January 31, 2014
It's still in the fleet.
It's still trucking.
I still love driving it.
October 14, 2013Mil-Spec
Look familiar? The engine shown in the back of our long-term Silverado belongs to Project Miata. After a hiatus, activity on Project Miata is chugging back to life. Rejoice! The Keegan Engineering-built long-rod engine has lain relatively dormant during this period, patiently awaiting several odds and ends and little fabrication jobs while I traveled the globe, worked on countless other projects and, hey, somebody's got to drink all this beer. In the meantime, the engine sat. And sat.
Hey, better slow progress than none at all. It could be worse. Just look at the House of Representatives.
May 23, 2013
Holy crap. Project Miata's new catalytic converter has really reawakened this ol' tic-tac. To recap, the car had been feeling gradually less peppy, and finally the check engine light illuminated. At that point the car was also more detonation-sensitive than before and drivability had degraded a bit, too. But none of these aspects were overly prominent, just a collection of incremental nuances that I apathetically chalked up to age and hard use.
May 21, 2013
I decided to rotate the tires on Project Miata recently, and in doing so was reminded just how much chassis stiffness is afforded by its 6-point GT3 roll bar by Blackbird Fabworx. See that? In the picture above, there's a scissor jack supporting the front jacking point, and that's it. Both the front and rear tires are dangling in space.
April 26, 2013
That's not an underdrive pulley above, it's a crankshaft damper by BHJ Dynamics. I want to be clear about that, because friends don't let friends install a solid underdrive pulley on the crank of a production-based engine. It's one of the brain-deadest things you can do to an engine. Forget that the reduction in inertia will be essentially nil in light of the manhole cover (a.k.a. flywheel) bolted to the opposite end of the crank. The bigger deal with solid underdrive pulleys is the big gamble they place on the durability of your crank, bearings and oil pump.
Many Miata owners learned this the hard way when their engine's oil pump shattered to pieces shortly after installing an underdrive pulley on their turbo Miata. To understand why this happens, the nerds at BHJ Dynamics have written one heck of a .pdf technical whitepaper for you. If that reading's too dense this early in the morning, try this: imagine what it's like to be a crankshaft.
April 22, 2013
If you've ever been around aftermarket turbos, you can probably already appreciate the TiAL Sport stainless v-band GT28 turbine housing, shown here on Project Miata's engine, sans Garrett GT2863R turbo. No bolted flanges! The v-band inlet and discharge are seriously convenient, and they eliminate the possibility of threaded fasteners relaxing, galling or seizing in the manifold.
What you can't see is that the housing is investment cast from Nitronic 50, a high-grade, heat-tolerant austenitic stainless steel. Its properties at elevated temperatures are superior to traditional turbine housing materials, so the geeks at TiAL Sport were able to reduce weight by roughly one-third without a loss in structural performance.
April 18, 2013
When it comes to sorting out ancillary hardware like a turbo, wastegate and associated plumbing, an engine on the stand is worth, like, nine in the bush. That's how that saying goes, right? No? Well, it should.
One of the handful of reasons that Project Miata's new, stronger Keegan Engineering-built heart still awaits installation can be seen plain as day above. There are other, far less impressive excuses too, but I'll spare you the tedium of chronicling them here. Besides, there's a happy spinny thing to discuss.
Getting to Phase Two in Project Miata's power plant has been an incremental process. Clearly, we're approaching critical mass. Recall our goal for Phase Two of maximizing the powerband on 91-octane pump gas, an objective that requires flow, and this means turbo. No single piece of hardware influences engine performance more than does the choice of turbo. And corking up Keegan's long-rod 1.9-liter VVT BP with the wrong turbo would be counterproductive and just plain sad.
March 21, 2013
Now, a word of thanks.
A lot of people did their part, and did them very well, to make this whole road trip/track day/dream come true happen.
Our Miata has been flawless. It's proven that you can actually run a dual purpose car on a budget. During the course of the weekend, I used every bit of this car, from the air conditioning, cruise control, defroster to the anti-lock brakes. I remember there being some doubt as to why Jay had decided to leave the conveniences of this car intact, but he was right to do so. On the road, it behaved like a road car and on the track, like a track car. What more could you want?
March 19, 2013
Now there was this little matter of getting home.
After my soggy days at Laguna Seca, the mostly clear skies and drying pavement were a welcome sight. It was well after 4pm when I rolled into the closest gas station I could find, but I knew the road home pretty well: get to the 101 and drive south for a few hundred miles, pick up the 405 south and I'm home before I know it.
I was so relaxed that I popped into the usual coffee chain, grabbed a sandwich and a latte (it was a big, manly latte) and finished them both before getting back into the car. I even thought of reattaching the stereo faceplate for some music. Hey, at least I thought about it.
There was no stress as I reset the trip meter, eager to compare my on-track mileage to an honest tank of 65 mile an hour highway driving, and drove towards the 101. The sky was clear, the roads were dry...and that was to be the last I saw of those conditions.
March 18, 2013
It's still raining.
The intermediate group is out on track and while I can tell the track is just soaked, I didn't know just how wet it was until the Evo VII tried, in vain, to put its mostly stock power to the ground going up the front straight. The driver was pedaling, trying to get the Evo to hook up, but every time he got back on the gas, the tires broke loose. There was so much standing water that an all-wheel-drive car was struggling to find traction.
I'd had enough of watching that, and since my run group was up next, I walked back over to the Miata. Before I could get in the car, I was met by a man with a warning for me.
March 14, 2013
I wasn't able to keep up with the other three cars on our drive up, so I'm perfectly all right having excused myself to the novice group. Oh sure, I've driven Laguna Seca before but only in a simulation. And as good as that was, that's not real. Not even close.
So, for my introductory time at this legendary track, I've wound up with an instructor, Don. Apparently, riding shotgun with some guy in a supercharged Miata made more sense than taking out his own supercharged NSX. The latter would have made Don brave. The former, makes me wonder.
So how did I get on?
February 1, 2013
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.
January 17, 2013
Considering the level of handling our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata possesses, the ride quality is actually not that bad. Believe me, I'm not saying this modified car rides down the road like it's on a bed of pillows, but for a machine that pulls 1.03g around the skidpad and 71.8 mph through the slalom, yeah, I'll put up with above average stiffness and some harshness over small bumps.
Unlike a lot of modified cars, there is some compliance here. It doesn't try to bounce you up out of the seat and drive your head into the roof over large, fast bumps. Chalk it up to spot-on spring rates.
Also, and again unlike a lot of modified cars, the Miata's suspension is quiet. No squeaking, creaking or clunking noises coming from the chassis here. This is suspension done right.
Which is not to say Project Miata is rattle-free. Nope, there's more than a few odd, and occasionally annoying, rattles and squeaks emanating from the tired interior.
Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 140,445 miles
January 11, 2013
Even though the number 225,308 is much more impressive than 140,000, the bigger number is in kilometers. And since we live in America, we hate the metric system. Take that, easy to use and accepted worldwide system of measurement!
Anyway, our 1997 Mazda Miata has defied the odds, as well as some friendly wagers around the office, and trucked through 140k on the odometer.
At this point in its life, our Miata still sports a Rotrex supercharger kit, Fat Cat coilovers, really nice 949 Racing 6UL wheels, Hankook Ventus R-s3s and a Blackbird Fabworx six-point roll bar. It might burn a little oil, but it's still a total rip.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 225,308 km
December 07, 2012
Remember that blog about a few of us going to Laguna Seca for a track day? Yeah, well I was one of those guys and I happened to be driving our Miata for the duration of the trip.
I've got a brace of photos, some in-car and roof mounted videos as well as some insight into the car, the drive and what it's like to get completely psyched out by a one way ribbon of asphalt.
If there's anything you'd like to know about the trip, the track or the car, let me know and I'll do my best to answer your questions. Until then, stay tuned. I'll have the first in a series of blogs after December 17th - after I figure out how to edit video.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 139,580 miles
August 16, 2012
There's more to them than simply additional length, though.
August 13, 2012
It's been a while since you've heard about Project Miata's long-rod BP engine, but that doesn't mean nothing has happened. After a few unrelated delays, it has been coming together quite nicely at the experienced hands of Mike Keegan of Keegan Engineering.
Some might call it obsessive. I'm referring to the discipline required to be a professional engine builder. You might think that the majority of time spent in building an engine is, well, building the engine.
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Valvetrain Tech
June 21, 2012
Ported head, check. But port work, while a critical ingredient in a proper high-performance cylinder head, is best served with hardware that can fully exploit it. Running a ported head with stock valves and cams would be suboptimal, like training for a marathon wearing Florsheims.
And when it comes to high-performance VVT Miata heads, upgrading the valvetrain also creates an opportunity to enhance its durability.
May 24, 2012
I marvel at how superb the steering is in our LT Project Miata whenever I get into it. It's quick, precise and has an excellent feel. This is the kind of directness you want in your sports car.
I don't exactly mind gripping that Momo wheel, either.
No doubt a good portion of the credit has to go to the alignment set up by Jay Kavanagh. Never underestimate the value of a good alignment with the correct amount of camber and caster to make a car handle well.
Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 137,262 miles.
May 23, 2012
I'm still on the fence about the door bars on our long-term Project Miata. I definitely appreciate the extra rigidity and safety. But after sliding in and out over the bar while driving around town over the weekend, I'm not sure I'd want to put up with them on a daily basis if it was my own car.
And I certainly don't like the havoc they wreak upon the door armrests.
That being said, those bars do make the Miata an even more serious sports car/track-day car. I guess you just need to channel your inner Dukes of Hazzard, albeit without the fully sealed doors.
I'll keep thinking on this one.
Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 137,197 miles.
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Keegan Engineering Head And Porting Tech
May 22, 2012
We dropped in at Keegan Engineering recently where the impossibly genial and humble Mike Keegan took us to school on head porting. Specifically, the porting of Project Miata's VVT BP head.
There's a lot of subtlety to this craft. It's equal parts science, skill, sweat and experience. Hit the jump to see what I mean.
May 10, 2012
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
May 09, 2012
Threw Project Miata on the scales to recheck the corner weights. I use the corner weighting technique outlined here.
Our little green hoopty has been pounded on for thousands of miles so I was curious if any settling or preload had occurred due to spring set or bushing deformation or other malady.
Without making a single adjustment, the corner weights (with me in the seat) were fewer than five pounds off the target.
Easiest corner-weighting job ever.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
April 16, 2012
Below is a list of things I like about our Miata project car, starting with the one I find most appealing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
April 12, 2012
In case you didn't see part one, here's Part One.
So, I promised you, gentle reader, some video.
Click on through.
Let's just go ahead and start with a full lap. This lap is using Buttonwillow's #1 configuration run in the clockwise direction.
April 09, 2012
I've been wanting to take the Miata on a track day, Kurt beat me to it but it was good to see him enjoy it and get his comprehensive feedback for when/if I take it to the track. In the meantime, I enjoyed a recent romp up Pacific Coast Highway and through the canyons with our green monster.
Although it'd been quite a while since I'd driven it (previously, I needed something bigger each time it was available) it didn't take long to get comfortable. Getting into the rhythm of the road is what a Miata is all about -- you'd be hard pressed to find a more willing and light-on-its-feet dance partner. And you needn't run at felonious speeds to have fun either. That's not to say I didn't enjoy dipping into the boost now and then coming off the corners. But the simple joys of quick and communicative steering, a planted chassis and a toggle switch of a gear shifter get me every time I drive a Miata, be it our modded oldie-but-goody or a brand new PRHT.
John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 136,460 miles
April 05, 2012
It doesn't seem like it was that long ago, to me anyway, that I packed up my gear and drove two and a half hours home from Buttonwillow Raceway Park. The car was fine, but I was stewing over not having more power. After all, 100 horsepower at the wheels in a 2800 pound station wagon isn't going to get it done at a modern track day. During the long, dark drive home, I considered upgrading the struts, buying a set of dedicated track wheels and tires, and gutting the interior (only for the track days) in an effort to make the most of my car's good handling.
In the meantime, the aggressive summer tires were replaced with all-seasons, the struts have worn out and the big rear sway bar is gone, falling victim to a snapped end link tab. I also got married, bought a house and have been throwing money at a pile of junk project car. I haven't been on a track in seven years.
But we have this Miata...
Fast forward seven years and I find myself sitting in a classroom at Buttonwillow Raceway Park learning about proper passing techniques and what to do when you see certain flags. I've done all of this, but as it had been such a long time, and since it can't hurt, I decided to hit the reset button and sign up for the Novice run group with the NCRC. Another factor was me not ever having driven a rear wheel drive car on track before today. Did I mention it's a company car? I had enough pressure.
March 30, 2012
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
March 26, 2012
Now I've driven the Miata plenty of times, but due to time/life constraints, I had never really pushed the Miata for more than a few seconds at a time through various on and off-ramps in and around Los Angeles. So, this past Saturday I set out for some good roads to get some quality seat time. You know, for science. Also, there might be a track day for this car and I in the near future and I don't want to hit the track cold and unfamiliar with our Miata.
Four hours, and six gallons of 91 octane later, and I could scarcely believe how quickly this car makes work of tight and twisty roads. If I could only use one word to describe the way it dealt with the various roads and the corners, it would be good. Or benign. Maybe expertly. Deftly? I know, masterful. Sharp would work, too.
Know what I'm sayin'?
The only criticism, and it really isn't much of one at all, is the inability to really generate some wheelspin. And while that might be more show than go, it is fun to do when you have the room to play around. Oh yeah, and the thing rattles like a can of bolts over rough roads - more on that, from someone else, tomorrow.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 135,680 miles
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: JE Pistons Forged Side Relief Slugs In The House
February 28, 2012
Key to Project Miata's long-rod BP engine is its pistons. Clearly, no stock-replacement pistons would be suitable for use with the 7mm-longer-than-stock Mil-Spec connecting rods, since the pistons would be shoved too far up the bore. Top dead center indeed; emphasis on dead.
Remember, we're not changing the stroke. Stroke is dictated by the crankshaft throws, not rod length. We could have rods three miles long and the stroke wouldn't change one iota. Anyway, our stock crank means stock stroke.
Accommodating longer rods in our long-rod BP (which we delved into here) is accomplished with what you see above -- JE Pistons' asymmetric Forged Side Relief (FSR) pistons. These slugs have a lot of cool details we'll explore across the jump.
February 23, 2012
Hang around with engine geeks long enough and the conversation invariably turns to rod length. This usually happens not long before they start talking about poop, which is where every conversation in the known universe eventually ends up.
When speaking of rod length, we're talking about something far less biological than it sounds. We're talking about the length of the engine's connecting rods. The influence of conrod length is real but often misunderstood, and by building a long-rod Mazda BP engine for Project Miata we have a platform to share some nerdy insights with you.
First, an anecdote. Years ago in a previous motorsports life, I asked the race director of a high-dollar OEM effort about his preferences regarding conrod length, specifically rod ratio. He, a seasoned veteran of many top-level engine programs, replied, "Rod ratio? Hell, pick your stroke, pick your deck height, then put the wrist pin as high in the piston as you can. The rod ratio ends up being whatever it is!"
Not a bad approach, it turns out.
February 16, 2012
Perhaps you're already a believer in the capability of the MX-5 platform. If not, the video after the jump should help. It shows a turbocharged first-generation Miata running at a pace similar to that of a Z06 Corvette. On the Nurburgring.
This guy's claim to fame is an 8-minute, 5--second Bridge-to-Ganrtry time. If you're not familiar, Bridge-to-Gantry timing is what's used on "tourist" days at the 'Ring, since on those days it's not possible to complete a lap without stopping to queue up at the gate. In other words, it's the most practical real-world measure of speed around the famous track. Check here and you'll see that this guy keeps some pretty good company.
Or just click through for the real fun.
February 03, 2012
It's been a lonnnng time since I've gotten behind the wheel of our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata but after seeing its empty dance card I had to take it out for some fresh air. And I'm glad I did. Jeepers, what a fun car! Even in traffic. So quick and zoomy. And here I was going on and on about what great city cars our Fiat 500 and Chevy Sonic are.
It's the Miata that can kick rush-hour traffic's ass thanks to its small size and the fact it has a bit more get-up-and-go than the other two cars*.
And it's only the Miata I wouldn't fear parking on Hollywood streets or anywhere for that matter. No shiny new paint to scuff and no eye-catching, never-been-seen-before appeal to draw attention to it. Hooray for beaters!
In fact, I even daydreamed about some day owning this car. It's the perfect single person's city car, especially for the likes of me who goes all over L.A., from the highly congested streets of Downtown to fun, curvy roads like Sunset Boulevard.... Only thing is I don't have anywhere to put my dog Mya.
* The Miata's 0-60 is 7.7 seconds while the Sonic's is 8.2 and the Fiat's is 10.4.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 134,877 miles
January 26, 2012
I put the key to our Miata back on the big board yesterday. My two-week stint is over. In hindsight, it was (as well as fir any other editor who drives it) a pretty sweet deal.
I got to blast around in a modified Miata that I didn't have to do anything for. No scouring ads and wasting time looking for a used Miata (OK, I've actually done that before; I owned a '97 Miata M Edition just like ours for a few years). No late nights, bleary eyed, reading stale Miata forum posts on the Internet. No wrenching on my own accord trying to install aftermarket parts that just don't quite fit, or fix things that are breaking/not working on a 15-year-old car.
Basically, it was like renting it for two weeks. Then I got to give it back with a list of a few nettlesome things that need attention.
So a tip of my hat to fellow editor Kavanagh, who's been the Miata's handler since inception. He's done a great job with this car.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
January 25, 2012
Our Miata is meant for snaking around tight corners or hitting up a racetrack. But it's also pretty good at highway travel(*) in the mountains. The supercharger gives it a nice boost in torque to climb grades with ease in fifth gear. And as the Miata's nimble and pretty easy to see out of, it's fun to nip through traffic and pass slower moving vehicles.
Though it's not a winter car you'd take to go skiing, summer recreation could certainly be on the docket.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
*This is not to say our Miata is comfortable on the highway. It's not. It's loud, buzzy, stiff-riding and probably not too far away from what I imagine it's like riding on an ox cart. But it's a first-generation Miata. What do you expect?
January 19, 2012
I can't claim credit for the title. I was driving the Miata today and saw it on a highway billboard advertising ham ($23.99, if I recall correctly). Seems like an odd title and location to sell ham. "Affordable Excellence!" -- a better fit might be the name of a canned soda drink in Japan.
More pertinent to this post, it describes the handling capabilities of our Miata. It don't know the total dollar amount of parts we've put into the car to date, but there's no doubt that the Miata's handling capabilities come about cheaper than any other long-term car we've had in the fleet.
Thanks to the current jet stream pattern, California is getting spring-like weather this winter(California 1, Alaska 0). Therefore it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of climate change and head out to one of my favored driving roads to see what the Miata could do.
Answer: Quite a lot.
Seriously, this thing is gonzo. I've driven many of our high performance long-term cars on this road (R8, M3, Evo and NSX come to mind), and the Miata is more than a match. I went around corners at speeds equal (or maybe even a little greater at times) than I did in those cars, and the Miata was thoroughly unruffled. I might as well been asking Usain Bolt to run the 100 meters in 20 seconds.
The steering is tight and direct; dial in just a bit and the Miata responds eagerly. There's massive grip, too, from the Hankook 225/45R15 tires. In all honestly, the limits here are really well beyond what I'd want to try and match on public roads. One could now argue about how it's more fun to drive a slow car fast rather than the other way around. I dunno, this was still a pretty fun automotive outing. I really do envy Jay since he got to do the track day back in July. This car on a tight racetrack would be a blast.
January 13, 2012
I'll be driving our Miata for the next two weeks. It's actually the first time I've been in it since we got it way back in November of 2010. I wanted to familiarize myself with all we've done (well, Jay's done) and when. So I looked at all our posts and cataloged the modifications. If you'd similarly like a recap, hit the jump.
It lives! The introduction to our green 1997, not to be confused with the white 1994. The suspension bits from the '94 were installed.
This was a big month. Jay removed the fabric top and installed the black hard top. The Miata also hit up the dyno, got a new Momo steering wheel and gained its upgraded wheel package, the 6UL wheels and Hankook Ventus RS-3 tires.
A Blackbird Fabworx six-point roll bar was installed.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
January 11, 2012
Previously, Project Miata would sit as editors didn't want to deal with its finicky belt. To recap, when you put a roll bar in a Miata the belt guides point more inward than usual. This has a couple of side effects that, in our case, were making the belt a hassle to deal with for most normal people.
Then the car just sat - we were slammed with other work, then the holidays happened, the dog ate my homework. Recently though, Blackbird Fabworx put a simple fix on the seatbelt guide (trimmed the plastic ear that was promoting belt foldage). I've driven it quite a bit and it seems to have done the trick.
By the way, the cooler temps of winter have perked up the car's poke. Feels like it pulls with a bit more enthusiasm these days. It's still got far more grip than grunt, though.
Speaking of which, we're making headway on the next phase of Project Miata's metamorphosis. The engine bits are coming together nicely, and before long Keegan Engineering will have their hands full. Will attempt to put together some tech pieces soon to explain in more depth the whats, whys and hows of the engine program.
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
November 29, 2011
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.
November 09, 2011
I spent a little time in Forza 4 the other night dialing out some of the rear-end twitchiness. Without any tuning, the back tires were prone to losing grip in an instant, which often led to some lap-killing tank-slappers.
Dialing out oversteer and rear-tire nervousness is fairly easy, and every generation of Forza allows for very detailed tweaks. In this first round, I simply reduced the spring rates and stiffness in the dampers and roll-bar. It made a world of difference.
I ran a few laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as a benchmark. After the rear suspension adjustments, I easily bested the baseline by four seconds. Feel free to grab the car from the Inside Line car club and run a few laps. Post your best time in the comments here and we'll see who tops the hot lap board. And yes, these are hot laps, not a standing start lap.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
November 02, 2011
I spent quite a bit of time (and Forza credits) bringing our stock Miata up to the level of our long-termer. I piled on the supercharger, suspension, wheels, tires and roll cage, taking care to approximate the real-life mods by Jay Kav. It's even green with a black hard top, but I can't distress the paint to match ours.
I think I'll need to go in and soften the rear suspension a bit, as it's entirely too squirrelly in every corner. In the 15 or so laps I turned, I could only muster a 1:26.773 on the Top Gear track. I'm convinced that once I fix the suspension, it'll drop another three seconds. Give it a shot, I'll re-tune the dampers in a week or so.
Also, to those who responded with their gamertags in the last Forza post, I'll send you a club invitation as soon as I get home tonight.
Thanks for Playing,
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
October 06, 2011
Project-wise, it's been pretty quiet around this little green tictac lately. Let's see, I changed Project Miata's oil last week. Thrilling. Oh yeah, the a/c stopped working temporarily until I replaced a blown condenser fan fuse (the higher current draw of the new fans are likely the factor here, but so far so good with the new fuse, which has lasted 10x longer than the old one). So exciting.
Blah blah blah. Time to turn the wick up on this project thing. I've been talking to some peeps and we've hashed out a plan. It involves dragging the Miata's BP engine into the 21st century in keeping with the car's dual purpose intent.
The idea is to maximize the area under the curve and to do it as reliably as possible. Also, to keep it real it has to be done on pump gas, and around here that means 91 octane. An LSx swap is certainly one valid approach to this, but the wholesale changes involved would result in perpetual downtime and too many extra pounds in the nose for my liking. Besides, I'm of the mind that there's life yet in the Mazda BP engine.
Making power on 91 then becomes an exercise in maximizing flow and managing the knock threshold. Decisions cascade from those notions. There's no hard power target, but 300 hp would be excessive so let's size things up around that and see what happens.
We'll start with the version of BP with the most potential -- the one that came in Miatas built from 2001 to 2005. Compared to the one in our '97, these later BPs had a better head and packed variable valve timing on the intake cam. VVT allows overlap to be dialed in when intake pressure is high relative to exhaust pressure, and then dialed out as exhaust manifold pressure rises. This broadens the powerband and staves off detonation.
Originally the VVT BP engines had high compression, something like 10:1. This is incompatible with 91 octane when we're talking about the kind of boost that will make Oldham happy. Also, the stock rods tend to fold like a map when pushed hard.
Since new reciprocating components are needed anyway, we're taking this opportunity to add a twist -- a long connecting rod layout. The required piston and rod geometries to achieve this are being worked up by JE Pistons and Mil-Spec, respectively. Keegan Engineering will mastermind the head specifications and engine assembly, an area that is deceptively critical for performance. Similarly, we're working with the big brains at Apex Speed Technology on engine management and tuning.
Then there's the happy spinny thing to be mounted in the exhaust necessary to achieve the required flow. I have ideas around this, though details are TBD.
Lots more to come, as some of these bits are already trickling in. Should be a fun ride.
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
September 01, 2011
That there is too much tire.
Our Miata isn't exactly what you'd call fast, and with so much grip, it's not exactly what I'd call fun. I don't need to be going really fast to have a lot of fun mind you, but I do like to slide and I really like to steer with the throttle - must be a holdover from my F-Body days.
The technique goes like this: slow the car down enough so it turns in, point the car at the apex, whack the throttle and exit the corner in an undramatic fashion. And while it can carry a fair amount of corner speed, it's just no fun around town.
If Hell freezes over and I get to drive this car on a track, I'm going to swap these meats out for our old 14-inch Direzza Star Specs and have some fun.
Of course, we could just add more power...
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 133,395 miles
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Curing The Overheating
August 30, 2011
Perhaps the most weaksauce portion of a first-generation Miata is its cooling system. Even stock, the fundamentally compromised cooling system layout can mean overheating in adverse climates. That, and a sweaty crotch.
If you then stick an intercooler and a heat exhanger for the supercharger's magic fluid in front of the radiator and make a bunch more power, well, you can guess how much that helps.
The best approach to licking Project Miata's overheating conundrum comprises many facets. Hit the jump.
August 23, 2011
Eighty-five degrees by late morning and a Miata with busted A/C. Damp shirt, ripe and shiny, by the time I finished with this shot. No, we don't have the humidity a lot of you readers deal with. But we have plenty of strong desert sun. Took about 10 minutes at 70 mph with both windows down to cool off. Apologies to my downwind neighbor Caroline here on the cube farm.
But not complaining. Kudos to Editor Jay for the improvements he's made to this car. With the new roll cage, the chassis feels tight and direct, as if it pivots around the shifter. Freeway travel is not near as punishing as I'd feared. The clutch also feels wonderfully slick now. Picks up first gear like a magnet.
My neighbor likes Project Miata. He's a young guy with an S2000 and a 2006 Evo. His wife drives their toddler around in the latter. He says it's a good family car. He praised Editor Jay's work, the cage install, and the Hankooks while practicing wheelies on his fixie. I woulda offered him a PBR, but was already late for the office.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
July 19, 2011
And here you thought this thread had ended. In a way, the adventure had only just begun.
First, please enjoy this idyllic photo of Project Miata parked rakishly on the side of a Carmel country road.
We'd done five sessions at Laguna Seca; the car had run like a top. Heck, it didn't even need to be refueled for the entire day. Miatas are great like that. No fuel slosh issues -- unlike in Dan's Exige -- that force you to keep the tank topped up. You can run that sucker full-bore on the track 'til it's literally almost dry and it won't sputter.
I know this because we run every stint in our LeMon this way. When it reaches 'E', you can still race for about 30-40 minutes before she sputters, at which point you back off and come in that lap to refuel. This kind of experience builds confidence, which can turn into overconfidence, which can bite you in the ass.
At the end of our track day Mike and I had planned on refueling our cars in Carmel on the other side of the Laureles Grade. Turns out the Laureles Grade is far longer and far steeper than I'd remembered from the other night, Carmel is two miles from the bottom of Laureles, and ... well, now I get to share that lovely lead photo with you. You're welcome.
July 15, 2011
[Photo courtesy Dan Gielas]
This is the beauty of dual-purpose cars. Drive up to the paddock, attend a rambling, hour-long driver's meeting, take a first guess at tire pressures, put on your helmet, forget to pee and then grid up.
I'd forgotten how easy this is. These days my track time is always served with a giant logistical pain in the ass -- these crapcan endurance races require trucks, trailers, spares, fuel cans, tools, driving gear, tech inspection, RVs, canopies, towing, mindless freeway slogs, hotels, costumes.
Here today, showing up and just... driving. Novel concept, that.
I'd already been trained to watch Project Miata's coolant temp gauge like someone afflicted with OCD. Fortunately, Laguna Seca's near sea level and this day is in the low 70s. Should be okay. I'll run the heater, of course.
Our run group is loaded with some serious hardware, most of them Porsches, and many of them race-prepped -- a couple 911 GT2s, Turbos, a Boxster Spyder, Caymans, older 911s, Dan's Exige, a C6 Z06 on Hoosiers, a Shelby Mustang GT/SC. Our Miata, driven to the track and still wearing street tires, ought to be more or less a chicane out there.
It's been a long time since I've been to this track so I warm up my brain in the first session, reacquainting myself with braking points, proper gear selection, etc. This is a great track, but it's sort of a power track. In this car the rhythm is interrupted by long stretches of accelerating mildly, making it more of a digital brake-turn-gas-wait sequence.
July 14, 2011
By the time we'd reached Highway 101 on our mountain-road-and-track trip, the ambient air temp had dropped considerably. I'd been able to use the throttle with impunity for the last several miles as a consequence, and we'd had a hell of a great drive so far, earlier near-overheating notwithstanding.
Carmel Valley Road was our final tarmac destination before turning in for the night. It was nightfall when we reached the turnoff for this road, a bumpy, tricky, tight mess of an unlit 23-mile stretch. I absolutely love it to pieces. But it's no place for some rickety 15-year old droptop.
Carmel Valley Road brings out the worst in a chassis. It has everything, sometimes all at once -- off-camber, broken pavement, scree-strewn, decreasing radius blind corners. If your car isn't right, this road will let you know about it in no uncertain terms. Insufficient travel, poorly valved dampers, mismatched spring rates? You'll hate this road. This is an Evo or WRX road.
And you know what? Project Miata swallowed up that bumpiness and fidgetiness while being driven as hard as the headlights would allow, maintaining its grip on the pavement with the security of an iron fist. No amount of pounding would upset it. It remained poised, communicative and inspired heaps of confidence. I'd been impressed with its bump compliance before, but this road is kind of an ultimate test. Project Miata is no Evo, but it's doing a far better job of emulating one here than a 15-year old droptop has any right to do. Gotta hand it to FatCat Motorsports, they know how to dial a suspension for this stuff, and that's not easy.
That suspension works even better now that Project Miata's chassis stiffness has been fortified by the GT3 6-point roll bar. I'll go so far as to say that the car has been transformed by its presence, with the brunt of the credit going to its door bars. Much of the secondary jitteriness the body shell had while traversing bumps is now gone; the whole thing drives more all-of-a-piece. It now goes down the road like a fundamentally much more serious and capable car.
There's more. Project Miata's ride quality is notably more supple due to the roll bar. Inputs from the road can actually be damped out by the suspension, rather than simply being transmitted to the previously noodly (and undamped) chassis. Whether increased chassis stiffness improves lap times is one of those endless internet debates, but consider this -- allowing the suspension to work better results in more uniform contact patch loading when traversing lumpy pavement. It also makes for a much more confidence-inspiring (and pleasant) drive. Confidence is speed.
One side effect of lowering a Miata (or any car, really) is bump steer, and Project Miata has exhibited it from the day we did exactly that. The bump steer was excessive at times on Carmel Valley Road. A million years ago I'd swapped in the longer tie rod ends from the R-package cars. A good start, but longer tie rod ends alone aren't really enough to quell the bump steer at the ride height Project Miata runs. I should fab some spacer shims to move the steering rack up. I probably won't.
Fun roads over, we turned up Laureles Grade and onto Highway 68 to find a hotel. Motel 6 only has smoking rooms available. Screw that. Days Inn it is. We'll rise with the sun (not really) and arrive at Laguna Seca in the morning, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (not really).
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
July 13, 2011
Remember a few weeks back I observed some pinging in Project Miata, and did the only thing I could which was to retard the ignition timing? Of course you do. It solved the ping, no doubt. No amount of flogging, flooring, or otherwise hooliganistic behavior will elicit that hamstring-jerking rattle of detonation.
Partially. Recall that retarding an engine's ignition timing means that more of the combustion event occurs while the hot, burning mess is escaping through the exhaust valves. This, in turn raises exhaust gas temperature (EGT).
Who cares, right? Your ass cares. Higher EGT means higher cylinder head temperatures, which places extra demand on the engine's cooling system. If your cooling system is in a Miata then it inherently sucks to begin with. A couple degrees of ignition retard alone aren't enough to send things into a tailspin, but throw an intercooler in front of the radiator and add hot weather and you've got a recipe for a swampy ass.
Which was precisely the situation I found myself in as we crept along in traffic, just before making the decision to bail on Highway 101. The ambient air was in the low 80s-degrees F, with some humidity. The needle of Project Miata's temperature gauge crept off its usual "11:30" position over to the 12:30 position, and if you've been a regular reader of Project Miata, you know that this is not a good sign. Immediately I shut off the aircon and entered a staredown contest with the temp gauge.
It recovered. But this didn't bode well. The weather at this point isn't nearly as hot as it will be later when climbing the Tejon Pass (a long, long grade that ascends to the high desert), nor as dry, nor is the air as thin here at 670 feet above sea level as it will be when we exit I-5 at Frazier Park (4600 feet). And a big chunk of the drive from that point is literally through the middle of the desert until we reach Highway 101, or about, oh, 140 miles.
To date Project Miata has seen loads of hard driving, but always in pre-summer conditions and always around sea level. The cooling system is in good nick; all ducting in place, t-stat functions normally, the radiator was replaced with one of those thicker stock replacement jobs shortly before we bought the car, the cap holds pressure and it's topped up with 60/40 water/glycol.
July 12, 2011
It was one of those trips I used to take monthly. My friends and I would pack up our cars with tools, various spares, a helmet and a set of R-compound tires and then hit some of the best driving roads in California on our way to a track day. Being in southern California, we're blessed to have several road courses within easy striking distance.
We'd drive hard, compare notes, tell lies, talk smack, joke around, eat bad track food, discuss the nuances of our digestive tracts. Sometimes there would be mechanical drama along the way. But it was always fun.
Somehow along the way these trips dwindled into annual events, maybe. Life got in the way. Racing, too, as competing in a half-dozen or more crapcan endurance races a year leaves little time (or desire) for hotlapping days.
When the last-minute call for a track day at Laguna Seca came in, my gang of fools decided we were long overdue for such a trip. The road beckoned.
We mapped out a route that had us taking 101 North and then picking up Route 33 in Ojai, across Route 58 back to Highway 101, and then jumping off at Carmel Valley Road, which spits us out nearly at Laguna Seca's front gate. If you've ever driven these roads, you know how badass they are. If not, well, they're badass.
Mike has his '99 Miata, and Dan's got a Lotus Exige that wears R-compounds exclusively. As for me, Project Miata's dual-purpose intent makes it ideal for such badassery. It's got the right balance of compliance and control and comfort and capability to swallow bumpy, broken roads and smooth track tarmac in equal measure. With only some minor wrench-turning before the trip, I could roll up to the track and not have to change a single tire or brake pad the entire time.
First a brake bleed, then pads. Its Stoptech 309 brake pads are some of the best pads I've encountered for hard street driving and day-to-day livability. I even use them on our championship-winning Eyesore Racing FrankenMiata LeMons race car, where they've shone.
Our green wine-and-cheese-mobile is heavier than the FrankenMiata, though, and doesn't have anything approaching that car's advanced brake cooling scheme which consists of deleted bodywork. For Project Miata I wanted pads with a higher maximum operating temperature to withstand track use, but still have enough thermal range to work on the road to and from the track.
A last-minute call to Cobalt Friction Technologies landed a pair of XR3 front pads on my doorstep. Normally they'd match these with XR5 rear pads on a Miata such as this, but they were fresh out of XR5s. Still, the XR3s have similar-enough torque output to the existing rear pads that there won't be any brake bias issues.
July 04, 2011
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.
July 01, 2011
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.
June 28, 2011
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 doesnt 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.
May 31, 2011
Until this past weekend, it'd been weeks since I had last driven Project Miata, our longterm 1997 Mazda Miata. I'd almost forgotten how much I like it. Man this car is fun.
Yeah, it's got some rattles and the Oldham seat mod doesn't work for my posterior, either. But this car is just so danged sharp, predictable and light. Its combination of select aftermarket hardware and inherent goodness is formidable.
Take two theoretical cars of identical power-to-weight ratio. They may have the same potential on paper, but you simply cannot synthesize what lightness does for the driving experience. Unless something went horrifically wrong in the transition from theory to reality, the lighter car will be more rewarding to drive. Not to mention easier on tires, brakes, etc...
Speaking of light weight, I have one regret regarding our Flyin' Miata lightweight flywheel.
I should have opted for their even-lighter 10-pound one. See, the improvement in throttle-blippiness (you can quote me on that) during gearchanges provided by our 13.5-pound FM flywheel is addictive. Some lightness is good, so more lightness would provide even better blippiness, right?
On the plus side, there's only a little bit of gear rattle (a benign side effect of lightweight flywheels) with this flywheel compared to stock, whereas an even-lighter one will result in more noise. But, yeah, if I were to do it over I'd trade a bit more gear rattle for more snappiness. You guys were right.
The Flyin' Miata Level 1 clutch, in the meantime, is so similar to stock effort that none of the other editors have even noticed that it's been changed. It really is impressive. Maybe someday we'll have to test its claim of holding 318 lb-ft.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
May 29, 2011
Lately, if you give Project Miata a proper dose of throttle after it has had a good long heatsoak in, say, LA traffic, it'll ping. Not just one sporadic event, but several pings scattered through the midrange and up into the red.
When you hear detonation in a car like this, you should back off the throttle, stat. This is how I'm wired, but in this particular instance I had to grit my teeth and stay in it for the duration of the gear.
I did what I could to remedy the ping once I returned home.
I used this:
May 27, 2011
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
May 20, 2011
Thanks to the broad power band the Kraftwerks supercharger affords our Miata, downshifting isn't nearly as necessary as it used to be, but I'll be damned if I don't like to do it anyway. It was fun before the we swapped in our Flyin' Miata clutch and flywheel, but now, now it just gets me all giggly.
It does take me a few shifts to adapt to the nature of this engine, especially since my own cars don't have such light flywheels, but once I do, up shifting, and especially downshifting, become second nature. It makes me feel like I actually know what I'm doing. That alone is worth whatever we paid for the parts, in spades.
I'm going to have to buy Mr. Kavanagh an ice cream sandwich. With bacon.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 131,214 miles
May 18, 2011
If those wheels were Cragars and the Miata was a Nova, it would be 1979. It would also mean that my pants would be polyester, I would have a combover and a frightening mustache. Never mind.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 131,156 miles
April 26, 2011
Whew! It's been a hectic couple of weeks here in the gilded halls of IL, and posting the acceleration testing results of Project Miata's Kraftwerks-supercharged ways has been lurking conspicuously on my to-do list.
Okay, excuses are over. Across the jump is what you came here to see.
Now that it's got a solid Flyin' Miata clutch and flywheel -- and it's really quite remarkable in its similarity to stock pedal feel -- we were able to launch this puppy for real. Unlike when we tested it with the tired stock clutch, this time Project Miata could actually get out of the hole. See digits below.
Also, we re-tested the handling just for yuks. 1.03g in the house.
And no, that's not Project Miata in the lead shot. But it's pretty awesome, is it not? There are a few more shots of it here, but no information unfortunately.
(If you want a reminder of what a stock first-gen Miata with average miles can do nowadays, amuse yourself with our old white car's baseline performance test results. Hilarity will ensue.)
Vehicle: 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Driver: Chris Walton
Drive Type: Rear-wheel drive
Transmission Type: Five-speed manual
Engine Type: Supercharged and intercooled inline-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in): 1,839/112
Redline (rpm): 7,200
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 173 @ 6,900 (Dynojet chassis dyno)
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 141 @ 5,900 (Dynojet chassis dyno)
Brake Type (front): 10.0-inch one-piece ventilated cast-iron discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Brake Type (rear): 9.9-inch one-piece solid cast-iron discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Steering System: Hydraulic-assist rack-and-pinion power steering
Suspension Type (front): Double wishbones, FatCat Motorsports adjustable ride-height coilovers with coil springs and monotube dampers, Racing Beat hollow stabilizer bar and 949Racing endlinks
Suspension Type (rear): Double wishbones, FatCat Motorsports adjustable ride-height coilovers with coil springs and monotube dampers, 949Racing endlinks
Tire Size (front and rear): 225/45ZR15 87W
Tire Brand: Hankook
Tire Model: Ventus R-S3
Tire Type: Summer
Wheel Size: 15-by-9 inches front and rear 949Racing 6UL
Wheel Material (front/rear): Aluminum
As Tested Curb Weight (lb): 2,342
0 - 30 (sec): 2.4
0 - 45 (sec): 4.4
0 - 60 (sec): 7.1
0 - 60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 6.8
0 - 75 (sec): 10.1
1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 15.0 @ 92.0
Slalom (mph): 71.6
Skid Pad Lateral Acceleration (g): 1.03
Acceleration: A little tricky to launch because of the sticky tires and torque-challenged engine. Here's the deal -- it's now possible to break the tires free, but the engine cannot maintain the wheelspin and bogs down hard. Finally using some of that new clutch, I maintained spin beyond the bogging point and kept revs up. Voila. But there's a problem -- that "mystery gear" between 3rd and 5th where the gear lever definitely finds "home" but no actual gear. Did this several times in a row (also did a 2-5 upshift!) before actually finding third gear.
Handling: Skidpad: As before, breathtaking grip, unbelievable poise and adjustability and maybe, just maybe, scooping out the seat lowered the center of gravity, earning it 0.02g more than before.
Slalom: As before, the car hits the rev limiter in 3rd gear -- requires 4th and it is tempting to go in too hot, slide controllably (and have a great time doing so), however the quickest run was "slow-in, fast-out" to maintain all four tires' grip throughout the run. So freakin' capable, confident and fun!
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
March 31, 2011
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.
March 30, 2011
It was a few upgrades ago that I last drove our long-term 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata -- last time it didn't have the wheels/tires, the new clutch, the Momo steering wheel or the "lowered" seat. All this stuff had an immediate effect on my driving yesterday, as I adopted a more run-and-gun style without even thinking about it, making even my routine errands on LA's west side exciting.
The new clutch makes it so much easier to enjoy the Kraftwerks supercharger kit for the simple and obvious reason that you can run through the gears more quickly and with less left-foot deliberation. Now, Project Miata's neat combination of torque and grip is undeniable.
All Miatas, well, at least all first-generation Miatas, feel direct in their reactions to throttle and steering input. But the green '97 project car feels sharp and precise in its responses, too. You turn the wheel, it responds, and goes through the corner with no body roll. Its reflexes, combined with its lowness to the ground, combined with the atmospheric Momo wheel, make me feel a bit like I'm driving to the dentist in a racecar. How can my life be this good?
Somehow, too, the ride quality is better than I remember it being on the '94 white Miata when it had the wheels and the Hankook Ventus. Maybe I'm just less of a whiner now, but really, our '97 is very compliant, except over gnarly seams in the road. I may have to see what JayKav has planned for this car once it cycles out of the fleet.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 130,232 miles
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Flyin' Miata Clutch And Flywheel
March 22, 2011
After Project Miata's tired stock clutch scuppered our plans to run acceleration testing, it steadily worsened. We needed a solution, so we tapped the fine folks at Flyin' Miata, the universe's single largest player dedicated to the Miata aftermarket.
Hit the jump.
March 15, 2011
Perspective. That's something I neglected to include with Project Miata's most recent round of performance testing.
Like, for example, how it measures up in terms of outright grip.
Beyond the jump is a list of the top fifteen grippiest cars we've tested in the past four years. The results might surprise you.
Lat. Accel (g) Model
1.02 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
1.01 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata; Project Miata
1.00 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
0.99 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder
0.99 2010 Porsche 911 GT3
0.99 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
0.99 2008 Porsche 911 GT2
0.97 2011 Audi R8 5.2 quattro Spyder
0.97 2011 Ford Shelby GT500
0.97 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo
0.96 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera S Convertible
0.96 2010 Chevrolet Corvette GS Coupe
0.96 2010 Porsche Panamera 4S
0.96 2009 Nissan GT-R Premium
0.96 2008 Lotus Elise SC
Note that the Porsche GT2 and GT3 use R-compound tires. Project Miata is on traditional street tires.
Also, we've had a few cars produce higher numbers at a facility other than our usual testing site -- for example a ZR1 that produced 1.10 g and a GT-R Spec V that turned 1.11g. The list above shows new production cars all tested at the same site.
Now For Some Geeky Background On The Skid Pad
We use a 200-foot diameter skid pad. It's flat asphalt. It's not perfect -- there are paint lines and probably some seam sealer here and there on the surface -- but it is consistent. Surface temperatures, too, don't vary much. You won't see 30-degree temperature swings; Southern California is good like that.
Every car is run clockwise and then counter-clockwise, timed, and the results averaged. This always results in a less-impressive result than the instantaneous grip most tires are capable of briefly generating.
Often, the first run in each direction is the quickest. Subsequent orbits usually suffer since the heat liberated at the tire-road interface adversely affects their grip. It's rare to have to make more than two runs in each direction, and that's with alternating the direction each time to keep the tire temperatures in check.
The driver keeps the inside tire on the line all the way around the skid pad, and the "lap" time is measured. We use 103-foot radius for calculation purposes as that's roughly where the centerline of each car is located as it arcs around.
All cars, including Project Miata's most recent test, are tested with a full tank of fuel and all ancillary equipment in place unless specified otherwise. That includes a jack and spare tire or tire inflator kit, blowup doll or what have you.
More Grip? For Reals?
Project Miata could be set to a lower ride height and likely generate even more grip. However, this would eat into its street livability -- its current ride height of 4.75" front and 5.00" rear as measured at the pinch rails is about a half-inch higher than what you'd want on the track, and this, in turn, limits the amount of front camber that can dialed in. As it sits today Project Miata has -2.1 degrees front and -1.9 degrees rear camber.
Gaining additional negative camber while retaining the current ride height (which I like) would require offset control arm bushings. Perhaps a project for another day.
Also, a diet wouldn't hurt. For the car, I mean -- I'm a wall of muscle. A 2,344-pound first generation Miata like this one is something of a plumper in the context of track-driven examples. Some targeted weight reduction is in order, I'd say, keeping in mind that it's a dual-purpose car. Meaning the a/c stays.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 130,xxx miles.
March 08, 2011
Sometimes, things just don't go as planned. The goal was to run acceleration, braking and handling numbers on Project Miata, our 1997 Mazda Miata, now that it's been infused with a Kraftwerks supercharger kit and meaty 6UL shoes.
Two out of three ain't bad.
February 22, 2011
It's funny to think that 15-inch wheels can be larger than what was on Project Miata, our longterm 1997 Mazda Miata, up to this point. Yet the 949Racing 6ULs are one inch larger in diameter and a full three inches wider.
February 14, 2011
Okay, not quite perfection, but pretty damn close. If you aren't familiar with Palomar Mountain's South Grade, this 7-mile stretch of serpentine asphalt in southern California (comprised of largely tight, decreasing radius turns) rises to about 5,500 feet. On the weekends it's a sportbike playland.
But the Project Miata proved its combo of light weight, reasonable-enough supercharged power and phenomenal grip make for one sleeper of a sports car (doubly so because the tires never squeal, unless you hit a patch of painted line). You have to really work to get this car loose, and when you do (usually with a bit of power-on oversteer, but occasionally also under hard braking while entering a turn) it's so well balanced and forgiving that it's easy to catch.
It could definitely use a bit more torque to make those oversteer moments more accessible. But it's truly remarkable just how stuck this Miata is to the road simply via stiffer suspension, a lower ride height and sticky (albeit wimpily-sized, at 185/60R14) Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 summer tires.
You'll never be wowed by the power from the supercharger up a hill like Palomar, that's for sure, but Project Miata isn't wheezy like a stock Miata. And the "whoosh" from the bypass valve with each upshift adds to the car's flavor.
February 10, 2011
We got the Project Miata aligned yesterday. Although eventually we'll be stuffing bigger wheels and tires under the Miata's fenders, the '97 hadn't been aligned since Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh swapped over the suspension bits from the '94. So it needed to be done.
Jeff, the tech over at Stokes Tire Pros, was cool and did his best to get the Miata to the camber, caster and toe specs requested by JayKav.
February 08, 2011
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
February 04, 2011
Damn, this 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata is so much fun to drive. The above video (warning: turn sound off) of Project Miata editor JayKav's 24 Hours of Lemons racecar in last year's Thunderhill race is the closest way I can convey what it feels like to drive this long-termer. (Yes, there is a turbocharged Miata underneath that Enterprise disk.)
Our Miata's quickness and nimbleness make it really easy to just get around all the slow pokes on the city streets. And I credit its ability to jump in front of other motorists without offending them due to its low-to-the-groundness and diminutive stature. Now, if I pulled that same maneuver in a larger car, like a Honda Civic, I know for a fact it would incite road rage.
As it is, the Miata flies below most everyone's eyeline and disappears before it even occurs to the other motorist that someone (me) got around them. But although it's a blast to drive in the daytime because of that, I find it kinda dicey at night for the same reason. This is compounded by the fact that the huuuge headlights really aren't all that great.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor
January 28, 2011
Just had my first drive in the now-supercharged Miata, and color me impressed. The extra power makes the little Miata far more exciting to drive, and it gives us a much better chance against unsuspecting Honda S2000s in stoplight races.
What's more, the 60 extra ponies come with zero reduction in drivability; just plenty of smooth, linear power from throttle tip-in to redline. Well done, Kraftwerks.
One thing that is noticeable is a constant (but mild) whooshing of air from the bypass valve whenever you're off the throttle or at steady-state light throttle on the highway. It's only slightly annoying (honestly), and quite often it's drowned out by the thrum of the tires anyway. The sound goes away when you get on the throttle, replaced by the music of a now-robust four-cylinder that loves to rev, with a small whoosh from the bypass valve with each shift.
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Momo Wheel Gory Details
January 26, 2011
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.
January 25, 2011
You've seen Project Miata's baseline output numbers. To recap, there were two sets of baseline dyno data since the car's cam timing was off when we bought it. Blame the primates. Once the cams were set to stock and the car's health confirmed, we forged ahead with the installation of the Kraftwerks supercharger kit in confidence.
This situation precluded measuring the car's real, actual, proper baseline output on our usual dyno -- MD Automotive's Dynojet. We've built a large library of dyno runs for dozens of cars on this dyno, and I try to be scrupulous about capturing each change here so that we can compare to other cars we've run. I had the foresight to run a baseline dyno test on the Dynojet, but that was when the cam timing was unknowingly jacked up.
In this quandary I saw opportunity. We can turn this frown upside down and quantify the differences between three dynos. Yes, three -- along with Kraftwerks' Superflow dyno and MD Automotive's Dynojet, I ran the now-supercharged car on Church Automotive Testing's Dynapack dyno.
Jump with me.
January 24, 2011
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
January 13, 2011
I was spoiled by our third-generation long-term 2006 Miata, whose neatly packaged trunk would accept rollaboard bags. I know Caroline fit one in here, but not so for my heavyweight 24-incher. Ah, nevermind. With my passenger loaded, I drove off and my thoughts immediately turned to Project Miata's supercharger installation.
What tractable power the blown 1.8-liter delivers at low rpm. The car accelerates smoothly off idle and gets stronger and more exciting as rpm build -- and it all happens without a hitch. No random stalling, no stumbling, no burping, no snorting, no strange odors. If I didn't know better, I'd think this '97 Miata came this way from the factory.
And honestly, I wouldn't mind if that was the case. If all Miatas were this quick and this easy to drive, Mazda would probably sell a few more.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor
December 23, 2010
I took the opportunity recently to flush out Project Miata's fluids of unknown provenance and install a set of Stoptech braided stainless brake lines. For the geeky deets, hit the jump.
Gear Oil Gotchas
Be careful when choosing gear oil. It is categorized into different performance classes, known as API Categories. Mazda specifies API GL-4 for the Miata transmission. But, hey, check out this API GL-5 stuff. Bigger is better, so GL-5 must be one number better than GL-4, right? Wrong.
GL-5 oils have much higher concentrations of extreme pressure additives that make them suitable for use with the low speeds and high torque levels experienced by the ring and pinion in your differential. This sounds like the hot setup for the manual gearbox behind a highly modified engine, except that GL-5 oils lack the friction modifiers needed for the gearbox's synchros to operate correctly. Simply put, using a GL-5 oil in the Miata's gearbox will eventually turn the synchros into Captain Crunch.
Some modern manual gearboxes however can live happily with GL-5. Your owner's manual will tell you.
Redline MT-90 is GL-4 oil. It's synthetic, so it ought to tolerate higher temperatures better than non-synth stuff. Same goes for the Redline GL-5 gear oil I spurted into the diff. Both are 75W90 viscosity, same as the OEM specifications. The conventional wisdom that 'thicker is better' for performance cars really doesn't hold much weight (har har) with respect to modern oil formulations.
Stoptech Braided Stainless Brake Lines
It's true that braided stainless steel brake lines expand much less than the stock rubber ones and that this translates into better brake pedal feel. However, replacing the brake lines in Project Miata is as much about safety as it is performance. Brake lines do fail, and the older they are the more prone they are to degradation.
The car has 127k miles, and the original brake lines have lost much of their original compliance. The last thing I want is for some crusty old stock rubber brake line to spring a leak in the braking zone of turn two at Laguna Seca. Enter Stoptech stainless steel brake lines.
Stoptech's brake lines are a PTFE inner sleeve surrounded by a snug-fitting stainless steel braided sheath that resists the expansion caused high brake line pressures. Atop the braiding is a clear plastic coating that prevents the stainless braid from chewing through anything it comes in contact with (if the line rubs anything on the suspension then they're been installed incorrectly anyway).
At the ends of each line is a hefty strain relief and plated steel fittings and new copper crush washers for the banjo fittings. All robust-looking stuff. The Stoptech lines are DOT-compliant, too, each line being subjected to a 4500 psi leak test before being packaged up. The only thing that's missing from the Stoptech lines is an orientation tab on the fitting at the caliper end (the stock ones have this), so you just have to take some care to ensure you've aligned the fitting properly before and after torquing the banjo bolt. No big deal at all.
During threshold braking, Miata brakes have a tendency to be difficult unlock once you've locked one up (exacerbated by too much front brake bias, particularly in the early cars sans ABS). This is due to compliance elsewhere in the system -- flexy calipers are the likely culprit. The stainless lines won't cure it, but they will reduce a bit of that hysteresis in addition to the peace of mind they provide.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
December 13, 2010
What you see above is a peek into Oscar Jackson's brain. That little restrictor pill is an example of the persnickety-ness built into the Kraftwerks supercharger kit in Project Miata, our longterm 1997 Mazda Miata.
I'll spare you an excruciating step by step installation process since Kraftwerks includes instructions far more comprehensive than I could (or would) write here. Instead, here are a few details that illustrate the gray matter behind the Kraftwerks kit.
December 09, 2010
When it comes to modifying cars that are well-seasoned like Project Miata, our 125k-mile longterm 1997 Mazda Miata, it helps to begin at the beginning. Go back to basics.
Oscar Jackson, owner of Kraftwerks Performance Group, had reminded me of this before we even met in person to install the company's Rotrex supercharger kit. I made a mental note of it. Thing is, my memory is spongelike -- a few things soak in but there are a lot of holes.
November 24, 2010
In 1994, Mazda introduced that nadir of Miata-ness, the special edition M-Edition, which persisted like a lingering sore through the '97 model year at which point Mazda mercifully euthanised the concept.
Essentially loaded Miatas with different paint, trim and hideous chrome wheels, the M-Edition was that shameless money-grab by automakers -- the badge and sticker job. M-Editions were the poodle chariots of Miatas. The wine-and-cheese version. They were given names like Fifi by the kind of people that name their cars.
They're also a goldmine for hardcore Miata enthusiasts.
If you're befuddled, good. And I swear I'll tie this in to Project Miata, but you'll have to hit the jump first.
Being loaded, all M-Editions packing a manual gearbox also came equipped with a Torsen limited-slip differential. Meaning that unlike other trim levels, there are no questions or guesswork when you find one for sale in the classifieds or craigslist -- stick equals Torsen.
And being the range-topping frilly-frill version, M-Editions tended to be bought by affluent (read: older) buyers that maintained their cars well and drove them only as hard as they needed to get to bingo night on time.