Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar SuperDork
1/28/14 4:27 p.m.

Put the top down. Feel the wind blast your kidneys. Round the curve, pull the shifter down a gear, tilt your head back, and squeeze on the throttle. The roar’s crescendo battles with the mountainside, reflecting back to your ears to mingle with the smell of roasting tires and spent fuel.

The numbers aren’t everything. We love fast cars for those sensations they bring. When we’re looking for a way to escape the antiseptic office, noisy shop, shuffling paperwork or clanging machinery, car guys like us twist the key and feel the engine come alive together with our own heartbeat.

The best way to have this experience is with an open-top car, ideally one with a healthy V8. The uninhibited view approximates the freedom of a motorcycle, but with room to pack enough supplies for a weekend away with your partner in crime. The burble, bark and spit of eight cascading combustions are best enjoyed in good company and without a back window to block the sound.

The Trip to Today

After popularizing the idea of a sporty roadster filled with horsepower, Carroll Shelby moved on from the AC Cobra and put his hand to the Sunbeam Alpine. During its transformation into the Sunbeam Tiger, the lightweight, topless chassis received an all-iron, 260-cubic-inch Ford V8. The Tiger is perhaps the Cobra’s subtler brother: The Sunbeam still wears undeniably British looks, but it’s not as flashy. It gets attention cruising down the boulevard as pedestrians hear that off-idle thrum.

After the oil crisis, however, factory-built compact roadsters with ridiculous power essentially disappeared from the market for a few decades. Cars like the Tiger and Cobra barely made sense when new; during the ’70s and ’80s, car companies couldn’t even consider offering such creations.

It wasn’t until the ascent of the Mazda Miata that enthusiasts even had a fresh new roadster.

Though a few other small convertibles have come and gone since the Miata arrived–most notably the Honda S2000 and Pontiac Solstice–none of these was offered with V8 power from any dealership. The job of creating V8 roadsters has been left to industrious, ambitious enthusiasts and the aftermarket.

Miatas started receiving engine transplants from the moment they hit the U.S. market in 1989. Many of those early examples were dubbed Monster Miatas, named for the company that developed the first Ford-based kits. Around that time, Flyin’ Miata was earning prestige as the leader in Miata turbocharging. More recently, with the help of V8 Roadsters, Flyin’ Miata branched out into V8 swaps.

The powerplant de rigueur today is the General Motors LS-series. It’s inexpensive, ubiquitous, and can produce incredible power. Flyin’ Miata offers a kit to build your own V8-powered car, but they can also build a turnkey conversion to your specs.

So did the small V8 roadster die in the ’60s, or does its spiritual successor make a worthy substitute? We met with Bill Cardell, the owner of Flyin’ Miata, to find out. Bill brought his company’s development vehicle, a third-generation Miata powered by an LS3 engine.

Though the company has dubbed their V8-swapped car the Habu–a Japanese name for a small, venomous snake–this particular development vehicle has a special name: Atomic Betty.

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