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Project Pinata: 1990 Hillclimb Miata Vol. 1

Photo by @photographeralfred

If you haven't read my NB Miata review, you should (click here). If you don't care for it, that's fine too, this is cooler anyway since I get to share with you the experience of modifying one of the most popular track cars. Now to get the sponsorship issue out of the way, unless I say that I am sponsored by a certain company, treat any brand name mentioned as something I paid for with my own money. I wouldn't install low quality parts on my car even if I was paid by the manufacturer. On the other hand, I would be more than happy to spend money on a quality part for my car and represent the said manufacturer. 


Before I start, a little bit of background information:

I purchased my first Miata on eBay for 1500 bucks as a Christmas gift to self, and it was by far the best 1500 dollars I've spent. The car needed paint, had more than a few body flaws, needed a new soft top and had eight owners before me. The battery was held on by a shoe string, it had different size tires on each corner, and it didn't pass smog the first time. Yet to me it was perfect, as it was mechanically stable and got me from point A to point B. My (now ex) girlfriend absolutely adored it, and it was cheap to modify. To put that in perspective, I bought three ESM 010 15x8 wheels with two Federal RS-R tires for $125. A new soft top? 200 bucks. The used parts market is insanely diverse, and there are so many of these cars out there that parts are stupid cheap. I bought two good doors, a hood, a set of fenders, a front bumper, a new dash, a new soft top, wheels and tires, bigger brakes, stainless steel lines, brembo rotors and NA8 calipers with Hawk HP+ pads, all for under 1600 dollars, and made most of it back selling the old parts. Anyway, you get the point, the car is dirt cheap to run and I could justify virtually every single dollar spent on it. I even took it to a dyno, and it made a whopping 81 wheel horsepower. But more than anything else, I adored the driving experience.


" ...I didn't change the pads on the car until they decided to come out on their own, along with the pistons that were normally supposed to remain in the calipers."


Back on topic- the car came with a pathetic little open differential that used a 6" ring gear, which gave way during the second autocross event I took it to. I soon replaced it with a beefier Torsen unit from a later model Miata. Brakes were also weak to start with, which is why I upgraded to the bigger calipers and rotors from the later model car. The other reason I went ahead and replaced the brakes was because I like to push the limits of maintenance (just like I did when I punched a dozen holes through the engine), and I didn't change the pads on the car until they decided to come out on their own, along with the pistons that were normally supposed to remain in the calipers. In any case- any miata equipped with a torsen and NA8 brakes is a worthy competitor, so much so that racing organizations will add at least half a point for the torsen alone when classing for the competitive series. 

 

The car was far from safe, so I yanked out the only airbag it came with, and installed a roll bar. Some say that a roll bar can do more harm than good in a rear end collision, but I'd rather smack my head on the roll bar padding than have it sheered off by asphalt in case of a roll over. The chassis on the Miata could use some stiffening, and the roll bar contributed greatly in this area. I also pulled the useless power steering, and that alone was one of my favorite modifications to the car. It was now more direct, way more responsive and far more predictable. The next items to be deleted were the non working A/C and the cruise control, and while I noticed no difference there through the butt dyno, lap times didn't lie. The car was slightly faster around the auto-x lot. Oh and the race track? That's where the car really came into its own. You really don't appreciate the importance of getting the lines right until you drive a momentum car, the kind of car that requires you to stay on the gas the entire time if you want to make the most of your current lap- that's the Miata. This little thing was unforgiving every time I made a mistake. You can't brake too late or too early, you have to nail all the right apex points and miss all the wrong ones, and then you just stay on it until you're flying into a corner with the car slightly sideways, questioning your own sanity. If you try hard enough, you will break a few records, and many more egos while you're at it. On the other hand, if you make a mistake mid way through the hot lap, the rest of it might as well be invalidated. At that point, you've lost all the momentum you've gained, and fixing that is a feat in itself.


"...I had tore the car down after calculating all the risks that would be involved in building a racecar while stubbornly denying the fact that I'm not so great at math."

During my near 4 years of owning this car, a lot has changed, and I have decided to finally dedicate a purpose for what was once known as "the Whatever Cup Miata". It all started off as a blown engine at the side of the road, which led to me making one of my classic decisions of "welp- it's racecar time now". Truthfully, I could have saved a lot of money by just replacing the engine and fixing some leaks and leaving it as my daily-driver- but where is the fun in that? It didn't take long before my brother and I smacked some beer bottles together and got to work.

Did I exceed the towing capacity? The specs said no, but the water temperatures disagreed.

Soon came the issue of setting up the plan of what to do with the car, and I dismissed it by choosing to play it by the ear. Well, life didn't quite want to play that game, and I wound up in a hospital dealing with a rather shitty situation (heh) in which I had to have some weight reduction performed in the form of a colon-delete. Four surgeries later I was out in the wild again. Life presented a truly awesome opportunity to move up north and work for a professional LeMans and Daytona winning team, and that's where I met Rick Schumacher and Charlie Tacchi. I really can't just write a sentence or two about them, so I'll leave the formal introductions to the videos you can find on TAB's YouTube channel. What I can say is what role they played in my decision to focus the build towards Pikes Peak: Rick made it clear that it's a lot more attainable than I had originally thought, and Charlie is responsible for the difficult task of pulling me down from the ledge every time I seriously considered dropping in a turbocharged LS into it. As he puts it (and I'm paraphrasing)- it's better to deliver a truly well put together C-car that will finish the hill-climb, than a lackluster attempt at an A-car which may have A-parts, but the engineering of an F-car. Rick is the man that brings my ridiculously amazing creative livery ideas to life through his equally amazing abilities behind Adobe Illustrator and the plotter. I would have him do the wraps if I could, but the issue is that he and I are on the opposite sides of the gorgeous state of California nowdays, so the fact that I'm lucky enough to have him put together those gorgeous colored vectors is more than enough. 

This year began for me back in LA. The goal was to get the car to the racetrack and to hammer the crap out of it to see what breaks first. Originally, I had tore tore the car down after calculating all the risks that would be involved in building a racecar while stubbornly denying the fact that I'm not so great at math. Now I had Charlie to take care of the mathematics, and all I had to do was get creative with the wrench. After getting the car driving again, I dropped it off with Tony at TC Design to replace my poor attempt at a cage with something that would prevent my head from turning into a crushed watermelon in case of a roll-over. A short while later, the car was back in my possession, ready for prep-work for its first event with Alfa Romeo Owner's Club

To be continued...

Suren Simonyan