One weekend in late May 2019, I was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace, as I do probably way too often, and came across an ad for a Miata. It was posted for $1000 I believe, and the ad stated that the head was uninstalled, but everything was there to put it back together. (Uh huh… Call me skeptical.) Well, I said how bad could it be, and sent him a message. He was willing to go down to $800, but I just was not able to make it down that weekend.

A week or two later I noticed that the ad was still up, and I didn’t have plans that weekend. (You can see where this is going right?) He was now willing to do $750, and I figured there was probably enough there that I wasn’t going to lose any money, so I loaded up with Jacob and Tyler and went down to the DC area to go pick it up.

The owner was friendly, and liked Miatas, but I think he just got in over his head with this one not having a garage to work on it in. Apparently the car blew a head gasket, so he parked it, pulled the head, sent it to be rebuilt, and never put it all back together. Remember how I was skeptical about everything being there to put it back together? Well, it turns out that not only is there a freshly rebuilt head there, with receipt, but also ARP head studs, a new head gasket, timing belt, water pump, and many other new parts that you would want to replace during the job. On top of that, whenever he disassembled the car he put all the bolts into Ziploc bags, and labeled them! For $750, this just kept getting better and better.

The headless state it was left in for 9 months.

The car itself had (and still has) a good bit of peeling clear coat, but not really any rust, and the interior wasn’t too bad. (Though it was missing a few small bits. Overall, I knew it was coming home with me!

Did I mention this guy didn’t have a garage? Yeah, the car was parked on the street 3 blocks from his house and that’s where he pulled the head off from, and was left sitting for about 9 months. Fortunately, it wasn’t super tight and I was able to bring the truck and trailer over, and we were able to push it onto the trailer without even using the winch!

Miata on Trailer
Loaded up and ready to go home!

The drive home was uneventful, but since everything else went so well me and Jacob decided to see if we could put it together that night!

Once we got it inside the garage and took a look at just what all parts came with it, we got started. Step one was to clean up the block from sitting. We took a green Scotch-Brite pad, and soaked it in penetrating oil before scrubbing. The oil made it so that any bits of the Scotch-Brite pad would float in the oil and could be removed, rather than get into the engine and cause damage.

After cleaning up the block with an oil soaked Scotch-Brite pad.

The rest of the job was pretty standard for installing a head. I did clean all of the threads in the block thoroughly with a DIY thread chaser out of the old head bolts. (That’s a how-to for another time though.)

Rebuilt head getting installed onto the engine.

It took about 6 hours of work, but me and Jacob were able to get it together and running the same day we picked it up!

All buttoned up!

The next day I finished up the small stuff and took it for a drive. The brakes were terrible and it was down on power and burning oil. 🙁

For the brakes, I ordered and installed all new brake pads, rotors, and rubber brake lines, and thoroughly flushed the brake fluid. Very easy fix, and less than $150!

As for the lack of power? Well, we tried a bunch of things, but in the end, we pretty much determined that there must be something else wrong with the engine.

(I sold the engine that came with the car to my friend Mark. He’s crazy about Miatas, and build engines for people so he’ll go through it thoroughly, and then who knows where it will end up!)

Around this same time, I was getting ready for the 2019 Carlisle Import and Performance Nationals, and Jacob wanted to bring a car if he was going. We talked about options, but he didn’t want to autocross a car that wasn’t his. I completely understand and respect that. Fortunately, I had a spare 1.8l Miata engine laying around from the White Parts Miata (#10). We decided to swap that engine in, and as long as it ran well, Jacob would buy it at cost. We took the new timing belt and water pump from this engine and put it on the spare engine to make sure it was in tip top shape, and swapped the engine in in a single night. The spare engine ran well, so it was a done deal. The Headless Miata is now Jacob’s Miata.

Jacob’s Miata and Red Betty at NICOFest 2019.

Jacob now drives the Miata most days since it gets way better gas mileage than his Ford Ranger. Bit by bit we’ve also procured all the missing pieces from the interior, so it’s really a complete car now. The paint is still pretty bad, but Jacob recently got a sand blaster so maybe not for long. Since it’s still close to me, Jacob being my brother-in-law, maybe it’ll show up in future posts, but for now, that’s the story of The Headless Miata.