First drive: BBR's hot Mazda MX5s

Almost as soon as the original Mazda MX5 was launched in 1989 its fans noted that the rear-wheel drive starlet could benefit from an injection of pace.

And almost as soon as it was launched, the tuning masters at Northamptonshire-based BBR set about rectifying that perceived lack of power. Twenty years on, they are still working their magic and have created two masterpieces to celebrate the little roadster's birthday.

We drove our own standard MX-5 up to BBR headquarters to see if the beefed-up machines were up to scratch.
Neil Mckay and his team at BBR have produced two toys to showcase their talents – a Mk3 MX5 with a supercharger, and a 1990 Mk1 that was worth just £1,000 before they took their spanners to it.

We jumped in the newer car first. One of the early versions of the third generation of the droptop, this was a 2.0-litre car with the hard roof. But instead of the usual 158bhp that the engine normally belches out, BBR says its collaboration with Cosworth has produced a stonking 235bhp unit.

With this in mind we expected to find the little car a whining beast straining at the leash – which didn't fill us with much glee considering the wet and cold conditions on our trip to the Midlands.

The fear was misplaced though. The power boost fitted so seamlessly into the MX5 experience that at times we had to remind ourselves this was no ordinary roadster. The memory jog occurred whenever we requested some extra go. With a tiny dab of the right foot the car surged forward willingly and smoothly, regardless of the gear selected.

Instead of being something to shy away from, pushing the speed needle around the dial seemed magnetically attractive. Even in sixth gear the supercharger provides so much extra torque that acceleration comes instantly and progressively.

But the joy of the supercharger in the Mk3 is just how much it doesn't make itself known. While it provides a noticeable increase in speed – Neil reckons it will get to 60mph in around 6.8 seconds – it is the refinement and good manners which impress. Neil says that rather than turning cars into roaring track toys, he hopes to make them useable for those who continue to use them as their daily drive.

But despite the refined awesomeness of the newer car, it is the turbo Mk1 we are really looking forward to. The 20-year-old car has a cult following, and it is clear that Neil is a member of its fan club. When asked his favourite of the three generations of Mazda's roadster, he replies: "The Mk1, with the pop up lights. It is such a nice complete car with such direct steering."

The team paid £1,000 for the white car which now bears the BBR badge, but it is now worth a fair bit more. "We can completely restore an MX5 with the turbo conversion and leather seats for £7,500," said Neil.

For that you also get all the technical alterations needed for the new turbo, including a modified sump, high quality hoses, larger fuel injectors and a new air cooling system. But the most important bit, and the best value for the money, is what you get from the engine. Although BBR has not yet had a chance to take the car to time it officially at the testing track, Neil reckons the car will be capable of the 0-60mpg dash in just 5.5 seconds.

That is not far off genuine sports car fast, but again the joy is not limited to just an experience of speed. The turbo sits happily spins away, producing noises that would surely sound even better on a dry day when you can drop the roof.

With the MX5, one of the joys is changing gear, thanks to the precise and short throw of the lever. But where it is something to appreciate in a standard car, it is positively addictive in the BBR turbo. Fast, intoxicating and a delight to drive – we went home mentally counting the pennies in our piggy bank and debating whether to leave our mk2 (below centre) behind for some special treatment...

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