In 2016, most cars that are marketed as hard-core performance vehicles are actually very well-rounded. The Chevy Corvette, the BMW M3, the Porsche 911; all of these legendary cars and many more have grown larger, softer, and more packed with gizmos than ever before. Sure, you can get a very pure driving experience out of something like a Mazda Miata or Scion FR-S, but what if you want some horsepower as well? What if you have a need for speed? What then?
If such are your desires as a car-buyer then you’ll soon find yourself cast adrift in a sea of overly-complex GT land-missiles masquerading as legitimate driver’s cars. If you buy a new car with serious power it will almost always come with strings attached. Only in the realm of exotic cars can you obtain a truly high-powered sports-car; which is great for the wealthy, but what about we less well-funded gear-heads?
There are, thankfully, several solutions. A few of the OEMs who are guilty of fattening up their sports-car specials have introduced smaller, tighter new models that offer a much purer driving experience. Many an automotive journalist will tell you that cars like the BMW M2 and the Porsche Cayman can be a lot more fun to drive than their larger, more powerful siblings.
Simply buying an older car can solve the problem as well. However, then you start to miss out on the benefits of the horsepower wars that have been going on for the past 15 years or so. Modern technology can be of great aid to driving purists, but most of the OEMs simply aren’t willing to make the necessary compromises for a truly visceral automotive experience.
Another option is to dive into the world of modified cars. While there are near infinite solutions to go-fast problems in the performance after-market it is also a roiling cauldron of misinformation and general dumbassery. Navigating all the forums, tech articles, and video guides dedicated to tuning can be a truly soul-sucking trial.
There is, however, light at the end of the tuner tunnel. Even more encouraging are all the wonderful little hot-rodding shops that are sprinkled across the USA. Each one of them will be more than happy to guide you. Today, we’ll be peering behind the curtain into one of the best of them: Flyin Miata.
These guys build the turn-key automotive equivalent of “Sanic the Hedgehog.” Sanic is fun, and funny, because the only thing that matters to him is going fast. Neither a failing grasp on the English language nor a total inability to draw anything remotely coherent will get in his way. Sanic goes fast. Always.
This is precisely how it feels to drive one of these:
V8 Miatas are available in many configurations. You can start with a second generation “NB” Miata or even a first generation “NA” model. The basic 5.3 liter LS engine will effortlessly kick out 350 horsepower and can be had on the cheap. V8 conversion parts are available in kit form and confident amateur mechanics could work their way through the project with little trouble, especially when aided by Flyin’ Miata’s extensive customer support.
At the other end of the scale is Flyin’ Miata’s brand new fourth-generation “ND” development mule. This car has only been together for a few weeks and it already works extremely well. It contains a brand new LS376 crate engine that is good for a frighteningly robust 525 horsepower.
Flyin’ Miata’s V8 conversions are the antithesis of cars like the Nissan GT-R. Whereas Godzilla’s low-speed driving experience is widely considered dull and numb, a V8 Miata will make your hair stand on end at 45mph. This is what I meant when I said that fun is better than speed, and while I find the new ND’s angry-puppy face a bit inappropriate for the car in stock form, it works perfectly with the V8 conversion.
Bill Cardell, the man behind these monsters, told me that he would be quite happy to drive one of them for the rest of his life without ever revving it up past 2000 RPM. They are just that much fun to putter around in.
Stamp hard on the accelerator and your face will instantly be re-arranged into this exact expression:
Rowing through the gears of the ND V8 is bizarre. You enter a world of crazy Fast N Furious physics where the car somehow feels like it accelerates harder as you climb up through the ratios.
Upon further inspection though, the “Sanic” analogy starts to break down. There’s more to this car than speed. Despite being very early in development, the ND V8 is shockingly cohesive. The factory gauges work, there’s no weird NVH, the standard nav unit has amusing custom graphics, body roll is perfectly controlled, and the stiff little chassis absorbs road imperfections better than it has any right to.
All of this combines to make for a ridiculously fun automobile. It’s fun to sit in, it’s fun to be seen in, it’s fun to park next to a Prius, it’s fun to have dudes come running up to you asking what’s under the hood. It’s even more fun to reply:
You can keep your Corvettes! If you ask me, the best use for a big-ass American V8 is cramming it into the smallest import sports-car you can manage; always has been.