"How a First Time Car Builder Saved a Miata From the Scrap Heap"

From Dreams to Reality Words : John Krueger Photos : John Krueger

What tends to happen when you start dating a veteran car builder? You generally get sucked into the whole car world and end up with a project for yourself, and you and your significant other end up in a friendly competition of who can finish their project first. At least that's what happened with Minnesota resident, Patrick Behrendt not long after he started dating his current boyfriend. Originally into muscle cars, Patrick got turned onto the world of imports and sport-compacts by his significant other, and ended up buying a well used Mazda Miata from one of their friends to get his feet wet. What was supposed to be a fun, little, “track beater,” suddenly turned into a whole lot more. So, what happened?

"A track inspired dream build; from rubbish to refined. 5 years of patience and persistence. "

To start, I happen to be that boyfriend that Patrick started dating 6-years ago. Cars were something that we clicked on despite our different backgrounds. Patrick had never really had a project car though, and liked the idea of having something small and nimble like a Miata. He started his search a few months after we started dating, but I remembered one of my good friends had one that he bought on a whim that he used as a track beater. I decided to give him a call to see if he would be interested in selling, and that same evening we ended up with a Miata in our driveway. However, it was a far cry from what you see here.

This particular 1990 Miata has a history among our friends as a well used and abused track/drift car. When we bought it, it wasn't much of a looker. I don't think there was a straight body panel on it. But, it had some good parts and a fresh motor, and we got it for half of what others were asking for stock cars. Despite not being much, it was a good start for Patrick to get into the tuning world. However, I don't think either of us expected the car to get this far along.

Patrick started with the basics, doing a lot of maintenance and cleaning up. He found stock bumpers and stock fenders to replace the battered and dented items the car came with. Out went the blown Koni struts and springs and in went some Megan Racing adjustable coilovers, and the steelies were replaced with a set of 15” Work wheels that we got second hand. The car pretty much stayed like that for a couple years until it got hit sitting on the street in front of the house we were living in at the time. Disheartened but not willing to let the car go, Patrick settled with the offending driver's insurance and took it upon himself to fix the car. Armed with nothing but determination, some extra cash, and a boyfriend who's a bad influence, Patrick finally started down the path to owning his dream Miata.

After sourcing replacement body panels again, I saw a teaser from Kei Miura about releasing a Rocket Bunny kit for the NA-chassis Miata. Patrick was a big fan of the Rocket Bunny kits and had always wanted one of his own. I immediately messaged Miura-san about getting a kit, and after a deposit was put down, the waiting game began. Good thing that Patrick had a lot of work to do before the kit even got to us in Minnesota.

The first thing Patrick tackled this go around was replacing the damaged panels again. He installed new fenders again along with new doors as the car was hit on the driver's door and fender. After those were fitted, we took the car to our friend Josh's place to pull the motor and transmission to do new gaskets as well as clean up the engine bay and paint it. Patrick had never done any of this before, but he's a quick learner, and after a weekend a freshly sealed motor sat in a freshly painted bay with a partial wire tuck. We were ready for the next part.

After almost a year of waiting for the kit to be developed, produced, shipped from Japan to the US via boat, and then shipped from California to Minnesota, Patrick finally received his Rocket Bunny kit at the end of 2016. It worked out well for us because it meant we could work on the car all winter and have it ready by spring of 2017. Once again, armed with nothing but determination and my guidance, Patrick mocked up the kit and began cutting away at his car. There was no turning back now.

After all the cutting was done, my good friend Brandon from Wisconsin came down for a weekend to weld up the quarter panels. The quarter panels on the Miata have an inner and outer piece, so when you cut the quarter panel you cut the joining metal apart. To put the two together and close the gap, Brandon cut and welded in some new sheet-metal to prevent the quarters from rusting out. I feel like this is a step a lot of people skip when doing flare kits like these because it's an extra step. Even though it took an extra weekend, which isn't really a lot of time, it's good to do things right.

With the car freshly painted with the Rocket Bunny kit securely installed with a full, Downstar Inc hardware kit, it was time to finish up the rest.

Now it was time for the last big piece, painting the car. Finally, I step in, haha. For most of the project, I was just guiding Pat along, helping him pick parts and source them, and telling him how to do this or that. He and our friends did most of the work. For paint though, he wanted someone with a little bit of experience to do it, so it was up to me and our friend Jason. We painted the car in our garage over the course of two weekends, one weekend for prep and one weekend for paint. We then let the car cure for a week before wet sanding, cutting and buffing. Of course we hit a few snags along the way like the rest of the build, but once we rolled the car out for it's final buff, Patrick couldn't believe it was the same car.

With the car freshly painted with the Rocket Bunny kit securely installed with a full, Downstar Inc hardware kit, it was time to finish up the rest. The old 15x7 wheels wouldn't suffice anymore, and Patrick went with a lightweight set of 6UL wheels from 949 Racing to fill up the extra thick arches. The gloss black 6ULs come in at 15x11 +0 all around and are wrapped in 235/50/15 Toyo R888s for that meaty look. The brakes were upgraded with Frozen Rotors all around, Hawk HP+ pads, and Goodridge stainless steel brake lines.

On the inside, Patrick went into full race-car mode ditching anything and everything that was unnecessary. The whole interior was stripped, including the dash so he could chop away at that before reinstalling it. Aluminum door cards, dash plate, and floor panels from LRB Speed were installed to save weight and give it more of a race car feel, along with a Hard Dog 4-point roll bar and harness bar. A single, Sparco driver's seat with Pit Road M harness keep Pat planted behind the ultra-small Momo steering wheel. A custom shift light and Battle Craft shift knob make sure gear changes are solid and accurate. Let's not forget the custom Doge gauge cluster either (yes, you better believe it).

"After we ate, we were hanging out in the parking lot, and he couldn't stop staring at this car. The look on his face was that of someone who had finally built his dream car"

When the motor was out the year prior getting freshened up, Patrick added some choice mods to help the little 1.6-liter breathe a little easier. A Jackson Racing intake, Racing Beat header, and custom 2.5” exhaust help free up some extra horsepower, while a custom valve cover and a host of LRB Speed aluminum panels clean up the engine bay even further. To aid in the handling department, a Flying Miata front strut bar and Cobalt Racing rear strut bar along with Racing Beat front and rear sway bars aid the previously installed Megan Racing coilovers. Mazdaspeed motor mounts were also installed to help stiffen things up and help reduce parasitic power loss. A Spec clutch and lightweight flywheel make sure every bit of horsepower is transferred with quick response.

It's crazy to believe that this is the same car that Patrick and myself went to look at 5 years ago. The battered and abused Miata he bought back then was nearly ready to be sent to the junk yard. Patrick had other plans though. After the car was in an accident, he decided to push on instead of let it be hauled off for scrap. He built his dream car with his own hands, and with the help of friends, in a combination of all our garages. Determination can overcome a lack of experience when it comes to cars.

As for me watching from the sidelines most of the time, I'm extremely proud of Patrick and how far he and his car have come. I've been building cars for a long time, but I definitely learned a few things watching this car come together. Sure there was some friendly competition and stuff along the way, but nothing makes me happier than seeing Patrick and his car get the recognition they deserve. He worked his butt off for this, and now he gets to enjoy it, and as his boyfriend, I'm proud and happy to see it pay off.

Here's where Pat and I are very similar though, because the car isn't done obviously. It's done for now, but I know he has some changes in mind. What they are, I don't know. We'll just have to stick around and see. There's a ton of people to thank for this car so if I missed you, blame Patrick, lol.

“Thanks to Erik Coleman for selling the car and the tires, Josh Wies for all the weekends at the garage, Brandon Hansen for the welding work, Frank Buntzen for helping with the coilovers and Aero-Catch latches, Jason Tomschin and my boyfriend for the paint and body work, and anyone else that helped with this car along the way.”

  • EDM 1.6L
  • Jackson Racing intake
  • Racing Beat header
  • 2.5” custom exhaust
  • Mishimoto radiator w/electric fans
  • Mishimoto radiator hoses
  • Powdercoated valve cover
  • LRB Speed aluminum cooling panel, rain tray panel, and skid plate
  • Partial wire tuck
  • Rev9 Carbon Fiber spark plug cover
  • NGK plugs & plug wires
  • MazdaSpeed engine mounts
  • Engine bay repsrayed
  • Manual steering rack
  • AC delete, PS delete
  • Spec Stage 2 clutch w/lightened flywheel
  • Suspension/Brakes/Wheels:
  • Megan Racing coilovers
  • Flying Miata front strut tower bar
  • Cobalt Racing rear strut tower bar
  • Racing Beat front and rear sway bars
  • Hard Dog 4
  • point roll bar w/harness bar
  • Frozen Rotors slotted rotors
  • Hawk HP+ pads
  • Flying Miata brake master cylinder brace
  • Goodridge stainless brake & clutch lines
  • 15×11 +0 949 Racing 6UL wheels
  • 235/50/15 Toyo R888 tires
  • Interior:
  • Sparco driver’s seat w/ Pit Road M 5 point harness
  • Flocked dash
  • LRB Speed aluminum door cards, radio delete, and floor plates
  • Custom Doge gauge cluster
  • Custom shift light
  • Battle Craft aluminum shift knob
  • Momo 280mm steering wheel
  • Exterior:
  • Gloss red single-stage paint
  • Full Rocket Bunny aero kit
  • Custom front splitter
  • R Theory Motorsports rear diffuser
  • Downstar Inc. Rocket Bunny hardware kit
  • Euro spec rear finish panel
  • Smoked turn signals, front side-markers and rear side-markers