire swap and pretty amazing grip, the Miata doesn't ride half bad. On L.A. freeways, it's more compliant than our 1985 911, far less compliant than our NSX and about as tolerable as my (fading) memory of Evo VIII/IX (obviously, I'm comparing apples to oranges to mangos to papayas, but when you have a whole fleet of cars, it's tough to resist looking at them in relation to each other). But the steering is very reactive just off center -- great for quick transitions on the track, but a little high-maintenance on the 60 freeway.

Parting thought: In-gear acceleration is plenty good at 70 mph in 5th. More power/torque would be exciting, no doubt, but as it is, most of my heel-and-toe downshifts in normal driving are executed just for sport -- they sound good.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: What Flashing Brights via Pop-Up Headlights Looks Like

March 23, 2012

mazdamiata 025.jpg

For the kiddies out there not familiar with pop-up headlights because they were before your time, after the jump check out what happens when I flash the brights in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Because it stays on longer than "regular" headlights, I'd say it's more meaningful, akin to the ol' stink eye, if you will.

By the way, sorry for the gloomy, blurry video. Couldn't tell how bad it looked til I got it on the computer screen.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Not For Me

March 20, 2012

miata_outtake-1.jpg

The first time I drove a Miata was during the summer of 1989. It was one of the first MX-5s in America. It was blue, just like the one on the cover of Road and Track that March. I hated it.

Honestly, I don't remember much from that day behind the wheel. I just remember how disappointed I was. I was looking forward to the drive for months. But once I got behind the Mazda's wheel I knew immediately that it wasn't for me. It was too slow. Too small. And just too delicate for my New Jersey sensibilities.

Twenty three years later I'm still there.

Whenever I drive a Miata, any Miata, I'm always disappointed. Which is exactly why I dreamt up our Project Miata, because I'm still looking for a Miata I like to drive. A Miata I like to be in. I remember talking it up to the staff before we agreed to do it. "We can make it like a little Cobra," I said. Jay Kav bought in immediately and got to work.

But it still doesn't push my buttons, our car still leaves me cold.

It's not our car's fault. It's a cool little ride. Jay has improved it 1000% in every way. He did just what we talked about. But it still isn't for me. Every time I drive it I quickly wish I wasn't. It just doesn't do it for me. I can't help but feel like I'm driving something I'm supposed to like but don't. Something I'm talking myself into.

Where's the thrill? The tire smoke? The powerslides? Where's the intensity?

I still like the idea of a Miata. It just turns out that I like the idea much better than I like the actual experience. I always have and I'm pretty sure I always will.

Oh well, different strokes.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Case for Analog

March 09, 2012

Miata_gauges.jpg

Maybe only a handful of readers will feel me on this one. Perhaps you traveling types who log mileage and fuel receipts. When we gas up our long- and short-term test cars, we log trip and odometer readings. Increasingly, this requires a trip into the digital world, which in many new cars means mystery sequences involving menus screens, steering wheel buttons and scroll wheels, buttons arrayed by your knees, or careful thumbing of those reset stems.

Inevitably, the car either needs to be running or in accessory mode, which is always a bummer when you start the transaction at the pump and realize you didn't memorize or jot down the odo reading (required to start the fuel flowing in our case).

Hence another of the old Miata's charms: analog odo and trip. There's no Trip B option, and sure, I guess odo tampering is a good enough reason to go -- and stay -- digital. As modern cars spiral down a bottomless rabbit hole of techery and conveniences, the most important issue facing the "human factors" designers and engineers is integrating simple with the sophisticated.

Adaptive cruise? Yes. Wafer-thin virtual touchscreen buttons to access my playlists? Shift paddles to reset the Trip D meter (one for the whole family) and average MPG? Boo.  

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 135,238 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Three-Pedal Dance

February 08, 2012

MiataPedals.jpg 

I love manual transmissions. I love mastering a heel-toe downshift so that's it's only heard, not felt. But I'm having a little difficulty with our little Miata.

It's not the pedal placement, no, that's perfect; it's the brake pedal stroke. Even though our Miata has steel-braided brake lines, the pedal feels a little squishy (technical term, I know). I was taught that the brake should be adjusted so that a "7" pedal (a 1 pedal is just barely dragging the pads and a 10 pedal is full panic OMG braking) would bring the brake and gas pedal even. That'll allow for an easy throttle blip between gears as you're braking before turn-in.

As it is, our Miata's pedals are on the same plane with only a "4" pedal. If I'm not careful, I'll hit both pedals at the same time. It also means heel-toeing is awkward and difficult. I'm not sure if we need to bleed the brakes or if there's an adjustment available, but it can sure use some sort of a fix.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Where's the Reading Material?

February 08, 2012

MiataSeat.JPG 

Quite some time ago, we dug out some of the seat cushion foam to allow more headroom for our taller drivers. It's been a while since I drove the Miata, but I had the chance last night. I think we need to add some foam back in.

The center of the cushion is now dished out, which means that most of the support is now on the sides of the seat. Yes, that's right, the Miata's driver seat now feels like a toilet. I'm thinking if we plop in some lower-density foam to push out the center, it'd be a big relief. I think it just needs to be a little more flush with the rest of the cushion.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: Limited Practicality For Me

January 23, 2012

 Miata_NoAirbag2.jpg

There are many things our Miata is good for, but family transportation does not happen to be of them. Of course, there's the obvious: two seats and small trunk. Less obvious: there's no cut-off switch for the passenger-side front airbag. That means the Miata's even less useful if you have small children (like me) and are concerned with airbag deployment.

Notably, the owner's manual doesn't make any exclusions for front passengers other than children in rear-facing safety seats; my memory of when automakers decided little kids and front airbags don't mix is hazy. But as far as our old long-term sports cars have gone, I got by better with the NSX and 911 (no passenger front airbags) and the departed Z06 (had a cut-off switch).

The Miata gained a cut-off in 1999.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 134,527 miles 

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1997 Mazda Miata: I Guilty

November 30, 2011

monster.jpg

Mike found something horrible in the Miata. He wasn't sure what it was. A toenail from a monster? 

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: What The Heck Is This?

November 30, 2011

Miata side shot.jpg

This is our long-term Project Miata.

And this is what I found stuck between the passenger seat and the center console in our long-term Project Miata:

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: We Meet Again

November 29, 2011

Project Miata.jpg

It's been quite some time since I've driven the Inside Line Project Miata. We're talking literally months. In fact, I think this is the first time I've driven the car since JayKav had the roll bar installed.

And, wouldn't you know, I had forgotten how fun it is.

I love Project Miata's nimble nature, that quick turn-in and precise steering feel. When we tested it with the bigger wheels and tires, Walton and I were flat out amazed with not only how much grip it had through the slalom and around the skidpad, but how composed it was.

Sure, a bit more sauce would be nice, as the Miata certainly has more grip than power at the moment. But I really like the way the power flows so smoothly from the supercharged engine.

And the clutch is terrific, the take-up point absolutely second-nature combined with great throttle calibration. This is the way all cars should be.

Course, there are a few things that make the Miata less than perfect as a daily driver:

There's the seatbelt that retracts quite reluctantly. And the gouged-out driver's seat, the cushion bolsters of which now dig into me. And yes, lots of road noise. It's boomy inside the cabin. And there are a few more creaks and rattles than I remember, along with a bit of speaker distortion that I don't recall. Maybe I just had the stereo cranked louder than usual last night during my slog down the 405...

Ultimately I can put up with those. Because, a) it's a project car. And b) it's pure and purposeful.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 133,950 miles.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Room To Stretch Out

November 10, 2011

miata-seat.jpg

Yes, this miniature roadster is actually quite roomy. So spacious, in fact, that I'm always a little shocked when I drop into it and stretch my legs out. And when I say "drop into it" I mean it quite literally now given the roll cage hurdle that has been installed.

Once I'm in, though, the Miata feels great. It's second only to the NSX in terms of visibility and the steering wheel, shifter and pedals are all right where they should be. I don't even mind the roll cage bars as they don't seem to intrude much. If anything, the roll cage makes it almost impossible to get out without looking like an idiot. Small price to pay, though, I still like it.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Not for the Squeamish

November 09, 2011

mazdamiata 009.jpg

OK, as a passenger, I am not crazy about our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Don't get me wrong, I lovvve driving it. But just sitting inert in the passenger seat? Not fun.

Since I was a kid, I've always been prone to car sickness (valid excuse for usurping any "Shotgun!" winner). So the Miata's lurchiness and loud, reverberating revs don't do my sensitive constitution any favors. Compound that with the stuffiness of the cabin (the car's floorplan transmits a lot of heat from the exhaust and we have to keep the blower speed low else the air vents get too loud) and I just want out already.

To get through the ride, I roll down my window, sink into my seat and stare at a fixed point straight ahead. But I think the real solution to curing car sickness in the Miata is simply to get behind its wheel and take control of the situation.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Workaround

August 31, 2011

Miata_belt workaround.jpg

While Editor Jay devises a solution to the binding seatbelt, I used the headrest-workaround during my recent seat time in Project Miata. You hook a thumb under the belt and pull it to the back of your neck to create slack, grab the buckle and latch in, then slowly allow the tension to take in the slack. Slowly is the key word; too quick and the belt will bind during retraction. Suddenly you'll be straining shoulder muscles you didn't know existed trying to free it up. 

Not ideal, but it'll work for now. Living with older cars calls for some improvisation, and our Miata still rewards you for thinking on your feet.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: 20th Century Relics

August 30, 2011

Miata_radio.jpg

Remember these? Of course you do. Someone probably stole one from you at one time. This is what radios used to look like before manufacturers pretty much abandoned the DIN standard and began tying as many vital vehicle systems as possible into a once-simple electronics bus. Marvel at them while you can. They won't be around much longer.

Fortunately our Miata is from a simpler time, when congressional leaders impeached presidents for moral dalliances and Y2K programmers prepared to immobilize civilization at the stroke of one special midnight. Actually, our Miata's Sony is a fairly advanced aftermarket unit, offering Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming audio, and an Aux In jack. It's even set up for HD Radio. It may be the smartest piece of gear in the car.

Too lazy to re-read the manual section about pairing, and missing a 1/8-inch mini cable, I grabbed a CD on the way out the door. No forgetting a sync cable, no USB thumb drive to accidentally drop down the e-brake cavity. No remembering if I'd imported some tracks to my phone, my iPod, neither or both. Just some round polycarbonate with 70 minutes worth of uncompressed audio. Simple. Like the Miata.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Needs A Pull Strap

August 26, 2011

 Miata-door.jpg

See this? This is ugly. Some would call it utilitarian. Some would call it functional. I'll call it ugly.

As I see it there are only two reasons to keep the door pull/armrest in this car.

And neither of them are very good.

First, we need a means to close the door -- something to grab and pull. Here's an idea. It's an oldie but a goodie. Porsche does it well in the Boxster Spyder:

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Roll Bar And Visibility

July 04, 2011

blackbird_fabworx_GT3_roll_bar_miata_deadon_ht_on.jpg 

Some of you have asked about Project Miata's visibility with the Blackbird Fabworx GT3 6-point roll bar. I'm here for you.

Hit the jump.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Blackbird Fabworx GT3 6-Point Roll Bar, Part II

July 01, 2011

blackbird_fabworx_GT3_roll_bar_miata_rear34_ht_off.jpg 

It turns out that Moti of Blackbird Fabworx -- father of Project Miata's brandy-new GT3 6-point roll bar -- has been building fast Miatas for the street and track for years. He started out as a hobbyist experimenting on his personal car and testing at the racetracks of southern California. Then he became a professional -- working for years at Tri-Point Engineering, a mecca of Mazda motorsports -- before finally branching out on his own.

There are things you learn when you've been around the block.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Blackbird Fabworx GT3 6-Point Roll Bar

June 28, 2011

blackbird_fabworx_GT3_miata_r34_ht_on.jpg 

Want to bring your Miata to a track day? You'll need a roll bar. With few exceptions, the organizers of such events won't allow convertibles to run without one.

But let's step back a bit first. Track days aren't the only reason to install a roll bar in a Miata, and some roll bars offer more than just rollover protection. Roll bars like the Blackbird Fabworx GT3 6-point, for instance.

Consider that a stock Miata's chassis stiffness is, shall we say, tapioca-like. Then consider that steel is plenty stiff, and that roll bars are comprised of lots of the stuff. A standard 4-point roll bar does a pretty good job of stiffening up the rear bulkhead area, but this is not the area of lowest-hanging fruit in shoring up a Miata.

The Miata's structural Achilles' heel is the part it doesn’t have – a roof. A hardtop "closes the box" of the car's flimsy open-top layout, and in so doing enhances chassis stiffness a tad (whether Mazda intended it or not).

Still, first-gen Miatas are flexy flyers, and we want to further tie the front end of Project Miata to the rear. Door bars have been high on my to-do list for Project Miata. So when I came across the Blackbird Fabworx GT3 6-point bolt-in roll bar that integrates the door bars to the roll bar, I was intrigued.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: In Praise of Analog

May 27, 2011

Miata_analog.jpg

Let me tell you what's special about this otherwise unskilled photograph of the Miata's cabin. Actually, only the contents of the photo are noteworthy.

There's the sweet Momo steering wheel. Great feel and profile, and light touch horn button. Clearly useful on Italian roads, largely ignored around LA and Orange County. There's a cigarette lighter, still a personal favorite (if for no other reason than to remind of times when automakers made fewer choices for you). There's even an analog odometer and trip meter. Don't see many of those anymore.

And near the bottom middle of the picture, you'll see the accelerator. Just a regular old throttle pedal, thin and grippy. More importantly, that pedal is attached to a throttle body with an old-fashioned analog steel cable. Definitely don't see many (any?) of those anymore.

Got me thinking that cars which literally drive by a wire will be more coveted on the used market in the next decade or so. Maybe not among mainstream car shoppers, but enthusiasts. It'll become a selling point. After years of being conditioned to drive-by-wire, and now hybrids and even BM freakin' Ws that essentially ignore our true intentions, even a Mazda 626 will feel sporty with a direct connection to its air and fuel delivery.

Makes me further regret selling my '91 Integra some years ago. Great four-door LS 5-speed (DB1) in white, on new bushings, Tokico coilovers, and 5Zigen wheels. Even started getting parts together for the LS/VTEC head swap. Man, that car was great. Super responsive, good pull even for a Honda.

But as my job then involved multiple project cars, the DB ended up sitting in the garage more often, and in a moment of near-sightedness, I sold it to a kid who promptly went out, revved on his friends a few too many times, and blew the head gasket. Poor car.

My current Cherokee also uses no middleman in its throttle application, and it's one of the reasons I'm loathe to sell it (despite every indication that it's time). Obviously some DBW systems are pretty good and very transparent. You don't have to deal with cable slack and engineers can dial in nice resistance and feel. A car so equipped is not the end of the world.

Still, I'm betting that hard-wired connection starts commanding a premium as enthusiast drivers look to fun cars that remove as much governance as possible between themselves and the contact patch.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: More Room Than Our 911

May 25, 2011

miata-fint.jpg

At 6 feet 2 inches, I need a fair amount of room to feel comfortable behind the wheel. My legs are relatively short, though, so my standard driving position is a bit on the odd side. Think sitting close to the wheel with the seat tilted back.

Oddly, I feel much more at home in our tiny little Miata than I do in our '85 Porsche 911. Could be the changes Oldham made to the Mazda's seat, or the new steering wheel. Either way, it works well as there's plenty of room for my knees which makes it much easier to shift and steer.

The 911 is comparatively cramped as I'm constantly try to get my legs out of the way so I'm not bumping the shifter or steering wheel. Never would have thought the 911 would be so tight without driving them back to back. Of course, I look better getting out of the 911 that I do exiting the Miata. Oh well.

Ed Hellwig, Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: Minimal but Manageable

April 29, 2011

lt miata door pocket.jpg

You won't find a heck of a lot of handy stowage cubbies in a first-gen Miata. In fact, you won't find any unless you count the chintzy cupholders or flip open the lid to the shallow center console and take away a spot to rest your shifting arm.  However there are a pair of door pockets that don't look like they'd hold much but actually are perfect for securely holding a phone and wallet. And that's just fine with me in this lightweight, minimalistic sports car whose focus is right where it should be -- on driving. 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ ~ 130,800 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: Water Tight

April 11, 2011

Car-wash-miata-1.jpg 

Yesterday I ran our project 1997 Mazda Miata through an automated car wash. The kind you ride through inside the car. I held my breath and crossed my fingers.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. No leaks. No leaks inside the car or inside the trunk. Our Miata is water tight.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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1997 Mazda Miata: Just Out of Reach

April 08, 2011

miata st wheel.jpg

First off, as I've said before, I love the new Momo wheel we got for our old Miata. Just one minor gripe: flicking (or holding briefly for a lane change) the turn signal lever is a bit awkward. With my normal driving position, the lever is just at the tip of my "give 'em the bird" finger. To flick the signal, I have to rotate my left hand grip slightly outward.  The new wheel's rim is an inch closer to the driver, which puts the signal stalk an inch further away.  

Not really a big deal for me -- it certainly wouldn't deter me from putting this Momo in my Miata (if I had one).  But I have rather large hands for a short guy (I can palm a b-ball provided it's somewhat tacky).  Just something that those with smaller hands may want to take note of while they're contemplating new (steering) wheels and their associated specifications. 

Note: This post / gripe does not apply to L.A. drivers. 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 130,538 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Positives and Negatives

March 31, 2011

 Miata longtermer shade shot.jpg

First, the good news: The new Flyin' Miata clutch, which replaced the previous tired and dead-feeling unit, works great. And despite being rated to handle over 300 lb-ft of torque, it has a very light effort and an intuitive engagement point, making it simple to use in stop-and-go traffic.

Now the bad news:

The newly scooped-out driver's seat ain't working for me. I understand the intention, as you definitely sat a bit high in the stock configuration. But because the foam was simply ripped out of the center of the seat cushion, the sitting pressure falls primarily to my hips and the side of my legs which now rest on the bolsters, my right leg and most particularly my right hip socket taking the brunt. Ouch.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Sorry, Tubby

March 23, 2011

husky.jpg

Guess which one of these kids would not fit in the Miata's newly sculpted driver's seat? Yup, Frankie Festive over there on the right.

Guess which one of the above three I resemble most? Yeah, *sigh*.

If I want to fit in the seat properly, properly enough to drive this thing hard without experiencing pain, I'm going to have to put down my deep fried Twinkie, pour out my Four Loko and hit the gym.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 130,066 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: HVAC Mode Slider Stuck

March 18, 2011

hvac stuck 717.JPG 

Hmph. Well, I usually just leave it set to vents-and-feet anyway. So there.

The slider is jammed in the position you see above, so I crammed my torso into the driver's footwell to see what is amiss among Project Miata's various cables and rod linkages that regulate the direction of the breeze. Found nothing obvious in the time it took for my bum shoulder to really get pissed off, which is about thirty seconds. A problem for another day. Or another person.

In other, less-pedestrian news, I installed a Flyin Miata clutch and flywheel this week. And I'm likin' it. More on that later.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 130,045 miles.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Seats are Good!

March 15, 2011

 Miata seat.jpg

One of the worst things about this generation of Mazda Miata is the complete lack of steering wheel clearance. Let a pedal out and my knee hit the wheel. Turn the wheel and my hands hit my legs and the bottom of the wheel is ALWAYS rubbing up on my thigh in a very unwelcome way. It's unpleasant.

But not anymore. Oldham dug about six loaves of foam out of the seat this weekend and I'm happy to report that not only did this increase clearance, but it increased comfort. The seats in our M edition were ultra-firm and dead-flat. Now there's some squish (you could drive it for hours if not for the noise) and, being lower, the side bolsters actually work as bolsters.

I avoided driving the Miata because I hated the seat / wheel position so much. Not anymore. Now I just wish he'd scooped more foam out of the back, too. Next time.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor @ 129,905 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: Seat Fixed...Finally

March 14, 2011

Miata-Seat-1.jpg 

Gary Coleman. Danny DeVito. Emanual Lewis. Wee Man.

Until yesterday, these were the only four people that could drive our Project Miata comfortably. 

Personally I've been complaining about the Miata's seating position since I drove a pre-production Miata back in 1989. The seat angle is all wrong (kinda dumps you into the footwell) and the seat is just mounted too high. Combine that with a steering column with no tilt and I've always wondered why Mazda wanted you to sit on a Miata and not in a Miata.

Until yesterday I thought the only solution to this is an aftermarket seat. I was wrong. Dan Edmunds had another solution. "Pull the seat foam out," he said. "I did it to one of my Miata race cars about 20 years ago."

So I did.

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1997 Mazda Miata: Boots

February 21, 2011

pedals.jpg

Sports cars are the biggest culprits in requiring fancy driving booties in order to properly operate their pedals, but our Miata is different.

Not only could I stuff my size 12 (44 for our European readers) Doc Martens into the pedal box, but I had plenty of room to use the pedals without once accidentally hitting the wrong one. Try that in a Lotus. Actually, don't - you'll never get out of the parking lot.

And no, I don't own a pair of Pilotis. Sacrilege, I know.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 129,410 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: And Another Great Thing About Wheel of Death?

February 18, 2011

mazdamiatamomo.jpg

To piggyback on Photo Editor Kurt's praise for our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata's new Momo steering wheel, another great thing about it? The horn. No more unsatisfying horn honking with thumbs! Horn honking with purpose FTW!

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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1997 Mazda Miata: The Wheel of Death - Before and After

February 18, 2011

old1.jpg

Ok, let me break this picture down for you guys. As you can see, my right leg is pressed right up against the rim of the original steering wheel. It's like that for two reasons. The first being the diameter of the old wheel was a little big. The second reason is because the steering wheel did not telescope. While my legs were happier with the seat moved all the way back, with the seat in that position my arms were all but locked out when I would turn the wheel past fifteen degrees. In a car with an old-skool airbag, getting in an accident, even a minor one, with your arm crossed over the airbag would likely give you and ulna induced lobotomy. I'll pass.

Click on through to see what the new wheel hath wrought.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Happy Wheels

February 08, 2011

 Miata-Kraftwerks blower.jpg

Wow. Those small pulleys generate tons of fun. I'm not sure you could get any better response to throttle input unless you were riding atop the engine, pulling on the butterfly. It wasn't until driving back to the office this morning that I put two and two together. Several years ago, Oscar Jackson said he was working on a new project with Rotrex superchargers. I remember that his original company, Jackson Racing, not only excelled at Honda supercharging, but also in force-feeding Miatas. Then the light went on, and I was happy to hear Editor JayKav confirm my hunch.

Oscar was one of the first heavy technical minds I met in the Honda world, and always gracious with his time. He indulged our magazine staff's notions of building a Super GT-spec NSX for the street. A raised glass to him and JayKav for this ridiculously fun car in its present state.

Even after a loud and bumpy 100-mile commute, no muscloskeletal complaints. It's stiff, but not stone.

Momo wheel and shift stalk feel perfect. The Miata is like a perfect bookend to the Z06; they appeal to different senses, but both get to the matter: thrilling acceleration and satisfying speed.

But Project Miata is loud. All that tire, road, and bypass valve noise sounds like an old faucet left to run wide open. There's a radio in there -- a nice Sony and some good speakers -- but it's a losing battle. It's more fun to listen to the blower whine, anyway.

That slight, rising whistle is the only thing I can figure attracted a pair of clownballs in separate Mazda3's to buzz by at different points in the commute, one in a 5-door, one in a sedan. Both were either just showing some oddball Mazda love or asserting some misplaced authority.

Then later, a Miata came up quick in the rearview mirror, hung on the bumper for a couple of seconds, then made a clean jerk to the left and eased up alongside. Don't think he was prepared for Project Miata to put three car lengths on him in seconds. Good laugh watching him scramble to catch up, then hammer off to whichever Kookville he came from.

Still not sure what inspired all the attention. To a nearby motorist, Project Miata looks like a quiet, docile two-seater. No aftermarket exhaust grumble. Maybe it's the stance? The hardtop? The molting trunklid? Come on, Jay - straightpipe and racing stripe next!

-Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Yipes, Stripes!

January 31, 2011

Momo steering wheel with stripe.jpg 

Well, I've been off the track and spinning in the grass before myself, windlassing the steering wheel left and right with the windshield wipers going (as inevitably happens as your desperate hands brush the control stalk) while desperately trying to get the car straightened out. That's when you find yourself kind of wondering which way the front tires are actually pointed.

Which is why racers -- especially rally guys and off-road racers -- like to have a stripe on the rim of the steering wheel. Engineering Editor Jay Kavanagh knows this, and in fact he races a Miata himself in the 24 Hours of LeMons. So he has a good reason for picking out a Momo steering wheel for this car that has the racer's stripe on the rim.

And yet as short and responsive as the MX-5 is, most steering corrections are a matter of just a few inches of input. It's not the kind of car that really gets very far out of shape in a corner.

So when I saw the racer's stripe on this steering wheel, it made me wonder just how bad things would have to be in a Miata that you'd be wondering which way the front tires were pointing. Probably things would have to be really, really bad.

Of course, maybe Kavanagh just drives the Mazda a lot harder than I do. (Note to self: Don't ride with Kavanagh, especially in the Miata.)

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 124,711 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Rear Window Defogger

January 27, 2011

lt miata rear defog.jpg

After hopping into the Miata early the other morning, I noticed the rear window obscured by fog. I also noticed the lines in the hardtop's glass indicating the presence of a defroster/defogger. Knowing our car didn't originally come with this optional hardtop, I wasn't sure if this feature was operational. I checked the dash (and the owner's manual to be sure) and nope -- where the rear defroster switch would be there is a blank. Actually, as our Miata was fitted with an aftermarket anti-theft system, there is a red LED there.

In any event, I kicked it old school and just wiped the sucker off in about 10 seconds. Back east on the same day, it would've been a different story...

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 128,494 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Momo Wheel Gory Details

January 26, 2011

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Momo Wheel Gory Details 

Perhaps you're perplexed as to why one -- namely, us -- would want to replace the steering wheel in a car like Project Miata, our longterm 1997 Mazda Miata project car.

Well, I'll tell you why.

Mainly, the size and position of the stock Miata's wheel sucks. The non-telescoping, non-tilting, smashed-against-the-dash tiller forces you to move the seat forward into a somewhat more knees-bent driving position than you'd find in other cars. It's got a large-ish overall diameter (and has a pencil-thin rim) to boot.

As a result, tall guys tend to bang their right knee against the steering wheel and/or have difficulty executing heel-toe downshifts.

It appears the driving position was arranged around the proportions of a Japanese guy instead of an American dude (don't laugh, it happens; see first-gen Honda Fit). Or it could be that the US airbag requirement drove the engineers to put some real estate between the wheel and the driver's torso to minimize collateral damage during an airbag deployment. Note that Canada-spec (non-airbag) Miata steering columns of this era located the wheel closer to the driver.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Getting a (New) Grip

January 24, 2011

Miata Momo st whl.jpg

The latest mod to project Miata is something I could really wrap my hands around. Jay Kav installed a new Momo steering wheel and it's perfect for this car. First off, it's a proper sports car style -- meaning it's a three spoker. The previous wheel (like most of the '90s era) looked like a vinyl-upholstered throw pillow with a ring around it. Mind you, the Miata's wasn't quite as bad as this, but still. Since then, car makers have been able to package the air bag in a smaller hub, making for much better aesthetics.

But back to the Momo. Yes, we sacrificed the air bag. But not only does the Momo look just right, it feels the same way. The leather-wrapped rim's medium thickness should be about right for most folks -- not too thin and not Python-like, as with some newer BMW M sport wheels. Whether cruising with my thumbs resting on the reliefs or quickly shuffle steering, it provided a great tactile connection between Miata and me. 

Stay tuned for an upcoming post by Jay which will provide details on the install. 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 128, 445 miles

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1997 Mazda Miata: The Lid

January 10, 2011

miata_ht_717.jpg

At last, the Miata has been couped.

Gone is the tan, floppy vinyl roof and in its place is now the second-hand, black hard top salvaged from round one of Project Miata. What's better? What's worser? Click below to find out.

So what's better? Well, for one thing, visibility is now really good. Check out the view from the driver's seat below.

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Dripping But Driven

December 21, 2010

trunk leak.JPG  

Yeah, the trunk gets damp, but that just proves that Project Miata, our longterm 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata, is being driven despite the deluge we've been experiencing here in LA for the past week or so.

First, that leak. Then the driving with the supercharger.

My esteemed colleague Ms Pardilla mentioned earlier that the Miata thinks it's a Cruze. For those readers that for some reason don't read every word we write here at the gilded IL halls, the trunk of the Cruze leaked early on and apparently passed this bad habit down to our lowly Miata.

Some experimentation with a pot (that's A pot, you fiends) of water showed that the leak is centered right above where the spare tire lives (see lead pic). Pouring water down the softtop triggers the drip, so either the softtop's rain rail is cracked or misinstalled, or the car's drain channels are plugged. 

Regardless, the top's got to come out to resolve it. If you've read my previous diatribes regarding Miata softtops, you know I'm no fan, and this is yet another reason softtops suck. This will be my excuse for perma-installing the hardtop when I'm finally in town long enough to remove the soft and install the hard.

Much more exciting than that, though, is the Kraftwerks supercharger kit. It's given the Miata's rather trucky 1.8-liter BP engine a more urgent character and a much-needed heaping of beans. It's definitely not a bottom-end grunter like you'd expect from a Roots blower, though there is a bit more low-end sauce than before.

Nor is it some high-strung, peaky thing. Lay into the throttle and the shove builds linearly as the revs pile on. Unlike a stock Miata, acceleration is now more than adequate for passing maneuvers, and we've taken a few people by surprise on LA's ever-present onramp drag races.

Finally, thanks to the supercharger, the engine is not totally overshadowed by the capabilities of the chassis around it. A degree of balance has been brought to Project Miata's equation. Speaking of balance, the linear response from the go pedal makes the car a cinch to balance using the throttle, provided you've got the revs dialed up. You can meter out or reign in the power in a predictable fashion. It's now a sharper tool for driving.

It's actually worth revving it to redline now, the way a sports car should be.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: No Soundtrack Needed

December 15, 2010

 Miata-No Radio.jpg

I got a chance to take out our Miata last night, but it has an aftermarket radio with a detachable face, and I couldn't find the darn thing. And so I drove home without tunes. But between the road and wind noise and the whine of the supercharger, this car makes enough sounds to keep your ears occupied. It was an unadulterated, mechanical sound, reminiscent of our Corvette Z06 -- only much less throaty.

As I listened to the music of the road, I had to wonder how effective those faceless units really are at deterring thieves. My car stereo was stolen a few years ago -- while the detachable face was resting safely in my house. I have no idea how the thieves got the stereo to work without it.

-Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Knobless

December 10, 2010

nardi_knob.jpg

When I got into our revamped Miata last night I was slightly shocked. The Nardi knob was no more. I read about the transplant on our blogs and heard the chatter around the water cooler. Ok, I get the symbolic gesture of taking the shift knob from our recently departed Miata and transplanting it to this one. I know the powers that be prefer the plastic over the wood. But I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

When I opened the door to our Miata, I stopped and stared. I wasn't mad. I was disappointed.

Maybe I was upset because it reminded me of that Nardi wheel in the first Miata I drove. I thought that was one of the coolest "car things" I've seen. It's right up there with the leather driving gloves that came with the Mercury Capri my Dad bought when I was a little kid. (My brother subsequently destroyed the Capri and the garage door by dropping the car into reverse before he actually opened the door. Hilarity ensued.)

I guess I'm in the minority in regards to the Nardi. I'll miss that knob. I felt it was one of the cool details that made the M Edition special.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Glass versus Plastic

December 09, 2010

miata rear window.jpg

A common gripe for first-generation (1990 to 1997) Miatas (and many other older convertibles for that matter) is the plastic rear window. These tend to get yellowed and/or scratched up in time, reducing rearward visibility and in the process making one's Miata look like an aspiring hooptie. The upside of the flexible window is that it allows one to quickly drop the top -- just unfasten the header latches and flip the top back. 

Our '97 has a replacement top and the former owner opted for a glass rear window. The downside is that when you go to lower the top you must first unzip the rear window (glass doesn't like to fold) to allow it to drop down flat and then you flip the latches and flip the top down. If I were replacing the top on my own first-gen Miata, I'd gladly take the trade-off to get a perfectly transparent back window that won't eventually look like a cat mistook it for a scratching post or a dog mistook it for a tree. 

And how are things going on the Miata's modification front you may ask?  Pretty darn good. Stay tuned as an update is forthcoming. 

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 127,250 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: List of Quirks

December 02, 2010

miatadrive.jpg

I love our new Project Miata: 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata. It doesn't have that grindy 2nd gear nor the zombie interior of the old one and I don't feel grimy after sitting in it. And some of the quirks this one does have aren't that big of a deal but I'll just list them here.

1) A loose bolt behind the driver seat that clunks around, especially during acceleration and braking. Apparently you have to put the top down to get at it and since this top is a bit more involved than the old one -- zippers, buttons and straps -- no one has bothered.

2) Aftermarket radio has an annoying "don't forget me" chime after you turn the car off. I'm probably the only one annoyed by this though.

3) Molting steering wheel, but I hear that may change soon.

4) ... Actually that's all I got.

The interior is in pretty good shape. The previous owner took great care of it. No tears or mystery smells. And like the older Project Miata, this is just so much fun to drive.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 127,029 miles

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: You Said Knob

December 01, 2010

bandb.jpg

Uh huh huh huh.

Well one of you did (jstandefer, to name names) when you asked if our "new" Miata still had its Nardi shift knob. Follow the jump to see what I'm talking about.

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