Update for Sale!…for now.


My business is going very strong here in the OBX. We are moving on some very large contracts and I need equipment soon. We can get the funding via the usual route and get a loan etc. I would rather use cash in this instance and that means a possible sacrifice….The Catfish.

Its up for sale at the moment. I have 3 years into the build but no time to actually drive or track the car. It really only has about 400 miles on it since I was able to street drive it. It still needs paint and body work, a bit of sorting etc. but is fully street legal here in North Carolina. I want $29,000.00 for the Catfish. That is slightly less that the some of the parts and the powder coating or other services I used to create it so I am firm on the price. The entire build and reference to most of the parts can be found here on my blog, but I am open to questions if you have any.

I used the best parts and methods I could find to create this car. I had Bauer add many extras when I ordered as well. It is a fantastic track day car or very unique street car. There is a ton of information here and at the Bauer Limited website on the original design work and layout as well as other builds and owners. Keep in mind I may just suddenly pull this sale if I ever come to my senses. If you want to see it I can try and set something up for you. Just message email me (mj_duke@yahoo.com) or message me here on wordpress. Of course I will be happy to send pictures etc. Keep in mind I am in the Outer Banks of North Carolina if you are thinking of taking a look.



Corrective Measures

Little things have been bothering me regarding the “friendliness” and comfort of the Catfish. Now I know its pretty much an oversized go kart and I accept that. What I want is just a few little things to make driving it a little easier and even a bit quicker. Four items were on my list. Items that were highlighted during the epic journey home in the blowing storm two weeks ago.

  1. There is no dead pedal. The My foot always ends up extended far past the clutch pedal and sometimes gets hung up if I bring it back too quickly. I need a foot rest.
  2. The “OEM” Catfish headlights are not really as bright as I would like and the beams are not wide enough when used in rural pitch black country roads. Much more light is needed.
  3. The ride….My fault really. I have been playing race car driver ever since the Catfish was road legal and I have never made any changes to the adjustable V-MAXX shocks from Flyin Miata.
  4. I need to find a solution to keep the ITB’s from sucking in water or debris. I currently have some very nice screens in the bottoms of the air horns, but much better filtering is needed.

Lets start with the dead pedal.


I had the dead pedal that came with the set I was using on the car. Still wrapped in plastic and looking sad and unused. I also had some 1/8 aluminum bar stock which, if bent correctly, would be a great pedal bracket. The first thing to sort out was exactly where I wanted my left foot to rest when not using the clutch and to also have my foot in a position to quickly engage the clutch when needed. I started by sitting in the seat until I had my foot in a comfortable position that would do what I needed. I removed the quick release steering wheel. This allowed me to bend forward just enough to draw a pencil line on the drivers side aluminum wall to mark the angle and depth of where I wanted the dead pedal to be installed.

I realized that there would be some tight bends in the aluminum in order to construct a brace that would be attached to the back of the firewall and bend to the angle I need for my foot to rest. I have tried very tight bends on standard aluminum bar stock before and it always ended with cracking or breaking. Time to try annealing, carefully. I marked my bends on the stock and moved to the vice. I had done a bit of reading about the process of heating and bending the aluminum and was not sure which way this would go. Not enough heat and the bar cracks, too much and it flakes and melts. I fired up my propane torch and started to carefully heat the bar. I kept my hand on the top of the bar and pulled slightly forward toward me so I could feel the aluminum get softer and the bend start. I would have to do this three times. After 30 or 40 seconds the bar started to give. The bend at the vice was perfect. I continued to the other  two bends and was rewarded with the same results.


Next I went to work fitting the pedal to the bracket for a test fit in the car. I knew there would be some adjustment to the bends and I would have to set the pedal centered on the bottom of my foot. This took a bit of acrobatics. Seeing there was no doors after I set the pedal in position I would have to invert myself into the driver foot well and drill the holes to secure the pedal to the firewall.



I purposely drilled the two top attachment points offset on the bar to keep the bracket from having any left/right movement. The bottom of the bracket is not drilled and bolted, but rather bent backward and riding tightly on the angled carpet on the firewall. This worked very well and I was surprised that such a light piece of stock would be so stiff. After a few adjustment bends and foot tests I declared the job done.

I see the light!:


So I spent so time really thinking about what I need to see better at night and at a distance. I would need driving lights that would provide excellent lighting but be compact at the same time. I wanted round lights as well as I believe they look a bit more traditional and racy. Back the internet for more hours of reading blogs and reviews and doing searches to find lights of good balance that would not break the bank at the same time.

What I eventually found was a set of Westin (09-0105) 4″ round driving lights. They are perfect for what I needed. They fit the openings on each side of the front of the Catfish just right. The kit comes with a complete wire harness and relay so it only took an hour or so to wire up.  These are bright! The second I turned them on the concern with blinding other drivers began. I spent an hour playing with aiming the beams and trying to get the light extended far out but at the same time not be annoying. Still working on it now and have not yet done a road test.


I wired these lights to turn on via my new (Well old, they have been sitting around for two years) spun aluminum toggle switches. I have been waiting a long time to add these. They look classic and functional and give the cockpit a bit of needed decor.


So I figured I am wiring lights I might as well go one step further. Number lights, ah-la old race car style. I had two chrome license plate lights laying around for just this purpose. They look vintage and and at the same time the are LED so the draw is very low. I wired them up to the switch next to my new driving lights. I don’t have roundels at the moment but when I do I am all set.


Teeth rattling ride remedy:

Hardly worth mentioning but I’ll add it anyway. The ride was killing me. I have been driving around with my shocks set at almost the highest dampening setting since its been road legal. I don’t know why. I knew they are adjustable. Maybe I like to be punished. Anyway, after 5 clicks to the left on each of the adjusters at all four corners I can now drive around and feel I am not going to break something or myself. I am actually very happy with the overall ride and surprised such a stiff car can handle so well and be livable.

Breathe deep, but without the gathering gloom:

Ok, since day one I have had a visual and logistical issue with my ITB’s. To look cool they should be run open and in full view, they also breathe really well that way. The doen side is that fact that they will such in literally everything that enters the engine bay; sand, paper, brush, lawn clippings, you name it. My first solution was to run stainless screens at the bottoms for the air horns. That worked very well for all of the objects about the size of a grain of sand or larger, but i was disturbed to find that sand or other things sitting in the horns from time to time. This would not stop rain water at all. This is not good and the filtering needed to be much better.


Then I found Outerwears pre-filters. I did some reading and its exactly what the ITB’s needed. Water repellent and designed to keep out particles of dirt, sand, and street debris as small as .005in. The price for my set-up was excellent. They work great and are easy to clean. Highly recommended and well made. They dont take away from the beauty of the ITB’s either.

Welp, that’s it for now. Issues corrected and more challenges ahead. See you next time.



Unwanted Wet Test


Over the past few weeks I have been working on small items and tidying up the Catfish. I was also looking to start going out and meeting up with other car people that enjoyed not only hanging out, but liked building and modifying their rides. I found a great private group, OBXTunerz Car Club on Facebook and decided to join. They have a meet up almost every Saturday and it was only about 15 miles from the house so I decided to drop in. What follows was an interesting evening and the first real heavy rain test of the Catfish.

So on Saturday at around 5:00 I started doing the routine check of the Catfish, lugs, oil, coolant etc. Being a new build with not many road miles I wanted to make sure things were going to go smoothly. I did a quick check of the weather radar, very important down here, and discovered a few storms rolling in. I was not really concerned because it appeared the first would hit in Mann’s Harbor after I left and only last about 20 minutes and the next would not arrive until around 10:00 pm, but I would be home by then. Skies were sunny and clear the North, the way I was headed, so off I went.

The temperature was perfect for the drive up to Kill Devil Hills. Nice warm wind, sunny and the ITB’s burbling away. When I arrived at the meet there was already a really nice black Dodge with an interesting look. As I backed into a space just down from it Two people emerged, Ratty and Sharky. We immediately began engaging in some car related dialog and I was put at ease. Being new down here its difficult sometimes when meeting new people. I had the same feeling in Connecticut the first few times but by the time I left, almost a year ago, I had some life long friends. More people began to show up, all with some very nice cars of all different types. I was really enjoying myself and wanted to stay for a long while when too the south I saw the dark ominous clouds and rain slowly working northward. This was unexpected as I believed the weather would have stayed to the south and missed me. I kept chatting and explaining what the Catfish was and how I built it, but had one eye pointed at the sky. A friend of mine, Chris, who I know through our business, Suburban Electric, showed up just as the first small droplets of rain touched down. It was very light, almost unnoticeable. I started to play the mental odds and decided to hold out, I mean “how bad could it be?”. After a few more minutes it was pointed out to me that the local Circle K just down the street had an awning I could hide the Catfish under if needed. I was also offered many other places to hide by the members of the group, good people. As the drops grew in size the first of the lightning was seen off to the south, time to get out here.

The rain increased dramatically as I pulled out and headed just down the street to the store. I was getting concerned. Did I do a good job weather proofing my wiring? How would the car handle in the wet? What if I suck a down pour into the ITBs? Oh and right, no wipers lol. I made it under the awing next to the store in under a few minutes just in time for the wind and blowing heavy rain.  This was a dilemma. I could not go south as the storm covered the entire area I would need to cross to go home and If I stayed here I would be stuck for at least a couple hours. Chris met me near where I was parked and offered me his car port at his house just a couple miles north. We waited for a break and then started tearing through the wet roads to his house. Surprisingly it got dryer the closer we got to our destination. We pulled in and waited, shortly after it arrived. The storm lasted for about an hour before another big break arrived and I had another decision to make. I figured I had an hour before the next storm hit Mann’s Harbor. I can make the drive in 25 minutes if the traffic is light and the weather holds out, but I had a new wrinkle to contend with, headlights. I had headlights, I have just never used them and have never driven the Catfish at night. I was not sure if they would even be pointed in the right direction, lol.

At this point I am already wet, so is the car. “I’m going for it” I fired her up and headed back though the twisty roads of Collington Harbor. The roads are good fun but large lakes had appeared in many spots forcing me to zig and zag all over the road sometimes.  The good thing was the headlights did work and I was able to see the huge puddles before playing U-boat commander. The rain had stopped, but the sky was lit up with lightening. Normally I would not give it a second thought when in my F350, but in an open car it was really frightening and fun at the same time! Half way home the rain started again. I could see through the windshield glass thanks to Chris hitting it with a little RainX before I left. However, rain was really hitting me hard and that’s when I remembered something. Back in the early 2000’s I had a Cobra kit I ran at a few open track events at Watkins Glen. It rained there too. My instructor had said to keep my speed up and most of the water would go around the cockpit. I decided to give it a try. I was traveling at about 40 mph in a 50 mph zone. Most of the other cars were keeping this speed as well so I would have to be careful. After a quick down shift I was above 50, where I cannot say, lol. The rain stopped pouring in as a got faster and I was making better time. As luck would have it the rain let up again and within 5 miles of my house the roads started to dry up. The light show continued however and it was amazing to watch from the car. I pulled into the garage and just sat there for a moment. My wife, who was really worried the whole time came down to the garage and we had a good laugh about the whole experience. The Catfish ran great and I might have a lot of clean up to do, but in the end I am happy she can handle a little water.

So, I met some good people and I get to hang with them again, the car passed a real world test and I had a lot of fun even if I was scared most of the time, lol. All’s well that ends well.


Cooler runnings

Its hot lately. Really hot. We are seeing consistent 90+ degree days here in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the humidity makes it feel like living in a steam room. I have been taking many spirited drives with the Catfish even on very hot days. The temperature has remained steady for thee most part, around 190 degrees. I have seen it climb to 200 or so on very hot days but the fans cool things back down in short order. I have been looking for a way to make sure that, when I finally get this thing to a track down here, things will remain that way. My next step was to integrate an oil cooler. The OEM cooler had been discarded long ago and even though the design worked for street use I am not sure of its effectiveness for long periods of thrashing.

I started designing the system I would like to build after seeing what other 1.8NB builders had used and what was available as a kit through vendors like Flyin Miata. I knew I wanted a a low profile 10 or 13 row cooler. I ended up buying a Mishimoto 10 row that would be able to fit somewhere up in the nose of the Catfish and provide excellent cooling for the oil.

Problem number one was the lower part of the front end cool air opening was thick. Mounting the cooler to the aluminum floor would cover almost half the cooling surface. I also did not want to raise the oil cooler as that would directly obstruct air flow to the radiator. Time to design a scoop. I started by measuring the actual cooling area of the cooler and wanted to funnel air to that part only. Any wider and the flowing air would make its way around the outside and be wasted. After cutting the opening and doing a test fit I realized I would need to build a scoop that was not just to funnel the air but to brace the lower part of the front I had just taken a chuck out of as well. It took a lot of measuring and two cardboard templates but after a while I had an under mount scoop that also supported the fiberglass.

blog267I was out of solid sheet aluminum but had some really nice perforated .063 sheet from my inner fender stone guards left over. Its nice and strong but easy to work with so I decided to use it. I was not sure what effect the holes would have if any, but I was pressed for time and it looked pretty cool as well. I secured the cooler in place with some stainless bolts to the floor pan and finished up the rivets. There was still some small air tabs that would need to be made to help direct the air better, but for the most part the cooler was installed. On to the engine plumbing.

After some more reading I was pretty sure I wanted to use a Mocal Thermostatic Sandwich Plate to fit under the filter and feed the cooler hoses. The plate allows for the engine temperature to rise to 180 degrees before opening to allow oil cooling. It also comes plumbed with large banjo fittings designed to connect to -10AN fittings and hose line. I was predicting at least another 1.5-2 quarts of extra oil capacity with the cooler and lines with large hoses. I had already ordered black braided nylon  -10AN hose for another project and would not need more than 6 or so feet to connect everything up so I decided that was the style of hose I would use. Everything fit nice but tight. There is no longer any room on the intake side of the engine and I needed to remove the alternator and a few other items just to get to the oil filter area.


I had some left over red and blue hose ends for the sandwich plate to connect too, but for the very visible cooler I ordered some new titanium 90 degree connectors. I  installed them with the hoses running to each side of the front in a nod to the old racing Cobras, looks great.


There is still plenty to do and I will also need to test for leaks. I am actually working on a few other things as well, more on that later. For now I hope you enjoyed this update. See you next time.

Someone call the C.O.P’s

As I dwelled deeper into making the ole Mazda plant run better I started taking a look at what I didn’t have and what might be nice to have for the future. With the ITB’s and BP5A intake cam she could breathe and after the wonderful initial tuning done by PFTuning the engine was running and fueling perfectly. My next huddle before making any more performance updates was the spark and coil situation. OEM Mazda coils are very good, but prone to failure. The system was never designed to handle racing performance duties and just give me the spark I wanted.

I had been looking for a system to eliminate the plug wires that would give a much better spark, maybe even multiple sparks to smooth the ignition a bit. A COPs (Coil-On-Plug) system is what I needed. Having the coil directly on the plug would increase the reliability and give a much better burn. There were two routes to go with this system. Follow the OEM configuration of “Wasted Spark” or go to a “Sequential” set-up that would be slightly more efficient but require modifications to the harness, which I decided I wanted to avoid for the time being. I placed a call to Fab9 Tuning for advice and then ordered their Plug-N-Play COP kit for my 99 engine.

The kit is very well made. The fact that it was Plug-N-Play was even better and sped up installation big time. I took me about 25 minutes to remove the old coils and wires and switch out the spark plugs. Within another 15 minutes I had the kit plugged in, coils on the plugs, and the ignition module mounted to the firewall.


The best part about adding this kit was the removal of the OEM coils, coil bracket and wires. I now have a lot of room behind the valve cover to reach things and make adjustments.

When the Denso pencil coils are installed they give a satisfying “Click” when they grab onto the plug. The combination of the coils and the harness give a clean, race-craft look to the top of the engine. I bet I even shed a few ounces in the process, weight loss is always good. I gave the engine a quick test fire to make sure everything went well before cleaning up and tidying the wires. The idle was noticeably smoother as predicted and the “burble” a bit more pronounced. Due to rain I would not be able to do a test run unfortunately. Fun time would have to wait.


It’s the little things…..

In addition to the COP’s I have been doing my best to get a lot of the little items off my list so the Catfish can be street driven. Over the past week two of those things finally got done. The first was the horn. I had a MOMO steering wheel installed and had the parts to make it work but had never had the time to trace the wiring and hook it up. This turned out to be a very easy thing to do when I dug into it. In my usually cloudy wisdom I had some how manages to leave the OEM horn circuit on my modified harness 100% intact. Wiring took about 15 minutes. About two weeks before I had contacted Revlimiter.net to make me a custom Catfish logo horn button. Their work is beautiful and gave the interior a really nice factory build look. I am contemplating having then make me a few other items including gauge faces. I also managed to find an old stainless roll bar ring and grommet laying around in an old box of parts. It turned into a very nice shift lever trim after a bit of rework.


I also managed to trailer the Catfish down to Bayside Auto Body to have a nice 4-wheel computer alignment done.  More on that later…


Wait, What?…….Really?


So a couple weeks ago I decided to get serious about getting the car on the road. As seen in my last blog post I was working on the alignment and getting the engine management straightened out.  I had one really big issue to address however regarding making the Catfish legal, the custom car registration for North Carolina. I had done some research online but could not find a solid explanation of the process or the reference to the places I would need to go for the special inspections or even the specific laws regarding windshields or exhaust etc.

It just so happens that on Sunday while driving through the town of Manteo I spotted the familiar front end of a Cobra replica at a small car show. I quickly got into a conversation with the owner who told me he had purchased the car already registered in NC but knew a guy at the show who knew exactly who to call regarding the process. His name is Rich, a very friendly guy and a wealth of knowledge. Within minutes I had the direct phone number of an officer at the NC DMV License & Theft Bureau. I was extremely grateful. On Monday I made the call just to get some information to see if I was on the right track to getting registered and titled. I explained I had receipts and paperwork for the frame and a barely readable number stamping on the engine that was left unpainted. “I’ll be over tomorrow morning”  the officer replied while I was still yammering about the details of my build. This concerned me as I did not expect them to come to me and that I was not 100% sure about any of this yet. I know that not having the correct paperwork can turn into a nightmare that so many before me have had to endure. The scramble was on collecting everything and making it nice and neat for inspection.

8:30 a.m. rolled around faster than usual. I sat in the garage waiting for the officer to show up and going through the list of what I thought I should have ready so I can get the car titled. He was there right at 9:00. Chad turned out to be a very nice guy, but all business. “I need the MCO, engine number and the frame vin markings locations” he said “Um, …. Here is the MCO” which I handed to him. I pulled the hood and pointed to the bare spot on the top of the engine where the number was barely readable. “I can’t read the engine number” he said. The engine number was worn away and the lighting was horrible on top of that. “Wait, I have pictures from the engine build with the number magnified and easy to read”. This took about 10 minutes of going through hundreds of pictures over the last two years until Eureka! I found it. He recorded the number and moved on to the frame and body. ‘There are no stamped numbers on either” I said. ‘Well that’s a problem” Chad replied. “You have a vin on the MCO but cannot use it if there is nothing on either the frame or body”. Oh man, this is it I thought. I would have to go through a very long title process and it will take months. “Hey, wait, I have a VIN plate from Bauer! Still in the box” I remembered. “Will that work?”. “Yes, but I need to see you physically attach it” he replied. Out came the drill and stainless rivets. It was attached to the dash in a couple minutes. Chad left to go out to his car and to fill out some paperwork. He returned after what seemed like an eternity. He started running through the list if safety items, lights, windshield, reflectors etc. I was getting concerned that I was not going to get titled due to the fact I was lacking a few crucial things.


“Here you go, you are all set.” Chad handed me the completed report. “The title information will go to Raleigh today”. “Wait, What,…. Really?” I was very relieved. He reminded me that even though the Catfish was now able to be registered it was still not 100%v  road legal and could not be driven until I fixed two items. I needed a proper windshield and working wipers and I would also need DOT approved front and rear reflectors. I am working on both items now and sorting out the approach I wish to take on the windshield.

Peter Florance and PFTuning.com


While figuring out my title issues I was also trying to find someone who could give the Megasquirt a solid tune and give me an engine that would sound and drive the way it should. Peter Florance of PFTuning was that guy. I started my search  by location which soon lead to a few different car forums. There were a few mentions of “PFTuning” in the Virginia Beach area which I decided to research more at first because it was in reach at only a two hour drive from me. I was impressed with what I read. The word “Guru” came up more than once in reference to Peter so I decided to contact him. We passed information back and forth via email and text and finally set up a dyno session on the last Sunday of April. The night before I ran around checking everything, oil, coolant, tire pressure and getting together any tools to tune ITB’s or the like. I had the car out doing a few “test” runs on the local rural roads the day before also to make sure that it was at least able to start and run. Everything looked good, until “Wait, What, …Really?”


As I looked under the Catfish I saw the unmistakable thick red drippings of Redline Shockproof gear lube. The clock was ticking and I needed to fix this fast, but its not as simple as pulling the driveshaft and replacing the seal. There was the matter of preload on the bearings and finding the cause for the failure. Emergency surgery started in earnest.


First problem, new seal and where to get one. I am a bit of a worrier and over the years I have been known to buy at least one extra of anything I think might fail or get worn quickly. I was not sure of the odds of me having purchased an additional pinion seal but dug down into my big box of Miata parts. There it was, a new OEM Mazda part still in the wrapper. I began the tear down and removal of the belly pan and driveshaft. There was red oil everywhere which took a bit of time to clean up. I had the flange and seal out and on the bench within a few minutes.

It didn’t take long to see what had happened. It was my fault for the leak and it was something I should have caught during assembly. I like my parts to be clean and painted. I had decided the flange needed a nice black paint job to match the differential housing back when I was rebuilding it. I had taped of the machined end of the flange where the seal rides when I painted it, but had not check it afterwards. The paint had made its way under part of the tape and created a ridge down the machined area at the top. When I removed the tape and was assembling the pinion I assumed all had gone well, removed the tape and placed the flange onto the pinion and through the seal. The seal now had a very tiny bump going round and round and letting oil out at a slow rate, but enough to make a big mess. I got to work carefully cleaning the flange and getting ready to reinstall the pinion seal. One thing left to do was the preload after everything was back together. This is a long careful process and it cannot be rushed. There are many methods I have read about but I decided to use the same one I used when I initially assembled the differential. I pulled the parking brake and carefully torqued down on the flange nut until I could no longer feel and movement between the flange and the pinion bearing. Now here’s the tricky part. What I am looking for is rotational torque on the rear as its spinning. I have heard that racers go loose at about 6in/lbs and OEM road cars use about 12 in/lbs, I like 10in/lbs. I release the parking brake and turn the flange nut with a torque wrench which in turn will turn the differential. I set the torque wrench to 10 in/lbs. if the differential moves without first reaching the torque I reset the parking brake and turn the nut a bit tighter by a 1/4 to 1/2 turn on the nut and try again. This process takes about 6-7 times to get a click on the wrench and a perfect preload. Its very important to get it right and not rush it as it will directly effect the life of your pinion bearings.

When I was done I buttoned up the under tray and scrambled to get the Catfish loaded on the trailer for it big date the next day!

Off to see the Wizard…….

Expectation is a crazy thing. I had never spoken to Peter at PFTuning directly. I was expecting a twenty something who might be a bit difficult to deal with or on older “wrencher” that knew his stuff but it was his secret and you would have to pay more to find out. Peter is neither of those two. I met him at the front of a large set of buildings in an industrial park. We would be using the dyno facilities at Abacus Racing. The first thing that struck me about Peter was he is very pleasant to talk to. He put me at ease making it comfortable  to ask my long line of obvious or amateur questions about the tune. He is a wealth of knowledge and was doing his best to explain each step of the tune and how it would affect the engine. I did my best to listen but I am sure I lost 90% of what he explained through out the day. None the less, as I sat and listen to the car I could hear how each change made it sound better and better. Each dyno run got progressively louder and the sound…..oh my, the sound became intoxicating. I videoed every run. Occasionally the car shot a nice flame out the exhaust ah-la race track tuned race car.  My favorite. As we talked it became clear that this was just the first of a few if not many dyno runs in the future with PFTuning. Peter explained were more power might be gained and I am actively looking at those changes. More on that at another time.

Dyno run:

Much more to come as the build continues….

It’s about time, Geesh.

Life, I tell ya. Seems to get in the way of the things we really would rather be doing. That being said, the Catfish is home in North Carolina …. finally! Its been a very long 6 months. The move its self ran into many issues and after that there was the matter of a hurricane which took its toll. Starting a new business and just generally being to tired keep me from really diving back in and driving back up to Connecticut to collect the car. There was also the problem of not wanting to leave 75 degree days to go back to the frozen north if even for just a day or two. I told myself that no matter what I needed to get the Catfish before May as the weather would be getting very nice and everything from track days at VIR and autocross events would be getting into full swing. It so happened that my parents would be down in the Outer Banks at exactly the time I wanted to head north with the trailer. I asked them to watch the kids and a few days later my wife and I drove the 11 hours back up to CT. This time my trailer was being hauled by my “New to Me” 2006 F350 dually. What a difference from the last truck. I was never into diesels before but I am sold now. Its like I was not even pulling a trailer.

Connecticut winter was as cold and gray as I remembered when we crossed the state line. The drive had been a bit of a mess. It rained continually since Delaware and was still raining when we reached Berlin. Traffic was a bit more than I expected too. I was happy though as we pulled into Lombardo Motorcars, the place where Catfish #15 had been sleeping all these months. It was good to see my friend Peter again and could not wait to catch up and maybe head out for a few laughs, but first I was dying to see my car.


She was already rolled out and waiting by the garage door when I went in. “She fired right up” Pete said as I looked it over. I guess the Alien Motion battery was worth every penny I thought. We opened up the door and walked out into the rain and cold. I decided it might be a good idea to get the car loaded at the moment as fatigue had not yet set in from the drive. I climbed into the seat and turned on the master cut-off and turned the key to On. I listened for the fuel pump to stop and fired her up. Took a bit of throttle and there was a definitely more tuning that needed to happen, but I had a smile ear to ear. We had her loaded within a half hour and decided it would be a great idea to go out and have some dinner and drinks. I can’t thank Lombardo Motorcars enough for taking care of the Catfish.

It took another 11 hours to get home a couple days later. This time however it was nothing but light traffic, clear skies and sunshine.  After unloading the car in its new home I started formulating a plan. I wanted to make sure that by May I accomplished two things. The first was to get the ITB’s and the Megasquirt tuned properly. I had already balanced the throttles themselves but I noticed the idle was low now and was not as smooth as I wanted either. The second thing was to start getting the alignment worked out. I had a “Good enough” alignment already done with strings, but I needed to get it tighter for some street testing before sending it off to be done on a machine.

I decided the later would be easier on me to start with. I had purchased a Longacre Racing camber/caster gauge and toe plates which came back with me from CT. I figured if I could get the base alignment straight again using the string method then I could attempt to dial in some suggested specs obtained from Cord Bauer and a few others that were currently Autocrossing their cars. The first thing to do was get the ride height worked out. I started by pulling the rear sway bar as I know its not needed and Cord and others have removed theirs. This also it makes it easier to get to the coils and the alignment cams in the back.

“An aggressive Miata street setup would be -2.7 front, -2.3 rear, but the Catfish doesn’t seem to need as much negative camber.  We also don’t run rear sway bars at all, and have at least 4″ of ground clearance.  The goal is to have the bottoms of the lower rear a-arm about horizontal.  If you start there and then corner weight, the rear may come down a bit or the front will be raised.  Usually Miatas like the front to be lower than the rear by about 1/4″, but our cars are front-heavy so I think corner balancing is more important.”   -Cord

Heading Cords words I set out to get at least close as I could to his suggestions in my garage. Again, this attempt is only to get it “Close”.  I checked the floor for level and it appears dead center bubble at all four tires. This does not mean its 100% but we are going with what we have for now. I marked two points on the lower control arm mounts, left and right, on the frame with a grease pencil. These would be used later as  my reference points to measure the ride height.  My current height was crazy low, around 3 inches and the lower rear  arms were canted up. Originally I was going for looks I think and this set-up was just plain not going to work. I knew corner balancing was not going to happen this round so I set off adjusting the springs for height. At one point I had to start again after realizing I did not add 200lbs to the drivers seat to compensate for my…… mass, lol. After many attempts I was able to get the lower arms very close to level but needed to let them tilt up just a touch to arrive at a final ride height of 4.5 inches measured at the mounts. I did a few roll forwards and backs and jumped up and down in the cockpit on both sides every time I made a change. This made the height tuning a bit frustrating but in the end netted the absolute flat height I wanted. On to the front.


The front was much more difficult. In order to adjust the coil it required removing the front tires, making the adjustment, putting the tires back on, lowering the car, rolling the car and then getting  the suspension to move. I did this about 6 or 7 times until I reached the magic 4.25 inches of clearance. at the lower front arm mounts. 1/4 inch lower than the rear. Now the next thing is the camber/caster settings. I realized that changing the ride height pretty much destroyed all my previous settings especially the toe. I quick;y set up a set of strings to see if the side to side alignment of the tires was same, which it was. Next I checked the negative camber which was -1.0 rear and 1.5 front, good enough. The toes was a mess. I had set it to 1/8 toe out front originally and it was now 1/2 inch in on the front. The rear was only off a bit at 3/8 inch in. I got out my trusty toe plates and set the rear to 1/8 inch toe in, rolling and settling in between of course. The front took a while longer but much easier to do. Thee final setting was 1/8 toe out, good enough to test drive and tune.


I will add another post for my trials and tribulations with tuning shortly. I also learned that my Miata dash died at some point during the winter. It appears it has a short and causes the tach and other gauges to go crazy. Lucky me I had a back up.

See you next time.

Hey! Where ya been?

Fair question. Back in July I had been making plans for a winter move to the coast of North Carolina and by the end of August it was actually happening. It was a quick move and there were many complex and interesting problems as I needed to get my kids enrolled in a new school before it started and pack up our entire lives in only 2-3 weeks. To make matters even more difficult the move happened during Tropical Storm Hermine. 75 mile an hour winds and sideways rain, no power and darkness took its toll on the whole family.


The Catfish was 80% done and I was closing in on the really fun parts of the build. It runs and it drives, the steering and brakes work as well, but none of it has been adjusted. Seats and harnesses were in too. I had done some additional cooling work and now had a puke tank and expansion tank as well as an oil breather. A new NACA duct and two new aluminum vents had been installed in the hood for both looks and much needed engine compartment venting. The engine idled well and was fairly smooth, far from tuned but able to take a nice rough and loud ride.


I purchased a new enclosed car trailer which I was using for the move first, but would be used as the vessel for my Catfish later when I returned to Connecticut. To this day I have not yet returned. In the mean time my project needed a temporary home. My Friend Peter of Lombardo Motorcars, Inc. came through for me in a big way. He gave the Catfish a great home next to the other amazing cars in his inventory, Italian vintage classics, modern racers and ultra rare cars. I love going to his shop, you never know what you will find there. I highly recommend stopping by if you ever find yourself in Berlin, CT. I am hoping to retrieve the Catfish and bring it to NC in the next few months or as soon as we get completely settled and I purchase a new tow vehicle.


I still have a ton of tuning and adjustments to make and the car needs paint and a few missing items. I will be posting the work and updates hopefully in the next few months. I appreciate all of the comments and questions. I miss the work so I hope it does not take too long to get back to it!

Quest for Fire

I had been slowly sorting out the wiring and I had reached a point where I had a pretty good stripped down harness constructed from the remains of the OEM unit. Many calls to DIYAutotune, the place where I purchased my  MegaSquirtPNP G2 MM9900 engine management and Innovative LC-2 wideband O2, and hours of web searches now had me at the point where I could attempt a first fire up. I would still need to balance the throttles and calibrate the sensors first however.


Balancing the throttles is a two part process. I needed to first set the opening of the throttle to at least get the air flow close to identical at idle and while the butterflies were opening. I came across a good .pdf file that really helped out in getting the basic settings built into the throttles before I attempted a start (Toyota ITB EFI) . I would need to balance them later at idle with a syncometer to make sure all the throttles pulled the same air.

The next step was to make sure I set the calibration for both the engine sensors and the Innovative wideband O2. The O2 was very straight forward, leave the O2 out of the pipe, disconnect it from the included harness, keyed power on, wait for red light to appear on the Innovative box, key off, connect the O2, key on, wait for solid green light then you are set to install the O2. You need to be careful with the O2 as it gets very hot during the calibration, just a warning. As for the MegaSquirtPNP, that was a little more complicated as the install and the calibration takes a bit of research. I was planning on using ITB Mode which comes with the MegaSquirtPNP and makes life a bit easier when starting out. I would still need future tuning but its a great place to start. Basically ITB mode blends Speed Density and Alpha-N to make driving ITB powered cars smoother. Its dependent on a few things but most importantly it needs a good working and properly wired TPS (Thottle Position Sensor), more on that in a bit.


Here was my initial set up and the results after a full day of messing around in TunerStudio. I calibrated my TPS, but noticed the range for the ADC count was short and seems to be very high in numbers. I calibrated the IAT (Intake Air Temperature, GM), which I also purchased from DIY. Then the Coolant temp sensor and a few others. I found this document helpful in getting started (Gant_Semester_Project). This is actually a very simplified explanation of what I did for the set-up. I spent many hours with a meter checking wires and resistance in preparation for the start-up and I believe in having everything worked out before an issue can occur. Even with this approach a gremlin slipped in.

I pushed the Catfish into the driveway and took out my fire extinguisher, just in case the first fire up was my last. Safety first. I turned the key to on and made sure that all of the appropriate lights on the Megasquirt and the Innovative O2 box lit up and looked at the gauge ion the fuel rail to make sure the fuel pump was primed. I stopped at this point to go over the fuel lines from from to back and looked for a leak or even the smell of raw fuel. So far so good. I moved back to the key and got ready to see what would happen. Fire on the first turn! It actually kind of scared me a bit. After a few revolutions it died so I tried again. This time the same issue presented itself so I manually opened the  throttles a bit and tried again. This time I was able to get a mildly rough idle but the engine still wanted to die. I noticed the coolant temperature climbing as I made adjustments in Tuner Studio and fiddled with the throttles. About the time I was able to balance out the air going into the throttles with a syncometer coolant temp hit 200 degrees. Things seems to settle out and sounded much smoother. The idle settled down to around 1100 rpm’s and everything seemed ok on the outside, I looked back at Tuner Studio and found the AFM was way out of wack and the engine was running very lean. I decided to give it some throttle and wanted to see if it would add more fuel and if the engine would rev evenly. This is where I discovered the issue with the TPS. The throttle response was erratic and I noticed that even though my O2 AFM gauge read lean the exhaust looked very rich, I also smelled fuel in the exhaust, not good. I checked the oil for fuel after shutting down and decided it might be smart to change it just in case, which I did the following morning.  After a few emails back and forth with DIY I pulled the TPS and rechecked the wires from the stock wiring harness and the resistance of the pins on the Toyota TPS. For anyone looking for the test here it is:


The resistance between the VREF (IDL) and ground pins will remain constant.
The resistance between the ground and signal pins will be low with the throttle closed and high with the throttle wide open.
The resistance between the VREF and signal pins will be high with the throttle closed and low with the throttle wide open.

What I found was my issues were two fold. First during my initial wiring of the Miata OEM harness to the Toyota TPS I had switched the VTA and VREF wires, that was easy to remedy. The second issue was that the Toyota TPS (89452-22080), that came with my used throttles, was bad. The VTA signal would just erratically or sometimes show nothing at all. I went out and purchased a new TPS and prepared for my next attempt the following day. Before doing so I re-calibrated the O2 and reset the tune back to the base tune in Tuner Studio. I always like to reset at the base and start again.


This time was much different. The engine fired quickly again and with a very little help it held idle and was fairly steady during warmup. I knew there was still weeks if not months of tuning to get the most from the engine, but I finally had a base tune for the ITB’s. The revs were steady and the engine sounded powerful and even. The idle was still a bit high at 1100 rpm again and I was seeing an AFM way to far to the lean side but most of the major items seem to have been sorted. I shut it down and decided to take a week long break before additional tuning and messing about.

Second ITB Set-up and Test Day

I will have more soon, I am now deep into tuning and getting ready to do the body work and modifications. See you next time.

Taking shape

The Catfish is finally looking like something that might actually be able to drive finally. Its been a busy few months again and I did not have time to post and very little time to work on the project. The things I did get done have moved the project very close to being able to drive and stop however.


Back in May I managed to get the brakes bleed and working as well as some of the simpler items that had been plaguing me since the winter. The cooling system was finally finished up and I now had a high mounted fill tank made by Canton and an overflow puke tank as well. I now had three hurtles to get over before I could consider even attempting to get the engine fired up. First I would need a custom exhaust pipe built to connect the header to the side pipe, Second I would need to get the parking brake developed and working and third I would need to sort out the wiring harness and fuel management.

I had completed the engine harness strip down in the beginning of May and it was a fairly easy process to get everything attached and reconnected. I had replaced all of the old sensors; cam, crank, knock and others, which made life much easier. I still had the much bigger task of sorting the OEM harness for the dash and interior. I was going to remove many of the unneeded circuits for things like the A/C etc. A task I found to be very daunting and one that got pushed to the back of the list within a few days. I was also unsure of if I wanted to go with a new fuse and relay box, one designed for an open air vehicle. I have a full body harness made by Bauer that would make a lot of the work easier but it would still need to be integrated into the other wiring. There was also the long main power cable back to the battery which I had decided to remove. A new very light weight battery was now in order after reading of Cord Bauer’s very light battery made by Alien Motion. Just under 4 pounds and very compact. Either way, wiring was going to be last.

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I turned my attention to the parking brake. The Catfish kit does come with a bracket for mounting the OEM Miata parking brake, but I am using a complete Wilwood brake kit. The parking brake for the Wilwoods takes a lot of pressure to hold the vehicle compared to the OEM rear brakes. The catfish bracket gets fiber-glassed into the tunnel and I was concerned with the pressure exerted on the fiberglass. I decided to build a floor mount parking brake using a universal hand brake. I found a great one with a steel mount for about $60.00 online and adapted it to the OEM Miata pull cable. After cutting a few holes to  reduce the weight of the mounting bracket I went to work trying to figure out an acceptable pull for the cables that could be mounted to the back interior wall. It would have to be adjustable and easy to work on so I set off designing a two part bracket for the mount. I also needed a solid mount for the brake handle bracket to the floor. There is a 1.5 inch gap between the floor foot panel and the bottom panel. This would need strengthening so I ordered a couple of 12″ aluminum square 1.5 x 1.5 tubes. When they arrived I added two sections across the floor under between the two  panels and riveted them into place. I now had a solid mount for the bracket. I spent the better parts of two days designing cutting and shaping the too other brackets. the rear bracket was fabricated using a cut down version of the aluminum cable pull bracket supplied with the Catfish kit.

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After everything was mounted and the cables secured I realized I had an 8 inch gap from the handle to the cable pull at the rear of the passenger side tunnel. I used tow left over clevis brackets I had from another project to construct a pull rod from 1/4 aluminum dowel. I threaded it at bot ends making the adjustment a breeze. After a test fit the floor bracket went out to powder coat and was back by the end of the week. the finished system works great and has a nice vintage race car look.


I was still buried in thought about the wiring issue. It was a constant nagging issue as I hate wiring but it’s a must do. I decided to put it off yet again in order to get the exhaust done and to give me an excuse to ignore it for the time being.

I asked a friend of mine if he knew of any shops doing custom exhausts in stainless steel. I had already tried the local big box shops and either the price was ridiculous or they did not have anyone in house that could do stainless. My friend suggested a great shop in Berlin Connecticut called Raceworks. I made a call and discussed my project with the owner Ed. Ed, knows his stuff and walked me through a few different approaches and also pointed me to previous completed jobs that the shop had done. Very impressive. They would need the roller Catfish for a few days and would hand make and weld bends to complete a very smooth pipe to connect the header to the beautiful Catfish stainless side pipe.

I went over to another friends house and picked up a trailer donated to him and I by a good friend of ours who owns Lombardo Motorcars here in Connecticut. If you are ever in the area and looking for a unique car or exotic I highly recommend stopping by. I loaded up the Catfish……,it was actually not that easy as I was doing it myself,  and headed of to Raceworks.


I spent at least an hour going over what I wanted and getting suggestions and insight from Ed. After we rolled the Catfish off the trailer and into the shop it occurred to me that this is the first time I would be without the project and had at least a week of idle time or just plain real work! It was a very slow few days. It was during this time I mapped out the electrical plan and ordered a new fuse and relay box from Concours Specialties to tie into the ignition, fuel injection, body harness and the ECU. This box along with the Megasquirt would take up little space and could be mounted neatly up behind the dash panel along with the Alien Motion battery. All the parts arrived a couple days later and are still waiting for install.

I got the call I had been waiting for, the exhaust was done! I hooked up the trailer that had graced my backyard for  a week. It was a great obstacle to mow around and had been both killing some grass and letting other grass grow out of control. Didn’t matter to me though, it was time to get the Catfish back home. I could not believe the quality of the work when Ed first showed me the pipe. It was excellent and beyond what I expected! The entire engine bay now looked like it was developed in a high tech skunk-works garage by a large corporation. I paid the man and made sure I told him I would be back for more work in the future.


Well, that is where I am at today. The electrical is being held off once again by business but I am making attempts at clearing the schedule.  Thanks for reading.