PALISADE, Colorado—In the most unlikely of places, there is a small company doing some unconventional things with Mazda Miatas. While stuffing small block Chevy V8s under the hoods of Mazdas is certainly unorthodox, they way Flyin’ Miata goes about tuning these Japanese roadsters is refreshingly original.
Not all that far from the Utah border, Palisade, Colorado is more of a spot on a map than a town, per se, known more for its peaches than anything else. Perhaps it’s because this shop isn’t located somewhere like Southern California that they’re turning out some of the most finely tuned and over-the-top Mazdas in the business.
Standard operating procedure for most so-called tuners is to take some aftermarket lowering springs and shocks and sell it as a kit. Maybe sell a couple of other specialist parts and boom! you’re in the tuning business.
On the other hand, Flyin’ Miata is an entirely different kind of tuner, and develops their own suspension kits, as well as an entire range of products for all four generations of Mazda Miatas and MX-5s.
It’s no surprise they’re the first to introduce a V8 conversion for the latest ND generation Mazda MX-5, and to call it awesome is an understatement. They call their V8 conversions the Habu, which is a name for a small venomous Japanese snake. It’s a good name—that’s exactly what this car is.
Going beyond bolt-on
Unlike with previous-generation Miatas, converting an ND to V8 power isn’t as simple as dropping in that small-block Chevy, transmission, differential, buttoning it all up and calling it a day. In this modern age of the automobile, it’s a little more difficult than bolting on some bits, though there are some traditional aftermarket-sourced systems for good measure.
Flyin’ Miata summoned their trusted suppliers for the Habu’s brakes and suspension. A modest and perfectly suitable upgrade from Wilwood, with six-piston calipers clamping a larger diameter rotor in the front; and a four-piston caliper with the stock MX-5 rotor at the rear axle.
Perhaps key to the conversion’s overall balance is the damping. Shocks are provided by Fox, and if you’re unfamiliar with the brand, you’re probably familiar with their important OEM installations – the Ford Raptor – as well as perhaps the off-road, motocross, and mountain bike shocks they’re known for.
Photo by Travis Ingram
Both Fox and Flyin’ Miata subscribe to Mazda’s prescription for the ND MX-5’s suspension, which is based on the notion of long suspension travel. The Habu’s doesn’t sit too low and suspension movement isn’t constricted like a typical aftermarket setup, either.
Flyin’ Miata’s choice of Chevy’s LS3 crate motor isn’t a casual decision, either. First, a Ford wouldn’t fit, but GM supports the aftermarket and post-sales parts availability is a no-brainer. Heck, you could probably find an oil filter at your local 7-Eleven.
The LS3 bolts up to a Tremec T-56 six-speed transmission and a limited-slip differential, both from the fifth generation Camaro. A custom driveshaft and axles are required, as well as the Camaro’s hydraulically-assisted power steering rack. A little reinforcement of the front and rear subframes are necessary to round out the mechanical conversion.
Remarkably, the massive 6.2-litre V8 fits in the MX-5’s chassis with only some small massaging of the firewall. No cutting or chopping required. Remarkably, even the more robust transmission and diff fit like they were intended to be put under the ND.
Not only do these Camaro parts work in harmony with one another, building this car with off-the-shelf Chevy parts will make Habu owners very happy when it comes to maintaining their little rocket-ship roadsters.
“Ruining” that weight balance
While it may seem that the mechanical considerations of the V8 conversion are straightforward, it’s the electronics that gave Flyin’ Miata a formidable challenge. The ND MX-5 uses a CAN-bus for its various systems to communicate with one another.
When you’ve effectively cut the heart of the MX-5, it’s nervous system isn’t going to be thrilled. Flyin’ Miata turned to a CAN-bus specialist in the mining business, believe it or not, to sort out various translations and integrations of the new driveline into the Mazda. Unlike other conversions, the ND V8 package isn’t available as a kit, but rather requires a complete installation in Flyin’ Miata’s shop in Colorado.
With the basis of the conversion being a small-block Chevy, opportunities for doing devilish things are endless. Flyin’ Miata’s base engine offering is the 50-state-compliant 430-horsepower LS3, but their first conversion uses GM’s 525-horsepower and 489 lb-ft 49-state-compliant crate motor. Oh, yes.
Flyin’ Miata’s Habu conversion requires an MX-5 donor and $50,000 American dollars, and in the end, the result is something distinct. It’s not an MX-5 and it’s certainly no Chevy.
Photo by Travis Ingram
Overall, the conversion adds 250 pounds to the MX-5, which nets a one-percent forward shift in front-to-rear weight distribution, which you can look at one of two ways. Either you can think that it’s ruined the wonderful, lithe balance of the Miata, or you can think that the conversion has resulted in the creation of something utterly unique.
Which it has. With a Flyin’ Miata V8 conversion, the MX-5 has been transformed into something distinctly special. It’s got the form factor, styling, and cockpit of an MX-5, but that’s where the similarities end.
Not your average Miata
Hitting the familiar Mazda start button fires up that small-block Chevy with a roar and then quickly settles into a vaguely lumpy idle. At that moment, you forget this roadster has anything to do with an MX-5.
The power and torque of a small-block Chevy in this two-seater is mind-bending. Instantaneous throttle response is welcome, but the massive amounts of power and torque causes moments of ecstasy. Where the standard MX-5 has to work, the Habu has the thrust of a Saturn V—and the glorious sounds that emanate from a small-block Chevy.
The heft of the clutch and shifter are enough to suggest this isn’t a Miata. The steering effort and high-resolution feedback from that hydraulically assisted rack are reminders this feeling of connectedness to this roadster is pure—and a bit out of sync with modern sports cars.
Those Fox dampers control body and suspension movement unlike any other modern roadster and combined with the sticky, track compound Bridgestone tires, the Habu’s handling betrays any notion of the V8 conversion upsetting the ND MX-5’s delicate balance. Rather, the Habu is not a take off from the MX-5, but a fully distinct roadster intended for those who enjoy silly power-to-weight ratios.
Flyin’ Miata’s conversion is the best of all worlds and a car as complete and as whole as this ND MX-5 V8 couldn’t have come from Detroit or SoCal. It had to come from somewhere in the high desert of Colorado where minds are free to think unconstrained from the traditional aftermarket.
If you’re the sort of driver who isn’t attracted to run-of-the-mill sports cars like the Chevrolet Corvette or Porsche 911 and enjoys the thrill of a road-scorching roadster, you may want to consider taking your MX-5 to Colorado for the Habu treatment. Their first customer’s done that and more—he’s specified a 575-horsepower Lingenfelter small-block Chevy for his Habu conversion. Gotta love the crazy.
(Cover photo by Travis Ingram)