Salvaging the Chassis
by Dave Coleman
Like every good story (assuming Star Wars is every good story), this one started in the middle, ran through to what seemed like a pretty satisfying end, disappeared for a while, and is now starting back up at the beginning. Confused? That's how we like it.
Well over a year ago I put this little “coming soon” lie up next to this story in the Frankenmiata geek hub. And then I pretty much forgot about it. You can thank the persistent nagging of our fine reader 8695Beaters for getting me off my ass to finally explain where this car came from.
The Frankenmiata was born from an afternoon of idle chit-chat around the dyno with Mark DiBella. Mark owns MD Automotive in Westminster, CA, and is kind enough to let me use his dyno. I've been using his dyno, in fact, since about 1998, when it was Jackson Racing's dyno, and Oscar Jackson would let me use it.
Fast forward 10 years or so and between pulls I'm telling Mark about how we blew up our CR-XXX LeMons car and were looking for something less bent. After trying to convince me the '80-something Ford Fiesta behind his shop was a good candidate, he suggested this Miata:
This, at first, seemed like a terrible idea. Upon closer inspection, it seemed even worse. Mark does a lot of Miata work at his shop, and this car came from a customer who had T-boned someone hard enough to total the Miata (no word on whether the other car noticed). Since the car was supercharged with brakes and suspension and all that, the owner bought it back from the insurance company and had Mark find another clean body he could swap all his stuff into.
The clean body he found happened to have an automatic transmission and ran on three cylinders. So, at the end of this Frankenstein soul swap, Mark was left with a bent Miata shell and a crap drivetrain.
A close look at the shell showed the damage was clearly worthy of a totalling. The frame rails were severely crumpled. But… Look closely and the damage stops conveniently just short of the front subframe mounts, and when it comes to driving, making all the wheels point in the right direction is all that matters. That stuff out in front of the front wheels is really just for decoration.
Digging through the rest of the stash, we quickly found enough subframes and suspension bits to give us confidence that there really was a whole car's worth of parts in the stash. Mark was sick of looking at the Miata shell, the greasy 3-cylinder automatic drivetrain and the pile of suspension bits and offered to give it all to us if we'd just make it go away. Three years later, we still store the car at his shop, so I guess we haven't really followed through on our part of the bargain just yet…
Turning the pile of crap into a more compact rolling pile of crap was surprisingly quick. We had complete front and rear suspension assemblies in the pile, and each subframe attaches to the body with only 6 bolts. Before bolting in the rear subframe, we had to drop the fuel tank and wipe out the gravel, dead bugs and tree limbs. (It had been sitting with the fuel pump access panel off for several months.)