10-11-2017 – Laurie Southern
Best Of Both Worlds: Supercharged MX5
Feature

As a car enthusiast, your senses are at a maximum almost all of the time. The smallest glimpse of an interesting car will catch your eye. Every louder-than-normal engine you hear pass by will have you guessing as to what car it belongs to. It’s rare, however, that you come across something as thought out and well put together as Steve Chick’s MK1 MX5.

It’s a 1996 NA, featuring the beefier 1.8 litre engine. After buying the car completely standard in 2015, Steve has built the car from the ground up largely by himself. Friends and family have helped along the way, however his do-it-yourself attitude is by far and large responsible for what you’re currently looking at. Something to be admired in the current day and age. After following his progress with the build over the past year or so, I knew it was something I had to get a feature on.

Despite the extensive list of modifications, it’s regularly driven both on the road and at the track. Hard. It’s important to enjoy your work and to keep things fun, of course. Something Steve has clearly nailed.

The hashtag painted onto the intercooler suggests that very fact. What sets the car apart is something you rarely see with an MX5 – a supercharger. Of course he isn’t the first to opt for the less popular method of acquiring boost, but it’s not something you see every day. The rattle-canned Rising Sun is a nice touch, too.

The supercharger in question is an M45 model from Eaton. They can be found new, although this one was acquired from an R53 Mini Cooper S that was destined for the scrap yard. I’m glad Steve stepped in to alter it’s fate. A common issue with this particular unit is the butterfly often won’t close all the way due to a weak or broken spring, which means you’ll be lacking boost when the throttle is pinned. To ensure this doesn’t happen, a 1320 Optimum Bypass Valve has been fitted, so maximum boost is available when Steve really needs it.

The rest of the engine bay hasn’t been ignored, mind. Cooling is taken care of with a front mount intercooler and a radiator borrowed from a Civic, a modification I’m seeing more and more of. It’s difficult to overlook their small size and high efficiency. Another common MX5 mod joins the list in the shape of RX8 Yellow injectors. The car makes close to 200BHP in it’s current form, thanks to management from an ME221 ECU and AEM Wideband sensor. Although that’s a relatively modest figure you have to remember that Mazda’s plucky little roadster weighs next to nothing. The stock clutch certainly wouldn’t take it, it’s been replaced with an XTD Paddle clutch.

It would be rude to put so much time and effort into what’s under the bonnet and not pay any attention to the exterior of the car. Steve is rather particular about how the car looks, but we’ll get to that a little later. A set of 15×7.5 Japan Racing JR12 wheels adorn the car’s four corners, wrapped in Uniroyal Rainsport 3s. Many would argue there’s no better tyre to have on a street car in this part of the world. It rains all the time. I love the gunmetal grey and polished lip combo, I doubt it’ll ever go out of fashion.

When it came to lowering the car, much deliberation was to be had over which coilovers Steve should go for. He ended up settling on HSD Dualtechs, which in my opinion are spot on for a car with dual track and street duties. They’re stiff enough to give you confidence, and soft enough not to break your back. Win-win. Roddisons Pads handle stopping power up front, with a set of Mintex ones in the rear.

Speaking of rear, it’s probably the part of the car that gets talked about the most. I can’t think why. A Japstyle ducktail tops the bootlid, and is finished with a rather tasteful decal. Think of it what you will, Steve doesn’t take himself or the car too seriously and that’s exactly how it should be. A bumper cut exposes the Cobalt dual exit pipes perfectly, giving the rear an aggressive look to match the rest of the car. The rear mudguards are a great addition also. It’s all in the detail.

The interior is a great place to be. If you’ve ever sat in a MK1 MX5 you’ll notice the dashboard here is completely different. It’s near enough a straight fit from an NB into an NA, and that’s exactly what has been done. It’s just that little bit more comfy. Steve fitted MK2.5 seats to match. The more you look at the interior the more time you realise has been spent here. The Mintfab steering wheel matches the colour of the car. As does the gear knob from the Flock Shop. The fire extinguisher does too, but I think that’s more down to coincidence.

Everyone has a little personal touch in their car that makes it different. The gear and handbrake gaiters are particularly cool, and are courtesy of his missus. I’m a fan of the mascot, too!

The AFR gauge where the vents used to be is a classic, but I’ll always love it.

The most important part of the car in my eyes and the thing that spawns the most questions is the front bumper. The amount of queries he gets asking what style it is or who makes it is insane. Truth is, it’s Steve’s creation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the only one in the country. The eagle-eyed among you will notice it’s actually a MK2 bumper.

“I’d seen it done before across the pond,” Steve explained. “With the lack of aftermarket bumpers that actually look like they belong on an NA I decided it was something I had to do.” Luckily, his good friend Shaun had a spare MK2.5 bumper lying around with broken mounting points. They wouldn’t be needed, therefore it wasn’t an issue. “I spent a lot of time messaging Dan at Fast5 who was also in the process of doing something similar with his carbon intake vents. My dad is the one who eventually convinced me to give it a go, after years of learning from his bodywork and car painting skills.”

Steve later found out that it wouldn’t be so easy. “The two generations of bumper are made of two completely different materials, meaning any kind of plastic welding was not going to work.” One issue many people have with the standard MK1 bumper is the swage line and reflectors. This had to go too. Steve cut the two bumpers with a large overlap, and set to work on fusing them together.

“I joined them with copious amounts of Tigerseal and wide head pop rivets along the length. They were the only sensible choice as anything smaller would stand out and be very hard to hide.” The next part took many an evening. Steve wouldn’t settle until no pinholes remained in the filler and the join was as perfect as it would have been had it been OE. “The whole thing was then hit with two or three coats of filler primer then grey primer before the guide coat was applied. Then it was all sanded down again. Then it was repeated. You get the idea. All that was needed now was a lick of paint and lacquer to match the rest of the car.

This wouldn’t be too difficult a job given that Steve and his dad even painted the car themselves. The colour is a deep Ferrari pearl red, and is absolutely spot on. It’s nothing too flashy, just a beautifully well mixed colour that suits the car perfectly. It speaks volumes when someone puts the effort in to learn to paint their car themselves, and it really shows in Steve’s work.

So there it is. A car that has taught it’s owner more than he ever could have learnt had he not given it a go himself. There’s just something about it I love. I admire the dedication and passion involved. This is exactly what owning a project car is all about. More of this, please.