Here I go again on a Miata tangent. I know, I know, it’s a hit or miss car. You either love the little scrappy convertible like a fat kid loves Cold Stone. Or, you utterly hate it. It’s possibly one of the things I like best about the MX-5 is the fact that no one can agree. One thing that cannot be denied is the fact that the NA is a small chassis, perfect for an engine swap.
The more I talk to people about the NA Miata the more I start to understand what type of person it is that truly loves this type of car. In stock form, the NA Miata is underwhelming in every sense of the word, even when it was new. But NA fans don’t like stock cars, at least most of the ones I have met anyway. One of the first ‘pros’ a die-hard MX-5 fan will say is how cheap parts are. Part of owning the little Japanese roadster is tinkering with it, pretending like it’s a real race car and you are the one that will pilot it to glory. It’s an epic hobby car, even if it isn’t perfect.
So let’s say that you do fall into the NA modding group. You may wonder what options you have for more power, more speed, and overall a more enjoyable experience. Sure, you can slap a V8 in there. But it doesn’t really fit, in the first-gen Miata that is. I mean, you can make it fit, but somehow it just doesn’t, well, fit. When it comes to later generations like the NC and ND I can see going with that configuration, but it somehow doesn’t work on the earlier cars.
So if you aren’t doing a V8, then your only option must be boost. While a turbo sounds fun it can turn into a headache in no time. The Miata is reliable in stock trim, but it doesn’t handle forced induction in a way that is inspiring. When you add in a little turbo lag you end up with a recipe for disaster if driven out of sorts. Sure, you could go with a supercharger, but that only solves your boost problems and not your reliability. So really there is only one answer here, and it comes exclusively from Rocketeer Ltd.
Rocketeer is a UK based company that does pretty much one thing, facilitating engine swaps for Miatas. But instead of your typical V8’s and silly inline 4 swaps, Rocketeer elected to use a V6. Now they didn’t use any old V6, instead, they used the AJ30 from Jaguar. The 3.0-liter V6 isn’t known to be a powerhouse, but it does come standard with one of the best sounding exhausts to ever hit the streets. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but in a Miata, it’s damn near perfect.
The Jag’s engine rounds out the NA Miatas semi-classic styling with an epic exhaust note and an engine bay that couldn’t be cleaner if it tried. Performance from the AJ was utterly underwhelming in the Jag, but in the svelte Miata, it becomes more than adequate. With anywhere from 220-240hp in stock trim the V6 easily doubles the horsepower of an NA Miata. And with rocketeers custom air box and exhaust headers, you are bound to be making a little more power than a stock AJ30. With 209ft-lbs the AJ powered Miata now has a decent amount of grunt to get it going, something that can’t be said for the stock inline 4.
So the performance is decent, and the exhaust note is glorious. Yet neither of these are the best part. It’s really just how the engine fits. The AJ30 sits perfectly inside the chassis like it found its perfect home. See, a new trend with the 27-year-old NA is to make them feel vintage because they essentially are now. That means fitting pleated leather into every crevasse of the interior. Wood frame Nardi steering wheels with a matching wooden shift knob. And of course, vintage style gauges. Lots of time and energy is spent making a modern 90’s car look like some type of retro roadster, and the AJ30 fits perfectly into that equation. It’s modern by every sense, being manufactured 10 years after the NA first hit the streets. But when paired with a set of ITB’s like Bruce’s car the AJ no longer looks modern, fitting perfectly to the mild retro impression that an NA puts off.
The kit isn’t cheap, costing an easy $13,000 without an engine. I’ll admit that is rather steep, especially compared to the Flyin Miata V8 swaps that are out there. Yet even with that price tag, the AJ30 swap seems more than worth it. If you are in the NA’s corner it’s because you believe in upgrading what the car is all about, so why not pick the engine that best compliments that? In this case, that is absolutely the AJ30.