Realignment: How a Hoon Got His Mojo Back

That’s my garage in the background …

Drop into the corner, toe the brakes. Stab the throttle, clutch, slip hand off wheel to grab third, stab throttle again. 3500 RPM, clutch out, intake snarls and exhaust bleats. Apex, tires bite harder and set, more throttle, and the straight. Grab fourth, head whips around at deer on shoulder, no danger. Eyes forward, 5500 RPM, grab fifth. Trees whip by at 75. Smile.


That’s my car, reposing after a flogging that should have jogged the safe word out of its memory. Unlike the motley vehicles belonging to those other nutjobs I work with, it doesn’t predate the moon landing, have an aircooled motor in the wrong end, or rival an aircraft carrier in length, passenger capacity, and fuel consumption. In other words, it’s lame – at least on paper. I also used to say it was insanely reliable, which caused me to wistfully fantasize about sharing in the Joe Lucas ennui. You know, stranded somewhere awful and inconvenient, earning my badge of motorhead honor riding triumphantly in the cab of the wrecker. It wasn’t to be, until all hell almost broke loose. You see, one day the Mazda smelled like Derek Zoolander and his buddies had had a “freak gasoline fight accident” under my hood. I’d be happy to go out in the manner of a Viking funeral ship, but only after I’m already dead. She sat on the street, webbed up and down by a small army of industrious spiders, for close on two months.
The interim tractionally-challenged conveyance.

This week I fixed the obvioius, simple, and easily reversible issue. I have too much pride to reveal what it was, but feel free to speculate (wildly and facetiously, please) in the comments. A nervous drive clutching a fire extinguisher and nearly finding religion revealed the fix to have worked. It also revealed a nasty tendancy to wander around the road, erratic celebrity DUI-style. Needs an alignment, to be sure. Quick check of the forums reveals a local guy that sets up both street and Spec Miatas. Two hours and $88 later, I hop in the resurrected Mazda, not sure what to expect. When it was new (to me), I’d attacked every B-road I could find in the Bay Area, but as problems emerged and I moved back to Washington, it had become more of a commuter. Driving had become boring. Since you can’t put a French maid outfit on a car very easily, I wasn’t sure how to spice things up. Then it turned into a ticking incendiary device, and it was sidelined in favor of an indifferent substitute – a truck that sported the world’s least grippy tires and no traction aids save 50 lbs sandbags and a lot of luck.

It took a while for the lingering gingerness to wear off, and realize that I’m not going to fell a roadside tree on the first hard application of the go pedal. The alignment settings are very mild – it’s mostly a street car, and I’m not going to shell out $500 every 6 months on tires just for the questionable bragging rights that come with -2 degrees of camber – and it’s running stock suspension and OEM-sized street tires. The corners start coming, and instead of the indifferent wheel feedback and bizarre breakaway characterisitcs, I start to get that hackneyed car-as-an-extension-of-my-body feeling. I’m not making wild mid-turn steering inputs as the back end wiggles, because the limits of adhesion have increased and I’m nowhere close to them. I pull over and eye the alignment results – and it starts to make sense. The rear toe settings in the old alignment, within the incredibly loose OEM tolerances, were quadruple the new ones. The old settings were way too tail-happy, upsetting the balance. The new setup is neutral to the limits, at which point mild oversteer kicks in. All afternoon I can’t break the back end loose on dry and debris-free pavement, but not for a lack of trying.

Limits weren’t discovered, but the upper end of the rev counter was mapped with an expeditionary zeal worthy of Lewis and Clark. The BP 1.8 liter DOHC motor might was modeled in some ways after the timeless Alfa Romeo and Lotus twin-cam motors, and while on the best day it won’t ever sound as pretty, at full tilt it sounded mighty good from the cockpit. The trees and barns that lined the river road through this rural valley echoed a good deal of the sound back into the cabin – intake, valvetrain, and the burbling overrun (even with computerized fuel injection, they run a bit rich). The open windows let in the sun and smells.

It was perfect. I’m happy to have my car back.

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  1. Adam Avatar

    Hey, that's my truck!

    1. Alex Kierstein Avatar

      He's not joking. It actually was his truck.

  2. engineerd Avatar

    Miatas don't have guibos, so that's out. I'm going to guess you hacked into the computer and messed around with the fuel map and had it running so rich that fuel was pouring out of every nook and cranny. Those aircraft-carrier-sized cars of your cohorts you mock for the fuel economy? You were a Japanese submarine running full out at depth on diesel, burning through a fifth of the Axis fuel supply just to try to sink a cargo ship with Spam on board.
    Oh, and congrats on getting your car back. It's got to be the best feeling in the world to a Hoon, huh?

    1. Syrax Avatar

      I'm sure it was the blinker fluid.

  3. Feds_II Avatar

    Line to charcoal canister removed and/or broken.

  4. Alff Avatar

    Congratulations, Alex. I have three "better" vehicles at home but this is the one (on the right, the one on the left is now in boxes) that gives me my mojo, so I can totally relate.
    <img src="http://lh3.ggpht.com/_fVEg3I8ek1A/S4wERvLctdI/AAAAAAAAADE/qmRpR6wGyyI/s640/2010-03-01%2008.32.46.jpg"&gt;
    I won't tell anyone about your issue with fuel injector seals.

    1. Alex Kierstein Avatar

      Despite loving your Spider(s), it wasn't the injector seals.

  5. Dolo54 Avatar

    If it's anything like my car, the fuel line clamps had loosened up and just needed a bit o tightening.

  6. Maymar Avatar

    I'm guessing your car became incontinent and started pissing itself. Diapers cured that. Or, it's just part of my friend's theory that as Japanese cars age (he figures at about 20 years, which doesn't appear to be the case with this Miata), they turn British.

  7. name_too_long Avatar

    The beginning of one of the best driving roads in the state.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&hq=&h

    1. joshuman Avatar

      I have been past that place hundreds of times on 97 and I-90 but the only time I might have been on those roads was as a youngster when my Dad was taking us camping. I love forest service roads where you can just find a nice spot and pitch a tent. Maybe that's my excuse to go visit–I need to take my kids camping.

  8. Tim Odell Avatar

    Hahaha…I know what was wrong.
    Clue:
    How did you not hear it?

    1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

      I'm sorry, What?

  9. dustin_driver Avatar

    You make me miss my black/tan '94 Miata. Desperately.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      You just made me want a Black and Tan.

      1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

        Mmm, breakfast beer. I think I need one.

  10. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    This makes me want a Miata for DD duties… Traffic is more fun if you can go fast right?

    1. Froggmann_ Avatar

      Go fast meh… Sure, traffic may be going 85 MPH on the highway which is plenty fast but, is that fun? I think the term you are looking for here is quick.

  11. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    Thanks for the correction! Jeepers don't really know quick, unless you consider turning.

  12. Beatnikid Avatar

    I too have a little Montego Blue ragtop. Im assuming you had an encounter with good ol' CAS and his silly seal mayhaps?

  13. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

    I have a question for all you Miata owners out there. I'm 6 foot 4, and cant really fit in a miata. I'm thinking that if I was to install a racing seat into it, id be able to get two inches out of it and be able to fit. would this work?

    1. Beatnikid Avatar

      You might still have to saw off your knee caps if you wanna get in a mk1/NA miata I believe inner space was extended in the later models though.

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