These days, it’s no longer all that often that you come across a tuner car with a real sense of a cohesive theme, an ethos as to how its owner decided to go about modifying the vehicle. Most of the time, people look to improve one or two specific areas of the car, not wholly transform it, enhance it into something approaching the pinnacle of what that car was meant to be. Quinn’s first-generation Miata (Eunos Roadster for the JDM fans, or MX-5 for everyone else), is one such car.
Sometime last year was when I first heard about this car, and its owner who terrorizes the local track and sleepy New England hillsides with it. I became friends with Quinn—a licensed SCCA wheel-to-wheel competitor, autocross driver, and compulsive tinkerer. His garage runs an interesting rear-drive gamut, from Miatas (of which he has three), third gen RX7s, a BMW, and even a Honda. But maybe the most idiosyncratic of his cars is this little, red, first generation 1991 Mazda Miata. From how low it sits, the aggressive stance, and huge, Autokonexion bolt-on fender flares, it’s immediately apparent that this ‘hairdresser’s car’ has a purpose.
Occupying the far corner of his small shop (affectionately dubbed ‘Garage Quinn Motors’), this roadster has been his toy for the last ten years, where it started out a fairly normal 1.6L naturally-aspirated car with a factory LSD and a manual. Quinn’s first rear-wheel drive car, it spurred him into a new direction, closing a chapter of hopped-up hatchbacks like EG and EK Civics, and igniting in him a passion for Mazda’s lightweight, balanced take on a two-seater sportscar. The Hiroshima-based company emphasizes connection to the road and outright balance, ‘the horse and rider as one,’ and Quinn’s taken this and ran with it.
The idea was relatively simple: add more capability, but not without losing the spirit of the car. When Mazda Motors set out to reinvent the two-seater roadster, they wanted to recreate the charisma and allure of British roadsters of yesteryear—-but with typically Japanese reliability. That sense of oneness between the car, the road, and the driver are touchstones of the Miata’s appeal, as well as the somewhat retro lines of the roadster. Quinn took this further.
A set of retro-appropriate bullet mirrors adorn the doors, but with a twist—-they’re silver carbon fiber Zoom Engineering pieces, capped off with aluminum trim, an understated but decidedly ‘vintage-modern’ touch.
Follow the body lines rearward, and the trunk is capped off with an oldschool KG Works ducktail spoiler—like many things about this car, Quinn’s not sure it’ll stay there forever; an integrated ducktail trunk may be incoming. I’ve always been a fan of ducktails, whether they be on ZN6/ZC6s, Miatas, or AE86s. They work. The day we went shooting—a local Miata club autocross day at the storied Lime Rock Park in pastoral northwest Connecticut, a place with some seriously variable weather—I didn’t see too many roadsters rocking the OEM hardtop.
The hard-top is an OEM Mazda hardtop that was on the car when he bought it, and there it stays—for simplicity as well as weight savings, the soft-top has been deleted. That, and he just really prefers the greenhouse created by the hardtop. That leads us inside...
… Where the real shockers start to come in. Moving forward with that retro-inspired look, this Miata’s equipped with a set of custom, 1970s Carrera RS-style seats with custom, basket-weave leather cushions touched off by GT40-style grommets.
The choice in materials and melange of different influences—American racing machine, and German sports coupe—inside of a humble Japanese roadster with British leanings, is certainly unexpected. It’s a tight fit in there, like virtually any Miata for a person about six feet tall like myself, but amazingly comfortable.
The setup—including a set of incandescent yellow gauges, another KG Works article—really has the ring of authenticity of a vintage sportscar. There’s a little bit of Singer here, a splash of Le Mans. This motif is extended to the doors, which have minimized door pull loops, another very Porsche-esque detail, and a Nardi Classical steering wheel.
The overall effect is subtle in its sense of occasion, eschewing ostentatious customization for simple, more pure strokes. The interior is capped off with a Hard Dog double-diagonal roll bar for integrity and safety.
In an age where it can be taken for granted that a tuned Japanese performance car will be decked out with Bride fixed buckets and Takata harnesses, this surprising set of choices can only be described as refreshing.
Back outside, the car sits pretty low on a set of tried-and-true Tein Flex coilovers, accentuating a set of brightly polished 15x9 inch WORK Equip-01 wheels wrapped in a set of super-sticky BF Goodrich G-Force Rivals in 225/45/15. Tires that allow for high traction and progressive slide are mandatory for a car like this; after all, it’s pushing out well over two and a half times what a stock NA6CE is supposed to put to the wheels.
Additional traction is gained through Racing Beat front swaybar and OEM rear bar. When it comes to bushings and mounts, virtually no part of Quinn’s NA has gone untouched—stiffer polyurethane bushings replaced all of the OEM bits.
To accommodate the extra power output, the rear end has been swapped with that from the NA8C’s rear differential and axles, allowing for more power and torque transfer, which is definitely appreciated now that the 1.6 liter has been mated to a Greddy TD04H turbo and accompanying modifications. You may have noticed the huge intercooler sitting up front—it’s not for show, as the car at one point ran 19 pounds of boost, enough to start lifting the head off the block!
An ACT 6-puck clutch and Xtreme series pressure plate send this additional twist to an essentially stock transmission—though this is the car’s second such unit. If you race cars, you’re going to break cars, or so the saying goes.
The low stance is augmented by some curious side skirt extensions—FEED FD3S RX7 pieces modified to work on the MX5 body. Up front, a more aggressive, but not quite as retro Garage Vary lip changes the happy car’s lines to something a little more...mean.
The idea that day was to take this ride up through the hills of Lichfield County to storied Lime Rock Park for an all-day autocross on the karting circuit. I knew from the get-go I would be in for a pretty good ride. We shot these over two events—some torrential rain on the first outing put the kibosh on the rest of shooting, so I came back a second time to a much clearer, but very hot summer afternoon. You may recognize the white AE86 Corolla GTS in the far left.
For the uninitiated, Western Connecticut is dotted with hills that connect the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts to the rest of the Appalachians in Pennsylvania and Vermont. While not as aggressively steep, this is home to the nicer driving roads in Connectiut, many of which lead to Salisbury, home of Lime Rock Park and the Skip Barber Racing School.
We set out around seven thirty in the morning to head north into the hills, with Quinn behind the wheel of his little beast.
Like a lot of turbo cars, the overall sound is muffled a bit by the turbo, and the sound itself isn’t as raw as on a naturally-aspirated, higher revving engine. In addition, he’s kept the exhaust note to a smooth burble, rather than a throaty roar, preferring something more subtle rather than in your face noise. Either way, there’s still all of the requisite turbo sounds coming from the front. Getting on the throttle, my back was pinned to the seat immediately, followed by a whoosh from the engine bay.
The way the power comes on in this car is not particularly gentle. Boost arrives somewhere near the 4,000 rpm mark, and until then, you’re dealing with about the usual hundred or so horsepower the B6ZE produces. After that though, the horsepower and torque just pile on, and it’s not hard to break traction in the rear and send it sliding, even with ultra-sticky BFG G Force Rivals. Cornering hard, Quinn rattled my brain and threw me to either side of my (very comfortable) leather seat, surprising me; I wasn’t expecting this level of aggressive handling from a Roadster.
But for all its violence, the road manners of this turbocharged MX5 are surprisingly compliant. It’s not painful to ride around in on normal asphalt; the steering is also surprisingly light for a depowered rack. Unless you’re caning it, the car also behaves quite docilely.
The whole point of Quinn’s MX5 was to be a well-rounded, well-balanced car with a sense of occasion, a bit of theater sprinkled with outright competence on the road and the track. And while yes, this car is a bit brutal at the limit, the playful way it goes about doing it, the need for attention, momentum driving, and forethought when negotiating corners or applying power doesn’t lose the plot that the Roadster is so well known for and celebrated around the world over. I’m left wondering: is this the axiom of what a Miata can be?
Given Quinn also owns a hilariously high compression, all-motor ITB NB rocket car, I think I’ll have the chance to revisit the question again soon. You can follow Quinn and his builds on Instagram and YouTube.
(I’m Kay Inoue, a freelance photographer from the New England area focusing on the import car tuning, drifting, and motorsports scene. Follow me on Instagram @inoue.kay and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kayinouephoto).