Making more of a mk3
Nicknamed Gherkin, Neil Mcintee’s Spirited Green mk3.5 is a riotous escape from his day job of writing about vans and pick-ups Words: Neil Mcintee Photographs: Antony Fraser
As a break from his day job writing about vans, Neil Mcintee has turned his attentions to seriously uprating his Spirted Green mk3
The road to MX-5 obsession has been short and sweet. The journey began three years ago with the realisation that I was about to reach 60 and had spent the last 25 years living, breathing and writing about light commercial vehicles; first with What Van? and latterly Vansa2z.com. Don’t get me wrong, modern vans and pick-ups are very civilised and sophisticated bits of kit, but I needed to re-ignite the petrolhead within.
Budget set, including a chunk for the inevitable modifications, it was on the way back from inspecting yet another Impreza Turbo which had seen better days that the eureka! moment happened. Top down and driven by a guy with a big grin, a mk3 MX-5 passed going the other way. What was I thinking? Following four years as a road tester on Autocar, by the time the MX-5 was launched in 1989 I was lucky enough to attend the European press launch as editor of
Which Car? I can remember just how much fun it was to drive to this day, it was that impressive.
Three weeks after Eureka Day there was a copper red NC1 Coupe Sport sitting outside the house. Three years later she’s been replaced by the current wheels, a limited edition Sport Black in Spirited Green. I was aware of this rather striking version of the mk3.5, but it
wasn’t until visiting this year’s New Year Day event at Brooklands with the West London chapter of the Owners Club, that I saw one in the metal and was completely smitten. There are just 100 in existence in the UK so are a bit of a rarity and don’t come up for sale that frequently, but three months later I had tracked one down.
Unlike any other car I can think of, the MX-5 really does get under your skin and it becomes a love affair. Looks are subjective, but anyone who has driven a 5 will find it hard to deny its fun-perpound factor and purity, irrespective of generation.what I hadn’t realised was that owning a 5 brings with it a whole new social life, in my case mostly thanks to a host of new like-minded mates from the Mx5driver forum. It’s only really when you spend time with such knowledgeable enthusiasts and see what they’ve achieved with their cars in terms of upgrades and customisation — and quite a few of them have more than one — that the modification juices begin to flow.
The copper red Sport was very much a test bed and it took a good two years to truly make it my own, but this paid dividends when the Gherkin – don’t ask – entered my life.
There’s nothing wrong with the suspension set-up on the mk3 MX-5, quite the opposite. Double wishbones, springs and dampers all-round is a great starting point, but out of the box it rides too high and exhibits a fair amount of body roll, despite the Sport models having Bilstein dampers. So the first port of call was Wheels in Motion in Chesham to have Eibach 30mm lowering springs installed, followed by full ‘fast road’ geometry. Not only does it corner flatter and the ride become more controlled and consistent, the updated geo settings get rid of the built-in factory understeer and make it feel much more planted, especially on the motorway.
As standard the Sport Black’s 2.0-litre produces 160bhp at 7000rpm and develops peak torque of 139lb ft at 5000rpm which is really not that bad for a car with a kerb weight just over 1100kg. Take it to BBR in Brackley, hand over a wad of cash for the Super 200 package and in the Gherkin’s case it ends up with 205bhp at 7450rpm, and 170lb ft at a much lower 4000rpm. And you get an 8000rpm rev-limit.
It’s an old-school conversion consisting of high-lift cams, de-cat fourinto-one manifold and a complete re-map. Combined with a K&N high-flow air filter and the BBR sports mid-pipe and GT back-box swopped over from the copper red Sport, it breathes so much better. There’s a lot more power at the top end, but it’s the additional torque available lower down the revrange that really makes the difference in day-to-day driving. The throttle is so much more responsive without having to thrash the engine into submission and probably explains the 35mpg average fuel consumption. Oh, and it doesn’t half sound good.
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the non-standard disc brakes. Not really a necessity as the standard-fit ones are far from shabby, but the slotted and grooved Black Diamond upgrades not only look better, they also add a significant amount of progressive reassurance.
In reality the remainder of the mods are fairly low-cost cosmetics; hydraulic bonnet lifters, some under-bonnet colour-coding and bling in the shape of a Cobalt one-piece strut brace. The custom Alcantara steering wheel and counter-sunk, heavyweight Moddiction Anvil 2 gearknob, however, are a couple of other carry-overs from the previous car. They are the two constant contact points when driving and both improve the driving experience immensely in my case. Last, but not least, a Smart Top module for the power retractable hard top which adds a one-touch facility to put it up and down on the move, set in my case to a max speed of 20mph.
I am completely enamoured by the Gherkin in its current form. It has more than enough performance, great
steering feel, ride and handling and it sounds like a sports car should.
Every time I get behind the wheel the sight of the vibrant green bonnet brings a smile to my face and makes even a trip to the supermarket fun; taking the scenic route, naturally.
BBR’S Super 200 conversion gives 205bhp and a hike in torque, too. Owner Neil keeps the bay spotless
Drilled and grooved discs are from Black Diamond
Wheel has custom-made Alcantara trim
Cobalt strut brace follows the green theme
Underbonnet reminder that this engine’s tuned
Neil likes the bits of the car that you touch to feel special in your hand, hence the Alcantara-rimmed steering wheel and alloy billet gearknob
Zunsport mesh grille smartens up the front end
Despite being green, this car is a Sport Black special
We do like Neil Mcintee’s number plate