Vital Stats

Engine:
5.3L V8
Power:
400 HP
Transmission:
6-Speed Manual
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,400 LBS
Seating:
2
Point. Shoot. Grin.



Wedging myself into the cockpit of Keith Tanner's 1994 Mazda MX-5 Miata turned Targa Newfoundland podium finisher, I'm struck with the realization that most race cars are the automotive equivalent of a pet electric eel. They look fantastic lounging around, and you may even be struck with the impulse to get close, but the reality is that it's only a matter of time before it reaches out and lights you up like a cheap string of Christmas lights. This notion is only underscored when Tanner hands me a set of noise-cancelling headphones with an integrated com system.

"Here. You'll probably want these," he says. "It can get kind of loud in here."

With a 400-horsepower General Motors L33 wedged between the fenders of the poised Miata, it's only a matter of time before the stripped interior resonates with the sound of eight furious cylinders. I ask if there's anything I should know before I hit the ignition. Tanner says no. I'm beginning to suspect he's lying to me.

I expect tire smoke and ham-fisted tiller swinging. I get perfect, controlled, linear acceleration.

There's a brief moment of mental disconnect between hitting the stock Miata key and feeling a small block V8 fire to life beneath me. The cabin fills with the kind of perfect cacophony that can only come from god's great gift to internal combustion. I notch the Tremec six-speed into first gear and burble to the closest intersection. Tanner gives the all clear and I roll into the throttle and splash into an endless well of torque. I expect drama. I expect tire smoke and ham-fisted tiller swinging. I get perfect, controlled, linear acceleration courtesy of a capital P Positraction rear end borrowed from a Cadillac CTS-V instead.

"It really comes alive around 4,000 rpm," Tanner says as I click through to third.

Flyin' Miata V8 Targa MX-5 Miata side viewFlyin' Miata V8 Targa MX-5 Miata side viewFlyin' Miata V8 Targa MX-5 Miata side view

This isn't an electric eel at all. It's a basset puppy with greyhound in its veins.

The pure mechanical precision of the gearbox is heaven, and I dip deeper into the throttle as we pull a long uphill into a medium right out of Flatrock. Again, I expect to be forced to lift in the face of dire understeer, but with a mere 200 pounds over stock weight and a 52/48 weight balance, I'm rewarded with the perfectly poised suspension and litheness of a stock Miata that just happens to have four times the power. I can't believe how perfectly drivable this car is in every way. It's controlled, comfortable and completely contained. This isn't an electric eel at all. It's a basset puppy with greyhound in its veins.

Tanner originally prepared this car to compete in the 2008 Targa Newfoundland, and at the time, the vehicle relied on a reworked version of the stock four-cylinder. The demanding stages of the event required more thrust out of each corner, and for 2011, Tanner decided to move to the more forgiving rules of the Open class with a V8 conversion under the hood. The end result is a slightly tamer interpretation of the 430-horsepower LS3-powered street conversion that Flyin' Miata produces for mass consumption. Yes, Flyin' Miata will build you your very own V8 conversion for daily driving and on-track shenanigans.

Flyin' Miata V8 Targa MX-5 Miata drivingFlyin' Miata V8 Targa MX-5 Miata driving

The Flyin' Miata crew raided the full history of MX-5 production for the very best components.

A V8 Roadster's subframe supports the aluminum small block out front, and with most of the weight of the conversion saddled in the heavy six-speed manual gearbox, the vehicle still retains its playful balance. Tanner says that an excellent Targa car is effectively a well-sorted street vehicle – something that won't punish you with a temperamental powerplant or overly harsh springs, and that's exactly what he's built. The Flyin' Miata crew raided the full history of MX-5 production for the very best components, be it the lightest dash borrowed from a 1990 or sharpest suspension bits. The racer uses steering and upright components from a 2005 Miata in the front and 1994-1997 uprights in the rear. A set of custom-valved AFCO shocks are paired with coordinated springs for a compliant and poised suspension that's been tuned to step out on command. It's the kind of playful that begs you to get frisky with the throttle.

Hopping onto the Trans-Canada Highway toward St. Johns, I give the throttle a long plunge and feel a great invisible fist of twist press on my chest once again. This is addicting, and – purists be damned – it's exactly what the Miata has been missing all of its life. Our exit comes up too quickly and I sample the Flyin' Miata big brake kit at work before diving into the cloverleaf at a speed I'd think twice about in a modern Corvette. The light-weight Targa Miata soaks up the lateral forces without so much as a hiccup, and I realize I'm nowhere near this vehicle's threshold. It's the kind of platform that breeds confidence with every turn, and it's never ending wealth of power means that it wouldn't take long to wring some serious speed out of the machine.

Flyin' Miata V8 Targa MX-5 Miata rear 3/4 view

Tanner started down a path cut by the likes of the AC Cobra and Sunbeam Tiger. One where a small car finally gets the redemptive power it needs to waltz up and dot the eye of more impressive metal, and he succeeded in every way. Tanner and his wife, Janel, were one stage away from claiming this year's gold at the 2011 Targa Newfoundland. A faulty Mazda main relay caused a DNF on Day 4 and put the team in third overall. Otherwise, the vehicle performed without a single mechanical issue over 1,300 miles of racing and transit. Now that's a proven pedigree.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 28 Comments
      P
      • 3 Years Ago
      Judging by how many of these things are tearing up the track or on Mulholland Drive on any weekend, even the stock plants can be made to be very, VERY fast (or merely ridiculously fun to fly through corners). Still, a bottomless pit of all-you-can-eat torque in a package as insanely good as the Miata is hard to deny and probably harder to beat on-track. Can we, the real car enthusiasts who actually know cars, finally reclaim this machine from the IROC-driving mullet-headed morons who call them "chick cars"? These things are wildly good cars.
      Jorsher
      • 3 Years Ago
      I want an LSx in my S2000...
        khammers91
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jorsher
        personally i feel like an S54 Straight six would be better for the s2k i'm not sure the engine bay is wide enough to handle a v8 a straight six should fit fine though
        fabarati
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jorsher
        Wouldn't a high-revving V8 fit the character of the S2000 better?
          Slizzo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @fabarati
          More important that it be a light V8, rather than high-revving. Afterall, being light was the principle of the S2000, and the Miata.
          Jorsher
          • 3 Years Ago
          @fabarati
          It would. The v8 put in the Atom would be nice, but realistically an LSx is much easier to obtain. It's ok, though. I'll just throw on a turbo and call it a day.
          LoneWolf
          • 3 Years Ago
          @fabarati
          Not that hard to make a LSx spin high
      Rampant
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have to agree that the purists need to get over themselves, and mazda needs to step up its game in the power department. They have continually refined this model over decades, but have been stubborn when it comes to increasing the power output. 0-60 is in the 8's or higher from what I've read - many trucks and CUVs are putting up times near this these days. My proposal would be for them to nick the engine out of the outgoing RX-8, put in a stock low pressure turbo, and watch the thing fly. Realistically, you would be looking at a car that would have something in the order of 300+ hp / 275+ft/lb and weigh slightly less then the current car. Call the new model the Miata Speed 5 Type RX. The marketing practically writes itself....
      wemmons
      • 3 Years Ago
      How 'bout some interior and under the hood shots?
        Jorsher
        • 3 Years Ago
        @wemmons
        Yeah. That was what I wanted to see the most. It's what's on the inside that counts!
          Keith Tanner
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jorsher
          Zach took some, I'm not sure why they're not in the article. Here's an underhood shot: http://targamiata.com/images_lrg/img_9029.jpg The interior before the heat shielding went on to the transmission tunnel: http://targamiata.com/images_lrg/IMG_9300.jpg
      Chris
      • 3 Years Ago
      L33 6.0L?? Not the same, L33 is 5.3L aluminum block with 243 or 799 heads. 400HP out of an L33 is plausible. So which is it, a modified L33 5.3L or a stock 6.0L LS2?
        Keith Tanner
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Chris
        That was a temporary mistake in the spec sheet that's been fixed now. It's a modified L33 5.3L.
          Jim McRee
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Keith Tanner
          Way to go Keith! Stupid relay, you shouldda won that thing! I'd love to drive that thing!
        P
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Chris
        I looked at the build site and it looks to be a hybrid. Seems like a 6.0 LS1 bottom end. It's ridiculously fast regardless.
      Vineeth Vazhayil
      • 3 Years Ago
      Insane power in a small package! Crazy!
      Myself
      • 3 Years Ago
      V8 MX-5 is as stupid as a Muscle Car with a 1.8 liter i4.
        Maverickfiveo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Myself
        ...Except the exact opposite. One is stupid because it's boring, and the V8 Miata is stupid because it's stupid fun.
        wemmons
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Myself
        Did you not just read the article?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Myself
        [blocked]
          p4R4d0x
          • 3 Years Ago
          Actually, no. 1. A number of steps were taken to reinforce the frame including frame rail bracing and seam welding - http://www.flyinmiata.com/projects/targa/TargaBuild.php?UID=21 2. You don't have to have the wheelbase of a bus to have a stable car if set up properly. Hold your label of 'incompetence' until you've driven it yourself.
      Steve Clark
      • 3 Years Ago
      Me want.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Chris
      • 3 Years Ago
      Nihal, I have had the distinct pleasure of hearing the Targa Miata fire-off in person. On startup and idle, she sounds calm and unhurried, though you get the feeling that there's more she's not telling you. A whole lot more. Moving around at sane speeds and throttle settings, she sounds pleasantly powerful and composed. On the track, though, you might think it sounds like Hell has been let loose. No. It is rather a loud, yet very controlled, taut sound. It's predatory.
      trzjax
      • 3 Years Ago
      So what's the 0-60?
        Rob Gomes
        • 3 Years Ago
        @trzjax
        I'm fairly certain the speedometer only has three markers: OMG, LOL and WTF. 400HP in a package that weighs a bit under 2500lbs -- which is about 750lbs lighter than a Corvette.
        bcworkz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @trzjax
        Based on Rob's numbers, 0-60 should pass in a little under 3.5secs. (and 0-OMG in 0.8 secs)
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