Miata Diaries Part III: Closing out the Year/Plugs and Wires

The Miata is not going into storage for the winter, but its definitely going to see a lot less use once the snow hits the ground. Road salt is a killer and rear wheel drive is not fun on a slippery road. It’s not going to hibernate, but it’s going to be having long sleeps between sunny days.

We had a good half year together, though. I joined the Delaware Valley Miata Club and went on three club drives. The first was a short drive with my wife from Green Brook to West Orange in New Jersey. After that, I took another ride with my Dad from Columbia, NJ to Lake Mohawk. Then I closed out the club season with a drive with a friend from Oakland, NJ through Harriman State Park to... Oakland, NJ.

In with the in crowd.
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That first ride happened to coincide with my wedding anniversary. Now, I’m not an unromantic fellow, but when the actual day of our anniversary happens to be a Wednesday night, my wife and I don’t usually plan much until maybe the weekend. So... Miata club drive! Later on at that last drive I took with the club, I sat at lunch with the a fellow who was on that first trip. Recalling how my first drive was also my anniversary and my wife went along, he declared to the rest of the table that, “she’s a keeper.”

Pit stop with the Delaware Valley Miata Club

I took the Miata to a vintage car race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in September. Pictures from the race are available elsewhere. This was the longest drive I had taken with the car (about 2.5 hours), so I admit I was feeling a little bit nervous given that I’d only owned the car for a few months and the mechanical condition was still... uncertain. Then I saw Jaguar XJS coupe from the 80s merging onto the highway and thought to myself that I would probably be alright. Anyway the Miata looked fantastic parked in the paddock among the race teams.

The best part of the race for me was the paced laps during the lunch break. For a modest donation to the Millville Army Air Field Museum, attendees could drive their own cars behind the pace car for about 30 minutes. Nothing to lairy, but OH MY GOD I WAS DRIVING A MIATA ON A RACE TRACK. Ahem, I enjoyed the experience.

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A line of classic British sports cars waiting to hit the track at NJMP.

Eventually, fall fell and the top stayed up most of the time. The upside is that British Racing Green looks fantastic with fall colors. Still, I miss the sunshine a bit.

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Get the picture and then clean those leaves off.
Miata at dawn.
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I’ve already done some maintenance on the car, but there were a few more things I wanted to do before the end of the year. First I replaced the top latches. The one on the driver’s side was a little sticky so when a Miata veteran was selling a pair on the Craigslist for $20, I grabbed them, did the screw fix, sprayed on a nice coat of black paint, and put them on the car.

Shiny and new.
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Next up, spark plugs and wires. This was a project that I approached with some trepidation because I’ve had a history with this one. You see, when I was a teenager, I helped my dad, who’s not a professional mechanic but actually quite good at working on cars, replace the plugs and wires on his 1993 Toyota Camry. He showed me how to take out the old plugs and carefully insert the new ones deep inside the DOHC cylinder head as well as how to match up the wires in the distributor cap to keep the firing order right. Everything was great until we got to the last plug, which just wouldn’t come out. We twisted and pushed on the ratchet, but it wouldn’t budge. Then it did, and half of the plug came out with the wrench while the other half remained stuck deep down in the cylinder head. To this day, I have now idea how Dad got the bottom half of that spark plug out, but I’m sure it probably involved a lot of cursing.

But that’s not the end of my history with plugs and wires. You see, we also replaced the plugs and wires on the 1988 Toyota Camry that was my daily driver. (Mom and Dad loved Camries. They owned 5 between 1988 and 2003 before they moved on to luxury cars.) The work went off without a hitch, but a few weeks later one of the plug boots cracked, causing it to slowly work it’s way off of the spark plug. The result? Firing on three cylinders and panic from a novice driver who didn’t really know what was going on.

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With all this in mind, I borrowed a torque wrench from a friend, bought some Cobalt wires and NGK Iridium spark plugs from MossMiata.com and got to work. Well, first I accidentally bought an extra set of wires because it’s a 4-cylinder engine and they come in packages of two, so since 2+2=4 you must need two sets, right? Never mind that the coil-over-plug design of the NB2 engine only requires two wires and you could clearly see that if you bothered to walk to the garage and pop the hood. Herp-a-derp. I guess I’ve got an extra set to use in another 30,000 miles.

Anyway, the actual job went off without a hitch. The old plugs came out with no problems and the new ones slid into the head without a hint of crossed threads. The only unexpected situation that came up was that I had to remove the strut tower brace to reach one of the plugs. If anyone knows a better way, I’d love to hear it. Other than that, the engine’s running great. It actually sounds better to me. Is that possible? Or is that my imagination?

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Out with the old, in the with new.

Side note: Can we all stop to admire the cleverness of the engineers at Mazda? They had the foresight to design the car with this handy little shelf to hold your tools when you are working under the hood.

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Nice touch. Really nice touch. Bit of rust there on the windshield wiper arm, but it’s not like I drive this car in the rain ever anyway.

That’s all for 2016. I’ve got some plans for 2017, starting with a new exhaust from Flyin’ Miata to replace the stock exhaust, which has rotted through in at least one place. There will be more club drives too. And I’m sure I’ll bash my way through some more maintenance stuff. Antenna replacement? License plate relocation? Frankly, I’ll consider it a minor miracle if I make it to 2018 without breaking any of my fingers.

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