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Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 Published: 16th Sep 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
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Want to make your MX-5 more macho? There’s loads you can do to turn this sensible sports car into a real Lotus-beater. Here’s our top tips!

It’s been hailed as the new MGB and with good reason. The MX-5 is a sensible yet serious sports car that’s just as easy to own and maintain thanks to a wide support from specialists and owners’ clubs. Plus, like the MG, there’s also dedicated racing series, including championships for road-going daily drivers.

An unashamed rip-off of the original 60’s Elan, the earliest incarnations of the MX-5 are now – amazingly – more than 25 years old and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between the two cars on a twisty bit of road. However, unlike the Lotus, the Mazda is a fantastically durable, cheap, usable daily driver alternative.

The MX-5’s deserved title as the world’s best-selling sports car has ensured that sound examples can now be found from under £2000 – and you’ll find them half this but they are usually best avoided.

If you’ve already got one, or thinking about buying one, here’s how to make the most of your mighty MX-5.

Before you start

Rust is the biggest worry on old models because mechanically they are pretty much bomb-proof – even if the timing belt breaks the pistons won’t collide with the valves. On the other hand, head gaskets and oil leaks aren’t unknown. Road springs can break and brake callipers seize, the latter costing around £100 a pop.

Sills and rear wheel arches are body weak points; repair kits costing less than £100 are available, but the fitting needs to be done properly. Blocked hood drain channels can rot the floor but the rest of the car only suffers from cosmetic corrosion.

Hotting one up

The earliest – and arguably the best – of the MX-5’s brace of powerplants is the 1.6-litre twin-cam engine. It’s rev-hungry and responsive, but many owners find that it’s just not gutsy enough, as it produces just 114bhp and a mere 100lb ft of torque. The slightly more powerful 1.8-litre engine is available, but is harder to come across than the earlier 1.6 and is generally regarded as less of a purist’s choice.

The easiest and most cost effective way to squeeze a bit more power and torque from both is better breathing such as an N&N or Pipercross air induction upgrade. These simply replace the standard air filter in favour of mesh cone. A K&N 57i induction kit is available at around £80 and comes with a one million mile warranty so you probably won’t have to worry about replacing the filter in future! To expel all the extra gasses look to sports exhaust, such as a Jetex system for less than £400. Last of the quick fix mods is a new ECU chip; try a Starchip from BBR (Brodie Brittain Racing) Tuning which adds 10bhp on its own. Incidentally, for 1994, the 1.8 gained a lighter flywheel to improve throttle response – with sourcing or having yours shaved to suit and pre-1992 models can legally run sans power-sapping cats.

MX-5 Heaven has a range of head and camshaft upgrade and says that around 200bhp is possible from the 1.8, although may be too racy for general road use.

A BBR turbo kit – commissioned by Mazda UK to bump-up the MX-5’s performance – consists of a Garret T25 turbocharger and increases power from 114bhp to 150bhp and torque from 100lb ft to 154lb ft, meaning the 0-60 time is slashed down from the standard 8.7 to a Cosworth quick 6.8 seconds, but with not much change from £3000 it’s not a cheap exercise. Contact an MX-5 specialist for more details. For the utterly power-crazed there are more intense turbo kits and even supercharger kits.

Using up the usual reboring allowances, almost 2-litres can be found from the 1.8 and if you have a 1.6, it’s best to look to a 1.8 if you want more ccs. In the US, mad conversions sees big block V8s under the bonnet – check the forums and websites!

Handling the power

Turning to the transmission first, it’s as well to remember that later Mk2 versions were offered with six-speed transmissions along with a limited slip differential – check with a specialist to see if it is worth using on Mk1s. Grey import Eunos Mk1 versions also came with this axle plus an automatic transmission option. Also, a lower axle ratio option of 4.3:1 was introduced in 1994, and made standard on 1.8s a year later, so fitting this in earlier variants will give better acceleration at the expense of cruising ability if that’s important.

One of the most satisfying elements of the MX-5 is its gearchange, which is short, sharp and well weighted already. If, however, you must shave seconds off lap times, or you fancy an extra-sporty edge, then there’s always the option of a short-throw kit. These can be fitted within minutes and give a rifle-bolt action. The rest of the drivetrain is robust enough, but if you’ve significantly increased torque MX-5 Parts offers performance-orientated upgrades including its ACT Advanced Clutch Systems upgrade kits and, although pricey, is worth considering if the old one is knackered and needs replacing anyway.

Lower and firmer springs complemented by suitable sports dampers is the initial step for many enthusiasts but take care when tuning an MX-5, as lowering spoils the Mazda’s excellent ride and already well developed chassis. Mazda did offer a sport package when the cars were contemporary and are good starting point upgrades.

If you really want to improve the handling further then a full set of polyurethane bushes is the way forward, especially if all 22 of them are worn out and may fail the MoT. These allow the suspension to move less freely, and keep their accuracy, so significantly sharpen drive yet without spoiling the ride unduly. A front set typically costs £85 while the rears are pricier at £180. A quality set of gas dampers complement the Mazda nicely and some recommend a top strut suspension brace to add more rigidity to the body.

The steering should be excellent – if not something’s up! If you do find it too heavy, particularly if larger type are fitted, then you may like to consider grafting on the set as designed by Mazda for Japanese and US cars. While not as sharp as the perfectly good non PAS set up, it’s not bad either. Failing this you can consider a modern electric alternative from the likes of EZ.

Under no circumstances should you mess big time with the wheel sizes warn experts! The original 14” seven-spoke Minilite-style alloys were nigh on perfect for the MX-5 and even Mazda admits that it got it wrong when 7x15” wheels became standard fare on certain special editions. If compelled to change the style of your wheels, just make sure that you stick to the same size or something not too extreme. As far as actual rubber goes, any quality set of tyres will do the trick, although having said this, we understand that a popular ploy now is to fit cheap, budget types on the front only to promote a less tail-happy nature that the Mk1 can possess in the wet.

What is worth investing in is an alignment check. The vast majority of MX-5’s will benefit tenfold from correctly aligned tyres and this has to be best ‘first step’ mod before you even contemplate any expensive upgrading, including fitting expensive, wider tyres.

If you fancy improving your MX-5’s anchors then the first and foremost port of call is uprating the brake pads. There are numerous sporty sets widely available but an affordable and effective option (as always) is fitting EBC’s Greenstuff pads, which cost under £40. They’re billed as ideal for fast road and occasional track use and deliver more stopping power and feel than the standard items. Even hard enthusiast types, may simply find a set of sporting pads more than adequate for road and light competition use.

If you’re serious about tuning, however, and want to hit the race tracks on a regular basis then look to EBC’s Yellow or Red ‘Stuff’ pads (consult them first for best advice) before looking to fit superior drilled and/or grooved discs, which will improve cooling, reduce dust and fade and make the stopping power even more intense. A pair of EBC drilled and grooved discs costs a little over £100, while professional Goodridge stainless steel braided hoses to aid pedal pressure and feel cost, depending where you shop, roughly the same.

Why not race your MX-5? it’s good, cheap and fast fun!

Like the original Elan, the MX-5 makes a good classic racer but unlike the Lotus, you can have a lot of fun on a shoestring. The Mazda’s sharp rear wheel-drive format makes it a good car to autotest, hillclimb or sprint. However, for the more serious enthusiast there’s a dedicated race series called ‘Ma5da’ and it gives owners the opportunity to race at their own pace – and pocket. The series is geared towards Mk1 1600s generally in standard trim but yielding 130bhp care of careful setting up. Apart from a limited slip diff (available from the Eunos range), cars are generally left stock and even uses Toyo T1R road tyres. However, a full roll cage and safety gear – so the hood stays down – are mandatory. You can race a car for around £6000 for a full season, it’s claimed. For more information click on Who knows, the racing fraternity may well pass on extra tips and dodges to make your MX-5 really perform on the road!

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