04-03-2017 – Tomm warham
Car Family, United By Fumes

Family, Familia, Kazoku. However you say it, traditionally means who you are related to, your Mother, Father and when he’s not acting up, Uncle knobhead. But when you’re in the spannering scene car family goes a lot further than blood. Being part of a car club means helping one another out when times are tough, and no time has been tougher than for the leader of our humble car group James and his blood family.

Without going into great detail, James set up Manchester MX5’s (or MMX5) in April 2015 shortly after rescuing a ginger NB from the grave, it had moss growing on it and the paint could have been mistaken for sandpaper it was that rough. A solid year later, during the best summer months of the year for top down action, James had a strong following of members within MMX5 and organised some incredible meets and rallies attracting over 60+ MX5s. As summer drew to a close though, James had to delegate some of the organisational tasks within MMX5 to other members due to work commitments as well as ill health of his wife Carla, who has an incurable brain condition of which required that she spent over 6 months in hospital last year. All this bad luck was topped off with his ‘5 needing to be taken off the road in October shortly after JAE due to engine failure.

This is where the plan starts to come together! A few of the club admins who helped manage MMX5 alongside James realised just how pivotal he is within the club, and how much of his heart and soul he’d put into making it a family. So a devious scheme was hatched to swipe the car from under his nose early in 2017, sourcing and swapping out the engine returning it to him ready to rock again, easing at least one small thing on his mind. Months of careful planning all fell into place including involving Carla in on everything whilst she was still in hospital. She was beyond adamant to help and with superhuman powers managed help to organise how to swipe James MX5 from under his nose and was our main espionage contact to keep James from finding out about the whole thing!

Almost everything was ready to go, engine sourced, a whole new big brake setup and skilled hands ready to install everything. We just needed one last thing, to actually swipe James car. Then it hit us! Well technically someone else hit it damaging the bumper and rear light cluster. Whilst this was yet another kick in the teeth for James it did however open up an opportunity to swipe the ‘5 from under his nose. James started compiling a list of jobs to get his beloved car back on the road, starting with the damaged bumper. He ordered a bargain second hand ginger bumper that wasn’t in too bad nick off eBay and between Jonny and Rachel they eagerly offered to take his ‘5 away for the day, just to fit the bumper as a starting point to get the ball rolling on the list of jobs!

The day was finally upon us, all of the dream team up early, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Rachel had transported it to the operating theatre the day before, Darren had gone to get the new donor engine from Carl Smith at CBS Autos. Jonny had opened up shop in the form of his work unit, Adam and Rachel had unpacked their tools bracing themselves for the day ahead, whilst Michael was already working away at whipping the dented rear bumper and broken lights off.


Removing all the ancillaries and loom from the engine bay was a relatively easy task as Rachel had already worked her magic in the past tucking every wire and pipe possible leaving James’ ‘5 with one of the cleanest bays around.


We weren’t far into the strip down process when Darren arrived with the new engine, and as you can tell on the photos immediately started getting his hands dirty… relatively speaking.


Just like some rocks contain fossils, the old engine had some surprises of its own, such as its oil filter. It was complete with kanji print on it from factory by the looks of it. We later dated this filter to roughly around the time of the immaculate conception of the virgin Mary.


Whilst the brake master cylinder was being removed to make way for a lush big brake upgrade complete with wilwood brake bias adjuster donated by Rachel at Angel Racing the rest of the spanner monkeys set about learning bodywork 101, heating up the ding and trying to pop it out from inside the boot. Some heat gun and hammer action later the dent was unnoticeable a lot less obvious than it previously was.

Its at this point I will mention later in the day the broken rear light clusters were also replaced by a set of smoked lights by Ben Lawton from Lawtomotive. Interesting fact of the day is that Jamie already had a set of smoked lights from Ben on his car, and when he originally got the smoked lights he gave his stock lights back to Ben. So the new smoked lights are actually originally from James ‘5. Hows that for a bit of history, and sorry we didn’t get any snaps of them on the day Ben! 


It wasn’t long before the weedy stock brake cylinder was off and the worn engine was ready to be hauled out, engine crane at the ready. It was at this point of the day where the initial buzz was starting to die down so first brews of the day were in order and right on time Samantha showed up and smashed out a 5 star brew round.


There she goes, old engine carefully lifted out, it served James well but it was time for its retirement. Every hand helping or photographing the occasion, even Jonny Jr lent a hand, though i’m sure he was just after some brownie points off ‘pa so he could have another doughnut.


Speaking of doughnuts, here’s one eating some sort of round pastry with a hole in it. But in all seriousness this is a rare photo of the man usually behind the lens: Laurie Southern, photography genius and better half of Grip’n’Slide.


Engine now out and gearbox separated we did however found a nice little surprise waiting for us, which made up for the prehistoric oil filter. An Exedy racing clutch with a healthy amount of life left on it. Time to crack the alternator and engine mounts off ready to put back on the new engine!


It was way past lunchtime and a sheepish Michael was assessing the snapped alternator bolt whilst Mine and Darren’s beards were getting excited about the Dominos order that was on its way to the dream team as we worked.


Right on queue a well known brand of pizza delivery service arrived and morale was lifted and belts loosened.


Whilst the final checks to make sure everything was nipped up on the engine, Rachel had just finished test fitting the big brake kit and the final outcome was enough to make any car enthusiast envious!


The pièce de résistance though in my eyes had to be the Wilwood bias proportioning valve, looking super slick mounted next to the new uprated master cylinder. It made me think twice about how tuning is perceived, it’s always BHP figures, acceleration straight out speed that is mentioned on every car park at every meet, but in reality is the whole sum of parts, it’s the tweaks to how fast you can stop, how you can hold that line, gripping to the corners pushing your suspension setup. Its the little touches like this bias valve that truly add drivability and overall performance to a car, and it screams out loud Mazdas “perfectly balanced” ethos.


It wasn’t long until the pizza had been consumed and I was ready for a lie down we were back fitting the new engine, after a short argument whilst maneuvering the gearbox into place of who’s right was the right right, we left our miscommunication quibbles behind us and sunk the prop shaft into place and began nipping everything back up.

In true Haynes manual style, this write up will advise you to “reassemble in reverse order” as it started to creep towards reveal time for Jamie, who was coming back expecting to be towed back with just a new bumper fitted. This left us with little time to take snaps documenting the re-assembly. A few hours later, almost everything back on the car, Jamie was in transport by Rachel ready to come collect his 5.

In true Overhaulin’ / Car SOS style we heard the engine of Rachel’s MX5 pull up with Jamie on board so Jonny and Adam rushed to hook the battery back up and poised ready to fire her back up after a long days work! Everyone’s nerves were absolutely on edge, we’d not yet had chance to properly start the new engine up so. Darren managed to get an awesome live video of the unveiling. As James entered the unit the roar of the engine filled the air. If it wasn’t for the the brake servo vacuum hose being disconnected it would have continued to purr too!

Warning, there is some explicit language (mostly from James)

Though the engine didn’t idle on first turn over it was the least of anyone’s worries. There wasn’t a single negative vibe in the whole unit, the video speaks much louder than any words hacked away at a keyboard. After the shock had set in and James sat back in his ‘5 and cracked open a can of irn bru to take the edge off the situation, we discovered it was simply an unhooked vacuum pipe causing the new engine not to idle. One last check over all the engine, brakes and clutch to make sure everything was bled and it was time for James to make a grand exit!

James founded the MMX5, poured his heart and soul into creating a friendly, welcoming, like-minded group of friends with a strong bond over one thing in common: MX5s. This overhaul was carried out by only a tiny fraction of the MMX5 club, after the live video countless members were beyond gutted they weren’t aware of this plan to help James out and it goes without saying every member would have helped would they have been able too and we would have had space to physically fit everyone around the car. Family, Familia, Kazoku, However you say it, I vouch for all of us wishing Carla good health and the swiftest of recoveries and can’t wait to see her face at some of this summers many meets!

Brake Photos Courtesy of Michael Wheatley

Live Video Courtesy of Darren DW