Just How Smoky are Those Mountains?

While enduring the isolation of COVID 19 we found a bright spot coming into our future and it was perpetrated by Classic Motorsports magazine.  Starting the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend was this year’s Smoky Mountain Tour.  We applied for the event and waited impatiently for the Sunday to arrive when we would drive our Mitsubishi Evolution MR SE the 200+ miles to the Brasstown Valley Resort where it would commence on Monday, May31. The resort was a picturesque place tucked into the northwest portion of Georgia not far from the North Carolina border.

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It has its own golf course, riding stables and…

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friendly interiors.

A co-sponsor fo the event was Hagerty, the specialty car insurance people.  Their Territory Manager, Stephen Carey, was there and not only answered our questions on what Hagerty might do for us, but was a charming addition to the 50+ people on the tour.

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Tim Suddard, the magazine’s publisher was participating in the tour as well as Nancy Gomes, who ensured that everything went as planned and when a plan “B” was required, it fell into place as naturally as if it had been plan “A”.

Chris Tropea was the official photographer of the event and we often came around a corner to see that he had us in his viewfinder.  FB has a group for Classic Motorsports Road Tours that Chris is in charge of with hundreds of photos.

There were many different people that was part of the group and they also brought with them many different cars.

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Ron and Jerri brought their Smart ForTwo Cabriolet that was surprisingly agile in the twisties!

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Jim and Kathy had the 2007 Porsche 911, Andy and Pat had the 1969 Jaguar XKE FHC, Lony and Carla brought this Ferrari 328 GTS

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Terry and Cathy brought this exceptional 1967 Porsche 912, one of the most well balanced Porsches ever

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Next to the Mini Cooper is Steve and Debbiy’s 1989 Alfa Romeo Spider

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Ed and Rosie brought this very capable 2004 Mustang SVT Cobra

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Tony had his2009 Mini Cooper S JCW, Reg and Charlotte with their 2019 Porsche 911 Targa 4s, Tim and Teri had their 2019 Ferrari Portofino, and Tom and Tina with their 2002 Ford Thunderbird

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Vince and Angela brought their awesome 2015 Porsche 911 GT3

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Richard and Rosemary had this 2017 Ford Focus RS whose rally heritage was welcome

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John and Lolly had this 2018 Porsche Macan GTS

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Doug and Bea had their 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S

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Dwayne and Brenda 2017 Mercedes AMG C63 S was another power house car.

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David and Marilyn had this 2019 Morgan Roadster

Mike and Lucy brought a gorgeous 1966 chocolate brown 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230SL that I failed to photograph!  Trust me, it was beautiful.

Hopefully I haven’t left anyone out, but there was quite a group of drivers, co-drivers, and their cars.

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Our first day of road tour adventure was to drive to Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, GA.  To get there we had a route book which provided us a navigation rally experience as we followed the directions and enjoyed the twisty road that we traversed.  The Atlanta Motorsports Park is quite the place and we were able to do some parade laps on their highly technical two-mile road course that was designed by F1 architect Hermann Tilke.  It reminded me of the squirrely roads I drove growing up on old Cape Cod.  It was fun and I just wished that I could return some day with racing gear on.

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Here is a drifting track where we were entertained by the tire smoke and the noise.

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We then left the AMP facility and headed for Helen, GA, for a German restaurant and lunch.  Wow.

After that we headed for a picturesque place called Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia, at 4,784 feet.

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Spectacular views that this photo does not due justice to.

Then there were more twisty roads to return us to the resort and our dinner at nearby Crane Creek Vineyards before crashing (in our beds) for the night.

Day two was following our route book to the famous Tail of the Dragon.  Famed for 318 turns in an 11 mile stretch of route 129 that crosses Tennessee and North Carolina.

Lunch was held at the Historic Tapoco Lodge which was alongside the Cheoah River.  The food was great as were the sights.  Then it was a little less than a hundred miles of more twisites that returned us to the resort.  We were rewarded by another fantastic dinner.

Day three had us navigating over 100 miles of wonderful roads with some very challenging.  We had a great lunch at a sandwich shop just next to the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC.

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What an amazing place!  While primarily a motorcycle museum it was nonetheless fascinating to us four wheelers.  The host knew and could share so much with us about so many facets of motorcycle history in the US>

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It was nearly 130 miles of more fun roads to drive and we returned to the resort and we found our own favorite eating place of which there were plenty in the area.

We woke up Thursday to our final day of the tour and after a fine breakfast at the resort we navigated our way to the Miles Through Time Museum in Clarkesville, GA.

It is a co-op museum which means that the exhibits rotate through with many different owners of the cars and memorabilia.

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From there we were off on several more miles of twisty roads until we reached the Wolf Mountain Winery.  This was not just a lunch stop, we also received a personal tour presented by the owner of the winery of some of his fantastic Porsche collection.

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What a special place and we had plenty to talk about during lunch!

We then headed off to return to the resort with a final 70 miles or so of our now familiar twisty roads.

That night we had our fare well dinner where we thanked our hosts and reveled in our new found friendships!

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When we awoke the next day there was a mix of feelings as, after breakfast, we gathered our bags and prepared for the road trip back home.

Many great memories…

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We can always sign up for next year’s road tour!

Posted in Cars | 2 Comments

Visiting an Old Friend and Making a New One

A few years back I shared my experiences turning a 1996 Miata M Edition into a track purposed car.  for me it was a great and fun journey being able to do things “my way” and just focusing on the build using what I had learned from both my track experiences and the many Miata’s that I had worked on.   In the end I had a fun car to drive on the street and discovered that with a proper helmet on I just didn’t fit the car.  Not that I couldn’t get my self into the seat and belt up, I just ended up with my helmet jammed into the hard top and compressing my neck vertebra.  I suppose I could have reengineered the seating but by that point I felt it better ot find a buyer of a stature where there would be no such problem and then I would move on to something else.

I was fortunate to find another track person who was looking for a car that would allow him to learn ever more on track.  He was also of smaller stature so that my problem was not his.  He came and looked the car over, took it for a test drive and we settled on a price that we could both live with.  While I kept in touch with him from time to time we didn’t see each other all that much.  Later he let me know that because of a knee problem he was putting it up for sale. 

For quite a while I heard nothing of the outcome and in the back of my mind I kept telling myself to contact him to just find out who the new owner was.

After a few years I found out that the car and the new owner was making an appearance at the shop (Automotive Performance & Chassis) to tweak the alignment, have a pre-track inspection, and a corner balance done.

By the time I got to the shop the car and its owner were done and gone.  I had to satisfy my curiosity with talking to the techs and finding out that the car looked great and that the owner was a very nice guy.

A bit later I got the owner’s contact info and sent him an email inviting him to drop by my house so I could take a look at the car and meet him.

We found a day and afternoon that worked for the both of us and I smiled as the satin black Miata pulled into my driveway.  Andrew was a very nice guy indeed and we hit it off talking all about the car and what he had done and how he envisioned it evolving over time.

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The first thing I noticed when he popped the hood was the engine.  He had another block rebuilt and a very nice job was done.  It ended up with a higher compression (11:1) which turned it into a leak-free responsive four cylinder engine.  He retained the light flywheel and heavy duty clutch along with the header and exhaust system (which he liked).  He did some nice things to ensure that it would not be an oil burner (my old engine did receive all new seals and timing belts, but I knew it really deserved a proper rebuild.  He changed the air intake so that it captured cooler air in front of the radiator and was a little more isolated from the engine compartment heat.

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He said that he loved the brakes and added a bias valve as well as  support for the front of the master cylinder.  All very nice.

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He had also removed the Hard Dog side door bars and changed out to a pair of seats that could be lowered down far more than I had done.  It was a very smart move and one that I probably should have considered. 

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He was continuing to work on the interior.  He swapped out the hub release on the Momo steering wheel for a much easier or should I say one with a more natural way of connecting and disconnecting.  He also changed the transmission to a six speed!  That was a very nice change.  He is still working on gauges and finding ways to simplify and clean up the dash structure.  While I had retained the heater and such he now knows that he can easily live without all that and will be removing it soon. 

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Due to time much of the suspension’s joints and bushings needed to be replaced and updated.  So while he was in there he swapped to a NB front subframe which allowed for a bit more enhanced suspension along with the rebuild.  He got higher rated springs for the Flyn’ Miata coil-overs and expects to upgrade those to something even more track appropriate soon.  Andrew is not only  “track rat” , but an instructor as well. 

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Next thing I knew Andrew was asking me if I wanted to take it for a spin.  Grinning I could not say no.  He was anxious for someone else to experience the results of his efforts and I was the lucky  one.  I got in and it was marvelous!  We drove to an abandoned mall where there was a lot of open parking lot available to safely put it through some paces.  It was such a treat.

Andrew and I enjoyed talking cars and he has some wonderful plans to further increase the fun and performance factor of the Miata.  It was such a treat to meet him and see the car again.  When you sell a car anything can happen and usually does.  Some times for the better and sometimes it just ends up bad.  But certainly not this one.  I could not be happier.

We spent well over an hour talking and exploring the black beast.  It is such a fun car and Andrew is the perfect owner. We had a great meeting and I expect it will not be the last.

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How About a Nice $400,000 Westfalia?

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Transporter Werks out of Dunn, NC has this fantastic project they are working on.  It is a Westfalia Syncro, which means that it is based on the VW AWD transporter.  It is a completely rebuilt and customized version of the very capable van.

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While it is not yet complete you can get a very good idea of just what an amazing camping/go anywhere vehicle this will be once it is completed.

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It is powered by a more than adequate Subaru engine and has a suspension to die for.

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The interior is hand stitched leather customized by a talented specialist.

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This will not just be some kind of show car trailer queen either, the owner is going to use it for lots of off road travel, explorations and camping.

Good show!

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Does This Car Regulation Make Me Look Alike?

Every automotive brand has their own distinctive look, or at least they used to.  Get out on the highway and quickly scan the cars around you.  For one thing, SUV’s predominate.  Be they crossovers, full fledged Sport Utility Vehicles, or the styles in-between, they have pushed out sedans, roadsters,  coupes, and most every car type with the exception of pickup trucks, which also abound.

Wait a minute, you say, they all have their individual style and brand identity, don’t they?

Yes, and no.  Certainly each brand has their own distinctive grill, right?  Hmm.  Not so much any longer. Taillight and rear gate treatments may not be exact copies, but the similarities are profound.

Why would that be?  Isn’t it a marketing advantage to have your brand retain its own distinctive look?

Maybe.  Or perhaps if your brand’s price range makes it more available to a larger segment of the car buying population it might be to your advantage to imitate the looks of a brand that denotes wealth and luxury?

Another factor is the multitude of automotive design regulations that permeate the industry.  The EU has its requirements as does the US.  Other countries end up adopting by default.  Just consider the multitude of US regulations that exist to minimize your chances of death or injury should you and your vehicle exceed the laws of physics.  Mandatory crash (from various angles) and roll-over standards.  SRS (air bags) technology that permeates the interiors of our vehicles.  Cars have to have crumple zones.  Areas of the body and unibody that will crumple in order to enhance energy loss before it gets to the cabin area.  The location of fuel tanks to prevent the fire balls of the Ford Pinto era.  Stability control that is mandatory now.  It monitors your drive train for things such as wheelspin and the dangers of the overproduction of torque.  Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) communication between your tires and the car’s computer(s ) to ensure that you don’t drive on soft tires.  Sensors on the front and rear to alert you to the proximity of objects (perhaps even other vehicles) front or rear.  And often other monitors to detect traffic that might be hanging in your blind spot, or, since these SUV-types tend to be tall, anything close to the perimeter of your vehicle.  Need I mention seat belts, ABS, and on and on?

So what does all this have to do with how your vehicle looks?  Everything.

If your image of a modern automotive design department is artists and engineers sitting at drafting tables and sketching boards along with large clay models of the next generation coming to your neighborhood dealership, forget it.  It is now the 21st Century, and while we may not have flying cars, the world of computer and design and rendering software pervades the industry.  For good reason.  Or at least understandable reasons.  With the leveraging of computer graphics and software in design there is a short and efficient path to production.  Keep in mind that automotive production is no longer a car company producing every piece of the vehicle with the exception of the nuts and bolts.  The vast majority of automotive components are produced by vendors and companies that specialize in production for many automotive manufacturers.  So it makes sense that common CAD/CAM (computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing) software is used across the industry.

So when a design of a future vehicle is planned there may be some preliminary sketches that are turned into three dimensional computer renderings to evaluate a look, but once the CAD software is loaded with all the mandatory demands of governmental regulations the designs quickly lose any look of brand individuality.  Remember that this software also produces what the vendors need to produce parts that will fit as if they were made by a single automotive company.  And they do this for most automotive companies out there.

So with automotive companies all pretty much using the same design software and certainly the same parameters necessary to comply with the multitude of governmental mandates why wouldn’t you expect the end products to lack much individuality?

We also see companies such as Toyota and Subaru, Ford and Mazda, Fiat and Mazda, and others colluding on designs that will be marketed as their own brands.

Between 1896 and 1930 there were somewhere around 1800 different brands of car manufacturers in the United States.  By the close of the Great Depression there were eight.  Today There are three, if you count Chrysler as an American company.

When government mandates for the elimination of internal combustion vehicles come about in the next few years there will be a further decline in the “brand look”, if there is any at all.

Future generations will gape at the kinds of cars that were produced back in the ancient days of the mid-twentieth century, and wonder.

Will they wonder why there is no longer any individual brand look, or will they distain the diversity?

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One KEWL chic

3 year old driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 with 320hp MUST SEE! – YouTube

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Scrunch! The Sound of Your Front Lip Scraping.

If you have lowered your street car or have a car that you drive to the track for track day events it is likely that you’ve experienced the down side of getting your car closer to the ground.  All of the sudden driveway ramps become a challenge to go up or down without removing paint and the bottom edge of your front lip.  We all know that it helps to keep fast moving air from underneath your car and we see how the professional race series have altered their cars so that they barely miss touching the race track surface, but that does not translate well to the unforgiving aspects of the road surface we find on the street.

Even with a modest lowering of your car you can still discover that it results in damage.  My 2006 Evo IX MR has gone from stock springs from Mitsubishi, to Swift Spec R springs which provide better performance and a lower stance without going crazy.  But with public roads it is crazy enough that it has seen how quickly an even carefully navigated driveway ramp can leave scars.

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While I don’t want to drive around looking like a jacked up SUV, I knew I could not continue to damage my body work.  I had seen a product called SlipLo advertised, but frankly, it was an expensive solution.  When I saw that they had a Black Friday sale that just about cut the price by 50% I was in. 

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I ordered a kit and then went through the directions (now how many of you do that?).

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It came with the protective pieces and a chemical primer to ensure even more effective adhesion.

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The next step was to get the car up in the air so I could work on the bottom of the front lip.

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As directed I fitted each section ahead of time and made certain that it would be mounted so as to not block any mounting holes, screw, etc.

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Then I marked the strip’s placement as directed and cut the strips shorter so that I only had as much no mount as I needed.

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On one section There was a place where I needed to cut some of the tips off because the actual bumper cover’s lip was narrow and I had to accommodate where the under-tray connected to the bumper cover.

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Once I knew placement and had trimmed the pieces that I was going to use I cleaned every surface that would be getting the strips with isopropyl  alcohol, dried the area with a paper tower, and then used the adhesive promoter that came with the kit.  I had to use nitrile gloves to protect my skin doing the last part.

Then I put the pieces in place.

I let everything cure and went out for a drive knowing that if I came to a situation that I was likely to scrape the lip, I would not be cringing because I now had to fix things.

I liked how this installation went and I expect I will feel much better the next time I have an unavoidable scrape.

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Studebaker on the Side of the Road

We were traveling back from the “Claw of the Dragon and went through a small North Carolina town when we spotted this store that was no longer in business.

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Off to the right you can see there are some old vehicles parked and sitting there waiting for someone to notice them.

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In a shed to the left of the building there was this International Scout.

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Just beyond the parked cars was this Dodge Dart with weeds and plants growing around it.

But these two were not the cars that got our attention.  Instead it was the three Studebakers lined up and waiting for their owner.

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Here are some other views:

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A pair of Studebaker Cruisers.

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We hope that some day the right person will drive by and see their way to preserve these vehicles. 

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What a Great Day for Cars & Coffee!

It was fantastic day to go to a Saturday morning Cars & Coffee here in the middle of North Carolina.  The weather was beautiful with cool breezes and partly cloudy skies.  Hundreds of cars and more than a thousand people viewing the cars.

There were the new mid-engine Corvettes, the hot Shelby Mustangs and many Subaru’s and BMWs.   I know that you have probably seen many of these so I’ve picked out some that really caught my attention.

The Porsche Panamera has been around for a few years, but here was a black one that was a GTS:

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It was very pretty in black, which is not an easy color to keep looking nice.

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There were other Porsches that caught my eye including this early Carrera.

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Now what do you think about this whale tail Porsche?

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Do any of you remember the first International Race of Champions?  This was the first car used for the IROC series.

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The next car I spotted was this Morris…

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The special part about this one was that it is a woodie wagon.

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The next car that caught my eye was a Lotus Elise.  We saw a lot of Lotus cars several years ago, but much has changed and Lotus has just about disappeared from these shores.

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This Elise was a very nice example.

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The Civic Type R was the hot hatch that handled far better than any front wheel drive car prior to it.

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It really performed as good as it looked.

Let’s drift back in time a bit and experience one of the most beautiful cars ever – the E-type Jaguar!

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This example was the straight six that pulled like a V8.

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What gorgeous lines!

Next to it was this grey Ferrari…

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Who remembers the Mitsubishi 300GT VR4?  This one was a primo example:

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I Japan they were known as the GTO, but someone in the US (Pontiac) already had dibs on that name.

Now how about this example of the 3000 GT’s cousin, the Dodge Stealth?

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It was amazing to see the pair within a couple of parking spaces of one another.

Now, how about this classic VW Rabbit?

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I loved the rear window sticker on the first photo.

How many of you have seen a Panoz?

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Those of you that have a soft spot for the VW’s cousin Porsche, need to feast your eyes on this early example.

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Let your eyes take in this example of what gave BMW its name and reputation – the 2002.  This one is a 1973.

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What could be better than the original Mini Cooper!

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Yes, right hand drive, too!

Finally, this Corvette Rat Rod!

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Have a great weekend and go find a Cars & Coffee near you!

Posted in Cars | 1 Comment

Ancient Ways and Rides to Nowhere

When I was a young lad, prior to obtaining a drivers license and having a vehicle at my disposal, my father would ask me from time to time (usually on a weekend) if I would like to come with him on a drive to nowhere. 

I rarely declined this opportunity to spend some time with him and at the same time have an adventure exploring areas of Cape Cod that most people, even natives of the area, would ever get to travel.

We lived in the town of Barnstable.  It was a township that consisted of seven formally named villages.  The largest was Hyannis, with others named: West Barnstable, Centerville, Marstons Mills, Cotuit, Barnstable (village), and Osterville. The name of the village of Osterville had an interesting history as it was originally name Cotacheset, which was as close as the white settlers could come to the Wampanoag name for it.  Later, as an oyster industry grew up in the village it was changed to Oysterville.  Then, as my grandmother told me, someone made a map and left the “y” out making it Osterville ever since.  As a side note there is another Oysterville in Washington state.

Along with the seven “official villages” there were other areas known to the natives as Cumaquid, Wianno, Seapuit, and other names.  It was like they were secret names that only a “real” Cape Codder would understand.  Much like calling hard shell clams quahogs.

Back to the villages.  In those days, prior to the Cape’s population density becoming the equivalent of Manhattan, the areas between each village was sparsely inhabited and primarily were woods made up of scrub oak and pitch pine trees, with a smattering of sassafras and white pines that were left over from the days when the forests consisted of massively tall stands of white pines.  In the spring you would often find asparagus growing wild in the sand of the roads’ margins.  Asparagus liked the salty soil from the winter efforts to deal with snow by spreading salt mixed with sand.

My father would take me for exploratory rides on the windy roads between the villages in his cars.  One of his first was a 1952 MG-TD.

1959 Phil's MG TD with Jim in it

Later he moved on to various forms of VWs such as the iconic Beatle and the VW bus.

As he and I transversed the paved roads that originated from deer trails and consequently meandered all over the place with quick curves and reverse banked sweepers, I learned to enjoy the feeling of the freedom of these roadways.  Houses were very infrequent and mostly we had the road to ourselves.

Then there were the ancient ways.  These you might call dirt roads, but they weren’t simply dirt roads at all.  They were actual roads that just were never paved.  The road our own house was on, was not paved until I was starting fourth grade.  Prior to that it was simply sandy dirt.

My father knew all these ancient ways and in traveling them I also came to know them all by heart.  They would lead to all kinds of places in the woods that were broken up only by the swaths cut through them to accommodate the power lines that distributed electricity around the Cape.  My father knew these road because he, as his father and grandfather before him, had worked on the volunteer fire department in the village and therefore was enlisted to help with fighting the forest and brush fires that occurred with regularity in the summers on the Cape prior to World War II.  The fire departments had specialized fire trucks known as “brush breakers”.  They had large steel tubing welded on their fronts to allow them to crash through brush in order to get close to a fire.  These trucks carried some water, but relied on fresh water ponds and the ocean as sources of water to extinguish the blazes.  The fire truck’s pumps had to deal with the intake of some sand from the bottoms of the ponds and from the sandy salt water from the ocean.  The pumps that came with the trucks lasted less than an hour in those conditions so his father, my grandfather, invented a fire engine pump that was not phased by these challenges and would work for many long hours.

Consequently these ancient ways were important in the control of the damage of forest fires and were known well by the firefighters of that era.

These ancient ways were what my father enjoyed traversing and his VW Beatle was particularly adept at negotiating.  Its air-cooled engine never had to concern itself with overheating the radiator (it had none) and with the rear engine over the drive wheels you almost never were wanting for traction on the sandy roads.

We explored these ancient ways which lead us to some very interesting spots.  Sometimes they would take you to a long abandoned cranberry bog that was now a favorite spot of the wild life.  One trail we took brought us to a cleared swath of the boundary between our township and the adjacent one.  We stopped and went on by foot to explore this blazed trail as wide as two bulldozer’s blades.  As we walked along my father spotted Indian arrowheads that had been exposed by the bulldozer’s efforts.

Another time we followed a road that went up a hill deep in the woods only to come to a mysterious government controlled area surrounded by a metal fence topped with barbed wire.  We could see from the fence perimeter a white concrete block house next to a huge rectangular lattice work that we supposed was some kind of early warning radar.  Over the years that it was situated there we would come across aluminum strips of chaff that was used to confuse radar in WW II.  We assumed that it was used to test the capabilities of the installation.

When I finally obtained a drivers license and a vehicle to exercise my license in, I also transversed these ancient ways to the delight and trepidation of my friends that I took for rides.  I developed my skills in speed and learning how to deal with the changing grip of driving on sandy dirt roads.  I found that I could drive through several of the townships on the Cape with these roads as my primary route, only occasionally having to cross a paved road.

Most of the paved roads of the time had no lines painted on them, unless you were in Hyannis or on Route 28.  Stop signs were few and far between, also.  Instead you knew that a vehicles on a main road had the right of way over you entering from a side road, so you just stopped naturally.  Traffic lights were also infrequent interruptions as you drove about the roads between the villages.  Some of you may wonder how a person could navigate these windy, narrow roads without the guidance of white or yellow lines marking the lanes and the perimeter of the roads.  Think about this: in the winter snows it would all be hidden from your view as a driver in any case.  So drivers understood how to navigate without the help of painted lines.  It was natural.

In fact, as a young driver you reveled in the driving experience in the snow.  You would seek out a large parking lot not in use (usually a beach parking lot) to head out to where you could deliberately get your car into a spin in the snow and learn how to manage the slides and spins.  It was wonderful to experience.

Jonathan Leonard and James Leonard cousins

Times change and the Cape has grown into a nice spot that has attracted many people who, even in the density of its current population, find it attractive.

While I do miss the “old” days, I feel fortunate to have enjoyed the experiences that those different times afforded a spirited driver.

Posted in Automobiles, Cars, Great Roads, Life and Cars | 1 Comment

Stuck at Home with the Covid Lockdown – Car Projects

So here we are being asked, requested, directed, etc. – to shelter in place at home.  Sure you can get groceries and other essential things, but many of the things we car enthusiasts like to do are currently verboten.  No “cars and coffee”, no live racing, no swap meets.  Sure you can probably get away with some “drives to nowhere”, but this is also an excellent time to focus on your own vehicle or vehicles and see what you can do to prepare them for the open road – whenever that comes to pass.

Basic maintenance is probably something that you do think about.  Probably you change your own oil and may even do your own brake jobs.  Perhaps you are really skilled and experienced and do several things to keep your car or truck in shape.

How often have you consulted your owner’s manual?  Many of us know that it is somewhere in the glove compartment, but haven’t looked at it…ever!  Now might be a good time to browse this book and learn more about your vehicle.  Consider that a small team of writers, graphics designers, artists, photographers, and editors spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours creating this publication – all for the car owners benefit.

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Inside is a wealth of information.  Some things you might not even know about your vehicle, if you’ve never really read the manual.  Such as the maintenance schedule:

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Usually there are two categories, one schedule for regular maintenance and one for severe duty maintenance.  You might want to check the definition of the severe duty and be surprised that your driving just might fit that category.

This is a great time to check your tire pressures.  It is recommended that they be checked when cold so this is a perfect time to check them.  So what should your tire pressures be set to?  That info may be in the owner’s manual, but there should also be a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb with all that information.  The pressures might be all the same for both front and rear tires, or they might be different.  In any case check the pressures with a great quality gauge.

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A dial gauge is nice as are the digital ones now available.  While we don’t recommend the “pencil-style” gauges, they will do in a pinch, although their accuracy is often suspect.

While you are checking and adjusting tire pressures rub you hand across the tread feeling for wear and cupping of the tires.  Your hands will tell you far more about the condition of the tire’s tread than your eyes can unless you can get your car up on a lift.  Excessive wear on the insides of the tread indicates a toe-out problem.  Excessive cupping could point to your shock absorbers (or struts) no longer functioning as they should.  Granted that few, if any of us, have an alignment machine or a tire machine in our personal garage, but it is still important to know the tires condition.

It is also important to know the age of the tires.  Not when you bought them, but when they were manufactured.  So how do you tell?

Cast into the sidewall of the tires is a date code:

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In the example above it is the four digit numeric – 1715.  The first two digits corresponds to the week of manufacture – the 17th week of the year.  The second two digits is the year – or 2015.  If you have plenty of tread on your tires, but they are 5 to 6 years old, you should consider replacing them.  Tire manufacturers and the NHTSA give tires about a six year shelf life before they deteriorate with exposure to the elements and the sun, as this also reduces a tires safety and life.

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Above is another example.  You can ignore the JJC and focus on the four digits following.  It was manufactured in the 4th week of 2019.

If you can safely jack up your car so that you can spin each of your tires you can visually check for foreign objects that might have hitched a ride in your tire  (i.e., you have a puncture).  While you might expect that any puncture will lead to your tire losing air pressure or even going flat, it is not always the case.  Some objects can imbed themselves in the tread and not cause a leak or at least create a very slow leak that the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) won’t detect right away. 

As I said prior, you probably change your motor oil and filter at a regular interval, but how often do you check your brake fluid?

“What”, you say?  While you may have a brake job done from time to time, as they do wear out, the brake’s fluid is often overlooked as a maintenance item.  Keep in mind that its most important characteristics are that it is not compressible and has a high boiling point (using your brakes creates a LOT of heat).  It also is hydroscopic.

What does that mean?  It means that it binds with water any time it can.  It will grab water right out of the air and over time will get wetter and wetter.  Keep in mind that water has a boiling point of 212 F.  Fresh brake fluid is well above 300 F and often in the 400s.  Adding water lowers the boiling point and introduces corrosion into the brake system.

So how do you tell when to replace your brake fluid?  Often you cannot tell by how it looks or how your brakes and clutch (clutch fluid is also brake fluid) are being effected by the water contamination.

There are tools that will measure the % water content.  Here is and example that can be had off Amazon.  I haven’t seen them available in auto parts stores, although they should be.

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It has a AAA battery in it and when the bottom cover it removed there are two prongs that are to be dipped into the reservoir so that the water content can be determined.

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Here you can see that it has detected about 2% water content, which is OK, but close to the 3% level that should inspire you to flush and change the fluid in the system.

Here is the same test on the clutch fluid, which on this vehicle, is kept in its own reservoir.

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This is looking even better at only 1%.

Of course, if you have an automatic transmission, you don’t have any clutch fluid, but you should check the owners manual for when it needs to be changed out along with the filter.

While you have the hood (bonnet) open be sure to look at the battery terminals for any corrosion.  Even if they look clean, check to be sure that they are tight and that the battery hold-down is also in good condition and tight.

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The negative terminal above is in great shape without any of the whitish-blue crystals that show corrosion.  Here is the positive terminal, that also looks fine.

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To show this terminal the red protector was moved out of the way and then put back in place after the photo was taken.  This is important!

If you need to clean the battery terminals BE CAREFUL!  You are dealing with both electricity and acid.  Wear safety eye protection and nitrile or latex gloves. 

Remove the NEGATIVE terminal FIRST.  I’ll say that again – remove the NEGATIVE post clamp FIRST!  Keep in mind that until it is disconnected ANY metal of the car is connected to the battery circuit and an accidental connection to the positive post of the battery will form a circuit INSTANTLY!  Bad stuff can happen as a result.  So be safe. 

Here are tools that can be used to clean the terminals and clamps.

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The wire “tooth brush” can work fine, but dedicated battery terminal tools are better.

AGAIN – wear safety eye protection and the gloves described earlier.

Sometimes the terminals stay tight to the battery posts even after their bolts have been loosened.  Be CAREFUL.  Don’t hammer them or pry with a screw driver.  Use a tool designed for the job.  Otherwise you risk damage to the post or terminal that could end up costly.

Here is one tool version:

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Well, I think that is enough for one day’s car activity.  Check your owner’s manual for other items that might need looking into.  Don’t forget your windshield wipers as they take a beating out in the sun and elements and likely won’t last 12 months.  More like six.

Enjoy the “Stay-in-Place” days as best you can and get those vehicles ready for a safe and trouble free ride!

 

 

 

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