RE: Rocketeer Mazda MX-5 V6 | PH Review

RE: Rocketeer Mazda MX-5 V6 | PH Review

Friday 1st January

Rocketeer Mazda MX-5 V6 | PH Review

Ever wondered what an MX-5 would be like with twice the power and no additional weight? Wonder no more...


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Let go by McLaren Automotive along with 1,199 other employees earlier this year, Bruce Southey at least had his side project to fall back on. He first squeezed a Jaguar V6 into a Mazda MX-5's engine bay three years ago, as much for his own amusement as anything else. The MX-5 community sat up and took notice, and Rocketeer steadily grew into a respectable little business. Six months ago, it became Southey's full-time job.

His company operates out of a small industrial unit around the back of Hungerford train station, sharing space with engine specialist Basset Down Balancing. To date, Rocketeer has supplied around 100 of its adapted V6 engines to MX-5 owners, a dozen or so of those being full turnkey builds. These conversions are what Rocketeer is concentrating on now.

It'll supply an engine ready for you to fit yourself for ยฃ4,995 (plus VAT), but a turnkey build starts at ยฃ12,500. That includes the donor car and whatever work is required to bring it up to scratch - Rocketeer won't drop one of its V6 engines into a total basket case and leave you to get on with it. If you like, the company will upgrade the brakes and suspension on top, restore the car bumper to bumper, dip the shell, paint it and reupholster the interior. One or two customers have run up ยฃ70,000 bills with Rocketeer, which shows how much some people adore Mazda's little roadster.


The car I drove was a post-2001 Mk2.5. These are especially good foundations for a Rocketeer build, says Southey, because they have stiffer shells, LSDs and six-speed 'boxes. But just about any Mk1 or Mk2 MX-5 will do. The demo car had Fox dampers and Brembo brakes, and one exactly like it could be yours for ยฃ15,000. Rocketeer's engines are warrantied, and the company will go as far with your MX-5 project as your imagination can stretch.

Why a V6? And more to the point, why the MX-5? A V8 would be too big and heavy, believes Southey, and no other six-cylinder configuration would fit beneath the diminutive Mazda's bonnet (not without significant structural changes, at least). The MX-5 is such an inherently right sports car - double wishbone suspension, lightweight construction, compact dimensions, exceptional balance - that it cries out for more power than Mazda ever blessed it with. The MX-5 and the V6 motor that Rocketeer chose are both readily available and cheap to buy, too.

The 3.0-litre Jaguar V6 started out in life as a Porsche design. The German manufacturer eventually chose to stick to the flat-sixes and V8s it knew so well, selling the plans and IP to the all-aluminium, 2967cc, 60-degree unit to Ford. Cosworth got involved and sometime in the early 1990s, the Ford Duratec V6 was born. Later on, some bright spark strapped a pair of them together to create the Aston Martin V12.


Rocketeer favours the Jaguar version. The AJ-30, as it's known, differs from the Duratec engine because it uses variable valve timing. Intriguingly, Mazda itself used a version of this engine in North America, though never in anything sporty. Jaguar fitted AJ-V6s to tens of thousands of saloon cars over more than a decade. This is no lazy, low-revving lump - it has oversquare pistons (89mm bore, 79.5mm stroke), meaning it revs sweetly. As it came out of the factory the AJ-30 spins to 6,800rpm, but here it revs to around 7,200rpm. In all those S-Types, X-Types and XFs, it produced up to 240hp and as much as 221lb ft of torque.

Rocketeer will balance, blueprint and refresh these engines with new piston rings, bearings, cam chains and tensioners, gaskets and seals, plus its own exhaust and intake systems. Custom engine mounts come last, after which the motor is dropped in between the donor car's strut towers. Nothing has been done by half.

Power is up to around 270hp, but that's an evolving figure - Rocketeer continues to develop exhaust systems, injectors and so on. Individual throttle bodies are on the cards but not without their challenges (there isn't a great deal of space beneath an MX-5's bonnet). What's perhaps more compelling still about the Rocketeer conversion is that the aluminium V6 weighs no more than the stock cast iron four-cylinder. Weight distribution is all but unchanged, too. At less than 1,100kg, this car has a comparable power-to-weight ratio to a Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0.

So it's fast. But it's fast in a get-down-the-gears, rev-it-out kind of way. You have to work at it, which is exactly the way it should be in a small roadster. There is good torque low down, enough to pull a higher gear with intent, but only when you chase the 7,200rpm redline gear after gear do you really feel the full force of the V6. It's a smooth and refined engine the rest of the time, and not too noisy in normal driving.


It revs so keenly and feels razor sharp at the top end. In fact, right up there, exhaust note rasping away, it has the feel of a racing engine. How this lump ever found its way into a Jaguar saloon car I'll never know - it seems wholly unsuited to that kind of vehicle. For the MX-5, though, it's a perfect match. On slight throttle openings there is a bassy tone, which develops into a zingy, tinny timbre when you open it up before building to its dramatic, stirring climax. I so miss this kind of soundtrack from modern performance cars.

The MX-5 is in no way overwhelmed by this level of power and torque. The six-speed manual gearbox is unchanged but more than up to the task. The standard car's sweetly mechanical gearshift is therefore present and correct, so too its closely-stacked ratios. Traction is exceptionally good as well, even on a wet road, perhaps because of the linear and progressive way in which the engine delivers its power. The rear axle will take everything the engine has to give coming away from a tight bend in second gear, the car hunkering down and sling-shotting itself along the next straight.

With weight and the distribution of it unchanged, this MX-5 feels exactly like any factory MX-5, just with much more performance and a far angrier soundtrack. There's still that signature balance mid-corner, still that exaggerated body roll that lets you read the car and feel the grip, plus crisp, detailed steering. There is good mechanical grip but not so much the car feels suffocated by it, plus a decent trade-off between pliancy over bumps and body control. The car is fluid without being wayward; alive but not loose.


The Brembo brakes are strong and the pedal feel very good, although if this were my car I'd want to see about reinforcing the shell and settling the ride a little. The body structure tends to shudder and rattle over bumps, as is the way with a decades-old roadster, while the suspension is a shade unyielding for my tastes, although only on really uneven road surfaces. Just occasionally, you'll crash over an unseen ridge in the road and the suspension will seem to tense up, the impact shuddering through the body structure.

Most of all, though, the Rocketeer MX-5 is just enormously rewarding to drive. It has an MX-5's poise, balance and playfulness, but with huge performance and an engine to die for. For me, somebody who appreciates the little Mazda but certainly doesn't worship it, there is a kind of disconnect between the cost of a turnkey Rocketeer and the dated way in which the body flexes, plus the brittleness of the interior plastics. Putting the spellbinding powertrain to one side, the Rocketeer car still feels exactly like a ยฃ2,000 MX-5 to sit in, to steer, to look at and to operate.

Perhaps my ideal Rocketeer would cost a little more than this one, with choice refinements made to the shell and cabin. I'm sure it's eminently doable. What I liked most about the Rocketeer is that it offers those of us who live down here in the real world an affordable taste of the restomod scene. Singers, Alfaholics, Eagles and the rest are well out of my reach, but not this MX-5 with its screaming V6 - and that has to be some good news to end the year with.


SPECIFICATION | ROCKETEER MAZDA MX-5

Engine: 2,967cc, V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 270@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 225@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds (estimated)
Top speed: 161mph
Weight: 1,065kg
MPG: N/A
CO2: N/A
Price: From ยฃ4,995 (plus VAT) for engine kits, from ยฃ12,500 for turnkey builds





Author
Discussion

Hairymonster

Original Poster:

801 posts

69 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
That place is about 5 miles from my house!

Have always thought an MX5 might be on the cards one day - this is the right sort of MX5!

callahan

709 posts

170 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
I had that engine in an X Type estate (manual) and you're right, it didn't suit the car at all. Bet it's fantastic in an MX5 though.

Mind you, a Busso v6 could be even nicer. Aurally at least.

Love it.

Wolvesboy

475 posts

105 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
That is fantastic matchmaking. I like the idea of no chassis cutting and the engine weighs virtually the same as the previous 4 pot. Well done that man!

A1VDY

3,575 posts

91 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
Strange they didn't go for the 2.9 24v Cosworth engine as fitted to Granadas..

blue al

403 posts

123 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
I like it a lot at 12k,-18k not so much at Cayman GTS money

How on earth do you run up a 70k bill on one of these?

FlukePlay

319 posts

109 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
What's nice about this story is that Bruce Southey has taken his passion after being released from McLaren and launched Rocketeer. It takes balls to make that step, even more so during Covid Lockdown. Wish him every success.

stavr0ss

64 posts

92 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
For those that can’t believe it’s possible to run up £70k on an engine swap restomod, go check out a Honda engine Elise build thread, or even a serious k series power boost.
Once you add suspension bits, cages, brakes and bodywork (I mean dipping and painting alone can run to the price of a new car)

I admire this enterprise but you’d have to REALLY love the mx5 balance to want to invest this much in one, I have an NA which i spent a good few weekends refreshing the suspension on over summer- the skuttle shake is very real. With the dampers too firm it crashes like a shopping trolley, but soften it up until that goes away and it gets a bit wallowy under certain conditions.

I don’t want a full cage in a road car, I’ve heard good things about some of the butterfly braces you can fit under the chassis rails but that comes at the cost of ground clearance unless you also raise the ride height which would spoil the feel for me a bit.

Goes to show how much of a shame it is that there’s no small, light roadsters with anything over a 4 pot on sale today.
The boxster has got a bit big, the 370z successor isn’t coming to Europe (and they’re never light)
Fiat missed a trick making the 124 spider and not a modern day Alfa duetto- the 280 hp from the guilia veloce would have been properly entertaining in that chassis, not to mention the possibilities afforded if the v6 from the qv would have fit. They could have downsized/removed the turbos to keep the pecking order in tact and stop it being too much of a widowmaker.
I guess the cost of developing a manual box made it impractical.

coppice

6,583 posts

108 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
I've always thought the lovely little 1.8 litre Mazda K V6 , as used in 323 and Xedos BTCC cars would be gorgeous in an MXC 5. Not big power, but a simply fabulous noise. As was the Rover KV6

PushedDover

3,256 posts

17 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
Still so much want for these and to convert my '96 NA.
Nearly pressed the button a few times these year, but the reality is I can almost man maths dropping circa £7.5k in a £2.5k car, but it will all told be nearer the £15k mark - I simply struggle to make those maths.

As for :"One or two customers have run up £70,000 bills with Rocketeer" oh my lord.

All said an done, there are some lovely project cars to follow, a few of them here on PH too - and I know if I drove one it would be a difficult session with the calculator to make it happen.

MrGeoff

358 posts

136 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
blue al said:
I like it a lot at 12k,-18k not so much at Cayman GTS money

How on earth do you run up a 70k bill on one of these?
If you have ever got in to a project of this magnitude you would understand, as bonkers as it sounds, that 70k could disappear quite easily if you wanted the absolute best of the best.

p1stonhead

24,962 posts

131 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
MrGeoff said:
blue al said:
I like it a lot at 12k,-18k not so much at Cayman GTS money

How on earth do you run up a 70k bill on one of these?
If you have ever got in to a project of this magnitude you would understand, as bonkers as it sounds, that 70k could disappear quite easily if you wanted the absolute best of the best.
Yeah but where does it disappear in a tiny MX5! laugh

I currently have a MK3 which I absolutely love (after 3 mk2’s) but I love it for what it is. It cost £3k and is a great laugh to drive. That’s the appeal of the MX5 to me. If it breaks then just buy another one for less than £5k.

But it’s not objectively special on its own regardless of price to me. £70k?!

Now, £15k odd and this appeals to me much more than a new MX5 but it’s still quite rich in terms of converting an NB IMO.



Edited by p1stonhead on Thursday 31st December 08:32

cramorra

1,594 posts

199 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
One to watch
Interesting card
Great sound
Cheap base
I guess 20 k will give you something that looks nice enough sounds great and has some mod cons like phone integration in...
I wonder if they ll do a mk 3 with the folding Hardtop as this will add rigidity

cerb4.5lee

18,455 posts

144 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
I have a 370Z Roadster and my biggest gripe with it is it's weight. So this is totally up my street. You still get a V6 engine but in a much lighter car. This is a big yes from me.

I love the idea of the MX-5 but I generally prefer more than 4 cylinders, so this type of build really appeals to me for sure.

RonaldMcDonaldAteMyCat

11,590 posts

59 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
Seems quite a lot for that engine, presuming they're used already.

Turini

174 posts

130 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
Sounds an amazing conversation and one that maintains the natural balance of the car by using an engine of the same weight to build on the inherent capabilities of the MX5. Reads like an economy of engineering which compliments both the engine and the car.

Strange then so many other posters have suggested other engines which would surely contradict and compromise what’s been achieved...

carinaman

16,659 posts

136 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
Build thread in Readers' Cars:

https://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?h=0&...

That thread mentions a white MK1 for sale in Ireland:

http://www.backroads.ie/forums/showthread.php?3121...

jason61c

4,166 posts

138 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
On the locost builders forum these have been happening for years.

Spend £12.k on a car for it to be worth £5k straight after?

The only way it can make sense with massive man maths applied is by you doing the swap.

edoverheels

128 posts

69 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
It would have to be an NA (Mk1) MX5 as the donor for me and then difficult to imagine having much more real world fun. However the MX5 rust issues remain. Unless you restored the shell you would always be worrying about it and once you start down that road I think the expense would take the fun out of it. Looks brilliant nonetheless.

s m

20,628 posts

167 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
MrGeoff said:
blue al said:
I like it a lot at 12k,-18k not so much at Cayman GTS money

How on earth do you run up a 70k bill on one of these?
If you have ever got in to a project of this magnitude you would understand, as bonkers as it sounds, that 70k could disappear quite easily if you wanted the absolute best of the best.
Yes absolutely- you’d need to look at a 70k one to see what had been done
By the same token you can lose 4 to 10 times that amount in an Alfa 105 or Singer so size doesn’t come into it so much rather what’s being done or incorporated into the build

emss

73 posts

112 months

Thursday 31st December 2020
quotequote all
Hi,

A restored shell NA with few stiffening upgrades (butterfly chassis brace, strut brace bars, half roll cage) & a mildly tuned AJ30 could be a nice little old school pocket rocket, if I lived in UK.
You brits are blessed to have such permissive legislation regarding car mods...

Éric aka Alf