Video: Deafen yourself with a racing two-stroke Miata


At a glance, this image looks like it could be any race car, but a quick glance at the byline may lead you to surmise (correctly) that this is a 24 Hours of LeMons car. The astute readers will notice several strange things in this video still. This writer has spent painstaking seconds in MS-Paint to point out the most obvious, but take a good long look before I point out what you may have missed.


The lead image does indeed show someone pull-starting a Mazda Miata. Obviously, this is no ordinary Miata. As the windscreen indicates, this is Evil Genius Racing’s “Balto,” a first-generation Miata on a strict diet that has cut out the weighty B-Series motor and instead runs on a 700-cubic centimeter, high-performance three-cylinder snowmobile motor mated to a continuously variable transmission by a frighteningly small drive belt. There’s no shifter (which is why you can see the Balto paw print decal in the lead image), only two pedals, and the starter is not electric but instead an eclectic racecar builder from Sacramento. The drivetrain’s mounting position requires the exhaust to run down the passenger side of the car over the tire and along that side of the car, exiting just behind the door (visible in the rearview mirror in the lead image).


It’s yet another stunning example of a LeMons team having some pieces laying around (in this case, a crashed Miata) and saying “What if?” It turns out gutting a Miata completely and replacing the iron-block B-series with a torqueless 85-pound drivetrain results in a 1,200-pound momentum machine. How much power does the tiny motor make? Evil Genius’ dyno spit out a 116-horsepower rating, putting it in the same power-to-weight range as the lightning-fast Geo Metro Gnome. It should come as no surprise that Balto holds a LeMons in-race lap record at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. It tends to shred the drive belts, but it otherwise holds up pretty well.

What’s it like to drive? Mike Taylor of Hong Norrth Racing, having barely survived a long ferry of the K-It-Forward Plymouth Reliant, mushed Balto at Sears Point in December for Arse-Freeze-A-Palooza. The tiny motor makes an unmistakably horrendous racket, running at high-RPM while the CVT finds the right ratio to propel the Miata like a frigid banshee through the 190-car field.


There are longer videos of Balto on Noöval Racing’s YouTube Channel if you’re not deaf from its aural domination.

[Images: autoxmike’s YouTube Channel, Murilee Martin]


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21 responses to “Video: Deafen yourself with a racing two-stroke Miata”

  1. jeepjeff Avatar

    2:00. Damn.

  2. dukeisduke Avatar

    WOW! So I assume it's front-wheel-drive?

    1. frankthecat Avatar

      afaik they have the motor hooked up through the CVT to a driveshaft coupled to the original Miata rear end.

      1. Eric Rood Avatar
        Eric Rood

        That's my understanding, too. To fit and line up with the driveshaft, the engine is mounted offset to the passenger side and the exhaust then has to route through hollowed-out fenders and doors.

  3. Kamil_K Avatar

    Glorious! Like a refined Trabant!

  4. cruisintime Avatar

    Sure looks like those guys are having some fun, both the building and the Hooning.

  5. discontinuuity Avatar

    Sounds like it's not quite hitting the optimum rev range for the expansion chambers, but then again maybe you don't want to hit a big power peak in the middle of a corner.

    1. Batshitbox Avatar

      That's where the CVT comes in! Theoretically it's possible to just pin the motor to the sweet spot and vary the transmission for speed. Although, with LeMons budgets I think this might have been left unfinished. Fascinating concept, though. You could arrange it with no 'gas pedal' but more of a ratio pedal.

      1. discontinuuity Avatar

        You could if the CVT had some sort of external controls, but most snowmobiles use a purely mechanical CVT with centrifugal weights that control the ratio.
        It sounds like the CVT is actually keeping the revs pretty steady, but just under the powerband of the engine. You could correct this by changing the length of the expansion chambers, or by using lighter weights and stronger springs in the CVT.

  6. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I've just spent 6'19" grinning like a freak! That's how all Miatas should be, IMO.
    And that was some seriously awesome close-quarters racing going on, too.

    1. EvilG Avatar

      I've spent 20 hours driving that car grinning like a freak… It is my favorite race car of all time, seriously, bar none. There is a saying that driving a Miata makes anyone feel like a racer… Driving Balto makes a racer feel like a god.

  7. craigsu Avatar

    Arguably the best use for a CVT I've ever heard of.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      But I… that is, my… Oh, why do I even bother?
      Yeah, you're probably right.

      1. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

        Blargh! Votes, directions, wrong ones. Sorry.

  8. labcoatguy Avatar

    Whelp, I know what's going into my Saab 96 when (if?) the V4 kicks the bucket. Does it run premix or does it have an oiling system?

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Pretty sure they premix the fuel/oil.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        I think that's correct.

        1. EvilG Avatar

          It is a Yamaha Mountain Max motor with oil injection… the Polaris triple was a POS.

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            Ah. I remembered that you'd switched but forgot that the new engine is an injector.
            In that case: Cheaters!

  9. Brian Lutz Avatar
    Brian Lutz

    I saw this one at The Ridge a couple of years back. I think it was the only car on the track started by pulling a rope…

  10. smoglar Avatar

    Yes, 2-stroke go-carts are fun. A real holler. They even have races with just the carts! It's like the whole neighborhood is weedwacking at the same time. Actually the 8 year old drivers of the 2stroke shifter carts probably have more fun and may even be more competitive than lemoneers. Head out to Prairie City track and watch these kids race, it is pretty dang cool. Which makes me think, could there be a Little Lemons race series where the cart can't be worth more than fifty bucks? Penalty laps if the judges smell nitro?

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