2002 Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

I’ve discussed before how every car in the Flyin’ Miata fleet has a special character. Each car is designed and created to show off a certain characteristic or modification. Nancy demonstrates just how the great the Miata the can be with a bit more power and a little suspension love, while Atomic Betty represents the pinnacle of a Grand Touring style roadster. And then we have Elvis.

Elvis is similar to Atomic Betty in that it is a V-8 conversion Miata, but Elvis is an NB-generation car, and it was the first V-8 car that FM converted. While Betty is a comfortable cruiser that just happens to have incredible power and immense speed; Elvis is a bit rougher, a little more raw, and he is all the better for it.

With a more horsepower thanks to a different engine cam, the smaller size and weight that comes with the older generation cars, and the inherently less rigid NB chassis, Elvis has a feel that is all his own.

Do all these differences make Elvis and inferior machine to the mighty Betty, or is he great just the way he is? We spent some serious time behind the wheel to figure it out.

Read on to find out more about the V-8 powered Miata that Flyin’ Miata call Elvis

Exterior

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

As is the tradition with most Flyin’ Miata machines, the fact that Elvis is hiding a dirty secret under his hood is hard to notice from the exterior. Wider rubber, large dual exhaust, hood pins, and the Flyin’ Miata V8 sticker across the windshield are the main identifiers, just like Betty, but Elvis also has a few louvered vents across his hood as well. These vents aren’t just for show either. With a smaller engine bay, Elvis holds more heat, so the extra cooling help to keep things under control when flogging away down a twisty canyon road, or at your local track.

For those of you who are truly the Miata faithful, you may have also noticed that Elvis is not wearing a color of paint that ever came from the Mazda Mazda factory. This wonderful hue of blue is actually from the Lotus Lotus catalogue, and it was chosen specifically to make Elvis stand out in a crowd. Once you fire up the engine though, he stands out even without the paint.

Interior

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven
Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

The inside of Elvis is fairly traditional Miata with a few thoughtful touches to class things up and even improve performance slightly. The gauges have been swapped for the Flyin’ Miata units, the small placard signifying the shift pattern, and the aftermarket shift knob all make the interior a bit more usable, and then you get to the seats.

The seats are still the same stock buckets you get in an NB Miata, but the covers have been modified with huge suede inserts in the center. According to Flyin’ Miata owner Bill Cardell, this modification was purely for performance. The stock buckets just didn’t have enough lateral grip to keep up with Elvis’s performance, so the suede has been used because it is a gripper material. It also adds a nice luxurious touch to the otherwise spartan cabin.

The only other serious change is the addition of the Hard Dog Sport Fat Boy roll bar.

Drivetrain

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Obviously, when you have a V-8 Miata, this is the most important part. Much like Betty, Elvis uses the full Turn Key V8 setup from FM. That includes the clutch and air intake from a Z06 corvette, the air filter from a ZR1 Corvette and a clutch pack rear differential from the rear of the Cadillac CTS-V. What makes the biggest difference for Elvis is that rather than a bone stock LS3 crate engine from GM with 430 horsepower, Elvis has been equipped with the hotter 480 cam. That means that GM basically says that Elvis’s engine will produce a mind boggling 480 horsepower at the flywheel.

Just like before, all that power goes through a T56 six-speed transmission and gets routed exclusively to the rear wheels.

If you can get the launch right, you will hit 60 mph from a standstill in about 3.8 seconds and a top speed of well over 150 mph should be possible, but FM has yet to properly test and quantify a maximum velocity.

Suspension and Braking

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

With 480 horsepower you need some solid kit to keep your car on the road and to bring it down from speed. Elvis has happily been equipped with such goodies. Rather than the Little Big Brake Kit and the FM Stage 2 suspension, Elvis comes with the even more hardcore Flyin’ Miata AFCO suspension setup and the FM Big Mama Jama Stage 2 brake kit.

The AFCO suspension setup was created for use in the Targa Newfoundland rally. The system features a stiffer ride for maximum performance, but also has nearly 7-inches of maximum travel. That means that beyond making Elvis handle flat and level around the sharpest corners, the extra travel will keep the car planted over the roughest roads and deepest potholes. It is the first full Miata suspensions system that has been built specifically to Flyin’ Miata’s exact specifications.

The brakes are equally as impressive as the suspension. FM’s Big Mama Jama Stage 2 brake kit brings an incredible 20 pistons to the party with a pair of six-piston calipers up front and a pair of four-piston calipers in the rear. You could stop a locomotive with a setup like this. The front rotors are a special two-piece unit that was designed and created specifically for this application. The system also has some special alterations that allow it to work with the parking brake which means that this kit is also fully SCCA legal. Another great benefit to this system is that besides the massive brake size, the kit will still almost any standard 15-inch wheel.

Driving Impressions

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

Driving Elvis was a far different experience than driving Atomic Betty. Gone is the soft rumble and easy manners of a GT car; they have been replaced with fury and pent up aggression. Thanks to its hotter cam, Elvis exhibits a thumpy and burbling idle that is reminiscent of a classic muscle car. You sit at a stop light and the whole car vibrates slightly with ever rotation of the engine. It is like pure 60’s nostalgia in the wrapper of a remade British roadster. It is a bit of a mind warp.

The hotter cam and extra power also make it a bit harder to drive Elvis as well. It is hard to me smooth, and if you aren’t gentle you’ll light the rear tires up at every intersection. It is hoonage in the most glorious of fashions. Betty hid her power from the driver and the world. Elvis makes sure that you never forget just what is lurking inches in front of your feet, ready to devour race tracks, canyon roads and the Nitto rubber that separate the rims from the pavement.

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

There is so much extra power in Elvis that if you really wanted to, you can set the beast in 5th gear and light up the rear tires from a dead stop. Yes, you can do a full-on burnout in fifth gear! If you really want to just eat tires, you can start in first, and if you are quick enough on the shifts and keep the revs high enough, you can reach fifth gear before the back end hooks up enough to launch you into the distance.

If you learn how to tame the car, or just take off in second gear like a sane person, you can really learn to appreciate what Elvis is. Just like the classic Cobra that came from Shelby Shelby , Elvis is a perfect combination of raw simplicity and unbridled power that create a unique machine that is unlike any other on the road. The suspension makes sure you can take corners at speeds you wouldn’t think possible, the massive brakes can haul you down from triple digit speeds to a dead stop in a matter of seconds, and everywhere you drive you are propelled by a glorious wave of V-8 exhaust noise.

If Atomic Betty is too tame and understated for you, spend about 15 seconds with Elvis. You will be ready place your order before you manage to get it out of second gear.

Competitors

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

You probably think I am a bit daft for considering the supercharged Camaro ZL1 convertible as a comparison to a Miata with a big engine crammed under the hood, but I’m not. Yes, the Camaro has a whopping 580 horsepower, a full 100 more raging ponies than Elvis has, but it’s not all about power. The Camaro is a heavy car to begin with, and all those go-faster goodies have taken its toll on the muscle car. With a quoted curb weight of 4,374 pounds the Camaro weighs nearly 1,800 pounds more than Elvis. 100 horsepower is a lot, but is certainly won’t offset the performance penalty of more than 1,700 pounds.

The Camaro does have a lot going for it though. It has back seats that mostly usable, a sweet retro style that looks great rolling down the street, and it has an even better warranty than Elvis. GM warranties all their crate motors for 2 years, but the Camaro gets a full three-year bumper to bumper warranty.

So it has more power, a nicer exterior and a better warranty, but you will have to pay for all those extras. With a starting price of $60,705 a ZL1 convertible will cost you more than $10,000 more than getting a turn-key conversion from FM will cost; including the price of the donor Miata.

So, do you want speed and performance, or horsepower numbers and looks?

Conclusion

Mazda MX-5 Miata "Elvis" by Flyin' Miata - Driven

I jumped into Elvis directly after spending some serious quality time with Atomic Betty and at first I was quite disappointed. Gone was the smooth and sophisticated ride and performance I had fell in love with, all to be replaced with a brashness and undrivabiltiy I wasn’t expecting. But then I figured out what Elvis really was. I wanted it to be a comfortable cruiser like Betty, but instead it is the opposite end of the scale. It yells and belches petrol at everyone who meanders by, the bright paint catches eyes for miles, and when you want to, it gives you the power to destroy most any dealer bought performance machine you are likely to run into.

Elvis is not a gentleman’s car. Just like its namesake, it makes hearts melt, drinks too much, and will redefine your definition of rock and roll. This car just makes me want to do big smokey burn outs and scream hell yeah; all in the parking lot of local police precinct. Make no point about it, Elvis is a bit of an outlaw.

LOVE IT
  • Stunning paint color with subtle visual flourishes to exterior design
  • Immense, tire destroying horsepower and torque
  • Suede seats are practical, comfortable and look great
LEAVE IT
  • Not exactly a cheap machine
  • The hotter cam that provides its special character makes low speed drivability suffer
  • Roll bar makes it difficult to raise the manual top from the driver’s seat

What is your take?

Back to top