THE BEST SELLING OPEN-TOP SPORTS CAR OF ALL TIME
By Al Khoury
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You may subscribe to the old gearhead adage “There’s no replacement for displacement,” but for many track addicts it is about more than cubic inches. A car with good balance, handling, and weight has a feel that cannot be matched. Anybody can drive a fast car around a track but it takes skill to push a car to its limits.
In 1989, Mazda brought back the lightweight, front-engined, rear-wheel drive roadster in the form of the MX-5 Miata. The car was designed with the Japanese philosophy of Jinba Ittai, or the oneness between a horse and rider. Still not a believer? On April 24, 2016 the one millionth MX-5 Miata rolled off the assembly line in Hiroshima, Japan. The Miata is the bestselling open-top sports car of all time.
The Miata has been through four generations, beginning with the NA and continuing with the current ND. The NA was introduced in North America as the MX-5 Miata (Eunos Miata in Japan) for the 1990 model year. With its classic, clean styling and a base price of about $14,000, the little roadster was an instant hit.
The first Miata was powered by a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced 116 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque. The standard five-speed manual transmission was designed for easy short shifts to harken back to the simple pleasure of driving. The Miata could hit 60 miles per hour from a standstill in under nine seconds and go on to a top speed of 116 mph.
Price and weight were kept down with standard 14-inch steel wheels, manual soft top, manual steering, and roll-up windows. Cast aluminum wheels, stereo system, power steering, removable hard top, and air-conditioning were optional extras.
The first base Miata weighed in at 2,182 pounds with a 50/50 weight distribution over the front and rear wheels. Indeed, the Miata has been compared to the short-lived and revered Honda S2000, a vehicle with similar aspirations and a favorite in the Oloi garage.
We head into summer with Wyman Lu’s 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata. He bought the car from a coworker about 10 years ago with 110,000 miles on the clock. The factory color was Crystal White with a black interior. The odometer currently reads 140,000 miles.
Wyman bought the Miata with the sole intention to modify it for the track. Wyman averages 1-2 trips to the track per month with his Miata since last year. It is not street legal.
“This is my first fully-tracked car,” Wyman told Oloi. “I worked on it myself. This was also my first time building an engine.”
The car had some downtime after Wyman took ownership, having had its engine blown in short order. It was lightly modified with a turbo from the previous owner. Wyman bought two more Miatas to play with on the track while he rebuilt the engine for his first one and took on major modifications.
Wyman has disclosed his ultimate goal for the Miata to his friend Thomas Lee, founder of Oloi: “I have another engine fully built, assembled, and modded with an upgraded turbo. Pretty much everything is new. The engine is sitting next to it ready to drop in.”
The new 1.8-liter engine can easily produce 300 horsepower and is capable of 400, but Wyman does not want to put too much strain on it.
“I don’t want to drop it in yet because I want to try to blow the 1.6 engine first,” Wyman laughed. “I want to see how much juice I can get out of it.”
Wyman took automotive night classes to learn how to rebuild engines and work on his cars. He started with the stock motor, adding Manley H-beam rods, Wiseco pistons, ACL bearings, and Supertech valves.
The Greddy turbo kit features a custom intercooler. Wyman added a Flyin’ Miata oil cooler kit, BEGi downpipe, Mazda RX-7 550cc injectors, DW200 fuel pump with Fuelab fire pressure regulator, MegaSquirt 2 standalone engine management system, Mishimoto 3-row radiator with M-Tuned coolant reroute kit, Racing Beat mid-pipe, and Apexi exhaust.
The mad Miata’s drivetrain has been fitted with a performance ACT clutch, Xida racing suspension, 4.1 gear ratio, Miata NA8 torsen limited-slip differential, StopTech front and rear Big Brake Kit with Singular 3-inch break duct kit, Flyin’ Miata sway bar kit, and Konig 15x9.5 wheels with Nankang AR-1 245 tires.
On the outside the Miata has Singular hood louvers, Garage Vary front canards, custom Alumalite splitter, RSpeed side skirts, 9Lives Racing GT wing, CCP Fabrication hardtop. All this is topped off with a Nardo Gray wrap.
The 1.8-liter NB2 engine lies patiently in wait with Manley H-beam robs, Wiseco pistons, King racing bearings, Cometic head gasket, ARP studs, Supertech dual valve spring kit, Boundary billet stage 2 oil pump, 4-shim kit, Maruha oil pan baffle, Fluidampr damper with 36-2 trigger wheel, Skunk 2 Ultra intake manifold with 64mm throttle body, Injectors Dynamic 1000cc injector, Radium fuel rail, FlowForce LS Ignition coil kit, MegaSquirt 3 Pro standalone EMS, and a Borg-Warner EFR turbo with a Kraken 3-inch turbo builder kit.
The new drivetrain packs an ACT 6-pad clutch, NB2 6-speed transmission, 3.9 gear ratio, and OS Giken LSD.
“It is much easier to make power from a car than it is to reduce weight,” Wyman said. “I chose this car because it is already light. It is all about handling. It may be slow on a straight but it is fast in the corner. It is pretty friendly pricewise and it is a great track car for beginners. It’s raw and makes a lot of noise. It’s not slow and it handles very well.”
Parts are also relatively easy to get for the 30-year old Miata.
“There is a lot of aftermarket support for the Miata,” Wyman said. “People still CNC and make parts for this car. I don’t see as many choices for my [Nissan] 240.”
Wyman’s collection includes a “super clean” 1992 Nissan S13 240 and a 2003 Nissan 350Z track car with an LS motor and rollcage. His daily is a 2004 BMW E46 M3.
Wyman is holding onto this Miata, considering all the work he has done and what he has planned for its future.
“I have a lot of memories with this car,” Wyman said. “It’s my first track car. I learned a lot with it – welding and how to build a high-performance engine and roll cage. I learned everything on this car.”