We’ve seen a lot of different V-8 engines swaps into Miatas over the past few years and covered many of them in posts here. We’ve seen neat swaps performed by individual builders, but we’ve also seen poorly executed swaps and outright hack jobs. Last night at the Cobb Tuning First Thursday car show in Austin TX, we saw the cleanest V-8 Miata that we’ve encountered to date. Built by Flyin’ Miata themselves – note the brass badge on the radiator support. As close to “factory” as it gets, and it looks it.
But here’s one more feature of this particular swap that we really liked. Note the original Corvette intake tract. Besides being neat and efficient, it also keeps the air intake away from the hot engine compartment. Which is a major problem with all the other Miata swaps we’ve seen, where the open air filter is usually just behind a headlamp, just inches away from the exhaust manifold. And sometimes behind the shock tower, up against the engine firewall. Not smart: it’s not going to work in hot traffic, and even at speed the engine will still be ingesting extra-hot air. This approach is far better.
Every month we miss getting our Best Motoring DVD from Japan since it’s demise last year. We’d been watching Best Motoring almost since the start, and have spent uncounted thousands importing the videos directly from Japan. We thought we’d seen the last of their famous track comparisons – known as a “battle”, where Keiichi Tsuchiya and his fellow drivers pit the latest and greatest Japanese cars against each other on the track. And we especially miss Motoharu Kurosawa (nicknamed “Gan-san”) as the senior driver and editor.
But now Tsuchiya, Hattori, and Kinoshita are back (along with - to Western ears - an over-enthusiastic announcer), not as Best Motoring, and not on their usual track. The new series is known as “Best Motor TV” (BMTV) and it’s not as ambitious (or widely available) as Best Motoring, but hopefully it is a start. We are very happy to see them again, thanks to Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV).
This time the battle pits the Toyota 86 (Toyota GT 86 to the Europeans, and “Scion FR-S” thanks to the half-wits in Toyota USA marketing) against the Subaru BRZ and the latest Mazda Miata on the Twin Ring Motegi (ツインリンクもてぎ or Tsuin Rinku Motegi). And not to give it away, but as anybody would know anyway, the Miata looses big time. 2.6 seconds per lap. Last place. By far.
Unfortunately, an S2000 wasn’t entered in the battle – and that’s what we would really liked to have seen, given that we own both a late-model Miata (“NC”, with the handling suspension package) and an S2000.
And we’ll give an opinion as an owner and 30 year track rat: the current Miata with the optional handling package is too soft and too slow. In stock form its just a lousy track car. You can see it in the video when it is rolling over onto it’s bump stops in some of the turns. And the engine is nothing special… just an inherited and rather dull Ford Duratec with minimal differences. And the seats have no support.
All of these issues are critical differences between the Miata and the Toyota 86/BRZ/FR-S triplets – things that the Subaru and Toyota product planners and engineers very clearly understood would be required in a serious sportscar.
Yes, Mazda has more cars on more tracks on any given weekend, and a track-prepared Miata would have done well. But the major difference is that the 86/BRZ/FR-S has a much better base to begin with, thanks to the better vision of its product and engineering teams. And the S2000 even more so thanks to its fabulous engine. Rumors of an upcoming all-new Miata with an even smaller engine and even less interior space just support the fact that the days of the Miata as the ”definition” of a classic sportscar are long over. Subaru/Toyota will just continue to improve their own product, a forced induction engine is on the way, the Japanese aftermarket is already providing modification parts, and the same new chassis may even appear underneath a small sports sedan in the coming years.
This is momentum, which Miata has lost.
Test: Twin Ring Motegi laps
In the classic Best Motoring format, the slower car (Miata) gets a head start.
Test: 0-400 meter acceleration.
The acceleration test is much closer, although the triplets still win. You can see the differences in power-to-weight ratio (and they are provided in the first video).
We’ve seen many V-8 Miata engine swaps, as well as I-4 and V-6 swaps. This one is the king of them all: 2 (two!) V-8 engines, inline, and slaved together. You might call it a V-16, although technically it’s not.
In the video you’ll note that, unfortunately, this is one Miata that is not suited to the autocross course :-)
The V-16 Miata was built by one Tony Hair, who used two relatively cheap “Chevy 350″ engines. Why would anybody build such a thing? Answer: just ’cause. In the world of engine swaps, the question “why” is never asked. Once completed, some might call this the “ultimate” Miata. Keep in mind that as soon as something like this is built, somebody, somewhere, is going to start planning something even more outrageous. That is what the engine swap hobby is all about.
How little is too little? Would you be interested in a Miata that weighs 720 pounds less than the current car?
That means a 1760 pound Miata, with a micro motor to match.
The first gen Miata (NA), built to very different safety standards than we have today, weighed in at approximate 2200 pounds.
The current Miata (NC) is larger, but also meets or exceeds the current safety standards and has considerably improved structural integrity that pays off in both safety and chassis dynamics.
Extensive engineering design work was performed to ensure the new NC Miata would be as light as possible. We have cut-away images from the Mazda press preview showing the bare body from different perspectives to illustrate this. Look at the underside of the aluminum hood, for example. The dimpling and stamped holes save considerable weight.
So it’s very hard to believe that significant weight could be taken out of this car without also reducing it’s size prohibitively.
We’ll have to say, as a 6′ tall current Miata owner, that this is going too far.
When an Editor of Evo Magazine, probably the most respected magazine in Europe for driving enthusiasts, says the Miata is s***, he is playing with fire. Legions of Miata fans will take issue with his statement.
Chris Harris titled his article “The Mazda MX-5 is Pants (Ducks)”. We didn’t know what that meant until we read further into the article and saw his exact meaning.
He claims the Miata is not “exciting”… that it’s not a sportscar except in the most outward of specifications. That it’s softly sprung and has a terrible driving position. Compared to the typical cars that Evo tests, it’s all true. But he misses the entire point of the Miata: it’s meant to be a pure sports car, not an extreme example of engineering for a even more narrow slice of the market. Mazda is just not in business to make their own GT3 or Lambo supercar type of statement.
The Miata has always been about purity and simplicity, and early reports on the upcoming next generation point to even more of the same, with even less weight and more economical motors. Bottom line is that 900,000 buyers wholeheartedly agree with a formula that has been phenomenally successful.
We do however have to ask ourselves if this is all that Mazda is capable of… once there was a MazdaSpeed Miata, detuned to only 178 HP for a chassis that was by their own words capable of 250. Many of us liked that torquey engine… some people modified it to the mid-200s or even 300 HP.
Autoweek told us in August 2007 that the Miata would get the new MazdaSpeed 2.3 liter engine as an option, and that move would have silenced critics once and for all. But Mazda decided not to spend the money to accommodate the engine in the existing chassis. Many of us didn’t like that decision. And those pesky S2000s, with 80 HP more than the regular Miatas from an engine that defined the joys of driving, are now off the market for good. An awful shame, leaving Honda with absolutely nothing of interest to enthusiasts (a beam-axle Civic R in Europe? Who cares!).
But take note, Mazda, you are about to be undone by Toyota and Subaru who will produce a pair of rear wheel drive twins offering 200 HP and 300 HP. Even though they are hardtops (for now), and therefore not true sportscars, they will be seen as such and they will certainly define an entirely new performance market for Japan when they come to market at the end of this year. Toyota intends them to be the rebirth of sporting Toyotas. Will a 160 HP (or maybe 170) Miata be able to compete with those two cars when it comes to market in 2012 or 2013? We have some doubt….
900,000th Mazda MX-5 to Set New Guinness World Record
MX-5 reaffirms its position as the world’s favorite lightweight, open-top, two-seat sports car
HIROSHIMA, Japan—Total production of Mazda Motor Corporation’s MX-5 sports car (known as the Mazda Roadster in Japan) reached 900,000 units on February 4, 2011. This significant milestone was achieved 21 years and 10 months after mass production of the first-generation MX-5 commenced in April 1989. The MX-5 was initially certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s “Best selling two-seat sports car” when production reached 531,890 units in May 2000. Guinness updated the record when production passed 700,000 and, later, 800,000 units. Currently, Mazda is reapplying to Guinness World Records to have the record updated to 900,000 units.
During the 1960s and 1970s, numerous lightweight and fun-to-drive sports cars offered nimble handling and free-spirited open-air motoring. In the 1980s, Mazda decided to resurrect this spirit with a new roadster for the modern age. Using the latest engineering techniques, Mazda developed the MX-5 and announced it in February 1989 as a reminder that driving could still be fun despite ever-stricter safety and quality standards. To this day, the MX-5 remains the longest enduring nameplate in Mazda’s global lineup.
Nobuhiro Yamamoto, program manager of the current MX-5, said, “Since Mazda launched the original MX-5, it has undergone two complete product redesigns and a series of upgrades. Its enduring success is due to the strong support it enjoys from MX-5 fans around the world. Going forward, I will strive to keep the MX-5′s spirit alive while evolving it into a car that will be loved by even more people.”
Mazda’s senior managing executive officer in charge of development, Seita Kanai, said, “More than 20 years have passed since the first-generation Mazda MX-5 was born. During this time, society and vehicles themselves have changed significantly. Responding to environmental issues and the depletion of the Earth’s natural resources has become increasingly important for all automakers. As part of its environmental efforts, Mazda announced its new SKYACTIV technologies last year. Currently, we are pushing forward with development of future products that will incorporate these technologies. Many of the elements that go into our SKYACTIV technologies, such as comprehensive weight reduction, grew from the long years of development work that have gone into the MX-5. Indeed, the guiding principle behind the SKYACTIV technologies – to build cars that are fun to drive – is perfectly embodied by the MX-5.”
“As we head toward the next production milestone of one million units,” Kanai continued, “Mazda is committed to further evolving the MX-5. We will refine its fun-to-drive character and further enhance its environmental and safety capabilities. As Mazda passes its 91st birthday, we are turning our sights toward our 100th anniversary. In the years ahead, we will continue to cherish the MX-5, alongside its loyal fan base, as the symbol of the Mazda brand.”
The original ”Monster Miata”, detailed in this post: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/?p=2089, was one of the most significant aftermarket creations for Miata enthusiasts in the 1990s. With a transplanted Ford 302 V-8 engine, a matching transmission and differential, and even a full heavy duty IRS from the Ford Thunderbird in some models, the Monster was the top of the line Miata anywhere in the world. Call it the Sunbeam Tiger for the 90s, or in modified form perhaps even a (Mark II) Shelby Cobra. Shelby Cobra? Why not – the 302 could certainly be built to put out 500 HP and in a 2500 pound car would provide “supercar” performance.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because the original Monster Miata company went bust after creating somewhere over 275 cars. Those cars demand a premium today if you can find one. If not, consider building your own because swapping Ford V-8s into Miatas is alive and well and the state-of-the-art is quickly advancing. Swapping Chevy LSx V-8s into Miatas is an even newer solution and may be more attractive since they can cover a wider range of Miatas for emissions compliance.
Including the original Monsters, some claim that there are as many as 1000 V-8 Miatas (Ford and Chevy) in existence today. That seems high, but certainly the number will be reached sooner or later due to the shear number of swap kits, parts, and resources available.
We’ve been thinking about building one ourselves - although not for roadrace track use because the jury is still out as far as pushing a car that was never designed for such torque to extreme torsional limits. It’s been done, and even successfully, but after living thru 30 years of track events we would approach such a thing with great caution. Our thoughts instead revolve around a fun car for back roads driving. We’ve been looking for an engine swap project that would result in a car we could actually live with and this one looks like a great place to start. The Ford 302 swap is a known science, and the current holder of the Monster brand rights has a kit with nearly everything you’d need. There are also at least two companies that make the parts needed to swap a Chevy LSx engine into a Miata, right thru the NB generation (with NC in the works).
Emissions compliance is an important question for much of the country. The laws in most states require an engine swap to use an engine that is of the same year or newer as the car it is going into. 1995 was the last year Ford made a 302 with a manual transmission (95 Mustang), so that engine, transmisison, and processor could be used in any 1995 or earlier Miata – but not a 1996 or up. Fortunately, 1995 and earlier Miatas can be had for 3-5 thousand dollars and even less, depending on condition. For Chevy engine swaps, pulling a donor engine from a current Camaro, G8, or even a last-gen CTS can cover any year of NA or NB Miata.
We’ve encountered several V-8 Miatas in our local Cars and Coffee car shows. If you’re not familiar with Cars and Coffee, check out 3 years of photos of Cars and Coffee events in the Events link at the top of this page. We’ve also seen 2 V-8 RX-7s in these events, and that also has our interest. But today we’ll focus on the Miata.
Here’s our first example, an NA Miata with a Chevy engine. If the hood wasn’t open, you couldn’t tell what had been done. The Chevy engine is nearly as low as the stock engine. Note the width of the tires – for this much power you need as much rubber as possible and that’s one big issue with V-8 Miatas. And note the rollbars – a very good idea with this much power on board.
Some V-8 Miatas use dual exhaust, others single. There are several variations of exhaust systems and you will need a very experienced muffler fabrication shop to get it right. For Chevy conversions, there is (very conveniently) a complete aftermarket setup available. Ground clearance is always the single most important consideration.
There are two ways to transplant a Chevy V-8: it either fits in place in the stock (untouched) engine compartment, or to achieve a better weight balance, you can move the engine back a bit further. This requires cutting and welding, along with extensive transmission tunnel widening. The good news is that wiring harness adapters are available which almost make this a plug-in conversion, and at the very least will save you a considerable number of rewiring headaches.
All V-8 Miatas, regardless if engine type, have less than optimal placement of the air filter. You’ll note that in this example, hot air from the exhaust header is going to get into the engine. We keep looking, but we havent’ seen anybody fence off the air filter. And we know from personal experience the negative aspects of sucking in hot air. But nits aside, this is a very professional and clean conversion.
Here’s the air cleaner issue from the other side. Also note the location of the fuel line coming up to the engine… some kits leave it on the left as in stock Miatas, some move it. In either case it has to pass closely by the very hot exhaust system.
Speaking of which, here is the exhaust header on the driver’s side. Very close, but certainly not impossible to work with. And unlike the last-gen Camaro, you can actually replace the plugs without moving the engine. That’s the type of thing that makes this an easy engine swap to live with. Note the clearance notch in the frame just ahead of the air cleaner.
And the interior. The shifter position looks entirely stock, and it’s a T-56 underneath. Looking into this car and not under the hood you’d be hard pressed to detect an engine swap. Start it up, however, and the difference is immediately and loudly apparent. While we were unable to show it, the most popular differential for Chevy engine swaps is a all-aluminum Cadillac CTS differential, with limited slip, and easily available from salvage yards.
Now lets talk Ford.
Our example is not just any 302 swap, it’s a 1995 302 into a like-year Miata. The 1994-1995 302 engines from Mustangs brought with them a different and much more complex electrical system as compared to the system used in the earlier FOX-body Mustangs. A much easier swap would be a 1993 or earlier Miata with a 1993 or earlier Mustang motor. But the builder of our example below wanted a challenge, and created perhaps the only Miata in the country with a 1995 Mustang engine and electrical system.
You’ll immediately recognize the 94/95-style Mustang 302 V-8 from it’s intake manifold. This is an iron block and head engine, with an aluminum intake manifold. This is an older engine that the much Chevy LSx series of engines, so the emissions and wiring systems are a bit more dated (note the distributor instead of a modern coil pack). But at least it clears the hood. Also note the cable-type throttle linkage – a natural fit into the early Miatas.
Hood clearance is not an issue, and the Ford engine is a bit smaller than the Chevy engine. But, the accessories are hung much farther away from the engine and that presents some issues during the build.
The engine is situated as far back against the firewall as possible, but unlike the Chevy swap no cutting is required along the back of the engine compartment. But you will also notice that a much larger cut and weld is required to clear the power steering pump to the far right of the compartment.
Here’s another view of the cut from above. Note the single coil in the stock SN-95 Mustang location.
Looking further back on the passenger side, we see the master cylinder location is stock, and that the headers are a little less of a tight fit than the Chevy conversion. Doubtless with either version there will be some skinned knuckles getting the steering shaft back in.
There is also some special work needed around the air conditioning lines.
Air cleaner placement is much better in this swap. The old Ford-style MAF is a little more complicated with it’s large aluminum housing (versus the Chevy thermoplastic) but the air filter element is away from the hot engine and can better receive much cooler air in this location.
A view of the front with radiator hose placement. Again, unlike the Chevy engine, the Ford water pump sticks out fairly far from the engine, making the entire cooling system a very tight fit.
Some special work is needed up front, including this 90-degree adapter. Like all V-8 Miata swaps, special attention is needed for a specially built radiator, and cooling is an area which needs special focus.
Out back, we have a Ford 7.5″ differential from an MN-12 T-bird, and a custom-built dual-exhaust system. The owner wanted his car to be reasonably quiet, and asked Muffin Muffler in Austin to tackle the job. We’ve had work done by that company ourselves, and their work is always immaculate. Needless to say, it’s an expensive and time-consuming job to create an exhaust system that will provide maximum ground clearance, so it has to be done right.
Special welding is required on the subframe is needed to mount the differential, and of course like all V-8 swaps both the driveshaft and the half-shafts have to be custom built.
Inside the Miata, it looks very nearly stock. The T-5 transmission is in exactly the right place.
Our series of images provides only a very basic overview of the end results of the Ford and Chevy engine swaps. Many more details are available on the web, including forums for discussion and help.
- The new Monster Miata company - the premier source for Ford conversions. Note their 50-page manual, with color pictures and technical diagrams. This is a must for Ford conversion builders, and would certainly be a good idea for Chevy swaps as well.
- Flyin’ Miata- a source for Miata upgrades as well as V-8 conversion kits. Note the detailed stories of several conversions – severla have detailed pictures showing the required frame and tunnel modifications.
- V-8 Roadsters, supplier of extensive conversion parts and kits including heavy duty control arms, frame reinforcement, and big brake kits. Note their discussion board forum – required reading before even considering a swap.
- V-8 Miata blog category: now incorporating our previous Monster Miata posts.
- Miata blog category: not specific to V-8 swaps, but covering all of our “regular 4-cylinder” Miata posts.
- NC Miata cutaway tour:- extensive images of the NC Miata from the press introduction in the summer of 2005. The totally redesigned and much stronger-built NC is just crying for a V-8 conversion. Who will take on the first NC conversion?
Here’s the perfect example of an a** clown driver: this Miata passed about 40 stopped cars while speeding on the shoulder of the road, not even slowing down despite stopped traffic and the 5-foot width of the the shoulder he was attempting to stay on.
Now look closer at the car – the entire side is caved in. Probably from a previous example of this kind of reckless driving. Serves him right.
We just hope that one of those cops who are doing real police work, instead of playing hide-and-go-seek with their radar gun, catches him one of these days.
We’ve covered many different types of engines swaps into Miatas in the past – V-6 engines (SHO, Mazda), V-8 engines (Ford 4.9 small block), and even a Jaguar V-12. There are several companies building Ford V-8 swap kits for Miatas, but V-6 and V-12 folks are on their own (and so far there is only one V-12 swap – a heroic and very professional effort!).
The arrival of V8 Roadsters LLC makes an engine swap even easier, using a late-model Chevy LSX engine and a Ford 8.8″ differential: http://www.v8roadsters.com
Pictures are below. Their site doesn’t list every last part needed (considerable fabrication is needed – for example a fuel system), and the resulting car won’t have the cachet of an authentic Monster Miata, but the end result looks thorough and should be reasonably reliable.
Seeing is believing, and this Jaguar V-12 swap into the impossible engine bay restrictions of a Miata would have seemed impossible… until an enterprising home builder did just that. Yes, its beautiful – and yes we very much want one of our own.
Courtesy of YouTube, you can follow the build and first drive:
- HotRodders.com gives the builder a snotty reception: http://www.hotrodders.com/forum/v12-miata-142001.html (note the reaction of one idiot in particular on that site, before he realizes the builder is legit and jumps in with suggestions for an alternator problem)
- Builder’s photobucket site: http://s174.photobucket.com/albums/w92/brainsboy/
- Builder’s YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/user/brainsboy