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RedGT Dork
7/22/19 3:59 p.m.

I've been autocrossing Miatas for almost 10 years, starting with 4 different ES and street-tire ES cars from 2010-2013, and then building a pretty competitive STS Miata that I've campaigned since 2014.  I've also been tracking a 2006 Mazda3 occasionally for 4 years now.  The one thing that those cars have in common is a complete and total lack of power, but also very light weight.  Between them they have around 225 whp.  Both of them.  Combined.

I owned a 2003 Dakota v8/5spd/2wd pickup that I bought to tow with, and put about 3,000 ordinary street miles on it in the 2 months it was on the road in 2018 before the clutch let go and I sold it for what I had in it.  That was far, far more fun than expected.  Around the same time I drove a couple of stupidly large, powerful cars at autocross events - a 2016 Chevy SS sedan, a 2017 GT350 Mustang, a 2004 Corvette Z06.  Very different, but lots of fun.  And I was actually not slow in them!  However every time I considered moving to a big car I got to 17" and 18" tire prices and stopped there.  I considered building the truck into a CAM or ESP vehicle but again...tire prices to keep it on competitive autocross rubber were a deterrent.

I made a thread looking for suggestions on a somewhat powerful RWD daily/track car in the $5k range.  At the time I was looking for a reasonable amount of luxury too, and was looking into Infiniti G35s and newer v6 Mustangs I couldn't quite afford to ball up on track.  F-bodies seemed too old, rough, etc - but then as life happened, once my daughter entered all-day school, I was doing 90% of my driving alone.  If we go anywhere we take my wife's 'nice' car, so suddenly the quiet interior and comfortable ride for my commuter fell way down the priority list.

A CAM-prepped former ESP 1997 Camaro was for sale on GRM, 1200 miles away.  I looked at it a few times and after one sale fell through I asked if the seller thought it would make the drive home.  He felt it would.  By some fluke, a direct flight ticket from Philadephia to Omaha, Nebraska was only $80 on Fridays.  If this is just the 'commuter' and 'track' car then I don't care about keeping it in pricey competitive tires.  Used/second-rate/undersized tires are fine!  Sold.  Life was busy for about a month so I sent a deposit in late May and bought a plane ticket and then ... hurry up and wait.  For a month.  It was agony.

Finally made it out to Omaha where the seller picked me up at the airport.  Here's the car about 5 minutes into my ownership, with 1200 miles to go and loaded with what I later determined was over 400 pounds of parts in the trunk.


crankwalk GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/22/19 5:44 p.m.

Nice. These cars get overlooked because of being right before the facelift but the platform is great. Is this one a 6 speed?


Have fun with it.

RedGT Dork
7/23/19 8:00 a.m.

Yep, this is a 6 speed car.

So after getting up at 3am to drive 1.5 hrs to the airport and catch a 6am flight, halfway across the country,

I started the trip home with a pit stop at Walmart for a variety of hand tools, rescue tape, fluids, drinking water, and snacks.  Classy photo.

At this point it was roughly 93° and I was very grateful that despite this car spending its life on tracks and autocross courses, it still had A/C.

So, armed with some funky tasting bottled water and a bag of turkey jerky, I headed to lunch, 2 hours away in Iowa:

We do have good independent bbq here and there on the east coast and also chains like MissionBBQ, but it always seems overpriced for what it is.  This place was economical and berkeleying delicious.  I think it was $14 for 2 large portions of meat and 2 generous sides, all of which were absolutely delicious.  I see why it is a staple of many autocrossers' annual trek to Lincoln, NE for nationals.  I'll definitely be back any time I am in the area.

RedGT Dork
7/23/19 8:23 a.m.

I did this trip with various contingency plans in case stuff went wrong or fatigue set in, etc.  The most optimistic schedule was to do 800 miles on Friday and the remaining 450 miles on Saturday, assuming that flight, paperwork, the drive, the planned lunch stop, and so on all went perfectly.  If I started getting behind schedule, I'd checked on various places to stop for the night and was prepared to extend the trip by a full day or more.

The car was running well.  Due to the high gearing, 75 mph cruise is around 2400 rpm.  Although it has no cruise control, it happened to work out that there was some resistance partway through throttle pedal travel that allowed for a nice cruise at this speed without leg fatigue.  It has a front main seal oil drip that turned out to lose a little over 1/4 of a quart in 700 miles.  Not unreasonable at all.  At a few gas stops I thought one front wheel may be hotter than the other, or maybe it was in my head.  Kept plugging along, getting from 19 to 22 mpg depending on who-knows-what.

At one of the fuel stops I grabbed a picture for facebook, complete with gross smooshed mayonaise packet.

Further along I-80 I was treated to an airshow of sorts, that looked much more like various practice routines.  It was 5 blue planes, sometimes in formation and sometimes not, generally screwing around and having a good time, but I'm not sure why the Blue Angels would be doing casual practice in central Iowa on a Friday so maybe it was another group.  Lousy picture from the phone in the mount on the dash.

At some point I took a detour along back roads to avoid some construction traffic and while waiting in traffic at a light and wondering what 'normal' was on the temp gauge, realized...hey...I have been sitting exactly here, all stressed out, once before!  This is where, on the drive to Solo Nationals in 2018, my borrowed tow vehicle decided to have a flaky MAF and, upon leaving the gas station just out of frame, stalled smack in the middle of this picture for about 2 minutes until it would restart.  So we chugged into Popeyes and had lunch while the MAF cooled down, and then it ran normally the rest of the way to Lincoln.  Mostly.  Maybe it's silly but I was amused to have ended up in the exact same completely random place 1000 miles away from home, again.

Near the end of day 1 of the drive I crested the 36,000 mile mark:

Finished the 800-mile day 1 drive, at my brother's place near Columbus Ohio around 1am.  By that point I'd been up for 22 hours straight.  The car had no issues so far.  I didn't fall asleep.  I was on schedule, on the most aggressive potential schedule.  It was all good.  Naturally we screwed around talking about cars for an hour+ before going to sleep so that made for a 23-hour day 1.

Dusterbd13-michael MegaDork
7/23/19 8:34 a.m.

Cam cars are FUN.

looking forward to seeing how the trip goes!

RedGT Dork
7/23/19 8:42 a.m.

Random tidbit - about 2 weeks into the 1-month wait between deposit and pickup, I made the mistake of driving a full prep Hoosier-clad ESP Camaro for ONE run at a local autocross. 

HO.  LEE.  E36 M3.  SO MUCH FUN.

That was both the best and worst thing to do at the time.  It confirmed that this purchase, which I was a little apprehensive about, was definitely the right decision.  And it also made the last 2 weeks of waiting so, so much worse.

bobjacobson New Reader
7/23/19 9:59 a.m.

About 15 years ago a good friend of mine had a Camaro that looked exactly like that. It was the nemesis to my 97 Cobra.

Also you probably did see the Blue Angel's they were in Iowa at the end of June. 

Looks like itll be as fun car. 

As I recall though watch out for the optispark* I think that's what it's called. I remember getting stranded in the middle of a busy intersection because of that.

I believe they like to self destruct. I'm sure this one has been replaced by now though.

Floating Doc
Floating Doc GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/23/19 10:24 a.m.

I remember when this car was for sale. I've got a nice ES Miata, and I'm not looking for another car, but this thing was appealing! Honestly, I was relieved when it was sold.

I'm glad you got it, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

RedGT Dork
7/23/19 10:29 a.m.
Floating Doc said:

Honestly, I was relieved when it was sold.


Oh man, so was I when it 'sold' the first time.  We'd JUST spent a bunch of money on a new car for my wife, child care was kind of hectic with the school year still in session (daughter in school, wife a teacher at a different school), autocross season was ridiculously busy in the spring, and so on and it was a horrible time to try to buy a car.  Then it came back up again a month later and I was able to delay pick-up by another month, which made everything work out a lot easier.

In reply to bobjacobson :

How 'exactly' do you mean?  Any chance you were in Colorado at the time?

Opti is possibly original and I've read up on their potential issues.  It sounds like they're some combination of 'overblown' and 'not a huge deal to fix if needed'.  

RedGT Dork
7/23/19 12:25 p.m.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear in central Ohio, this was my view out the window - wow, that car is mine now?!

Time to check over the car.  It leaked about 1/4 quart of oil as mentioned, which I can't really complain about.  (the leak was disclosed prior to purchase, no worries)  We jacked it up and checked both front wheel bearings/hubs are tight and no brakes are dragging.  Dunno what the uneven wheel temps were caused by, maybe just one caliper biting a little harder than the other when stopping for gas after not being used for 2 hours.  Maybe a sticky caliper slide pin?  Whatever, there were no issues we could find.  We found the date code on the tires - 2002, yikes.  But they're in good condition, no cracking or rot.  Also there was a driveway kitty:

So, the car seemed to still be in one piece, let's go for a drive!  I let my brother drive it, and he knows the fun roads of the area, so at this point he has driven it harder than me by a good amount.

That's a nice view.  What's up with that?  A college buddy also lives in the area and brought his old 911 over for a visit, which is his daily driver and in fact his only car. 

I rode in the Camaro and then rode in the 911.  The 911 was clearly quicker.  The Camaro was carrying 400 lbs of extra junk, but still.  Wha...?

Turns out when he said he built an engine, he REALLY built an engine.  In his apartment.  It's a 3.4l hybrid...thing...the details of which he and my brother (who also does porsche things)chatted about a bunch while I smiled and nodded.  The end result is it's 285 dyno verified horsepower in a 2350 lb car.  That he drives around in flip flops and cutoff jorts, naturally.  Crazy hipster.  I drove it for a few minutes, it's an experience.  An older, notchier, more mechanical feeling drive compared to my Miata but similar in some ways - with a LOT more grunt.

Also took a spin in bro's supercharged M convertible, which is exactly what I would want for a pure street car.  Solid.  Fast.  Quiet.  Roof goes down.  What else do you need?  Got a ride in the rallycross Boxster too (which happens to be the reigning SR Rallycross national championship car, finishing 1st and 3rd in 2018) which was a hoot on floppy snow tires.  I really like that flat 6 noise too, amazing that you can pick one of those up for $5k these days.

Anyway, after screwing around in Ohio for the morning I got back on the road with a goal of making it home to eastern PA by 10pm.  About 460 miles to cover today.

At this point, especially having gone over the car in OH, I was more relaxed and just putting in miles.  My back which had been bothering me a little the day before, was much better after starting the day in a proper bed rather than in a hard upright economy plane seat with no lumbar support.  Only 2 stops that day, one at the halfway point for gas and another at a chinese buffet for one big meal to last the whole day.  No pictures from today except this - The soup.... won't soup.

Around Carlisle PA I hit the first precipitation of the trip, which was otherwise mostly under cloudy skies.  The tires are utter junk in the rain (i mean they're 17 years old - not exactly a surprise here) and I think I did unintentional burnouts at 4 or 5 stoplights getting from the PA turnpike to I-83 via rt 11, for those who know the area.  Definitely need to replace them with something newer.

Made it home about 10pm, thoroughly exhausted.  Grabbed a E36 M3ty pic of the Camaro in the driveway with the Miata and that was that.  Nearly 1300 miles in a car bought sight unseen, and not a single hiccup. 

pontiacstogo New Reader
7/23/19 7:56 p.m.

Cool story and cool car!  yes

Don't lose too much sleep over the Opti.  Putting the distributor behind the water pump was not the smartest idea, but it's not near as difficult to swap out as people make it out to be.  The biggest problem with Opti's nowadays is finding good quality replacements if one dies - parts store Opti's are a crapshoot at best. 

97 Opti's are already vented so not as vulnerable to moisture problems as the earlier versions.  Oil leaks at the timing cover are not uncommon on LT1's but easily addressed once the WP and Opti is off.  You may want to budget on a good quality cap and rotor, along with a water pump and the TC seals and do it all at once.

What are your plans for wheels and tires - and for the car in general?

My wife and I run a 94 1LE in our local Autocross events and we love it.


RedGT Dork
7/23/19 8:18 p.m.

The plan for the car  at time of purchase, was a replacement track car, daily driver and occasional autocrosser.

lol tire plans.  They, um, escalated quickly.  I've had the car to 2 autocrosses already but am typing up the story from the beginning.  More on that in a bit.


So the car is home.  The day I got home was the last day of a sale on Continental tires on TireRack and I had decided that whatever I do with wheels and tires, mostly trying to get free/cheap used ones, I'd buy a good set of Conti ECS for street tires and track/autocross rain tires.  They're available in 275 width on a 17" diameter, and are basically the only thing close to an autocross tire in a 17" that is wider than 255.  I thought about the 255 Nexen SUR4G which run wide and end up fitting like a 275 - and I love them on my Miata - but they do not take well to excessive slip angle for long periods - they make the grip but the rubber just grinds off the tire.  Great for a Miata, not great for a heavy AWD pig, or a heavy Camaro with me just learning the car.

So I ordered the 275/17 Conti ECS and installed them on the original SS 17x9 wheels that came with the car.  Around $700 installed after the rebates, which is really the most i ever want to pay for tires.  $1600 for a set of 335 Rivals or Hoosier A7's is simply NEVER going to happen.  Plus everything wider than 275 is going to be 18" diameter which means buying another set of expensive wheels.

Big ol' tires! 

Much better.  Fills the heavily cut and flared fender wells better too!

First look at a whole bunch of unfamiliar stuff here.  The shocks are outside of the springs, the axle is one long tube, the sway bar is in the wrong place, there's linkages going every which way, oh my.  Much to learn after 10 years of setting up only double-a-arm cars.  Really looking forward to something different.

RedGT Dork
7/23/19 9:07 p.m.

With about 2 weeks to kill before the first autocross event for the car, I just drove it around a bit getting used to it.  I unloaded everything from the trunk.  Reinstalled the rear seats.  Added more reinforcement to the duct tape on the drivers carpet (It was worn through, as most of this car's miles happened on track and autox courses, where the floormat had to be removed) to shore up the hack job I did at the WalMart in Omaha to prevent my foot from catching on it every time I released the clutch.  Picked up a good low-mile carpet but it needs a LOT of cleaning before installation.  No holes though!


They nest!


I realized at one point that the speedometer needle home/rest position is simply laying on the plastic lump (this is normal), and now I can't un-see it.


Packed the car for its first event.  SO MUCH ROOM LEFT.  A full size spare, and all the crap I usually fill the Miata with, all fits in the hatchback.  This is amazing.  Note the throttle cable on the passenger seat, the one on the car was a replacement from...a bicycle, I think.  I wasn't sure if I trusted that, so I picked up an OEM one to travel with.

slowbird Reader
7/23/19 9:35 p.m.

You're right, that speedometer needle just looks so weird like that. Oh well, not like it hurts anything I guess!

RedGT Dork
7/24/19 7:15 a.m.

Since the Camaro was home, I had to sell something.  The Mazda3 didn't have nearly the interest I thought it would and my wife was getting annoyed that all 5 cars were still present.  So I threw $5 at the void that is craigslist, and put the truck up for sale too.  I LIKE the truck more than the mazda3 but logically the 3 makes more sense to keep right now.  Plus the 3 was currently assembled and driving while the truck transmission was sitting on the workbench.  So I was happy to sell whichever one somebody wanted to take the hell away from my driveway first.

I priced it firm at what I had in it, and surprisingly someone came to see it the next day, and picked it up 2 days later.  Father & 14 yr old son buying it as a mild project (it really does just need reassembly) for his first vehicle.  Cool!

So now I have a garage space once again.  It immediately got filled with everything that had been residing in the bed of the truck:

Time for a massive cleanup, and purging of wheels and tires I don't really need.  At this point I was up to (66) wheels in my ownership, for (4) vehicles.  Granted, 16 are on the cars at any given time but 50 wheels is still absurd.  Purge time!  This included several trips to the local tire shop to dismount junk tires, switch tires around, and so on.  These were all mine... :-/

As of now (2 weeks later) I have gotten rid of 16 wheels at bargain prices and am much happier.  More are still for sale or may be scrapped.


RedGT Dork
7/24/19 7:23 a.m.

A friend graciously gave me 275/18 RE71R that had been beaten to death on a stock-class Evo and then stored outdoors for a while, but free is free!  I was slightly annoyed that this happened the day after I bought and mounted the 17" Continentals, because I could have spent that money on 18" wheels instead.  But, craigslist to the rescue!  Actually Facebook Marketplace.  Same thing really.

These C5 Corvette wagon wheels are pretty much the narrowest and heaviest base model Corvette wheel.  Nobody wants them for actual Corvettes.

However they are staggered sets of 17x8.5 and 18x9.5, and they sell for around $250 normally.  I found TWO sets local to me and picked them up for $175 and $200 respectively.  The resulting set of four 17x8.5 wheels has since been sold for around $150 resulting in a $225 set of 18's.  Not too shabby!

Another trip to the tire shop, which is essentially outdoors (but also essentially free) and we were in the midst of such a heat wave this week that I was bringing a change of clothes to wear when using the tire machine in 95* heat on lunch break.  This way I remained somewhat presentable when I got back to work.  Yuck.

Ok, so we have 'real' tires.  They are 60mm narrower than what I could run on this car in this class, and this set was written off as uncompetitive about a year ago, but it's something!

RedGT Dork
7/24/19 7:38 a.m.

Right around this time, after buying the wheels but before mounting up the tires, I did my first autocross with the car on June 13.  Ran the continentals rather than rushing to mount the RE71.  It's a whole new car to me, the tires weren't going to be a big deal either way.

I had magnetic material left over from the Miata, which is orange, but shows up well enough on red that I cut out some hasty CAMC letters to make my life easier, or so I thought.  I knew the front fenders were plastic on these cars.  So at the event I stuck the numbers on the door and they...promptly fell off.  OK, the doors are plastic too!  How does a car with this much plastic in it still weigh 3400 lbs?!  No problem, I'll just put them on the rear arch.  

...And the numbers fell off again.  Riiiiiight.  Those huge flares are either fiberglass or have a bunch of body filler in them.  Bumper?  Obviously plastic.  Black roof section?  Plastic.

So this is where the numbers and letters ended up.  The other side is even weirder because of the (plastic of course!) fuel filler door right where the 'M' is.

But the numbers did stick and I did run the event.  The car is a lot of fun to drive and reasonably well balanced on throttle, and easy to steer with the throttle.  On these tires it is not a slalom monster at ALL and this course was on a runway which was largely slaloms and hard offsets, with just one sweeper.  I also hit 7 cones in 5 runs and the first run (so, my first run ever in the car) was the only clean one.

The tires survived.  Not the fastest in the dry, but reasonable for the price, excellent in the wet and very street-friendly.

Performance?  Even learning a new car I was a little disappointed in myself for hitting all the cones and throwing away a more reasonable finish despite subpar tires.

For the first four runs I forgot to turn the camera ON and then on the last run I forgot to turn the air conditioner OFF.  So it generally didn't have the power and rotation on throttle that I expected and I slowed down as the car pushed a little.

At this event we discovered that the throttle cable was giving me full throttle at about 1/2 pedal travel.  I suspected this from how the car drove on the street but hadn't gotten around to checking.  Beyond halfway, pushing the pedal more just bound up and contorted the throttle cable.  That explains some of why I found it so hard to modulate throttle both on course and on the street.  New OEM cable installed and the range of motion is much better but could still use some tweaking.

RedGT Dork
7/24/19 7:47 a.m.

More cleanup and that brings the timeline up to Thursday the 18th - Garaged!

It fits with inches to spare.  I still need to move that shelf behind it, in order to have the space to use the pivoting QuickJack lift.

Floating Doc
Floating Doc GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/24/19 7:47 a.m.

Still did well in your class.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UberDork
7/24/19 7:50 a.m.

Fun fact: not only are the door skins plastic, they're just glued on.  On a hot enough day, you can pop them right off by hand cheeky

Congrats on the new purchase, I should come out to another Warminster autoX some time.

RedGT Dork
7/24/19 8:02 a.m.

In reply to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ :

You've got 2 chances yet this year (Sept 15 and Oct 6) and then it's getting turned into tennis courts and walking paths in 2020.  Supposedly.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
7/24/19 8:13 a.m.

I will definitely try to get to Warminster this one for one last event. Unfortunately, it's hard being in NH so much. 

RedGT Dork
7/24/19 12:14 p.m.

After the first event, I definitely wanted more grip.  On went the very used 275/18 RE71R, on the $cheap 18x9.5 wheels:

The front bolts right up, I just had to bend the cotter pin on the upper control arm a little ot make sure it would not catch the tire.

The rear needs a little bit of trimming work because the Corvette hub is less than a millimeter smaller than the Camaro rear is.

I just marked a half-sharpie-width line around the ID of the hub so I could tell I was removing material more or less uniformly around the whole thing.  Took maybe 5 minutes per wheel.  I have one more I need to do, as it was already mounted to the front before I discovered the interference at the rear and I was in a rush - was supposed to be "running out to the garage to swap wheels real quick", not dremeling away for an extra 20 minutes.

And there it is.  i'm not sure what I think of the appearance of the wheels but I can't argue with the price.

RedGT Dork
7/24/19 12:33 p.m.

Results from event 2.  It was absurdly hot for the area, and the course was still tighter than I would have brought this car to - however it didn't really matter because the Miata has no A/C and it was 103* so the Camaro was going anyway.

This region runs all of CAM together on index, and again I coned away a couple of positions.  The plan for next event is to run a rear-facing camera and try to get a better sense of where I am hitting cones because the car is so huge and heavy that it's not evident from any noise or feel during the run.  The DNF was actually a clean run where I went across the finish line backwards :-/

Video analysis after the fact showed that I missed a few things on the coursewalk - too tight of a line at the start for no reason other than to save distance BEFORE THE TIMING LIGHTS because I am an idiot, and that pinched me and limited speed through the first offset and long left hander.  Also set up way too wide into the tight left turn over by paddock, I was driving as if the car were heavier and less nimble than it actually is.


RedGT Dork
7/24/19 12:45 p.m.

The good news is the car had no complaints autocrossing in 103* temps nor driving home with the A/C blasting afterwards.  The tires were definitely more crisp and responsive, even while grossly overheated.  I discovered that using the very-uncomfortable old 4-point harness over the stock seatbelt was very helpful, because holding myself in the seat with the steering wheel because of the newfound grip levels, was not fast at all.


Some bench racing of times, from event 1 to event 2.  Comparing my +1 raw times to a few other people (also their raw/dirty times where applicable, to be fair) who were at both events in similar cars, who drive consistently.  One is a CAMT mustang on narrow 255 RE71R's, and one is an ESP Camaro on giant 315 Hoosiers.

Note that 96 ESP also felt he had an off day at event 1, and a good day at event 2, in this chart.  So that's a significant improvement across the board from the changes made - throttle cable swap, harness use, car familiarity and obviously TIRES are most of the difference.  It's not a surprise that all that stuff helped a ton, but good to check that I am going in the right direction.

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