1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Flyin’ Miata has this incredible ability to create unique and wonderful cars from the Miata . Nancy the supercharged NC is a sprightly car that is set for rally racing, Atomic Betty is a world class GT car and the Exocet is a track-day phenom. These are all shop cars, however, and are set up to portray a certain style and characteristic.

But what would an employee of Flyin’ Miata do to their own car. With no need to highlight a certain part or feature, and no need to cater to the desires of a customer, what would they create. If you are Keith Tanner, you create the Turbo Smurf.

This 1990 Miata has been fettled, upgraded and altered in essentially every manner to become what is Keith’s ideal daily driver. From the drivetrain and suspension to the interior and even the sound insulation, there is almost no part of this roadster that has been left untouched.

Are the results a carefully created car that coddles as well as it excites? Or did Keith just create a Frankenstein of speed and noise that only just manages to ferry him to the shop without killing him? I spent some time behind the driver seat to figure it out.

Read on to discover more about the Flyin’ Miata Turbo Smurf Miata

Exterior

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Clad in Mariner Blue paint, the Turbo Smurf is a prime example of what a nice, original Miata can look like with just the right amount of love and care. The paint is not perfect, but it lets the world know that machine is used, driven and enjoyed regularly.

There are not very many noticeable changes to the outside of the car, but the hardtop, 949 Racing alloys and dual exhaust are the easiest after market parts to spot. The car does feature the subtle, but attractive factory Mazda Mazda R-Package air dam and skirt. A sharp eye may also pick out the intercooler that lurks inside the front nose and the Flyin’ Miata Little Big Brake kit that hide behind each of the 15-inch wheels.

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

My only complaint about the exterior is the top. The soft top has been completely removed from the car, so it’s hard top or no top. In the perpetually dry land of Colorado, there is very little risk of getting stuck with no top in a random rain storm, but I do like having options.

One of the coolest additions to the exterior of the Turbo Smurf you can’t see unless its dark outside. Every single exterior bulb on this Miata has been swapped for LED units. This even applies to the headlamps, which are now GE Nighthawk units. When a car is your daily driver, all these little touches make a difference in the long run.

Interior

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

The way a car looks is important, but you spend all your time inside the thing, so the way it operates and feels is far more pertinent to your enjoyment. Keith has taken the time to adjust just about every piece of the interior in small and subtle ways to create a car that is perfectly matched to his tastes.

It turns out that his taste is quite impeccable.

When you sit in the seats, you will notice that they are far more comfortable than the stock buckets. Keith has taken the time to remove the seat covers so he could cut and mold the foam to be more comfortable and supportive. The results are beyond impressive. To keep you from any extra injury if the car goes shiny side down, there is a Hard Dog Deuce roll bar mounted behind those seats.

When sitting in that driver seat, you begin to see and notice all the great small details. The steering wheel is a classic MOMO Prototipo and a solid and chunky Voodoo shift knob sits ready for your command. Behind that fancy steering wheel is a set of stock gauges, but they all have custom Smiths faces from Revlimiter. Keith also rotated the tachometer so the redline is pointed just shy of vertical; just like old racecars.

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Keith carried the Smiths theme through the entirety of the cabin with a Smiths Voltmeter boost gauge and clock. It matches the Smiths color scheme and font style, but the HVAC controls are actually Revlimiter’s GT40 set.

Other changes to the cabin include a push-button starter, thin vent rings from a company in the UK called The Tuning-Shop and the handbrake handle from a 2006 Miata. Keith has also gone through the trouble to wire up a hidden Rockford Fosgate amp that connects to a hidden 3.5 mm headphone jack to provide a modern audio interface via a smartphone or iPod.

Cabin refinement can also be a bit lacking with the hard top on, so Keith has also installed extra sound dampening material under the rear deck carpets to keep the drone of the exhaust and tires to a minimum.

While the interior is not exactly the most luxurious place I have ever been, all the small changes add up to make the inside of the Turbo Smurf a down-right enjoyable place to spend time.

Drivetrain

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

The Modifications to the interior are varied and numerous, but they are mere child’s play when compared to the magic that has been performed under the sheet metal. First off, the 1.6-liter that originally powered this 1990 model car has long been tossed for more a capable mill. When you open the hood you are greeted by the red painted valve cover of a 1.8-liter 2004 Mazdaspeed engine. Along with the engine swap, an FM Happy Meal clutch kit was installed, and the rear end is now a 4.1 Torsen differential.

The turbo system from the Mazdaspeed unit has been tossed in favor of the FM II turbo system with a Hydra Nemesis and a GT2554R turbo. An adjustable AEM fuel pressure regulator helps keep the engine fed with fuel and an FM race radiator with the FM Airflow fan kit help keep everything running nice and cool. The exhaust gasses from all that combustion are funneled out of the back via the FM turbo dual exhaust.

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

The result of all these changes is 210 horsepower and 212 pound-feet of torque. Now, as with all the FM cars, these are measured numbers; not estimates. These power figures are all measured at the wheels and are obtained at the FM shop in Grand Junction which has an elevation of about 4,600 feet. If you consider a very modest 10-percent driveline loss and the power drop due to elevation, this car is pushing 240 horsepower or more at the flywheel.

Thanks to that much power in a lightweight NA body, the 0-to-60-mph sprint happens in around five seconds.

Suspension and Brakes

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Continuing the changes for this little Miata, you will find a full suspension and brake upgrade in the Turbo Smurf. The suspension is the FM Stage 2.5 kit; that means Tokico Illumina shocks, FM springs, FM sway bars, FM bump stops and FM rear upper mounts.

Along with the caliper and pad upgrade that comes with the FM Little Big Brake Kit, the Turbo Smurf has also been upgraded with the master cylinder and brake booster from a 2005 Mazdaspeed. An adjustable proportioning valve has also been added.

Driving Impressions

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

From the moment you hit the road in the Turbo Smurf it becomes immediately obvious that this is a daily driver. Every single one of the changes we have talked about so far make vast changes to the feel and experience of the drive. The gauges add a touch of nostalgia and fun that made me smile every time I looked at them. The MOMO wheel and Voodoo shift knob both feel great in the hand. The sculpting of the seats and the setup of the suspension provide the perfect blend of livable comfort and grin-inducing driving dynamics.

The suspension is what I might call perfect. The lower ride height increases the sensation of speed, the stiffness of the springs reduces body, and the damping is just enough to cut sharp bumps and road imperfection from the experience. I will admit that it may be a bit too harsh for some people, but for my general tastes, it seems just right.

Braking in the Turbo Smurf is just as you would expect from any car fitted with the Little Big Brake kit. Pedal feel is firm, pressure is linear, and you can easily modulate just how much braking power you really have. Even with the “get arrested” speeds you can manage with all that turbocharged horsepower, I had faultless confidence in the brakes.

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Having all of that extra grunt from the upgraded Mazdaspeed motor gives enough torque lower in the rev range that you can be a bit lazy with your shifting making it far easier to simply cruise around. When you really stand on it, the boost comes on quickly, but in a smooth linear curve that is easy to handle and modulate, rather than getting all of the boost in one sudden lump. Once again, it feels as if it has been tuned specifically for the best level of everyday drivability.

Nothing about the car feels excessive or overdone, it all feels just right. There is room for more power, there is room for even better brakes, and you could even sharpen up the handling some, but all of those things would hurt its abilities as am every day car. The balance of fun and civility has been hit at the exact perfect balance for my tastes. It really is a glorious thing to drive.

The Turbo Smurf is far from the best car I drove while I was at the Flyin Miata shop, but it may just be the most well-rounded car I was in. They call this thing the Turbo Smurf, but they should have called it Goldilocks.

Competitors

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Boxster

I know that comparing a new Porsche Boxster to a 25-year old Japanese roadster seems like something only an idiot would do, I have my reasons. Mostly it revolves around feel, practicality and details. Just like the Turbo Smurf, the Boxster seems to have that near perfect blend of sport and comfort. The 265-horsepower flat-six has enough motivation to really let you have fun, but it’s not so much power that you are constantly on edge. The same goes for the seats that are bolstered enough to hold you in spirited driving, but padded enough that you can easily complete a 12-hour driving day with no discomfort.

If I had a bottomless pit of money, I would probably take the Boxster over the Turbo Smurf. Having a working soft top is a big deal to me, and I prefer the mid-engined handling characteristics of the Porsche to the Miata. Having a pair of trunks that give me more cargo space is also another bonus. All that said, if I didn’t have $51k+ to spend on a new Porsche, the little blue Miata that is running around Grand Junction would be a solid alternative.

Conclusion

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Turbo Smurf" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Keith has the means to create a true performance monster, he does own a racing Miata with an LS3 V-8 after all, but for his daily driver he went with comfort and personality in lieu of speed and tire smoke. For my personal tastes and driving preferences, the Turbo Smurf might represent the pinnacle of what an NA-generation Mazda Miata can be. It has more comfortable seats, a tighter suspension, more power and the ability to jam out to whatever music I have on my phone. It is the best combination of all things classic and modern.

I still prefer the style and the rigidity of the NC-generation Miatas, but the Turbo Smurf will make a believer out of anyone. It just reiterates the fact that if you have enough time and desire you can create something that is special and interesting in all the right ways.

There is one unfortunate downfall to driving the Turbo Smurf though; I have decided that a Mazdaspeed-powered NA is something I should look into owning. I am not sure how happy my wife will be if I show up with a project Miata.

LOVE IT
  • Great interior upgrades and modifications
  • All-around LED lighting means never changing a bulb again
  • Turbo-power gives it all the grunt you ever need
LEAVE IT
  • NA is my least favorite body style of Miata
  • It is nearly impossible to recreate
  • Ride might be too harsh for some

What is your take?

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