MK1 1.8

Run by: Si­mon Fox Owned since: Jan­uary 2017 To­tal Mileage: 126,330 Lat­est costs: £715

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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…

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