Tuning Done Right

The MX-5 Miata of the Month from


September 2004

Robert McElwee and Red Beast

rmcelwee@homexpressway.net
http://miata.cardomain.com/id/rmcelwee
Lightweight Miata Group

Congratulations to Robert on the selection of the Red Beast as the September Miata of the Month!


In April, 2003 I purchased a supercharged 1991 Miata off Ebay. It seemed like a really good deal but when I got the car home I noticed it was pretty rough. There were a lot of holes in the soft top, mold under the ripped seats, and the whole car smelled. I figured the leaky top was the first thing I needed to fix but my wife stepped in and explained that the checkbook was running a little dry from the recent purchase so I would have to wait. Hmmm, that got me thinking. How could I fix the leaks without spending money?

Then I got an idea. Instead of fixing the soft top I would just remove it. A lightweight Miata was something I had always wanted to build for better acceleration, handling, and braking but here was a chance to do something completely different from all the others out there. Instead of buying lightweight parts (aluminum this, carbon fiber that) I would embark on this project with a specific goal in mind. Make the car as light and as fast as possible without spending ANY money. After all, I already had two other Miatas to drive so this could really be a toy in every sense of the word.

I set off on a journey that has taken me 14 months (so far) and has not cost me a single dollar other than the original price of the car. After removing the soft top I could no longer drive the car in the cold or rain so I next removed the windows, windshield wipers, washer bottle, heater and fan. No one in their right mind would dare ride with me in a car like this so the passenger seat was removed. I sold my interior door panels and used the money to purchase hood pins to replace the trunk hinges and the hood release and cable. Once the door panels were gone I gutted the doors (removing the windows, arm wrests, speakers, and door handles). I was quickly becoming obsessed with taking weight off the car and decided to go on a diet myself (I'm down almost 20 pounds so far). Once most of the obvious weight is gone you have to become creative.

My latest project was to remove all nonessential wiring and move all fuses, relays, and switches to the passenger side footwell for better weight distribution. A keyless ignition system has replaced the ignition switch. Yes, even the weight of a key has been removed! That six month project reduced the weight by a further 38 pounds and now the car is a svelte 1900 pounds. In addition to the lighter weight, I've also almost doubled the horsepower by upgrading the supercharger to spin at 17,000 rpm and installing an intercooler and a Link ECU that were scavenged from one of my other cars. A do it yourself water injection (made from the old windshield washer pump and the top off an old Meguiar's spry bottle) was recently added. With almost 400 pounds taken off and 80 horsepower added the car really screams.

Even though "Red Beast" would be the perfect autocross car, I have no plans on racing her. I'd rather spend my time thinking of new ways to remove weight or increase performance. Not only has my "adding lightness" project been fun and educational (and healthy with my new diet), I have met several new friends on my LightWeight Miata mailing list. Red Beast does not get driven much (after all, she is just a project car) but my short term goal is to debut the car at this year's Deals Gap gathering. I don't know if she will be up to the task of making the long trip but if the weather will be nice enough it should be fun trying to get her there.


Previous Miata of the Month Winners

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