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

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

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

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