Mazda Miatas are universally loved. You might see an older lady cruise by in a stock Miata and, not a minute later, a kid-owned rendition slammed to oblivion drive by, too.
These little cars are slow but quick, cramped yet just big enough, cheap, fun and oh-so-versatile. Miata is always the answer, a mantra which carries over to many subcultures within the car world.
But with so many different examples buzzing around, it’s hard for just one to stand out. However, if any Miata can differentiate itself from the others, it’s Kevin Truong’s.
Many, if not most Miata owners see their little cars as either just a way to get around or a fun weekend track car or back-roader, but only a few true enthusiasts feel as deep an affinity with their Miata as Kevin does. This car is Kevin’s routine spiritual release, and due to this connection he has given his Miata the name Spirit Road.
After a long day of work he goes out for a night cruise and everything aligns. It’s just him, the car, and the road.
As such, Kevin has poured his soul into this build, modifying every last square inch of the car. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mod list for a Miata as detailed and as long as Kevin’s.
The full list can be seen below, but it’s Kevin’s path towards completion that we’ll focus on here.Love Story
Kevin and Spirit Road’s love story started in December of 2017 and, like any big project, there were some bumps before things ran smoothly. It began with a long day of driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back for a set of Jenvey ITBs and a Pit Crew Racing high-rise header.
Ultimately, Kevin decided to build his entire car around these two parts.
Actually, he didn’t even own a Miata at this point, but soon after Kevin found a prime bone-stock example out in Bakersfield, California and started adding some bolt-ons to the ’97 NA to get things rolling. This included an ARC intake and airbox along with Arrive cold air intake piping.
He lowered the car, found a set of beat-up Panasport wheels (which were subsequently restored), and finally enjoyed his first drive with the beginnings of his vision intact.
Eventually this vision grew – because there’s no such thing as a finished car — and Kevin was inspired to make the Mazda as much of a 1960s/1970s throwback as he could. The idea was to transform the Miata and alter the entire aesthetic; Kevin took inspiration from his ’71 240Z and his love for the Datsun 1600/2000 Roadster when beginning to build version two of Spirit Road.
Inside and out, everything was to be modified.
Kevin further explained his inspiration: “My dad used to take me to Chinatown in LA on Sundays. At this dim sum restaurant there was this cigarette vending machine. I remembered seeing the John Player Special cigarettes. And many years ago, I remembered seeing JPS livery on F1 race cars and others. So the Spirit Road logo is inspired by ’70s motorsports regalia and lifestyle so to speak. Everything kind of just came together by chance, inspiration, passion, and memories.”
But with the new expanded vision came bigger challenges.
Kevin still had the Jenvey ITBs sitting in his room, so the decision was made to finally fit them. But it wasn’t a totally straightforward proposition. “The car was parked for two months while I wrenched away [to install] the ITBs,” he explained. “The fuel hard lines on the Miata are not a common size, [so it] was a nightmare finding the right fittings, sleeves, and even flaring the hard lines.”
He eventually got the hang of making the lines and got a handle on the fuel leaks, but as Kevin continued figuring out the wiring and other essential items to finish the install he continued to run into roadblocks.
The Pit Crew header was made for a right-hand drive car, meaning the steering shaft interfered and one of the major inspirations for the build was ruled out. Kevin opted for Fujitsubo Legalis R header which was an easy install, but the ITBs and other upgrades were a different story.
“As the parts continued adding up, so did the struggles,” Kevin remembers. Eventually all of the odds and ends made it onto the car, but it still wouldn’t start. I think this is the point in the project that we can all relate to; the moment where you’re on the verge of giving up and can’t see how things could possibly work out.
But in his darkest hour, a hero emerged to saved the day. A friend introduced Kevin to a Chris Allen at Shag Speed who had apparently tuned over 200 Miatas. The Miata master came over and Spirit Road was running that afternoon. “It was like the happiest day of my life,” Kevin says.
The battle was over. It was time for long drives and night cruising for the pair from here out.Corn’s Collab
But again, no build is ever really complete.
Along the way Kevin purchased some items from Kadin Espinosa — who joined us on our shoot, driving the Miata — from Car Make Corn’s USA. The two enthusiasts shared a lot in common, “so we hatched up an idea to start making Corn’s and Spirit Road jackets, then tool bags, and other items,” Kevin says.
Kevin’s relationship with his little roadster began to take on more hats than he initially expected, and as it sits now Kevin says he has lot of Car Make Corn’s items on his car. “If you didn’t know, you’d think my car is a Corn’s demo car.”
The reason for the marriage between Spirit Road and Corn’s comes from the fact that Corn’s makes a lot of retro-themed items which helped Kevin carry out his vintage vision of ’60s/’70s racer influence. Revlimiter also contributed to Kevin’s build and they later collaborated to make Spirit Road horn buttons, gauge faces, wooden shift knobs, and so on, but as the project expanded Kevin set his sights on a larger item. He decided it was time to build a motor for the car.
“I ran into all kinds of challenges building this motor. A lot of broken promises from different shops, delays, nightmares, headaches,” Kevin says. “No project is ever easy, and I think any gearhead could agree with me. I’ve just been lucky, know a lot of people, and have been fortunate enough for everyone to help and lend a hand when possible.”
His friend Jerry from Jerrybuilt Racing is, in Kevin’s words, a “die-hard Honda drag racer and engine builder,” so Kevin ended up going to him for help with his four cylinder. Over time Kevin began acquiring parts, mentioning that he nearly purchased the entire catalog from Maruha in Japan.
The end result is a 1.9-liter power plant which is good for 154hp at 6,600rpm (and 139ft-lb of torque). Kevin is planning an E85 conversion which will come with a new tune and a redline bumped up to 9,000rpm.
As it sits now with the with the Corn’s 2.5-inch piping and glass-pack muffler, the Miata sounds incredible – take a listen for yourself by hitting the play button above. Complete with a Maruha lightweight flywheel and carbon clutch (and a Maruha 2-way LSD on the way), it’s a proper canyon screamer.
For all of the complexity along the way, the end result is a clean and simple aesthetic, thanks to a Barchetta Clubman GT front bumper finished with Austin Healey bumper lights and R package lip spoilers front and back. The exterior look is finished with a set of limited edition RAYS Volk Racing Murakami-spec MTE37s, but this is only just barely scratching the surface.
It’s impossible to describe in entirety the details this car hides, so a complete and incredibly extensive list of the result of Kevin’s blood, sweat, and tears can be found below. It seems literally nothing was left as it was from the factory, resulting in a car which is practically brand new inside and out.
But why go through months of hair pulling for a car? I think we all have our own answers to this question, but Kevin left us with a quote from Magnus Walker: the goal is to “get out and drive.”
After all, that’s what cars — especially Miatas — are for, right?
Kevin Truong’s Spirit Road 1997 Mazda Miata
Jerry Built Racing/Mazda 1.9-liter, Jerry Built Racing ported/polished cylinder head, Toda Racing 11:1 pistons with WPC coating, Toda Racing 0.8mm headgasket, Eagle rods, ACL Race bearings, ARP bolts, Maruha carbon fiber cam gear cover, Maruha 264-deg/10mm lift intake & exhaust cams, Maruha cam gears, Garage Star cam gear hardware, Garage Star water pump & alternator pulley, Maruha solid lifters, OEM valves & valve springs, Maruha timing belt, Boundary Engineering oil pump, Maruha oil pan baffle, Revlimiter oil cap with Spirit Road emblem, GReddy magnetic oil pan drain plug, Maruha oil filter relocator kit, Maruha radiator hoses, Maruha heater hoses, Maruha stainless steel radiator connecting pipe, Maruha radiator cap, Maruha IACV valve adapter, Mazdaspeed engine mounts, Spirit Road breather oil catch cans with custom AN hoses, Moroso radiator overflow tank, custom Moroso power steering tank, Mishimoto radiator with slim fans, Maruha coolant temp sandwich, Suzuki Cappucino windshield washer fluid reservoir, Beatrush aluminum under panel, Megasquirt 2 ECU, Jenvey 45mm ITBs match-ported by Jerry Built Racing, custom Spirit Road velocity stack funnel screens, Fujitsubo Legalis R header, Car Make Corn’s Version 1 modified exahust with 2.5-inch piping & glass-pack muffler, custom K-Tuned PTFE high pressure braided lines with anodized AN fittings, K-Tuned fuel pressure regulator
Miata factory 5-speed gearbox, Maruha carbon clutch, Maruha lightweight flywheel
Spirit Road Touge Series coilovers, Swift Springs 12kg (front), 10kg rear, Maruha N1-spec bushings, Racing Beat sway bars with Maruha end links
Wheels & Tires:
RAYS Volk Racing Murakami MTE37 15×8-inch +25 wheels with Federal 595 RS-R 205/50R15 tires or SSR Watanabe RS8 15×7.5-inch +25 wheels with Federal 595 195/50R15 tires
Barchetta Clubman GT front bumper, Austin Healey/Sprite bumper lights, R Package front & rear lip spoilers, M2-1028 Vitaloni Sebring mirrors, Car Make Corn’s billet antenna, KG Works chrome spray nozzles, Jass Performance polished tow hook, Zoom fuel lid, JDM Eunos & Roadster emblems
Momo Prototipo steering wheel with custom limited edition Revlimiter/Spirit Road horn button, Daikei hub with polished cover, Car Make Corn’s USA black leather retro bar style seats, KG Works gauge cluster, custom Spirit Road 10,000rpm M2-inspired gauge faces by Revlimiter, Retromodern key hole ring, Zoom Engineering push start button, Trap Nostalgic custom HVAC panel, DDM Works stainless steel radio panel, AutoMeter Cobra oil temp gauge, clock & volt gauge, Car Make Corn’s stainless shift knob, M2-1028 parking brake assembly and brake boot, Jass Performance parking brake button, Nakamae window cranks, Nakamae quilted trim throughout the interior, KG Works roll bar, Retromodern door pulls, IL Motorsports door cups, custom trimmed door panels, Jass Performance LED map lights, custom KG Works rearview mirror, JDM sunglasses holder, Car Make Corn’s window cover, custom Maruha side sill emblems by Revlimiter, Revlimiter vent rings, RS Japan hazard/pop-up switch, Mazda B2300 chrome cigarette l ighter, Zeromotive cigarette lighter ring, Zoom ventilation cup holder, Zoom Engineering pedals, Revlimiter Spirit Road keychain