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Converting Your MX5 from Auto to Manual

25th April 2016

First off, let’s see why anyone would want to do this. It’s a matter of preference, but some automatics have been known to cause problems. Moreover, owning an MX5 is mostly about sheer driving joy. It is a lightweight RWD car with just enough power to provide fun, but not enough to have you praying to god every time you press the pedal. It is about a mixture of relaxed topless cruising and precise steering enhanced by lightweight body and RWD packed with just enough power to put a smile on anyone’s face with the pedal down all the way. It is about driving joy and it is best with a conventional manual.

How do I get a manual MX5?

Buy one! This is the best way possible. People in Mazda know how to make a good car and if you have an option to buy a stock MX5 with manual, this is the best way. However, when buying old used cars, there is one thing that is more important than any other – condition. If you find a mint MX5 with an automatic – and you want a manual – conversion is possible and not as difficult as you might imagine, although not really a walk in the park either. You will need different parts in good condition, different wiring harness, ECU, different engine timing, exhaust cam and reduced compression ratio. Let’s see how this is done…

What Parts Do I Need?

Obviously, you will need a transmission, flywheel, clutch disk, pilot bearing, pressure plate, shifter, boots, clutch cylinder and lines, slave cylinder, brake and clutch pedals, frame and speedometer cable. These things are a must, but there are others that are different as well. For example, the automatic uses a different radiator that is heavier than the one on the manual. You don’t have to change it, but it will reduce weight further if you do. Also, the same driveshaft can be used after the manual swap, even though the transmission lengths are not completely the same.

Removal of the Automatic

You will probably not be able to do this alone. Not due to the technical stuff, that one is pretty straightforward and all you need to do is follow the manual, but some parts are pretty heavy. The manual transmission alone is not all that bulky, but the automatic one is impossible for an average person to handle alone, we recommend hiring professionals for a job of this capacity such as the team at MX5 City. Also, supports for the car should be very robust, for the same reason.


Half of the work will be dealing with the wiring. There are many things to take into consideration and many of them will completely depend on a particular case. For example, not all cars have the same accessories, so there might need to be a significant amount of work for simple things like the problem of a source car having electric windows and the other one not. Even if we neglect these accompanying issues, there are still significant differences between wiring systems of a manual and an automatic. The automatic has dedicated harnesses for the control unit, kickdown, cruise control off switch, gear selector, throttle position sensor and six more harnesses for the transmission. So, yeah, there’s a lot to think about.

Additional tips

These have come up during the swap process and they are basically experience condensed, so pay attention.

  1. When you are on the inside and pulling the wiring it is a lot easier to do it with the seats removed. This is a surplus piece of advice for anyone who has removed them at least once, but for those of you who haven’t – there are only four bolts per seat and the amount of space this will give you is immeasurable.
  2. When removing the dash to access internal wiring, make sure you disconnect the three cables that control heating and ventilation before you try to remove the dash to avoid damage. It is not a huge issue to fix even if you forget this, but this is most definitely not something you will welcome during such a major task that swapping the transmission on an MX5 is.
  3. Make sure you DO NOT simply swap the entire instrument cluster. Although this might prove easier from a technical point of view, it would mean that you would also replace the odometer and this might be considered tampering with it. The authorities and future owners might frown upon that, as you can imagine.
  4. Make sure you install the slave cylinder after the transmission has already been placed.
  5. You will probably need to recalibrate the speedometer.
  6. The best idea would be to have an entire car with a manual so that you can simply remove a part from the source car and install it on your own. This would make things a lot easier. Furthermore, you could also install the automatic you removed to the source car and sell it, thus greatly diminishing the costs of the entire endeavour, or you could save the source car for loads of spare parts.
  7. If you have decided to install the automatic from your car on the source one, make sure you do that BEFORE you install the manual on your own, because it’s not very likely that you’ll get to do that once you have the manual in your MX5.
  8. Additional reason why you might want to install a manual is that they cost more, so when you decide to sell it, you can actually make some money on your used MX5.

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