There is no shortage of products designed to make your Miata go faster. With a bit of work, it is possible to double the stock horsepower of the first generation cars and make them stick like glue on the corners. Braking improvements are not as common, however. A stock Miata's brakes are good, but can they be improved.
Baer Racing builds brakes for a wide range of (primarily domestic) cars, and they have developed a kit for the Miata. The kit consists of aluminum PBR calipers, stainless steel lines and monstrous 12.5" rotors, all for the front wheels. Many of these parts are adapted from other cars - the calipers were used on the Corvette ZR-1, while the brake discs are cut down from the Mustang Cobra GT. Because of this, there are a wide variety of pads available.
Because of the large rotors, a 16" wheel is required to wrap around these brakes. Not all wheels will fit, but Baer will supply a template so clearances can be checked before ordering.
Installation is straightforward. All the necessary parts are supplied with the exception of brake fluid. There's even a tube for bleeding the brakes. The biggest problem is the array of different size fasteners used. Miata bolt sizes are quite consistent, and it would be appreciated if the kit used the same sizes. 18 mm sockets are not common in a Miata owner's toolbox. Once the brakes are installed, the rotors need to be seasoned and the pads bedded. Baer's experience with brake systems shows here, with precise instructions included in the kit.
There is a definite improvement in braking. The big brakes grab harder with less pedal effort, and prove to be easy to modulate at the threshold of locking up. Initial concerns about the change in brake bias proved to be unfounded - while the front brakes were always the first to lock, it was only under extreme conditions and the improved modulation made this easy to avoid. One or two light stops are sufficient to warm the pads for maximum power. Inside the car, the brake pedal has very good feel with less travel than the stock setup.
On the road, the brakes are confidence-inspiring. Emergency manouvers are easier, thanks to the increased control over braking. All the extra power is easy to use when attacking a twisty ribbon of pavement. The downside is the weight of the new setup. Stock brakes weigh about 15 lbs per wheel, while these Baers ring in at 24 lbs. That's a hefty increase in unsprung and rotational weight, and it's as if there are gyroscopes attached to the front wheels. Steering effort is increased, feel is decreased, and the suspension definitely works harder to control the extra mass. Another Miata big brake kit, with 11" rotors and different calipers, weighs 17 lbs per wheel. That's the penalty for giant rotors, unfortunately.
If you want more confidence in your braking and increased resistance to fade, then the Baer Claws may be for you. You'll have to have 16" wheels and be willing to suffer the effects of the increased weight, however.
Baer Claw Sport: $875 (US)
As tested (with cross-drilling, slotting, zinc plating and Baer logo calipers) $1,109
Other kits are available, with prices up to $6,105.
Baer Racing, Inc
3108 West Thomas Road
(602) 233 1411
Flying Miata Big Brake Kit: $995, The Dealer Alternative