So...now what......the shell is "clean"...for a '97 that lives in MN and has 250k on it...but clean enough to warrant a motor swap? meh......we will see. I went shopping and purchased another Miata from an auction. This one was purchased sight unseen (pictures only), I was told it runs but not drives. It is a 1997 with 136k on it, it lived in Texas until 2015 when it moved to MN.
First start up, and it sounded really clicky and didn't get any quieter after 2 minutes. Did front brakes, blead the brakes, vacuumed it, swapped the driver seat, pulled out all the wet trunk carpeting, removed "hot air ghetto intake and put the OEM air intake back on. Took it for a test drive....not to noisy, power seems decent, brakes felt horrible. Got to the gas station 2 miles away and I can see a bit of smoke coming out of the tail pipe (this is no good). However, I did wash the engine bay a bit before working on it, and it is covered in oil so....who knows.
Did the rear brakes and found the passenger side caliper wouldn't slide, had to use a BFH to remove it from the car, turns out the sliders were bone dry. Removed the valve cover (the gasket was dry and brittle), squirted some Mystery Marvel Oil around each lifter, and few ounces down each spark plug hole. New valve cover gasket, PCV. We will take it for a drive tonight, wash the motor off some more, change the oil and re-access.