The MX-5 Miata of the Month from

werkman1.jpg (17782 bytes)January 2002

Max Portrey

Congratulations to Max Portrey on the selection of the Screamin' Yellow Zonker as our January Miata of the Month!

Dear Miata Net Folks:

A nice warm day in the Eastern Panhandle in West Virginia, Charles Town to be exact, prompted me to get off my duff and submit my 1990 Miata for consideration as "Miata 'o the Month!" The temperature hit the mid-seventies on the 1st of December. I could not resist the temptation any longer to talk about the "Screamin' Yellow Zonker, the Hail Storm and the Scorched Finger." I had planned to write this article when the car turned 250,000 miles. Now, it was time.

I am very proud of it, as many Miata owners are of their cars. Two things that I continue to find amazing about the car are its durability and serviceability. It now has 275,451 miles on it and still counting! I put a new motor in it at 192,000 miles, but that is part of the story to follow. My goal is to have a 500,000 mile Miata.

The Project Car

I purchased a red Miata in April of 1997. It had 134,000 miles on it and was in great shape. It was to be my project and commuter car. I was running a 200 horse power turbocharged 1995 Eclipse at the time. To go from 200 HP to 116 was quite an adjustment. However, the handling and nimbleness of the Miata made up for it. Soon the Eclipse sat in the driveway and the Miata become the regular car.


I started out easy with some stereo upgrades. I had to. I blew the door speakers out the first nice day with the top down. New door speakers and the addition of headrest speakers helped immensely. I ended up with a flip face Cannon CD Controller and a 10 disc Cannon Changer. It, as my son Morgan would say, rocks! The nice thing about the disc controller is that when the car is shut off the face flips, rotates, so that what is seen is a smooth black insert. It appears that there is no stereo in the car at all. It is a very cool tool for theft protection.


Interior upgrades were made on a haphazard basis whenever I had a few extra dollars and I found something that looked fun. Check out the attached parts list. The most recent item was a new steering wheel. This took me months to decide. I went originally with a Momo wheel. It is smaller than stock. Coupled with the addition of the 205X15X15 times the steering was extremely positive. A bit too much so for the commute I make each day. At high speeds a sneeze would have me changing lanes! I ended up with a Nardi Classic: a great look for a sports car! It is a little larger than stock. It provides a bit more forgiveness in the steering response. The Finish Line hub adapter made this upgrade a snap. The folks at Finish Line were great as I sorted through the process.

It was time to move on to some easy performance upgrades. Remember the car needed to break before I could do the turbo thing.


While waiting to install a turbo, the car got a Jackson Racing header, a high flow cat and a Borla muffler. To make it all work together next came a K&N air filter kit. Each addition was made at a different time. Each time an addition was made I noticed two things: increase performance and increased gas mileage. When I first got the car it produced about 26-27 mpg. After the performance upgrades were completed the car routinely produced above 30 mpg until the motor was replaced at 192,000. Incredible!

Braces and Suspension

A front brace here, a Cannon rear sub-frame brace there and a shock tower brace really stiffened the car up. As with the performance upgrades I made each suspension upgrade at a different time. Each upgrade produced a significant and discernible handling improvement. Jackson sway bars, Tokico shocks and Eibach springs were added. The suspension work was completed between May of 1997 and August of 1998.

Teri Cardell, of Flyin' Miata, while talking about the advantages of sub-frame bracing talked passionately about the safety advantages of a roll bar. I had never considered installing such a beastie thing. I am glad she talked me into it. Not only is the car much safer in case of an accident, the roll bar tightened up the rear end. Yet, another handling perk. Bill and Teri were great.

Now I had a car that really hugged the road. Tires and Wheels were next. I was getting ready for that turbo thing.

Tires and Wheels

The Tire Rack provided the tires and wheels. Tires were shipped to my door, mounted, speed balanced and ready to install. The wheels were upgraded from 14 inch to 15 inch. The tires were upgraded to 195X50X15. The addition of the tires and wheels again improved the handling another notch. As a side note: I recently upgraded the tires to 205X50X15. Again, another noticeable difference handling. Check out the information on the steering wheel above.

Performance: The Scorched Finger

I waited as long as I could before biting the bullet to install a new motor. At 192,000 I could wait no longer. The car was still getting 32-33 mpg and was using less than a quart of oil between changes. The motor did not need replacing, but it was getting tired. I needed a springtime project. Seemed like the right time to me.

I purchased the new motor (long block), clutch and the like from Performance Buyers Club (PBC). The amazing thing about the long block is that it came with spark plugs already installed. All I had to do was hang the various external parts on the motor and it was ready to run.

I did the swap in my garage in the spring of 1999. It took about a week working in the evenings. The new motor now equipped with the earlier performance upgrades was surprisingly powerful. I stayed the course the turbo was to be next. All I needed was about 10,000 on the car before it was installed. I needed it well loosened up!

Ouch: A safety note is worth noting here. I was installing the battery as the last thing before I was to start up the new motor. I had that to do and bleed the clutch and I was driving the next day!

I had a small palm ratchet and extension set up. I was very conscious of shorting out the battery. As I held the head of the ratchet in my hand my wedding ring made contact with the positive terminal and the head of the ratchet. By the time I removed the ring I had burned my finger down to the tendon almost completely around the finger! The only thing that saved the finger was a small unburned area nest to the little finger. When you are working on your Miata take off your rings, watches and whatever.

Just as a side note, I called a friend over after I had wrapped the finger. Yes, he helped me bleed the clutch. I drove the Miata to the doctor's office the next day. One must keep one's priorities in order!

The Turbo

The Aerodyne turbo with an inter-cooler went in at 204,000 miles. PBC installed it. For me they are local. What a find! PBC has provided great service and products along the way. They are also great fun with which to work. On my first test-drive my grin was wide and instantaneous. At 6 lbs. of boost the car went from 120 HP to 180 HP at a minimum and about 170-foot pounds of torque. Wow! There was a downside to the gas mileage with the addition of the turbo. Mileage went from 32 mpg to 29 mpg. Darn! I have since changed injectors and increased the boost to 10 lbs. Hang on! The car still gets 29-30 mpg.

The last and most recent upgrade was to the braking system. At 270,000 miles I had to replace the rotors. The ones on the car were OEM equipment. I wish Mazda would make a product that lasted! I went with slotted rotors and the Green Stuff brake pads. Not only could I go, now I could stop!


Hella headlamps and H-4 bulbs came along at tome time. This was a wonderful improvement to night driving. However, I could not keep the 100-watt bulbs from exploding. I still have yet to figure this one out. The 60 watt bulbs have lasted a much longer time. They have also tended to burn out rather than explode. A benefit to be sure. An interior light kit and the twilight light kit rounded out the electrical upgrades.


A hard top cart is a must for those of us with hard tops and limited garage space.

The Rest of the Story: Screamin' Yellow Zonker Paint and the Hail Storm

You are probably wondering about the Screamin' Yellow Zonker paint. This is a story in and of itself.

The original red paint was beginning to fade. There were about three different shades of red that made up the paint job. In the spring and summer of 1999 I began to save the money to get the car repainted. I wanted to change the color but the cost was going to be prohibitive at the time. I made mention to friends of mine that BRIGHT YELLOW would be a great color.

In late July I was caught in bad hailstorm. The hailstones were about the size of golf balls. The car got rather beaten up. My insurance company and recommended repair shop were tremendous. I took the car in to a local shop, got the estimate, turned the car over and went on vacation. Before I left we had agreed on Sunburst Yellow as a color change! When I picked up the car the grin was again wide and instantaneous.

No, I am still not done. The interior is next: new seat cover and carpet.

Just a Word

I have found the Miata to be a wonderfully serviceable and dependable car. The after market products are remarkably engineered. I installed the upgrades with the exception of the CD controller, the turbo and the recent brake job. Not bad for a weekend mechanic.

The vendors with whom I have worked on the project have been wonderful. Pete Zazanis and all the folks at Performance Buyers Club are top notch Miata enthusiasts. I get the feeling that they have enjoyed the transformation of the Screamin' Yellow Zonker as much as I have.

Needless to say, I get a lot of compliments from a lot of different people on the Screamin' Yellow Zonker.

Max Portrey

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