Video: An Affordable Alternative- Ecotec-Swapped Miata Track Scalpel

Miatas have never been known for their power — perhaps that’s part of their charm. Bragging rights. The latest of the brakers and the boldest in the corners. Still, for all its agility, Miatas can (most of the time) only embarrass punchier cars at the tighter tracks.

Some, hunger for a little more boogie down the straighter sections of the racetrack, and there are plenty of ways to do that. Forced induction is popular, as is a lighter V6 — something which helps it retain its wonderful balance. Some prefer to shoehorn a broad V8 in the bay, and some simply rely on breather mods. There is no shortage of ways to give the Miata some extra grunt, but transplanting a 2.4-liter Ecotec engine is not one of the most common.

The LE5 motors are easily found, as they powered half the lighter GM lineup in the late-2000s. They’re reasonably priced, boast variable-valve timing for greater low-end response, are very compact, and the same weight as the BP, so they retain the Miata’s wonderful balance. Plus, the conversion isn’t pricey. The entire swap, which cost owner Phillip Oliveira somewhere in the ballpark of $4,500 CAD ($3,514 USD), is not overwhelmingly expensive for something capable of producing 200 horsepower at the rear wheels.

Nor is it complicated. As Oliveira notes in his build thread, “To put things into perspective, you’re achieving turbo-Miata power for turbo-Miata money, while getting naturally-aspirated reliability and a smooth naturally-aspirated power curve. More so, you get a new engine in the process.”

Even doused in magenta paint, the compact motor looks right at home in the Miata’s bay.

Plus, the swap kit from EcotecMiata.com keeps swappers from banging their head off the garage wall all night. Oil pan, engine mounts, bellhousing, and flywheel adapter make it relatively simple. If something breaks, replacement engines can be found in any junkyard for $500.

Then there’s the way the LE5 sounds. With an M2 Performance header, there’s a throatiness and a real menace that the bee-in-a-can BE motors never had. The sound is the sound of torque — and improved low-end shove is enough to spin the Hankook RS4 tires.

With an estimated 150-160 horsepower at the wheels, it has enough “jam” to give a Mitsubishi Evo X a run for its money, and as there’s another ~40 horsepower attainable with the right tuning, it could one day show Speed Academy’s track-tuned S2000 its taillights. Combine that with a few modest suspension modifications, and the Ecotec-swapped NB Miata is a delight on the tight and twisty Toronto Motorsports Park.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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