1990 Mazda Miata: The Experiment

Ah yes, the Mazda MX-5, the gleaming standard against which all small sports cars are judged. The Mazda Miata is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of automotive development. I have a tremendous appreciation for the level of refinement that exists in my 1990 Miata, and owning this car has made me a lifelong fan of Mazda as a company. I fondly describe this as "all the car I need" even though that isn't the slightest bit true.

This particular example was purchased from its only previous owner, Don. Don is an older gentleman who lived in my town with his wife for 30 years and at 83 years young he finally decided to sell his Miata before he moved to Florida to retire. He purchased the car brand new in September 1989 from a dealer in Rochester, NY, who drove it down to Connecticut to deliver it to him. The car retains its original wheels and factory hard top.

Extensive work has been undertaken on this car and it currently has the status of being a working project. When finished, I plan for this car to be my daily driver during the warmer months for the foreseeable future.

Rebuild and modifications

When I got the car, it was burning oil. After a thousand miles or so it was REALLY burning oil. Research indicated it was likely piston rings. I had to decide whether to rebuild or buy a new ND.

I went to Colonial Mazda in Danbury CT to test drive an ND Miata. It was great fun, but the sales guy looked at my NA, then looked me in the eye and said "dude I think you need to save this one." On the highway on the way home I soaked in the amazing lightness of the car and in that moment made the decision to save it.

In the months that followed I undertook a massive restomod project and completed work on the engine in 5 months. A summary of the modifications is as follows:

Final assembly was completed in just under a week at a friend's driveway in Trumbull, CT. During one of the hottest weeks of the year we worked our asses off dropping the motor in and bolting parts on. After 2 days of messing around with the ECU and fuel related wiring it finally kicked over and ran under its own power for the first time on August 13, 2016.

We celebrated with a lobster dinner and spent the next day refining the tune, after which I promptly drove the car up to New Hampshire for a week. It took me just 2 weeks to accumulate 1,000 miles on the new motor.

Much work remains to be done on the car. Early on I did a head gasket because the dowel pins had been missing during the rebuild and I found them, and we determined that the gasket had walked a bit. A mystery oil leak was finally solved when I found a plug that had not been transferred from the old oil pump to the new.

Future plans

The car has severe rocker panel rust at present, thankfully only on the front of the car - the rear quarters are intact (for now). That needs to be fixed.