Friday, June 27, 2014

The Pipes Are Alive With the Sound of Combustion

 Here’s the thing about Italian Symphonies -

The best part about being a car guy is how these machines stimulate the senses, and the discussions and arguments that come with it while watching endless hours of videos on YouTube.

I have addressed the visual stimulation before with the psychology of color, but this past weekend while in between heats at an Auto-x event my friend and I discussed what the best sound in the automotive world is currently.

Obviously everyone has their own opinions, I myself change mine from time to time.  At certain times the pure explosive sound of ‘MERICA’ that come from a Mustang or Shelby Cobra is glorious, especially approaching this yearly celebration that is July 4th.  But recently I have heard a few things that give classic American muscle a serious run for its money. One is a classic unaltered Italian scream while the other is an Italian scream you only get after a few Americans think their Ferrari needs some help breathing.

(NOTE: It is purely coincidence that my friend and I feel the two best sounding cars currently are Ferraris.)
My idea of what is a nearly perfect sound currently comes from the 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO driven by the great American driver Phil Hill. This 3.0 liter V12 is just the epitome of #becauseracecar:

My friend on the other hand, who agrees the 250 GTO is amazing, is more of a fan of something more boosted in nature.  Currently he believes the best sound to be had is the 1994 Twin Turbo Ferrari 348 Challenge that was recently featured by The Smoking Tire:

A small displacement V12 or a slightly larger V8 with some added witchcraft? That’s the tough question.

Personally I will always love a V12 but it is very hard to disagree with a 9,000 RPM Bi-Turbo V8. Very hard indeed.

- Devlin

Friday, June 13, 2014

Blue Devils and Green Jaaaaags

Here’s the thing about Colors:

This post is my first attempt to dive into a subject that is not 100% automotive related, but certainly has a larger foot hold in the industry. I am talking about the psychology of colors in marketing and advertising.  Throughout my marketing classes during college we learned about how color affects people’s perceptions of a marketable item.  We even learned how in certain cultures or countries, marketers and advertisers shy away from various colors because of an association with a political party or other group.

This is where I tie this all back into the automotive business: Auto shows and Press cars. Years ago I was at the Philadelphia Auto show and saw the ZR1 Corvette for the first time. It was of course the Blue Devil. And ever since that day, if I ever have the chance to buy a ZR1, it will be blue.  The same goes for a Z06 thanks to the Corvette racing teams I will always remember Z06’s being a bright Yellow that is unmistakable as a Corvette.

This same psychological effect isn’t just limited to specific models or manufacturers though. Last night I was watching Top Gear on Netflix and it was the episode where Hammond talks about racing colors and how each country has always seemed to have their own and he’s right. If I ever see a Jag D-Type that isn’t green it just feels wrong, if I ever see a Bugatti or Renault Alpine that isn’t bright blue I think WTF. And if I ever see a Ferrari that isn’t red I always wonder why, even though at this point there are so many red Ferraris that I don’t think I could ever buy on in that color. 

So I wonder am I the only one who is affected by this? Or am I crazy and should I go find a yellow D-Type, or a green Corvette?

You guys tell me.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Restrictions of the Factory

So here’s the thing,

Something I have noticed with my car, and it goes for a LOT of other cars as well, is that some cars don’t come out of the factory as good as they could be. Like this:

Take a good hard look at that. That is when I put in my K&N filter in my Fiesta. To the right is the gargantuan stock air filter, and to the left, the less restrictive K&N filter. Sometimes it just boggles my mind as to why they do this. I know in some cases, especially with cars like my Fiesta, which is a performance version of a economy car, they have to meet a certain price point. However, here is the thing with that as well: I have lights in my freaking cup holders. Yup, lights in the cup holders! Yes, it is pretty awesome because I can use my peripheral vision to put a cup down in it rather than taking my eyes off of the road. But I would much rather not have those lights in there, and instead have something like a less restrictive filter in my car, or a better rear engine mount that helps cut down wheel hop and vibration. The biggest thing that boggles my mind, is there is no belly pan, or skid plate if you will, underneath my engine! A belly pan is on the low end of 100 bucks, yet they didn’t put one on it, so I’m forced to go out and get an aftermarket one. Either way, it presents a unique opportunity, an opportunity to help support third party vendors, doing what they do best. That is to make our cars better, and to have a legitimate excuse to wrench on your vehicle. With everything in the auto industry changing, and things seeming to become more restrictive in regards to wrenching on your own vehicle, you always have to remember that you just shouldn’t settle for what is there. For every factory restriction put on something, there is a vendor out there who knows a way around it. Just putting in that air filter made the take off much cleaner, and it’s just an air filter. We shouldn't be content in just leaving vehicles how someone else thought we would like them. We should make them how we want them to be. Unfortunately a lot of times people that want to do this are left out in the cold because of the very high cost of workshop maintenance books, a lack of a Haynes manual, what have you. I mean the workshop manual for my car costs over 1,000 dollars, and there is no Haynes manual planned for it. When it comes to a situation like that, all you have is your experience, and vendor support. But all it comes down to is taking a chance and trying to change something up, and knowing what you are working with. Companies like Ford make cars like the ST lineup specifically for people that like to go to the track, like to modify their car, like to just change up the status-quo. Not all cars are like that, most are not, but all cars can be changed to suit what you need, or want. When it comes to doing things like modifying cars, and having cars that are easy to modify out of the factory, it is quite a case of use it or lose it. If manufacturers lose those niche market for cars built for car people, then they aren’t going to be making cars for car people anymore, and they will focus more on those beige mobiles. Just because it looks like a complicated design doesn’t really mean it is. In that way it's hard to learn but easy to do. Don’t let some factory restrictions on this or that hold you back. There is always a way to get past it, and make it better. Besides, you’ve got bigger things to worry about, like what happens after you pop off that plastic engine cover...

And that, well that’s the thing about dealing with restrictions -Jeremy

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sporting Intentions

Here's the thing,

Honda released the current Accord nearly two years ago now, and to great fanfare. Their party piece for this new model was the Sport trim. With the combination of the new Earth Dreams 2.4, a classic bolt-action Honda 6-speed, and a slightly sportier suspension setup, it was just enough to satiate aging Honda fans, while not alienating casual buyers. That last point is due to the fact that it is also available with Honda's new CVT setup.

If you opted to bypass the rubberband Rube Goldberg Device, the car became a bit of a grown-up's Si. However, the car left a lot of hardcore enthusiasts unimpressed. That's mostly because Honda didn't take the extra steps to differentiate it from the standard Accords that surround it in the lineup. The Sport's seats are LX seats with "sports cloth" and the slightly stiffer suspension comes standard on everything from the EX on up. For lack of a better description, it was the sportiest assembly of the parts in their bin. It seemed like a good enough plan, but today I drove something that I think could easily blow it out of the water.

It was the Passat Sport, and it was phenomenal. Starting its run this year, the Passat Sport represents the best version possible of the Passat SE. It has completely one-off wheels with tires usually saved for sportier models, and a carbon fiber lined interior. It also gets the seats from the much more expensive Volkswagen CC, with a possible two-tone scheme. And being powered by the new Turbocharged, Direct Injected 1.8, the car feels sprightly and moves down the road faster than its low 7s 0-60 suggests. The Passat (in all forms) already handles better than the current Accord as wll, so the base platform already bodes better for a Sport version.

And herein lies the quandry. Neither company will commit to making a dedicated sports model. Both have V6 versions, however those are cushy mid-market models with larger engines, or pseudo-luxury trims attempting to catch random cheapskates unwilling to spend actual luxury money. However, the Volkswagen wins due to the fact that the Passat is committed to the idea of giving the customer more, including features and items not available on normal models, as where the Accord feels like it was built by pulling out anything the customer wouldn't miss. In essence, it's built to a purpose, not to a price point.

The aftermarket already has tuning available for the Passat as well. For people like me that buy a car not only for what it is, but also what it can be, that can make all the difference in the world. It also shows how others feel about each of these offerings "Sport" credentials.

And that, that's the thing.

- Shawn

Friday, June 6, 2014

Car Control

Here's the thing,

So I've expressed before my compulsive need for manual cars. It would be very hard for me to own or drive an automatic transmission car every day. Worse yet, it seems these majestic creatures are starting to go the way of the dinosaur. Of course, every couple of years a manual-only car makes a splash, but then the maker folds to increased pressure and makes an automatic version. Think the Fiat 500 Abarth. And next up will be the Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost, I'm sure.

So what's the problem? Dual clutch flappy paddle boxes are faster, get the same or better gas mileage, and offer you the option of putting the car in Drive when not in the mood to change your own gears. Right? Well the argument that every enthusiast uses still stands: manuals offer a better connection with the car, and better control over the way it behaves. Will there ever be a way to change the set-up to better cater to the enthusiast crowd and bring over some of the three-pedal faithful?

I have one idea. Let's put the paddles in charge of everything. Many high-end models do this, but I've yet to see an affordable car where everything can be controlled by paddle. On many exotics that operate by flappy paddle, at any time the driver can pull both paddles to enter Neutral, and use them again to enter Reverse if so desired. In the affordable models today with paddle-shifted transmissions, they are simply extensions of the old Auto-Stick set up. Some companies call it Shifttronic, some call it Click-Shift, but basically all it does is let you think you have a bit more control than using the plus and minus clicks on the console shifter. A good bit of those will even upshift automatically once you get close to redline as well. Not much control over the car, huh?

So I propose this option. Start offering sportier models without a traditional P-R-N-D-S shifter. There should be buttons, and only 3 of them. P would park the car and engage the brakes. D would be for drive, and function much the same way as today's modern take would, also offering a. Then of course, offer an M button, for full manual control over the car. Offer the enthusiast a way to really take over and control the car the way we can with a traditional standard setup. As I said, offer these on the sportier models as not to confuse those that wouldn't be ready for this kind of change.

Without changing something, enthusiasts will be left out in the cold. Automatics will continue to grow, and we will be shoved towards the back of the class. If manufacturers are going to start taking away our ability to heel-toe and rev-match our own shifts, at least leave the pleasure of controlling the car's gears somehow in our hands. After all, it may even shift the minds of a few die-hards.

And that, that's the thing.
- Shawn

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dumping the Jalopy

Here's the thing,

Getting rid of a car is never an easy proposition. Whether you are giving it away, selling it or donating it. You have to plan for people coming and test driving it, hoping they don't notice that the muffler is half rusted out and hanging on by a thread. Or, like in my case, have a tow truck come and get it because you are donating it, and then break your phone so they can't reach you. Just hope they come when you aren't home. Any way you go about it, it's stressful and a bit depressing because you are doing away with your car. First and foremost, because it is your car, and nobody really, deep down, wants to get rid of their car. Yeah, they may get rid of it to make space, or they can’t afford it, or it breaks down so often it’s like having a car payment, but you still really don’t want to.

So I had this car, an 1986 Honda Accord LX-i, and man did I pick the more troublesome of the bunch when it came to the 3rd generation Accords. This is the only picture of my Honda I have not on a tow truck, I didn't take many pictures of it.

The best way to tell all about it, I suppose, would simply be from the start. Back in late September of 2013 the car I was driving (a 1989 Toyota Corolla GT-S, not a bad car by any means by the way, but it’s still no AE86), belonged to my roommate, and he had to sell it to get back home. He sold it without letting me know ahead of time, so I was scrambling to get a new one. I searched on craigslist for anything under 1,000 bucks, and it’s true by the way, if it costs 1,000 dollars or less, you cannot afford it. Anywho, I find this Honda Accord. And my first car was a Honda, so I figured, “What the hell, even if I have to fix stuff up, it will be cheap.” I knew I would have to do some work, but also knew parts were dirt cheap, which was the driving force behind allowing myself to purchase the vehicle.

I contact the guy about checking out the car, and I ride out to take a look at it. As expected, it looks like an 800 dollar car. I do a quick look over, there is rust around the vehicle as expected, but the engine bay looks cleanish for a 200,000+ mile car. Save for one tear per seat on the seams, and a messed up shifting boot, the interior was next to perfect (save for some stains, but those are easily fixed with elbow grease.)

I didn't get an inspection done or do a real thorough look through to be honest, however, I did at least take it for a test drive. It leaned a little and I heard the control arms making their trademark kill me now noises, but the engine and transmission were solid. So, I decide to purchase it. The guy wanted 950 and I gave him 950, but he gave me back 100 dollars. That should have been been a nuclear alarm, if someone gives money back to you when you are buying a car it's because they feel guilty that you are buying a piece of shit. The reason he said he was selling it was because he wanted a car to work on, but like so many people before him he was in over his head with it, thus he sold it to me.

I got it home and I noticed that the breaks were a little weak and it leaned to the left on the drive home, so I looked as to why. Three of the tires were 165's, and one of them was a 185 winter tire with the tread readily separating. I couldn't help but think 'wow this guy is is a dumbass'. I was planning for new tires anyways, and it's a good thing I planned for a harsh winter and got good winter tires all around, because this last winter was absolutely brutal. Definitely glad I drove that car through it and not my Porsche.

That, however, was only the beginning of my issues when it came to this car. Because I am used to things breaking and needing work, but what went down on this car, was more on the rarer side of things that go wrong. All of it, as it soon became apparent, was because this car wasn't maintained properly for at least a good 20,000 miles or more.

This is the fuel filler neck for the Honda. I was sitting in my living room, and decided on a whim to go look at my newly acquired vehicle before I wen to register and title it. The first thing I looked at was the gas filler area, and boy was I surprised. The thing had completely rusted out, and I wouldn't have been able to put gas in it. So, before I even really got to drive the car I already had to make a repair. Luckily the filler neck only ran 60 bucks, and to put it on was 200. I brought it down, got that and tires put on, and new brakes. I talked to one of the mechanics, and he said to put it on he had to drop the gas tank. Thank God for set factory maintenance times, or it would have been a whole lot more than 200 dollars.

Things were relatively care free until I got an oil change. The day after I got it, the temperature sensor went out, I found out by it overheating like a beast. So, thank God for being a part of USAA, free tows! I got it towed back to the shop that did the oil change where they did a block test. It was good, but they couldn't figure out what was wrong, so I had to bring it to a Honda dealership. A few hours later it turns out it was the temperature sensor, I gave the go ahead to fix it since it had to be done. After all, I needed my car. Necessity is an evil that costs more money then need be, because the part cost 60 bucks, on Rock Auto it costs about 7. Needless to say, however, I got it fixed, and everything was grand.

Up until 2 days before I go to take leave, that is. I heard a weird sound during turning, and a mile down the road I take a right turn and my left CV axle snaps in half. Talk about some breaking news. About a month later I hear the same sound and I need to replace the other CV axle, it wasn't as bad though. A hundred bucks each side for a whole new axle, and 100 each side to put it in. Like I said, this car was very poorly maintained. And speaking of maintenance, let me tell you. In order to put in the number 4 cylinder spark plug without putting it in at an angle, you had to disconnect a power steering hose, it was one of the hardened ones that wouldn’t budge. So you're left with 2 choices: either you add on several hours of work, plus refilling and bleeding a power steering system, or risk creating a misfire in cylinder 4. This car was nothing but compromises.

After a while, it just started to really beat down on me. I was constantly having to repair this car, and it was to the point that I had a car payment, because every month I had to get something fixed. Near the time I got rid of it, I had to figure out something, because April was when I needed a new safety inspection, and I was still fighting with the Honda Dealership to fix my seat belts. Both of them blew. And my whole front suspension, exhaust, and EGR valve needed replacing in order to pass safety, the EGR because it tripped a check engine light. Let me break it down:

October: Tires/Brakes/Fuel filler neck/Temp sensor
November: Upper rear control arms
December: Left CV Axle
January: Right CV Axle
February: Heater hose busted, needed to replace that along with radiator flush
March: Bought a new seatbelt to replace busted one, didn’t fit
April: Finally got seatbelts fixed by dealership under lifetime warranty, got rid of car.

Every month the amount of money I had to pay in order to keep this car going was at least 200 bucks, and that is ridiculous considering that right now I pay less than 300 a month for a brand new 2014 Fiesta ST. But I suppose that is the folly of us car guys, no matter how worthless the car is, we always want to keep it running and keep driving it. Because hell, that is just who we are. We love cars, we love to keep them going, and we hate admitting defeat. I loved that little car because it reminded me of my first car, and it was just this little daily driver that I got attached to because I spent 3 hours a day in it. But then I remember other things, like before the heater hose broke it constantly overheated because the hose got plugged up. No way I could be in stop and go traffic. Or it could be the fact that I always had to make sure that I was ready for it to break down.

In the end, I couldn't rely on the car, and that is a serious problem, when your daily driver isn't reliable. And it’s a serious problem when every time it goes in for a repair you are spending 1/4th of it’s original purchase price, especially when it’s a dime a dozen Honda. I love my cars like I would a dog that I love coming home to. I try my best to take care of it, keep it going, keep it happy, but in the end, sometimes when they get too sick, or try to kill you too many times, you’ve got to put them down. It hurts, but it just makes sense. I spent a few months making this car an economically unsound decision, and it was just time to let it go. I donated it to the Purple Heart Foundation, so hopefully it goes to someone who spends a few bucks and fixes it up the way it should be fixed, and keeps it going.

Here's me talking to the tow truck driver, and my daughter playing in the grass. Notice that missing quarter glass!I replaced the car with my new daily driver, my Fiesta, and I’ll tell that story another time. People talk a lot about taking chances, especially with cars. 'Hey, buy this one, fix it up, it’ll be great!' Or, 'fix this one up just a little, and you’ll have a great reliable DD'! But no one ever talks about when you need to get rid of these cars, everyone just sort of says, “I got rid of it.” And that is that, sort of an unspoken agreement that you never talk about getting rid of a car, that it’s just gone. And I can understand that, mainly because to a lot of us, selling a car, especially an older one that needs work, is seen as giving up, or quitting on it. No one wants to admit that a car was too much for them, but it happens. In my case, I just couldn't justify spending money on keeping it running anymore, and my love affair with Honda’s has waned considerably, so, it’s been passed along to whoever else receives it.
With that said, always remember that even when you finish a journey with one car, there is always a new adventure starting up with another…

And that, that is one thing about getting rid of your old busted car.