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This (on-going) project  will cover the quest for chrome on our NA 1997 MX-5 Miata.  This project will cover the following aspects:

  • Valve cover removal
  • Valve cover tear-down
  • Valve cover re-installation

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figure 1

Suggested tools + resources:
  • ratchet set
  • torque wrench
  • screwdriver set
  • utility knife
  • gasket remover compound (gel)
  • gasket compound (Ultra Grey)
  • valve cover gasket

All through history, mankind has always had a fascination with shiny things - we are no exception.  In our quest for things that are shiny, we will detail the engine bay and a few other stylistic spots of our 1997 MX-5 Miata.  As appealing as it is, we will try to limit ourselves as to what we chrome.  Why would you limit the chrome madness?  Two reasons:  a) it costs a lot, and let's face it, chrome doesn't add 5 Hp  and b) sometimes less is better


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figure 2

A clean engine bay is a beautiful sight.  We love the look of the 1.8l Miata engine bay quite a bit and as you can see, we have installed a basic set of "you cut to fit" silicone hoses to spruce up the already sexy power-plant.  Our next effort will be in adding chrome accents in all the right places - namely the valve cover.

During the valve cover removal process, you may notice that I have used pictures from a different engine bay (a Mazda MX-3 Precidia 1.6l).  I simply did not have the foresight to document the valve cover removal from the Miata.

As usual, if you use our website as a source of inspiration and decide to tackle a project such as this, we will accept absolutely no legal liability.  We will be glad to help you out but remember:  never tackle a project unless you have both the knowledge of how to do it, or the willingness to spend many, many hours trying =)  A factory workshop manual is priceless.

For the valve cover portion of this project, unless you have a second valve cover, your vehicle will be out of commission until your valve cover returns from the chrome plating shop.  Make sure your vehicle is in a good temporary parking location (ie. up to 3 or 4 months of parking) if you are sending out your only valve cover - this will prevent any major headaches before you render your vehicle un-serviceable.


As you can see from the previous image (fig. 2), the engine bay is kept clean as much as possible - owners and mechanics alike should appreciate such a clean workspace.  Having said that, before you tackle this project, we highly recommend you clean your engine bay thoroughly.

The first step will be to remove your valve cover from the car.  As this process varies from make, model, etc .. please refer to your factory workshop manual (or similar) for the proper steps.  If you are so lucky as to own a BP6 or BP8 engine, the entire process will be extremely similar to the steps we will outline.

You may have noticed that this is not the Miata motor - this from the Mazda MX-3 1.6 which is a BP6 motor.

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Start by removing the spark plug wires.  Take special note of their relative positions (ie. firing order) - it has been our experience that the factory manual (as well as other sources) are often wrong about the correct firing sequence and if you follow their sequence, you will waste time trying to determine the proper connection/firing sequence.

Take a picture, draw a sketch, or know it by heart - the spark plug wiring and firing sequence is important!

The next step will involve removing the valve cover bolts.  A word of caution here - you should always remove the valve cover bolts in the reverse sequence of the tightening sequence.  That is to say, remove the bolts opposite to how you would tighten them.  It may seem like over-kill but you should loosen the bolts in gradual stages.

If you do not know the tightening sequence, you should either read the factory manual section on valve cover gasket replacement or do the appropriate research.  You will also need to know the valve cover bolt torque specs.  We will provide the tightening sequence and torque values later in this project.

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figure 5

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figure 6

Once the spark plug wires and the valve cover bolts are removed, remove any hoses, etc. from the valve cover - noting their placement.  Then simply gently lift the valve cover from the engine.  If the valve cover refuses to budge, double check that all bolts are indeed removed and that nothing else is preventing the removal (ie. firewall overhang, etc).  If you still have difficulties, gently pry the valve cover off with a screwdriver wrapped in cloth (or ideally, a rigid plastic implement).

PS:  Now is a good time to make a visual inspection of your timing belt.  The only things you will be able to make not of are critical failures (ie. worn or missing teeth).  If you are due for your timing belt change - you had best change it (unless you have a non-interference engine such as the BP6 and BP8) - then you'd just be stalled out if the T.B. goes.

Now that the valve cover has been removed from the engine, clean off any traces of gasket compound from the engine mating surface.  Be very careful not to gouge the metal in any way - this can have negative effects later on.  I recommend that you use a utility knife to remove the larger pieces of gasket compound - then switching to gasket removing gel to finish the process.  Of course, use your own discretion and read any applicable labels when using solvents, etc.

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Once the engine mating surface has been cleaned, remove any traces of gasket removing compound and apply a small amount of oil to the cleaned surfaces (to prevent corrosion).  Then cover the engine internals with a sheet of plastic to prevent foreign objects from falling in the open engine.

The next step will be to remove the gasket from the valve cover and discard it.  Then clean the valve cover gasket channels ensuring no gasket compound (if applicable) remains in the channel.

Once the engine mating surface has been cleaned, oiled and protected and the valve cover has been similarly treated, you are ready to prepare the valve cover for the chroming process.

Start by removing the covers which protect the oil galleries (see fig. 9).  Then remove the PCV valve and gasket (if applicable).  Once this is completed, remove any periphery such as the spark plug wire holders and the oil cap.

Be sure to bag and label everything to facilitate the re-installation of the various parts being removed.

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figure 9

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figure 10

At this point, clean the stripped valve cover with a few rags to remove the majority of the dirty engine oil.  Ideally, you would clean the valve cover with a mild detergent then lightly oil the internals with engine assembly oil to protect the bare metal.

Note:  Used engine oil has been proven to cause cancer with prolonged exposure - consider wearing vinyl gloves.

Your valve cover is now ready to be sent out for chroming!

When you go to your local speed shop, be sure to tell them that you want to have the part chromed with the triple-plating process (especially if the part is made of aluminum).  The chroming process will involve dipping the part in an acid bath to remove all surface oxidation and residue.  The next few stages involve copper plating the part for maximum metal adhesion, nickel plating over the copper to provide both a silver base layer and a less ductile mating surface, and then finally the chrome plating layer.  The process is quite a bit more detailed than my simple explanation, so I invite you to do a bit of research into the entire process, should you be so interested.

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figure 11

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figure 12

After what will seem like an eternity, you should receive your valve cover back looking like a work of art.  You will likely be giddy, hyper active, and in a constant state of awe - if you do not exhibit the aforementioned signs, check yourself for a pulse =)

After you are done admiring your new masterpiece, it will be time to re-install the valve cover.  The remainder of this project will be completed in spring as the Miata is currently tucked away for winter.  Please come back soon to check for updates, etc!

I have yet to re-install the oil baffle covers, gasket, and accoutrements .. but as requested, I have taken a few photos of the chromed valve cover dry-fitted in the engine bay .. you be the judge.  Additional photos can be found here:

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figure 13


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