Resurrecting the Miata.

I know.  I know.  I’ve been horrible about updating this blog.  I just haven’t had the energy to do much with it.  Mindless TV entertainment is about the extent of what I’ve been up for.

I own a 1997 Miata very similar to this one:

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The options it came with were the “Touring Package” that gave me Power Steering, a Leather Wrapped Steering Wheel, Power Windows, aluminum allor wheels and a door map pocket.  It comes with a 1.8 L inline 4 engine sending 133 HP to the rear wheels through a 5 speed manual transmission.  To that package I put on a stiffer front sway bar, Koni Yellow shocks and Ground Control coilovers.  With that setup, she could dance around the cones.

For various reasons it has been sitting in the garage, undriven, for years.  Indeed, the license plate on it had expired in 2016 and it had been sitting for a while even before then.

One of the reasons it was garaged was its tire status.  I had a set of Autocross “street” tires on the alloy wheels–very soft rubber for getting around an autocross course quickly, but not exactly stellar on tread life.  I also had a set of steel wheels with winter/snow tires on them. (Given the car’s balance, it’s actually quite good in the snow provided you have real snow tires and not all-season radials regardless of any “mud/snow” rating.)  The autocross tires were really on their last legs.  I mean really, really, on their last legs.  “Belt showing through” type last legs.  I had snow tires on it the last time I’d driven it, and they were quite old (it had been parked for an extended time before then as well).  On the way home one night, one of the snow tires blew out.  I put the “donut” spare on got it home.  Money was tight at the time so I parked it intending to “get to it” at some later date.

There it sat.

Recently, I had to get the Miata back on the road (may the Explorer rest in peace–but that’s not a tale for today).  So, first thing I had to deal with was those tires.  I found that I didn’t have either summer or winter tires–two of the winter tires had gone flat sitting in the garage.

Budget was an issue, as was time.  I had a rental car, but only for a limited time.  And so, I took the wheels with the summer tires to a local Discount Tire Warehouse and basically asked for the cheapest tires that would fit.  They didn’t have anything in the nominal size (185/60R14), but something that would mostly work (175/65R14).

In addition to the tires, the right front turn signal/parking light group was broken.  I ordered a replacement for that.

But the real “eep” moment was when I got the rear wheels off to swap in the alloy wheels with new tires.  The right rear brake was shot.  I mean the rotor was worn completely through.  Fronts didn’t look too bad and I’d had brake work done on the car not long before parking it (last break work done at a shop…remember that.  I didn’t do it myself).  So I order a new pair of rear rotors and set of pads and wait for them to come in.

While waiting for the rotors and pads to come in, I install the new turn signal unit and all works fine from that.

The pads and rotors proved to be a challenge.  The one that had worn through proved to be especially troublesome.  The caliper slide pin was stuck.  I ended up having to buy some “extra grip” sockets to get it out. (Got a new set of slider pins on order.) Then it took hammering and prying to get it loose from the upper pin so I could dismount it to get access to the pads and the remains of the rotor.  The hub section of the rotor had rusted in place to badly that despite drenching it in WD-40, I spend the better part of an hour hammering at it from different directions to try to break it loose.  Finally it comes free and then I get the new rotor in place and…It won’t go on.

Oh.  Despite what they showed in the videos online you can’t just move the caliper itself out of the way.  You have to remove the caliper mounting bracket to make clearance to get the rotor installed.   I didn’t realize that in taking the old one off because it came off in pieces.

Finally, I get it back together.  Now it’s time to do the other side.  However, between what I learned doing the first side and the fact that the other side wasn’t anywhere near as bad, it went much more quickly.  The only problem was the 14mm head screws that hold the caliper mounting bracket in place were pretty frozen and there wasn’t room to get leverage.  I ended up putting the box end of a 14 mm combination wrench on the bolt and whacking at the far end of the wrench with an engineer’s mallet until it started to move.  Then I was able to break free.

Here’s the mess that I removed from the rear hubs.  Note especially that one on the right–the one that was in pieces and with the pads completely worn through so I was getting metal to metal contact.  Remember, the last time I had brake work done on this car, it was done by a shop.

20200501_163238 (2)

And that is why I prefer to do my own work whenever possible.  I know what I do.  Someone else, even a “professional”?  Not so much.

Got the new rotors and pads installed, the parking brake adjusted, and the wheels back on.  A quick test drive told me I had good brake response, nice pedal feel, and no hint of any problems.

And, yes, she’s every bit as much a blast to drive as I remembered.

Next steps are doing the front brakes–they were acceptable “as is” but I might as well get it all done while I’m working on it.  Then I want to replace the stereo.  The tape deck/radio receiver was fine in 1997.  I need something that “talks” to my phone.  A double-din stereo can be put in place and I’ve looked up tutorials on how, but I might just do the simple thing and replace with a simple single-din system.  Also the left-side speaker cuts in and out.  Looks like there’s a flaky connection.  I’m hoping that it’s at the radio end rather than the speaker end so re-wiring for a new stereo will take care of it.

I’m still thinking down the road to use the Miata as a donor card for a “7” build (something like this):

Miata-Based-Lotus-7-Style-Replica-14

That would give me about half the weight of the Miata.  Put doors and a top on it and I’ll have a crazy quick commuter car.

This generation Miata is no longer competitive in the stock or lightly modified Autocross classes.  The years and new vehicles have passed her by.  So I’m not worried about competition modifications, instead, perhaps things that will just make her fun.  And the “7” build?  The things required to make it street legal will make it too heavy to really be competitive in the Autocross classes it would be legal for but…still crazy fun to drive street car.

But for now, what I’ve got is a reasonably practical (if a little short on storage space) street car that’s also pretty fun to drive.

14 thoughts on “Resurrecting the Miata.”

  1. 2 words to solve some of your issues: Monster Miata.

    Seriously, drop 300+ hp of normally aspirated small-block Ford power under the hood, and you have the ultimate sleeper!

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    1. The thing I like about the Miata is its ability to “dance”. Big power is nice, but it’s the nimbleness that makes it so much fun. That’s why I’m thinking “7 build”–dropping weight and lowering the CG even more will improve on the Miata’s already superb handling and responsiveness.

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  2. Good job. We do our own car work if possible and we’ve talked about the why.
    It’s a sliding scale between the facts that I have mechanical knowledge and tools, it usually saves a great deal of money, and as you said, the professional isn’t going to put the same amount of paranoia into his work as I do to my work.
    I bet that Miata is a bunch of fun to drive. We had a Fiat 850 Spyder for a couple of years, and while it was a lot of fun to drive, it also lived down to Fiat’s reputation for needed constant repair.

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      1. In our experience it did.
        The engine lacked an oil filter. Not kidding. It had a centrifugal separator on the end of the crankshaft, and you would have to take the cover off and did the collected crud out with a table knife bent for the purpose.
        However it was a convertible, it was bright red, and it was a bunch of fun to drive.
        I suspect that by the standards of your Miata, it actually drove terribly.

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  3. Enjoyed the article because I’m a car guy. Spent a bit of time adjusting the emergency brake pads on the truck yesterday. Once I am finally able to launch the boat I really don’t want it to slide down the ramp. Damn impact wrench wouldn’t get the lug nuts off. Threw it away and bought this! https://www.menards.com/main/tools/power-tools/pneumatic-tools/air-tools/campbell-hausfeld-reg-1-2-air-impact-wrench/cl0060000av/p-1545204744436-c-12915.htm $31 after the rebate! Not advertizing for Menards but this thing was cheap and worked perfectly! One car guy to another.

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    1. Who torqued those lug nuts if even a cheapo impact wrench won’t remove them? And, um, what condition was the rotor in? (Overtorqueing is a good way to warp brake drums/rotors.

      One of these days I need to recover my compressor from the office. I “loaned” it to the company to run some specialty equipment we had there for testing and never bothered bringing it back home once that project was finished.

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      1. Actually, I hand torqued them to spec. 130 lbft. (After I ordered a new lug lock key). Where the hell did that go?! It was a sears mid-level torque wrench that even after dissasembling, inspecting and reassembling didn’t do squat. I finally had it. Rotors are fine. I replaced the rear brakes a couple of weeks ago at 65,000 miles. Front brakes are fine and are original. What’s up with that? Anyway new wrench is “up to” 800 lbft in reverse but only 60 lbft in forward. Which I at first didn’t think I’d like, but having used it, it’s great, so I don’t over-torque. That’s what a torque wrench or a calibrated arm is for. Oh, and when I started to remove the driver’s side pads, the outer pad fell off the backing plate. That coulda been bad. Can’t live without the compressor, too many yard things with tires to fill up. And then there’s the wife’s delicate wall hanging things that can’t be dusted, but her hero husband can gently blow them off with his manly compressor set to low pressure.

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        1. i ran through three Craftsmen torque wrenches before i broke down and paid for a Snap-On.

          Sears would not replace or even discount a new one. I never went back to Sears after that.

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          1. The one I got–second one, a click one; first one being one of those that measures the flex in the arm–has worked well for me adequate to the 105 ft-lbs for the old explorer and more than so for the 85 for torquing the Miata’s lug nuts.

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  4. I remember looking at a used Miata when I was in college. The only thing that really still sticks out is that when the gear shifter was in fifth gear you couldn’t eject the cassette tape because the lever was in the way. You had to downshift, change the tape, then shift back up.

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  5. For those who don’t know, don’t use petroleum based grease on the caliper sliders (unless you have replaced the rubber bushings with bronze). The rubber swells and sticks the caliper.

    I didn’t know and wrecked a nice pair of orbital disks on my TT.

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