With just more than three weeks to go till the first points race of the season, I dropped off the donor car at Blackbird Fabworx to have the roll cage installed. The time table was going to be tight, but if nothing went wrong, I’d get it back in time to finish the last of the prep work on the car so that it would be ready.

If you read “Speed Reading” in the front of the magazine, you understand how great a thrash it was to get everything done.

I went with a custom cage in the new car because I wanted to upgrade to a containment seat, and because of my height and the rather diminutive size of a Miata, the seat needed to be fastened directly to the floor. That meant I needed to go with an aluminum seat, and I knew the halo on all the models I was considering pretty much needed to have the cage built around it.

Blackbird Fabworx owner Moti Almagor and I chatted about what I was looking for, and how we could make it work. I explained the seat situation and he agreed that aluminum bolted to the floor would provide the most headroom. I explained that I might want to put a passenger seat in it for coaching purposes, and that I wanted something as simple, safe and light as possible.

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“I would say the biggest thing when mounting an aluminum seat, because of the need to support the back, unlike a composite seat, you have to make that mount better than one little tube plus a couple of bolts,” Almagor said. “The way your seat mount is done in the car prevents it not only from rocking back and forth, but twisting side to side as well. It’s mounted directly to the cage, which would keep it solid regardless of load or load direction.”

Not long after I dropped it off, I went back to the shop to test fit the seat in the car with a few key pieces of the cage tacked in. We located it as far back as it would go, but of course, it being a Miata, we would need to cut the floor where it meets the transmission tunnel so the seat could sit truly fore-aft. Of course, the passenger side is much larger, so if we lived in a right-hand drive country, you mount the same seat without any modifications to the floor at all. Grrr.

The key part, as anyone who has read the CCR knows, is placing the harness bar at the right height. With the seat in place, Almagor sized me up and marked the tubing so he could tack it in.

“I do that with every single driver I build a cage for,” Almagor said. “I have them sitting in the car, in the seat and locate the bar appropriately for the shoulder height.”

The photos that follow detail the finer points of the build.

We test-fitted the seat in the car with the main hoop and cross brace tacked in. Note the large nature of the seat’s “halo.”
We test-fitted the seat in the car with the main hoop and cross brace tacked in. Note the large nature of the seat’s “halo.”
The main hoop is as wide as can be at the top, with the requisite diagonal brace.
The main hoop is as wide as can be at the top, with the requisite diagonal brace.
“In a Miata, the rocker is by far the strongest point of the car in terms of where to tie the front legs of the cage to,” Almagor said. “I also go above the rocker and use a wider plate to spread the load and not concentrate it in a small area.”
“In a Miata, the rocker is by far the strongest point of the car in terms of where to tie the front legs of the cage to,” Almagor said. “I also go above the rocker and use a wider plate to spread the load and not concentrate it in a small area.”
The rear seat brace bar and harness bar are welded in place.
The rear seat brace bar and harness bar are welded in place.
“In this case we had to notch the seat belt tower to locate the bar at just the right height,” Almagor said.
“In this case we had to notch the seat belt tower to locate the bar at just the right height,” Almagor said.
The main hoop welds to a three-piece mount, which lands on the factory gusset on the floor, so you have a landing plate that ties to the rear bulkhead, the side of the rocker and the gusset box, which also gives you an attachment point for a seat if needed. “It gives you a place to attach the door tubes without having to put an S bend into the door bars,” Almagor said.
The main hoop welds to a three-piece mount, which lands on the factory gusset on the floor, so you have a landing plate that ties to the rear bulkhead, the side of the rocker and the gusset box, which also gives you an attachment point for a seat if needed.
“It gives you a place to attach the door tubes without having to put an S bend into the door bars,” Almagor said.
These diagonal braces can be as large as you want to make them. For a tall driver like me, I wanted them up and out of the field of vision.
These diagonal braces can be as large as you want to make them. For a tall driver like me, I wanted them up and out of the field of vision.
The passenger front tube mounts to the rocker in the same fashion as the driver side, with a horizontal support tube tied into the factory corner brace.
The passenger front tube mounts to the rocker in the same fashion as the driver side, with a horizontal support tube tied into the factory corner brace.
On the driver side, Almagor used triangulated the brace to leave room for the factory dead pedal, also a feature I wanted to keep.
On the driver side, Almagor used triangulated the brace to leave room for the factory dead pedal, also a feature I wanted to keep.
The diagonal support from the door frame bar to the main hoop is there, for example, if you came down roof first onto a K wall (remember that American Iron Mustang at Willow Springs?). In that case, you could have that door frame bar bending down and potentially ripping from the main hoop. “It wouldn’t rip at the weld,” Almagor said. “It would crack next to the weld as cages normally fail. To take the load from that joint spread it over a wider area is a much better way to support things.”
The diagonal support from the door frame bar to the main hoop is there, for example, if you came down roof first onto a K wall (remember that American Iron Mustang at Willow Springs?). In that case, you could have that door frame bar bending down and potentially ripping from the main hoop.
“It wouldn’t rip at the weld,” Almagor said. “It would crack next to the weld as cages normally fail. To take the load from that joint spread it over a wider area is a much better way to support things.”
The passenger side door bar is a pyramid X design, which directs the load during a side collision to the front and rear hoop. The pyramid X also provides room for a passenger seat and is lighter than a traditional NASCAR bar.
The passenger side door bar is a pyramid X design, which directs the load during a side collision to the front and rear hoop. The pyramid X also provides room for a passenger seat and is lighter than a traditional NASCAR bar.
The passenger side of the main hoop is fitted with a hole for mounting a kill switch, which the driver or corner worker can reach.
The passenger side of the main hoop is fitted with a hole for mounting a kill switch, which the driver or corner worker can reach.
The passenger side of the main hoop lands the same three-piece plate design used on the driver side and ties into the pyramid X door bar.
The passenger side of the main hoop lands the same three-piece plate design used on the driver side and ties into the pyramid X door bar.
The seat back bolts right to cage. Blind nuts are welded into the open, fore-aft tubes, which mean you don’t have to hold a nut from behind while driving a bolt from the front.
The seat back bolts right to cage. Blind nuts are welded into the open, fore-aft tubes, which mean you don’t have to hold a nut from behind while driving a bolt from the front.
If the car gets T-boned on the driver side, the plates help mitigate the risk of having something penetrate between the bars, like, say, a tow hook, Almagor said. Also, by having the bent bars connected to the straight tube on the bottom, it enhances side impact protection.
If the car gets T-boned on the driver side, the plates help mitigate the risk of having something penetrate between the bars, like, say, a tow hook, Almagor said. Also, by having the bent bars connected to the straight tube on the bottom, it enhances side impact protection.
Note the tight clearances between the seat and the cage. All available space is maximized.
Note the tight clearances between the seat and the cage. All available space is maximized.
The rear diagonal brace supports the main hoop, preventing it from twisting side to side.
The rear diagonal brace supports the main hoop, preventing it from twisting side to side.
The bends in the upper door frame bars maximize headroom.
The bends in the upper door frame bars maximize headroom.
Painting the upper spans of the roll cage and the rear package tray flat black greatly reduces glare in the mirror, and helps the cage “disappear” when you’re driving.
Painting the upper spans of the roll cage and the rear package tray flat black greatly reduces glare in the mirror, and helps the cage “disappear” when you’re driving.

 

Immigrant’s Song

Moti Almagor’s love of cars was so great, he left Israel to pursue his dream.

 

A car guy since forever, Moti Almagor was that kid who would take things apart so he could put them back together. His father owned sports cars while he was growing up, as did his uncles. His whole family, really. Alfas and Lancias are part of his childhood memories, and when he was old enough to drive, he went a different direction.

“When it was my turn to buy a car, I saved up and bought myself a ’95 Miata, which was so rare in Israel — I want to say there were like a hundred in Israel at the time — driving one around is like driving a McLaren F1,” Almagor said. “People look at you and point fingers. Its kind of funny, you basically get the rock-star experience.”

However, Israel has laws that govern the use of aftermarket parts on cars. In fact, the laws are so draconian, there is no aftermarket. If you need a part for your car, the replacement must be OEM. And motorsports? Not a chance.

“I liked cars and modifying cars and motorsports, and Israel is very strict on modifying cars altogether, but motorsports in particular,” he said. “There is absolutely no way to do any racing in Israel. Some stuff managed to escape under the radar, but for the vast majority it’s just illegal.”

So in 2000, he left Israel for the car culture of Southern California. As soon as he could afford to, he bought another 1995 Miata, then added a turbo, roll bar and suspension, all within a couple of weeks. Now all he had to do was find a way to get on track.

“Then it was time to do what I had been dreaming about and never got a chance to do, which was go to the track,” he said. “So, here I am 23 or 24 and I’m in L.A., and I’m looking at my options and I found this organization called NASA. I said, ‘That sounds like fun,’ so I packed up my turbo car with a buddy and a tiny little toolbox with some wrenches and couple of sockets. I registered, drove all the way to Sears Point and I ran two days and drove back home.”

Before founding Blackbird Fabworx he had stints in sales jobs and worked at Tri Point Engineering in Chatsworth, Calif., where he learned a lot about race car prep. He took welding classes at a nearby community college and has read extensively on metallurgy, but most of his expertise is self-taught.

“If you love something, you learn it,” he said. “I’ve spent the last 16 years of my life doing these things. Even before I moved to the U.S., I was always making something, always building something and working with tools.”

For more information, visit www.blackbirdfabworx.com

Image courtesy of Brett Becker