Everything You Need To Know About The Factory V-8 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Everything You Need To Know About The Factory V-8 Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a lightweight sports car that has been beloved by enthusiasts since its unveiling in 1989, and its sustained success over the years has solidified its position as the best-selling roadster of all time.
  • Bullet, an Australian firm, created a limited edition V-8 version of the Miata called the Bullet Roadster. This custom vehicle featured a 4.6-liter Rover V-8 engine, producing 300 horsepower and offering a unique twist on the iconic Miata.
  • The Bullet Roadster, with its powerful engine, street-legal status, and high-performance capabilities, became a sought-after collector's item that retained its value over time. Despite its relatively high price tag, it offered remarkable value compared to more expensive sports cars with similar performance.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata has long stood as an embodiment of Mazda's core belief, ‘Jinba Ittai,’ signifying the harmony of a horse and rider. Since its unveiling in 1989, this iconic model has epitomized the sheer pleasure of driving a lightweight sports car, garnering affection from individuals across continents and generations.

Debuting at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 and subsequently hitting the U.S. market in 1990 as the MX-5 (NA), this marvel was the epitome of a ‘lightweight sports car,’ weighing just a bit over 2,000 pounds. Its immediate resonance with automotive enthusiasts inspired other manufacturers to venture into the realm of open-top sports cars.

Fast-forward to today and the current-gen Mazda MX-5 Miata stands out as a top-tier affordable sports car. Yet, its inception in the late 1980s marked a pivotal shift for Mazda, which primarily offered family-centric vehicles, leaving a void beneath the rotary-powered RX7. This bold foray into crafting a mass-market sports car was a gamble, one that paid off handsomely with the Miata's sustained success over the past three decades and four generations.

The Miata's essence remains unaltered even after three extensive redesigns. It continues to be a compact, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive gem with an inline-four engine. These very attributes cemented its position as the best-selling roadster of all time. While the Mazda MX-5 Miata is synonymous with its inline-four engine, there exists a unique twist in its tale. A rare, factory-made V-8 version did come into the picture. However, this wasn't Mazda's doing, but the handiwork of a firm named Bullet from Queensland, Australia.

We've gathered data from Bullet Cars and have referenced information from trusted sites like Cars and Driver and MotorTrend to put this feature together on the V-8 Mazda Miata Bullet Roadster.

Related: Why Now Is The Perfect Time To Buy A Mazda MX-5 Miata

The V8-Powered Miata: A Dream Realized By Bullet

Historically, the Miata has been recognized for its four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine, transitioning from a 1.6-liter to the more advanced 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter versions. Despite its impressive agility, in terms of sheer power, the Miata trailed behind other roadsters of its era. Although Mazda ventured into turbocharging with the NB's 1.8-liter engine, producing the formidable Mazdaspeed version, this remained the pinnacle of factory-produced Miata power.

Enter a group of audacious Australian enthusiasts in 1996. They saw potential in the Miata beyond its original configuration and embarked on an ambitious project. Utilizing a series 4 RX7, they replaced the Miata's 1.6-liter engine with a 13B rotary engine, transforming it into a 300-horsepower beast without sacrificing its renowned handling.

This radical adaptation garnered significant attention, leading to the inception of Bullet. Taking innovation a step further, Bullet crafted a vehicle based on the NA Miata, but with a twist. They designed a robust custom chassis to accommodate the increased power, ultimately choosing the 4.6-liter Rover V-8 engine for its performance pedigree.

The true marvel of Bullet's endeavor was not just in creating a V-8 Miata, but in ensuring it was both street-legal and road-registered. The V-8-powered Bullet Roadster was a limited edition, with fewer than 1,000 units manufactured between 1999 and 2009. This placed it in a unique niche, distinct from any other Miata iteration.

Mazda Miata NA Vs. Bullet’s V8 Miata

Specification

NA Miata (Original)

Bullet V8 Roadster

Engine

1.6L 4-cylinder

4.6L Rover V8

Horsepower

116 horsepower

300 horsepower

Weight

Over 2,000 pounds

Increased (Exact number not provided)

Production Years

1990-present

1999 to 2009

Total Produced

Mass-production

Less than 1,000

(Specifications sourced from Bullet)

The project's inception can be traced back to a modified NA Miata housing a 13b rotary engine.This prototype demonstrated that the Miata chassis could handle increased power, setting the stage for the subsequent V8 evolution that truly galvanized the automotive world.

Related: 10 Things That Make The 1989-1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata NA Special

The Evolution Of Bullet's V8 Miata Roadster

The Bullet Roadster's journey started with its foundation on the pre-facelift, second-gen MX-5. Early models, influenced by public demand, were equipped with the iconic 4.6-liter Rover V8, famously associated with high-performing TVR models.

However, a looming Rover V-8 shortage between 2000 and 2002 prompted Bullet to adapt. They transitioned to the robust Toyota 1UZ-FE V8, known for being featured in models like the Toyota Soarer and Lexus LS400. Recognized for its dependability, Bullet explored adding a supercharger to this engine. This decision birthed the Bullet Roadster SS by early 2003. Equipped with a customized Sprintex M90 Supercharger, the SS showcased a formidable 429 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque.

Bullet didn't only focus on power. Compliance with Australian Design Rules (ADR) was vital. The Roadster's chassis received reinforcements, and significant upgrades like expansive Brembo brakes and a limited-slip differential were introduced, specifically for the SS variant. This attention to detail made it a factory model fit for the roads.

Aesthetically, the car received a wide-body transformation using fiberglass and carbon composite. While the signature Mazda headlights stayed, they were subtly overshadowed by the revamped clamshell front. Subsequent iterations saw components borrowed from the Mazda series IV RX-7, notably the engine, transmission, and brakes. The 13B turbo rotary engine from RX-7, was a significant upgrade from the Miata's original 1.8-liter engine.

The years rolled on, and 1999 witnessed the introduction of the Rover V-8. As time progressed, visual enhancements continued, presenting the ‘wide-body’ phase, marked by more extensive fiberglass use. Embracing the Toyota 4.0-liter V8 further, Bullet released both naturally aspirated and supercharged versions. Adhering to ADR, these cars, especially the SS version, demonstrated exceptional performance. Their nimble handling was complimented by rapid straight-line speeds, with the SS clocking 62 mph in just 4.7 seconds.

Related: Everything That's New On The 2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Bullet Roadster's V8 Legacy

The Bullet Roadster, inspired by the classic MX-5, emerged as an avant-garde twist in automotive history. Launched with a price bracket starting from $98,000 and stretching to $120,000 for its supercharged version, the Bullet SS, over time, has retained its value, showcasing its standing within collector circles. Today, the valuation of these vehicles ranges between $40,000 to $85,000, depending on the specifications.

Surprisingly, despite its hefty price tag, when matched against competitors like the BMW Z8 (a sports car with a 4.9-liter V8 engine producing 400 horsepower and priced significantly higher at $128,000), the Bullet SS presented remarkable value. Its performance, that was on par with cars in a higher price range, made it an enticing option for those craving speed without the supercar cost.

However, the journey of the V-8 Miata transformation, pioneered by Bullet, came to a standstill in 2009. Although the company shifted its focus, its contribution to automotive history, particularly within the Miata community, is significant. A tease of a supercar a decade ago left many intrigued, but the silence that followed has only added to the allure and mystique of the Bullet brand.

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