Ford had such a good thing going with their ST & RS platforms. If you got exposed to it, it was hard not to get sucked in. Because the ST/RS stuff embodied a lot of that intangible, indescribable, infectious hot-hatch energy that’s often lost in new cars. They were new models, with that pure rowdy/scrappy/unapologetic late-90s soul. Attitude can’t be measured with numbers & specs. And for those that were clued-in, we clearly saw the direction it could go. We saw a ton of aftermarket potential in the tuner Ford platforms, and we saw a brand that came to play. Just like Honda, GM, & BMW of years past, Ford was using their Ecoboost motors across their platforms, which made them plentiful and affordable – a key ingredients to engine swaps. Unfortunately though, Ford quit at halftime, and never made a 2nd generation Focus ST, Fiesta ST, or Focus RS for the US. But while the ST/RS Nation’ never fully materialized in America the way it could have… we did get some potent platforms out of the deal.

2.3 Ford Ecoboost Miata swap

Mason McGavock saw it from the beginning…

When Ford first brought their ST/RS cars to the US, Mason McGavock was still in college to be a mechanical engineer. At that time, he purchased a Fiesta ST, and put a big turbo on it with supporting mods. Mason fell in love with the FiST (Fiesta ST). He especially loved how people underestimated them. Long story short – his then girlfriend went to an autocross with him, and thought it looked like fun. She decided she wanted a fun car of her own. So mason started thinking, “What’s the best bang for the buck?” Miata is always the answer, right? So Mason found a 1.6 NA Miata & bought it while she was out of town. Problem is…

ecoboost swapped Miata

Import Alliance car show

Mason started driving the Miata a little bit before she got back in town…

Well, he instantaneously fell in love with everything about it… other than it could use a little more juice. Keep in mind, this was still during Mason’s college years. And in addition to school, Mason was working at Panda Motorworks. Well for his 21st birthday, his girlfriend & Chris Bauer (from Panda) gave him the surprise gift of a Miata roller… this very car. It was game on. 

Mason began prepping the Miata, even without an engine plan… 

He sanded & prepped the interior for paint. And had Andy Seehausen build a cage to SCCA & NASA specs. He was in love with the punch & performance of his Fiesta ST and with Ford’s overall energy & momentum. Plus – he was spending all his spare time at Panda Motorworks, who are turbo-Ford specialists. So I mean, you kinda gotta do a crazy Ecoboost swap right… something fun & ignorant! At that time, Dead Hook Motorsports, an aftermarket manufacturer in the ST/RS world, was closing-up shop. Chris from Panda bought a bunch of Dead Hook’s inventory & jigs at auction. And… there just-so-happened to be enough extra bulk parts for Mason to start an Ecoboost swap on the NA Miata. 

swapped Miata


Originally, the game-plan was to build a 2.0 Ecoboost with a 2.3 rotating assembly… 

Mason was looking for 650whp in the Miata. But long story short, that went kaboom. The culprit was an oddly rear-mounted oil filter housing that was being used to clear the Miata’s subframe. So for the sequel, Mason decided to just get an unmolested 2.3 out of a junkyard Ford Explorer. That’s the great thing about what Ford has done with the Ecoboost engines: They’re using the same engines across different platforms… from niche ST/RS models… to standard mass-consumed crossovers & SUVs. It’s all interchangeable. On the used market, an engine from a Mustang Ecoboost or a Focus RS will demand a higher price. But the 2.3 from an Explorer is essentially the same thing & much less expensive (do your own research, but yes). It’s like a tuner’s all-you-can-eat buffet. Mason got this 2.3 Explorer Ecoboost for $1,200 with only 38,000 miles. 

Miata front air dam

2.3 Ecoboost swap

This Ecoboost-swapped Miata is making 490 wheel horsepower… 

And 390 pounds of torque out of the stock block with a big turbo & bolt-ons (thanks in large part to Nostrum HP and Panda Motorworks). Before Ford killed the Fiesta ST & Focus ST/RS, they had just started offering a Ford Performance control pack that essentially deleted the communication/theft/lockdown feature in the harness. In other words, you could get a control pack (directly from Ford) that would allow you to swap an Ecoboost engine into anything. But when Ford cut the ST/RS platforms… they cut all of it. 

NA Miata wing

tire stickers

The good news is: Our buddies at JEM-Sport 

Now make the same thing today in the aftermarket, so it’s game-back-on for Ecoboost swaps. And if you’ve never driven a 6-speed Ecoboost & get the chance… take it. They may not be the most glorified & hashtagged engine swaps out there, but the way these turbo-Fords make boost is thrilling and just kind of ‘feels right’. They’re very awake in an era where we’ve gotten used to responsive-yet-numb new performance cars. In its 2nd year, Mason & this Miata won the SCCA Solo National Tour Championship in class (Xtreme Street) with the 2.3.

2.3 Ecoboost swap

Today, Mason is a process engineer at Toyota…

Improving manufacturing processes for the 2.0, 2.5, turbo 2.4, and turbo V6 cylinder heads. And even though he’s a big fan of Toyota’s current momentum and the new Toyota turbo platforms. You can’t deny the purity & enthusiast-based authenticity of what Ford had for a minute there. Especially combined with the purity & authenticity of something like a Miata. And though it may be a little unsettling for some people to cross brands if/when they swap (I get that), you have to understand that the momentum behind of the original Miata, and the energy behind of the original Ford ST movement was much the same actually. When manufacturers get out of their own way, unleash their engineers, and design cars for their fanbase… awesome things happen. And if we can look across brands & decades to put those sweet-spot moments together (like Lego), we can really capture (and even dial-up) the essence & spirit of what they were trying to achieve. 

ACT clutch

Words from Mason McGavock

Some things I’ve learned over the years from building the Miata: Spend the money & time once… and do it right up front. Have a clear intention of what you’re building the car for (drag, street, road course, autocross, drift, etc). You can build a car to do a lot of things well, but then it can’t do one thing perfectly. So having a clear path helps prevent doing the work 2 or 3 times… after you realize the things you did before weren’t well-suited for the type of racing you truly want. 

Proper function is form. Keep things as simple as they can be and nothing more. You’re going to have to work on it later, and you don’t want to hate yourself for putting a hose clamp in an impossible place to access, or a bolt that you can’t easily remove during a lunch break when the transmission is broken. 

Do the different thing… I get asked a lot why I didn’t do a Honda k-series swap, or a LS swap. It’s because this was my passion project… and I followed the path of my interests. It’s different, unique, and people can tell it took effort. Yeah, it’s more difficult to make things work when you’re not buying off-the-shelf parts, but it’s always cooler to say you built something.

Photos by Michael Murphy

swapped NA Miata

1991 Mazda Miata

2.3 Ford EcoBoost from 2018 Ford Explorer

M5OD-R1 5-speed manual from 2.3 Duratec Ford Ranger (Going to Tremec TKX this off-season)

Action Clutch 6-puck clutch

Powertrain Industries custom driveshaft w/ billet ends

Ford 8.8 IRS center section (From Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe) w/ 3.27 gears

Ford Performance carbon clutches

Monster Miata axles and broached hubs

Nostrum HP 63% over HPFP & 22% over injectors

Fuelab twin screw brushless in-tank fuel pump w/ custom fuel pump controller based off MAP signal

Treadstone TR1045 intercooler and 18-row oil cooler

Mishimoto 3-row radiator

Precision Gen-2 CEA 6062 turbocharger

Tial QRJ blow-off-valve and MVR 44mm water-cooled wastegate

Ford Performance 2.3 control pack

Tuned by Panda Motorworks with Cobb Accessport

Shaftworks USA custom bilanx 2-way adjustable coilovers

Racing Beat tubular front sway bar

BroFab front big brake kit (not in photos but upgraded for track use this year)

SuperMiata rear big brake kit

Nine Lives Racing front air dam and double-deuce dual element rear wing

McG Composites front splitter w/ splitter ramps & end plates

Cosmis Racing MR-II wheels – 15×8 +30

Bridgestone RE71RS tires – 225/50/15

6-pt rollcage built by Andy Seehausen

Car made 490whp & 390wtq

2,305lbs race weight

lowered Miata

Ecoboost swapped Miata

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