The Mazda MX-5 (aka Miata or Roadster) is a mainstay of automotive fun. A back-to-basics driving experience with a strong focus on driver engagement, with realistic barriers to entry and giving everyone the chance to feel like Schumacher…or in our case, the Drift King himself .

Our story begins in 2017 with a young Ben Rowlands. With the desire to go rafting, Ben got into the MX-5 and, like you, started traveling with like-minded friends. From 2017 to 2020, Ben learned more about his hobby, and as his understanding of the craft matured, he moved on to other, more powerful cars. As of 2019, he owns and drives a red Nissan Silvia S13, but he just can’t get over the bug—Ben needs to switch back to another MX-5.

2019 has come and gone, and with it comes the silver NA MX-5 you see here. you may be thinking ‘which one? ‘ Be patient and we’ll work it out.

2020 has been a vague, weird time for everyone, but since then, Ben has been full of motivation and ideas for creating interesting things. A good local friend, Connor, owns a unit where he can store and drive his own car. Ben met him years ago through drifting, and Connor’s car was a red NA MX-5. I think you can see how this is going…


Connor’s MX-5 ended up being replaced by another, and he got another enhanced MX-5, and…

Look honestly these boys have explained it to me a few times and I still don’t know how many MX-5s Conor used to own but all you need to know is that in 2020 Conor owns a blue one and Ben has a silver one. You are looking at these cars right now.


The two lads are good friends, have similar driving styles, do the same events at the same tracks, and own nearly identical cars. Their MX-5s were naturally a perfect fit for each other, so this was the perfect time for Ben to realize his idea: a group of friends who could participate in a team drift event, all with a passion for the same chassis.

So, in 2020, Ben and Connor painted their car red (the fastest color known to man…) and started going to events together under Team Gripped Up.


Here comes 2021, and that’s when I met the boys for the first time, though I didn’t know their names and didn’t have a chance to say hello. What I did see, though, was during Drift Matsuri, they were absolutely catapulting these naturally aspirated tiny MX-5s into the fast entry, back, up the hill at Anglesey Racecourse in North Wales. I was amazed and came away from that event stunned by how alive they sounded and how fast they looked.


What surprised me even more was that Ben’s MX-5 was a standard 1.6L model with a welded differential. It’s literally only 113bhp new, let alone more than 20 years later, and it’s chasing race-spec drift cars into the main section of the track. illusory.

However, Connor’s car was fitted with the NB MX-5’s 1.8L VVT engine, which produced a whopping 20bhp more than Ben’s car.


However, a party needs three people, and Ben wants to grow the group even further. Two identical MX-5s weren’t enough, and they started looking for a third crew member. As it turns out, they really don’t have to look far…


Introducing Dan O’Shea, who is also at Drift Matsuri and also has his own NA MX-5. It’s bright blue and I love it so much I even took a picture of it in the pit before Dan became a part of Gripped Up. Ben joked to me today: “Connor and I basically kidnapped Dan and forced him to paint his car red,’ But Dan had become good friends with Connor and wanted to be a part of the very fun and addictive action.

Dan is another MX-5 fan who has also learned to use chassis from previous cars, including supercharged ones like the Connor’s. We have three friends here who have experienced more powerful and bigger drift cars, but they were quick to point out to me that power alone does not define the intensity and appeal of a drifting experience.


The photos you see in this post were all taken by us at Dorifest in Driftland, Scotland, the first time the trio spent an entire weekend driving together. Finally let’s put the name on the face of the car…

On the left is Dan, his NA used to be blue and is now a red 1.8L VVT powered car running a separate throttle body from an AE111 Toyota. In the middle is Ben, who was running a simple 1.6L setup when these pictures were taken – nothing more. On the right is Connor, who also has a 1.8-liter VVT engine with a fancy four-throttle mechanism from a Honda CBR1000 motorcycle.


So, why choose MX-5? Ben explained to me: “They just drive really, really well. This is the most important thing. When we drive these cars as a duo and now as a trio, there’s an unrivaled, busy energy. The sound they make – especially the ITB car – is very noisy, and they accelerate very well, reminiscent of the AE86 videos we used to watch in Japan. These MX-5s are wild and noisy things.


The public meeting is where the three gentlemen really put on their show. Several teams and driving duos were invited to the event, but the Gripped Up MX-5 ruled the day and entertained the audience like no other.

If you want to understand why people call ITBs horns, these cars are a good case study. Not only do they look like trumpets, but they sound like a jazz band at its peak. Due to the low power of the car, the clutch needs to be constantly depressed to keep the wheels spinning and the momentum going. In the S-curve in the middle of the track, Ben would hit the clutch six to 10 times to keep up with the powerful car. This is the trumpeter playing solo!


The three MX-5s do have some musicality to them, and being able to master that feeling adds an extra layer to the experience you get from other cars that, simply put, just make noise. Ben did admit that while the 1.6L was fun, he did install a 1.8L VVT block in his MX-5 after the event to match the other boys, and is currently looking for an ITB to level the playing field.


What I haven’t really touched on yet is the reliability and affordability of these cars, and I do so on purpose. When you talk to anyone about MX-5s, they throw “It’s a get ’cause it’s affordable’ For most people (myself included), it’s the ace of the deck. Value for money is a big factor I look for when weighing my personal car choices, and the MX-5 is unbeatable.


I truly believe, however, that my experience round Driftland with the Gripped Up boys has no reason to be worth more than some of the more sought-after cars. These MX-5s are a more enjoyable, intense, and ultimately more fun experience than I’ve gotten from some Nissan S chassis, BMW M cars, or even Toyota JZXs.All of these cars have a time and place where they won races top ace, But it was the MX-5 that gave me the biggest smile that day.


In the real world, on the streets of the UK, the MX-5 would be the most approachable, which makes me wonder if I’m paying five times more for this MX-5 experience because it’s more than the price A car that is five times less powerful and more sought after? Absolutely not.


Chatting with the guys from Gripped Up really opened my eyes to how easy it is to raft in the UK. Going back from a more powerful car to the MX-5 they first fell in love with showed that a purer experience was their top priority. Ben told me about their experience with reliability and in my opinion you can use these cars as much as you want.


All of their cars have slashed knuckles, lighter flywheels (which definitely helps with the sound of their music), paddle clutches, adjustable arms, and 6-speed gearboxes from the NB MX-5. Ben told me that the 6 speed really changed the NA MX-5. Ben’s car had a 4.3 ratio welded differential, which made up for some of the power he was missing, while Connor and Dan had welded 4.1 differentials. Ben has HSD with 13″ wheels, Dan has Meisters with 14″ wheels and Connor has BC with 15″ wheels.


Ben treats his car as “nail” With nothing to do but change the oil, Dan, meanwhile, was having fuel consumption problems with his car, even though his car was the most comfortable and drivable in its class. Connor tinkers with his engine every day, and his ownership experience is somewhere in between.


So, did Ben’s idea of ​​creating a team work? Absolutely. Gripped Up earned Dorifest the “Tandem Kings” award, and rightfully so. But I don’t think that’s the ultimate goal of the team. I asked Ben what he thinks of Gripped Up and MX-5s so far, and he replied: “The “end” of all of this is that we’re just some MX-5 buddies. Driving as much as possible and having a good time is our goal. The MX-5s allow us to do just that, and there are no plans to change that.

Michael Fedovich
Instagram: Candy Showroom


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