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Car selection

Posted by Adax , 06-06-2013 · 1,843 views

After about 5 years of modest success racing a 1.6 on tracks around the SE, I decided it was time to build a new car. A '99 or '01 seemed the logical choice as they are arguably better suited to my home track, Road Atlanta. After discussing it with trusted friends, chiefly Tom Fowler at OPM, I decided to take a gamble on an '01 about a year ago. I kept an eye out for several months but quickly found that a good '01 donor at a reasonable price was not as common as you may have been lead to believe. Eventually Tom put me in touch with Jim Drago who had purchased an '03 at an insurance auction. Not much was known about the car, other than it appeared straight. He priced it fairly and 5 days later I was looking at this beauty.

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I could smell the mildew from 10 feet away. The top had been cut during the theft and the seats had absorbed a lot of water. No matter, I wasn't planning to race it with carpet.

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I got it home and it sat in my garage for a few weeks while I learned all about the '01 immobilizer. Not having the original key meant that a new key was going to set me back around $250. I tried in vain to track down the original owner. I learned a lot about her but was never able to contact her. Eventually the best solution seemed to be to purchase a used ECU, key, and immobilizer from Tom Neel. After installing this and a battery, it cranked nicely but made no attempt to fire. I should have checked earlier but the fuel had turned to varnish and the tank was filled with rust. No way to fix this without removing the tank. Much like a 944 clutch, the Miata is built around the fuel tank, requiring everything, truly everything from the tranny back to be removed.

Now I noticed that under the mildew, the interior seemed to show very little wear. Once the battery was in I was surprised to see that this car only had 23,000 miles! I am now faced with a conundrum, continue a SM build with a low mileage chassis (questionable value as all drive-train parts will be rebuilt or replaced anyway) or do an extensive cosmetic restoration and flip it for a profit to fund the SM build with another donor.

I made the wrong decision. It is extremely difficult to restore a car that has no intrinsic collector value unless you own your own paint and body shop. Paint will eat up all potential profit and you will be left with a nice used car with a rebuilt title and a marketing challenge. I truly enjoy the restoration process (I restored an FJ40 that is amazing) but even still, it was 4 months of wasted time that could have gone toward building the race car.

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But I got lucky. I was patient and found the right buyer, allowing me to sell it for about $2000 profit, not considering my labor of course. Now, time to look for an '01 donor, again.

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