Progress report

Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to break this thing. Believe me, I’ve tried and tried, and tried again, all to no avail.

I have been daily driving the car for the past few weeks, basically since I first made it run. In fact, my Subaru has really only been used to transport my bike. During that time, I’ve put around 1,600 miles on the car. As ridiculous as the car looks, it’s very livable. The seats are comfortable, the windscreen wiper works well, the headlights are phenomenal, the top keeps me dry in the rain, and the fuel economy was pretty good for as long as I could bear to not abuse the thing. In fact, I was able to average 25mpg with a mix of highway and city driving without annoying fellow motorists in the process. That means that this car has road trip potential.

Because photos are fun, here are a few recent ones.

I have also made a little bit of progress on the car since my last update:

Version one of the gauge cluster is now complete and properly mounted.

I also installed my remote brake bias adjuster. This thing is awesome. Optimizing the bias takes no time, and it’s easy to adjust for different surfaces conditions.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a proclamation. It works!

In fact, it works quite well. After more than a year of down time, I took the car for it’s maiden voyage about two weeks ago. Now, the car has about 900 miles on the clock and 8 auto-x runs. So far, it has been a joy. The power is excellent and the delivery of the power is even better. The chassis is phenomenal–my efforts to firm things up do not go unnoticed behind the wheel. Gone are the days of the front and back of the car feeling disconnected. The steering is precise, the handling is sharp and predictable, and the brakes cause awkward facial expressions. With warm tires, the car grips in second gear. I’m thrilled to have these kinds of results, even before the car has undergone any development.

With the above said, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
-I had a leaky slave cylinder fitting. The fix for that is outlined in my previous post.
-The water temp has a tendency to climb if I leave the engine idling for extended periods of time. I thought I had fixed this by relocating the fans, however I now believe the problem to lie with the radiator–it has a defect which causes a drastic reduction in airflow through certain parts of the core.
-The car demonstrated understeer on the auto-x course. I have since installed a rear sway bar, hopefully eliminating the problem.

Without further delay, here are some photos:

2,240lbs with no top, oil cooler, or accusump. This means that my end goal of keeping the car under 2,300lbs is achievable.

The interior is sparse, just how I like it.

And some auto-x footage:
LS1 Miata, first auto-x.

It’s all about the details

What’s the difference between mediocre and great, between frustration and fun? Oftentimes, it’s the little things. Here are a few examples of my trying to go the extra distance to help keep this project enjoyable.

Here is my oil cooler, mounted forward of the drivers side wheel well. This location is good for providing the cooler with a steady source of cool air. That said, due to the packaging constraints of the Miata, the corner of the cooler is very close to the bumper cover. In fact, the two are almost in contact. This makes the oil cooler vulnerable–a small impact could damage the cooler and cause me to lose oil pressure. My solution to the problem: a short piece of 1/8″ aluminum angle stock, bolted to the bumper support. For the oil cooler to be damaged by a frontal impact, the aluminum piece must be damaged first. A hard collision with an auto-x pylon, grazing a tire wall at the track, or a low speed collision with another vehicle are now much less likely to leave me in need of a new engine.

I prefer for my wheels to stay attached. Most probably share that sentiment. My rear hubs came with ARP extended wheel studs. They’re strong and long enough to thread all the way into my long-body aluminum lug nets. This was fine and dandy. What wasn’t, was the front. The aluminum top hats, of my Wilwood rotors, seem to be thicker than the top hats of the old all-steel rotors. My new wheels may also be a bit thicker than the stockers. This made for a situation where the stock lugs were insufficiently long, in my mind, to thread sufficiently far into my aluminum lugs. Worried that stresses could potentially lead to a catastrophic failure, I treated the front hubs to the same studs as the rear. Here is how the ARP studs compare to the OEM studs. Which would you feel safer with?

I’ve read reports of improper oil pickup depth leading to oil starvation. Oil starvation can destroy an engine very quickly. Naturally, I wanted to protect my investment and ensure that my pickup was positioned properly, relative to the bottom of the oil pan. The acceptable range is supposed to be between 1/4″ and 3/8″. I used my highly specialized depth finder tool to see where my pickup was. The tool consisted of 3/8″ mounds of silly putty pressed against a piece of packaging plastic. I set the tool in the pan, and pressed the pan against the engine block with the pickup installed. If the screen of the pickup leaves an imprint on the putty, the distance is not too great. I got the exact depth by using calipers to measure the thickness of the putty at a point where it had been depressed by the screen. I measured .3″, which is bang on.

This wasn’t so much preemptive as it was a fix to a problem that I had encountered. I’m sharing this to boost awareness of this problem and hopefully spare fellow swappers the hassle of finding this on their own. The fitting that comes with the V8R swap kit didn’t properly fit into my slave cylinder. I am not the only one to encounter this problem. I ‘made’ the fitting ‘fit’ and went on with assembly. Unfortunately, the fitting ended up leaking, causing me to have to frantically find a place to park after the clutch engagement point started to rapidly approach the floor. Adding fluid got me home, however the real fix required me to lower the transmission, make a new fitting, and replace the slave cylinder as I had damaged the original one in my attempt to make the swap kit fitting work. To make the new fitting, I cut the swap kit fitting in half, as it had the 4an male fitting that I needed. I also cut an OEM fitting in half as it had the portion that fits into the slave cylinder properly. I welded the two fittings together and ended up with something that, so far, works well. Here is my DIY adapter fitting, compared to an unmodified OEM replacement fitting.

As an interesting note, the new slave cylinder that I purchased at Autozone, which was marketed as a Duralast product, has a nearly identical casting to the OEM cylinder. This leads me to believe that it’s a worthy replacement.

Prep prep prep prep prep paint prep prep prep paint

The main thing that I’ve learned from this part of the project, and I’ve learned quite a bit, is that I don’t particularly care for body work. If you find yourself in need of such work, and value your time and sanity, have somebody else do it….unless, of course, you’re into that kind of stuff. I believe such people are called masochists. This post will be kept brief as adding too much depth could trigger PTSD-style flashbacks.

On a more serious note, I have tremendous respect for anybody who can do body work well–it truly is an art. If you’re a noob like myself, expect to experience some frustration. All of the articles and youtube tutorials in the world, although very helpful, are no substitute for experience. With that said, here’s an overview of my process:

I started by totally stripping the engine bay. This required wire wheeling, sanding, brushing, scrubbing, paint thinner, and above all, time. I brought every surface down to bare metal since so much work had been done in that area. If the surface you’re working on has a decent coat of factory primer, going down to bare metal isn’t really necessary.

After stripping the residual paint, the surface needed to be scuffed to create a surface conducive to the bonding of fillers and primer. I scuffed the metal with red scotch brite pads and proceeded to wipe the surfaces with lacquer thinner to remove grease and dust.

It’s shiny:

I stripped the inside of the firewall as well before laying down filler and paint. I figured that the vibrations generated by the liberal use of power tools during the stripping process could potentially harm the filler on the other side of the wall so I got it out of the way before any filler was applied.

If you care about the final appearance of your project, and I can imagine that you would, adding and smoothing body filler will be one of the most time consuming steps. I used Evercoat Rage Gold. I think they call it that because it’ll induce rage despite being one of the top rated products. I used Evercoat glaze as well to smooth out smaller imperfections. Thickly applied filler can lead to cracking. 1/8″ is generally considered to be the safe upper limit. Since my car will see more abuse than most, I did my best to keep the filler under 1/16″.

Then came the home-brew paint booth. I used plastic sheeting, box fans, and furnace filters. Even though I used box fans, I advise you to not use box fans. The reason for this is that the motors can produce sparks, and those sparks can ignite the volatile chemicals that you’ll later be spraying inside the booth in an atomized form. Be smart, don’t get yourself blown up. Also, make sure you wear suitable protection. Protect your eyes and wear a respirator that’s intended for volatile organic compounds. The respirator isn’t too expensive and you can incorporate it into a Halloween costume when you’re done.

For paint, I used John Deere Blitz Black and John Deere primer. Hot rodders rave about this stuff–extolling its finish and durability. Me, not so much. I’m satisfied with the finish however the stuff has proven to be prone to chipping. This paint is extremely easy to touch up and should be fine now that the car is assembled, but I had to be extra careful to not bang tools and parts into the surface while putting the car together. I mixed the paint according to the instructions, used their recommended hardener, and sprayed everything through a Harbor Freight gun, which actually worked quite well.

Here’s the primer:

After priming, I packed certain areas with seam sealer. The seam sealer available at Napa seems pretty good.

And the paint:

The suspension got attention too, but with Eastwood rust converter, rust encapsulator, and chassis black paint. Before that, I did the typical wire wheeling.

Can’t forget the little bits:

Additionally, I bombed all of the hard-to-reach areas with Eastwood inner frame rail protectant. This stuff sticks to anything and converts rust. Water and oxygen are going to be seriously bummed when they encounter my car and realize that they can’t leave their mark.

Interior paint came next….after the car went away for a while to get a roll bar and door bars. I painted the interior with 9 cans of VHT roll bar paint. This is an awesome product, by the way. My prep work consisted of some wire wheeling, scotch brite red scuffing, and a lacquer thinner wipe down. The paint goes on smoothly and has a nice finish. It comes in gloss and matte. I used the gloss, which I knew ahead of time was not truly glossy. It’s a nice satin finish–exactly what I wanted. This stuff doesn’t seem to chip, resists scratches well, and is chemical resistant. Due to a leaky slave cylinder fitting, I found myself repeatedly topping off the clutch fluid reservoir. After a couple of small spills, the paint looks the same.

The under body looks new too, with fresh paint and undercoat.

And then I made it look like a space ship:

An engine that’s ready for action

Where I left off in my last post, the oil pan was not installed and the accessory drive was incomplete. I’ve fixed that…and a few other things

This is the V8Roadsters aluminum oil pan. A rear sump pan is necessary for this swap, and the front of the pan must be shallow enough to clear the steering rack. The V8R pan is made specifically for this swap and meets that criteria. Additionally, the V8R pan is baffled with trap doors to prevent oil starvation–a tremendous plus for car that sees track time. This model has provisions for an oil filter to screw on, which eliminates the need for an external filter and the additional complexity that a remote filter setup adds. This pan comes with an oil pickup tube and has just enough clearance to accommodate an unmodified GTO windage tray.

I took the pan apart prior to installation and cleaned it thoroughly. I also removed the inspection stickers which resided on the inside.

This nifty product by Improved Racing is an oil thermostat that bolts directly to the oil pan. A thermostat ensures that the oil quickly reaches a suitable operating temperature, and diverts flow to the oil cooler once that threshold has been reached.


Some swappers have reported heat related woes that can be ameliorated by protecting prone components from radiant heat, which comes off of the headers and exhaust pipes. Two known problems are difficulty with starting and melted motor mounts. My headers are ceramic coated, which will help greatly, however I’ve made shields anyway in the name of reliability.

This shield protects the starter from the flange area on the header and from the exhaust pipe that runs beneath.

The passenger side motor mount is in close proximity to the headers so a shield with good coverage was made.

The top of the drivers side mount is the only part which appears to be vulnerable. Rather than making a full heat shield for this side, I cleaned the top of the mount with acetone and applied some adhesive-backed reflective thermal barrier.


The bottom of the flywheel was exposed to the elements. I made an aluminum panel which bolts on and covers the opening.


Lines to the clutch slave cylinder needed to be installed. The line on the bottom runs to the clutch master cylinder and the line on top is a remote bleeder, which allows the clutch to be bled with the drivetrain installed in the vehicle.

The top line simply screws in, while the bottom line is held in with a pin which needs to be hammered in.


I’ve shown my custom alternator bracket in this post: Still in need of completion at that point were a tensioner and an idler pulley. The tensioner consists of two rod ends, two bolts, and a couple of nuts.

This is the idler pulley mount, simple and strong.

This is the finished product, with a 50″ belt.

And now the drivetrain is ready to be dropped in!

Free CAGS delete

CAGS, otherwise known as skip shift, is a system fitted to certain GM vehicles that locks out second and third gears under a specific set of conditions, forcing a shift from first to fourth. Shifting from first to fourth while casually cruising generally uses less fuel than shifting from 1-2-3-4, so the system locks out second and third to promote better fuel economy…and to help vehicles dodge the gas guzzler tax. For my purposes, this system is dead weight. I deleted it and removed the associated wires from the engine harness. The steps below tell you how to turn the solenoid into a plug.

Step 1:
Locate the CAGS solenoid. It protrudes from the drivers side of the transmission. Mine is sitting on the table of a chop saw, an indicator of what’s to come.

Step 2:
Cut the solenoid in two. I made my cut in the center of the hexagonal section. This is a good time to learn how a solenoid works, if you’re curious.

Step 3:
Remove the copper and other loose material from the base of the solenoid. You’ll be left with a pin sticking up on the inside. I pushed that pin down, which caused a larger diameter pin to protrude from the bottom of the solenoid, and used vice grips to hold the larger pin out. When you do that, you’ll be left with a flat surface on the inside to weld on. Weld over the small pin on the inside to keep it down and to seal the gap, making what was a solenoid into a plug. The larger pin will still be exposed after you weld. Remove that with a cutoff wheel.

Step 4:
Finally, I cleaned out the inside of the solenoid with some acetone and sprayed it with self-etching primer to prevent rust. Once dry, reinstall the plug and delete the emergent error code from the PCM.

No, I haven’t died or lost interest

School, a graduation, some semblance of a social life, and a three week trip to South Africa, which was amazing, has slowed this project down a tad.

While away, I was in touch with a fabricator who will be installing a 3/4 cage in my car at the end of the month. Ryan, of Thompson Racing Fabrication, has installed roll cages in many of the rally cars in the area. I’ve seen his products prove themselves effective a couple of times and look forward to having his work in my car. The cage will get a full writeup upon completion. In the mean time, I’ll just say that Ryan and I have come up with what should be quite a good design given the constraints.

As for material progress, here’s what I’ve been up to:

In a previous post, I showed a window in the frame rail, in the engine bay. Fuel and oil lines pass through that hole and come out here, inches from the fuel tank.

This bar, passing from the dash bar to the frame rail, will experience quite a bit of load. I added a gusset to distribute that load across the frame rail.

Removing the drivetrain with the headers installed proved to be a bit of a challenge with these radiator supports in place as they protrude inward and reduce the available width. My simple solution to that was to make the radiator supports removable. The supports now slip over the post and bolt in, whereas before they were non-removable. Not depicted in this photo are the tabs that I welded to the bases of the supports for the attachment of a splitter.

My T56 transmission is out of a 2004 GTO. The GTO transmission has better syncros than the Camaro T56, however a Camaro shifter is strongly preferred for this swap due to its location. I had to replace the GTO offset lever with a Camaro offset lever in order to make the Camaro shifter work with my trans. The Camaro offset lever is the shorter of the two.

I chose an MGW F-body Camaro shifter because I needed a Camaro shifter anyway and this one has phenomenal reviews. The knob is a delryn piece that I ordered from ebay. It has a nice shape and isn’t very thermally conductive.

The hood is held up with a universal gas strut that I picked up on Amazon. One of them is enough to get the job done and while some companies charge over $100 for hood strut kits, I have about $10 into this setup.

My wiper motor relocation looked pretty haggard for a while because I didn’t have a tool that fit into this small space to clean up the welds. Fortunately, I was able to borrow an electric die grinder from a friend and that made short work of this job. With a tiny bit of body filer and some paint, this will practically look OEM.

After some CAD(cardboard aided design) work, I determined that a F-body Camaro air intake fits perfectly on top of the radiator ducting. I also picked up a K&N panel filter. The volume that this intake will draw from is a great source of cool, pressurized air.

For weight savings, the OEM dash is hacked up and this car is not going to get much of an interior. Accordingly, I needed a utilitarian housing for gauges, switches, power sources, and the radio. Yes, this car is still going to have a radio. Anyway, I used my metal break to make an aluminum structure to handle this task. The structure bolts to the transmission tunnel via nuts that I welded to the inside of the tunnel. This center console is easy to reach and is short enough for my GPS to mount to the top of it without hitting the bottom of the dash.

There’s a 12v outlet, and something that looks like a 12v outlet that is actually a pair of USB plugs. Those will be handy for keeping my phone and other gadgets charged during longer drives.

I gutted the doors and removed the OEM seatbelt towers in preparation for the cage. This lot of stuff weighed quite a bit.

As you can see in this photo of the passenger side door, there is not much left. The windows mechanisms were largely left in tact and I moved the cranks to locations that will be easy for occupants, whom are strapped in, to reach.

This is a brake line mount, positioned approximately how it was from the factory.

The other big task has been preparing the car for paint. The engine bay, interior, and wheel wells will all need to be painted. Accordingly, the engine bay has been stripped to bare metal, the inner firewall has also been stripped, and the wheel wells have mostly been stripped. The paint work, engine bay included, will most likely take place after the cage is complete.

I also fabricated mounts for the driver and passenger seats. This was something that needed to be done before the car goes in for the cage. I don’t have photos at the moment, however they are basic fixed position mounts with attachment points for the anti-sub straps welded in.

An alternator bracket, a little window, and some hoses

Hi guys!

I’ve made an alternator bracket:

See the lowest hole on the block that’s almost in line with the lower hole on the alternator? A turnbuckle will go between those so that the assembly can serve as a belt tensioner. As it so happens, the spacing is perfect for that.

The alternator is supported both in the front and in the back on all axes. Once the long bolt is tightened down, the thing doesn’t move…at all.

A new alternator bracket was necessary for a couple of reasons. First of all, I replaced the GTO crank pulley with a shorter Corvette/CTS-V/G8 crank pulley for more swaybar clearance. That meant that the alternator needed to be moved closer to the block so that the belt would line up properly. Some people mill down the stock alternator bracket to bring the alternator in further. I chose not to do that since I wanted the alternator so pivot as to serve as a belt tensioner. I removed the stock tensioner and the associated mounting tabs to make clearance for a coolant expansion tank that I bolted to the passenger side head. By making an adjustable alternator bracket, I killed two birds with one stone. All I have to do now for the accessory drive belt is fabricate a mount for an idler pulley so that the water pump is driven. Fortunately, that should be a simple task.

This doesn’t look a whole lot like progress however the drivetrain no longer needed to be in for mockup purposes. Now I can finalize a few things in the bay, and before long, I’ll be able to begin prepping it for paint. The next time the drivetrain goes in, it should be going in to stay.

Now for the weird bit. I’ve put a window in the upper frame rail. You know, so the frame rail gnomes can get some light and fresh air.

But no, the window is actually there for the fuel line and accusump oil line to be fed through.

The lines go through the frame rails, beneath the floor, such that they’re protected from heat and impact, and I’m protected from them.

Most people put the lines in the transmission tunnel or under the car next to the frame rail. I don’t like the tunnel route because it places the lines above a hot exhaust system. In addition to prolonged exposure to heat, a driveshaft failure could potentially split a line and almost certainly cause a fire since gravity, which tends to be pretty reliable, will cause the fuel to end up on the hot exhaust pipes beneath. That would be quite lousy. I don’t think along the frame rail is a good place either since running a nylon braided line inches off the ground seems a poor choice due to the potential for bottoming out, road debris, and slow abrasion from particulates.

It’s beginning to come alive!

Yeah, that’s right, progress. I had some opportunities to work on this car over spring break….so I did. The outcome was a fair amount of electrical work and the first hint of life that the car has shown in many months.

For those not familiar with the early stages of this project, I removed nearly all of the factory wiring during disassembly. The process was not delicate–I marked what I intended to reuse and tore out the rest with cable cutters. I was left with a few wires in the car and a full trash bag of wires sitting on the ground, adjacent. Wanton destruction? No, not at all. The great wire massacre of 2012 paved the way for me to make a much lighter and simpler wiring harness. Who doesn’t love lightness and simplicity? This all-business harness has custom routing, was laid out with an emphasis on serviceability(fuses and connections are easily accessible), is clear of things that may wish it harm(tires and excessive heat), and will have some antitheft measures built in.

Note that this has not been finalized. This is a progress photo. A few more wires need to be added before I can finish it off with loom and a vast quantity of zip ties.

The fuse/relay panel is mounted to the dash bar, beneath the airbag cutout in the dash. This keeps everything protected and out of the way while still easily accessible from inside the car. A stuffed turtle will be set on top of this panel as seen on the site banner.

At this point, all of the lighting works. The low beams, high beams, turn signals, tail lights, and brake lights are fully functional. Integration with the already prepared engine harness comes next.

Stay tuned for a more thorough post once the wiring is finalized.


This is a post for some of the little things that currently sit at varying levels of completeness. Things that are not ready for their own posts, but still deserving of attention.

Firstly, some overall photos of the engine bay. You can see the custom coolant expansion tank that one of my racing buddies fabricated.

These holes allow cool air from the naturally pressurized cowl to flow into the passenger compartment.

Aluminium cover to prevent water from entering the vent holes.

Another aluminum cover to keep water out of the factory HVAC inlet.

The engine wire harness has been thinned. All unnecessary wires were removed. The wiring will get a dedicated post once it’s done.
This is the harness after I stripped the loom and electrical tape, and before I started removing wires.

The junk that I removed.

The harness, post thinning.

The harness reinstalled on the engine with nice wire loom.

The PCM was mounted in the passenger footwell via rubber vibration isolating mounts.

An aluminium shield protects the wires and connectors from unruly feet.

The factory crash beam was motivated to leave via sawzall. I did that to facilitate the removal and installation of the drietrain. I made a bolt in crash beam to put in its place. My structure seems to be of greater strength and since it bolts in, servicing the engine will be a breeze.

One of the best things about my new crash beam is that the OEM bumper beam fits snugly over it.

I needed more clearance between the front of the engine and the swaybar so I replaced the GTO harmonic balancer with the shallower CTS-V harmonic balancer. I now have ample clearance.

All of the old control arm bushings were removed via the Harbor Freight ball joint service tool. The ball joint tool made the job significantly easier. Stiffer urethane bushings will be going in their place once the arms are cleaned up and repainted.

The Canton Racing oil cooler was mounted. More on this later when I write a post on the oil system.

The Accusump oil pressure accumulator was mounted beneath the trunk pan.

The stout Getrag differential has been mounted to the Miata subframe.

It’s a big fellow.

A Walbro 255 fuel pump is now installed in the tank.

And there you have it–a shotgun progress update.