This Supercharged 1999 NB Mazda Miata Is a Miata Done Right
I’d never loved Miatas the way everyone else goes nuts for them. It turns out I just hadn’t met the right Miata.
We all have that one car that’s beloved by everyone else but doesn’t really do it for us. Maybe it’s Porsche 911s for you. For me, it’s always been the Mazda Miata. Unironic chants of, “Miata is always the answer!” make me roll my eyes. Is it always the answer, Travis? The Miata is pretty good, but it’s by no means perfect. Not in the ways Miata fans have always painted it to be. I’ve driven a few and I just never truly loved them the way other people go absolutely nuts for them.
It turns out I just hadn’t met the right Miata.
Because of their sheer popularity, the endless supply of available parts, and an agreeable chassis, every generation of the Miata has been an aftermarket darling. People have dropped V8s into them, stripped them out, and turned them into hill-climb cars, drift cars, auto-crossers, and even off-road rally cars.
From the factory, though, I’d always thought it could use more power (sorry) and do with less body roll (not sorry). The focus of today’s review is a lightly modified 1999 Mazda Miata—so, a second-gen NB—that’s been altered just enough so that it fixes the Miata’s shortcomings to the point where it finally feels like the sports car it always should have been.
1999 Modified Mazda Miata Review Specs
- Price when new (owner paid): $20,000 est. ($12,500)
- Powertrain: 1.8-liter supercharged inline-four | 5-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 200 (est.)
- Torque: N/A
- Seating capacity: 2
- Quick take: Who knew all the NB needed was a supercharger and some sway bars to turn it into its best self?
My Guest Today Needs No Introduction
Much like The Rock or Lewis Hamilton, the Mazda Miata really needs no introduction. A petite, rear-driven, front-engined Japanese roadster, the Miata is the most popular two-seat convertible ever made. It’s cherished for its simplicity and affordability, and these are themes that have held true throughout all four existing generations.
Unlike his other car—the gray 2004 Volvo V70 R that he modified himself—the Miata was one Aaron Segal bought already modded. There’s always some risk in that, but seeing as it was purchased from someone trustworthy who purchased it from someone else trustworthy, things have been smooth-sailing so far. It also means Segal currently has one of the greatest two-car garages I’ve ever heard of.
Painted a shade of British Racing Green, Segal’s Miata has a VF Engineering centrifugal supercharger by Vortech (which was added in the mid-2000s and has been good for 30,000 miles so far) that makes 6 psi of boost, an ECU chip, a limited-slip diff, Jackson Racing headers, and a cat-back exhaust. Suspension work includes front and rear sway bars and lowering springs, giving the car that stance you see in the photos. Finishing it all off is a set of seven-spoke Rays Gram Lights wheels, wrapped in Yokohama Advan summer tires.
You cannot beat bronze wheels on a green car, it’s JDM checkmate. I don’t make the rules.
Easily one of the most respectable things about the Miata is how democratic it’s always been; it is the people’s sports car in all of the ways. Starting with its transmission. The clutch here is friendly, forgiving, and engages predictably. As a result, it’s approachable and easy to master. Your payoff is the shifter. Tight, and with short, notchy throws, the NB’s beautifully weighted shift action clunking into its transmission gates is the stuff of tactile dreams. Third is just a little further over than you’d think. Otherwise, it’s perfect. Segal said this part of the car is completely stock.
Sitting in this NB, I realized that despite the current ND generation being bigger, this was roomier. There was just so much less dashboard and car surrounding me. I was seated approximately five or six inches off the ground, and I had uninhibited, unbeatable, 360-degree visibility thanks to the flexibility of my own spine. Cameras, mirrors, and parking sensors are handy, but nothing beats your own two eyes.
The steering, a hydraulically assisted unit, was slightly numb off-center but had a rewarding heft to it and gave handling the elfin NB a far more solid and substantial feel in my hands. Nosing it through a corner took a little effort, and that was a refreshingly good thing. The front wheels communicated in ways that usually get stamped out with modern EPAS units.
This NB’s pièce de résistance, however, is its engine. Normal NB Miatas made about 140 horsepower, but the blower in this one adds another 60 to make a neat 200. Yet, it was power that was still so organically contained within the chassis that it felt like it could have come from the factory this way. So linear was the delivery that you’d swear the car was naturally aspirated—but the telltale induction whine gives things away. Paired with the excellent shift action and steering, this supercharged packing peanut made screaming up to redline—just to hit 45 mph between stoplights—obnoxiously fun.
Segal (or whoever he’d bought this Miata from) had done it: They’d finally made a Miata feel fast.
But not only that. The reworked suspension also ironed out that inescapable Miata body roll I’m consistently shocked by. I have always been discouraged by the rollicky way the stock ones take turns; this one felt like a properly damped sports car where you’d get some lean in the corners but it was more of a natural response to centrifugal force than too-soft suspension. It meant Segal’s NB also rode a little harder over bumps—an extremely fair compromise, considering what you’re getting.
I need another car to daydream about like I need a hole in the head, but powering Segal’s Miata into second gear was all the convincing I required. The base NB is a fantastic place to start, even I will admit this. Owing to the fact that it’s so small and light, the balance is already impeccable and leaves a ton of potential on the table. The present mods just elevate that to an even greater place.
Making essentially the same power as the NB Mazdaspeed Miata, the supercharger isn’t adding that much more power, so you never feel like the car will ever outrun itself, even if you’re flooring it from a stop. (The sticky summer tires help.)
Driving this car also served to validate my own confirmation bias, which is that supercharging is the way to go. There’s no lag to deal with, the exhaust noise is uninhibited, and there’s a real smooth wall of power to hitch a ride on.
By now, the Mazda Miata is a very familiar concept. Its execution hasn’t changed in the 30-ish years that it’s been around. Because of that, the community surrounding it has been free to experiment with it and the builds range far and wide. I respect them all, but for me personally, a tidy 200 hp and some lowering springs finally made the Miata the catch-all answer its fans have always made it out to be.
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