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Mazda MX-5

Published: 1st Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Alan Anderson remembers the cars, the tuners and the tweaks and tells why they’re still hot!

With nearly a million made, the MX-5’s title as the world’s bestselling sports car has ensured that it’s easier than ever to get hold of one. Sound examples can now be found from around £2000 and the specialist and spares support is not far shy of that offered for the hallowed MGB.

It has often been said that the MX-5 was Mazda’s take on the original Lotus Elan and, for sure, the Jap possess a similar look and feel, but twinned with modern reliability and conveniences.

And you can make one even better, thanks to a plethora of tuning bits readily available!

Get one now

1.6 unit is sweeter but the 1.8 may have all the poke you demand

While there are plenty of MX-5s around, there’s also a lot of dross out there too. And, while it may be tempting to buy a cheap one (read our Project MX-5 series if you want to know how!), there’s a more than ample supply of good ones that will probably save you time and money in the long run – especially if you intend to tune it for harder road use or perhaps for the track.

Rust can be seriously structural on early, models, so check before buying. Oh, and forget all that nonsense about the ‘Grey’ Eunos models lacking underseal like the UK cars – they were identically treated from the factory…

Talking of Grey cars (also known as JDM – Japanese Domestic Market cars), some will differ from UK cars by way of not having an exhaust recirculation system, plus certain 1.6 models boasted a limited-slip differential. Also, never offered over here, is a four-speed automatic. A model to avoid is the detuned entry level 1.6, shipped in during 1995. It only has 88bhp. And, if you’re intending serious tuning, you’re better off with an earlier 1.6 (114bhp), or, best of all, with the 130bhp 1.8.

Hotting one up

The earliest – and arguably the purest and best – of the MX-5’s powerplants is the 1.6-litre twincam, but many owners fi nd that it’s just not quite gutsy enough, as it produces a barely adequate 114bhp. Combined with a mere 100lb.ft of torque, this ensures a lot of gear changing to make the most of the power. The 1.8-litre engine is harder to come across than the 1.6, and is generally regarded as less of a purist’s choice, but it is usefully quicker and perhaps be ample for your needs without further tweaking. 

The easiest and most affordable way to squeeze a bit more power and torque out is to fi t a performance air filter such as a K&N type. These simply replace the standard gubbins in favour of mesh cone, which feeds more cold air into the engine and generally offers a power hike of anything from 3-10bhp. A K&N 57i induction kit is available at £75.73 from and comes with a ‘one million mile warranty’ so you probably have to worry about replacing the filter in future…

Amazingly, given the car’s popularity, that used to be all you could do in terms of tuning this Mazda, if you don’t want to go down the expensive turbo-charging route. But, now, MX-5 Heaven (01305 268149) has developed a range of cylinder head and camshaft upgrades for both engines. There are three stages of head tune, ranging from a tidy up of the already efficient design (Stage 1), fully flowed (Stage 2) and then the more extreme mods, still keeping the same valve sizes with racier camshafts (Stage 3).

Power outputs claimed, in conjunction with a modified induction system, are 10-15bhp for Stage 1 and up to 35bhp for the Stage 3, which puts the pace on par with the offi cial Mazda turbocharger conversion. The cylinder heads are sold on an exchange basis, starting from £499; a fully fi tted Stage 3 set up costs £1300. The Dorchester in Dorset-based company also markets dedicated exhaust systems, including manifolds, to make the most of the breathing potential.

You want more? Well, MX-5 Heaven is also developing its own turbocharging kit that’s far more potent than the original BBR option and unleashes 200bhp – or more if you want to add the Stage 3 kit! The price is anticipated to cost the same as the Mazda-approved kit, at around £2500.

How Did It Drive?

Civilised, yet sporty, best describes the MX-5. If your idea of a sports car is a creaky, draughty conveyance then this Mazda will bitterly disappoint, as a good one is nothing like this. Also, the MX-5 is pretty rapid as standard – making mincemeat of most TR6s and easily keeping up with its idol – the Elan. Handling is classic rear-wheel drive, although the rear can be a mite skittish in the wet, so take care. In fact, when modding an MX-5, it’s best not to over-do it and upset the inherently good balance the car enjoys. Decide what you want from your car and how best to improve it, rather than make massive changes from the outset.

Handling The Power...

One of the most satisfying elements of the MX-5 is its gearchange, which is short, sharp and well-weighted – so there’s little need to mess with it. However, there’s the option of a short-throw gearchange kit. These are a available at £95.49 from MX-5 Parts. The rest of the drivetrain is robust, but you might want to think about beefing-up the clutch. MX-5 Parts offers the ACT Advanced Clutch Systems stage one upgrade kit. It does cost £249.95, though, so it’s only a worthwhile option if power and torque have been signifi cantly boosted and the clutch is on the way out.

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