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Miata Sim Rig: Building a Frame and Mounting the Controls

With the dashboard and center console removed from the Miata, it was time to cut it down to a more manageable size. It has to fit through a door after all.

The skeleton of a Miata's dashboard and its attached center console, clamped to the top of a metal work bench.

I used a 5″ metal cutoff disc to sever the internal frame and cut off the passenger side of the dash. I also trimmed the top of the dashboard to make it flat and shorten the overall length.

The remains of the dash after trimming.

I had to remove all the various instruments, buttons, dials, and trim pieces to get the dash out. I’ll add it all back in later.

I’m planning to use the steel frame inside to mount the whole thing.

As I trimmed I started to plan where trim panels would go, and made clean lines for them. I also retained the steel dash bar, since everything mounts to it, and it would make a good anchor point.

A rectangular steel frame on the ground, with the miata dash board set on top of it roughly.
The basic frame and dash layout.

I made some measurements and decided to once again use Unistrut for the base frame. Unistrut is versatile, and allows adjustment and repositioning, so it’s perfect for this application.

The Miata’s dash skeleton mounted to the Unistrut frame.

After painstaking measurements, tack welding, hammering, and more welding, I had the Miata’s steel dash frame built. It has to support the forces I’ll be putting into the steering wheel so it needed to be rigid. I measured the height of the frame relative to its donor car’s floor to get the position just right.

The dashboard skin placed on to see how I did. The frame interferes with a part I hadn’t planned to trim so I had to get creative on how to make it look right.

I also attached wheels to the frame, which made it much easier to work on. With the height of the dash set, everything else started falling in place. I decided to use the original seat from the car as well. It’s comfortable and matches the interior.

Seat, center console, and dash loosely in place.

I pressed forward and mounted the seat. I used the original seat mounts and sliders, but took them off to bend the angles flat for mounting. I used a full size strut for the front and a half size for the rear, giving it a slight tilt like the original mounts had.

I decided to use the original steering column mount points to mount the controller. To do this, I used my brand new tool, the Swag Offroad press brake. The 1/4″ steel plate I used was overkill, but it was laying around the shop and would be nice and rigid.

Putting the Swag finger brake to work. It fits in a standard Harbor Freight 20 ton press and handled the 1/4″ plate with no problems.

The controller steering box is big, so it spaced out from the dash much more than the original wheel does. In my race cars, the wheel is spaced out from its original position by several inches, so it puts the wheel in just the right spot. I used a piece of strut to provide a spacer between the mount point on the dash frame and my plate.

The mount plate for the wheel, mounted to the original steering column points.

I later put more bend in the plate to put the wheel in the correct position. I made a simple mount out of strut scraps for the shifter. It’s mounted to a small frame, also strut, that I built to support the center console. You can see it in later posts.

The shifter mounted to the center console frame.

With a few more details, it will be ready for paint.

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Miata Sim Rig: Repurposing a Miata Dash to Make an Awesome Sim Racing Rig

I have dabbled with sim racing for a few years as a way to practice and fill gaps between real track events. I started like most, with a simple Logitech pedal/wheel/shifter set, clamped it to the computer desk and went driving.

This is an ergonomic disaster. The wheel starts to move, the shifter is in the wrong place, the pedals slide on the floor, and a rolling computer chair will just roll backwards when you step on the pedals.

A computer racing wheel controller attached to a desk, with three monitors in front of displaying a view from a race car.
A basic sim racing setup with the controllers attached to a desk, and several monitors providing a wide view.

When the Oculus Rift VR headset came out, fellow sim racers raved about its immersion and use within the game. Stereoscopic vision let you perceive depth and elevation change, as well as rotation of the car – plus, no need for elaborate angled displays! Untethered from the need for monitors, and frustrated with the process of attaching a wheel to the desk, getting a non-rolling chair, aligning everything, and then suffering through poor ergonomics, I set out to build a crude “sim rig” for use with VR.

A chair mounted to a metal frame on wheels, with a corded steering wheel and pedal controller attached.
The first sim rig – crude, but better.

The first iteration was a unistrut frame along with a steel tube frame for the wheel. Many people make similar frames with PVC pipe, wood, and other hardware store supplies. The seat was an inexpensive “racing” seat from the Summit catalog with adjustable sliders, and I just bolted everything together. I started out with the intent of improving the mounts and ergonomics, but it soon became apparent it would need a total do-over to get the results I wanted. I had focused on small form factor a little too much and it was uncomfortable and difficult to get in and out of. It worked pretty well for a while though.

Then along came the $135.00 auction gem. A 2001 Miata, bone stock, with some minor front end damage. A perfect candidate for a future race car and the price was right. Fast forward a few years and we finally moved into our new shop. I started the teardown of the white Miata, and decided to jump on a project I had thought about for years: using the actual interior of a car to build a sim racing rig!

The interior of a white convertible car, viewed from above, missing its roof. There are no seats or carpet inside.
A new race car being born, but first I’m going to repurpose its dash board!

We have more space at the house now, so I’m going to build for awesome-factor!