A fun roadster and an affordable basis for building your own racing car
The attractions: the Mazda MX-5 is cheap to buy and run and there are plenty to choose from. Here we’re concentrating on the 2005 Mk3, known as the ‘NC’ – a big step up from the previous model. The fundamentally sorted weight distribution, rear-wheel drive balance and affordability make it an excellent basis for building a race or track day car, too.
There were two engine options – a 1.8- and a 2-litre, both with origins in the Ford Duratec motor. The 2.0’s durability and tuneability make it an ideal basis for upgrading, too. In stock form it produces 160bhp, with 200bhp and beyond easily achieved through respected tuners like BBR. More serious Boxster-chasing pace is but a turbo away too.
The 2008 NC2 ‘Mk3.5’ facelift brought a modified 2-litre with forged crank, raised revs, tougher gearbox and improved steering.
For keen drivers the six-speed 2.0 Sport models are popular, given their standard-fit Bilstein dampers and LSD though handling in extremis can be surprisingly snappy. Looks, road holding and even comfort can be improved with a simple and cheap swap to progressively wound lowering springs.
If you aim to compete, respected race-prep specialist Paul Sheard Autos reckons someone with a bit of DIY ability could build one for about £10,000, including donor. You’d want to base it on a 2-litre soft-top; prices start at under £5000 while facelifted NC2s with the stronger engine go for £7000 up and provide a better basis for a competitive build. With most championships adopting strict controls on modifications, to level the field and keep costs down, the racing is close and hard fought but affordable and fun. See the technical page on the BRSCC’s MX-5 Supercup website for a sense of what’s required. There are also plenty of other championships available. Some people are happy to just prepare a car for track days, while others use them as tuition tools for historic racerds who want to hone their rear-wheel-drive skills.
Price range: £2500-£17,000 Rivals: Audi TT, Honda S2000, BMW Z4 Heritage: The Mk1 set the bar for small affordable sports cars, and its rivals still can’t get close
SPEAKING TO PAUL SHEARD
Mazda MX-5 preparation specialist
Paul Sheard buys, sells and prepares MX-5s of all generations and is heavily involved in the BRSCC’s MX-5 Supercup, where NCs are the car of choice. He says cars ready to compete in such championships can be bought used off the shelf, controlled specifications keeping a lid on costs but some owners going the extra mile with fancier builds. If you’re looking to start from scratch, the later facelifted cars – often referred to as NC2 or Mk3.5 versions – are preferable, the same applying for road use, too. Across all variants the good news is that, beyond the usual checks for accident damage and the like, MX-5s are tough and reliable with few inherent faults.