The poor miata. The more we take it apart, the more we realize just how poorly it’s been abused. Everything about this car is shitty. We are slowly doing our best to help it out a little. Part of the fun of an underpowered car is trying to squeeze the most out of the power it makes. The miata was rated at 140 horsepower from the factory. 17 years and 175k miles of abuse surely haven’t done it any favors. The best way to make the most of what it has is to remove as much weight as possible. We’ve removed the majority of the interior, taken out the entire air conditioning system, removed the power steering pump and lines, and generally taken out everything we can get away without. The car has also had the benefit of a number of simple greening the engine bay sessions. There was so much disgusting greasy oil and dirt residue.
Most of the weight removal and cleaning was biding our time while we waiting for the many boxes of parts we ordered to arrive. We haven’t been able to drive the car much. The steel belts on the front tires were showing and the suspension was so awful that we pretty much had to let it sit until we had the suspension installed, got the brakes, new wheels and tires on, and then had the alignment done. This part of the project has definitely been the most overwhelming. There is just so much to do. We spent about 12 hours at my in-laws’ fancy garage and got started in taking out the old coilovers. While the suspension was apart, the brake stuff came out too. We have new lines, calipers, rotors and of course pads. Seeing just how awful the coilovers were was kind of a kick. I would say that having instructions printed on your suspension components doesn’t say much for their quality.
The car was also dumped so low that not only were the fender liners missing, the tires were rubbing on the insides of the actual fenders. As noted, the front tires were worn so far that the steel belts were out and frayed.
With all of the small stuff that needed doing, bleeding the brakes, monkeying with sway bars, etc, that was all we really got done, but a lot was accomplished on our first day. The car had all new coilovers and a big brake kit, plus the new wheels and tires we picked up for it.
This weekend the primary project was getting the car safely drivable. We got partway there. The sway bars needed adjustment so we installed new end links. The tie rod ends needed replacement. It appears as though the impact that damaged the bumper (and maybe the fender too) also bent a tie rod end. All of the tie rod ends were removed (and when that happened we did some more cleaning on the steering rack) and replaced with stuff that wasn’t destroyed. We replaced the radiator with something a lot more robust. The old one wasn’t in great shape and if we end up turboing the car some time in the future, we’ll be glad to have something that can keep up with all of the additional heat the car generates.
The hard top was taken off once again and the seats were removed. The whole inside of the back of the car was cleaned out and all of the old dust cleaned off. I began the arduous and patience testing job of chipping the tar out of the foot wells. We got the new roll bar installed. This new one sits further forward and is a little taller, so Craig’s freakishly long torso can pass the broomstick test.
We ended up needing adjustable sway bar end links due to the way the new sway bar sits with the coilovers in front (and the back end links literally will not come off the old sway bar) so those went in. Craig did a lot more fussing with ride height and toe adjustments with the car before it goes in for an alignment this week. We did learn that the seat bracket mounting points (the bumpy parts in the photo of the floor pan above) are stronger metal than the floor of the car, so when we tried to air chisel them off, we put a sweet hole in the floor. We have a rivet drilling bit on its way right now. The mounts need to come off and we need to fabricate the seat brackets for the new racing seats, and figure out mounting points for the harnesses before we can drive it for the alignment on Thursday. All in all, a great deal has been accomplished, it’s just time consuming and visually the car doesn’t look that different, so it feels a little disheartening. Our next projects are the seats, followed by prepping the car for vinyl, which is going to be its own adventure.
The kid who applied the white plastidip coating to the miata was either in a phenomenal hurry to get it on the car, extremely lazy, or just impatient. He did a piss poor job of prepping the car. Very little was masked off. There is overspray in all of the body creases and the coating near the bottom of the car doesn’t even cover up the silver reliably. Most of the rubber gaskets around the windows, headlights, etc are covered in white plastidip. We decided to remove it. The expectation was that there was something so wrong with the car that would require it be painted or otherwise covered, and we went into the project with the expectation that we would be coating it in plastidip again (except applied correctly and with a real paint sprayer, instead of dozens of spray cans) in a color like a dark grey. The morning after we brought it home, Craig took it to get emissions done and got it registered.
As soon as he got home, we got down to taking the plastidip off. First we tried peeling it. Part of the allure of plastidip as a coating is that if applied thick enough, it peels off in one big sheet and leaves behind almost nothing. In most places it was just too thin to peel effectively. It just ripped as soon as you started to get going. But it turns out that paint thinner will melt plastidip but not hurt car paint. So we got started. And it was slow going. It seemed that the paint was in fine shape. We kept expecting to find a panel that was purple or filled with huge patches of bondo or something.
The worst we could find was the front bumper. Looks like he hit something and broke the chin piece and did a poor job repairing it. The hood’s also not in great shape, but they both look better than the the too-thin plastidip coating.
I took over plastidip removal as I have the patience to get into all the seams and I am much better suited to such persnickety pursuits. Craig started taking things out of the car. Starting with the hard top. Then the carpet in the back area. Spare parts, junk, and otherwise unnecessary weight in a car built for track use were removed, weighed, and cataloged. Most of it went into the trash. Some items got tucked away in in case we ever want to use them again. The hard top is white, not silver like the rest of the car, but it nonetheless got a huge amount of plastidip overspray, so Craig focused on cleaning that as well as trying to remove the epoxy left behind by the super fancy rear-window spoiler(!?).
My method for plastidip removal goes as such: Wear nitrile gloves, have a ton of paint thinner and a ton of paper towels. You’ll also need a plastic drywall/spackle scraper or a bondo squeegee scraper. Both are effective. Soak a few paper towels in paint thinner and lay them as flat on the car as you can. Any place the paper towel doesn’t make contact will not soften. This is pretty straightforward on large flat surfaces like the hood. Much more difficult for the complex curves found on bumpers. Let the paper towels sit for a few minutes. I have found that working in 2 different parts of the same panel is an efficient way of doing this. Once the plastidip has begun wicking through the towels, it’s probably soft. Carefully peel the towels off and place them in a new location. You may need to rewet them so they’ll stick effectively. Use your scraper to scrape as much of the gooey plastidip off as you can. Wipe the scraper on a dirty paper towel or in a plastic trash bag. Use a thinner soaked paper towel to wipe up as much extra as you can. The rough part of the paper towel can be used to clean off any unsoftened patches. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes I will scrape and do a quick wipe, then put new towels over the top of the “treated” are to finish up the soaking area.
We spent about 8 hours working on removing the plastidip on day 1. We accomplished removing it from the hood, windshield frame, front bumper, trunk lid, both rear fenders, and the back bumper. Craig also managed to peel it off of one of the doors before the area got too thin and it stopped peeling. It was too dark to continue, so we packed up and went to bed.
Day 2 took about 4 more hours of cleanup to finish the 2 doors, side view mirrors, and front fenders. We also removed, polished, and clear coated the tail lights. One of them has a small crack and we are hoping that the clear coat will help to keep water out of it. The 4 corner markers got removed and polished, and the headlights just got polished on the car.
As I got into some of the weirder creases, like in the door jamb, and around the mirrors, it became apparent that the car had at one point been plastidipped another color as well. Someone had done it with black or dark grey plastidip, but it seems as though it wasn’t our young scholar, as this was prepped well and applied thick enough to be peeled off, which is perhaps why the previous owner thought that his halfassed job was going to turn out better than it did. With a bit more soaking and scraping, we had the majority of the coating off of the Miata. The paint on the mirrors is damaged beyond salvation. Since we intend to get the top painted black, we hit them with a satin black spray paint just so they’re not bare fiberglass and flecks of leftover silver paint. The bumper is irreparable and the fender is pretty heavily damaged. We have a family friend who works at a body shop and can get pretty good deals on spare parts, so we will have her look for a bumper and fender painted silver, and probably keep these in case something awful happens to the car and we need functional albeit ugly body panels.
After getting the solid plastidip chunks off, we went over the whole car a few more times with “clean” paint thinner soaked paper towels. Unfortunately, thinner leaves a residue. After the car was as clean as we could get it with thinner, we went over it another couple of times with chlorinated brake clean. That got pretty much all of the remaining residue off. As we poke around at the car, we are finding little areas that still need to be gone over a second time, but for the most part it’s all the way clean.
Next project is the suspension. The tires are bald to the point that the metal belts are showing, so it’s not really safe to drive the car much. We have new tires and wheels on their way, but we don’t want to put those on the car with the alignment the way it is. And we don’t want to get the car aligned until we’ve replaced the godawful suspension. So, we will get suspension, then get the car aligned, then put the wheels and tires on. Then maybe the car will look like grown ups own it.
When Craig and I met, we were both pretty into cars. I was deep into my old turbo legacy wagon (I love station wagons) and Craig had (at the time) pretty fancy BMW M3. We did a number of autocross events (driving around a course of cones in a parking lot). When I realized that my poor old station wagon didn’t make a good race car, I eventually decided to sell it and bought an ’86 corvette. We did a track school and Craig did a number of track days afterwards. When we bought our house 8 years ago, car stuff got put on a back burner. We finally have the time and money to start tinkering again. After Craig and I did high performance driving schools the last month, the bug has bitten us again.
The real issue with taking a “high performance” car to a road course style racetrack is cost. On a car like Craig’s 2015 Mustang(heavy and high horsepower), you burn through part of a set of tires and brake pads, and replacement tires and brakes for a car like the Mustang are pretty expensive. Factor in the wear and tear on the car, the fees to use the track, and the cost of track insurance (unless you feel confident that you won’t put your daily driven new car into a wall), and you’re up near $1000 for a single day of driving. It’s crazy expensive. That’s where the Miata comes in. Miatas are fairly cheap, their parts are cheap, they’re tiny and super light so in addition to the wheels and tires and brakes being tiny and cheap, the car goes through a whole heck of a lot less of them. Add to that – they handle phenomenally. They even have entire racing series devoted to them.
Anyway, we were on the lookout for a little Miata to pick up. We have an older subaru that we rarely drive anymore, and found this white one with a hard top and roll bar on Craigslist. The guy wanted either cash or an automatic all wheel drive sedan in trade. Luckily, we happened to have a sedan matching that description just sitting in our driveway collecting pollen. Craig set up the meeting and we went from there. The Miata was/is a basket case, but it runs and drives fine, and most of the stuff that’s wrong with is cosmetic or something that we would want to replace anyway. The guy couldn’t believe the deal he was getting, and we were happy not to have to deal with listing and selling the car and dealing with a whole pile of weirdos from Craigslist and not pay any tax (in WA, you only pay tax on things you buy, and since no money changed hands, no taxes). It worked out well for both of us.
The worst part about this car besides the mismatched wheels with backwards tires worn all the way down to the steel belts is the “paint.” The previous owner had sprayed the entire body of the car with a coating called plastidip. In theory it’s a pretty great product. Applied skillfully and thick enough, it is a rubbery coating with a smooth matte finish that is “easily” removable. Applied by a lazy college student that didn’t seem interested in doing masking off or prep work of any kind, it’s not that great of a finish. He used about half as much as he should have, and as a result, it wasn’t thick enough to peel off on most of the car. Additionally, it had a really rough texture that managed to collect mold and mildew. It was pretty awful.
My favorite part of the car was the “CRUSH ON THIS” sticker on the passenger window. Unfortunately it spent less than 5 minutes in the driveway the night we brought it home before the sticker was removed. No worries though, I rescued it and it’s on the vacuum cleaner now.
The wheels and tires are horrendous. The rear wheels are off of a celica and the bolt pattern doesn’t match the Miata, so the previous owner put spacers on with a different lug pattern to take the wheels. So the rear wheels stick out way too far. The fronts aren’t much better. They’re an appalling basket weave design, and the tires are mounted backwards on them.
The entire suspension will need to be replaced. The kid put $400 eBay coilovers on it, and they are awful. Based on the state of the rest of the car, numerous other suspension items will need to go on as well. I have a feeling we’re just going to need to go through and replace most of it. Following that, we can get it aligned and then put on the new wheels and tires we’ve ordered.
And it was such a blast! For my 30th, my mom wanted to take me on a trip, and I know that Craig gets stressed with leaving the dogs at home when we go places and getting him to go on a vacation can be a struggle. I have always wanted to do a California wine tasting trip, and since Craig doesn’t care for wine, he would never go with me. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to go wine tasting with people that would enjoy it! So my mom & her partner got going getting it set up. And before we knew it, my cousin Kari and aunt had also joined the trip! So the five of us descended upon Seatac airport one rainy Saturday morning in October, and flew out to San Francisco. We took so many pictures so I just made collages for each day/event to make it less intense.
Our first day consisted of flying from Seatac to San Francisco, getting a car, and trying to make it out of the city in traffic. We stopped at the golden gate bridge and then drove up the coast a bit to get some late lunch. We finally made it to our VRBO house after dark and had a dinner of apples, cheese, wine, and beer.
Day 2 started with our awesome tour guide Dean from Woody’s Wine Tours. Let me take a quick moment to gush like crazy about Dean. He was incredible. Friendly, patient, go-with-the-flow, but still able to wrangle 5 women who had clearly been swallowing all of the wine tastes we were doing. He was super knowledgeable and did an awesome job of telling us about the history and gossip of the region without being annoying (this is a very fine line). We had a picnic lunch at one of the wineries and he brought us real plates and silverware, fabric napkins, etc. He was happy to move around engagements to get us to specific wineries that we wanted to check out. On day 2, he brought us a bottle of sparkling wine to kick it off because we were celebrating birthdays. He was awesome. If you’re considering doing a wine tour, go with Dean at Woody’s. Anyway, we started out our first day in Sonoma with a trip to the Francis Ford Coppola winery. It is this ridiculous Italian style palatial estate with a huge pool, bocce courts, etc. It’s also essentially a shrine that Francis built to himself, with tons of movie memorabilia. Regardless, we ponied up for the “fancy” tasting with some of their better wines. We got to go upstairs to sit at a gorgeous old zinc bar. The guy doing our pours also gave us a splash of sparkling wine for the birthday celebration and we also got to taste their port made from petit syrah and we got a little piece of chocolate.
After Coppola, we headed to Robert Young for lunch and another tasting. I also learned that the Tide Stick that I decided to bring with me was worth its weight in gold. I successfully removed a red wine stain from my white top. And there was some serious singing to hits of the 80s while in transit.
We rounded out the day’s tour at Ridge Vineyards. Their wines are incredible. Now, this is also the 3rd winery we had hit that day, so my palette could have been essentially shot, but I fell in love with their $50 Cabernet. So I bought a bottle. It is going to be a special occasion wine! The cool thing about this vineyard is that many of their vines are over 100 years old, and as such were not set up with modern trellising techniques or irrigation. Also, they have this incredible covered patio with super comfy lounge furniture that they run their tastings on. AND – see below where I discuss Montelena. Ridge won their class with their ’71 Monte Bello. We all could have stayed there all afternoon, but Dean was on the clock, so we did our tasting and headed back “home.”
After our “outings” of wine tasting, we got a ride back into town and hit the Kendall Jackson tasting room, and then wandered around downtown Healdsburg trying to figure out what we wanted for dinner. Then an Uber trip home and I forced everyone to watch Bottle Shock (a decidedly cheesy movie about the true events that put California wines on the map in the 1970s).
After a bit of a long night and a slow start in the morning, we headed to Napa Valley and did a tour and then tasting at Robert Mondavi. It was pretty cool to see how such a large winemaker produces their wines. We also got to watch the most ridiculous dude tasting in quite possibly the most obnoxious way possible.
Following Mondavi, we had lunch at the Hill Family tasting room in Yountville, and got to try their tasty wines too. To be honest, I was mostly just passing time until we made it to Chateau Montelena, because I can hardly contain my excitement for it.
And then the Main Event: Chateau Montelena. If you have seen the movie Bottle Shock, you will surely recognize the winery. If you haven’t, then your quick rundown on why I was so excited to go there is: In the 70’s, California was making some incredible wines, but the French, and the rest of the world didn’t quite get it. A British wine snob went to California to try some of their wines, realized that they’re incredible, and arranged for a blind taste test with the who’s who of French wine snobs. California wines were rated best in each category and a California chardonnay won the white tasting. That chardonnay was a 1973 Chateau Montelena wine. Anyway, the tasting (that the British wine snob incorrectly didn’t think California stood a chance at) put California on the map. And Chateau Montelena has been kind of an inside joke punchline between Craig and I. “Oh, what can we bring?” “A ’73 Montelena Chardonnay.” “I’m gonna grab a couple of bottles of wine, any preferences?” “73 Montelena Chardonnay.” etc, etc, etc. So given the option of totally screwing up our tasting schedule to check out Montelena, I jumped at the chance. At the beginning of the trip, my mom offered to buy me a wine club membership to any winery that I wanted, and I was really trying to make a wise decision. I had hoped that I would love the wines at Montelena. In my head they were so built up that I believe I would have been horrifyingly disappointed had they not been stellar. But I loved every single one of them! So it was between Ridge from Sonoma, or Montelena, and I just couldn’t pass up getting boxes of Montelena wines a couple of times a year. I was pleased as punch at the prospect. Every single one of their wines had this rich, almost creamy mouthfeel to them that I couldn’t get enough of.
After that, we headed back to home base, spent some time resting and getting ready to go out to a fancy dinner, and then headed back into town for 100% the best meal of my life at Chalkboard in Healdsburg.
And the next day, it was time to go home! We packed up and headed into San Francisco for brunch and irish coffees at The Buena Vista, some time at the wharf, and some competition at the antique arcade before heading to the airport for our return flight.
And a few more random photos. During the trip, there was a running joke about my selfie-taking. I took a lot of selfies. It was kind of fun, but in honor of that, I made a whole collage of my selfies!
Craig and “the guys” take trips up to his parents’ cabin in the mountains a couple of times a year as little weekend getaways with the guys. I made that sound far more romantic than it is. During these trips, they go on long drives up logging roads in an attempt to find something exciting. One time they explored an abandoned gold mine (it is very creepy, from what I’ve been told) and this spring, they happened upon a hike to Church Lake, which is near the summit of Bearpaw Mountain in the North Cascades. Being spring in the mountains, it was mostly a snow field, but they decided that it would be a fun adventure for everyone (including the ladies) to be invited on. Magically, we all managed to figure out a time that worked for everyone, and despite one of the couples backing out last minute, 6 of us headed up a few weeks ago.
The forecast was for clear skies and highs around 60, and lows in the low 30’s. Everyone packed warm clothes, and we thought we were ready for it. The night before, we all drove up to the cabin and spent the night, and got an early start around 8am to head up to the trailhead. As soon as we got out of the truck, it started sprinkling. Unfazed (we live in the PNW – everyone’s used to rain), we headed in. It started off as a pretty flat walk with a bunch of squishy pools (they actually looked incredibly similar to the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings), and then the incline started. This is primarily me being supremely out of shape, but it was compounded by the other 2 couples that were camping with us being in quite good shape, but I thought I was going to die. Huge steep hill, tiny flat spot, followed by another huge steep hill. It’s not exactly my jam. And then it started snowing, because really, the only thing better than rain while you’re gasping for air, your lungs hurt, and your legs feel like jello, is all of that in the snow. And so we trudged on. And one of our friends lent me his trekking poles, which, despite being strikingly dorky, were total lifesavers, and I have them on my “list” now.
By the time we made it to Church Lake, the rain and snow had stopped, and we were able to find an area that was flat enough to pitch some tents on (the really good spot right next to the lake already had some campers there) and got camp set up. And as soon as the fly was up over the tent, it started snow/raining again! Without a good place to get out of the rain, we all huddled under a stand of trees, which eventually became our home base for the afternoon. It was pretty cold (not anywhere near 60 degrees). We heated up some water on a camp stove and made instant coffee. By then it was close to lunch time, so we also added boiling water to pouches of freeze dried camping food and ate. Laura was cold, and we had many pouches of hot camping food waiting the recommended 10-15 minutes to rehydrate, so we stacked them on her. I passed out hand warmers, and when the rain let up, the menfolk went to go collect firewood and us ladies went to check out the lake.
Unfortunately, the weather was so changing/unpredictable, we weren’t able to even make an attempt at summitting Bearpaw Mountain. We wouldn’t have been able to see anything and the combo of snow, rain, and fog would have made the scramble up to the top pretty dangerous. So we hung out for a few hours. We filtered some water from the lake, made more coffee, popped the bottle of super fancy champagne that I brought to celebrate the engagement of Laura & Ian, and got a fire started. The fire was magnificent. Not in scale or grandiosity, but more like it was warm, and we were not, so it was pretty great. But when the snow started coming into our tree fort sideways and then kind of upside down, and we didn’t think there would be enough firewood to last us into the night, we decided to cut our losses and pack it in. We had hoped to summit Bearpaw Mountain, and to do some exploring, but we were so socked in, we couldn’t see anything, and just didn’t expect the weather to improve much.
So we agreed that as soon as the snow let up, we would pack up camp and hike back out. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we were putting the finishing touches on our packs, the sky cleared up, there were breaks of blue, and we saw some stinking sun, in addition to seeing the top of Bearpaw for the first time! Jerk weather.
But we hiked back out, down the ridiculously steep hills this time. And we almost made it out without a spill! Craig bit it pretty hard coming down one of the last little hills that was really slippery and muddy, but only ended up with mud all over his trousers. We made it back down the mountain and headed to the place across the highway from the cabin that has pizza and great cocktails.
Despite the failure of the trip and my unparalleled lack of ability to make it up those hills, I actually had a ton of fun. We are planning to do the same trip in late July/early August next year to hopefully avoid some of the snow! But because I haven’t gone on any backpacking trips as an adult, I don’t have any real gear. Craig has a light 2 man tent and a handful of other gear, plus a few things borrowed from his dad, and I had nothing, so I borrowed a ton of stuff from my mom, who has great backpacking skills. But I don’t want to be the person who borrows someone else’s gear (and I’m sure my mom doesn’t want me to be that person too!) so I immediately started searching ebay for a used pack. After finding a few that seemed like they’d work, only to research them and find out that they weren’t that great, I found an older version of my mom’s pack (which is awesome) that had been used only a couple of times for about half the price that they sell for new. And I won it! And it arrived yesterday. I was very pleased! Now to find a good deal on a really warm sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, and a handful of other small gear. We live on the side of this crazy huge hill, so I’ve started doing walks up and down it. The dogs are coming along. Boris is loving them, and Helo seems to kind of hate me, but it’s exercise that we all need, and I really want to not feel like I’m going to die on a hike that the rest of our friends seem to be able to handle just fine, so it’s necessary.
I have just migrated from blogger to wordpress, and it has been a steep learning curve. Please bear with me while I clean up formatting and try to fix bugs as they come up. I am also interested in getting your input on changes made to the site. If you hate or love things, let me know!
Please accept this drawing that I did of creepy birds as an apology.