OUR CARS The Total MX-5 fleet
Here at Total MX-5 we’re MX-5 owners – frankly, why wouldn’t we be? So we share your ownership pleasure, and your (occasional) pain. This issue we welcome a V6-engined mk1 Rocketeer to our fleet of MX-5S
A V6-engined Rocketeer joins the line-up, while fickle Bennett’s recently acquired mk2 makes way for a mk3
READYING A ROCKETEER
My friend Simon Worland isn’t given to impulse purchases
(writes John Simister). But when he heard about the Rocketeer conversion and how it could make an MX-5 go like (and sound remarkably like) a Porsche Boxster, he had an impulse sufficiently large to put down the first deposit for Bruce Southey’s Jaguar Ajv6-based kit. That was before any press reports of the result had appeared, and before Southey had even finished developing it.
Simon loves his MX-5. It’s a 1995 1.8 is, found via an MX-5 Owners’ Club ad in 2011. He paid what some regarded as a high price, but he and I regarded it as remarkable value for a car which had done just 10,400 miles and was practically like new. Then, far from hiding it away as a time-warp, he used it as his daily driver, enjoying that nearly-new sensation 15 years later than normal.
Now it has over 50,000 miles on the odometer, is still in pristine condition – and it has just become the first customer Rocketeer to take to the road. Simon is a dab hand at car mechanics, having restored a couple of classics and spending a day every week at the workshop of a restorer friend, Adam Redding, as an antidote to the bank manager day job. Re-engineering his MX-5 into a Porsche-worrier was exactly his sort of project.
The neatness, completeness and precision of the Rocketeer kit, and the way it has been accurately designed on computer, sealed the deal. Simon’s deposit went to Bruce Southey in December 2016, the idea being that it would help fund the kit’s development.
On 23 October 2017, Simon texted me: ‘Spoke to Bruce on Friday. A one square metre box on a pallet will be heading my way early next week. Very much looking forward to opening it!’
I replied: ‘Interesting that it’s a flat-pack. I’d feel happier if it were a metre cubed… Have fun.’
A cubic-metre box duly arrived containing everything apart from the ECU, as well as a clutch cover finished in a shocking magenta.
The standard of finish was just delicious, including that of the aluminium sump whose intricate design – and the porosity of early prototype castings – was one of the reasons for the project’s delay. All the steel parts were powder-coated, the nuts and bolts were stainless steel, every clip, clamp and bolt was bagged, and detailed instructions revealed what went where.
In mid-november the engine was delivered, a new-old-stock ‘crate’ unit from Jaguar originally intended for an S-type and promising a useful 260bhp. That’s exactly twice the power of the Mazda 1.8, even though the engine weighs about the same thanks to its aluminium construction. Before mating it to the MX-5, though, the V6 had to be prepared for its new role. That meant removing the knock sensor because it gets in the way of the installation process, changing the sump, fitting the manifolds and bell-housing spacer plate – and checking that everything was going to work properly in the clutch.
‘It’s a good thing I did,’ says Simon, ‘because the splined hub of the driven plate was very close to the spigot bearing in the flywheel.
‘There was less than half a millimetre of clearance, so I ground off 1.5mm and pushed the spigot bearing further in so they wouldn’t touch when the plate has worn a bit. It turned out that the flywheel [Rocketeer-unique] had been incorrectly machined.’
It was one of several bits of feedback that Simon would be giving to Bruce, ensuring that the next Rocketeer kits were problem-free.
Now the engine could be lifted onto the new subframe, to which it was anchored using new engine mounts. These were standard Mazda items, but not the car’s original ones, which were still supporting the original engine. Now, Simon had to tear the heart out his beloved MX-5, ready for the transplant with a bigger, more powerful one.
Deep breath time… But he had to hold that breath for a while, because there was still no sign of the all-important ECU without which there could be no Rocketeer launch. Simon needed a functional Mazda – it’s his daily driver, remember – so he didn’t want to take it apart until he was sure he could finish the job without delays.
So it wasn’t until February 2018, with the ECU’S imminent arrival promised, that the MX-5’S last drive under fourcylinder power ended on Adam Redding’s two-post lift.
Simon quickly got to work. Out came the radiator, an aluminium one bigger than standard, bought and fitted a while ago in anticipation of the Rocketeer conversion. Next, he disconnected the steering column and detached the suspension and steering rack from the old subframe, leaving the whole lot still attached to the hubs and hanging on the dampers. Then he disconnected all hoses, pipes, wires and the powerplant frame’s connection to the gearbox.
Now the subframe, suitably supported, could be unbolted and the body lifted up and away, with the engine and gearbox still sitting in the subframe as it parted from the propshaft. Oh, the joys of a workshop lift… The job would have been trickier in a home garage, but not impossible.
The gearbox was parted from the engine, which was then consigned with its subframe to the role of useful spare. The Jaguar engine was wearing an adaptor plate ready to meet the Mazda gearbox, but the position of the starter motor meant that Simon had to cut a small piece out of the gearbox’s bellhousing to accommodate it. That done, it was time to lower the MX-5 over its new powertrain.
It looked quite a tight squeeze. Just how tight, I’ll tell you next time.
‘Your brake fluid reservoir is almost empty,’ observes Vince from Cleverley Repaired Cars, ‘did you know?’ Actually, it comes as a bit of a surprise, because while I’m not a regular maintenance fanatic, a lack of brake fluid is something likely to catch my eye even with just a cursory glance under the bonnet.
Still, the bonnet is open because boss, Michael
Cleverley, is about to drain some of the brake fluid out as part of the procedure to fit new front brake pads – I have inadvertently saved him the bother, how lucky is that? The frown wrinkling Michael’s forehead suggests that he doesn’t see much humour in the situation, as the only way to lose that much brake fluid is from a leak, and Michael doesn’t like leaks. Especially where stopping components are concerned.
My mk1 is in at Cleverley’s today because we’re doing the photography for Total MX-5’S regular How To feature: for this issue it’s all about fitting replacement high performance brake pads. I’ve never fitted my own brake pads before and figured that many of you guys may not have done either, and Michael is the ideal chap to explain how to do it yourself.
But apart from needing photographs for our How To pages, I also want to improve the braking performance of my car with a set of better pads. I don’t do any track driving but do chunter along quite quickly on the public road and brake late and hard – I’ve never been satisfied with the initial bite of the standard pads nor their rate of retardation, so some high performance alternatives seem like a good idea. The default choice for MX-5S in recent times appears to be EBC, but the blokes at Ferodo suggested I try a pair of DSPF pads, and as Michael is also interested in what they behave like, that’s what I’ve gone for.
The DSPFS have a sintered pad friction material, packed with little strands of goldycoloured metal and rough to the touch. How will the discs cope with that, I wonder to myself, yet the Ferodo Racing
website promises ‘excellent disc life’ as well as ‘low wheel dust’ and ‘racing “feel”’ and ‘high friction coefficient’. We’ll see about all those claims in the fullness of time, but first let’s just get them fitted.
Only it’s not going to be that simple… As Michael pulls off the nearside caliper he notes that it’s a bit damp and slippery around the main seal. ‘This could well be the reason you’re so low on brake fluid,’ he surmises. When the offside caliper is also removed and is in the same condition, the diagnosis is confirmed. A quick look through the Cleverley Repaired Cars history file on my car shows that the calipers are only a little more than a year old. ‘We’ve never had any trouble with these calipers in the past,’ insists Michael, ‘but clearly there’s a major problem with these ones.’ He’s straight on the phone to the supplier and replacements are despatched.
Michael returns to my car and is soon wearing another anguished expression. ‘These discs…’ he begins, but doesn’t really need to finish the sentence. Even I can see that they’re gonners. The pads have been gripping them on only a very small surface area and in places the corrosion is chronic. ‘I’ve got some EBC discs in stock that will fit your car,’ Michael ventures. He’s already off to get them before my mouth has formed the words, ‘oh, go on, then, I better had.’
EBC discs are supplied with an anti-corrosion coating that’s a bit of a swine to get off. Michael first tries some paint stripper but when that makes no difference resorts to a light abrasive attachment on his drill to get through to the shining metal beneath. Clearly now on a bit of a roll with the cleaning up surfaces routine, he next attacks the hub onto which the new disc will be mounted – apparently if you don’t get rid of the surface rust then the disc doesn’t seat uniformly and will shudder when you brake hard. I offer to help with the wet ‘n’ dry, but Michael’s so in the groove with the cleaning that I don’t think he even hears me.
Eventually the (reconditioned) replacement calipers show up and Michael’s quick to reassemble everything. For his own amusement – but I think also a little bit to shame me – he dips a brake fluid water content measurement device into the paltry remains in my reservoir. ‘Blimey,’ shouts apprentice Jacob from the background, ‘I’ve never heard the warning buzzer go off before!’ ‘Think we might replace the fluid,’ retorts Michael.
As all this is taking place the day before Total MX-5 goes to press, I haven’t yet had the chance to properly test the Ferodo pads, as they’re still bedding in. One thing I can report, though, is that I already have the initial bite and improved pedal feel that I was after – tell you more next issue.
Brake fluid isn’t the only essential that my MX-5 has been short of in recent times – tyre pressures have been down, too. Not by much, just 3psi or so. But enough to impact the handling. I’ve heard in the past that mk1s – all MX-5S, really – are very sensitive to tyre pressures, but I never really believed that it could make that much difference.
Not in any major ‘I must do something about this’ way, but I’d felt that the handling had lost its edge, that the car wasn’t moving with the agility that defines the MX-5. I had my foot pump out anyway one day, so thought I may as well check out the Mazda, too. And discovered that the pressures of the Yokohamas were down.
They’re now back to where they should be, and the car’s back to behaving like the nimble little funster of legend. For the future I will be a lot more diligent in checking the tyre pressures on a frequent basis.
In the last issue we ran a news item on some Powerflex doorstop bushes: I’ve now had the time to try them out. And yes, that is Powerflex the suspension bush company. The claims in the press release for the bushes included less rattling and buzzing through the doors on the move, better door speaker performance, and reduced clanging when you slam the door.
Turns out that all those claims are true. My teenage son is a nightmare for slamming the doors closed on my car, and the Powerflex bushes mean that there’s no longer a resounding crash as he does so. The speakers can now handle extra volume from the head unit, and there’s less resonance zizzing out of the doors when the car’s moving – it’s a little hard to tell, though, because there’s so much racket from just about everything else! The only (very minor) downside is that the doors need a bigger tug from the inside to get them to shut properly, but I’m sure that could be sorted if I could be bothered to subtly adjust the position of the bushes – at the moment I’m too unconcerned about it to care.
One final thing I should mention in this report is that when he finished fitting the Ferodo pads, Michael Cleverley took my car for a short test drive, to check everything was fine and dandy.
When he returned he declared with brutal honesty, ‘Your suspension is bloody awful.’ With which I wholeheartedly agree.
But then he continued: ‘And I can’t get on with that Davefab induction kit. It’s like having someone blow a trumpet right in my ear.’
I bow to Mr Cleverley’s superior knowledge on most matters MX-5, but I take issue with this appraisal – I absolutely love the sound that the induction kit makes: I reckon he’s just getting old…
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
I deserve a bit of car buying luck. Regular readers might think that I’ve been lucky enough already, what with my recent £600 Red Roadster mk2, but I would contest that it doesn’t even come close to making up for the buying faux pas that is my Porsche 911. Sorry for that shock reference, but my day job is editing Total MX-5’S sister mag,
911 & Porsche World, and not surprisingly I run a Porsche for that title in the ‘Projects’ pages. My 911 is of the 996 variety and if you know anything about modern 911s (or Boxsters for that matter), then you will know that the 996 can be a whole lot of mechanical trouble, with complete engine meltdowns not uncommon, plus all sorts of other 996-specific issues, of which my car has many.
What the 996 isn’t renowned for, however, is bodywork issues. It’s a modern galvanised car and only a botched repair job would perhaps manifest itself in rust and other nastiness. You can probably see where this is going. My 996 has been involved in a smash, which I didn’t pick up on when I bought it over three years ago, but now the truth is bubbling under and out, on the nearside rear quarter, and it’s going to cost many, many thousands of pounds to repair.
With that in mind, I don’t have much spare to throw at an everyday car as I divert funds into the Porsche pot. A £600 MX-5 seemed like a systembeating solution and I thoroughly enjoyed tidying it up and pressing it into everyday action. I was happy as Larry (whoever, Larry may be), but then out of the blue, I really hit the jackpot.
Over a curry with some old school pals, chum Paul asked me what I reckoned about a 2007 Mk3 MX-5 that could well be coming his way for a mere £1000? ‘What’s wrong with it,’ was my immediate response, but apart from a leggy 135,000 miles, he reckoned it was in fine shape. The story? Well, the car belonged to a friend of his, who was emigrating to Australia. She needed the car up until the last minute and was happy to sell it to Paul for him to do with as he pleased, for a bag of sand!
‘Thing is,’ he said, ‘I don’t think I’ve really got any use for it. Do you want it?’ Do I? For a grand, you bet I do...
The car wasn’t a total mystery to me. I had seen it before, when Paul and owner Michelle had come to visit my East Anglian outpost a few years ago. It was Copper Red and, as far as I could remember, a 1.8. That was about it really and
Paul didn’t know much more either, except that it had a hardtop. However, at the money I wasn’t in any position to be fussy, and besides, I kept expecting Paul to change his mind. But, no, he stuck to his guns and all that was standing between me and a bargain MX-5 was the Australian Embassy, which was dragging out issuing a visa to Michelle. But eventually out it popped and a departure date was set.
There was the small matter of finding the money, but I reasoned that the tidied up red mk2 was worth £1k of anyone’s heard-earned. In fact, so convinced was I that I happily sold it to friend of
Charlie Robinson. Charlie has the distinction of being our first ever subscriber and starred on the front cover of issue no1 in his silver mk2. Sadly he wrote that off in a nasty accident a year or so ago, so it was good to be able to get him back in an MX-5. Wheeler-dealering done, all that remained was to go south and collect the mk3.
Still not quite knowing what to expect, a mini ‘Beast from the East’ didn’t help much either, as a weekend snowfall meant that when I arrived at
Paul’s gaff my ‘new’ MX-5 was largely hidden under a drift. Over a cuppa I perused the paperwork and was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t a 1.8, but a 2.0litre, albeit a five-speed. But hey, I wasn’t complaining. We were too busy gossiping to get any further with the history file and eventually we braved the elements and dug it out. A cursory glance inside revealed leather, heated seats, Michelle’s satnav (presumably it didn’t have Aussie mapping) and a hands-free kit and then it was time to hit the road and get back home via the M25, M11 and A14, before another dump of snow. Initial impressions were that it felt rather odd, but then as soon as I got off the motorway, I checked the tyre pressures, which were all over the place. Correctly inflated it felt a lot better.
Back home and straight into the garage it went, covered in salt and winter grime. A full week of work and more bad weather meant that is where it stayed, but I did at least have a chance to check out all the paperwork. So how jammy had I been? Well, pretty bloomin’ jammy actually. This MX’S first owner – a Mrs Drabble from Northampton – hadn’t spared on the spec, giving it the full Option Pack, plus leather, climate control and heated seats and the hardtop too, which adds a certain level of extra comfort. The service history was all there – plus invoices for any other work – and I was now the third owner. Downsides? Only the high mileage really, but hey it’s a Mazda and mostly MX-5S don’t rack up big miles, because they are largely used as second cars. That they are capable of going the distance, though, goes without saying.
While the paperwork made for good reading, I was itching to get a bit more intimate with my bargain mk3. Finally a break in the weather and the work schedule meant I could spend a bit of time driving and tidying. You learn a lot with a bucket and sponge and even more with a good polish and some wax. With a bit of effort, the paintwork came up a treat, but the wheels were past their best. With new car enthusiasm in my sails, I picked up a secondhand set of standard 16in rims on ebay (the originals can be pressed into action as winter wheels, with suitable tyres) for £80 and sent them to my local refurb specialists, BA Wheels in Norwich, for an anthracite makeover, to complement the Copper Red. A new set of tyres seemed like a good plan, too, so I ordered four Davanti DX390S. I’ve run these on both my mk2 MX-5S and while notionally a budget tyre, I’ve been very impressed with their performance. New black wheel studs and centre caps came via ebay, to complete the makeover.
Not that I was finished there. The early mk3s come complete with stilts instead of springs and dampers, so I knew before I had even picked it up, that I would
be going for Eibach springs to bring the ride height down by 30mm. And it so happened that my friends at Eibach suggested some anti-roll bars, too. Well, why not. I delivered my new purchase to our tech expert, Michael Cleverley, with Total
MX-5 art girl, Alison, following in the household Berlingo, laden with wheels, tyres, springs and roll bars. On top of that little lot, I also tasked Michael with a service (it was about due) and asked him to change the gearbox and differential oil, plus the brake fluid and to give it a general once-over, plus an allimportant suspension geometry set-up on his super-duper, laserguided rig.
And what a difference, when I arrived a couple of days later to pick it up. Slammed and on the new wheels, it looked the business. Michael reckoned it was in fine fettle, too. And to drive? Transformed. Stiffer, but not too stiff, less roll, better turn-in, great steering feel. Just bloomin’ great really. Oh, and really quite fast, what with the 2.0-litre, 160bhp lump. Yes, I’m still pinching myself and it certainly doesn’t feel any the worse for its high mileage.
With summer looming, there remained one more task, which was to get the roof off. Peering over the seats, I could see the top section of the hood, which looked in good shape, but really it’s all the folding bits that you have to worry about. That said, I had a feeling that the hardtop hadn’t been off very often. It took a liberal squirt of WD-40 and the assistance of one of my burlier mates to help shift the rear latches. Moment of truth time, then. Phew, one soft-top hood in great condition. Summer here we come. Have to say, though, storing the hardtop is something of a hassle. It’s a rare option too, but then the coupe version of the mk3 pretty much negated the need for the soft-top/hardtop combo.
A couple of months into ownership and the mk3 MX-5 is a very different MX to my previous mk1 and the two mk2s. It is quite the modern car in terms of build, fixtures and fittings. It is the MX-5 that I’ve had the least experience with, and while not quite as immediately engaging as the earlier cars, it is much more suited to my daily driver requirements – which can involve some serious mileage – and 90% as much fun.
I’m enjoying the extra space, pace and refinement (particularly with the hardtop on), loving the posh leather and heated seats, when chilly, and the air con when it’s hot and I’m on a long motorway drive. I can certainly see why the mk3 has such a strong fan base, although Mazda was right not to let the MX-5 get any bigger and effectively downsizing with the fourth generation car.
So, there you go. A case of right place, right time and a bit of car buying luck, which never goes amiss. And better than a Porsche? Well, better than my Porsche. But then, that’s not difficult...
Yes, that’s right, there are six cylinders housed in this mk1’s engine bay, so it must be a Rocketeer conversion. Duct tape on plenums is now gone
The outgoing four-cylinder 1.8
MK1 ‘ROCKETEER’ Run by: Simon Worland Owned since: 2011 Total mileage: 50,000+ Latest costs: tba
As well as the V6, these are the other parts needed to make a Rocketeer
A workshop lift isn’t essential, but it sure does help with the installation
Really, he just wants the box…
Magenta clutch is part of the kit
Effy ‘assists’ Michael Cleverley in the change of discs, pads and calipers on the front of Fraser’s mk1
Frankly, can’t really see what was wrong with the old discs…
MK1 1.8 Run by: Brett Fraser Owned since: 2016 Total Mileage: 120,591 Latest costs: £234
Protective paint be gone!
Ferodo’s high performance pads
New discs and new (reconditioned) calipers to go with the new pads
Ferodo Racing DSPF pads in situ: Fraser now needs to bed them in
Brake fluid stained pad carrier
MK3 2.0 Run by: Steve Bennett Owned since: December Total Mileage: 137,450 Latest costs: £500 (suspension)
Bennett’s bargain mk3 came complete with a rare hardtop, but while the sun’s shining it has been consigned to the back of the garage
Gleaming with that ‘just got a new car’ shininess. Give it a month or two…
New Eibach springs lower the mk3’s ride height by about 30mm. The splash of red here is the Eibach anti-roll bar
Having said he can barely afford the car, Bennett buys this little lot
New Eibach spring is a fair bit shorter than the standard Mazda item
Refurbed wheels and new tyres