Flyin’ Mi­ata RF Turbo

Automobile - - Contents - By Nel­son Ire­son

Some­times mod­ding a car can turn it into some­thing it isn’t, but Flyin’ Mi­ata only makes the MX-5 RF bet­ter.

ALONE IN A good sports car, end­less miles and un­marked hours ahead, the bonds of daily life start fall­ing away. As you dance from canyon apexes to city on-ramps to the ar­row of a mod­ern in­ter­state, the free­dom of speed and the clar­ity of a mind not fo­cused but emp­tied make you yearn for it never to end.

Flyin’ Mi­ata’s lat­est MX-5 mas­ter­piece, the RF Turbo—or Ru­fus, as the pro­to­type

I re­cently spent sev­eral hun­dred miles in is known around the Flyin’ Mi­ata shop—is a rare thing in the world of af­ter­mar­ket tuned cars: It’s not dif­fer­ent, it’s just bet­ter.

That’s a strange thing to say and mer­its some ex­pla­na­tion, so al­low me to en­deavor.

A rather lim­ited set of ex­tra parts takes

Mazda’s hot MX-5 RF hard­top to the max, start­ing with a tur­bocharger kit from BBR

(avail­able in both CARB and fed­eral specs) that adds roughly 70 hp and 70 lb-ft of torque to the Mi­ata’s stock rat­ing of 155 hp and 148 lb-ft. (Of­fi­cial dyno fig­ures for the kit are forth­com­ing.) Next on the up­grade list is Flyin’ Mi­ata’s Stage 2 sus­pen­sion kit, which in­cludes Koni dampers, up­dated springs, rear bump stops, and front and rear anti-roll bars.

The com­pany’s “Lit­tle Big Brake” kit, 17-by-8-inch 949 Racing 6UL wheels, rear dif­fuser, and its new Hush-O-Matic ex­haust sys­tem round out the pack­age. The Hush-O-Matic al­lows you to task the wiper con­trols to open a valve in the ex­haust path for freer flow and louder sound, though even at full blast it won’t bother the neigh­bors—much. To­tal price is $11,000 plus in­stal­la­tion if you don’t want to get your hands dirty.

The re­sult is a car that ac­cel­er­ates quicker, cor­ners harder and more pre­cisely, and stops more re­li­ably than any fac­tory-is­sue fourth­gen­er­a­tion Mi­ata, all while pre­serv­ing the car’s in­nate bal­ance, toss­able de­meanor, and lin­ear power de­liv­ery. De­spite its much larger per­for­mance en­ve­lope, the same love let­ter to pure, sim­ple joy re­mains.

I picked up the car in Lan­caster, Cal­i­for­nia, not far from Wil­low Springs Race­way, but my des­ti­na­tion was about five hours north by north­west: the an­nual Mi­atas at Mazda Race­way event held at his­toric La­guna Seca. The route was a good one, with sec­ondary roads tak­ing me through Te­hachapi, Bak­ers­field, Buttonwillow, Coalinga, and King City be­fore fi­nally ar­riv­ing in Mon­terey. The 314-mile path bal­looned past 400 as I re­traced the best stretches, un­able to get enough of Ru­fus’ ex­u­ber­ance.

Only one mi­nor in­ci­dent marred the car’s oth­er­wise flaw­less per­for­mance, but it can be marked down to a pro­to­type-spe­cific is­sue and an ar­ti­fact of its trans­port. When I picked it up, the boost con­troller used for tun­ing was still set for the high al­ti­tude of Flyin’ Mi­ata’s home base in Grand Junc­tion, Colorado. Go­ing full throt­tle with too much boost meant Ru­fus’s 2.0-liter heart sim­ply couldn’t sup­ply enough fuel, caus­ing a se­vere stum­ble—an is­sue FM is work­ing on in an ef­fort to fur­ther un­lock the turbo ND’s power po­ten­tial. A quick twist of the boost con­troller knob un­der the hood, and I was back in busi­ness.

Four hun­dred miles strung over a full day of driv­ing can be hard on the body in any ve­hi­cle, es­pe­cially in a small sports car, and all the more so for my long-legged, 6-foot-2inch frame. But de­spite the long hours and rougher sec­ondary high­ways I trav­eled, the RF Turbo’s sus­pen­sion soaked up the bumps and dips so well I never once suf­fered the jar­ring feel­ing that of­ten ac­com­pa­nies an over­tuned sport sus­pen­sion. This is clearly a car that’s meant to be driven ev­ery day, not some trailer-queen track toy.

By the time we made it to the hills east of Mon­terey and the sin­u­ous as­phalt draped across them, I was work­ing out what I’d need to sell to cough up the $11,000 kit price— plus the cost of a new RF to hang it all on. Get­ting out of the car only made mat­ters worse, the RF’s nat­u­ral curves and an­gles sink­ing nat­u­rally into the more ag­gres­sive stance high­lighted by the Soul Red paint job and gold wheels. Lust in­duc­ing.

In­evitably, my ex­tended day at the wheel of the Flyin’ Mi­ata RF Turbo had to end. For­tu­nately, it ended at Mazda Race­way La­guna Seca, where hun­dreds of Mi­atas of ev­ery gen­er­a­tion and level of mod­i­fi­ca­tion had con­vened for a long week­end of track-cen­tric fun. There, I swapped Ru­fus for a chance to take a hand­ful of laps in a more track­fo­cused ver­sion of the turbo car—a soft-top MX-5 known af­fec­tion­ately as Andy.

Andy had an­other $8,000 worth of parts bolted on in ad­di­tion to most of the $11,000 worth also af­fixed to Ru­fus. The up­dates over and above the Ru­fus spec are fo­cused on re­li­a­bil­ity and ro­bust­ness for track duty and in­clude: oil, trans­mis­sion, and dif­fer­en­tial cool­ers; a Global MX-5 Cup­spec trans­mis­sion with beefier third and fourth gears and new case studs; Verus En­gi­neer­ing brake ducts; a Hard Dog roll­bar; and Flyin’ Mi­ata’s Wil­wood Stage 2 Big Brake Kit and Fox Stage 2 sus­pen­sion kit (im­proved spring rates, Fox Racing shocks, and FM-spe­cific sway bars).

On track, Andy felt al­most ex­actly like Ru­fus did on the street, de­spite hav­ing the ad­van­tage of Fox Racing dampers. Al­though the tini­est bit tail-happy at times, Andy was mostly docile, ea­ger to turn in, breathtaking on the brakes, and smooth when de­liv­er­ing power. De­spite the fan­tas­tic bal­ance of the track-spec car, my time at La­guna only made me ap­pre­ci­ate the all-around prow­ess of Andy’s less fo­cused but more ver­sa­tile brother Ru­fus all the more.

Left car­less at the end of a week­end of main­lin­ing Flyin’ Mi­ata good­ness, I took the pas­sen­ger seat of the cam­era ve­hi­cle for the ride home—and spent the next six hours try­ing to fig­ure out where I could park an­other car in my al­ready too-crowded drive­way. AM

By NEL­SON IRE­SON pho­tog­ra­phy by WIL­LIAM WALKER

FLYIN’ MI­ATA MX-5 RF TURBO

MI­ATA MAD­NESS

Lead­ing a pack of hun­dreds of Mi­atas around La­guna Seca in a Flyin’ Mi­ata RF Turbo is about as Mazda as you can get. De­spite Ire­son’s

height, the ND Mi­ata’s stock cabin proved roomy. Aside from the car­bon-fiber heat shield and the turbo peek­ing out, the en­gine bay looks very close to stock

—at first glance.

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