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dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/16/24 3:37 p.m.

This was one of those occasions where the car kinda came into my life by accident and reshaped it around itself, like a stray kitten you find at a car show or a really cute European girl you meet at a party and end up marrying on a beach.

I wasn't really planning on buying another miata - I have enough for any reasonable person - or running an ES car, but my friend had two Miata and wanted to downsize to one, the price was right, and suddenly I was the proud owner of a 1999 special edition in red, with sport suspension.

It looked great! It was super cheap! It was also super neglected <crying emoji>

I immediately took it to autocross without making any changes at all. A PCA event should do just fine! It was February, so pre-season practice, but PCA does keep practice times in the computer.

Let's see...

I mean. That's not terrible. I should note that the car came with some really really hard Michelin Premier all seasons which are 640tw. There was very limited traction, it was kind of hilarious. I never really got to run them at a wet event, unfortunately, so no data there.

I do not recommend these tires unless you are obsessed with durability. They work well enough to set 54th overall at a PCA event, which would be pretty terrible if it wasn't a completely, utterly stock car from the 90s on hard as rocks tires of unknown age and with lots of deferred maintenance (we'll find out more about that later).

I apologize for making you scroll so far down to find my time, it won't happen again.

Anyway, I was kind of impressed? I thought that the car was generally quicker than it had a right to be and maybe would respond well to some really sticky tires and whatever limited mods I was allowed in ES. I didn't want to ruin the interior or add a ton of power because it didn't seem to need it. I just needed to stop sliding around.

Well, I run in the wet a fair bit up here, and have been impressed with the cold/wet performance of the AO52. So, I ordered a set of used wheels on eBay, and tires from tire rack, and my local friend helped me mount and balance them before the first official SCCA event of the season.

Mmmm stickers.

I took the car to an event at Dallesport and was impressed by how much nicer it is on the highway than my NA. It's quieter and doesn't feel as skittish. Plus... cruise control, and a good stereo. The AC works, but the car tends to run hot so I haven't used it much.

So, I am ready for the first event of the SCCA season, I have tires at least. No other prep has been done. I'll just make up the difference behind the wheel, should be fine, lol.

Uhhhh! Ok. I may concede at this point that I should make some modifications to the car. One of the issues is that I'm losing tons of time in the slaloms and generally everywhere as the car rolls violently and hilariously about. Weight transfer is killing me. 

I do manage to set 18th overall on index in the afternoon, which is a small consolation and makes me feel the car does have pace in it. 

Told you you wouldn't have to scroll so far! Yeah. Promises kept.

The next event is more of the same, I improve slightly but still way off the pace for S2, it's a very competitive class, there are some very fast local drivers with very well prepared cars. I have to get a bar in the car!

At some point this becomes less about "how can I build a competitive ES car" and more about "how fast can I go on index for the least amount of money". At first I thought, well, obviously get the small fortune front bar, and maybe look into penskes, and go pay for a fancy alignment and get 14 inch unobtanium wheels and so on and so forth but then I remembered that I'm going endurance racing this year and my budget is completely and utterly devastated as a result. There's so little left.

But do I really need money? Don't the memes say skill > money? I've seen those memes. They usually have a miata in them. And I have a miata.

So. 

The racing beat tubular 1.125 front bar is about $280 from 949 with blocks and bolts and some very nice endlinks. Done.

Phoar, look at that. More like racing beef, am I right?

I leave it on the softer setting because I'm an idiot and I think it'll be enough. What else... Oh, I have my own vinyl cutter and some white vinyl. I also have an orbital polisher and a bottle of meguairs ultimate.

Voila.

I also run a lucky dog race during this time and it looks very handsome in the pits.

Plus did you know there's an all-wheel-drive, inline-3 locomotive in Shelton?

There is!

Anyway, so far I've spent:

  • $5000 on a shiny but neglected Miat with rusty control arms but the soul of a champion
  • $800 on a set of yokohama AO52s
  • $300 on used NB wheels
  • $280 on a racing beat front sway bar 

Mounting and balancing, numbers have been free so that might not be fair. Those would cost money in other circumstances. I'll try and account for that at some point. Obviously I'm not paying for or counting my own labor. Oh well. That's a big part of this - if I'm going to do this as cheaply as possible, I'm going to be doing as much as I can myself. 

Event 3 is a Packwood event. I love Packwood!

I grid in front of one of my competitors.

This goes so much better. I don't have enough bar in front for dry pavement, but it's still so much of an improvement that I lead the class until the last run, where a very thoroughly prepared ND beats me out by an indexed .3 of a second.

So close! If I would have put the bar on the stiffest setting I think it would have made the difference. Also, I need to remember to bring my sprayer, the tires went off badly on the last couple of runs.

As if to prove how much a difference compound temperature makes, it started raining and getting very cold, and rained throughout the afternoon event, which was a different course.

I ran sixth on index.

 

So at this point the car is still completely stock except for a set of tires and a sway bar. The softer sway setting was nice in the wet, but can absolutely go firmer. I ran down to Dallesport for a test and tune the sunday after these results, and found that changing the bar to the stiffer setting was good for about half a second to three quarters of a second on a 45 second course. 

But there's still so much more to do to make this car faster. I start with a really rough alignment, mostly just trying to get as much camber as I can. The car is darty and unstable though, and I really need to figure out toe settings, so it's off to my friend/enabler and get the car up on some Paco stands.

Nice.

We manage to get the front toe from positive to something close to zero, and one of the rear wheels had some toe out, so we set the rear to a bit more than 1/8" toe in, but less than 1/4". All of the wheels are at max camber. I'm not shooting for a balanced setup, but to maximize grip at every wheel. 

I'm still on the original shocks, which do not appear to be Bilstein units. I'm pretty sure they are beat, but still haven't decided what to do there. Bilstein B8s in OEM configuration are about $550 for all four corners from rock auto. That seems to fit with my cheap-as-possible concept, but used units might be a bit cheaper. Still vastly less money than something like a Penske or MCS or whatever. Anyone here use a Bilstein on their autocross miata?

Now, I said I would talk more about deferred maintenance, and there's so much. I'm pretty sure the clutch is original, and it's starting to slip if I launch the car hard at 4-5k, so I'm just not doing that anymore. I got an exedy OEM style clutch kit ($130) but there's a double header event this weekend, and I really don't want to do a clutch on such a short timeframe. It's not that it's impossible at all, I just don't want to get in there, find that the rear main is leaking or the flywheel is really scored, and then put it back together that way because I'm rushed. So... I'm just going to pray that it holds up.

I noticed a stumble at idle, and also it tends to bog at launch, which is why I was launching kind of aggressively. I think I found out why, too.

Ewwwww. There was so much dirt that came out, I'm surprised any fuel could flow at all. I also changed to fresh NGK coppers and the check engine light that had been on went out, which, what? I didn't anticipate that. 

It runs so much more smoothly! And there's more power, at least it feels that way.

So, it has a new fuel filter, an aggressive alignment, the front bar is on full stiff and other than the clutch being on it's last legs, the timing belt being original, and whatever else I don't know about, we're all set for two events in a row at Packwood! To win the championship, all I have to do is win most of the remaining events. No pressure.

And... it's supposed to rain. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
5/16/24 3:53 p.m.

Looks like you are well on your way to enjoying that Miata to its fullest.

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/16/24 4:16 p.m.

How can you not be happy beating porsches with a car with mismatched lug nuts, a torn roof and a goofy grin on its face? I've never had so much fun for so little money and generally effort invested, it beats my turbo miat hands down and that thing is an absolute blast.

Totally in love.

spandak
spandak Dork
5/17/24 11:01 a.m.

This was a great read!

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/17/24 11:21 a.m.

Thank you!

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/17/24 6:49 p.m.

Of course it's the day before an event and I took it for a drive and it's misfiring like crazy. Check engine light comes on and is flashing, and I pull a P0302 cylinder 2 misfire. Great! I guess I should have ordered a set of coils as well earlier in the week. Oops.

I rummage through all my random boxes of parts and find a set of coils from a 1995 engine that I swapped into another car. I change them into the bracket on the car and try running it again. No real difference. One of the old coils smells very burnt, though, so I move forward. The nearest set of NGK plug wires is at an autozone 13 miles away. Well... it's probably worth it. I get the wires, install them, say a hopeful incantation and turn the key. 

Success! The misfire that has been hanging around and getting worse appears to be gone. 

In the bin.

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/20/24 2:55 p.m.

How much stuff can you fit in a miata? I didn't pull out the spare tire yet either. To be fair, I've had a lot more stuff in the turbo car because I remove the passenger seat and fill the area behind the roll bar. I need my passenger seat in this car for, uh, SCCA reasons. You know how it is.

Yeah, it's definitely Packwood.

I get in pretty late but it's light enough to walk the course twice. It's basically a long, long, long slalom. With some elevation changes because Packwood, ha. If it rains, I'm good. If it's dry, I think I still don't have enough roll stiffness or grip to get that last bit of time. I was basically praying for rain – which is so weird to me, the turbo car is pretty awful to drive in the rain. It's good practice maybe? But not very competitive. On the other hand, this car is way faster than it should be in the wet, and I don't fully understand why. 

Saturday morning, no rain to be found. Forecast is wrong again! People with fancy rain tires are sad face. I'm sad because I don't think I have a chance. But, whatever, send it anyway. The course is mossy and running later in the order as the course rubbers in is smart. So I line up at the very front of the single driver cars.

Whatever! I'm not getting caught out when it rains halfway through first runs! It's so random. 

Look at those heavy stock wheels. Ha. Anyway.

Time for driver's meeting.

The course is pretty fun at least. I get ahead second and third runs, but then have to send it really hard on last run and spin braking into a really tight turn that doesn't have any wiggle room. Unfortunately I haven't been taking any video this season, this is the first time I feel like I would like it, mostly for entertainment purposes. I will put a mount on the car for the next event, I swear. And find my cameras.

Ok. 

Results. I was like, 30 cars ahead of #29 in the run order. It didn't rain at all in the morning, lol.

The weather was still really nice, lupine are blooming everywhere along with invasive scotch broom.

Everything was still looking good as the afternoon runs started.

I think everyone in the first run group got at least two dry runs. Maybe three if you were early in the run order. Then it rained a little, times jumped dramatically, as much as 8 seconds delta for some cars. Then... it dried up again and times fell. Was pretty dry when we changed over but definitely damp and not as fast as it was at the beginning of the session. It's pretty clear in the times.

 

You can tell who had dry runs, their fastest time will be the first, second or  maybe third run and then there will be a large delta in time as they transition to wet times. Cars that ran all wet runs will show a very slow first run and typical run progression. As far as I can tell, Allen was the only one above me on index with all wet runs. His run progression is normal for him, lol.

Anyway, not useful for the championship. Just fun runs, I guess. The sky would continue to dump through the evening. At least I could hide in the hangars, which I did, coming out only during a break to walk the course. It was the exact course, backwards. Good news! It would be easy to remember.

 

I retreated to the Blue Spruce Saloon, where I ordered a sasquatch burger, as one does.

I felt like I'd earned it. Oh and the car ran flawlessly the entire day, didn't miss a beat. I think the ignition is doing what it's supposed to, now. The starter is absolutely on it's last legs, though. One time I was grabbing some groceries in town and had to hit the starter with the jack handle which luckily happened to still be in the trunk. Normal, totally fine stuff.

Sunday dawned... not rainy. It was raining through the night, but when runs started it was kind of misting on and off? Very unhelpful. My driest run was my fourth, but it didn't come together. I wasn't able to find any more time anywhere, and the course was basically dry, so no help there. Oh well.

I don't think the weather wants to help me this year. It's been really useless. 

Anyway.

Overall, my fastest run was good for 19th on index, which is still not terrible and makes me think this car has potential with some more suspension work. Adding more bar in front. Maybe changing out the shocks for some that weren't made in the 1900s. You know, stuff like that.

 

The next event in the calendar is THIS weekend. Of course. Luckily it's close to home at Bremerton Motorsports 'Park', but I have very little time to work on the car. I'm going to try and get more stiffness in the front bar by drilling additional adjustment holes. I ordered new rotors, pads, and brake hoses to try and get better modulation. The pads that are on the car are basically down to the backing and the amount of pedal effort is pretty crazy. 

I need to decide what shocks to put on the car and get cracking on that. I don't think the car will truly be competitive with the suspension it has now.

Finding hard S springs seems pretty difficult. I'm going to try and start collecting the parts, but it's not something I care deeply about. The springs aren't shorter afaik, so the additional rate will raise the car. However, there's another mm in the rear bar, but do I even want more bar in the rear? Not sure it's all worth it for a couple of pounds of spring rate.

$500 or so on shocks seems to suit this build just fine. I still think Bilsteins are the way to go, but I am definitely starting to second guess that before making the decision.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/20/24 3:08 p.m.

In your price range, Koni sport shocks >Bilstein shocks. I think the consensus is that stock Bilsteins don't compare well to the konis. Revalved Bilsteins may be superior but will be far above your budget. 
 

I don't know if the annual Koni sale is still going. 

Koni sports: Half turn from full hard in front, half turn from full soft in back.

Additional tuning can be done with the choice of bump stops.

 

Chuck Mathews's recommendations here

 

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/20/24 3:37 p.m.

I have a set of Koni Sports on the shelf. I really, really didn't like them. I guess they would be the cheapest option because I already have them. Hmm. The ride was always bouncy and terrible to me. Going to the Fox setup was like night and day. However I was running them with higher rates, I definitely did run them with stock springs for a little while. I did not like them. Maybe I never had them adjusted right. I'm willing to be wrong.

Oh man, that link is what convinced me to run the 1.125 bar which I'm now convinced just isn't enough. I will listen to the podcast and see what they are on about, I guess. It all seems to make sense which is why I went with the advice there.

I appreciate the input though! I feel like I've googled setups until I can't think straight. There's little consensus and people seem to all like different things. I do agree with max camber all around, that's what I'm doing now and the car feels great. Maybe my stock bump stops aren't doing their job and I can be using those to add rate for slalom work. If I'm taking the springs off the car, though, I'm doing shocks at the same time. Hmm. I'll dig the Konis out of storage. I might have thrown away the stock perches in a fit of anger when I threw away the stock springs last time around. Stupid things. 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/20/24 5:20 p.m.

Can't the replacement Hard S springs be purchased from Mazda? I don't know if they're still available. As for the ride, yeah, my 99 sport with the konis is pretty uncomfortable on the street, but it's only intended for one purpose, and that's autocross.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/20/24 5:31 p.m.

Not applicable here because the doctor has Konis on the shelf - but the Koni sale IS still on. You should be able to get a good street ride if you take the time to set them to full soft or close to it, running a half turn from full stiff is not the comfort setting :)

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/20/24 6:39 p.m.

But what will be fastest? My comments about bounciness were really about out on the course, I felt like if I softened the rebound on the Konis the car would fly about wildly, and if I buttoned it down I would lose grip. But, maybe that's true for any adjustable shock. I don't feel like the Fox(e?)s were anything like them tho, there was way more grip with the same spring rates regardless of how crazy I got with the adjustments.

I don't care about ride quality on the street, really. I'm willing to completely ruin this car in the pursuit of a jacket I'll never wear. Wait, maybe I do care about ride quality on the street. Which ones ride better on the street?

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/20/24 6:44 p.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

Can't the replacement Hard S springs be purchased from Mazda? I don't know if they're still available. As for the ride, yeah, my 99 sport with the konis is pretty uncomfortable on the street, but it's only intended for one purpose, and that's autocross.

I was thinking about calling the parts counter and asking. Moss doesn't have them listed or anything easy and obvious like that.

So the ride is noticeably less comfortable than what you had before? Were they the stock showas? The car I replaced the stock shocks on before had blown shocks so the Konis were generally an improvement. I felt like the ride was somehow just... not as fun or lively after I put the yellows on the car.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/20/24 7:37 p.m.

I don't know how it would drive with a different setup. My car came to me fully prepared for autocross, with Koni sports, a racing beat front bar with braces and end links, two sets of SSR type C wheels, a set of stock wheels and a lightweight exhaust. 
 

The only street driving it gets is to events, and I am going to be trailering it soon. 
 

As for the performance of this setup, the previous owner trophied at Nationals with it, and might have been a podium contender but for the weather. That year was cool and very wet, and he was running on Rivals. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/20/24 8:47 p.m.

In reply to dr_strangeland :

The nice thing about adjusting Konis is that it's quick and easy and free :) You can soften them for the street and crank them down for autox.

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/21/24 1:24 a.m.

Okay okay I'm almost sold. I remembered that they are still attached to the subframes that are intended for the exocet, which are in storage. Also they have the Koni adjustable sleeves instead of the giant steel stock spring perches. I know I don't have those. I haven't been able to find a part number for them.

I will have to drill out my top hats, won't I? Always feels great. 

Still not completely sold. 

Apexcarver
Apexcarver MegaDork
5/21/24 4:44 a.m.

So, with the other differed maintenance, when was the timing belt last done? How are the radiator end tanks looking?

 

I ran konis on an sts 95 with coilovers. Granted I had coilovers with 550f springs, but full soft wasnt uncomfortable. Full stuff was too much. Yeah, there are shocks that are another step better than them, but they didn't do poorly. 

Most of my local friends running miatas semi seriously went to Xidas, but again, way past ES spring rates.

 

 

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/21/24 11:37 a.m.

I don't think the timing belt has ever been done. The car runs a little hot which I think is due to the water pump maybe having some vane erosion. The OG radiator already blew up at one point. The previous owner had it replaced at some roadside radiator shop. They left me these souvenirs:

Gotta be thankful they left the original clamp there for me to use! They did the same thing at the water inlet up top. Now I have some spare worm clamps, yay.

Literally if something can be deferred it has been. The check engine light had electrical tape over it. I think the evap system just needs a new purge solenoid and it will be fine. Damn, those are expensive, maybe I can find a used unit. I'm getting an excessive flow warning, so that's what I was thinking. Still not a crazy hard/expensive fix to get that warning light to go out, imo. 

I've just been putting my attention to getting the car competitive for the first part of the season. After this weekend there's a three week break between events, I can do some of the boring maintenance stuff then.

Apexcarver
Apexcarver MegaDork
5/21/24 6:58 p.m.

Man, racing on a 25 year old timing belt is risky! I've seen them break the valve cover when they go.

 

 

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/21/24 7:33 p.m.

I will do the timing belt before I drive the car 1600 miles to nats, then, I promise!

Three events this weekend, PCA, NWR, BSCC all at Bremerton. I signed up for all of them, lol. 

Pics of shredded timing belt incoming. 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/21/24 7:37 p.m.
Apexcarver said:

Man, racing on a 25 year old timing belt is risky! I've seen them break the valve cover when they go.

 

 

I've never heard of that, makes a good point about being too complacent because it's not an interference motor.

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/24/24 12:09 p.m.

I agree. I didn't think there was much risk. I do have spare valve covers but I don't really feel like breaking one of them, maybe that's a valid reason to section off the front? Anyway, not something I could do on this car.

I have broken a belt before.

 

I was actually on the way to the dyno, so popping it on the freeway on-ramp was maybe better? I'm not sure. 

It just kind of went snap and zero power, and then there was obviously no compression. I pushed it off the freeway into a side street and retimed it there.

Annoying. Had right around 57k on the belt. I think it was installed incorrectly, it was the last time I paid anyone else to work on a miata for me, in a weird coincidence. When I got the car back the belt was whining, I think too much tension. It quieted down so I didn't think much of it. 

Also was supposed to be a blue Gates racing belt, was interesting to find out it was the regular black belt. I paid way too much money for that belt.

Anyway. Like I said I will do the belt, like, soon, I'm sure. I wonder if I have one in the garage...

Back to the present. I did the brakes, whee!

Need to be bled today but they look nice, so that's gotta be worth something.

It's a semi-metallic street pad, I'm going to try it and see if it's adequate. Pads have become super expensive.

The pads that were on there were ceramic. Basically, like a super effective brake disc polishing mechanism.

Like, yay no wear but also no modulation!

The rears had this really uneven wear on them.

Like, one side wasn't using all the pad area? Really strange.

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/30/24 5:41 p.m.

Ok. Time to take stock of the weekend... hmm. First I did some ridiculous stuff on Friday.

Don't do this! Obviously. Not because it doesn't work, because it totally does, but because your front suspension no longer will. It sucessfully locks it in place, so you can watch cones go by while you frantically tug at the wheel and nothing happens. Good times. I ran the car this way at PCA on Saturday, and it was, yeah, it was dumb. I could make it work by braking super deep into each turn, but it was sooo much work. 

Oh, the brakes are awesome now. Too awesome. I slow down too much. Gotta recalibrate my foot.

At least the gods showed me a sign while I was drilling holes in my perfectly good swaybar.

Carry on my son! You are on the path of... well, not going faster, but learning stuff, so um. Go in peace, etc.

Saturday was a parade of excess, as is the fashion here in the PNW.

This 944 made me happy.

Anyway, I ran, like, 40th overall. Raw times, obviously.

It's not, like, terrible, but the car was deeply unpleasant to drive.

So, I changed it back at lunch.

I didn't bother with fun runs, I know it's faster like this.

Sunday was event #6 with NWR-SCCA. The course was more open and definitely a lot more fun. I was still adjusting to the new brakes and didn't really find a groove at all.

Guhh. Although this is still better than my last result at Bremerton. So, it's clear to me we really struggle at BMP. It's an old WW2 runway and the surface is highly worn asphalt with this really huge aggregate, I guess to support bombers or whatever? But it's very slick. Whatever the surface composition, the layout is obviously very linear and ends up being a huge slalom. I am losing time in all slalom features that are tight enough to really cause the car to roll over on the, well, would be on the bumpstops but they are gone?! There's nothing left but the shock boot which doesn't hang out over the rod at all anymore but hangs over the shock body like a very depressed rubber sock.

I have already ordered a set of medium 58mm Speedthane bumpstops. $19 each, if they seem right I'll consider the Penskes.

Then, went on Facebook and $100 later I have this:

I know these are really hated, but I want to try them. They came off an R package and look pretty good. Going to clean them, add bump stops and see how bad it is. Then a revalve, probably.

dr_strangeland
dr_strangeland GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/31/24 9:12 p.m.

Huh. These look pretty good. 

The bump stops are the consistency of fossilized dark matter. 

I see the shocks have, um, made an impression. 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/31/24 9:49 p.m.

I have the original Bilsteins from my 99 sport. Never occurred to me that they could be worth $100 to someone.

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