See if this makes sense to you. All of the racecars you’ll ever see on track with the hood folded up and over a smashed windshield have one thing in common: aftermarket hood latches. Well, that, and someone who unfortunately forgot to secure them.
I’ve even seen a Spec Miata hood fly open and smash the windshield and shatter the back glass out of the hardtop. Same culprit. Unsecured aftermarket hood latches.
Over the course of building several racecars, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of OEM components, which most likely have undergone more engineering testing than we in racing are capable of. The factory hood latch system is one of my favorite examples of how good OEM components are. Sometimes they can’t be used, but I like to keep them when I can.
In every car I’ve built, I’ve always kept the factory primary and secondary hood latch systems and have never had a problem. In fact, I can think of a few times where I drove an entire session with only the secondary latch holding the hood down. Just last month it happened again, to me and to a racing buddy. He pulled in because he didn’t trust the secondary latch. I didn’t get a black flag, so I stayed out because I knew it would hold — and it did.
Obviously, some OEM components are not appropriate for racing. Brake hoses, brake pads, radiators and front hubs leap to mind, but there is a lot of good engineering in production car components.
Now, the only racecars I’ve built have been Miatas, which are marvelous little cars. Like the hood latch system, everything on them was designed to be light and simple. Likewise, the trunk and fuel door release mechanisms are simple cables that mount inside the rear of the console. The whole assembly weighs less than a pound, works as well as an OEM component should, and so I’ve always kept them on my cars.
The same goes for the airbag cover on the passenger side of the dash. There are covers available on the aftermarket, but the OEM piece fits so nicely, it hardly makes sense to me to use anything else. I just remove the airbag module, then remove the cover, which snaps right back into the dash. It only weighs a few ounces and creates excellent fit and finish on the inside.
The same goes for the glove box. I’ve seen it removed altogether, but that leaves exposed all the wiring and the blower motor on the firewall. Luckily, Mazda made it simple again. I just remove the “box” portion of the glove box from the door assembly. It’s been a while, but I think it’s four screws that hold it together. When they come apart, the “door” portion of the glove box weighs just a few ounces and pops into the pivots at the bottom and latches at the top.
When installing fire systems, I like to use as many of the factory studs and bolt holes as possible when routing and securing the actuation cables and the plumbing. It keeps everything tied down and makes the whole installation look more competent.
For the tops of the doors, I’ve been adding OEM trim that doesn’t come on the second-generation Miata, but can be found on the first-generation cars. The tops of the door panels on the first-generation Miata, the part where you would rest your upper arm when street driving, separates from the rest of the door card and covers perfectly the framework for the top of the door that I leave in place to keep the door rigid. That part of the door panel also makes it easier to slip out of the car if you can’t get the door open, so it not only creates a nice, finished look, but it also is – theoretically, at least – safer.
Using lots of OEM components wasn’t my idea. I’m sure I got it from looking at factory-built racecars, Porsche being a prime example. Though I obviously haven’t achieved that level of build quality in my cars, that’s my inspiration and what motivates me. I strive to make each one a little better than the last.
Mazda’s Spec MX-5 racecars are another good example. The rules actually insist on the tops of the NC door panels and factory door handles be used. It doesn’t make the car any faster, but they’re nice and light, and it makes for a nice, finished look. The SMX5 cars also use factory hood latches. And we know how well those work.