Adding lightness; losing likeness?

Sort of going with this weekends theme of handling and unsprung weight, I have fitted alloys from an icon onto my not-so-icon.  Miata wheels on a Toyota Echo isn’t completely unheard of.  There are a few who have thrown on later model five-spoke alloys of an NB Miata onto theirs, while a Yaris guru often under the name “The Barber” has tried them on his red hatchback before.

Why Miata wheels on an Echo?
There are admittedly other wheels that could have been put onto the Echo from Toyota and Scion.  The Mk1 MR2 or Mk3 MR2 Spyder could have fit (the latter weigh in at 16lbs), first-gen Prius wheels weigh 12lbs, and of course the Echo had optional five-spoke alloys shared with the 2000-2001 Corolla S, or even the Yaris line that replaced the Echo in 2006 could have worked.  However, the 14″ steel wheels of an Echo weighed the same as the optional 14″ wheels, the Prius wheels are bland, and why bother upping weight with Yaris or MR2 Spyder sets, or having dated 1980’s MR2 wheels from a car older than me?

The Echo manual weighs around the same as a Miata, has the same hub, offset, and bolt pattern, and these alloys seem to just go with my Pheobes’ “look.”  Though, admittedly, I’ve been missing the deep-dish look of the steelies and beauty rings with the hand-painted white letters.  Others have voiced the same thing.





When actually weighing the options, however, I saved 18lbs overall by the switch.  The steelies are a unique look but only that.  They’ll grace the wells from time to time, but the alloys are proving fun and are stylistically pleasing on camera so far.  Now for a 1.2″ drop….

Considering the bumps and bruises the now 460,000 mile car has endured, the steelies and letters were a shout-out of “I don’t give a damn” fun, and a nod to the old-school.  Now, though, where is the Pheobe I’ve piloted since 2006 heading?  If as some believe, a car is a reflection on the owner, I guess we’ll have to see.

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Getting a Grip on Handling

When I was growing up in a 1990’s bench-racing forum society, the hot numbers were usually horsepower and 0-60mph times.  Those are still modern benchmarks, as is the ¼ mile acceleration of course.  However as Americans started seeing their cars being developed at Germany’s famed Nurburgring, handling and track times became more common to compare.  Cars like Corvette would make sense on such a twisting, handling intensive coarse (well over 120 corners in 13 miles of track).  It was the four-door Cadillac CTS-V, and Chevrolet Trailblazer SS and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 SUV’s that seemed to really bring handling home.

Notice how major magazines are more apt to compare cars on actual race tracks, posting swaths of data about entry/exit speeds and g-force readouts through multiple points of the track.  That’s what handling is all about… or is it?

The cars of today are very heavy because of safety and size requirements, with very large brakes and tires to accomplish those high-grip g-forces that so many young men go gaga bickering about.  Want better handling?  Bigger wheels and tires, lower and stiffen the bejeezus out of the car—done.  It’s not that easy.

What a lot of supposed enthusiasts seem to ignore is that grip and handling aren’t exclusive together, nor are massive tires.  Examples of this can be found in reading reviews, examining test material, and listening to those who have voiced adoration and acknowledgment to this.

One great test example of a car that pulled respectable g’s but couldn’t transition particularly well is the Mercury Marauder.  When Car & Driver tested the Marauder in 2002, the two-ton sedan pulled .86g on the skidpad.  That means that in a sustained turn at speed, it pulled a nearly sports-car averaging .9g.  For those not accustomed to g-load talk, 1g is the equivalent of your own weight pulling on you… more or less.  I’ve never had a physics course in my life, but essentially you turn fast, you’re being pulled to the outside.

The story of how a car handles (not grips) comes in for the transitions—the slalom or chicanes. When Motor Trend tested the Marauder, it did so with a slalom speed of 59.5mph.  For some idea of where that sits, most sports cars (again, pointing at Car & Driver’s skidpad number) would post around 67mph through the cones at that time.  The Marauder was sub-par for compact cars (around 62mph), and even some minivans could swerve at a higher pace.  That still doesn’t beget good handling as a whole, but confidently changing directions is an important part of it—more so than all out grip.  To give it credit, the Marauder is a well balanced package that Car & Driver wrote, “more surprising is its near-perfect balance: No component—engine, tires, suspension, steering, brakes—over- or underwhelms any other or feels inappropriate to what is.”  For that, I admire the Marauder.

To further distinguish grip from handling, Car & Driver demonstrated the difference simply changing tires can have by strapping them to a tadpole Nissan Leaf electric car.  The tall, front-drive battery bomber went from the stock .78g to a very impressive climb reaching .97g while still “in the Leaf’s stock 205/55R-16* size.”  That did take a track tire, though.  Performance tires (Yokohama S.drive’s) pulled a still impressive .84g for the Leaf.

*For those who don’t understand, that means the width of the tire is 205mm, the sidewall (the part of the tire between the metal wheel and where it meets the road) is 55-percent of that 205mm width, and the wheels are 16” in diameter.  This size has become standard across the average cars of today.  Understanding what these numbers mean is note worthy as there are other examples of this later on.

A car doesn’t need massive or sticky tires to cover corners quickly, Motor Trend’s test of the 2011 Mini Cooper (with sport package) yielded a surprising feat through their patented, all-inclusive Figure-Eight test (putting braking, grip, and direction change into one test).  “The Mini Cooper’s figure-eight time of 26.6 seconds at 0.63 average g is the big bright spot in performance testing,” said tester Benson Kong. “Out-tired, out-powered, and out-priced, the British icon heroically flung its way around our course in the same time as a V-6-powered Chevrolet Camaro we recently tested. And the new Honda Civic Si. And the Mazda RX-8, a cornering superstar.”  All that of mere 195/16 run-flat tires (tiny by todays standards).  Replacing with better rubber, and getting even lighter wheels (Kong points out a lofty weight for the Mini’s alloys) would further improve this joyous occasion.  Run flats and heavy wheels are enemies in ride, handling, braking, and fuel-economy because, after all, they are the one thing that actually touch the road.

One of the best known manufacturers for light, handling focused cars were Lotus.  The video shared below goes into detail of how the magic of the Lotus Elan sports cars of the 1960’s was made possible.  One of the most interesting aspects was (if you click on the link) the tires and wheels being laughably small—only 155/13’s, which are then compared to his Maserati wheel of today (the gentleman’s Ferrari, if you will).

Driving enthusiasts (not to be confused with car enthusiasts) and journalists seem to want more and more for these antics that fun doesn’t have to be fast.  I’ve long held that cars are too focused on grip and times, and not about the level of fun they instill.

More recently, Toyota and Subaru have brought the low-grip-fun a new entry through their joint developed GT-86/FR-S/BRZ models.  All three are essentially the same, with very minor trim changes inside and out (grilles, bumpers, headlights, dash material), and a couple tweaks to the suspension for different uses.  The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are sold in America, while the GT-86 joins the BRZ in Europe and Asia as the FR-S’s Toyota-badged clone.  Even one of the most speed, grip, and power-shilling people on the planet—Jeremy Clarkson—is one of the biggest fans of this car.

Yet another to bring up the fun to be had is Chris Harris.

Harris summed it up well with a similar notion of slow cars driven fast are more fun than fast cars driven slow, by saying “on the street, fun is better than speed.”  Hell, all of these guys have far deeper pockets and greater credentials than myself, yet feel the same way.  More enthusiasts need to recognize and appreciate this.  Doing so will make for a more enjoyable (and less expensive) hobby.

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My Field of Dream… Car

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Inside every enthusiast, there’s a certain thrill about looking through Craigslist looking at old cars looking to be restored, clicking through sites like BringATrailer.com, or reading about some magnificent barn-find of a Ferrari Daytona sitting in Iowa that the seller didn’t know their grandfather had stashed away behind the tractor.

For me, it’s a little beige/yellow coupe.  For years I’d drive by and see what I thought was a BMW 2002, or some other Bavarian creation behind the wood-inserted chain-link.  Eventually my curiosity had me take a closer look, and found that regardless of the googly-eyed 1960’s style and twin headlights had a beak and snake, not the twin-kidneys and “blue propeller.”  My mystery car is an Alfa Romeo Giulietta GTV.

Being a long absent company from the U.S., and having a relatively small market compared to, oh… the MGB or Datsun 240Z, these little Alfa’s command a hefty price.  But that’s what makes it so much cooler of a car: it’s the less common car.  Likewise, the most common Alfa’s on the road seem to be the “Graduate” Spider model, of course made famous by Dustin Hoffman’s role in “The Graduate.”  Being European, and Italian in particular, I’m sure this old Alfa would give me a red face more often than white knuckles.  On the bright side, the details and character are worth it, as is not having to worry about a leaky canvas as of the Spider, MG’s, or Triumph’s I lust after when seeing the convertibles drive by.Image

One of the interesting character details of these GTV’s is the Italian oversight of the back seat.  It’s there, but it’s not a real seat for traveling.  Instead, I like to think of it as Italian convenience, there for roadside make-out sessions.  Some seats have been transformed to have seat belts, but I have seen the warning labels in door sills warning against passenger use (though it could simply be down to belts).

I tried contacting the owner by phone for about a week, but gave up.  He seems disinterested in giving details about the car.  Honestly, I have little in terms of what exactly I’m looking at.  The grille would suggest it’s the ‘69 1750 GTV— the second biggest engine to the 2000 GTV, like what Pheobe was keeping company at a Sacramento EuroSunday meet last October.  With all the Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, and countless other repeated rarities, there was only one non-Spider GTV.  The owner told me the 2000 GTV’s engine is pretty damned bullet proof, and it wasn’t one to overheat on him, even with the A/C blowing in traffic.

Something like that Alfa shouldn’t be obscured behind slats of wood and swallowed up by vines and moss.

IMG_1207 2In my hands, it would be stripped to the metal, gutted in the interior, and be completely re-wired for the sake of trying to avoid Alfa-itis, and repainted in Pheobe’s “Electric Green Mica.”  It’s a very nice color on classics, actually, as this MG GT V8 shows.

Regardless of whether it’s a ’74 1750 GTV, or a 1300 GT Junior, I’d still place it in the garage behind Pheobe so I could get it going.  Even in the state it sits, however, it could cost upward of $5,000 to just pull off the property.  That’s far more than I have, or will have for a long time.  Money can’t buy love, but unfortunately love doesn’t earn a project build, either.

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Nice to see so many manuals: First official clip from Thunderhill.

As you may be aware already, Sunday I didn’t blog like I normally would.  Instead I was recuperating from Saturday… well, actually I was driving around with my brother, his wife, and my girlfriend so he could see an old friend visiting from his Air Force base in Japan.  My brother doesn’t drive, so the duties from Sacramento to Modesto came into being.

In any case, I was busy.  Today I was busy in a different way– creating some car porn with the couple hours worth of footage I have around Thunderhill from the event.  For the sake of showing just how wonderful manual transmissions still are in the enthusiast world.  Enjoy.

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No article this week, not from laziness.

While I should have had the message up sooner, it only feels fair to state that for this weekend, there is no article.  Instead I was busy working on car porn.  Essentially, it’s doing slow-motion video or some other sort of decent video footage of cars sliding around having fun.  Sadly it was a windy day, making things even shakier.  Waking up around 4am, getting to the track at 7, and leaving around 4:45pm… exhaustion is a quicker sum up.  Regardless, there should be some good footage and videos to come of this.

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Finally a short something to show my manual advocacy.

As many may be aware already, this blogs namesake for three-pedal aficionado’s rarely actually mentions the self-shifting triumphs of a manual transmission.  This, though, is a quick news flash that I finally have a manual-loving proclamation to all motorists that may gaze the direction of my car.  If you want some, go to Gearheart Shirts.  A pair will cost just under $6.  It’s worth it, if you ask me.

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Broadcasting Comes Before the Fall: enthusiast one-upmanship; why it’s killing us.

While reading Plato’s writings of Socrates as of late (for school, not soul searching), I’ve seen the times haven’t changed a whole lot from 400B.C. to the modern day.  We still have those who go about their day to day lives aspiring to be a little more like the ideal view of society (beige mobiles), and there are still those who claim to know something but don’t necessarily know so much as talk a lot, but don’t get questioned enough for others to see otherwise.  Enter the “Sophists.”

Sophists are those who make claims of knowledge and have lots of talk, which Socrates openly discounted and showed everyone that indeed this was the case, and he did so for the sake of finding someone wiser than he.  For anyone who hasn’t read “The Apology,” he was held in trial for the actions.  His reasoning was he couldn’t believe himself to be the wisest of the land, according to one of the gods, so he went to prove the god wrong).  This can be said about car guys for sure: there are those who know, don’t know, and those who think they know and make huge claims to such.

With limits on what I do and don’t know about the inner workings of gear ratios, spark temperatures, how to tune a suspension, or cam lobe profiles, I’m no Socrates nor a Sophist.  But like Socrates I will ask this: what is all this “Illest” plastered on cars– and across their drivers– supposed to symbolize?

Ill is based upon the term “sick.”  First coming upon this years ago in high school auto shop, my classmates and I were having a slow day.  Being me, I was glued to an issue of Motor Trend, which begets the usual bench-racing high school boys will do.  Showing one of my slow-talking California “duuuuude” type classmates, he pointed out that– well, some car– was “sick.”  I inquired what was so gross about it.  This is when I learned that “sick” had replaced “cool” for some people.  Personally I refuse to call something cool by the same word in which the British refer to vomit.

Of all things, IIlest is an actual brand which I now shall probably piss off a little bit.  In any case, the term “illest” bows from this epidemic of “sick” being cool.  By stating oneself and their car “illest,” is of course to claim they are coolest.  Does anyone see Socrates versus the sophists here?  How can so many be the top-dog of cool?  Let us also define what “cool” had been for so long, and still (technically) is.

“Cool” was always that silent guy at the end of the bar or table, minding their own business, only to suddenly do something brilliant.  After doing that something brilliant, they go back to their corner or just walk out of the room without having to sit there rubbing everyone elses nose in it… there was humility.  Steve McQueen and Paul Newman didn’t have to stand up and wave their dingle around about being cooler than one another– they simply went about their own way (though McQueen didn’t like his rival).  If someone is a braggart, I’m willing to bet you might see them as a bit of a jerk.  By that logic, that jerk isn’t going to be “cool,” but indeed a bit of an ass.

By needing to proclaim themselves the coolest, that should logically rule them out.  Mind you, this isn’t a personal attack on those who may have indeed stuck these crookedly across their back window like the other five Nissan 240SX’s around the parking lot.  Instead, consider this a wake up call to what one might be portraying by doing so.  Yes, it’s a trend, a style, a sense of community among peers who love the Illest brand… but the thought is boggling.  The “Metal Mellisha” stickers appeal to a very similar crowd which is yet another branding piece, and shows what they as enthusiasts consider to be the utmost in cool.  Again, it’s not the fault of Illest, or an attack of their company.  The name happens to logically contradict itself by appealing to a more crass and, dare I say, selfish concept.  Dare achievement unlocked.

For the sake of personal recognition as one guilty of brand/self-shoutiness, I am going to remove my “Enthusiast: Be a Better Driver” license plate frames because my actions and automotive attention should say I’m an enthusiast (quirky or not), and not a sticker or frame (I will still wear the shirts saying “Enthusiast” and “Heel Toe Hero” since my car won’t actually be around to show my automotive love).

Like with the license plate frames, I avoid the boldly branded stickers and shirts from the Gearhead Apparel company (now Gearheart Apparel due to an annoying copyright fiasco) for this very reason: I’m not a true gearhead, and would never intend to say otherwise.  That’s not to say I don’t have shirts and stickers from them (I sport the “Inside Outside Inside” and “Petrosexual” shirts regularly, and will soon rock the “Save the Stick” stickers on my quarter windows to match the shirt I have).  Were I to have the big logo plastered below, it’s not because I don’t support Gearheart Apparel, but because I’d be doing myself a disservice for advertising myself as something I’m not.  Hell, this is a shameless/free plug for them– it’s a small company that seems more fun and homey than the more corporate two above.
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I’m also trying to avoid being one of those guys who claim their car has a “belt-driven” turbo which is actually their water-pump, or talking about their BMW V6 or replacing any four-cylinder with being a “V4.”  Yes, V4’s exist, but they are relegated to a very small majority of vehicles if you leave out motorcycles.  I myself wouldn’t be able to tell if a car has a limited-slip diff or not by driving it, nor could I open a hood/creep under an undercarriage and tell immediately what all had been done besides the more obvious (a K&N cone, Civic turbo or Rotary Mustang would pop out).  Changing the transaxle out, or looking at a rear-end and seeing it’s a 9″ and not the 7″ wouldn’t pop out at all.

If there’s anything to take away from this blog post, it’s to not be so sure of yourself or your knowledge (this entire site is likely filled with mis-truths and assumptions, I’m sure– take me with a grain of salt).  Regardless, I can honestly state there will always be someone smarter, faster, or conversely dumber and slower that can put all us enthusiasts in a bad light.  The best way to make the aftermarket world for us car enthusiasts better is to educate rather than deride and confuse.  Be willing to not so much insult those who are clueless about their water-pump turbo, but help them know better, encourage better truth rather than making it a penis contest.  All this backhanded hatred and cockiness does for the automotive enthusiast market is make us appear to be big jerks and elitists looking to mock or pose (we’ve all been there at some point).  Things won’t get any better unless we set out to help each other and ourselves out of that mess.  Now go shave those Illest stickers off.

Image credit goes to… well, click those images with a finger and see where they are from.

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Normally MSS is published Sunday’s around 4pm Pacific, 1pm Eastern.  In light of the Super Bowl, I’m posting now.