Run by: Simon Fox Owned since: January 2017 Total Mileage: 126,330 Latest costs: £715
There’ve been some ins and outs this month with ‘Dave’ the 1.8 mk1, along with a lot of umming and ahhing over where to go next with it. You might have spotted the car on page 62, having its ECU swapped over and the new one tweaked on the rolling road at Motorsport Electronics, not far from Bath in Westbury. I want more power from my car, even though a good chunk of the fun of an MX-5 is trying to extract as much from its (as it turns out) 117bhp without necessarily breaking the speed limit.
I like the idea of throttle bodies and while they sound amazing and keeping the engine normally-aspirated has a lot of appeal (and Mazda never meant to turbocharge the car so it feels somehow right), the turbocharger route wins. Not only can you extract a lot more power (230–240bhp is available safely from the engine without any internal work) but it’s cheaper and, worst case scenario, if anything untoward happens to the engine you can unbolt the goodies and stick them straight on a replacement.
Turbo it is then. I never even considered a supercharger. I didn’t like the whine or the linear power delivery when I had a JCW Mini Cooper S for a while and from what I hear a turbo is a lot less hassle to get working properly. Whichever option
I’d taken I would have needed a plug-and-play ECU and after a chat with Nick at Skuzzle Motorsports, my local MX-5 specialist and tuning wizard, I knew I needed an ME221.
My previous MX-5, ‘Steve’ the 1.6 mk1 RS, was a rather special car. But despite the excellent running gear and very clean underside, the bodywork and interior were beyond economic salvage, with badly resprayed panels and a rattly interior with old leather that smelled of wee when it rained. The engine revved beautifully and I loved ragging it round the country lanes of Hampshire and Dorset, but with prices of good MX-5S so low, it was easier to buy a good car than throw money at the one I had.
I’d heard rumour that the
1.8 came with more torque but didn’t rev so well and when I bought Dave I realised there was some truth to that. One ME221 ECU later and it turns out it’s all twaddle: either the car lost a lot of its
oomph over the years, or it never had it in the first place. But despite no overwhelming increase in power on the rolling road, there’s enough there to make it worth revving the engine to around 6800rpm. And the sense of urgency is just like driving Steve the 1.6 again.
I’ve done a few miles in the car since the ECU transplant even though it’s an interim setup while I wait to turbocharge the car – ideally I’d have a cone filter and 4-1 manifold fitted if I wanted the ECU to make best use of the engine tune as is. I’ve been sorely tempted to do just that, but the lure of 230–240bhp is too strong. Even if you have no plans to fit throttle bodies, turbocharge or supercharge your car, I’d thoroughly recommend considering the ECU and basic intake/exhaust upgrades: they’ll make your car a lot more fun to drive.
Now to get the money together to go down the turbocharging route… I’ll need to find a TD04 turbocharger and a set of (Mazda) RX-8 injectors, along with a manifold, intercooler and a few bits of pipework. I already have a TD04 in my remapped (can you see a pattern here?) Subaru
Forester and while that car currently has 246bhp, I’ve been told it has the filter and fuel pump upgrades already fitted, so a remap to an apparently safe 280bhp (and oodles more torque) should be possible. I need to do some more research but a popular upgrade is to a TD05 turbo – maybe I’ll do that to the Subaru and use the car’s current TD04 in the MX.
Meanwhile, I thought with spring on the way I should fit the secondhand mk2 mohair hood I’d failed to fit a few months ago. I took it over to Skuzzle only to be told it’s been squashed at some point which is why it doesn’t fit and is essentially useless. I could remove the mohair and fit it to another frame (Nick sold me one that isn’t squashed and works for £20), but it’s apparently a very fiddly job that will take a few hours and likely try my limited patience. The £20 frame is in the car now, under the hardtop, and has a tatty roof on it that needs patching with duct tape, but it should suffice until I decide what to do next.
I’m slowly getting there, though. The car handles superbly on the Meister Rs and while the brakes and diff will need upgrading, there are just minor jobs left to do when the weather warms up. Mine is a ’97 UK car and has an open diff which is apparently not so good when you fit a turbocharger, as the driver isn’t necessarily in control of how and when the power is applied, which can result in you hitting the scenery at speed.
The brakes are currently OK but start to feel wooden after 30 minutes of brisk driving – with all the extra power on the way I’ll be fitting some new stoppers.
Hardtop currently hides a ratty-looking hood on a secondhand frame
Fox’s mk1 awaits underbonnet attention: others await front wings…