Words and Photos by Austin Cabot
So you just read the title and I know what you're thinking. Before you ask - the answer is "NO" - this swap is not a kit. At least not yet. If there is enough interest in it, the guys over at V8 Roadsters may offer one, but currently there are no plans.
With that out of the way, lets take a little look at what this unique combination of car and motor is and how it came to be. And yes...I even got to drive it...on Laguna Seca - but more on that below.
V8 Roadsters is a company that many may already be familiar with. They produce kits that allow GM LS based motors to be installed into the first three generations of Miati (That's the plural form of Miata, right?). As you can imagine, swapping motors out of miatas means that you're left with a lot of stock miata motors lying around. If you have a bunch of motors around, and a few chassis lying around, the wheels start turning and you just might end up with something like we have here.
It feels kinda of like a test car. Maybe we should be wearing helmets painted to look like crash test dummies.
Surprisingly, nobody really knows this car exists, and V8 Roadsters didn't really push it too much at the Miatas at Mazda Raceway event I got to see it at. If you were walking through the paddock, you'd just see another caged, appliance white Miata without a top. You might notice that somebody put an NC shift knob on it and it's got the 6 speed shift pattern, so maybe it's got the NB 6 speed trans in it. Nothing unusual there.
The hood was even popped most days while in the paddock, and people would just walk by, seeing another black valve cover in the engine bay. The car really is just that simple and unassuming. And that's exactly why I love it.
The guys at V8 Roadsters are calling this car the "Donkey" as it's going to be a test mule for a few others things they have going on. It's made exclusively with parts that Steve and Shandelle had lying around the shop. Motor, trans, ecu, brakes, wheels, tires, etc - everything was waiting around to be put together into an amazingly simple but effective car.
The chassis is an early 1990 model chassis, with a production date from 1989. This was also one of the first spec miatas built as well - looking at the cage, you can tell. It's extra beefy with a lot of bars that would be considered too much extra weight for a spec miata these days. It's also on the original iteration of the spec miata suspension, the specs of which escape me at the moment.
I've always said Miatas are greater than the sum of their parts. This one is no different. It's much greater than the sum of its parts.
The car features V8 Roadsters Wilwood kits front and rear. The brakes are a little overkill for the car in its current state, as Shandelle told me. Driving it at Laguna Seca, I found this to be true. The car stops really well, up until the point that you're locking up the tires...which is really easy to do. But, when you have the parts lying around however, why not put them on? In the cabin, there is a valve to adjust brake bias. There is also a provision to lock the rear pressure to use as a parking brake. Clever.
The motor, trans, and ECU are all out of a 124,000 mile NC that received a new heart of American Iron (Or Aluminum...). The guys at V8 Roadsters estimate the car makes around 170hp after a tune. It might not sound like a lot, but in a car that weighs this little, it moves pretty good. It features the 6 speed trans instead of the standard 5 speed. The gearing is short, but not too short. The 6 speed in the NC feels much better than the 6 speed trans the NB Miatas came with. I found it very enjoyable to roll through the gears in. The car itself felt quick during my first laps around Laguna Seca ever. The rear end is still the NA miata rear end and according to Shandelle, not much was needed to get everything to fit, aside from a custom V8 roadsters subframe.
The whole package rolls on 15x9 949 6uls wrapped in 5 year old Hoosiers (again, left over parts from around the shop). During my time on track, the tires actually didn't feel too bad. The whole package felt fairly balanced and the power suited the car very well. Imagine an NA Miata with more power, or an NC Miata with less weight and you've got the general idea. The classic Spec Miata suspension was actually better than I though it would be. I was expecting something similar to the Spec Miatas I've driven in the past but the whole package proved itself to be better. I've always said Miatas are greater than the sum of their parts. This one is no different. It's much greater than the sum of its parts. As you can see in photos, those parts are pretty scarce. The build is simple and clean. It's not over the top, and it just works.
I love all the setup notes scribbled on the car. The guys did it to make things easier for them, but I kind of like the feel it gives the car. It feels kind of like a test car. Maybe we should be wearing helmets painted to look like crash test dummies. If we were crash test dummies, the interior wouldn't be a bad place to be. No airbags, but 5 point harnesses and bucket seats.
The interior is just a simple affair with a few gauges and a personal steering wheel. The interior mirrors the whole theme of the car - Pretty much a tub, with a suspension, motor, trans, ecu, seat, shift knob, and gauges with some brakes, wheels, and tires bolted to it. It's tremendous fun and I want on.
Currently, the V8 Roadster guys are trying to get their subframe approved for SCCA club racing. For many racing classes where you can swap engines from the same manufacturer as the chassis into the car, this would be a great, affordable solution that would still be fun at your normal open track day weekend as well. With a little aero and some decent suspension and tires, this combination could be build to a price point and run lap times that are very, very respectable.
We should have a video of this car on Laguna Seca ready in the coming days now that I'm not traveling. If you would like to see a kit for this swap put into production, let us know in the comments.
A big "Thank You" to Shandelle, Steve, and all the guys at V8 Roadsters. Shortly after posting this I was told that today marks their "Official" 8th Birthday. Happy Birthday!