I have been asked over the past few months by a few of my readers…”Where did all the stories go?” “Are you going to write anymore stories? I really enjoy reading them.” Well I was scrolling through some old pics on my laptop the other day and there were a few that warranted a post right here in Perks Garage. Buckle up, because this one is a doozy!
I like to consider myself a very handy guy, from replacing faucets, shower heads and garbage disposals, etc. I also consider myself a novice car tuner or sorts, from swapping out exhaust, installing short shifters, diverter valves, boost gauges, clearing and custom painting headlight housings, to installing car stereos and aftermarket suspension. I have touched most mechanical parts on the cars that I have owned as well as ones owned by friends in an attempt to do maintenance, repairs or customize them in some form or fashion. As you can see, I am not opposed to DIY work and have done quite a lot with my little beginner tool sets. That is why this story is very interesting to say the least.
Bubba, my sold but not forgotten, British Racing Green Special Edition Mazda Miata was to be my chance to show the Miata world what I have to offer in the form of customization. I searched long and hard to find one in decent shape for a decent price and Bubba popped up on CL (Craigslist) one Saturday morning. My neighbor and I raced out at 8 a.m. to go take a look. It checked off all functional boxes. Not really the color combo that I wanted, but a great price and value. I flashed some cash, signed the pink slip and we drove Bubba back to my house.
During my brief ownership, Bubba had taught me a few things. First thing I learned is that you don’t take fast turns in a rear wheel drive car with 20 year old tires without having a change of underwear with you. Those old dry-rotting tire will provide you with some very unwanted drifting experiences! It’s not as fun as Ken Block makes it appear when you didn’t plan them!!! Secondly, respect the car for what it is, low power and tons of fun. This car will keep you smiling as you listen to the little 1.6 motor scream to redline while you push it to its limits. Third and most important is to make sure you double check every bit of work, repairs or modifications that you perform on it, or any car for that matter. Triple check if need be.
About a year into owning it, I decided to start modding the car. I searched the interwebs for the right wheel and tire combo to complement the BRG paint color. I ended up with a set of XXR 542. They were 15×8 shod in 195/50/15 Falken tires. This is a pretty popular size combo for Miata’s especially with the right suspension drop. I bought myself a stainless steel exhaust and a Racing Beat intake. Bubba was coming along and I was really digging it. Next thing was to get it lowered to really set off the look I was going for. I was saving up my dollars and doing my research when my neighbor tells me they were installing another suspension set-up on a friends Miata and he was willing to let go of his old set-up dirt cheap. I was really looking to purchase a height adjustable coil-over setup like Megan Racing or Tein, and this was just a modified spring and shock combo. It wasn’t what I really wanted, but what the hay, it would get Bubba a bit lower and the newer shocks really couldn’t hurt.
That night I cruised down the street to do the suspension swap. Four guys in a garage wrenching on 2 Miata’s for a couple of hours is always a good time. We were able to get both cars taken care of and buttoned up in a 2 hour time frame. Slapped the XXR wheels back on, removed the jack stands and planted Bubba nicely on the ground. I took one side of the car and someone else took the other side and we installed the lug nuts. After stepping back to admire the new look I took Bubba out for a little test drive. Not bad…not bad at all. I drove back to my neighbor’s house to thank everyone for helping out and then cruised home for the evening. I didn’t drive the Miata for a couple of days, but was looking forward to driving it to work the next week.
Unfortunately or maybe fortunately the day I decided to drive Bubba to work it was raining…not heavy rain, but enough to slow down the commute on the 91 freeway (more than usual if that is possible). It seems as if people were driving slowly in an attempt to dodge the rain drops. Maybe they thought that by driving at only 20 mph that would somehow keep their cars from getting wetter than if they were to drive 40 mph. Either way we were creeping and crawling down the 91 this morning. Usually this would bother me, but this day I didn’t mind because I was enjoying my freshly lowered car and my new matte gold wheels. I was The Man that morning or at least I thought I was.
Part way thru my commute I started to hear a faint thumping from Bubba. I thought it could be the exhaust bumping around back there because the rubber exhaust hangers were pretty worn. This was a sound that I’ve heard before so I was not concerned. I assumed it was the worn out exhaust hangers allowing the heavy aftermarket exhaust to swing slightly under acceleration. Not a big deal as they were on my list of parts to buy. About 10 miles into my commute I noticed that the thumping became rapid whenever I would pick up speed. But due to the rain and slow moving traffic, I spent most of the drive between 1st and 2nd gear making the sound infrequent enough to not think too much of it.
My daily commute is a 34 mile one way stint done mostly over 3 freeways. 20 of those miles are spent driving from my house down the 91 fwy, I then drive the 55 fwy for about another 12 miles before my final 1/2 mile sprint down the 405 fwy. So as you can see it’s a pretty lengthy haul one way, traffic or no traffic. This day there was a party going on in my car. I had the music blasting through my new radio and speakers when suddenly the freeway congestion cleared up. It was like the parting of the Red Sea. Now, usually when there is a break in traffic I floor it as if to get the hole shot in a motocross race, but not today. The thumping that I heard became more rapid and caused me to be a bit concerned and cautious to say the least. So I slowly headed towards the shoulder of the freeway as a precaution and to check things out.
Just as I crossed over 3 lanes on the freeway and make it to the shoulder, my front drivers wheel POPS right off and the car slams to the ground. I sit in utter amazement as I watch my brand new wheel bounce from the shoulder of the freeway where my car planted itself, all the way over to the carpool lane. It then somehow rolled back across the freeway and landed right in front of my car! There were a few cars that saw what happened and slowed down just in time to watch my wheel do an impression of a giant bronze yo-yo travelling all the way across the freeway and come right back to me. Thank God no one was hit by the wheel, nor did it cause an accident. I just sat in my car stunned and wondering to myself “what the heck is going on here? Some idiot just lost the wheel off of their car!!! Oh wait…that idiot was me.”
When you are sitting on the freeway in the rain in a tiny little car that is missing a wheel, you watch as others drive by staring back at you. You start to ask yourself, “where are these Good Samaritans that I’m always hearing about?” What’s worse, is when you look up and see your boss pass by, look at her watch and then shake their head at you. Well she didn’t shake her head, but she did pass by and look. After calling for a tow truck, I called in to tell her I was going to be late because my wheel fell off on the freeway. She did acknowledge to seeing me and asked if I was alright…before snickering.
Well to put this story to bed, I got out of my car, grabbed my wheel and waited for a tow truck to pick me up as the rain poured down on my broken umbrella getting me soaked.
What you see below are the pictures of Bubba being carted around on a flatbed. Apparently the lugs were either cross-threaded or someone tampered with them the night before and the wheel didn’t have enough to stay attached to the car and sprung itself loose. Either way, I am thankful to be alive and amazingly no real damage occurred to the car. The rotor was a little banged up and the wheel had a few nicks, but after installing some new studs and new lug nuts, I was good to go. Someone upstairs was looking out for me…again!
Nice looking spare wheel 😦Giving Bubba a bath after getting him road worthy again.
How Bubba looked when I sold him to an amateur drifter from Vegas.
Take it easy little fella…