There are two minds, generally, when it comes to modified vehicles: Built and Bought. Some say the only way to truly know your car, the only real way to be an enthusiast, is to build it yourself — adding parts you picked out, putting it together with your tools. Others say it’s just more cost effective to buy something that’s done, where the most you’ll have to do is regular maintenance.
I took the middle road, and it’s going to be an interesting one.
Until recently, I owned a 2014 Scion FR-S. I took it to the track, I took it to autocross, and I had all sorts of plans to modify it into a perfect track car. After all, I live in Brooklyn now — I don’t exactly need my car to be a practical daily.
But it turns out the spreadsheet of “mods to make the perfect track FR-S” rounds out to about $24,000. That doesn’t count the car, either. Even after all that work, I’d still end up with a chassis that’s bigger than I need and an engine that has oiling issues at high RPMs and spark plugs you can’t access without a lift. Maybe, rather than building, it would make more sense to buy.
That train of thought led me to this: A 2001 Mazda Miata, purchased for about eight grand with its slew of track mods and accessories. I only saw the car through a pixellated, choppy FaceTime video before the purchase, though I did have someone drive it t0 confirm that nothing’s truly broken. It’s got track-ready aero, suspension, wheels, tires, even a stripped-out interior. So why am I so concerned about getting it prepared for the upcoming track season?
The car has one simple problem: I don’t fit in it.
Everyone’s body shape and ideal sitting position are different, and my Sailor Moon body proportions don’t seem to line up with the previous owner of this Miata. Even in its fixed-back racing seat, my head is just about flush with the top of the roll bar. I can’t see the gauges, let alone any traffic lights, and adding a helmet would firmly make me fail the broomstick test. I need a new seat, rails, harnesses (the existing ones expired six years ago), and a HANS device. In the next two weeks. For a car I can only see on the weekends. I promise I thought this through.
Most tall drivers, it seems, cut out the seat mounts (or the whole floor under the driver) to get more room in their first- and second-generation Miatæ. I don’t want to do that if I don’t have to, simply because of the time constraints and the fact that I don’t own a welder to patch things up. I’ve tried other, more modern bucket seats from Facebook Marketplace sellers, but even an FRP shell doesn’t quite get me low enough in the car. If I want a comfortable seat, it seems like I may need a Bride.
So, that’s now my plan. Somehow, during this week, I need to measure myself out in a Bride Low Max seat and figure out the height on a set of rails that I can’t see in person. Then, this weekend, I’ll need to install a seat, rails, and two sets of harnesses, to prepare for a track day the weekend after. What’s a wrenching project without a little time crunch?
The car itself is an absolute joy to drive, but the ergonomics are a major problem. If I can get them fixed in time, the Northeast track rats among you may see this car running very poor, slow laps all summer. If not, at least it looks good while sitting.