Perversion is the essence of American culture. It’s taking something built for one purpose and supercharging the designers’ original intent, often literally. It’s a 1953 Studebaker Champion that goes 249 mph, or a 1975 Ford F-250 with flotation tires that crosses rivers and crushes cars. It’s taking a small country’s agrarian, 18th-century constitution and growing an industrial, transcontinental 21st-century superpower under it. So here, in the tradition of land-speed-record Studes, the Bigfoot monster truck, and Marbury v. Madison, comes Flyin’ Miata’s 2016 MX-5 with a stonkin’ V-8 in its nose.
Cramming V-8s into MX-5 Miatas is now a classic American handicraft. Since way back in the early 1990s, Americans have been shoving Ford and GM small-blocks into the otherwise unassuming Mazda roadsters. The problem is that iron-block lumps designed to power Crown Vics and Caprices play havoc on a Miata’s balance. Dive into a corner with one of those nose-heavy squids and it pirouettes like Oksana Baiul on an all-night bender.
Is a Miata still a Miata if it doesn’t have Miata steering or a Miata shifter? No. The Habu is, instead, proof that the Cobra formula is still perversely appealing.
Two things radically improve the V-8 Miata formula. First is the availability of the compact, lightweight, aluminum LS-series GM V-8 crate engines. And second is the introduction of the latest ND-generation Miata.
Flyin’ Miata bolts the LS376/525 version of the 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V-8 into this ND and nicknames its creation, appropriately enough, the Habu, after a species of Japanese pit viper. Rated at 525 horsepower at 6200 rpm, it’s basically the LS3 from the fifth-generation Camaro SS (normally a 430-hp affair) but with a camshaft developed for use in American Speed Association (ASA) stock-car racing. With longer duration and greater lift, the ASA cam makes more power and gives the engine a nasty, loping, Pro-Stock growl at idle. It also has a wicked, charismatic, Cup-Car snarl under load.
Mazda designed the ND Miata to be lighter, but it also has a roomier engine bay that accommodates the V-8 with relative ease. It’s also the best-handling Miata ever, and its wheel wells will accept larger footwear. In other words, the ND is as close to being an ideal V-8 transplant recipient as any car since the 1962 AC Ace.
Still, the ND needs fortification to survive the V-8’s onslaught. So the Mazda transmission is ditched in favor of the familiar Tremec T-56 six-speed manual. A new aluminum driveshaft leads to a rear differential also swiped from a fifth-generation Camaro SS. Up front, a hydraulic steering rack from a Camaro replaces the electrically assisted Mazda rack. Somehow, Flyin’ Miata snakes a true dual exhaust with twin transverse mufflers in there as well. So, basically, it’s a Miata that swallowed a Camaro.
At 2696 pounds, this V-8 Miata weighs 380 pounds more than the last stock 2016 Miata we tested. The stock MX-5 puts 51.9 percent of its weight on the front wheels, where the Habu has 53.0 percent.
Start the V-8, and the sound is so herculean that it nearly ripples the Miata’s sheetmetal as the car rocks side to side in sync with the cam lobes. It’s fitted with an LS7 clutch and flywheel, but the pedal action isn’t heavy and the engagement is smooth. Dipping into the throttle is as satisfying as jumping on a Stomp Rocket.
Even with a gentle leave at 1100 to 1200 rpm, the engine utterly overwhelms the Miata. The entire car constricts around you, a massive crush of torque squeezing the air out of your lungs and cracking the lower vertebrae of your back. The 245/40R-17 Bridgestone Potenza RE71R tires bark under the onslaught, and the roadster thunders to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. Hold on a bit longer, and the quarter-mile is consumed in 11.7 seconds at 123 mph. Chevrolet’s 2017 Corvette Grand Sport needs 3.8 seconds to reach 60 mph and 12.2 to get through the quarter-mile. A Corvette Z06 coupe will run a couple tenths quicker than the Habu, but it feels like a pillow compared with the raw-nerve V-8 MX-5.
The Flyin’ V-8 reaches 60 mph 2.7 seconds quicker than a stock Miata and runs through the quarter-mile 3.1 seconds quicker. In the 18.2 seconds it takes the stock Miata to reach 100 mph, the LS-powered car is already approaching 150 mph. This is lurid, indecent, and practically pornographic acceleration.
Like a proper aftermarket speed pusher, Flyin’ Miata throws its catalog of go-fast/stop-fast products on this car. And with all the FM suspension bits, reinforced half-shafts, and oversized brakes, the V-8 car is tractable, stable, and manageable. The understeer is subdued, and the on-demand oversteer is well modulated. It can be driven just like a regular car, even if the stock stability control is disabled. “This is a high power-to-weight-ratio car; don’t drive it like an idiot,” warned FM’s Keith Tanner, as if idiocy wasn’t a requirement for wanting one.
Flyin’ Miata LS V-8 conversions start at $49,995 plus a Miata. The total chit for this car is $85,301, including $30,900 for the base Mazda GT. Not cheap, but if Carroll Shelby’s name were on the car, it would be a bargain.
Thank God for the perverts who keep America great.
Found In Translation
Here’s the problem: The Miata’s many computers speak Mazda and the LS376 V-8’s engine control computer only understands GM. “The reverse lights go through three separate modules before they can be turned on,” says Flyin’ Miata’s Keith Tanner. And neither GM nor Mazda likes to share its computer language. So Flyin’ Miata adds an intermediary—a controller area network (CAN) computer—built by Germany’s MRS Electronic to translate between the GM and Mazda hardware. “Most of the translation is done in the MRS CAN module, but a little bit of the GM code is modified,” explains Tanner. It is, however, still a work in progress as a few warning lights remain lit on the V-8 Miata’s otherwise unmodified instrument panel.
Notable progress exists as a result of FM’s eight years of work on the V-8 Miatas. For instance, earlier Miatas used a GM throttle pedal that is included in GM’s E-Rod crate-engine conversion kit, but the ND Miata retains the Mazda pedal. “We’re still working on it,” concludes Tanner. “We want to get rid of all those [warning] lights.”