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.