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Mazda MX-5 MK1(Inc Eunos)

Published: 23rd Jun 2011 - 1 Comments

Mazda MX-5 MK1(Inc Eunos)
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Never lower an MX-5! Messing with the ride height or firming up the damping will only spoil the excellent ride.

Engine

Double overhead camshaft, 16 valve in-line four cylinder, 1597cc 114bhp, 1839cc 131bhp

Lubrication

Engine oil: every 5-7000 miles (whichever comes first) change the oil and filter. Use high quality 10W40 oil. Please dispose of the old oil in an environmentally friendly manner – local councils provide waste oil collection points. Sump capacity – including oil filter 3.8 litres.
Manual gearbox oil: MX-5 manual gearboxes are extremely robust and transmission oil only needs changing at 54,000-mile intervals. When this is due, drain the gearbox when the oil is warm and re-fill it with new lubricant to the same standard. Gears can frequently become stiff during cold weather, particularly before the car has heated up properly – upgrade to a quality synthetic oil to stop this.
Automatic transmissions: UK cars were not fitted with automatic transmissions but imported Japanese Eunos and American Miata versions were. This needs changing every 20-30,000 miles but it’s a complicated job and is best carried out by a specialist.
Rear axle oil: MX-5 rear differentials are extremely robust and oil only needs changing every 54,000 miles.
Running gear: drive shafts and propellor shafts are extremely robust and don’t need tending to. Suspension is equally reliable and arly needs attention unless there’s a broken spring involved.

Valve Clearances

Adjustment by shims. Inlet 0.21mm, outlet 0.31mm

Brakes

Every 5-7000 miles or annually (whichever comes first) examine the front and rear discs and pads. Pay particular attention to calipers as these can corrode and seize up with age. Many mkIs and even early mkIIs now need their pipes replaced due to age. Inspect the pipes thoroughly every 5-7000 miles or annually. Handbrakes are generally fine – any problems will usually be linked to sticking callipers. Be sure to check the cable for tensile strength. Drain and replace the brake fluid at 54,000-mile intervals and check it regularly.

Sundry Items

MkI UK cars are particularly prone to corrosion on the sills towards the rear wheelarches. This often begins on the inside of the sill and spreads outwards, so it’s difficult to spot. Take a look under the sills as regularly as possible for any signs of rot and immediately have them repaired by a bodywork specialist if they show up as it can become terminal. It’s not uncommon for the clutch slave cylinder to begin leaking. It’s easy to spot and a cheap and simple fix, so simply inspect the cylinder every time you change the oil. Rear tyres wear faster than the fronts because they’re doing all the work and may have to put up with the occasional tail slide. Pay extra attention to these as they can go quicker than you think. Imported models (Eunos and Miata) came with smaller batteries than UK cars. Many owners then fitted UK-spec batteries but didn’t bother to fit the correct clamp, which can damage the bodywork at the rear due to the battery rattling around. Electric window systems are flimsy and the wires can fray and snap – a slow rolling window often signifies that it’s on the way out. A complete and more effective system is available from mx5parts.co.uk for around £65. Due to their bulletproof nature, it’s not uncommon for MX-5’s to have covered big miles or have been used as daily drivers. As a result, the interiors can suffer from wear. Leather gear gaiters are particularly susceptible to tearing and often become tatty. Secondhand replacements are available from under £10. Seat belt stalks are another common wear point. They become scratched and the colour fades dramatically. Again, a pair of used replacement stalks can be sourced for under £20.

Cooling System

Every 5-7000 miles or annually (whichever comes first) check the level and quality of the radiator coolant (regular weekly/monthly level checks are also advisable depending on the use of the car). The MX-5 has a magnesium alloy head so it’s essential that the coolant is changed on schedule. There should be a 50:50 water/anti-freeze mix (printed on the container) and a top quality product is worthwhile. Drain and refresh the coolant completely every five years. A winter coolant check/refresh is advisable too, as many cars are not/may not have been used during the cold months.

Ignition

Firing order: 1-3-4-2 Spark plugs: Beru plugs recommended, though NGK Vpower items are equally good. Every 5-7000 miles or annually (whichever comes first) change the plugs. Timing checks are unnecessary on standard cars though there is an upgrade available for 1.8-litre engines that advances the timing to 14 degrees. This needs checking regularly – every 5-7000 miles or annually – as it is more sensitive than the standard set-up. Both standard and modified engines should have their timing belts changed every five years, regardless of mileage. Happily breakage rarely causes damage. Leads can break down over time. This can be hard to identify, so if in doubt replace the set.

Fuel System

Injectors are generally sound. The addition of a quality injector cleaner will help to keep the system running at optimum, however. Every 5-7000 miles or annually (whichever comes first) check the fuel filter. This doesn’t need replacing during every service but a new one should be fitted every 10-14,000 miles or two years. Pay extra attention to this if the car is recently acquired as it is frequently omitted by professional and DIY mechanics. The engine should idle at 8-900rpm after it has reachedtemperature. If it’s abnormally high or low then consider replacing the idle control valve.Every 5-7000 miles or annually (whichever comes first) change the air filter. Many cars are fitted with aftermarket
induction kits, which may not need replacing. K&N panel filters have a million mile warranty and don’t need replacing – clean them with the recommended apparatus every year, though. K&N 57i kits are equally robust (see top tips for further details, though).

Best Mods

  • It might not be in-keeping with the classic looks, but a modified nearside headlamp cover will significantly help the engine’s breathing. Several specialists and tuners offer a headlamp kit that comes with a meshcovered hole to allow more cool air to reach the filter.
  • A set of EBC Green/Red/Yellowstuff pads will sharpen up the MX-5’s stopping power no end – they’ll also last longer than the standard items and reduce fade. Prices start at around £30 for a set (fronts or rears) and fitting is simple enough for any DIY mechanic.
  • The BBR turbo conversion is the daddy of MX-5 tuning! Introduced in 1991, the kit raised the Mazda’s standard power output from a lukewarm 114bhp to a smouldering 152bhp. The addition of a Garret T25 turbocharger, among other trick upgrades, bumped torque up dramatically from 100lb ft to 154lb ft, which led a 0-60mph time of 6.8 seconds and a 130mph top speed. Unless you’re extremely competent beneath the bonnet, the work should really be carried out by a specialist and the bill will run into four figures.
  • Never lower an MX-5! Messing with the ride height or firming up the damping will only spoil the excellentride. There is a way to polish up the handling though – mx5parts.co.uk has a polyurethane suspension bush kit designed for fast road use. This allows the suspension to move faster and more accurately, so steering feel, road holding and the ride are all improved. At £85 for the front set and £180 for the rear, they’re not cheap, so it may be better to wait until the standard items have worn out.
  • Less of a hardcore modification and more of a subtle improvement for when the existing shocks wear out,KYB gas dampers are said to give the MX-5 the best possible ride. They’re fully adjustable too, so track day goers can drop the ride height a bit and raise it back to normal again for road use. Expect to pay around £85 per shock absorber.
  • The MX-5’s standard gear-shift is sweet enough – it’s short, snickety and precise. But if yours feels a little lacklustre after some heavy miles then consider a short-throw gear-shift kit. It’s simple to fit, costs around £90 and tightens the gear change up beautifully. That saidit might feel a little tough in stop-start traffic.

Top Tips

  • A hard-top is a worthwhile investment for the winter, particularly if you have any doubts about the car’s hood. They look great too, and improve the car’s structural rigidity. New items are pricey and retail for close to £1000, but second-hand ones can be found from around £400 online and are well worth seeking out.
  • A full alignment check will pay dividends on an MX-5 – especially one that has covered big miles and may not have been cared for too rigorously.
  • A short wheelbase, peppy engine and rear-wheel-drive guarantee fun behind the wheel, but they also make the MX-5 a tad tail-happy, especially in the wet. With that in mind, a decent set of tyres is a must, especially for the rear. Diminutive 14-inch wheels mean that a new set of shoes won’t break the bank, so don’t be afraid to splash the cash and buy the best quality you can afford – Yokohomas and Fuldas seem to suit the MkI model particularly well.
  • Aftermarket air filters are a good way of improving the engine’s breathing and many cars will have them already. However, if a K&N 57i kit or something similar has been fitted then it may not be as effective as you might think. Filters sit very close to the engine and can suck in warm air as a result. A small, home-made heat shield is an effective way of ensuring that the filter does its job properly.
  • Invest in a top-quality wheel cleaner such as Wonder Wheels. MkI MX-5s fitted with the popular seven-spoke Minilite-style alloys are horrendous for collecting brake dust in their nooks and crannies and need frequent cleaning to stay looking their best.
  • Under no circumstances should you mess with the wheel size. The original 14-inch wheels suited the small car exceptionally well – and even Mazda got it wrong when it added 15-inch items to later special editions!
  • The huggy seats often take abuse from careless drivers and passengers when clambering in an out. Take extra care yourself and check the sides for fraying – it’s a common complaint so a specialist should be able to sort it out for you.
  • The MX-5 is a modern classic so many owners won’t think twice about fitting an aftermarket CD/mp3 stereo or an alarm/immobiliser system. This is fine if they’re tasteful and fitted correctly, but so many will have been done on the cheap and can drain the battery when the car isn’t running as a result.
  • If you notice an abnormal mount of heat coming through from the transmission tunnel near the gear stick then the rubber seal beneath the covering is shot. It’s a common fault and an easy fix – most specialists such as mx5parts.co.uk will have a replacement part for under £30.


User Comments

This review has 1 comments

  • what an excellent and informative article, I really enjoyed reading it and feel like I know how to look after my pride and joy better now Thanks Charlie.

    Comment by: charles harris     Posted on: 08 Oct 2012 at 07:29 PM

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