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						Bauer Limited Miata Catfish 1

Morphing a Miata Into a Catfish

Text and photos by Steve Temple

While most folks are familiar with catfish, especially around meal times, there’s a lesser-known meaning to this term. It refers to a person who pretends to be someone they’re not, usually on Facebook or other social media, especially to pursue a deceptive online romance. The latter sense has some relevance to Cord Bauer’s new Catfish, a car that started life as the widely available Miata, but now has a completely new identity. As for the romance part, well, we have to admit to falling for this new design for a number of reasons.

First off, there’s that swoopy shape. Bauer says its flowing curves and fish-mouth grille were the inspiration for the name (not the internet scam). At first glance, we couldn’t stop staring at its comely and innovative form. Which follows function by the way, as many hours of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) went into developing the shape.

Bauer’s background includes inventing the ReadyRamp, and co-founding ReadyLift Suspension, along with designing numerous car and motorcycle product. According to him, the Catfish has the same coefficient of drag as a Miata—yet something even more significant.

“With a splitter, diffusers and no windscreen, this car has a lower Cd and more downforce—it’s a potent track machine,” he points out. Creaform in Canada did the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) work using a software system that many of the Formula One teams also use for aero analysis, and the engineer who did the work got is PhD in CFD.

Adding to the car’s compelling aero and aesthetic statement is the cockpit treatment, with dimple-die, riveted aluminum panels inspired by the Lola T70, plus custom gauge faces replacing the factory panel. Altogether, the interior is Spartan and workmanlike, but with a future-look quality.

All told, we bet that most folks would never guess about the Miata mechanicals underneath the hood. But this is not merely a simple rebody.

While the Catfish is based on a Miata (1990 to 2005), the factory unibody is not used. Basically, just the “roller skate” is employed, which includes the engine, drivetrain, K-members, and suspension. A custom triangulated tubular frame, designed by multi-time, Paris-Dakar winner Ron Hemphill, replaces the factory unibody cockpit section, and connects the front and rear sections of the chassis.

The Catfish body, consisting of a custom layup using S-glass with carbon fiber reinforcements and tooling resin, mounts onto this frame. The paint slathered on the car shown here is 2014 Mazda Liquid Silver Metallic.

With the unibody removed, what you end up with is a vehicle that weighs around 1,600 pounds, and can easily have 265 reliable horsepower (by adding a turbo or supercharger).

“That’s a 1:6 horsepower to weight ratio, which is well into supercar territory,” Bauer notes. “This is without trying hard! Breath harder on the engine and you'll be at 1:5 or lower.” Indeed, we’ve heard about a few track-ready versions with skewed power/weight ratios that are in the works, and Bauer says you can even drop in an LS3 V-8!

We drove the factory demo, fitted with a 1.6-liter from a ’92 model (purchased for only $800), delivering about 100 horses, and came away amazed by the quickness of the throttle response. That’s due in part to the lightweight flywheel (5.5 pounds) with racing clutch, a lightly refreshed motor, a newer 6-speed transmission and a Miata Torsen differential. Other upgrades include a MegaSquirt PNP2 ECU, a Competition Werkes custom side pipe, and a hand-fabricated stainless mid-pipe.

The handling is lithe and supple. This particular car has a Bilstein Sport suspension (Spec Miata type), with Swift Springs. And the brakes and rotors are Wilwood units that take approximately 40 pounds off the overall unsprung weight of the car, improving the underpinnings.

Even more fun is on the way: Bauer says the car will soon have a Flyin’ Miata turbo setup with DeatschWerks 700cc injectors, FM exhaust manifold, oil and water turbo cooling setup, intercooler and piping, a blow off valve (external) and boost gauge. No nitrous, as that would probably be overkill. He’ll have his hands full trying to land this wild fish!

Since the Miata is the best-selling sports car in history, and the most raced model in the world, aftermarket support for all sorts of performance and other parts is extensive, and Bauer plans to take full advantage of that fact for a Catfish variant in the works (hint, hint). Other items he’s developing include a street-legal windshield, basically a cut-down and canted Miata piece with a custom frame. With the current wind deflectors, Mother Nature controls the temperature knob, he admits. “But the payoff is that I can park the Catfish next to a Ferrari or Cobra or Porsche, and those cars will invariably be the second car everyone sees. Win.” And judging from the interest received thus far, that’s no fictitious romance.


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Bauer Limited Miata