OUR CARS The Total MX-5 fleet
We don’t just write about MX-5S, we own them, too. So when sometimes we say that ‘we feel your pain’, that’s from first-hand experience. And once again that experience seems to be centred around rust…
Rust comes knocking loudly, but at least some MOTS are passed, if only just in certain cases…
They say never meet your heroes. To which I might add: never watch a man with a disc cutter slice up your MX-5. It’s painful, even when you have a rough idea of what to expect. But when the machine fires up and the sparks start flying, the hole begins growing and the rust is soon showing, you’ll rue ever asking to watch what’s going on.
The full horror of this revelation took place at The MX-5 Restorer, the Eastbourne based specialist we reviewed in the last issue of Total MX-5. We’d actually nipped down there to have a drive of Garath Smith’s fabulous mk1 Speedster that you may already have read about on page 34. But we had previously been talking to Garath and his business partner, Chris Loader, about doing a feature on repairing the sills on early MX-5S, so while my car was in their workshop, it was deemed appropriate to stick it up on a ramp and have a peek at the sills.
In ordinary conversation Garath appears to be a normal, laid-back bloke, but put him in the vicinity of a rusty MX-5 sill and he becomes the automotive equivalent of Edward Scissorhands; his face cracks into a contented smile as he brandishes cutters and chisels and hammers and other tools of ferric destruction. With zealous enthusiasm he prods and whacks and scrapes your sills and arches, and soon you become so wrapped up in the moment that you hear yourself say, ‘sure, crank up that cutting disc and crack open that sill and let’s take a look see what’s hiding down there.’ At least, I think that’s how it went…
Bewitched or not, I agreed that, for the purposes of a later story, Garath should dig right in. Which he did gleefully. The cutting through metal was nasty. The levering back sections of bodywork with a bloody great screwdriver, worse. The exposure of the rust beneath was gut-wrenching. Of course I knew it would be lurking there, but the extent of its progress and the almost malicious manner in which it converts steel into brown, crumbling particles was shocking. Truly awful.
Garath was smiling, though. In the manner of a man who enjoys cutting things up. ‘Don’t worry,’ he tried to reassure me, ‘it’s bad but we’ve seen much, much worse.’ Which was a help. But not much of a one. I certainly wasn’t going to stand around to watch what carnage might be uncovered when he attacked the other sill.
Except that wasn’t going to be an immediate thing. In our keenness to get some decent photography, we’d sort of forgotten to ask The MX-5 Restorer if there was an available slot to have the work completed. Turned out there wasn’t. Not for a while. So with a large hole where a chunk of the driver’s side sill used to be, I had no option but to leave my car down there in Eastbourne. And take a train from the south coast to the Suffolk/norfolk border, which was no kind of fun. None at all.
Shame about the bad planning, because I’d really been enjoying the MX-5 for the previous couple of months and had a few things planned for it moving forward. Oh well… Just prior to our trip to The MX-5 Restorer I’d lucked in to an early MOT – I was dropping off some stuff at Michael Cleverley’s and heard the guys grumbling about a no-show for an MOT. I was about to book one anyway, and didn’t have to be anywhere else, so we helped each other out. Vincent, who performed the test, advised me that although the sills were legal they’d need work before the next MOT: which, I guess, is why I didn’t have any hesitation about Garath Smith assaulting my car with Old Sparky, his disc cutter.
I had hoped that the highlight of this update on my car would be the fitting of Davefab’s cold air induction kit, which I’ve been busting to get under the bonnet ever since I got it. The kit draws cool air from the area between the base of the windscreen and the bulkhead with the engine bay, and for it to do so involves cutting a hole in the bulkhead and moving the washer-bottle out of the way – Davefab has thoughtfully designed a fabricated metal low-level replacement that sits in the cold air space on the other side of the car. All of which is to say, once the kit’s installed, you’ll not be easily switching back to the original airbox arrangement; so if you want to obtain a rolling road ‘before’ power figure, it really does have to be prior to fitting the kit.
What with one thing and another, I’d been rather slack in tracking down a dyno to take my car to, and so the cold air kit has been simply knocking about in my office, looking pretty. But then Mr Cleverley enquired if I’d tried the dyno boys about three miles down the road… Guess I should have asked him in the first place.
Hybrid Tune is owned by Sam Weller (firstname.lastname@example.org), who is assisted by Matt
Willgoss, and they soon had my car up on the rollers, the tailpipe venting into a large exhaust gas extractor unit, while around at the front a sizeable fan was blowing cooling air at the engine bay. If you’re not an habitual frequenter of rolling roads, the raging noise and violent turning of the wheels of a car – your car – only a few feet away from you can seem slightly alarming: it doesn’t feel anywhere near as dramatic when you’re behind the wheel driving.
Sam and Matt tried my car with the bonnet shut and then open, the latter to encourage out any last lingering ponies that might be hiding from the heat in the engine bay. Yet their best effort coaxed a total of only 116bhp, much down on the 130bhp the 1.8 is supposed to produce. So they checked the engine timing to see if that might be stealing horsepower: it wasn’t. Perplexed, they ran the tests again. Same result – maximum power of 116.8bhp at 6404rpm and 108.3lb ft of torque at 4839rpm.
Strangely I’m not glum about the outcome, because on the road my 5 always feels perky enough. The power deficit is puzzling, though, but I reckon if I mention it enough times in front of Michael, then his in-built curiosity will kick in and he’ll want to know the answer, too… I do at least now have a baseline figure to work with and it will be fascinating to see what difference, if any, the Davefab induction kit makes – the two Daves aren’t making any claims for power improvements, and they’re as keen as I am to find out the facts.
Fascinating to watch being done to someone else’s car, tear-inducing when it’s your own – just ask editor Fraser. Or maybe don’t…
The horror beneath… The Red Menace has been feasting
MK1 1.8 Run by: Brett Fraser Owned since: 2016 Total Mileage: 118,231 Latest costs: £207
Fraser’s 1.8 is put through its paces on Hybrid Tune’s dyno equipment to measure its power output
Checking the timing