saazbaru
saazbaru
12/30/17 2:48 a.m.

First off, let me introduce myself. I am a junior mechanical engineering student at the University of Arizona. When I'm not working hard to achieve mediocre grades, I'm either working on our Baja SAE (god bless having welders available) car or one of my many (too many, if you ask my mother) personal car projects. I wanted to document my work to turn my Miata into a possibly functional track car mostly because I love reading other people's build threads (well, the good ones wink) and some small (incorrect) part of me thought my struggles with basic things might provide some entertainment for other people. Also apologies for the lack of older pictures, they've all already been deleted by now.

Background: 

At the tender age of 15, I was inspired. Wrongly inspired and definitely delusional but inspired nonetheless. I discovered that there was a golden age of simple old British sports cars that all true car enthusiast pine for so I had to have one. But it gets better. As these cars were small and light and had all the safety features of a push stroller, I was convinced that if I could just install a modest modern engine and driveline (a Miata would do), I would immediately have a car that was FAST. Well this scheme was shot down by smarter people before it ever got off the ground. Unfortunately not before I ended up with an ill advisedly purchased 1976 MG Midget from Craigslist without an engine or a transmission or really anything useful attached to it at all. A shell.

When smarter people interceded and convinced me that 15 year old Laurence couldn't swap a Miata drivetrain into this, the Craiglist searches turned towards a search for a British Leyland A-series engine and transmission. Eventually one was found, attached to a 77 Triumph Spitfire. The owner wanted to LS1 swap it, perhaps he had suicidal tendencies? Well he was going to remove the drivetrain and deliver it to us. Perhaps after deciding that he was not ready to die as a result of snap oversteer from jacking, he elected to give me the whole car for the previously agreed upon $500. And then there were two.

At this point, you're probably asking where the Miata is and/or how irresponsible my parents are. Well I'm asking you why on earth you're still reading this, I certainly wouldn't be!

Having determined that it was really quite silly to detach a perfectly working engine and transmission from a functional car to put it in a barren shell, the MG was promptly sold to a gentleman who was going to swap a 4A-GE into it. I'm told this actually happened but have seen no first hand evidence as of now. After driving the Spitfire about 500 miles, discovering I hate carbs, distributors are amazing but I can't work on them at all, and in general that old British car ownership was not all it was cracked up to be, I made the same choice consumers did in the 1970s and 80s. I needed something reliable and probably Japanese. Despite it's shortcomings, the Spitfire was a remarkably fun car though. So the Craigslist searches turned to Miatas. Eventually, the Spitfire too would be sold.

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
12/30/17 3:33 a.m.

Being a very astute 16 year old shopper, I bought the first Miata with an asking price of $2000 I found in Tucson without so much as a minute of negotiation. Bliss is fuel injection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mean time, I discovered the wonderful sport of autocross with the Arizona Border Region SCCA chapter driving my dad's (one owner!) 92 Corrado VR6. Having had about 6 events worth of fun in this, I endeavored to take the Miata I now proudly owned. Unfortunately, the hitherto perfectly reliable car developed quite the oil leak from the rear main seal. Being young and ambitious, my friends and I invaded our garage and determined to fix it ourselves. After an 10 hour odyssey to get the transmission out, we thought we were about half done. 1 year later, the transmission, new rear main seal, new transmission seals, and a new clutch just for good measure finally make it back into the car. Why on earth it took so long? Beats me, in hindsight.

But it gets better. For 6 months, the car won't start. After replacing the entire fuel and spark system, we discover that I didn't properly reinstall the cam angle sensor. Doh.

Victoriously, we take the car on a test drive. Unfortunately/luckily, within a mile we notice that the car is now pouring oil out of the bellhousing from the rear main seal. Double doh.

The car sits for a few (maybe more than a few) months. I've probably gotten some timelines mixed up but it's now the beginning of sophomore year in college and my friend from Baja SAE bought an AP2 S2000 with his savings from his summer internship. Friday noon Kyle texts me he wants to go on a drive in the mountains on Saturday noon, do I want to bring my Miata? After classes at 4, in about a total of 12 hours, I redid my entire clutch job+main seal thinking I just need to seat it better this time. By the time I meet up with Kyle at noon on Saturday, oil is once pouring out of the main seal. D@#$ D@#$ D@#$!

Finally, over winter break that year, doing the same job the third time, I finally realize the problem. I had been installing the rear main seal backwards the entire time. Due to some horrible design flaw, oil seals don't actually work backwards. Having finally fixed this, I attempted to take the Miata out to autocross in February. Inexplicably, the car refused to keep running properly much to my (and my co-driver's!) disappointment. Seemingly randomly, the car would sputter and the revs would start falling until it just died. Much much later we would discover that the cam angle sensor (that thing, again) was only mostly attached. In fact, it was sliding around in the timing adjustment slot making the timing self-adjusting. Genius!

(disclaimer: While this problem has been identified, it has not been fixed yet. If modifications occurring before a car is totally fixed and running offend you, I'd stop reading here.)

 

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
12/30/17 4:15 a.m.

So, on to the fun bits (I hope).

I bought and installed a Hard Dog M1 Hardcore roll bar. Everyone seemed somewhat leery of roll bar installs, quite a few people said they were difficult. I didn't really find this to be the case at all. Perhaps it's having some fabrication experience and access to good tools. Having absolutely no reservations about taking an angle grinder and an angle drill to my car doubtlessly helped a bit too cheeky

I also bought some Sparco Sprints from Summit (flat rate shipping really comes in clutch here). First, I attempted to design a bracket to hold the seats which a great local shop (Precision Metal Fab) laser cut and bent for me. Unfortunately, as the bolt holes are not just floating in space and there is actually a car "in the way", they didn't work at all, despite liberal attacks with an angle grinder. Pictured pre and then post grinding.

Not being too tall, I discovered I could actually mount the seats to the factory rails and still pass a broomstick test. Plus I'd get sliders so I would have an easier time letting friends drive the car as well. With the help of a mill for some accurate drilling, we were soon in better shape. I also diy-ed some aluminum door cards and wrapped the stock door uppers in some appealing plaid outdoor upholstery fabric supplied by the interwebs.

A quick order from Saferacer found some 2013 5-pt GForce cam-lock harnesses still on the shelf. Because they are expired for actual competition driving, they were heavily discounted. Considering they were new in box, I'm completely confident in them and couldn't beat the price. Unfortunately, Mazda didn't include any way of handily mounting 5th point belts to the floor under the seats. Because of this unfortunate oversight, I had to fabricate some mounts. I spent far far too long on these and they're probably overkill but welded nut plates sure make things nice to install. Besides, a bit of fabrication and welding is good for the soul!

The final thing I've done (just yesterday) was removing the unfortunate peeling spray paint the previous left on the valve cover. It looks so much better after a generous helping of paint remover.

 

That brings us all the way to the present day, I'm going to try to update this regularly with progress on the car. I would love feedback on anything and everything, god knows I could use it! 

wheelsmithy
wheelsmithy Dork
12/30/17 9:43 a.m.

Cool car/story. Sounds like you are learning the best way-by immersion! Carry on.

 

 

I don't know what this image means, but it showed up when I googled "immersion"

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
12/30/17 11:22 p.m.

Finished up my shift boot and installed it today. Definitely a fun project and I think it spices up the car a bit.

At the beginning of winter break, I went skiing in Mammoth CA. Great trip but on the way home, I found some Konis with Ground Control coilover sleeves for $200 in Carlsbad. The seller didn't know the miles but said they road okay. For a budget track car, the deal seemed too good to pass up. They came with some 550/350 F/R Summit Racing springs too. I think this is too stiff, perhaps some 450s in front would be better. I'm very open to input and advice here. Also if anyone has any good input on top mounts, that would be welcome. Are ISCs or FM mounts or whatever great thing 949 sells really worth it? I'm also debating another solution that I'll make an update with in a bit but there are some potential downsides there...

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
12/30/17 11:57 p.m.

I almost want to make some top mounts myself and mount the shocks with female rod ends. The only problem is this would cover up the adjusters on the Konis. Of course, this isn't a problem if the shocks are simply adjusted properly on a shock dyno for the chosen springs pre-install... The design is just a quick mockup, I'll have to take a few measurements of the required shape before I do anything.

Anyone see any reason not to do this? Seems like it might be fun...

Also does anyone know the thread pitch of Koni Miata shocks by any chance? Seems like GRM is the sort of place where someone might just know that off-hand...cheeky

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
1/4/18 12:00 a.m.

Got the car running last night! Put the front end back together and got the timing set-ish. Couldn't get the timing light to run, I suspect the diagnostic 12V hook up may be dead, I'm going to try hooking up to the starter solenoid. As I couldn't get the timing light to work, I just guessed and checked until the engine ran. Also have a few intake vacuum leaks, mostly from the valve cover vent return but I'm just going to cap the bungs and hope it will be alright. Also installed a new throttle body gasket, 25 year old gasket is unbelievably stuck, ended up taking it off with a die grinder and a wire wheel and then re-sanding the mating surfaces. Flame suit on!

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
1/4/18 12:03 a.m.

In reply to wheelsmithy :

Thanks man! You're absolutely right, total immersion and stubbornness! I have another car (a Saab 9-2x Aero) that is the "reliable" daily driver. That car was supposed to remain stock and unmolested but that poor car is another story for another day laugh

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
9/7/18 10:58 p.m.

Back to Miata! It's been a few months! 

Got the coilovers installed under lights,  definitely a little more of a pain than expected, especially with the extremely long stock springs.

 

Just for fun, made some spherical bearing adjustable endlinks with some left over parts from the Baja SAE shop at school. The rod ends are probably very worn out but I think they should do okay.

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
9/7/18 11:08 p.m.

Accidentally turned out extra low...After that was fixed, precise butt dyno logging data determined that the ride was "not too bad" despite the 550/350 lbf springs and that the bump steer was only "a little scary." So, pretty much perfectly dialed in!

Next, we replaced the clutch and brake master cylinders because they were a bit leaky and old and re-bled all of the brakes (this took multiple tries before we actually got ALL of the air out). Unfortunately I can only find one picture from all of that.

Finally, with the help of a number of friends we wrestled a new top onto the car. $525 (thank you Moss Motors) and a lot of swearing later, the car had a beautiful new blue top!

saazbaru
saazbaru New Reader
9/8/18 12:06 a.m.

In July, I took a quick trip to Denver from Tucson to pick up another Miata (2000 NB found at Copart for a song) for my friend Michael for lifting! The Rockies really are pretty, I've got to say!

 

On the 26th of August, the Miata attempted it's third autocross ever. It had never failed to fail previously so I didn't have high hopes but almost miraculously, nothing went wrong. Despite my abysmal 45th overall raw time (and 41st PAX time) I still won STS due to a complete lack of competition. Slightly hollow victory perhaps... After not running time-only runs due to an abiding fear of car explosion, the Miata made it to within a mile of my house before the transmission got stuck in reverse. For those not familiar, this is a problem with early year NA Miatas. The detents on the 5-R selector rod were not cut deep enough and the detent spring was not strong enough. So, if you shift out of reverse or out of 5th just right, the selector rod can slip leaving your gear lever drifting in no man's land. The gearbox will appear to shift into first and second but remain stuck in reverse despite your best efforts. Luckily, I had a conveniently not busy friend with a Silverado and a tow strap. For the second time...

In the interest of remaining friends, I immediately got on craigslist looking for Miata transmissions. Luckily there is a man by the name of Scott Bradstreet in the Tucson area that parts out Miatas left and right. He had a 100k mile transmission (my car has 159k miles so this is already an upgrade!) out of a 95 that he would let me have for $60 as he wouldn't have to deal with any shipping issues and hadn't cleaned anything up. Nothing a pressure washer couldn't solve...I ended the day covered in 20+ years of grease that the pressure washer flung back at me :D

Finally, I went out to Inde Motorsports Ranch near Wilcox AZ over Labor Day weekend to run a track day with ProAutoSports. First off, it's a fantastic group: extremely professional and courteous and with fantastic instructors to help slow newbs such as myself improve by leaps and bounds. Then there is the track! By far the best track in Arizona, we were running configuration 5 CCW. With off camber turns and elevation change in spades, the track is challenging but rewarding to drive. When you start to nail the line you can really fly as the turns really flow into each other beautifully!

As the Miata hasn't really earned my trust yet, I took my Saabaru for course. Thanks to a brilliant instructor named Richard, my driving improved so much that the car started overheating as I demanded a little more than the stock cooling system could give. Mechanical sympathy intervened and a cool down lap fixed the problem. This did let me conclusively determine that a track prepped Miata is by far the correct choice for me though. So time to really start setting the car up properly...

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