Miatas Never Die, Meet Zombie Elvis — A V8-Swapped Rally Car

Merriam Webster defines zombie as the supernatural power that, according to voodoo belief, may enter into and reanimate a dead body. This car, otherwise known as Elvis, is a 2002 NB chassis Mazda Miata in sparkly, Lotus Elise Blue — like the suede shoes. Not a pleasure ride, not a weekend steed, but a mule made to work.

The life of a turbo-kit-development test mule is not an easy one. Life as a ringer-press car might be harder, and maybe even harder still if your name is Elvis. A name as quickly called out on an eighth-mile banked dirt track as it might be on a Finnish forest gravel road. The V8-swapped rally Miata, Zombie Elvis, carries the resurrected remains of such a beast, with the heart of a Corvette.

Bench Racing Brings Out the Best Ideas

The mad scientists behind this creation are Flyin’ Miata‘s Mechanical Customer Service guru Matt Horn, and Landscape PLC Extraordinaire, Brian Ruble. The idea was hatched while watching the 2018 Land’s End Hill Climb. Matt adds, “Brian and I appreciate that CHCA [Colorado Hill Climb Association] has a wide range of classes a racer can compete in. We knew we would be outgunned in our class, but you bring what you built, and we’re having a great time competing against some exceptional racers.”

The guys were interested in racing turbo Miatas up the hard clay and gravel of Land’s End Road. Some sage rulebook research into CHCA’s guidelines regarding displacement & induction dashed their hopes of turbo-four-cylinder glory. They were able to purchase Elvis’ husk from Flyin’ Miata with the intention of building a budget-minded, versatile V8-swapped rally Miata.

LS3 under the Miata bonnet

The hot-rodding holy grail: big horsepower in a light package. (Photos: Flyin’ Miata).

Natural Aspirations

376 cubic inches fed by the weight of our atmosphere is enough motivation for most folks. This LS3 has plenty of power to roost the gravel high enough to make stage rally enthusiasts hunger for a good rock shower. The BTR-cammed LS mill is kept in place and kept cool by Flyin’ Miata’s V8 swap components, which is another tip and nod to Elvis’ past as a test mule. 450whp on FM’s Dynocom chassis dynamometer assures an e-ticket quality ride.

Saucy Wings

Brian owns a turbocharged track Miata, which has earned him a great deal of experience with mechanical and aerodynamic grip. He managed to build or connect all of the aero devices on Elvis into a functional package. A Nine Lives Racing wing is the most prominent thing, cantilevered above the NB hardtop’s smiling blue jellybean profile.

The front splitter is Brian’s creation, as is the airbox, front air dam, and uprights. Ingenuity and creativity often run wild on homemade aerodynamic creations. As proof, Elvis shimmies through the air with force guided grip of aluminum, ABS, Dibond, and arithmetic.

Rear 3/4 shot of Zombie Elvis Miata

Zombie Elvis is a card-carrying member of the big wang gang.

Getting Down

The internet is full of car-building “experts.” People who happily provide unrequested, and often over-requited, advice suggesting one might China-charger-LS swap your mother in law’s daily driver. Nobody talks about the tedious task of putting power to the ground beyond the usual bravado of “tire-slaying.” Matt and Brian might be crazy for shoving that much torque into something with such a short wheelbase, intended to be driven or slid on loose dirt, but they’re not internet scientists.

An S1 sequential shifter married to Liberty Gears face-plated gears allows for dog-box style gear engagement and lightning shifts on the T56. The AFCO coilovers and FM sway bars help the little Miata keep the rear end behind the front wheels, even when the nose might not be pointed in the direction of travel. Cooper Evo M+S 215/60/15s are mounted on Bassett Steelies for ease on the budget and a wide range of backspacing.

all business interior in this v8 swapped Miata

You know it’s a rally car when you see the hydraulic handbrake.

Keeping it Safe

Brian and Matt take turns in OMP seats surrounded by a six-point cage from Miatacage.com. An Element extinguisher fights fire with flare on the small stuff.  A 10-pound fire system from Lifeline guards against the unthinkable.

Rear wing and trunk shot of fuel cell

Fuel Safe feeding a 350lph DeatschWerks surge tank & rear mounted regulator.

Feeding the Beast

An LS3 can be a very fuel-efficient engine with proper gearing and, more importantly, judicious throttle application. In a Miata meant to roost without boost, it’s going to be thirstier than the old Mazda supplied, BP4w 1.8L. The time-trial nature of Hillclimb racing affords these guys the ability to carry only 8 gallons in their Fuel Safe fuel cell. A 250lph lift pump feeds a DeatschWerks surge tank and 350lph pump.

sideways countersteer

If in doubt, flat out!

More Aero, More Tire

Matt has indicated their offseason plans include more tire. More tire is usually a term used in the same breath as more aero, possibly even a multi-element rear wing. He also indicated there would likely be some front subframe changes and exhaust changes. All this dirty talk about aero and airflow has me wanting a gravel shower.

Photo gallery

VIEW FULL GALLERY >

Article Sources

About the author

Joseph Hanna

Joe is a machinist, engine builder and engine performance specialist, based out of Colorado. Forced induction became an object of his affection in 1998 and the object of his profession since 2005.
Read My Articles

The Art of Driving delivered to your inbox.

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from Turnology, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes
Turnology NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

TURNology - Subscribe to our Newsletter

We'll send you raw engine tech articles, news, features, and videos every week from TURNology.

TURNology - Subscribe to our Newsletter

Turnology NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

TURNology - Subscribe to our Newsletter

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...



Engine Tech

Hot Rods & Muscle Cars

Corvette Enthusiasts

TURNology - Subscribe to our Newsletter

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...

  • Engine Tech
  • Hot Rods & Muscle Cars
  • Corvette Enthusiasts

TURNology - Subscribe to our Newsletter

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

TURNology - Subscribe to our Newsletter

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Loading