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Project Car SOTU: The ’95 Mazda Miata

By  July 17, 2014

Things have been looking up for “Roadster” since the setback with the oil cooler last year. With reliability now in check, safety has been more of a focus since the last update. With the head gasket replacement right after purchase last year, much of this was delayed but now it’s getting close to where it otherwise would have been at this time last year.

The cooling system is still slowly being worked through for replacement of all hoses, but the worst looking ones have been changed along with the most difficult to reach (the heater hoses). When the o-ring that surrounds the cam angle sensor recently started to weep, I seized the opportunity to more easily see and reach the heater hoses so that they could be changed. Unfortunately the just months-old valve cover gasket is already leaking slightly but with the non-OEM gaskets having a reputation for that, this was at least not a surprise. It runs completely cool and normal with the exception of sitting in high heat traffic for extended periods or when stopping after leaving the highway. So there may still be a small amount of air to burp from the system but otherwise it runs great.

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Another important safety aspect is the ability for the car to stop, which was a bit on the spongy side, so the original 19-year old brake hoses were replaced with Russell braided brake lines. The whole system was bled with new Motul DOT5.1 brake fluid. It’s still not perfect and likely won’t be until the pads and rotors are replaced, but it’s a marked improvement. For whatever reason, I still have not remembered to lubricate the caliper slides and adjust the emergency brake, so that’s still yet to come.

Shifting has been dramatically improved with a flush of the transmission, the differential, and the shift turret, along with all new bushing and boots on the shifter. Previously I had just assumed that perhaps I wasn’t smooth with shifting yet, but it turned out that there was just no bushing left at the bottom of the shifter. It was in tiny pieces at the bottom of the turret causing a lack of sustained momentum between gears. With it being completely refreshed with new Ford fluid in the transmission and Redline in the differential, it shifts as smooth as butter now, so good that Roadster nearly got its first speeding ticket recently. Thankfully they let us go with a warning.

On Memorial Day weekend, with the car more roadworthy than ever, I decided to take it to a local car show at the local Mazda dealership to meet the local Miata club. But the car had no mirrors on it at the time because they were in the process of being rebuilt after the passenger side broke off in my hands mid-adjustment. So, I got it to be at least street legal with a quick rebuild of the driver’s side and some rubber bands to hold it in place (there was no time to wait for silicone to dry) and despite the quick “there, I fixed it” repair job, we got to be in the show.

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Up next will be air-conditioning repair. After a recent two week stint of daily driving it without AC while the VW was undergoing a slow brake job, the humidity is just too exhausting to put up with for much longer. Also in the cards is a wash and wax job. During those two weeks, the car had to sit outside and despite the previous wash, clay bar, and cleaner wax it received, the finish is back to looking a bit dull for now. Until shocks can be afforded, a decent performance alignment will soon be performed so that driving in the wet is not so opposite lock inducing. To round it off, a Hooniverse sticker will soon be taking up residence on the top of the windshield, just as soon as the hard water stains on the glass are taken care of with some vinegar.

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With it being out on the road more, people have stopped me in parking lots to tell me how much they love the Miata and half the time, how much they wish they hadn’t sold their own. This is the first car I’ve owned that’s gotten this much of a response everywhere I go. When I originally bought it, I was afraid I’d get a lot of abuse for driving a small little car, but it’s been exactly the opposite with “Miata waves” happening quite frequently.

All in all, things are looking up for Roadster. If things keep going well and I can get the rest of those coolant hoses changed, we might be autocrossing this year!

Re-published from Hooniverse, Text and photography by Bryce Womeldurf
Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Bryce Womeldurf

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