Ever since the car was invented, people have wanted to go faster and as engineers started to figure out ways to make cars more powerful and therefore faster, others have followed a tried and true method: take a lightweight car – typically a two seater, remove the original engine and shoehorn in a bigger one and that’s usually a V8!
I would say that the idea really took off in the 1950s and 1960s when many cars were transformed this way – the AC Cobra is the most recognised followed by the Sunbeam Tiger and Ken Costello’s MGB V8, which encouraged the factory to do the same thing. Even the original TVR Griffith was a car that Frankenstein would have been proud of. Custom car builders also went down this path with examples such as Rover V8s being shoved into Morris Minors or small block Ford V8s into European models. Today there are a handful of companies still following tradition and one such is Flyin Miata in Colorado.
This company started out by servicing VW Group cars such as Porsche, Audi as well as VW models. Then one day a customer brought in a Mazda Miata, what is known as the MX5 in many countries. They loved the handling of the car however it seems that they weren’t enamoured with the power because they soon fitted a turbo. This lead to a business in providing performance parts exclusively for this one model.
They then went further and removed the small original engine and replaced it with a Chevrolet LS V8! Fundamentally you can’t just swap out the motor without causing damage down the line, so they also provide a Tremec T56 gearbox and also a limited slip differential which has been sourced from Cadillac. The Tremec box is also used by some Chevrolet models, so like the full powertrain has reliability and availability of spares or performance parts to keep it running. Importantly the full drivetrain is capable of coping with all the extra power.
Flyin Miata will have to do some mods around the engine bay which an owner would (hopefully) expect, as the engine is pushed back a bit in the shell on a new subframe and the gearbox is also mounted on a new frame that helps to strengthen the car. This would be important for all that extra power delivery! By pushing the motor back a bit also helps with the weight distribution.
The amazing thing is that the weight difference isn’t that much – the new subframes are lighter than standard and the engine itself is not much heavier than the original. I really like the idea of taking a small car and finding a way to get a bigger motor in it, especially if the car looks standard! The beauty of an MX5/Miata is that there are several brake and suspension kits to improve the handling and non-power performance, so it is a great base to start with.
With the MX5/Miata also becoming the foundation for the FIAT and Abarth 124 Spiders, it is now possible for them to apply the V8 conversion to those models as well.