LSX Build of the Month: Flyin’ Miata’s LS3-Powered ND Mazda MX-5

We’re kicking off a new monthly series here that highlights some of our favorite LS-powered builds with Flyin’ Miata’s most recent marriage of  Bowtie muscle to Mazda’s diminutive sports car.

 

The rollout of Mazda’s all-new fourth-generation sports car was an exercise in patience for the Miata faithful. Literally years of anticipation drawn out by vague teasers that offered very little in terms of specifics showed promise but were light on details. But when the ND finally debuted, it was clear that the Japanese automaker’s engineering efforts were focused in the right places – designing a great chassis, getting the car’s weight down as low as possible and, perhaps above all else, retaining the core values of what made the Miata such a sensation to begin with.

With a curb weight roughly on par with the original MX-5 at just over 2,300 pounds wet, the ND Miata’s light weight seemed a miraculous feat in an era typified by excess mass in cars across the industry. But there were a few numbers that Mazda wasn’t particularly forthcoming about, and most were related to the output of the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four cylinder under the hood, which generates 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. While it’s enough grunt to get the MX-5 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, some enthusiasts were understandably left wanting more. And that’s where companies like Flyin’ Miata come in.

At a glance you’d be forgiven for dismissing Flyin’ Miata’s LS3-powered Miata as just another garden-variety ND MX-5 sitting on coilovers and upgraded rolling stock. This is perhaps one of the conversion’s greatest strengths – while everyone expects a Z06 to be an impressive performer, few expect to be outgunned by a Miata. Image: Flyin’ Miata

V8 swaps into Mazda MX-5s aren’t a new concept by any means, but Flyin’ Miata has built a reputation as one of the aftermarket tuners that can actually get the conversion done right, bringing eight-cylinder power to this small chassis without ruining the car’s dynamics or drivability. For their latest trick, the company stuffed a warmed-over LS3 into the ND Miata, giving Mazda’s drop top supercar-like performance in the process.

Doubling The Cylinder Count

Flyin’ Miata got their start as a European car repair shop called The Dealer Alternative, but began to turn their attention to bolstering Miata performance in 1989. By 1996 the repair business was spun off, leaving the company to focus their efforts specifically on hopping up MX-5s. Perhaps best known for their turbocharged and supercharged builds, the company now offers everything from exhaust systems to suspension packages.

Here we get a side by side comparison between the stock MX-5 engine and gearbox (left) and the GM LS3 paired with the Tremec six-speed. Though the V8 is obviously larger, the disparity isn’t as significant as you might think. Image: Flyin’ Miata.

While V8 conversions aren’t a new thing for Flyin’ Miata, this latest iteration is interesting not only because of the power it delivers but also due to how sanitary the transplant is, not to mention the fact that it retains both the weight distribution and tossable nature of the stock ND Miata.

This ND conversion isn't Flyin' Miata's first venture into stuffing a Bowtie V8 into an MX5 chassis, and it's clear that they understand how important it is to MX-5 fanatics that the car retain the characteristics that have made it the bestselling sports car in the history of the automobile. "The math is simple. Little car plus big engine = high performance. The trick is putting the big engine in without spoiling the little car," read the company's website. To mount the engine, Flyin' Miata has fabricated tubular subframe that's actually lighter than stock, while the transmission is supported by a brace that also reinforces the frame rails for extra rigidity. The engine is set back as far as possible to optimize the weight distribution. Images: Flyin' Miata

The heart of the conversion is an LS3 in either 430 or 525 horsepower tune that’s paired up with a six-speed Tremec T56 manual gearbox and an LS7 clutch and flywheel. As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of custom work required to get all the components to play nicely with one another, including a new GM-built engine wiring harness and engine management system that’s tweaked to ensure that all of the dashboard readouts remain functional and accurate.

The standard conversion uses an LS3 not unlike the powerplant you'd find under the hood of a fifth-generation Camaro SS, while the optional 525hp upgrade uses Chevrolet Performance's LS376 crate motor, good for 525 horsepower and 486 lb-ft at 5200 RPM. The key component distinguishing the LS376 from the standard LS3 is the camshaft, a hydraulic roller with .525-inch lift on both sides, along with 226 degrees of duration on the intake side and 236 degrees on the exhaust side, designed to give the motor bolstered throttle response and strong pull at higher RPMs. Images: Flyin' Miata

Flyin’ Miata also applies a custom tune to the ECU to improve both power and drivability in this application, and there’s even some tweaks the company can make to ensure the car is compliant with California smog laws.

Of course if you want the package to actually be usable, it’s going to need adequate cooling for the amount of heat that big V8 makes, so Flyin’ Miata installs a custom-built dual pass crossflow radiator and dual Spal fans on a custom shroud to keep the engine temps down.

Of course you can’t add a massive dose of horsepower without upgrading the chassis and expect to retain balanced performance, so Flyin’ Miata also outfits their LS3 conversion cars with a Fox Racing coilover suspension setup, upgraded front and rear sway bars, and a limited slip differential from a fifth-generation Camaro SS. Custom dual exhaust routes out to the center of the rear diffuser with so little drama that it looks like it might be factory equipment.

And with more than three times the horsepower of a stock ND Miata on tap, you better believe there’s some chassis upgrades here too. A custom aluminum driveshaft and new half-shafts ensure that the LS power gets to the rear limited-slip differential, the latter of which is pulled from a fifth-generation Camaro for the build, while suspension upgrades include Flyin’ Miata’s adjustable front and rear sway bars and a Fox Racing coilover setup.

Flyin' Miata Conversion Parts List

Standard

  • 430 hp 6.2L LS3 V8 engine with a two year warranty – a 2015 Camaro SS engine
  • 6-speed T56 Magnum transmission with a custom shift lever
  • FM spec Moroso steel oil pan with baffling
  • LS7 clutch and flywheel
  • AAM differential from a 2015 Camaro
  • custom-built dual pass crossflow radiator
  • dual Spal fans on a custom shroud
  • new aluminum driveshaft
  • heavy duty halfshafts
  • stainless steel headers and dual exhaust
  • Magnaflow high-flow dual catalytic converters
  • upgraded fuel system
  • new GM-built engine wiring harness and engine management
  • Flyin’ Miata custom engine dyno tune
  • OE-style motor mounts for good NVH control
  • custom air intake system with hot air baffle
  • rear mount Odyssey battery with kill switch and
  • engine bay jump start terminal
  • Corvette C6 starter
  • fully functional stock gauges
  • FM sway bars front & rear with adjustable end links
  • Flyin’ Miata FOX Racing suspension
  • ABS
  • FM four wheel little big brake kit
  • Hydraulic steering conversion
  • Flyin’ Miata alignment

Optional

  • LS3 E-Rod engine (emissions compliance)
  • LS376/525 (525 hp, 489 ft-lb)
  • carbon fiber driveshaft
  • aluminum oil pan
  • 6-piston front, 4-piston rear brake upgrade
  • Swain Tech White Lightning ceramic coating for the headers & cat pipes
  • Hot Rod Therapy DBW cruise control
  • Hard Dog roll bar
In terms of stopping power, braking capability is (optionally) enhanced by way of a Wilwood big brake kit with six-piston calipers up front and four-piston units in the rear, while the conversion retains the factory ABS system.

Performance

While the stock ND Miata’s 5.8-second sprint to 60 miles per hour from rest is admirable considering it’s got 155 horsepower to work with, Flyin’ Miata’s 525hp LS3-powered car does the deed quite a bit quicker, offering supercar-like acceleration that equates to 3.5 seconds to 60 mph, 0-100 mph in 7.8 seconds, and a quarter mile ET of 11.7 seconds at 123 mph.

But the Miata has never really been about straight-line speed. Many autocross and road course junkies bemoan swaps like this because they assume that the balance of the car has been ruined, and the handling in turn.

That’s not the case here though, as the entire conversion only adds about 250 pounds to the car, bringing the curb weight up to a still-featherweight 2600 pounds. Crucially, the weight distribution is also largely unchanged, with a slightly more front bias of 53:47 as opposed to the stock car’s 52:48. Flyin’ Miata also says that with the 245mm tread that fits under the stock ND fenders, this car will generate 1.07g on the skidpad too.

What’s more, one of the few gripes that have been leveled at the fourth-generation Miata involves the steering feel – or lack thereof – that’s delivered from its new, electrically assisted rack. Well guess what – that rack is nowhere to be found in the Flyin’ Miata LS3 conversion, as a hydraulically assisted rack takes its place here.

Though the Wilwood big brake package is optional, with more than three times the power of the stock ND MX-5, we’d consider it essentially mandatory for those looking to really put the car through its paces. But whether or not a customer springs for the brake upgrade, the conversion still retains the ABS functionality of the factory stoppers. Flyin’ Miata also discloses that cars which already have upgraded suspension and brake systems can often retain those pieces with the LS3 transplant, and the price of the swap is adjusted in turn. Image: Flyin’ Miata

“If Caroll Shelby’s name were on the car, it would be a bargain,” said John Pearley Huffman of Car and Driver after some time behind the wheel. But as it stands, the one thing holding Flyin’ Miata’s LS3-powered ND MX-5 from truly legendary status is the expense involved in this conversion – all in it’s going to cost you north of $80,000 (car included), depending on options.

It’s one thing to shoehorn a big engine into a small car, but it’s quite another to make it reliable, and proper cooling is a huge part of that equation. Here we’re getting a look at the radiator shroud used in the conversion, which is designed for the custom radiator that’s been built for this car and mounts two very high torque fans for maximum airflow. The shroud is sealed against the radiator and the flaps allow air to bypass the shroud when the fans aren’t running. Image: Flyin’ Miata

While that’s to be expected considering the performance capability on offer here, along with the meticulousness of the conversion process, there’s another LS-powered two door that occupies a similar space, and we know it as the C6 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. While it doesn’t have the outright charisma of a build like this, at roughly half the price on the used market, you can also afford to buy a whole lot of aftermarket charm if you want it.

Still, it’s hard to deny the lust factor involved here – what should be a circus side show of car is actually a balanced, usable package that retains all of the functionality it had when stock. And while C6 Corvettes are commonplace these days, it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to come across another V8-powered ND Miata at your next cruise night, track day or autocross event.

Article Sources

About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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