It’s time for another I Am The Speedhunter submission, and this time around Dave Thomas takes us on a tour of a show-stopping, yet completely functional Mazda Miata from Ontario, Canada.
At the sight of flares, CCW wheels and a big wing, some of you are likely already on your way down to the comment box to bemoan about lack of originality. But stop, I implore you. Move your cursor away from that close button too. Myself, and likely the builder/owner of this Miata will admit that yes, at face value this car starts down a well travelled road. However, just a few steps toward the end goal it diverges from the path of many and begins down the path of few. So much so that judging this car simply by the sum of its immediately visible modifications would be ludicrous.
This car is, in my opinion at least, one of the best modified Miatas ever created.
While I could string together a few more introductory words as to exactly why, it’s really easier to cut to the chase. If, looking at the engine bay above, you are not impressed by the aesthetics, craftsmanship, or function, then sir or madam I challenge your enthusiasm for cars at large.
Attached to what is quite frankly a work of art masquerading as an engine bay, is the two year culmination of a simple idea. Brad Ruiter wanted a car he could launch down the quarter mile, run time attack in, drift with, and park at a show all said and done. Finally, he also wanted the car to be capable of driving itself to and from each event as well. The icing on the cake is he desired to do it all in the same day.
No, Brad doesn’t live in fantasyland, and as far as I can tell his head isn’t in the clouds anymore than yours or mine. He simply shrugs at the notion that you can’t have it all in the same car.
The son of an accomplished hot rod builder – Brad’s father Richard took a run at the coveted Ridler award with the ‘Xvette’ a 1955 Chevy he built in his garage – Brad sought to bring the hot rod level of detail he had been exposed to his entire life to the Miata platform.
Coming from a hot rod upbringing the decision to go V8 was an easy one, especially after Brad previously modified his car with the typical go-fast, turn-quick bits Miata owners usually do, and found it lackluster. For a car touted the answer to everyone’s track needs it wasn’t quite the right answer for Brad.
The choice to go V8 was quickly followed by the choice not to use a swap kit or build off the existing metal in the engine bay. Strapped to a frame table and set up on a jig to retain the necessary dimensions, everything forward of the firewall was removed before the firewall itself was also cut out and cast aside.
Left with a blank canvas, Brad built new frame rails out of 3×4-inch box steel before putting the tube bender to task to form the tops of the new strut towers. A 6-point roll cage then snakes through the firewall to connect to the new frame rails.
From there the framework was all blended together seamlessly with sheet metal from the intake and radiator shroud back to the firewall and everywhere in between. Brad even went so far as hiding all of the fender fasteners.
He estimates that there are roughly 350 hours into the engine bay alone, and that time certainly show in the final product. When was the last time you saw a painted firewall reflect an engine so clearly?
Putting The Power Down
The painted and tidied LS3 between the custom frame rails is currently there for the second time. Its first appearance was cut short after the Stack cluster read the dreaded words “low oil pressure” while the car was in operation. This happened shortly after Brad connected a few corners at the one of the Miata’s first drift outings.
A setback for sure, the motor was pulled, rebuilt, and reinstalled. During the rebuild the bottom end was balanced, the factory pistons swapped with Mahle units, a Howard cam installed, and the heads ported, decked, and polished. ARP hardware holds it all together and the motor now exhales through long-tube headers Brad designed and built himself.
An estimated 500 horsepower sings through a hand-built aluminum exhaust, and it’s transferred through a T56 transmission with ZR1 clutch. An aluminum Ford 8.8 rear with Detroit Trutrac posi and 3:27 gears puts the power to the ground.
Overkill for a car as light as a Miata? Perhaps, but Brad was shooting for the best not ‘pretty good’.
In an effort to make as much traction as possible (read: there’s still a lot of tire smoke when Brad’s foot is in it), Brad put together a pretty aggressive aero package for the car. Up front is a large custom splitter and in the rear there’s an equally large and equally custom rear diffuser. Both are tied into the 1-inch aluminum tube structure that sits behind a Racing Beat front bumper and factory rear bumper.
The wing is quite large, but big wing detractors fret not – Brad has made it removable and has a second tail panel for the car. He offered to take it off for the shoot but in my opinion the wing, paired with the piano black hard top, carbon fiber trunk, and carbon fiber doors really tie the car together. Down the sides run side skirt extensions that Brad also made himself.
It’s What’s Under The Paint That Counts
Prior to painting the car Brad spent a significant amount of time making the Tuckin 99 N2 flares fit the car as though factory. Most of that work goes entirely unseen hidden behind the flares. Instead of simply folding the cut metal over itself and welding it shut, Brad tubbed the inner fender to meet the flare.
It’s this level of detail, fit, and finish that separates Brad’s Miata from the endless other flared vehicles running around tracks and sitting hard-parked at events around the globe. Under the flares are CCW LM5T wheels that clock in with 16×10-inch and 16×11-inch measurements. The polished wheels are shod in 245/45R16 Toyo R888 rubber front and rear. The suspension consists of Megan coilovers, custom tubular control arms (again made by Brad) and Kaiser Automation drop spindles.
Wilwood 6-piston calipers sit up front with 4-piston units in the rear, and pressure is applied via a Wilwood triple master pedal setup. The reservoirs for this unit are easily accessible in the passenger compartment via a hole in the dashboard.
The entire car, save for the aforementioned doors, hood, trunk and hard top has been sprayed Porsche Meteor Grey. The ‘entire car’ does mean the entire car in this case, as it was done on a rotisserie. With the underside painted a factory finish on the components wouldn’t do so they were powder-coated mirror black by local outfit Stripping Technologies.
The interior is pretty spartan, yet detailed all the same. The dash is custom and climate control is done via a Vintage Air heater, a unit commonly used among the hot rod community. A pair of Sparco Sprint seats keep the occupants contained and a Grip Royal wheel handles driver inputs.
From a show aspect the car has understandably done extremely well. In 2015 the Miata had its completed debut in the front hall of an Ontario show called Motorama. This is significant because the front hall is usually reserved only for classics and hot rods, not imports.
There the Miata took home a few bits of hardware including ‘Best Engineered Street Machine’ top honours. I don’t mention this to boast or brag on Brad’s behalf, but to cement the fact that he did build a car to such a high standard that is truly appreciated by every level of enthusiast.
At this point the car is exactly where Brad wants it and no further extensive modifications are planned. He’s even teased at the idea of selling it so that he can act on some of his other build ideas. He didn’t disclose what those were, but hopefully he invites me out to shoot it when it’s done and Speedhunters grants me the opportunity to share it once more with you here.
To end this I leave you with a video (via Clipping Point Media) of Brad drifting the car at a recent TOPP Drift event here in Ontario a week before this shoot. You know, just in case you thought this was only a show car.
Words & Photos by Dave Thomas