This Electric, Battery-Swapped Mazda Miata NA Still Rocks a 5-Speed Manual Transmission

With instant torque and the ability to still row your own gears, this 1990 MX-5 is the definition of a sweet retrofit.

via Instagram

The first-generation Mazda Miata is more than a cult classic. It's one of the purest and most popular roadsters that has become somewhat of a staple in Mazda's branding. Even as the model prepares to celebrate its 30th birthday, the youth of today still find themselves in the driver's seat of the perfectly adept convertible.

So what happens when you mix one of the most beloved cars in the auto industry with something that many auto enthusiasts can't stand? You get a Mazda Miata powered by batteries.

Meet Michael DeVuyst, an aerospace aficionado who works at Lockheed Martin and drives one of the world's most controversial cars. His Canadian-bred Miata had its original 1.6-liter engine plucked in 2010 in preparation for its electric conversion. Today, the engine bay is occupied by a Warp 9 electric drive motor, a unit that produces a maximum of 34 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of near-instant torque.

"The acceleration is what really gets you," says DeVuyst, later adding, "You can just be sitting around and floor it, and it'll just go."

An array of traditional lead acid batteries sit just over the electric motor to supply it with power. In total, the batteries permit a limited range of just 22 miles (35 kilometers).

While the DC engine tips the scales at just over half the weight of the original 1.6-liter, the batteries more than make up for the difference. In fact, DeVuyst says that the setup adds a very front-biased 400 pounds of extra weight. He goes on to note that while the front steering definitely feels heavier, it doesn't compromise the overall feel of the car.

But perhaps the most important part of the Miata is that DeVuyst managed to retain the functionality of the original five-speed gearbox, something with is crucial to enjoying the blissfulness that is a Miata.

"[T]echnically the clutch is 'optional'," wrote DeVuyst on Instagram. "But using it and shifting gears is obviously more fun than leaving it in one gear all day."

Driving a convertible opens a door to sensory bliss that a regular car just can't match. Sights, sounds, and smells that were once barred by the glare of laminated glass and metal are brought to life. With the top retracted, DeVuyst's Miata is no exception. In fact, it amplifies the sound of the electric motor and makes you believe that you truly are driving a space ship, making you wonder if his choice of electric motor would feel period-correct had gasoline motors not taken off in the early 1900s.

But, as shown by the Miata's range, lead acid batteries are less than ideal. Modern cars use the technological advantage of energy-dense lithium ion cells to cover long distances. This summer, DeVuyst says that he plans on swapping the Miata's lead acid battery array for a series of five Tesla battery modules which he estimates will more than double the range and provide around 300 pounds of weight savings.

As an NA Miata owner and EV devotee, I really enjoy seeing a unique conversion like DeVuyst's. I suspect that as electric cars become more commonplace, we'll begin to see a lot more of these swaps—and I'm completely okay with that. Maybe someone you know will even become the next Maté Rimac.