“I was the anti-Miata guy,” Herschel laughs, “but it made sense, gas-wise.” Before opening Hermes Performance in Los Angeles, Herschel (just Herschel, like Madonna or Sting, thank you) was working at a hot-rod shop in Palm Desert, CA. The problem was that he lived in Ontario—a 90-mile commute each way, fueled at Golden State prices. “I had a Mitsubishi Starion," he says. "It was killing me. So I got an automatic Miata. It was the worst Miata, the slowest Miata, you can imagine. But it sold me on the idea.”
Today, Hershel’s shop is a word-of-mouth operation that doesn’t bother with advertising or an online presence, focusing on cost-no-object builds of 1950s and '60s muscle cars. There’s a real Hemi Cuda in the shop at the moment, sitting next a numbers-matching ‘68 Camaro. “The muscle car stuff is our bread and butter,” he notes. Yet the careful observer will notice one or two things that, in the words of the children’s song, are not like the others. One or two things that just don’t belong. And they are always roadsters from Hiroshima.
“The grey one is mine,” Hershel notes, referring to a caged-and-flared NA in a military shade of grey. “We always ask, how can we make this ours? How can we set it apart? The black one, it really doesn’t even look like a Miata.” He’s right—the bodywork screams “IMSA RX-7” and the LED marker-light/turn-signal combination comes straight from a modern Porsche. The Miatas slide into the empty moments between restorations and pro-touring builds, passion projects to be completed in late evenings and early mornings at the shop.
Until this week, the only people who knew about the Hermes Miatas were L.A. insiders and serious MX-5 fanatics. And then, Hershel decided to break the internet.
“We didn’t really want to show the car this early,” he notes somewhat ruefully. “It’s still very much in progress. But we had to, because of the rendering.” The story is this: Somebody did a rendering of a Miata hatchback on the TopMiata forums. The shape was just a little bit too close to something that Hershel already had in his shop. His two choices: Debut a finished car in a few months and be accused of copying the rendering, or release photos of the work in progress. He chose the latter.
Photos provided to R&T by Hermes show an NA-generation Miata roadster with lightly-sculpted rear quarter-panels and a shooting-brake profile that lands somewhere between the first-generation BMW M Coupe and the Ferrari FF. “Yeah, the FF resemblance is there,” Hershel notes, “and we’ve been toying with the idea of doing FF-style tail lamps. Probably won’t, though.”
Hermes has the capability to fabricate a wide variety of materials from scratch, but the long roof on the Miata hatchback isn’t bespoke. It’s from a sixth-generation Civic, cut and tilted to match the Miata’s profile. “Mazda should have done this from 1990 on. The fastback car they did as limited production in Japan, that’s beautiful. But this has a lot of real utility.”
This particular Miata hatchback, the first of its breed, will be radical for several other reasons. “We’re fabricating a carbon-fiber trunk, carbon-fiber floors. It will be caged ... the engine is out of a [Mitsubishi] Evo 8. We’re shooting for 800 horsepower. I used to build Cobras and the wheelbase is the same," Hershel notes. "There’s precedent for putting that kind of power in a car of this size.”
After Job One, however, Hermes may offer a more affordable option. “We’d like to get the cost of this down to the point where you have a $5000 labor bill and it’s done,” Hershel laughs. “Most Miata owners don’t want to spend that much, but a few will. I don’t think the volume will be that high … we won’t end up draining the pool of Civic hatches, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Now that Hershel has drawn first blood by showing the prototype, he’s not in any hurry to finish it. Nor will he be actively seeking new customers. “We are a word-of-mouth shop, and we’re busy,” he told me. When asked how prospective customers should him, he pauses a moment before answering. “Well … if they want to, they can .” Then he takes a deep breath. It’s clear that he’s struggling not to say, “…or don’t.” Some people don’t want to be a household name. Some people don’t want to break the internet. Some people just want to build cars. For themselves, for an exclusive customer list, for those long empty desert roads.
Still, if you’ve ever thought that your roadster would be manifestly improved by the addition of a hatch, you might want to seek Hershel out and get in line, before it’s too late. The original anti-Miata guy might just build you the Miata of your dreams.