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"My Girlfriend's" Miata: Part 3 - Lotus Elise Seats and Flipside Customs Brackets

by Daniel O'Donnell

Spring in the midwest is a lovely time of year. A pat on the back is earned for making it through winter without committing suicide and this can be a big challenge in an area with snow, yet no mountains to make any use of it. Gray immediately turns to green. As if out of nowhere, all sorts of bugs and birds appear and try to have sex with one another. More importantly, racetracks open up and whatever project you’ve been procrastinating on calls out to be finished up post haste.

The girlfriend’s Miata was no exception. I was continuing to try and do the impossible; making a fun track day car, that's still a great street car, all on a budget smaller than a Kardashian's self worth. After installing the Blackbird Fabworx roll bar, which was a requirement to run at any reputable track, I ran into some bad news. The stock seats put my head well above the top of the roll bar and because they also offered no rear headrest support, my head could easily touch the roll bar. The good news was if I was in a rear end collision or flipped the car over, I would at least die quickly.

 

These are M Edition seats from a later model, NA Miata. Although torn, these were in better shape than the original seats that came with the car. You can see that the headrests are just right for someone like Danny Devito, but any normal sized human would be too tall for them to provide any safety. That doesn't really matter anymore, out with the old and in with the new!

The next logical step was to find a seat that lowered me and offered more protection without compromising the street nature of the car for the girlfriend. What I wanted was a thin bucket, that had minimal bolstering, allowing for easy ingress and egress. I pulled out my 10+ year old Sport Compact Car issue that had a test of just about every aftermarket seat ever made… back when having an orange Supra with neons was moderately respectable. There was one Momo seat that was promising, but it was long discontinued and it turned out that my perfect seat didn’t really exist in the current aftermarket. Luckily for me, the OEM world had me covered!

 

The Lotus Elise has the perfect seat for someone like me. Here is an example of just one of the color combinations availble. Notice that they don't recline, are very thin and have minimal bolstering. It is common for Elise owners to swap out these seats for Exige seats or carbon fiber replacements. With diligent searching, a pair of these can be found in good shape without too much hassle. Finding them in the right color, from the right year and at the right price however, is a little more difficult.

The 2005-2011 Lotus Elise (and if you’re rich, Exige) has the perfect seat. They come in matching colors, are built to OEM standards and fit perfectly in Miatas. Other than color, the main option to look out for is getting a Probax or Non-Probax Elise seat. Probax was offered in 2006, but are more rare and pricey. What is Probax? The Telegraph says they are the most comfortable seats in the world and others say they are much more comfortable than the Non-Probax Elise seats, but I haven’t personally compared the two.

Finding our beloved Elise seats can be a difficult task and the 2006 Probax seats I found were no exception. All my best Ebay, Craigslist and Facebook group skills were put to the test. The search lasted for about a month before I ended up finding a guy, who knew a guy, that was considering buying carbon buckets for his Elise. After much convincing, he agreed to sell the seats. Word of warning, be prepared to spend north of $1000 for the seats once you find a good pair.

With the seats in hand, I thought this was the perfect time to put my lack of fabwork skills to the test. I’d just whip up some brackets real quick-like, have Professional Awesome team member Grant Davis weld them to the stock rails and bingo bongo, have the seats installed in a day or two tops. Wrong. Turns out who people that work with metal everyday have one of two key ingredients that I was born without. Natural talent or the willingness to learn.

 

This is the best I could do after three days of work. It took all of my strength to get the one bend and it turned out to be at the incorrect angle. The holes I drilled didn't match exactly as well, so all-in-all, a waste of time, energy and resouces. After failing, it was time to go eat chocolate, sit in the corner and contemplate the mistakes I'd made in life.

After investing a decent amount of money on sheet steel, square tubing and necessary tools, I got to work measuring and cutting. Initial positivity quickly diminished when I realized that I didn’t take into account all the angles-of-the-dangles when making my first bends. A trip to the shop to buy more steel and spend more monies was required. Back at the home base and after a few days of work, more errors started to stack up and an executive decision was made to pay someone else to make these ungodly brackets. Frustrated by my lack of ability, the Miata was put into the garage, where it would sit for a few months.

While working extra hard at my office job, I stumbled upon a Miata forum post that mentioned a fair amount of people actually manufacture brackets for directly installing the Elise seats into Miatas. I was unaware of this and much research took place to find the best option. Some brackets are lower, but don’t slide, a no go for my 5’3” girlfriend. Others look like they were designed by preschoolers with popsicle sticks, which I understood after trying to make my own brackets. There was one company that stood out above the rest, Flipside Customs.

 

Flipside Customs got their start designing and building custom roll bars and cages for both street and race vehicles. Over time they branched into custom turbo systems, which helped solidify their reputation for quality and high-end fabrication. Flipside works on just about anything that goes fast, from racecars and drift missiles to motorcycles and the occassional Roush supercharged Miata. If you dream it, they will build it.
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Comments
ivan141
ivan141link
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 12:44 AM
I helped my brother install a lotus seat in his NA model Miata a few years ago, he has the same height issue you have.

I opted to make my own minimal brackets, and drilled the floor humps that the OEM seats mount to out. Then drilled some mounting holes in the floor, reinforced them by welding washers in, and bolted the seat directly to the floor. His 1,95m now fit comfortably, even when wearing a helmet.

The biggest gain is to be had by deleting the sliders.. you probably dont need them anyway.
thaabomb
thaabomblink
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 5:58 AM
In my NA, the standard "Foamectomy" fixed my clearance issues and helped me pass the broomstick test. Best part of that mod is that its free.

http://www.miata.net/garage/foamectomy/
ivan141
ivan141link
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 7:11 AM
Foamectomy will only get you so far.. the lotus seat really opens up a lot of space.. you have to see one in the flesh to appreciate just how minimal it is.
thaabomb
thaabomblink
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 5:30 PM
If by "only get you so far" you mean "allow your helmeted skull to clear the roll bar when it otherwise wouldn't", then I completely agree. The author spent $1000 and still couldn't pass the broomstick test. The free foamectomy is at least worth a try. Judging by the pictures, the Lotus seats are much thinner than the stock Miata seats, but (to my surprise) they still weren't thin enough to lower the author's head below the roll bar (even without a helmet on).
Option13
Option13link
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 7:19 PM
I'm 5'10" and even after a pretty hefty foamectomy, there was still plenty of skull sticking over the top of the seat. My solution was finding a barely used Momo Start sidemount seat and pairing it with GarageStar seat rails - I definitely don't recommend this combo. Too wide, but I cut and bashed it in.

The trick is I used Confor foam. I swear, using that stuff made the seat go from pain in 30 minutes to 8 hour comfortable. Spend a few long distance trips getting the foam trimmed right and you've got a seat that you actually enjoy sitting in.
rawkus
rawkuslink
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 10:05 PM
There would be no issue getting my head under the broomstick without the slider, but not any option for a car that has two drivers that are about a foot different in height.
ivan141
ivan141link
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 11:29 PM
@thaabomb, If I were performing 'foamectomy' for myself then I would fully agree.. I'm not that tall but I wouldnt fit a stock miata with a helmet.
My brother is 6'3'' tall and had already done a foamectomy and a score of different amputations of door parts and the like just so he could drive the car somewhat comfortably (what can I say, he really wanted a miata).

The only way I see the lotus seat going any lower would be to modify the floor so the 'hump' under the seat doesnt hit the floor. But that probably doesnt apply if you still use the sliders.

@rawkus: you might be asking too much flexibility from a miata. Maybe some removable padding might help the shorter driver if you delete the sliders, otherwise your stuck in an unsafe situation.
Chilicharger
Chilichargerlink
Wednesday, March 30, 2016 2:05 AM
You will just have to swap seats for track time. Drill out the spot welds on the factory rear seat mounts, then drill new holes to be able to bolt them back on. There are seat rails made for mounting seats in your Miata that do not have the rear humps. So do that and have the best of both worlds. The Lotus seats for around town fun and then swap in a dedicated race seat that will get you the absolute lowest possible.

I can't take credit for the idea. I first saw it on miataturbo.net from user "aidanj" or something like that.
Cory M
Cory Mlink
Wednesday, April 06, 2016 2:59 PM
Bummer it's still too tall. Depending on your proportions you can gain additional clearance by spacing the front seat mounts and leaning it back, might need to add a spacer to the steering wheel too if you have a short torso. Still won't be enough to pass the broom stick test with a helmet on though. On Porsche and Datsun racecars I've built I had to cut out the factory mounts and fabricate new ones to get the seat as low as possible. There's a lot of tall guys racing miatas so I'm sure the solutions are out there. You'll probably have to swap in a side mounted race seat without a slider for track days.
Asx
Asxlink
Tuesday, April 19, 2016 1:35 PM
The aftermarket seat you're looking for is an ultrashield ralleysport with 15° layback. Bolt the assbucket to the floor and use flatbar stock for the front mounts. Set the seat inclination with the front mounts. I think i documented my install on Roadsterdrift 4-5years ago. It's slap your forehead simple, passed inspection by the pickiest inspector in SEDIV (SCCA), and it allows all 6'2" of me to pass the broomstick test.
Asx
Asxlink
Tuesday, April 19, 2016 1:40 PM
Oh and to fit 2 drivers with massively different heights, the only choice is a formula car style seat insert for the shorty. 2part foam + garbage can = no more phonebooks and pillows
Dward
Dwardlink
Thursday, June 09, 2016 8:20 AM
Does anyone have a set of Oem Elise seat slides that they took off to sell.
Preferably drivers seat from right hand drive.
shrp
shrplink
Wednesday, July 19, 2017 7:34 PM
@rawkus - just curious - how tall are you? thinking about the same set-up...
rawkus
rawkuslink
Wednesday, November 22, 2017 2:18 PM
shrp,
I am 6'2"-6'3", right in that range.
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