What to upgrade next on my 91'?


Asked by Sep 25, 2010 at 09:00 PM about the 1991 Mazda MX-5 Miata Base

Question type: Car Customization

So I just baught a 1991 Miata  Convertable from my boss and it is in decent shape mechanically. I just want to know or have some sort of direction of where i should start upgrading parts. I want this to be my toy car that i will enjoy for time to come.

So, This is what i know, My boss has replaced the top with new black canvas and a glass window, Stage 2 Clutch, Dual Exhaust with light weight racing rims.

Where should i start next?

2 Answers


First things first: the water pump/timing belt job is about the only must-do maintenance item on an older Miata. Make sure that's recent; it's not a fun or glamorous job but it keeps everything together. As for upgrades that work: if you drive your car at night, upgrade the headlights. Nearly everybody sells the European-style "E-code" headlights by Hella, about $100 the pair. These DRAMATICALLY improve the car's drivability at night over stock US sealed beams. I live at the edges of suburban Portland, Oregon, and in minutes I can be out on ultra-dark country roads with no lighting and not even any light reflecting down from the (ever-present) cloud cover. The first thing I've changed on all my cars has been the lighting. Fortunately your '91 uses standard 7" round lights. Next: the Racing Beat intake sounds GREAT. I installed one on my '96 a couple years ago and while I don't have before-and-after dyno runs to verify that it gives any more power, it sounds so strong that it's worth every penny every time I nail the throttle coming off a corner. They make one for the '90-'93, so that would be rewarding, and it's an easy installation. The last gotta-do mods would be the chassis stiffeners. Mazda put in several cross braces over the years to give the car more rigidity, and after a couple of decades on the road the constant flexing can take its toll. There are a couple of manufacturers who produce K-shaped front stiffeners that mount in front of the transmission and tie in the rear mounts of the front suspension, with triangulated braces; I have a copy of the Cusco piece in my car, built by a friend who was writing a book about custom metalworking. It made an immediate difference -- getting on the freeway after installing it, the car felt tighter and more rigid. And there are a number of braces that tie in the diff mounts in the rear. As with so much, you can go as crazy as you like with these things, but I would at least upgrade to the factory rear cross-brace when you do the front. It'll make the car's suspension more effective, and while it will bring a little more road noise into the cockpit, well, what went ye into the wilderness to seek, daughter, a man clothed in soft raiment? So your car has rims and exhaust, and we've talked lights and intake plus some chassis stiffening. Suspension? The Miata is so good right out of the box that you have to think hard about your intended use for the car before you start buying springs and shocks. Daily driver? I'd go for a set of Koni adjustables on stock springs, upgrade the front and rear sway bars to get a little more roll stiffness in the fast stuff, and spend a weekend on my favorite twisty roads getting the shocks dialed to where it made the car feel just right for this particular bear. Now, that's not what I DID on my car, because I'm the daddy bear... and 99% of the time I LOVE my Tein SS coilovers. But the spring rates are VERY high, which means the car is insanely planted on the track -- but there are a couple of bumps on some of my favorite roads where I could really use less spring rate, especially at the rear (or less speed, but let's face it, lifting is for sissies :-). On the plus side, I'm going to Portland International Raceway next weekend and am really looking forward to the day. That's what my suspension was put in for -- and it's fine, if a little stiff, everywhere else. (Um... if you have a regular passenger, and she has an opinion about the comfort-performance tradeoff, think about that, and about how she's going to react if she can tell whether the dime you drove over was heads or tails. My late wife never complained, but she was the best; my daughter won't ride in the car, claiming it's so low and stiff it hurts her hips.) Other than that, there is an unbelievable assortment of dress-up goodies for the Miata, everything from polished aluminum door handle sets to chrome grilles for the defroster vents. I've done a little selective modification to my interior; the Nardi Classico wheel (recently joined by the matching Nardi shift knob from the NB series) is my favorite modification, as it's beautiful, feels great, and actually makes the car feel lighter to steer (it weighs about a third what the stock wheel does, and I guess what works on the road works in your hands, too). http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfisher71/sets/72157623190850750/ Then you can think about leather seats, stereo gear (I LOVE the Clearwater door speakers in my car, but I confess I'm not a stereo snob, my son likes to listen to Louis Armstrong when we're out in the Miata, though, and those speakers are clear with good base and a nice coaxial tweeter that catches the highs too), you name it. I've gone, as you can see, with the John Player Special look on my car, so I have replaced all the visible bolts and screws in the interior with cad-plated Grade 8, to bring the black-and-gold theme inside. (I've just acquired a hardtop for it and am planning to have it painted to match my rims.) And actually -- if you live where it gets really cold or really wet, a hardtop is a great wintertime investment. It cuts down on wind noise and "drumming" from the convertible top, but the top frame rattles over bumps and adds creaks and squeaks. My Miata mentor (he's owned his '90 since new) uses a simple bungee-like strap to wrap around the arms of the top frame; I have one, and have to put it in soon. You should also consider joining a local club, to get the inside info on shops and vendors, and to see other people's modifications. It's also a great way to have fun on the weekends, because as I've found, other Miata owners tend to like the same kind of roads that I do. So it almost doesn't MATTER if you're going to the Flower Carnival or the Loyalty Day Parade -- it's the journey that matters. And at least with the club I hang out with (Mt. Hood Miatas in Portland), we have GREAT journeys. Best of luck, and welcome to the world of Miatas! --Scott Fisher Tualatin, Oregon

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Flyin' Miata or racing beat sway bars are the most inexpensive replacement for the most noticeable performance enhancement.

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