Start-Up: Where to Begin?


So, you finally decided to begin tuning your Mazdaspeed 3. Congrats! Maybe you have owned it for awhile and want to unlock some of the car’s hidden potential, or maybe you bought one as a project with the intention of unleashing the beast and getting as much PSI as you can!

Either way, you are ready for a performance increase, but where do you start? What can (and can’t) be done so that the car has more power, but without decreasing its reliability? How safe is it? How much is all this going to cost? I hope this guide series will help answer some of these questions as well as helping you zoom-zoom!

A Bit of Mazdaspeed Model History

The Mazdaspeed series (3, 6, and Miata) are high performance variants of their base model brethren, usually made in smaller numbers. They feature revised sport tuned suspensions, larger wheels and brakes, appearance modifications, and use forced induction.

The Mazdaspeed Miata is powered by a turbo-charged 1.8L VVT four cylinder variant of the base Miata MX-5 engine, while the Mazdaspeed 3 and Mazdaspeed 6 use a 2.3L (L3-VDT) MZR DISI direct injected turbo-charged four cylinder engine (as does the CX-7, with a less aggressive tune, but the CX-7 is not a Mazdaspeed model).

The Mazdaspeed Miata is RWD (rear-wheel drive), the Mazdaspeed 3 is FWD (front-wheel drive), and the Mazdaspeed 6 is AWD (all-wheel drive). All Mazdaspeed variants came with a six-speed manual transmission, none were offered in the US with an automatic transmission option.

I thought I would throw in that little tidbit of history, just in case there are readers out there that may not be familiar with the Mazdaspeed nomenclature. Unfortunately, Mazda has decided to shutter the Mazdaspeed division, so for the foreseeable future, there won’t be any upcoming models to continue the tradition. Fortunately there are enough models produced that finding one isn’t too hard (I am looking at you Mazdaspeed Miata!).

Before You Turn Your First Wrench

Now that the history lesson is out of the way, we can truly get started. Well, almost. There is a very important step that you should really consider before you whip out the ol’ credit card and start buying all the shiny bits.

You should seriously consider what your goals are for your car, and how far you want to take it. Project cars do not start out as money pits. They become money pits when the owner doesn’t have a clear vision of what they would like to do with their car and just proceed to throw money and parts at it randomly. I highly recommend writing down your goals in a project notebook, something that you can refer to help keep your project on track as well as a place to jot down ideas for later additions. That notebook is really going to come in handy for this next step.

Do Your Research

I can not stress this enough. Before I do ANYTHING to the car, I research the modification, the installation, the post-installation issues and everything in between. If you have watched any of my videos on the Five Five Garage channel (and you should be watching them, just saying), it makes the installation of parts seem easy. What I do not show is the many hours of research that went into the decision of buying that specific part and the pros and cons of adding that part to my project build. A lot of that research involves reading the shop manual and manufacturer instructions for installation, contacting the manufacturer themselves for information, and searching the internet for reviews. I keep my notebook handy to write down anything I find and to make notes that I can research further.

This is just some of my notebooks. I don't have enough desk space to show them all.
You all thought I was playing about the notebooks? I got mad notes, yo!

For myself, having all the right information helps make the installation process easier with less headaches. I know what tools I will need to use, or purchase if I do not have them already, as well as any greases, lubes, sealants, or gaskets that I may need that are not included with the modification. Once I have all the information and prerequisites it makes the next step easier.

Finding Your Mechanical Comfort Level

I have been turning wrenches since I was 10 years old and have worked on many cars in the time since.

I am not sharing that fact to toot my own horn or pat myself on the back. I am sharing that fact to illustrate that I have a high level of comfort with working on cars. After I research something, I feel confident that I can take it apart and put it back together in working condition.

There were times when I was not as comfortable performing work on my vehicles, so I sought the help of a professional. Heck, to this day there are things I know how to do, but will seek out professional help because they have access to tools and facilities that I do not.

If there are situations where adding a modification to your car is a bit out of your comfort zone, please seek out the help of a professional. It is better for it to be done right, than to get it wrong and cost yourself time and spend extra money to fix it.

If you have access to buddies that wrench, ask them to help you out. That is super beneficial because you get the opportunity to watch and assist and build your confidence. Ask around and see if there is a NATOR group in your area. These groups are filled with car guys driving the same type of car as yours, who are willing to help.

If you want to go it alone, start small. Sure it sounds cool to install that new turbo and intercooler setup over the weekend, but that might be a bit too tall of a job as your first. Start off performing maintenance duties on your car like oil changes, rotating the tires, etc… Get a feel for using different tools like ratchets, sockets, and torque wrenches. You will be dropping that transmission to install a new flywheel and clutch in no time!

I hope that these concepts are a help as you prepare to start tuning your car. I know that this section is not as glamorous as talking about shiny go-fast bits, but I think it is important to bear this in mind as you start the process. As I continue to tweak and tune my personal car, I use these same methods every time I start a new project, as a way to keep me on track and to make the video process much easier.

Next time, we start talking about parts!