Flyin' Miata Big Brakes


Click for a larger version (35k)Before leaving for Miata World 99 in Dallas, I removed Baby's big Baer boat anchors - I mean brakes. You may have seen the review in Miata Magazine and online. Basically, I was happy with the performance but not pleased with the weight of the Baer setup. Over the winter, I tried unsuccessfully to obtain a set of Cooltech MMC rotors, hoping that would solve the problem of rotating mass. Failing to do that, I decided to replace the Baers with a set of the FM brakes.

Due to their smaller rotor diameter (11" vs. 12.5") and aluminum caliper brackets, these brakes cut 7 lbs per wheel off the Baers. The kit is also designed specifically for the Miata, using Brembo rotors and Wilwood calipers instead of Baer's adapted Mustang and Corvette setup. This is immediately obvious upon installation - the rotors on the Baer kit are drilled for 4 and 5 bolt patterns, where the FM kit has only a Miata pattern. The same extends to the hardware, with Baer's hodgepodge of fasteners replaced with all-metric normal Miata sizes. The Dealer Alternative even includes a full litre of brake fluid. I can't comment on the quality of the instructions, as I didn't even look. It was the third time I'd swapped braking systems in a month :) At the same time as installing the new front brakes, I also upgraded the rear to 1.8 spec with Porterfield pads and SS lines. Those who were in Dallas probably saw me working on those for most of the day at the Dealer Alternative booth. Thanks to Bill Cardell for allowing me to use his booth to do the work, and thanks to my German mechanics Werner Cassel and Axel Windmueller for helping out..

Click for a larger version (47k)Driving:
So how do they work? After a bit of travel, the brakes feel very firm. As with the Baer kit, the new brakes are very powerful and easy to modulate. It's important to note that I did some much-needed maintenance on the sliding pins on my rear brakes as well as the rear SS lines. This undoubtedly contributed to the great feel of the FM kit, but there is a significant difference between the Baers and the FMs. While I was happy with the Baer feel, I wasn't aware of just what I was missing. The travel is similar, but the FMs have a harder pedal once the force is applied.

The front-rear balance is improved, probably due to the 1.8 rears. The smaller rotor diameter on the front should help as well. Running through the Gap with a fully loaded car on the way home from Dallas, there was no sign of any fade. If you've driven the road, you'll know how reassuring that is.

The big difference between the kits can be felt without touching the brake pedal. Where the Baers would cause gyroscopic effects in the steering, the FMs have none. The strange bump steer is gone, and the car has sharper steering. This is a great relief, as Miata steering is one of the best around. Unfortunately, the pads in the FM kit are dusty and make a mess on your required 15" or 16" wheels. It's a small price to pay.

It's important to note that the FM kit on my car is not the same one that was sold up to a year ago. That kit was designed by KVR and was frankly disappointing, particularly in the pedal feel. Last summer, the Dealer Alternative stopped selling this kit and developed their own.

Since I wrote my original Baer review, the price has dropped to $795 for the basic kit. The FM kit sells for $995 with slotted rotors, an $80 option on the Baers.The rear brake conversion costs $250 for pads, SS lines and rotors, with another $150 or so for new brackets. Shipping time from Baer is a few weeks, while Dealer Alternative usually has kits in stock.

I'm very happy with my change. While the huge Baers look more impressive jammed in behind a wheel, the FM kit is built for the driver. There are no compromises to driveability involved, only an improvement in braking. You will need big 15" or 16" wheels.

FM Big Brake Kit: $995 (US)
As tested (with rear brake upgrade) $1,395

The Dealer Alternative
331 S 13th St
Grand Junction, CO
1-800-FLY-MX5S (orders only)
FAX: 1-970-242-9199
Tech support: 1-970-242-3800

Shopping around:
Baer Sport kit: $795, Baer Racing

Keith Tanner