The To­tal MX-5 fleet

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

Cor­ro­sion woes and bro­ken parts af­flict some, but Ben­nett’s new tyres are just fine

Just like you, we know from first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence that MX-5 own­er­ship has its up and downs, and this is­sue the lat­ter in­cludes a fair sprin­kling of rust... But not once has any of us said, ‘that car’s gotta go!’

A WHIFF OF TROU­BLE

What’s that stink? Surely it’s not me? Oh. Sorry about that. Can’t help it though, be­cause my front brake pads are on fire… That’s over-drama­tis­ing the sit­u­a­tion a tad, I sup­pose, be­cause there weren’t ac­tu­ally any flames, but there were wisps of smoke snaking their way out through the spokes of my pur­ple Ro­tas, and that dis­tinc­tive aroma of over­heat­ing fric­tion ma­te­rial.

Putting the MX-5 into neu­tral on a slope and then re­leas­ing both the hand­brake and the brake pedal con­firmed what my nos­trils had al­ready told me – that at least one of the brake calipers was bind­ing be­cause the car wasn’t rolling any­where. Time for a quick call to the AA: you pay all that money, you might as well use them ev­ery now and then.

Michael the AA man turned out to be a bit of an MX-5 fan and had a mate who owned a much-mod­i­fied ex­am­ple. He stripped down and cleaned the off­side front caliper but ad­vised that this was a very tem­po­rary so­lu­tion and that I should get to a garage and have the caliper re­placed as soon as. A quick phone call to an­other Michael, of the Clev­er­ley Re­paired Cars va­ri­ety, and my mk1 is booked in for a re­place­ment caliper the fol­low­ing day.

AA Michael’s pre­dic­tion of a short-lived cure turned out to be de­press­ingly ac­cu­rate, be­cause from the mo­ment I pulled out of my drive­way, the er­rant caliper was press­ing the pads hard against the disc again. Af­ter a cou­ple of miles I had to stop to let the pads cool down and the smoke dis­si­pate, be­fore trav­el­ling the last three miles at about 40mph.

At Clev­er­ley’s, Vince was wait­ing with the re­place­ment caliper. I’ve never had to think about it be­fore so I was sur­prised to dis­cover that it was a re­fur­bished unit; it seems they don’t make new ones any more. And af­ter all these years, why would they? Vince con­firmed that the caliper and pads were ‘bloody hot’, al­though the smoke and smell had al­ready con­vinced me of that sev­eral

miles back down the road.

Vince is clearly well prac­ticed in the art of MX-5 caliper re­place­ment, be­cause the new one is in situ in what seems like mere min­utes, de­spite him hav­ing to blow on some of the bits to cool them down. He then rail­roaded me into also buy­ing a new pair of wiper blades be­cause he hates see­ing peo­ple driv­ing around with rub­bish wipers!

Sure was nice to cruise back home again with­out the smoke and pong, and with a much smoother brake pedal ac­tion. How­ever, and as Vince had warned me, with the brakes now per­form­ing as they should, the pads didn’t bite as quickly as be­fore, so I had to quickly re­learn my re­la­tion­ship with the mid­dle pedal.

Soon af­ter­wards I took my mk1 down to Bris­tol for the MX5 Own­ers Club Spring Rally; on re­flec­tion, of­fer­ing to also trans­port my daugh­ter back down to Bris­tol Uni from our home on the Suf­folk/nor­folk bor­der at the same time was per­haps a bit mean. Still, we did man­age to stuff all her many clothes and study books, to­gether with my overnight bag and her ham­ster in its cage, into the Mazda. Had to keep the roof up, though, to use the shelf be­hind the seats for ex­tra stor­age, and I don’t sup­pose Grace was very com­fort­able hav­ing to perch with feet up on the seat for most of the 250mile trip, but we made it there with­out bick­er­ing.

A few weeks later the mk1 was pas­sen­ger-less but filled with cam­era gear for a trip down to East­bourne to visit The MX5 Re­storer (page 66). In­ter­est­ing place, in­ter­est­ing guys. With­out doubt my car will soon make a re­turn visit for some sill work, al­though my wife He­len – of the Mariner Blue mk1 also on these pages – also wants her car at­tended to. Do you think it counts if I say ‘I saw them first’? Hmm, that was my con­clu­sion too.

From The MX5 Re­storer I headed off for an­other 150 miles or so north-west, to drop in on a cou­ple of Daves, who are trad­ing as Dave­fab (see page 11), the ‘Fab’ bit be­ing for ‘fabri­ca­tion’. The qual­ity of the work these guys do is stun­ning, and I’m go­ing to test out their cold air in­take sys­tem – which pulls cool air from the low­pres­sure area at base of the wind­screen, on the other side of the en­gine bay’s bulk­head. Michael Clev­er­ley is ar­rang­ing for me to use a Suf­folk-based rolling road to get some be­fore and af­ter power fig­ures, so I’ll let you know how that goes in the next is­sue.

To be able to in­stall the Dave­fab in­take, the washer bot­tle has to be re­lo­cated to the other side of the car, so I’m also tri­alling a low-pro­file fab­ri­cated alu­minium washer bot­tle, which again sits at the base of the screen.

A Dave­fab black painted alu­minium trim panel that fits into the en­gine bay be­tween the head­lights, is pure van­ity, but may in­spire me to clean up the en­gine com­part­ment a lit­tle. Or even a lot...

ON A STRAIGHT HEAD­ING

Well that’s em­bar­rass­ing. Since its last MOT I’ve only driven 460 miles in my Mazda. Seemed like more. But that’s not what the odome­ter says. Shame on me…

Given that Mr Clev­er­ley is only five miles up the road and he’s just had shiny new MOT equip­ment in­stalled, it made sense to take my car to him for the test. I was briefly con­cerned that I wouldn’t make it, though. Trick­ling through town in fourth gear I prod­ded the throt­tle and the en­gine started splut­ter­ing. It re­gained its com­po­sure as I hit coun­try lanes, but when I slowed for the next vil­lage and then ac­cel­er­ated in third, it did it again. It’s the sort of stuff your car does when it doesn’t want to pass the emis­sions test…

Emerg­ing from his smart new Por­tak­abin of­fice, Mr C didn’t think it would be an is­sue. Prob­a­bly the plugs. Maybe the ig­ni­tion leads. No big deal. Let’s get on with it, shall we? Yes, let’s. Part of his new MOT rig is a fancy Snap-on Sun four-post lift that sits flush with the floor to make it eas­ier to get re­ally low cars aboard, but be­fore my car gets to ride sky­wards it has to stop in front of an­other piece of equip­ment with a mon­i­tor on top, and firstly have the afore­men­tioned emis­sions test. It runs very clean, ap­par­ently, and would pass the test for more mod­ern cars. Which is a re­lief.

Drop­ping the front wheels onto a roller set into the work­shop floor, Mr C first per­forms the brake test on the front wheels, then rolls the car for­ward and does the same for the rears. Then it’s time to move up to the far end of the lift’s ramps to place the front wheels on a pair of pneu­matic vi­brat­ing pads: later on these will be used to gen­er­ate the equiv­a­lent of some bru­tal cor­ner­ing forces through the whole sus­pen­sion sys­tem, to check for play in the bear­ings and joints. And when I say bru­tal I re­ally mean it – the front tyres’ side­walls de­form so much I’d swear they’re about to

pop off the rims.

Mr C goes through the full gamut of MOT tests us­ing his high-tech kit, and then calls me over while the car is up in the air for its far more low-tech un­der­side in­spec­tion. I’m guess­ing that when he says it’s the rusti­est sus­pen­sion he’s ever seen, he doesn’t mean it as a com­pli­ment… None of it is an MOT fail, but the sills are cer­tainly head­ing that way and go down on the sheet as an ad­vi­sory. My hus­band and To­tal MX-5 ed­i­tor has re­cently been down to see the guys at The MX5 Re­storer [see page 66], so that may be where my mk1 gets to spend the win­ter. I’d bet­ter start sav­ing, be­cause I think it could be a big job…

While my car is on the ramp it seems only fair to give Mr C the chance to play with his so­phis­ti­cated new align­ment equip­ment, too. He clamps on some re­flec­tive plates to each wheel, which are what the cam­eras on the big alu­minium cru­ci­fix in front of the car fo­cus on to gauge pre­cisely how the wheels are an­gled for cam­ber and toe-in or toe-out. I’m not pre­tend­ing I fully un­der­stand what any of the read­outs that Mr C shows me ac­tu­ally mean, but at least the ba­sics of ‘green is good’ and ‘red is bad’ make sense.

In the 23 years that I’ve owned my mk1 it has never had its ge­om­e­try checked, so it’s re­as­sur­ing to hear that de­spite the red graph­ics, the car’s sus­pen­sion is in rea­son­ably fine fet­tle in terms of which way the wheels are point­ing. Mr C reck­ons that it’s mostly within tol­er­ance of its orig­i­nal fac­tory spec­i­fi­ca­tion. But that’s not good enough for him. He wants it per­fect. Or at least, as close as he can get it. So he oils the ad­juster nuts and grabs a cou­ple of long-han­dle ring span­ners and gets busy.

De­spite the un­der­body cor­ro­sion, the nuts free off with only a mod­icum of brute force from our strong-armed MX-5 spe­cial­ist, and he’s soon wig­gling sus­pen­sion com­po­nents this way and that, try­ing to achieve the per­fect setup on the mon­i­tor in front of the car. It’s an ex­act­ing and pa­tient art, be­cause when you get one el­e­ment of the ge­om­e­try spot-on it af­fects an­other, and when you’ve sorted that part you have to move back to the first as it is now out of kil­ter. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the read­out on the mon­i­tor even if you’re not en­tirely sure what you’re look­ing at, but when Mr C achieves near equi­lib­rium on both sides of the car you can al­most reach out and touch his sense of pro­fes­sional pride.

Hav­ing driven my car so lit­tle over the past year I’d be fib­bing if I said that there was a huge dif­fer­ence in its be­hav­iour since the track­ing and cam­ber were sorted, but I do think the steer­ing is crisper and it’s more sta­ble in long cor­ners.

MK2 MUSINGS

The older an MX-5 gets the less likely it is to be used as an every­day car – un­less it be­longs to me, that is. It’s not that an old MX-5 won’t han­dle day-to­day use, it’s more the fact that they’re now ful­fill­ing the role of sec­ond or even third car. But why ra­tion the fun? For me an MX-5 rep­re­sents cheap, dis­pos­able mo­tor­ing, es­pe­cially the mk2.

I bought my 1998 mk2 for £1400 in March 2015, with the full in­ten­tion of us­ing it un­til it falls apart. Its cheap pur­chase price isn’t an ex­cuse for ne­glect and abuse, more a nod to not be­ing too pre­cious about it: it’s a very lib­er­at­ing way to run a car. Rain or shine, all year round, the MX gets used and I get to en­joy ev­ery mile. Which ac­counts for its rapidly es­ca­lat­ing mileage.

It was pretty cheap be­cause it al­ready had 98,000 on the clock – af­ter run­ning a mk1 to 135,000 miles, this didn’t re­ally bother me. We all know Mazda me­chan­i­cals can take it. In the in­ter­ven­ing 27 months or so I’ve pushed up the mileage to over 120,000.

Costs? Me­chan­i­cally: three oil and fil­ter changes, new front discs and pads, and a caliper. Cheap mo­tor­ing. Un­for­tu­nately there’s also a body­work is­sue. Reg­u­lar read­ers will re­mem­ber the hor­rors un­cov­ered by our Tech Guru, Michael Clev­er­ley. The rear sills and arches had been mas­ter­fully bodged and so we had no choice but to fur­ther bodge it through its MOT last Septem­ber. I should have been dis­traught, but when you’re only in for a few quid, then you tend to take a more philo­soph­i­cal, year-on-year, ap­proach. If it passes this year’s MOT, that’s a bonus. If it doesn’t, then I’ll take a view on what to do/spend. If it’s not worth re­pair­ing, then, hey, I’ll have had nearly three years of very happy and very cheap mo­tor­ing.

Right now all im­me­di­ate ex­pen­di­ture hangs on the above. It could re­ally do with a new hood for the win­ter, but there’s no point if the rot wins. There’s a scrape at the rear and an or­ange smear, where I re­versed into a Biffa bin. I would have been mor­ti­fied if I’d done that to some­thing of value, but in this car it’s just a bat­tle scar.

Why not sort the body­work? It’s not eco­nom­i­cally worth it. The rough­est of es­ti­mates start at £3000 and where do you stop? The front chas­sis legs are with­out doubt go­ing the same way as the rears, but the rot just isn’t quite so vis­i­ble and is evad­ing the at­ten­tion of the MOT tester. Per­haps one day Mazda will go the same route as Bri­tish Mo­tor Her­itage and its ‘new’ MGB bodyshells and start pro­duc­ing ‘new’ clas­sic mk1 and mk2 shells. Not such a daft idea, I reckon.

It leaves me with some­thing of a quandary though, in terms of where I go next. Best case sce­nario is that my trusty/rusty mk2 can be coaxed through an­other MOT and win­ter. But what if it can’t? I re­ally like the mk2 MX-5. It’s just that lit­tle bit more re­fined and suitable as an

every­day car than a mk1, so I’d be pre­pared to get an­other.

Should I spend more and get a re­ally good one? No, I don’t think so. Be­cause then I would get all anal about it and I wouldn’t want to take it out in the rain, or drive it through the win­ter. It would, there­fore, be­come a sec­ond car… Be­sides, these days, a re­ally good mk2 is one that has al­ready had its body­work sorted. Any­thing else will end up in the bodyshop even­tu­ally and on that reck­on­ing I might as well just get an­other cheapo mk2 and con­tinue on my merry way.

Or there’s the mk3 op­tion. Tempt­ing, but would re­quire more fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment.

Rot isn’t as much of an is­sue and they are gen­uinely mod­ern, with such niceties as air-con and heated seats and rather more room. Re­ally early ones can be picked up for as lit­tle as £4500, but I would have to have a 2.0-litre. Like I say, tempt­ing and a con­tin­u­ing climb up the MX-5 lad­der. At this point I usu­ally start to think about leas­ing a mk4, but then re­al­ity sets in. When it comes to cars, I’m a born cheap­skate.

But back to the trusty/rusty mk2. Last is­sue I re­ported on hav­ing some new tyres fit­ted, but didn’t have a chance to elab­o­rate on their per­for­mance. Now I can, hav­ing put over 3000 miles on them. The tyres are from Ital­ian maker Da­vanti – its DX390. This is the same rub­ber used as con­trol tyre in the

5Club Rac­ing MX-5 Cup. It’s not a track­day tyre, or some­thing su­per sticky, just a bud­get road tyre, that Da­vanti claims punches above its weight. Scor­ing well in manda­tory EU tests for wet weather per­for­mance and noise, I was happy to try a set and any­thing had to be bet­ter than the tyres of Far East ori­gin that I was cur­rently run­ning.

A few thou­sand miles down the line, what’s the ver­dict? Well, let’s just get one thing clear. Proper tyre test­ing is a massively com­plex and time­con­sum­ing job and well be­yond our means, so all I can do is give you a feel for the Da­van­tis based on... Well, based on ex­actly that: feel. Firstly, the ride qual­ity is greatly im­proved. My old tyres seem­ingly had rigid walls and so gave the dampers a bit of a hard time. The Da­van­tis of­fer a new level of com­pli­ance and work well with the var­ied road sur­faces in my neck of the woods. Grip is up both in the dry and wet, but most no­tice­ably in the lat­ter, which is where re­ally cheapo tyres are of­ten scar­ily de­fi­cient. Sure, my Far-east­ern cheap­ies were a right gig­gle in the wet and on round­abouts, but there was al­ways the un­der­ly­ing prom­ise of fall­ing off the road. The Da­van­tis of­fer a level of wet weather grip that is far, far su­pe­rior. Of course, be­ing an MX-5 you can still have wetweather fun, and if I want to be a hooli­gan I just have to try a lit­tle harder. As well as be­ing able to lean on the Da­van­tis in the wet, they are also far bet­ter in terms of wet brak­ing and res­o­lutely refuse to lock up.

Rec­om­mended? Ab­so­lutely. If I didn’t know what they were and it was sug­gested that they were any of the pre­mium brands, I wouldn’t be sur­prised, be­cause that’s what they ‘feel’ like. And at £58 a cor­ner fit­ted, they’re ex­cep­tional value.

Michael the AA man makes a tem­po­rary fix to the siez­ing front caliper: re­place­ment, and soon, was his rec­om­men­da­tion

MK1 1.8

Run by: Brett Fraser

Owned since: 2016

To­tal Mileage: 117,558

Lat­est costs: £150

Be­low: Dave­fab’s cold air in­take and low-line washer bot­tle: the weld­ing is su­perb. Be­fore the in­take is fit­ted, Fraser wants to put his car on a dyno to get a ‘be­fore’ power out­put

Right: Fraser’s mk1 parks up with

James Peach’s stun­ning RS Lim­ited that you can read more about on page 56: some envy was sup­pressed

Bot­tom: the of­fend­ing front caliper was a bit too hot to touch for a while but as soon as it cooled a lit­tle Clev­er­ley’s crew were straight on it

Michael Clev­er­ley logs on to his fancy new MOT test­ing equip­ment while He­len’s early mk1 waits pa­tiently to be­gin

Re­flec­tive plates al­low the sys­tem to mea­sure cam­ber and toe-in/out

MK1 1.6

Run by: He­len Fraser

Owned since: 1992

To­tal Mileage: 63,553

Lat­est costs: £0

Align­ment hits the sweet spot

Brake bal­ance read­out

Sus­pen­sion could prob­a­bly do with some wire brush­ing...

Ad­juster nuts freed off more eas­ily than the cor­ro­sion sug­gested

Ben­nett uses his mk2 as an every­day work­horse and it wears the scars to prove it

Les­son learned – don’t back into Biffa bins. Got it?

Look what’s back

The hood’s a bit tired

MK2 1.8

Run by: Steve Ben­nett

Owned since: 2015

To­tal Mileage: 121,030

Lat­est costs: £0

Da­vanti tyres are per­form­ing bet­ter than ex­pected – they’re the con­trol tyre for an MX-5 race se­ries

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