Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Of Gradations and Off Road Vehicles

Two seemingly unrelated events happened earlier this summer.  My daughter graduated high school and a neighbor friend bought a Jeep.  I know, I know, these things go together like fish and bicycles (shout out to Gloria Steinem!), or at the very least like spoiled children and graduation presents.  However I can assure you my daughter did not get a Jeep as a graduation present.  She already has a car that should last her a while yet.  Besides, her graduation present is all expenses paid four year college education.  And by all I mean “all” where the quotes can mean pretty much anything.  And by four I mean 4.  None the less, Jeeps and graduations share something.

When I graduated high school, back in the previous century, it seemed like a simpler affair.  I showed up for the last day of school, ate some school cafeteria made breakfast with the rest of the senior class, went to graduation practice, then did the real thing later that night.  Not much happened in the days leading up to The day.  There is a fair bit more pomp and circumstance surrounding the modern high school graduation and rightfully so.  It’s a hell of a lot harder to graduate today, especially at the level expected in my household. 

With pomp and circumstance come awards and ceremonies and ceremonies with awards.  And with all that come speeches.  To a person, valedictorian, pastor, the girl who gave multiple speeches just because she was good at it, all of them spoke about passion.  Seriously.  All of them.   It was like some kind of graduation speech topic collusion. I think I must have heard at least half a dozen people speak at various functions and they all implored, almost pleading at times, the class of 2015 to follow their passion.  I don’t know how many of the 17 and 18 year old kids listening in the audience really got it, but man, I sure left inspired.  Hearing those speeches made me want to go to work and be better at what I do.  It made me want to go out into the garage in the summer heat, buckle down and finish the kit car. (I’m working on it, I swear.  Stop pressuring me with your questions of “when”.  Sheesh)

Jeeps are about passion too.  I mean they aren’t my passion. I like cars.  Cars that go fast, or at least give the feeling of going fast (fast is relative and relatively fast probably warrants its own column).  Or boulevard cruisers, I have thing for those too.  And I’ve recently found myself looking at late 60’s and early 70’s pickups because hey, sometimes you need a truck and why not have a make it a cool truck. But Jeeps, they don’t do it for me.  And that’s okay.  MK I GTis, B13 Sentra SE-Rs, Datsun 510s and taking apart a perfectly good car that could be used as a fun weekend toy only slowly put it back together over what will likely be a period of two years isn’t for everyone either.  And that’s the point.  All things aren’t for all people.  

My neighbor friends love their Jeep.  Lots of people love their Jeeps.  There’s this whole Jeep subculture that exists out there.  They get together and do Jeep stuff.  Which is good.  Jeep people should do Jeep stuff. I’ll even come along and participate just to see what it’s all about, well, that’s assuming I ever sort out the wiring harness on the kit car.  First things first.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Two Types

There typically tend to be two types of reactions people elicit when I tell them I’m building a kit car in my less than ideal two car suburban garage.  Those that get it and those that ask questions in an attempt to get it.  I suppose that is true of most things.  I have friends and coworkers who have stopped trying to explain to me the virtues of golf.  I just don’t get it.  I get the idea of it, but I don’t get it.  They used to talk to me about the specifics of the game and the talent and patience required in putting together a good round.  I would always conclude the conversation with “well, at least you are getting some good exercise” to which they would say “actually, we’re usually drive golf carts” to which I would reply “oh”. 

I understand not getting it.  Taking a perfectly good car apart and using its bits to assemble a different car isn’t for everyone.  Much in the way chasing a small white ball over acres of land in an attempt to get it into an almost equally small cup isn’t for everyone.  It’s kind of funny how I go about the conversations though.  When I tell a car person about the kit car I’m building I immediately go into justification mode.  I tell them while the kit car, which when completed, won’t have doors or windows or a roof it will actually be more practical and useful than the car it components came from (no really, it will).  I tell them how I will drive it more often than the track only car that used to own its spot in the garage.  I tell them about selling parts to subsidize the build cost and how all the parts I don’t sell will end right back up on the kit car.

When I tell a non-car person about the build, which is usually the result of them overhearing a car guy to car guy conversation, I go into witness on the witness stand mode.  “Did I hear you say you are building a car in your garage”?  “Yes”.  “Wow, you really know how to do that?”  “Maybe.”  “Why are you doing it?”  “Because I want to.”  “What’s it like?”  “It’s like golf, but fun.” 

Okay, nobody really asks that last question, but the others have come up several times.  The real question that is plainly obvious is why the hell am I explaining to and reasoning with those that get it while giving one word and sentence fragment answers to those that would benefit from explanations?  I don’t really know why.  Maybe it’s because people pick and choose hobbies for how those hobbies make them feel.  It’s hard to get excited and be passionate about telling something to someone who doesn’t share those same feelings and excitement. 

Usually I warm up and start answering questions with full sentences.  Sometimes those sentences even include inflection.  Occasionally I offer up information without inquiry like “the entire car’s running gear is based on a Mazda Miata.”  To which they often say “oh”.  That’s when I say “if you leave now you can still get in 18 this afternoon.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Datsun 510s, SPICA Fuel Injection and Not Spending Time in the Garage

My first car was a Datsun 510.  I didn't realize just how cool that was until later in life.  I mean I knew it was cool, I just didn't know how cool.  It ran fine when I bought it but I didn't let that stop me from taking it apart and making it “better”.  There are quotes around better because one man’s better is another man’s stranded on the side of the road at night in the rain after the clutch disc disintegrated for the third time in 18 months swearing his next car won’t be an old Datsun.  This isn't to say the entire ownership experience with the 510 was difficult, because it wasn't.  There were plenty of less frustrating, less dark, less swearing and more fun times.

I changed and modified most things guys who do such things change and modify.  Suspension, tires, exhaust, seats, paint…but the piece de resistance was the high performance motor build and drive train swap.  If you are still wondering how Datsun 510s are cool go hit up google and see for yourself.  If you are wondering why built motors and drivetrain swaps are cool, get the hell out of here.  We don’t need your kind in these here parts. 

I learned an awful lot of what I know about cars from working on that 510 and because of this I have a bit of a soft spot for them.  Plus, they are just plain cool.  In light of these extremely valid and compelling reasons I've found myself occasionally looking at 510s for sale on line.  Which, let’s be real honest, is a rabbit hole I needn't be going down right now as I’m firmly down the - build a car in your garage – rabbit hole.  However…

I haven’t been working on the kit car much recently.  Good progress was made through the spring.  There was a weekend of productivity during the summer where the chassis and frame were mated, which was a big step, but I have since done, well, nothing.  Life, especially one with two teenage kids, has a way of taking free time and turning into not free time.  What is one to do when progress can’t be made on a project due to lots of not free time?  Research said project on google while sitting in hotel rooms in North Carolina during weekend lacrosse tournaments of course.  This research presents one problem. 

I was one of the first forty or so guys to order an American spec Exocet chassis.  Only maybe a dozen or so of those guys are sharing their builds in detail on line.  Of those dozen only two or three are farther ahead of where I am in my build.  It doesn’t take too long to go through three build threads.  I could start looking at upgrade paths to follow once the kit car is road worthy but part of the reason for building the car is to satiate my car hobby appetite for years to come.  Camshafts, intake manifolds and mono tube shocks will come in due time. So naturally…

I’ve been casually looking at older, cool, and affordable cars online.  I’m not sure what makes it casual.  But it is.  I assure you.  Looking at classic cars for sale on the internet is a meandering process full of justifications, validations and occasionally good sound reasoning.  I start by looking at Datsuns and end up at Alfa Romeo, via Triumph.  At one point I almost had myself convinced the SPICA mechanical fuel injection systems of late 60’s early 70’s Alfas couldn't be that bad to keep up.  Besides, an Alfa Romeo is probably the only Italian car I can afford to put in my garage (see, there’s the justification I mentioned earlier).   But that’s the problem.  To the uninitiated and unfamiliar an Italian designed and built fuel injection system over 40 years old can indeed be that bad.  It can probably even be worse, than what I don’t know, but worse.

To complicate things further beyond that of marque specific fuel systems is the year or so my track Miata saw street duty before becoming a track only car.  It did everything the classic sports cars mentioned prior can do only better.  Except maybe catch fire, leak oil and rust.  The Miata goes, turns and stops better than any classic Japanese, British, Italian or German car I can afford.  And that’s stock.  Throw a little “better” at it and the gap widens tremendously, plus the clutch doesn't blow up.
So I've found myself looking at older Miatas for sale, which is crazy because I’m building a kit car based on a Miata.  What’s wrong with me?   In my defense I am casually looking.

I think the answer is to get back in the garage and get to work on the Exocet. Or buy an old Datsun, err I mean Miata.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dallas Texas and First Class Upgrades

I was in Dallas several weeks back for a few days.  Work took me there.  I’m in Dallas several times a year for various reasons.  I like Dallas.  The people are nice, big Texas sunsets use up all of the sky each evening and it has what I like to call the culinary duo of awesomeness: fantastic barbeque and Mexican food so good it has its own subcategory, Tex Mex.  It also has the Dallas Cowboys which, unlike brisket smoked at 200 degrees for 8 hours, I don’t particularly like.  However, I would like to see an NFL game in their stadium.  It’s a real dilemma.

As usual I was thirty something on the upgrade list and as such took my assigned seat at boarding.  This happened going and coming.  No real surprise.  Well, except for the fact a week after the Dallas trip I was upgraded on both flights to and from Los Angeles.  Both legs.  That never happens.  To top it off the return leg was a plane that spends most of its time flying over the Atlantic to and from Europe.  International plane means lay flat seats in first class.  Lay flat international seats pose a dilemma almost ask stark as my Cowboys stadium conundrum.  Do I watch one of the 20 plus movies available at my convenience or do I take a nap in a perfectly prone position at 35,000 feet?

A four hour flight meant I did both.  Win win. 

Chances are I happened to be in the right place with the right Delta airline status at the right time and got upgraded.  Or, just maybe, somebody at Delta read the MGB in Socal post and decided to take care of me.  Which is awesome because that means my readership is now a cool baker’s dozen!
So, if I just got lucky then so be it.  If I happened to pick up a new reader… Have I mentioned that Delta is my favorite of all the airlines?  Cause it is. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

MGB in Socal

I was in Los Angeles a few weeks back.  I always enjoy going to LA.   Not just because it’s the land of the automobile but because I love seeing my name listed as the 34th individual on the first class upgrade list.  Thirty fourth.   The only thing good about being 34th is not being 35th.  Of course the guy in 33rd is saying the same thing about me.  Anyway.

Los Angeles truly is the land of the car.  In less than ten miles after picking up the rental car I saw a Bentley, Rolls Royce, Ferrari 458 and half a dozen Porsches.  I once read a third of the world’s 911s reside in southern California.  I have no reason to doubt this claim, and in fact have anecdotal evidence to support it (the aforementioned six Porsches in ten miles).  During this trip it wasn't one of the many expensive cars that caught my attention.  No, it was mid ‘70s orange MGB heading north bound on the 405 in morning rush hour traffic.

If I had to list five cars manufactured in the past 50 years that I absolutely wouldn’t want to be driving in Los Angeles morning commute traffic I think the plastic bumper MGB would likely make the list.  It’s not that I don’t like MGBs, I do.  I just don’t trust them.  Nobody should trust them.  Not as reliable transportation anyway.  As a fun, top down, smile inducing car to drive within a eight mile radius of your house on a Sunday preceding a week where you absolutely don’t have to be anywhere until Tuesday; they’re fantastic. 

So, to the woman driving this MGB, my hat is off to you.  

You are clearly a bigger car enthusiast than I.  That or your Honda was in the shop.

Monday, January 20, 2014

So I'm Going to Build a Kit Car

I bought a kit car a few weeks ago.  Or more precisely, I put a deposit down on a kit I will build into a car inside my two car garage that is two car sized in legal definition only.  Not in the more common definition where a person could actually fit two cars and other garage related stuff inside and close the door. 

The car is an Exocet and it’s made by Exomotive.  The kit is Miata based and the company is out of Atlanta.  I happen to own a Miata and also live in suburban Atlanta.  I’ll take alignment of stars for a thousand Alex.

I had been threatening to buy a kit for a while and made the final decision right before the end of last year.   Several reasons finally pushed me over the edge but it really came down to the fact the car roulette wheel was pointing to “kit car” when the music stopped.  Yes I do understand the difference between musical chairs and roulette, and also recognize music is not used in the playing of one of them.  But let me explain.
My car hobby life can be pretty accurately be explained by the Automotive Wheel of Chance.  The Automotive Wheel of Chance works like this:

Imagine a wheel divided into four roughly equal quarters like one of those child size pizzas where the pepperoni looks like pencil erasers instead of normal pepperoni.   The wheel rotates and at a certain speed.  Sometimes it rotates quickly and sometimes it rotates slowly.  Music plays as it rotates just because.
One slice reads “Maintain the same course”.  Which means keep doing what I’m doing.  I’ve spent most of my car life doing just that whether it’s been autocrossing or attending track days or just working on the same car.  There’s nothing wrong with the wheel spending some time in this quadrant, it’s how I learned to be a better mechanic, trouble shooter and driver.

Another slice on the Automotive Wheel of Chance, or AWC as I like to call it, (actually I just made that up right now.)  reads “Air Cooled Porsche 911”.   The Porsche 911 is the “it” car for me.  I like Ferraris and think Corvettes are pretty neat but the 911 is the car I fell in love with as a 13 year old boy reading car magazines and it’s attraction has stuck with me.  I’ve been in the – I’m going to buy a 911 come hell or high water – phase several times over the past 15 years.  As far as I know none of the three have happened.

In terms of good, solid 1980s Porsche 911 buying tips known by guys who haven’t actually ever looked at a 911 for sale my knowledge has to put me in the top three in the country.  Books, web forums, or bulletin boards as they used to call them (I’m looking at you Pelican Parts), car shows, even a PCA track day or two (in my non Porsche), I’ve spent time with them all learning and preparing.  One of these days the music will stop and the AWC will be pointing to air cooled 911.  And I’ll be ready.

The third slice of the Wheel says “Build a Kit Car”.  Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who read the first paragraph.  There is something about assembling a car in a garage from a bare frame to a running automobile that appeals to me.  Back before the internet was the cornucopia of information it is today, and people read enthusiast magazines to get information about the interest they were enthusiastic about, I read an article in a car magazine detailing the assembly of a Caterham 7.  I knew of Caterham and I knew of how they bought the rights to manufacture and sell kits of the famed Lotus 7, but I hadn’t really paid much attention beyond that.  After reading that article I was convinced I had to build a kit car.  After a little searching I discovered the existence of several other companies making Lotus 7 type clones.  I also discovered all these companies had two things in common; the types of cars their kits assembled into, and price.  As in they are all expensive.

Since then my interest in Kit cars has remained and the internet has become more useful.  Every once in a while I’d fire up the Google and look at kit cars.  Each and every time I’d reach the same conclusion: “These things are awesome, but for 30 grand I’m just going to go buy a 911”.  And then I’d immediately start looking at 911s for sale. 

So I won’t deny affordability played a big part in the decision.  The fact Exomotive builds a kit that is affordable, allows me to use all my Miata go fast stuff from wheels to shocks to aluminum fly wheel, heck it even allows the use the aftermarket  sway bar end links currently on the car, really made it an easy decision.  Plus I can sell a bunch of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years to help subsidize the build.  Anyone need a black hard top?  How about a roll bar?  Doors?  Fenders?  Anyone?

I’d like to think by this time next year I will be most of the way through the build, maybe even ready to wade through the registration process.  Or maybe I’ll still have a pile of parts in the garage.  Hopefully  it is the former.

Oh yeah, the fourth section on the Automotive Wheel of Chance is actually divided up into several smaller slices within the quadrant.  Things like:

Sell everything and go kart racing.  It can’t be as expensive as everyone says.  The dang things don’t even have suspension!

Muscle cars are awesome.  I should buy one.  They can go pretty fast in a straight line.  And really, how hard could body work and rust repair be?

Classic British roadsters are practically a rite of passage in the sports car world.  What’s a little oil fire and electrical short now and again?

Oh, and one more thing.  To my friend Kyle, who lives in southern California and owns a 1973 911T,  I’m sorry.   I know you wanted me to get an SC or Carrera.  I did too, but the music kept playing.  I’ll have to live vicariously through you for my 911 fix for a while.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sebastian Vettel is a Pretty Good Driver

With his fourth World Championship sown up well before the Formula 1 season came to a close some folks are saying 26 year old Sebastian Vettel will own every record that means anything in Formula 1 before his career is over.  They very well may be correct.  He may become the greatest and most dominant F1 driver there has ever been.  As a matter of fact, if Vegas put odds on this sort of thing, and maybe they do, I’d expect those odds to be pretty close to even. 

The record for world championships is seven, and with four, Vettel will need at least four more years to break that particular record.  Until that time, Michael Schumacher will remain the most dominant driver in F1.  He is still the holder of virtually all the records.  Five of his seven championships were won in succession.  Five.  In a row.  I can’t do anything five times in a row short of bringing a fork full of food from plate to my mouth.  Even then Vegas has the odds at 3:2.

Looking back on Schumacher’s career as a whole yields some impressive stats.  If his three year return with Mercedes isn't considered, his record looks like this.

248 Starts
91 wins
154 podiums
67 pole positions

He won more than a third of the races he started.  Sixty two percent of the time he was on the podium, which means every other race, except more than that.  If he didn't win, just wait a race or two, he’d win that one.  Or both of them.

I was fortunate enough to watch him race in person at six different United States Grands Prix.  I’m glad I did.  I've never seen Sebastian Vettel drive a race car in person.  I should work on that.