Project Goblin: “Miata Is Always The Answer,” except when it’s not

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Sajeev Mehta

M.I.A.T.A. (Miata is always the answer), the popular acronym-turned-catch-all, has merit, but let’s get real: it’s a knee-jerk reaction to a question with multiple answers. And it’s a pretty pointless one if you’re the type that likes building things.

Perhaps you are one such creator. Perhaps you embrace the ways and means of Maker Culture. If so, let me propose the notion that a DF Goblin kit car is a far, far more interesting answer than a Miata. It’s not a far-fetched notion, as it only takes a few runs in a Goblin with a novice driver to show its prowess over the perennial enthusiast favorite.

Project DF Goblin autocross
Sajeev Mehta

While Project Goblin isn’t road legal nor fully sorted just yet, hours of fettling and tweaking from locals in the Goblin Community ensured it was ready for some light track use. So, one Sunday, my neighbor Brett and I woke up at the crack of dawn to attend/participate in local SCCA autocross. His Goblin was delivered to the track by Russell, another Goblin owner.

Having both in the same trailer was quite a sight, as Russell used a supercharged Cobalt SS donor, compared to the Turbocharged SS used for Brett’s Goblin. The supercharger certainly looks cooler alongside the engine, but they both have more than adequate power for an SCCA autocross.

This was Brett’s first time on track, but the folks at SCCA make it easy for anyone to get started. Tech inspection was really more of a formality for a detail-oriented builder like Brett, especially considering this Goblin is his second rodeo.  Everything was secured nice and tight, especially the battery, so all we had to do was motor to the paddock area and wait for Brett’s turn in the “newbie” class.

SCCA gives participants time to “walk the track” with more experienced folks like Russell taking lead, but Brett supplemented that with a second walk with the newbies during their mandated session, before the track went hot. In my time with Brett I witnessed him him saying all the right things and asking all the right questions; he understood the science of what was coming his way, and he knew not to push his luck. That knowledge was hard-earned, but at least he had the support of the Goblin family: a group that gave him more than just a painfully ironic (yet pretty funny) keychain for the Goblin’s ignition key.

Brett’s runs saw the kind of quick improvements we’d expect from most (all?) first-time racers. His first run was his slowest (59.900 seconds) as he was learning both the car’s performance potential and the track at speed. Brett also had an instructor on board who made sure he followed the course, learned the lines, and explored how/where he can push the Goblin to its limits. Brett noted this lap felt smooth, but most important, he made a clean run with no issues in terms of vehicle performance or personal discomfort at speed.

We expected his second run would be faster, but I wasn’t expecting him to shave off almost 8 seconds (51.172) on a relatively small course with no massive straightaways in which the turbocharged mill could really take flight. But Brett and the Goblin really started to shine, working in tandem in a manner all of us who’ve raced a car can appreciate. Brett noted that in this, his first solo run, he gradually built speed and pushed limits of the Goblin. Kudos to him for being in the right state of mind, and for making such an amazing gain. When I saw the time on SCCA’s lightboard, I ran over to Brett to congratulate him in the only way I know how, by saying: “Enjoy this moment dude, this is most you’ll ever improve in your time as a racer.”

Sure, that’s a backhanded compliment given at a time when Brett earned legit praise. But I never said I was a good neighbor, just that I was indeed his neighbor. (Brett regularly leaves items containing pumpkin spice in my mailbox, because he knows I find them disgusting. So really, he deserves it.)

Jokes aside, I was correct: Brett’s next run was “only” about 2 seconds faster (49.678) with an instructor in tow. Said passenger told Brett that he had a smooth and clean run but wanted him to get more on the gas and brakes. I’m no Jack Baruth, but that feedback suggests Brett is well on his way to becoming a fast-yet-consistent racer in the near future.

But all good racers must make mistakes in order to learn from them. Brett’s time on this run was 56.387, which is pretty good considering the time it takes to mentally recover from a spin and to get your machine back on track.  (Skip to 0:30 and 1:07 in the video above if you want to see Brett’s experiences with oversteer.) He is now learning where his Goblin’s limits are, possibly with a little more encouragement from the instructor. But kudos to Brett for quickly recovering, as Russell’s Goblin wasn’t too far behind.

Brett’s fifth and final run was his best (49.137), as he learned where he couldn’t get on the throttle from his last run. Overall, he got on the gas and brakes more, and he ultimately shaved about half a second from his previous best. While some might not understand just how long half a second is in racing, it might as well be an hour when you’re behind the wheel and behind your competition.

Project DF Goblin autocross
Sajeev Mehta

The Goblin emerged unscathed after Brett’s sessions ended, but not necessarily perfect. A fuel leak emerged (note the shiny area on the black tank) that will hopefully be resolved with a little more torque on all those bolts. If not, I suggested his painted tank needs a bit of sanding around the gasket’s surface to ensure a tight seal. No matter, Brett finished the day working the track (as per SCCA rules) and left. He was glad to have both of us offering trackside support, especially Russell since he’s both an experienced racer and the guy that delivered the toys with his truck.

And Brett’s first time ever on a race track netted him a mid-pack overall rank. He was right in the middle with more experienced drivers, people who were operating some serious hardware. He and the Goblin even “beat” cars with pedigrees including the likes of WRX Subarus, BMW M3/M4s, Corvettes, Civic Type Rs, Shelby GT350Rs, Focus STs, Cadillac ATS-Vs, VW GTIs, Honda S2000s, and—WAIT FOR IT—many variations of the Mazda Miata.

Brett did well for sure, but Russell won his class at this particular event. Unfortunately that win points to the singular flaw of the DF Goblin: it’s a kit car and not a real car. Russell won because he was in a class of one. Rightly or not, SCCA regulations put Goblins in their Enhanced Modified (EM) Class, which ensures the Goblin will never be class competitive. The EM class includes cars from Lotus, Birkin, and the LS-powered Stalkers, none of which are easy prey for vehicles designed to reuse the affordable, plentiful FWD powertrains of a Chevy Cobalt and flip them rearward like a Pontiac Fiero.

All that said, the point made in the beginning of this story still has merit; M.I.A.T.A. may not be the answer if you want to push yourself to the limit with a machine built by hand, in your own garage. There’s no audio system, nor climate control, and there are only the most basic of safety systems in a Goblin. But they are wicked fast, incomprehensibly entertaining, and can hide in a corner of your garage better than that famous Japanese roadster that everyone thinks you should own.

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