A lot of people think racing off-road requires getting a specialty SUV or modified pickup truck. But as the various Safari 911s demonstrate, plenty of other cars can also have fun in the dirt. Even so, most would take something like a Fiat Panda hatchback over a Mazda Miata when it comes to off-road racing. However, with the right mods, Mazda’s small sports car can tackle some pretty rough terrain, like in the Gambler 500.
The Gambler 500
As Iron & Air and Jalopnik explain, the Gambler 500 is perhaps one of the easiest off-road rallies to get involved with. Get a $500 car, some friends, and whatever tools and supplies you think you’ll need. That’s it.
There are several Gambler 500 races across the US, including one in Detroit and Oregon. Each one is a 500-mile point-to-point race, not against the clock or other teams, but against the road itself. Much as with Baja, it’s a massive accomplishment just to finish.
Because the Gambler 500’s goal is to be accessible, every team brings something different. People bring old minivans, Volvos with skid plates, and so on. And once again, as Hoonigan reported, at this year’s Oregon Gambler 500, Tate Morgan is bringing a special Mazda Miata.
Prepping the Mazda Miata for desert-racing
As Motor1 reported, Morgan’s modified Mazda Miata doesn’t make any more power. In fact, it still has the stock 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Although, with over 250,000 miles on the clock, the engine has a tendency to only run on two cylinders at times. Instead, most of the build focused on suspension and ride height.
This NA Miata retains its stock suspension mounts. But the upper and lower control arms have been upgraded and strengthened. Morgan also installed coil-over suspension, complete with lift kit, and widened the car’s track. That required fitting a custom rear axle. For safety and protection, Morgan installed a custom roll cage and skid plates. And, of course, an off-road racer needed some off-road tires, mounted to 14” Mazda wire wheels.
While this mad Mazda Miata isn’t quick, it’s definitely special. It was driven by the late, great Jessi Combs in an episode of her show The List. Now, Morgan sees running this little racer as a way to honor her memory.
Making your own off-road Mazda Miata
Making your own version of Morgan’s Gambler Mazda Miata isn’t terribly difficult, or even necessarily expensive.
Paco Motorsports makes several comprehensive lift kits for the Miata, and several owners have used similar kits to make their own Safari-style Miatas. There are several off-road tires sized for 14” and 15”, like the Miata originally came with. And it’s also possible to order a Miata-spec roll cage or even buy a weld-it-yourself kit.
Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.