LS3-Powered Miata is Pint-Sized Supercar

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LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

With a power-to-weight ratio similar to a Ferrari F12, this Mazda rewrites your definition of performance.

When it comes to our definition of “good car,” we demand very little. We want something fairly inconspicuous, with better than average performance, some decent attempt at practicality, and it needs a bit of personality. Some sort of endearing quirk that makes it memorable is also important. But most of all, it has to put a smile on our face. Every few years we come across a machine that provides us with a new baseline for what constitutes a “good car” and Flyin’ Miata just rewrote our rulebook. Meet the car they call “Indy.”

Indy is a 2016 Mazda Miata MX-5 Roadster, but it has been completely overhauled from front to back to be a proper performance monster that will make most any car you have driven feel slow. Underneath the hood of this Miata you will not find the playful 2.0-liter four-cylinder that comes from the factory. That has been ripped out and replaced with a massive slab of American engineering. Indy is powered by an LS3 small-block V8 that has been fitted with a 525hp performance package from GM.

LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

Here are the facts and figures.

To put that into perspective, Flyin’ Miata has given this new MX-5 twice as many cylinders, more than three-times the displacement, and more than three times the horsepower. Best of all, the entire operation only increases the curb weight by 260 pounds, or about 11-percent over factory. That means that Indy has a power-to-weight ratio of 4.9 pounds per pony. A Dodge Viper ACR is saddled with 5.24 pounds for every horsepower it makes. To find a similar power-to-weight you could look to Italy and the V12-powered Ferrari F12 Berlinetta.

This car has garnered a lot of attention and several publications have driven and tested it. Car and Driver specifically spent time doing proper instrumented testing, and the results speak for themselves. A sprint to 150mph from a dead stop takes just 18.7 seconds. In that same time a standard Miata would barely be cracking 100. Take it to a drag strip and you will blitz past the ¼ mile in 11.7 seconds with a trap speed of 123 mph. That’s better than a 2017 Corvette Grand Sport can manage.  And this V8 Miata is wearing 245/40/17 street rubber, still managing those numbers. If you are a track-driving fan, you’ll be happy to know C&D measured a 1.07g skidpad number and a stopping distance from 70 mph of just 148 feet.

LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

Those numbers are impressive, but considering the level of modification, they should be. Nearly every moving part of this Miata has been swapped. The suspension is from Fox racing, the sway bars are thicker, wheels are lightweight 6ULs, the transmission is a Tremec T56 Magnum, and the rear end is the LSD unit from the fifth-gen Camaro.

But the most magical part about the whole car is how unassuming it is. With the exception of the custom center-exit exhaust, there is not a single exterior modification to the exterior of this Miata. Even on the inside, you’ll find stock seats, working climate control and stock gauges. They even managed to keep power steering and safety systems like lane departure. That’s why Flyin’ Miata added all the stripes, decals, and logos. They needed to make sure people were aware they had created a horsepower monster.

LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

If they really wanted people to know the car was special, we say that they just needed to turn the thing on. If we were religious, we would assume that Indy is actually powered by the depths of hell based on the sounds that come of the exhaust as you run up to the redline. It snaps, barks and burbles with such volume that we are certain it breaks legal regulations. Which is probably why it makes use of a dual stage exhaust to keep it quiet at lower speeds.

From every measure, Indy is a masterpiece. But then you drive it, and the world around you melts into bliss. Settle into the stock Mazda seat, stare at the stock wheel, and press the stock start button. Then listen to the entire car explode with fury. When the engine starts, the aggressive cam doesn’t have quite enough vacuum at startup to activate the exhaust silencer, so it barks to life with the subtlety of a grizzly bear being thrown into a wood chipper.

LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

How does it drive?

The LS7-sourced clutch is lighter than you expect, and the T56 transmission is stiffer than you expect. They are both so precise in their action that initial takeoff is perfectly gentle. Then you hammer the accelerator and the world around you warps into an odd conglomeration of noises and blurred motion. The launch is not as violent as something like a GT-R, but it comes damned close. In seconds you are slamming into the redline for first gear, then second and third. This is around the time you glance at the speedometer and realize you are well past the point of “trouble” and straight into the land of “arrested without bail.” But the feeling is so intoxicating it’s hard to stop.

The first corner comes flying up on you faster than you can even realize so you slam the brakes. The six-piston Wilwoods destroy velocity like a black hole eats light and you flick the steering wheel. The car immediately responds, leans just a few degrees and plants itself through the corner.

LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

We are smiling so much it starts to hurt.

In the conversion to the V8, Flyin’ Miata ditched the stock electric steering in favor of a classic hydraulic rack, and it’s exquisite. Steering feel is so precise it reminds us of older Porsches, and the weighting is nothing short of perfection. Every motion of the wheel makes the car respond exactly as you want, almost as if you are piloting the car through sheer will alone.

Then the road ends, we slow the car and turn around for the return adventure.

LS1tech.com LS3 Miata ND Flyin' Miata Swap Review Exclusive

We only got the chance to spend an afternoon with Flyin’ Miata’s V8 masterpiece, but it has left a permanent mark in our minds. It’s been more than three weeks since we returned the keys, and we still can’t stop thinking about it. The GM Small Block is very likely the best engine in the world, and when you combine that with one of the best small chassis in the world, the results are so phenomenal it’s hard to put into words.

The only downfall of Indy is the cost. Flyin’ Miata offers turn-key cars for the hefty sum of $50k, and that doesn’t include the cost of the donor car. All-in, that is new Corvette Grand Sport money, but when you consider the level of performance on offer, it can be a lot easier to justify. Plus, the look on everyone’s face when you show up to the Friday night drag races and blitz a handful of prepped Camaros and Mustangs might be worth the cost all on its own.

Christian Moe contributes to many of Internet Brands' Auto blogs, including Corvette Forum, Club Lexus and Rennlist.

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