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A Guide to Mazda MX-5 Tuning

Elan Eater Published: 4th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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

Ever fancied getting your hands on an original Lotus Elan? Chances are you probably have or still do. But as cracking a car as the little Lotus is, it can be a headache – and you’re looking at around £8000 or more to secure a decent, reliable rear-wheel-drive Elan. So if your spare time and budget is more limited, then an early MX-5 is the obvious choice. An unashamed rip-off of the original ‘60s Elan, the earliest incarnations of the MX-5 are now – amazingly – just shy of 20 years old and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between the two on a twisty bit of road. What’s more is that unlike the Lotus, the Mazda is a fantastically durable, cheap, usable alternative. And the good news doesn’t stop there. The MX-5’s title as the world’s best-selling 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 best bit is that parts supply has now caught up with the likes of the MGB no less. There are plenty of specialists knocking about, too – small wonder the Mazda being hailed as the new MGB. So it’s now just as easy to give an MX-5 your own personal touch. While some might turn their noses up at the idea of tuning, it’s worth remembering that for every tacky, distasteful spoiler, there is a genuinely worthwhile and useful upgrade, which need not cost the earth. Here’s our pick of the best!

Suspension, wheels and tyres

The first port of call for many budding tuners is a set of lower and firmer springs and dampers. Avoid this at all costs when tuning an MX-5, as lowering spoils the Mazda’s already excellent ride. If you really want to improve the handling then a set of polyurethane bushes is the way forward. These allow the suspension to move more freely, quickly and accurately, so they significantly sharpen drive without spoiling the ride quality. A front set costs £84.94 while the rears are pricier at £179.97, so if you’re working to a budget it may be worth waiting until the existing bushes are on their way out (it’s an MOT failure point) before upgrading. Some owners complain that high mileage cars aren’t as responsive as they once were, but this is often because the dampers have worn out. If so, then a good set of KYB gas shocks will complement the Mazda nicely, and they cost £69.95 each. Again, you can wait until they become an MOT talking point. Under no circumstances should you mess with the wheel size! The original 14” seven-spoke Minilite-style alloys were perfect for the MX-5 and even Mazda got it wrong when it fitted 7x15” wheels to special editions later on. If compelled to change the style of your wheels, just make sure that you stick to the same size. As far as rubber goes, any good quality set of tyres will do the trick. What is worth investing in is an alignment check, as an MX-5’s drive will benefit tenfold from correctly aligned tyres – so just make sure that the tyres you have are correctly fitted, rather than investing in expensive boots.

Engine

The earliest – and arguably the purest and best – of the MX-5’s powerplants is the 1.6-litre twin-cam engine. It’s rev-hungry and responsive, but many owners find that it’s just not quite 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 out of the 1600 is to fit a performance air filter such as a K&N unit. These simply replace the standard air filter in favour of mesh cone, which feeds more cold air into the engine and generally offers a power hike of anything from 3-10bhp depending on the kit. A K&N 57i induction kit is available at £75.73 from http://www.mx5parts.co.uk and comes with a one million mile warranty so you probably won’t have to worry about replacing the filter in future! You’ll also get the satisfaction of a more rorty exhaust note and the extra cold air doesn’t do the engine any harm either. If it’s a more serious power hike you’re after then a BBR turbo kit is the answer. Commissioned by Mazda UK to bump-up the MX-5’s performance, the kit consists of a Garret T25 turbocharger which is governed by an advanced ECU by BBR (Brodie Brittain Racing). In short, turbocharging turns the MX-5 into a real pocket rocket. The kit increases power from 114bhp to 150bhp and torque from 100lb ft to 154lb ft. The 0-60 time is right down from the standard 8.7 to a scorching 6.8 seconds and top speed is up to 130 as opposed to 121mph – if you were ever going to try it, that is. The BBR kit costs around £2500 once you’ve factored in VAT and fitting – so it’s not a cheap exercise at all, but the transformation is truly amazing. Contact an MX-5 specialist for more details. For the utterly power-crazed there are more intense turbo kits and even supercharger kits, but these are typically by commission only and seriously expensive – especially when the offical BBR kit offers such a big improvement and has a smack of originality about it.

Transmission

One of the most satisfying elements of the Mazda MX-5 is its gearchange, which is short, sharp and wellweighted – so there’s little need to revamp it. If, however, you’re shaving seconds off lap times or you fancy an extra-sporty edge then there’s always the option of a short-throw kit. These are a available at £95.49 from MX-5 parts – and can be easily fitted within minutes. The rest of the drivetrain is robust enough, but if you’ve significantly increased the engine’s torque then you might want to think about beefing-up the clutch. MX-5 Parts offers performance-orientated upgrades for each clutch component, but by far the most comprehensive option is the posh ACT Advanced Clutch Systems stage one upgrade kit. This consists of a complete clutch replacement which is designed to cope with more powerful and torquey power units. It does cost £249.95, though, so it’s only a worthwhile option if power and torque have been significantly boosted and the old units are knackered.

Brakes

If you fancy bumping up your MX-5’s anchors then the first and foremost call of action is uprating the brake pads. There are numerous sporty sets freely available but an affordable and worthwhile option is EBC’s Greenstuff pads, which cost just £36.97 a set from MX-5 Parts. They’re billed as ideal for fast road and occasional track use and deliver bags more stopping power than the standard items. Most driver’s, even hard enthusiast types, will find simply a set of sporting pads more than adequate for road use, but if you’re serious about tuning and you’re hitting the race tracks on a regular basis then there’s always the option of braided hoses and 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 £103.40, while professional Goodridge stainless steel braided hoses are a little more affordable at £76.36 a set from http://www.goodridge.co.uk.

Styling

There are all manner of spoilers, vents and bumpers on sale that claim to make the MX-5 more handsome or masculine. The reality is that original cars are better-looking, more valuable and more desirable, but tasteful and practical styling accessories do exist. The most obvious is a hard-top, which gives the car a sleeker appearance, excellent rear visibility and a better resale value. However, a genuine Mazda metal lid will normally cost the thick end of £1000 (MX-5 Parts is currently offering hard-tops at £995 as opposed to the usual £1451.10), but lower cost second-hand or non-genuine items can be found on auction sites and the like. One idea that was batted around by Mazda’s design team was that of a hard boot cover, which fitted over the top of the roof when folded down behind the seats. This was dropped before production but several styling specialists in the US now offer aftermarket versions, which look terrific and protect the folded-down hood. These start at around $250, but don’t forget to factor in shipping for such a hefty item. Finally, chrome has always been popular with the MX-5 crowd and there are a number of interior and exterior add-ons that suit it. Roll-bars (from £125) and boot racks (from £139.95) are useful and attractive add-ons, while the multitude of spangly bits for the interior ranges from gearknobs to dial surrounds and heater switches – there’s even a chromed camboxcover for the engne! Some of these cost less than £10 while others exceed £100 – so it just depends how much shine you fancy.

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

Like the original Elan, the MX-5 makes a good classic competition car and 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), the car is generally left stock and even uses Toyo T1R road tyres. However the car needs a full roll cage and safety gear – so the hood stays down! You can race a car for around £5000 for a full season, it’s claimed. For more information call organiser Jonathan Blake (07970 900520) or click on http://www.ma5daracing.com.



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