Mazdaspeed: How a Footnote From Mazda’s History Was Transformed Into the Ultimate NB Miata

The two-year-only Mazdaspeed Miata lives in a weird state of limbo–neither fish nor fowl, neither here nor there. Is it the car that Mazda should have delivered from the get-go, or is it still not quite fast enough to make that case?

What, exactly, is a Mazdaspeed Miata? Put simply, it’s the only factory-turbocharged Miata ever offered. The recipe was simple: Grab a loaded NB-chassis Miata and then add a turbo kit, six-speed transmission, revised chassis tuning, and $827 to the MSRP. Bake at the factory for two model years, then cease cooking after only 5428 units. That’s a pittance compared to production numbers for other cars, as Mazda proved when it built its millionth Miata in 2016.

What went wrong? Nothing, at least at first. In fact, the Mazdaspeed seemed like it would be a hit. Thanks to the model’s 178 horsepower, Road & Track declared it “a significantly more powerful Miata that rekindles the excitement of 1989.” Car and Driver heaped praise as well: “At the price, this car’s almost an unbeatable deal, but be aware that production is limited to just 4000 a year.”

After building those 4000 cars for the U.S. market during the 2004 model year, however, Mazda only managed to build 1428 examples for the following year due to a fire at the factory. And then 2006 brought the all-new NC-chassis Miata to market, with no turbocharged option available.

It’s good for 189.9 horsepower and 178 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels on the stock turbo.”

The Mazdaspeed’s run ended almost as soon as it started.

As our own J.G. Pasterjak remembers, that rendered it an oddball in the autocross and secondhand enthusiast market. “It didn’t really belong anywhere,” he recalls, “since it wasn’t legal in any of the classes for Miatas, and it wasn’t extreme enough to compete with the really gnarly stuff. And it was kind of clear that a few things were done to artificially boost performance, like that six-speed transmission that produced slower lap times but faster magazine performance tests.”

In a motorsports world saturated by naturally aspirated Miatas on the slower end and factory-built specials like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo at the faster end, there just wasn’t a home for a rare, somewhat fast Miata. After all, the Mazdaspeed Miata only beat the standard car by 35 horsepower, a number that aftermarket companies were easily exceeding with their own turbo kits.

That left the Mazdaspeed as a premium-priced oddity loved only by a handful of diehard Miata geeks.

Meet the Mazdaspeed Geek

More than 15 years later, Mazdaspeed Miata fans still carry the torch–geeks like Good-Win Racing’s own Greg Lee, who just might be the biggest Mazdaspeed Miata fan ever. He purchased this particular car in 2011 and has since turned it into his vision of the ultimate Miata.

Even more impressive: He did most of this before he started working at Good-Win, paying out of his own pocket. “I do have a melted credit card to back it up,” he notes.

What’s been done? Perhaps a better question: What hasn’t?

This car’s list of modifications reads like a parts catalog. Perhaps the biggest-ticket item: a rebuilt engine stroked to 1.9 liters of displacement featuring forged internals and an upgraded head, good for 189.9 horsepower and 178 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels on the stock turbo.

That engine is paired with a pile of supporting mods, including a bigger radiator, a boost controller, a blow-off valve, a coolant re-route, an oil cooler, catch cans, and intake and exhaust parts from Good-Win Racing. There’s also a lightweight flywheel to liven up the car a bit.

Underneath, every suspension bushing is now polyurethane, while Good-Win-spec’d anti-roll bars and Feal coil-overs complete the suspension package. Greg’s track wheels are from König and measure a chunky 9 inches wide.

Sounds like a built track car, right? Actually, Greg’s new to the track world. He customized this car for street duty, as evidenced by the 41,000 miles he’s racked up since completing the build.

He’s also picked up trophies at regional shows, including a win in the Miata class at the Main Street America Car Show. As Greg says, this car is perfect for a nice day driving canyon roads, a cross-country road trip (he’s done four of those in it), or a car show with his fellow Miata enthusiasts.

“Greg has this car set up a bit loose, and we had a riot shimmying it through Willow Springs’ downhill Turn 5 each lap.”

These days, though, his aspirations are at the track, which is how we found ourselves at Willow Springs International Raceway. After pointing out every detail, from the show-winning engine bay to the perfect original paint, Greg tossed us the keys and gave us one piece of advice: “Don’t crash!”

Mazdaspeed on Track

So, how does this souped-up Mazdaspeed drive? First, the torque: It alone made us understand why the auto journalists were cooing over this car at launch. There’s none of that jockey-whipping-a-horse feeling so often experienced when tracking a Miata. Rather, this car drives like a torquey new turbocharged Fiat 124 Spider. Then we looked down at the tach and realized we already needed to shift.

We’ll just say it: Mazda picked the wrong transmission for this car. Turbos add torque and widen the powerband, so it doesn’t make much sense to pair one with this close-ratio six-speed. We missed the standard five-speed during every shift, and we encountered lots of them while rowing around Willow Springs. We’ll put some of the blame onto worn shift bushings (they were still on Greg’s to-do list), but either way it let us down.

Fortunately, the rest of the car was pure Miata–if a bit soft due to its street-optimized spring rates. Greg has this car set up a bit loose, and we had a riot shimmying it through Willow Springs’ downhill Turn 5 each lap. After a few laps, we returned the car unharmed and came away with a boring conclusion: It’s just like a Miata, but faster.

How much faster? After our hands let go of the wheel, Good-Win Racing hotshoe Ryan Passey jumped in and ran a 1:43.2 lap. A competition Spec Miata is still faster, but that’s still not half bad for a sub-200-horsepower street car on 200-treadwear tires.

Footnote or Fabulous?

So, is this car the best Miata ever made, a taste of what could have been? Or is it a one-time detour from the million-strong Miata path Mazda walked? Our answer: It depends.

If you want a turbo Miata for the track, this isn’t the answer. By the time you change the transmission and add a bigger turbo, you’d be better off saving your pennies and starting with a normal car and a modern turbo kit.

However, if you want a unique Miata that makes a fantastic street car, there are few better choices than a tastefully modified Mazdaspeed Miata like this one.

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Comments
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codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
6/3/20 2:16 p.m.

The biggest problem with the MSM was that while the MSRP may have only been $800 more, the dealers were charging $5-10K in markup vs normal Miatas selling at invoice.

T.J.
T.J. MegaDork
6/3/20 3:04 p.m.

In reply to codrus (Forum Supporter) :

I bought mine below MSRP. Just told the guy flat out that I already had several other cars and didn't need this one. I would buy it for my price or just walk out. I may be putting mine up for sale since I no longer have gainful employment and it mostly just sits in the garage.

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise SuperDork
6/3/20 3:16 p.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:

The biggest problem with the MSM was that while the MSRP may have only been $800 more, the dealers were charging $5-10K in markup vs normal Miatas selling at invoice.

Really? 
 

I bought mine brand new. We all went to Irvine Mazda headquarters for the NC reveal. 
 

those of us who didn't like th NC1, came home and bought the MSM. Locally 04s and 05s were on dealer lots unsold. (Even with the factory fire and low output) 

 

local newspapers had 8-10$k off msrp like all miatas in history (except the first year na). 
 

My sticker was 27k. I paid $18,900 brand new for my msm. 
 

bunch of us on the msm forum (Before miata net had the msm section), all paid between 8-10k under msrp 

 

 

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
6/3/20 3:37 p.m.
mr2s2000elise said:
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:

The biggest problem with the MSM was that while the MSRP may have only been $800 more, the dealers were charging $5-10K in markup vs normal Miatas selling at invoice.

Really? 
 

I bought mine brand new. We all went to Irvine Mazda headquarters for the NC reveal. 
 

those of us who didn't like th NC1, came home and bought the MSM. Locally 04s and 05s were on dealer lots unsold. (Even with the factory fire and low output) 

When they first came out, yes.  2 years later, after nobody had bought them (you could buy an S2000 for less), they were lingering on dealer lots and finally got firesaled when the NC was out.  That's why they had both 04s and 05s.

 

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise SuperDork
6/3/20 3:47 p.m.


I bought my 04 msm 2005 August at Thousand Oaks mazda. . 05s were rolling in, and 05s were $6500 off msrp locally right off the boat. 

 

My 2007 s2000 msrp was 33,000 

I paid 29,000 at pacific Honda 

 

there was a $10,000 delta between my s2000 and my msm. 

BenB (Forum Supporter)
BenB (Forum Supporter) Reader
6/3/20 3:59 p.m.

I don't have anything useful to add to this thread besides "I love mine!"


 

I've ditched the boat anchor wheels and replaced them with 15s since I took this pic.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/3/20 4:11 p.m.

Yeah, they sold poorly. The Neon SRT4 was a big reason for that. Those who bought new benefited from an increase in value as the NC was introduced and the aftermarket unlocked the car's potential.

One thing missing from the story is that Mazda was originally going to go to the aftermarket like they did with the Mazdaspeed Protege. RFPs were put out with the brief to be faster than an S2000. 

Then the MSP debacle happened. Mazda decided they needed full control over the Mazdaspeed cars so the MX-5 was done in-house. There were a lot of little changes you wouldn't t have seen on an aftermarket car, such as a change to bigger splines on the diff and a new mixing manifold for the water pump. It even ditched the 2004 VVT engine and went back to 1999 spec. I'd like to think that no aftermarket shop would have signed off on that gearing combo, though.

It's been a good car for us overall. It was easy to bring up to 200 rwhp and was reliable there. Pushing much past that and it becomes more affordable to turbo a normal NB. 

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise SuperDork
6/3/20 4:24 p.m.

In reply to BenB (Forum Supporter) :

 

shes beautiful!! 

Yup I put new coil overs, debadged, tinted windows,  hardtop, 9lb volk te37 15s, 7 days after it came from the dealership . Though unlike yours, mine has never been topless. 

 

T.J.
T.J. MegaDork
6/3/20 4:44 p.m.

Here's mine:

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
6/3/20 9:21 p.m.

My theory: The performance specs in the magazines hurt sales. The gearing was so short, the 0-60 times were relatively low. Why not get an s2000 instead? Everyone was losing their mind over the 9k redline, and meanwhile the MSM was “slow.”

The SRT Neon and other hot compacts were much faster too. People interested in performance cars had a lot of other options at the time that all sounded sexier.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/3/20 9:35 p.m.

S2000 wasn't really in the same price bracket, it was the SRT4 that provided the comparison. Why wasn't the MSM as fast as that little booger?

It's easy to forget just how expensive the S2000 was relative to the Miata. 

T.J.
T.J. MegaDork
6/3/20 9:44 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

I test drove the S2000, the MSM and a MR-S. To me, the S2000 looked the best, but I just could not justify the huge jump in price. I liked the MR-S, but without any storage, I couldn't see how it would even serve as a daily commuter, so I ended up with the MSM.

T.J.
T.J. MegaDork
6/3/20 9:48 p.m.

In reply to BenB (Forum Supporter) :

Titanium Gray is still a great looking color. Lava Orange Metallic, maybe not so much. I remember a couple years after I got my car, they had a similar color for Corvettes and there were some other orangey-bronzy cars at the time. 350Z had a Lemans Sunset or some such color that I remember. The color then went away for the most part. When I bought it, I figured there were lots of red miatas and my wife is not a silver car fan, so orange it was for me.

BenB (Forum Supporter)
BenB (Forum Supporter) Reader
6/4/20 4:12 a.m.

In reply to T.J. :

Photos don't really do Lava Orange justice. I'd never seen one in the wild until I met up with a local group of MSM owners a few years ago. In the sun, the color looks stunning. Velocity Red is similar, in that it looks much better in person.I still prefer Ti Gray over the others. wink  

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
6/4/20 5:49 a.m.
Keith Tanner said:There were a lot of little changes you wouldn't t have seen on an aftermarket car, such as a change to bigger splines on the diff

Wait, what?

29 spline axles like the S2000 and the 7.5" truck rears?

 

Very interesting!

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/4/20 10:30 a.m.

Yup, same as the S2000. It's kind of interesting seeing what they decided to upgrade, and it really illustrated just how big the design margins are for OEs. Miatas don't have trouble busting up CVs and diffs until you're well past double the stock power levels, but Mazda decided their 150 rwhp turbo car needed a bigger spline and a tripod inner CV (the latter may have driven the choice of the former). The clutch was upgraded, the radiator is more efficient (okay, that one is legit) and the fans went to a completely different control strategy that involved two multi-speed fans with some weird relay logic instead of staged single speed fans. IIRC the fuel pump also was changed even though a stock Miata fuel pump will feed 100 hp more than a stock MSM. That OE radiator is a really good part, it's  more effective than a typical dual-core aftermarket one that many people install based on our instrumented testing - you need to go to a crossflow design to improve on it.

BTW, the car in the article runs at least part of an FM intake kit, I can see our throttle body inlet pipe along with the Turbosmart bypass. It's also quite likely the car is running our downpipe which is not mentioned, but the downpipe and intake are the key to unlocking the car's potential. There's no need for the built engine (which has FM pistons in it if my records are correct) at this power level. A Little Enchilada upgrade (downpipe, intake, intercooler and boost controller) will get you there quite comfortably and safely.

I personally like the black :) We turned a couple of Lava Orange ones into V8 cars along with a few grey and red ones, but never a black.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
6/4/20 10:46 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Dual fans need a funky multi relay setup, it sounds like you are describing the GM three relay arrangement where "low" runs the fans in series and "high" runs in parallel.  If you run one fan at a time, the air tends to recycle itself backwards past the inoperative fan.

 

Very interesting details about the MSM.  All this time I'd thought it was a kludge.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/4/20 11:15 a.m.

The ECU programming is a bit of a kludge - it has a bunch of weird little quirks and bumps that are probably there to squeak a fairly dated engine with dated engine management and a bolted-on turbo past 2004 emissions regulations. It'll keep stoich far longer than it really should which leads to bad tip-in. But the rest of the car, no. Mazda did what they felt they had to do. Even the muffler is unique for no good reason. You don't want to put a MSM muffler on a naturally aspirated car, it's raspy nasty. The fact that Mazda used the same Mazdaspeed branding for their in-house tuner cars, their aftermarket parts counter tooner brand and their race support parts (for a while) means that people get them all mixed up.

The staged twin fans on a non-MSM are controlled individually by the ECU. The primary is the first to turn on. The secondary comes on with the AC compressor or if the primary can't get the job done. The MSM has fans that can run at two different speeds - both fans always run, but the speed changes. IIRC (and it's been a while since I looked into the logic) there's some weird relay stuff going on for when you have the AC on to force them both into high speed. Why the ECU doesn't just command it I have no idea. A MSM trick for better track cooling is to unplug the compressor clutch and turn on the AC. Puts the fans into high speed mode. Again, this is fairly dusty information in my mind so I might have it a bit off.

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise SuperDork
6/4/20 11:38 a.m.
T.J. said:

 

Titanium Gray is still a great looking color. Lava Orange Metallic, maybe not so much. I remember a couple years after I got my car, they had a similar color for Corvettes and there were some other orangey-bronzy cars at the time. 350Z had a Lemans Sunset or some such color that I remember. The color then went away for the most part. When I bought it, I figured there were lots of red miatas and my wife is not a silver car fan, so orange it was for me.

I think the Ti and the Lava are both gorgeous. 

 

For me choice was Ti or VR, as those were both 04.  In order for me to get the Lava, I would have to pay $4,000 more, as the 05 weren't as deeply discounted as the 04. I personally loved the 04 wheels vs the 05 wheels (not htat it mattered, since I swapped them). 
I actually sat at the dealership almost an hour deciding betwen Ti and VR. Even though my other NA was red, and I was leaning towards the Ti, the sun hitting the velocity red, and all the flakes etc, I just went for that. 

I think the lava is gorgeous. Had price all ben equal, I definitely would have bought the Lava. For missing out on the Lava, I made up for it 2 years later, buying the Rio Yellow Pearl S2000.

JoeTR6 (Forum Supporter)
JoeTR6 (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/4/20 3:36 p.m.

Same here.  I was looking for a Lava Orange MSM around 2007 but only found one for a very premium price.  I ended up with a VR 2004 with only 23k miles.  It's been a great car.  Installing the FM Little Enchilada early on was the best thing for it.  The turbo comes on at a noticeably lower RPM and the response (at least on my car) was much improved.  There was still the odd power delivery between 4500 and 5200 RPMs, but a Megasquirt fixed that issue.

BlindPirate
BlindPirate Reader
6/4/20 4:14 p.m.

I have already had a MSM so I bought an NC because life is short, don't want the same car twice. Now after reading this I am longing for another MSM. At least until I get to the MR2-S thread.

jimbob_racing
jimbob_racing Dork
6/4/20 4:54 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

Then the MSP debacle happened.

I don't think that I've ever heard of this.

bmw88rider (Forum Supporter)
bmw88rider (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
6/4/20 5:03 p.m.

The ECU is what drove me to sell mine. I didn't want to play the ECU dance to pass emissions every year. With the Little Enchilada type upgrades and a nice free flowing exhaust, It was a ton of fun to drive. I enjoyed it and it would walk all over my friend in her S2000. 

 

Still IMHO the best looking Miata made. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/4/20 6:03 p.m.

The MSM was the most popular recipient of our turnkey swaps, and I think it was 100% because of the looks. The guys commissioning them were looking at the end result. Drove the MSM community nuts as we desecrated one "rare" car after another... 

jimbob_racing said:
Keith Tanner said:

Then the MSP debacle happened.

I don't think that I've ever heard of this.

It's been a while, so I'm going from memory. The cars were delayed for months at the port as new parts were bolted on at the last moment. I'm not 100% sure what work was actually performed, but people with orders for cars were going crazy because they could be seen behind the fences. The performance of the production cars didn't match the prototypes because of a change to plastic piping (for crash test reasons) IIRC. And they popped parts all over the place. The turbo was poorly sized. Callaway did not do an exemplary job overall and Mazda felt the pain.

The MSM, for its various faults, was a much better engineered and executed car.

newold_m (Forum Supporter)
newold_m (Forum Supporter) New Reader
6/5/20 12:46 a.m.

They're fun little cars, on my 2nd MSM now. First was Ti and this current one is sun faded VR.

@Keith: any chance FM can work its magic and customize the Voodoo box for the MSM ECU to smooth out the power delivery? Stock ECU is the worst aspect of the car with inconsistent tip in. Both my cars have the O2 clamp and those don't seem to do much. Chip Torque in Australia seems to have figured out to 'flash' the ECU but sadly that option is tied to Begi Tuning in US and I'm not dealing with them anymore and it's not practical to send an ECU back and forth the the other part of the world and hope it works first time. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/5/20 9:00 a.m.

Voodoo Box is a different kind of beast, so it's not the right solution for this problem. The O2 clamp does address lean tip-in, if it's not doing much then you may have something else going on. It might be worth datalogging what's going on so you can work in the right direction.

And I have to say that the window for new parts development for the MSM is pretty close to closed at this point. The car is 15 years old, limited production and we don't have access to one. It's pretty unlikely that you'll see new MSM-specific parts from us or anyone else.

newold_m (Forum Supporter)
newold_m (Forum Supporter) New Reader
6/7/20 5:06 p.m.

Yeah, understand and it's definitely a niche market. Appreciate the support you guys have provided on that platform. I have the carb legal downpipe and coolant re-route with the MSM specific turbo coolant lines waiting to go in. 

wspohn
wspohn Dork
6/8/20 12:33 p.m.

I've always admired the Miata, not so much for styling, which I found derivative and somewhat lacking (like most Japanese cars), at least up until the current iteration, but for the fact that it was a very technically/mechanically 'together' car that did a good job of being a latter day Lotus Elan, except with reliability.

I have never quite understood Mazda's reluctance to make a limited run of cars with a higher performance level, with the exception of this turbo version, as I would think that there would have been a market for them from people that probably wouldn't have bought the plain jane model. 

They had the technology, having developed the tool with the Mazdaspeed 3 prior to 2007.  They had been in competition with new sports cars like the Solstice that at first met them on a fairly level playing field with the naturally aspirated model, but blew them out of the water from 2007 on in terms of performance, and didn't seem to have any trouble selling both the original naturally aspirated models.

What did Mazda have against selling more cars when they had the tolling to do so fairly easily (they had lagged below the Solstice in sales in the Fall of 2007)?

I have looked at the Miata and the Mazdaspeed 3 and while there are some obvious packaging changes needed for the turbo, nothing seemed to be insurmountable (Keith can speak up if I am out in left field on that).

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/8/20 1:55 p.m.

Well, the Mazdaspeed Miata proved that more performance is not necessarily the hot seller everyone claims it's going to be. It was not a massive sales success.

You also have to remember OE levels of reliability required. IF they had been able to make the 2.3 turbo fit (including mods to the firewall, so it's not an easy swap), they would have had to upgrade pretty much all the rest of the car.  And keep in mind that Mazda is a pretty small automaker, so they can't develop products as easily as someone the size of Ford or GM. It's amazing we get the Miata at all.

Stefan (Forum Supporter)
Stefan (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
6/8/20 2:28 p.m.

Lets not forget the Miata wasn't their only sportscar for a good bit.

The 2nd and 3rd gen RX7's were available from 1989-2002 and were the "halo" car for Mazda.

There was also the RX-8, but lets not talk about that too much :)

As to the styling?  Of course it is derivative.  The NA is a Japanese Lotus Elan (that was reliable and approachable), they even used recordings of the gear changes from an Elan for the development of the Miata.

I mean its like you're not aware of what the Miata is.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
6/8/20 3:33 p.m.

My first Miata was a MSM clone, a lava orange repaint with some MSM body parts on an 01 sport.

I wasn't sure about the color until I saw it in person. 

Snrub
Snrub HalfDork
6/8/20 4:06 p.m.

The other thing is in most recent years Mazda has not sold a huge number of Miatas. A special performance edition which moves a peak of 1000 units/year in the US may not pay for the engineering and unique parts needed for such an endeavor.

I'm kind of disenchanted with fast cars on the street. The Miata is designed for maximum fun on the street and I think they hit the nail on the head with the ND. I'd rather have something which is responsive, short wheel base, fun, than something with big power. Track is a different story, but there's lot of aftermarket support to do stuff like that.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
6/9/20 6:49 a.m.

In reply to Snrub :

I had this thought the other day.  I find a lot of fun in driving a light 2 seater car that makes no more than 100hp.  That's a true sports car. Before you get into a "true Scotsman" rant, bear with me a bit.  I'm thinking here of MGs and Triumphs and other things that defined the breed.  They were fun because they were so low-key.  You get in, you drive it, it's a four wheeled bicycle basically.

 

Exactly nobody will make a car like that anymore because people will be upset that it can't do a rolling burnout at 60mph or whatever.  Even though that is missing the whole point of the experience in the first place.  It's like saying a big truck sucks because it has a wide turning radius and doesn't get 50mpg, or why a Fit sucks because it can't tow 40,000lb.  That isn't the point of the vehicle and if that is what you want you were looking in the wrong place.

 

Still think the 1.6 Miata is best Miata.  I drove an NC the other day and while it is nice, I thought the car was too big and the engine too trucky.  Much too much power and torque.

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