The Jaguar F-Type Coupe.

First things first: I’m back baby! I lament not writing, but it’s been a fruitful semester for me in many ways, and I’m happy to be here now and even happier looking at my schedule knowing that I will be able to contribute more to this place (though Ozo Coffee getting better WiFi would also be a great help, alas).

Onto the single most pressing thing since the beginning of time. This:

F-Type R

The Jaguar F-Type Coupe. This post had many titles: The Best Thing since Sliced Bread. The Bees Knees. The Next Love of My Life. My Future Illegal Organ Sale. Discounted Kidney!!!!. But it has none of those things because this machine needs no introduction.

Those that have spoken with me recently know that I am madly in love with the F-Type Coupe, but let me explain to the lovely readers here: the day this car goes on sale with a manual transmission, I will be camping out in front of the local Jaguar dealer to place an order the second they open. Simply put, I think that the Jaguar F-Type coupe is the most beautiful car ever made. I believe it surpasses the Aston Martin DBS, the 288 GTO, the Alfa Romero 8C and the Toyota 2000GT. 

Because it just is. Every other car in this class right now focuses on Nurburgring and 0-60 times. Their marketing is so embedded in my head. The GT-R is sub-three seconds. The 911 Turbo S comes with features that the German words are four pages long. The Corvette has a seven speed gearbox and is available with fancy features so it can compete with the M3. The M3 has a TURBO and on and on and on. When you turn on the television and watch a Cadillac or BMW advertisement, they show off all of the fancy features of the car. How quick the shift times are. How good the brakes are. How many seat-massaging functions it comes with. The F-Type comes with none of those. There are no lap times. There are no 0-60 times. It doesn’t need them.

I don’t like things that try too hard. The GT-R has something to prove — that it out-911-Turbo’s the 911 Turbo. The Americans compete against the Germans. Ferrari has such a long waiting list that it doesn’t matter. But The Jag. I postulate that you won’t care about the lap times that the F-Type will do. (I don’t). You won’t care about 0-60, or any of that other garbage. It’s so drop-dead gorgeous I can almost actually look past it’s 8-speed automatic gearbox. The F-Type doesn’t try to impress me. I feel like it knows what it is and what it isn’t. It’s not a track monster and it’s not a reliable Japanese Econobox. I’ll cut to it:

This car makes me feel special just by looking at it. That’s what everything in life is supposed to do. Going out to dinner with the love of your life is supposed to make you feel special. Having friends over in your nice well-appointed house is supposed to make you feel special. Reading a good book is supposed to make you feel special. Yet, driving a GT-R would make me want to put a bag over my head, I’d feel like I was trying too hard to be a “boy racer” or something. The Jag though really just is. If it makes me feel special just by looking at it (I have goosebumps from writing this post), then while I can’t imagine what it feels like to drive, I don’t care — just look at it; God it’s Beautiful.

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Self-Driving Cars and Impact Drivers

At some car show or another, Nissan as well as a few other auto companies announced their plans for Self-Driving cars. Google’s been testing them for quite a while. They’ve racked up somewhere over one million (“accident-free” miles, as they’re quick to point out) among their beige, bland, boring, depressing fleet of automobiles fleet of precision machines.

The CEO of Daimler (the guy with the mustache) went on record saying:

“Autonomous vehicles are an important step on the way to accident-free driving.” — Mustached Executive

Even I am not going to argue that this isn’t a great achievement. It is. I write software — it’s difficult not to stand in awe that someone has actually solved something that is actually a very difficult problem. There. That’s said. What I will argue with though, is that they solved it wrong.

Here, I want to talk about a horrible tool called an Impact Driver. The idea is quite simple, you have a high-torque phillips head screw. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s impossible to actually apply any force to said type of screw to loosen it, because there’s no way you can get a ‘grip’ on it. Often, you’ll therefore fine these types of screws in totally inappropriate places where the screw is torqued down so far that you can’t get it off without drilling it out. Enter: IMPACT DRIVER. It’s simple. You put it on the screw head like any ordinary screw driver, and then hit it with a hammer. The driver compresses driving itself into the screw and turning slightly. You can take the screw out.

 

Awesome. Except, it shouldn’t exist. Every application where there is a heavily-torqued bolt, there should be a bolt, not a screw with a phillips head that is rusted stuck.

 

 

This, I think, is like autonomous cars. It’s an amazing, amazing tool that solves a problem that shouldn’t exist. I continue to advocate for cheaper, more effective solutions to distracted (and hence, accident-free) driving, like Driver Education and Public Transit and Not Driving if you don’t feel personally qualified to do so. Education and competency solve other problems too, like high text messaging bills that arise from when you should be driving (Ok, I know everyone has an unlimited plan, but bear with me). Someone put a screw in the wrong place and auto companies are trying to invent the impact driver for it, when really, we should have just put a 10mm bolt there, easily accessible with a breaker bar.

Alignment is Everything

I’ve found myself in (business) organizations with entire meetings around some magical thing called “Alignment”. That is — everything is pointing in the direction that it’s supposed to be pointing. I’ve often written those meetings off, and depending on their greater context, I may continue to do so.

But suddenly, I can’t write them off. Earlier this month I stumbled upon a tire Deal-Of-The-Century. An hour spent with my impact gun and a pair of (very crappy) jacks, the S2000 was rolling on the best rubber the Department of Transportation slaps their accolades on. Even from that, the difference was amazing. The steering response, the road feel. My bushings are 75,000 miles old, but man, I felt connected to the tarmac some 13 inches below my feet.

There was still more to be done on the performance front though. I felt that I wasn’t extracting every ounce of grip from my suspension. So I needed an Alignment. An aggressive one. So there came the fun part. I hit the forums (namely, S2ki) researching suspension setups suitable for autocross and occasional track driving. I picked some numbers based on Race Car Vehicle Dynamics, comments from The Internet, and other various amounts of research. Maximum Front Caster, Zero Front Toe, .33 degrees total rear toe, and -1 and -2 degrees caster respectively.

What I wasn’t expecting was the difference. According to my alignment printouts, I only got half a degree more of caster (which is  basically steering response), about +.3 degrees of front toe (back to zero — which again helps with turning response) and half a degree and a whole degree more camber (respectively). Relatively minor changes.

WOW. It’s like a new car. Even just going through some turns or making slalom-like movements in a parking lot felt like the difference between night and day. The funny part? It’s still subjective — except Camber, which is almost a direct correlation to grip. Toe is what steering response feels like — and it depends on what you want. It’s a tradeoff between straight-line performance and steering response. Same with Camber and Caster too. But I think I picked good numbers. I can’t wait to race now.

Consider this as a closing thought though — everything else is like aligning a car. I briefly present to you a math problem. On a typical car, you have something like +- degrees of camber to adjust (-2 to 2, maybe), maybe 4 degrees of caster, +.30 inches to -.30 inches of caster, and the same camber and toe on the rear (no caster on the rear, unless you have some horrific rear steering system).

So, with a reasonable granularity of adjustment, on a per-axle basis, we get: 40*40*60*40*60 or 230 million choices. (disclaimer, I’m not getting a math degree anymore).

Maybe spending time for a proper alignment of any sort is worthwhile.

Egads — Look at what we can do!

Egads, it’s been a little bit since I’ve posted here. I’m quite sorry about that (or maybe you should be thanking me?).

Anyway, not too thrilled about that. As I’m sure you all know, life gets in the way. But oh, what a life it is. See, much like how I spent my June I’ve been biding my time doing interesting activities (OK, with the exception of moving). But I’ve started a wonderful lineup of classes, finished some good classes, worked more on cars, and generally have been having a great time.

At my last Solo event (autocross, as you’ll recall) I was very pleased with my performance. Not as pleased as I have been, but I made nearly 10 seconds of improvement from my first run to my last of four. I’m proud of that. But there’s still work to be done.

And then, as Rob can attest to, you have a moment where you realize that you can do that work. See, I spent the other day in the CU Math/Physics/Engineering Library reading Society of Automotive Engineer’s books. And other assorted books on cars handling. My S2000 was understeering a bit in corners when I felt that it shouldn’t have been. I know that I need a more aggressive suspension setup. No matter — Honda UK came up with an insanely well-recommended one. It’s roughly -1/-2 camber, front and rear respectively, with 0/.2in toe (also, respectively front and rear) and maximum caster on the front.

Great.  But suddenly I wanted to know why. I wanted to know everything about how to make a car handle. I’d just picked up some new tires in an amazing feat that can only be described as “Insanely meaningful”. I want to make the most use of them.

 

So I made a strategic acquision. See above. Race Car Vehicle Dynamics. I’d thought about it for a while. But suddenly it was time. One of Those Moments. If you know what I mean. If I had bought it earlier it wouldn’t be useful. But now I understand what it says. It’s over 700 pages of amazing. Suspension setups. Aerodynamics. Drivetrain setups. This is what winning is made of. And as much as no one likes to admit it, everyone wants to be the best at something. Maybe that isn’t winning themselves. But that could be the best damn suspension setup on the face of the earth. 

So we’ll see. I’m ever-amazed at what someone can do with a wrench, and if you haven’t found out what you can do with a wrench and some persistence, I invite you to find out.

 

 

A Daring Proposal – “Traction Control: On”

Firstly, I want to briefly apologize for the lack of posts. Maybe you care, maybe you don’t – but I’ve been in the midst of summer classes, car work, and moving. I’ll let you decide the greater from the lesser.

Nonetheless, I want to share a brief revelation I had the other day. My family had Chinese for a takeout dinner the other night, from a place a few miles west of my parents house. I elected not to drive the Celica there. Instead, I took my Mom’s Acura TSX.

The TSX is not really an ordinary TSX. It’s the Sport Edition. It has a Six-Speed gearbox (yes, manual), three pedals, and sway bars larger than the sun(I’m not kidding, those suckers are like 40mm in diameter). Dare I say, it’s actually fun to drive. Except for the Traction Control. Now, I hate traction control. I feel as though it’s an example of the Nanny State trying to tell me what I can and can’t do. Anyone who tells me what to do pisses me off and makes it so I forego sleeping that night and instead plotting revenge.

I do not like Traction Control. I don’t own a car with it. I don’t really plan on owning a car with it. Sure, it’s a safe thing, but Driver Education I feel always wins. There’s more here though. More aside from that (stupid and overrated) safety aspect. Based on a strategic sample of cars equipped with Traction Control (2 coupled with the quite-excellent simulator that is Forza), I can’t stand it. Not because it keeps me in a straight line, but because it interferes. Even in the TSX I can feel when the tires are about to lose grip, and I have already compensated for that. In Forza, I can’t drive with the “Traction Control” on because I correct because it does. So then it kicks in and puts me in a bush. Sure, it tries to help. But it fails miserably and pisses me off. Not to sound full of myself, but I’m better than it. I know what my car is going to do before the traction control kicks in because I’m the one telling it what on earth I want it to do. I don’t think Traction Control can do that.

So I want to propose leaving Traction Control turned off by default. What about those people who don’t know how to drive? Well, newer cars are already set up with such a predictable understeering suspension that I think the only hazard is someone learning how their car responds to being driven.

Anyway, more to come. Just my 2 cents.

A Strange Farewell to My Childhood Hero

5S-FE

My childhood hero, unlike most conventional people, is not a person. And if you would have asked me the question of “Who is your childhood hero?” a matter of years ago, I would have had a completely different answer.

I’m here to say though that this is my hero: a Toyota 5S-FE engine. In particular, really, this 5S-FE. It’s from my Celica. There are countless amounts of my blood and sweat on the engine block. And lots of cursing and profanity and pondering and sitting in my parents garage at 5 in the morning with a wrench in my hand trying to figure out what is going on. This 5S-FE is what got me into cars. It was my first engine. 80,000 miles of it’s life was spent under my command. It powered my first car, gave me my first ounce of freedom, and my true first taste of satisfaction.

I digress though, there’s more. You see, me and this engine actually go much farther back than 2007 when I bought my Celica. in fact, me and this engine go back to 1993.

You see, my mom had one of these:

A 1993 Toyota Corolla. You might be thinking “Hey, 1993 is awfully close to 1994”. And you’d be right. I admit, the Celica and the Camry share quite a great deal of parts. The Camry my mom had also had a 5S-FE mated to an S54 manual transmission. It comprised my earliest memories of being in a car. I’d ask my mom about shifting or what RPMs meant, and the relation to road speed.

But it goes further, because my mom also had one of these:

A 2000 Toyota Camry. It too had an identical drivetrain to the 1993. A 5S-FE (Albeit, one generation newer) and an S54 manual transmission. I remember this one more fondly, but for one big reason.

I learned how to drive a manual transmission on that 2000 Camry. And that S54 gearbox that I’d go on to own several years later. It’s one of those odd cases of something that sticks around in your life but you never really notice it.

Earlier today I tore down my 5S-FE. All 218,560 miles on it. It’s hard not to get a little sentimental. It’s the engine that got me interested in cars and gearboxes. It taught me how to drive. It taught me how to work on a car. It got me where I am today. And for that, I salute you 5S-FE.

Holy Crap Autocross

Autocrossing – known as Solo in SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) terms is many things. As a race, it’s time trials around a course set up exclusively for that day with orange traffic cones outlining the route, in a parking lot. It’s competitive – there’s nationals – and there are different classes, and different rules. It’s surprisingly fast. Think racing in the realm of 30-45 miles per hour. Maybe faster. Autocross is also one of those things though where you want to do it, but you never get around to it. Far too often I think it gets treated as “I should go, but I don’t know where to begin, maybe I’ll wait or do some upgrades to my car or get some new brakes at least” and then the season is over and you partook in no racing whatsoever.

What it should be instead is more like “Man, when can I get down to the bank to collect my $10,000 cash prize” because it really is that great.

This past weekend, I had an easy entry into it. I attended an autocross school on Saturday and then raced competitively on Sunday. What I found was this: It’s extremely fun. Extremely, extremely fun. Who doesn’t like driving cars? No one reading this blog certainly. If you have qualms about not knowing anything or anyone or the like, put them away. Everyone who autocrosses is exactly like you – which is to say AWESOME! – so don’t fret about it. Now, do read up on what working a corner is like and some basics for how to drive, but you’re wanted to there. People will be accommodating. And you’ll have tons of fun.

As far as me? Out of the kindness of their heart I got to drive an S2000 outfitted with R-Compound tires(I told you the people are nice). They’re amazing. I also got 907 points (out of 1000 – they normalize it across all cars that run) so I did really, really well for my first time out. You too should be there. If you’re in the Denver Area like me, check out http://www.rmsolo.org or http://www.scca.com.

One last reason why you should do autocross? Because when I sat down in my summer class on Monday, someone asked “So Matt, you’re a race car driver, right?”. Yes, yes I am.

Electric Cars and Me – Part 1

TL;DR I do not like Electric Cars. Cool. Because this post was originally quite long, and after some editing and slicing and dicing, it’s been trimmed of excess fat quite excessively.

Here’s where I want to start. Electric Cars are not ostentatious. Here I’ve provided you with a dictionary definition of what I mean:

Ostentatious, adjective:

1) intended to attract notice

2) characterized by or given to pretentious or

 conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others

Stellar. Now, I personally, I define ostenatiousness(it’s not a word unless you’re me – deal with it) by the sound. Herein lies the key issues. Electric cars are silent. Sure, you can throw some speakers on them and make them seem more exciting than they really are, but by definition electric motors are silent and hence electric cars are silent.

Some may call Silence a good thing. I do not. I like attracting attention. No matter how pretty an electric car is – if it’s bright orange and has twenty-four inch wheels – if I’m not looking out the window while eating dinner and it drives by, I’m not going to notice it. Plain and simple. Replace that blasted electric piece of worthless garbage though with a bright orange Lamborghini that is shooting fire out it’s exhaust pipe (and for once, not because it’s on fire, but because it’s burning gasoline in it’s engine like it’s supposed to), then you can bet I’ll turn my head right around and try to catch a glimpse of the beast.

Here’s an analogy that I sort of like. My friend Rob (who hopefully someday will join the ranks of writers here at PRNDLoser) and I came up with it the other day.

Imagine you’re out to dinner with a lovely woman(or man, if you prefer). They’re great. They’re attractive. They’re wearing a great outfit. Hell. They’re the single most physically attractive specimen of the human race that you have ever seen. There’s just one issue. They’re mute. They can’t talk(just roll with some ‘magical realism’ of mine here, please). No matter how much you want them to be able to, they’ll never look at you with their great set of eyes and say something like “Lets go steal some street signs, tear up the town and wreck havoc”. They don’t ooze danger or excitement because, well, they simply can’t be exciting. They can’t even say “Lets get out of here. Your place or mine?”. They Can’t. Talk. At. All.

I think that the Internal Combustion Engine is that equally attractive person who will ask for the bill when the two of you have better things to do. It will be your partner in crime. The two of you will get thrown in jail for causing a public disturbance(like squealing tires or doing endless burnouts) – and I think that is a good thing.

If you’re lucky though, you might get to meet the attractive mute’s parents though. I’m sure they’re lovely people.

59 Horsepower of German Perfection – The (brief) Volkswagen Polo Review

PoloYou may recall that the last time someone handed me the keys to a rental car, I found myself with a 2011 Kia Optima. And I quite liked it.

This time though, I wasn’t just going to California, I was going to Germany. Germany. The land of no speed limits (which is entirely a story for another post). Alas though, after landing in Munich, I wanted in a 3 person line for about 20 minutes (I was told I should be prepared to wait). After some snafus, I had the keys to a 2011 Volkswagen Polo. The next twenty minutes were spent trying to find the stupid thing in the parking garage.

There was concern in the back of my mind that it would be an automatic. After all, I was from America. Thankfully though, it had a proper gearbox. That’s about all it had. They don’t do entry-level cars in America quite like they do entry level cars in other places. I wouldn’t be too surprised someday to be on a trip to Eastern Europe and getting asked if I would like all four tires that came with the car, or if 3 tires was sufficient. Anyway, here’s what my

Polo had:

  • Four snow tires
  • Four doors
  • Five gears
  • A very small fuel tank
  • A steering wheel
  • A radio

What it did not have:

  • More than four cylinders
  • More than 60 horsepower
  • Cruise Control
  • Any notion of comfort whatsoever

First though, I want to address the fuel economy. We drove it a lot. And while some of it was on unrestricted roads, most was on (unfortunately) restricted Autobahn. This meant that we were usually only doing 100kph. We got about 16 litres per 100 kilometres. This came out to be about 37 mpg. That was awful.

Awful why though? Because the car also had no power. I got it up to 170kph. It took quite a lot of time. That’s only a smidge over 100 miles per hour. The car could not go up hills.

With that said though, it was pretty fun to flick around town. I can’t recommend it for ever touching any sort of freeway though. As far as a city car it’s great. But really, in Europe with exceptional public transport, do you really need a city car anyway? (having not lived in Europe, I’m not sure)

I think you get the feeling on this car. One other thing though, like my Kia, the seats were awful. In fact worse maybe. Try driving 100kph for a few hours in the drivers seat and yet again I wanted to cut off my own bottom. Maybe it’s a rental car thing.

My Horrifically Appropriate Personification, The Engine.

As much as I eat, sleep, and breath what I call The Philosophy of Fine Motoring, I’m not the biggest fan, from a journalistic point of view, to have nothing but philosophy posts and whatnot.

But I promise a humble review of my even-more humble 59 horse power slice of German Perfection, also known as the Volkswagon Polo that Dollar Rent-A-Car  happily equipped me on my far-too-brief to Munich.

MeWithBeams

This post though, is not about that slice of German Perfection. Rather, I’m progressing through my BEAMS project. The engine is now so free from the subframe that it’s on an engine stand. Regretfully the engine stand is from Harbor Freight. Hopefully I don’t wind up eating my words later. Alas. With it up on the stand, me and my friend Rob started talking about the engine itself. He noticed quite a few parallels between it and myself.

  • We’re both quite rare (yes, I’m very biased here). the BEAMS was only available in Japan. Hopefully I haven’t been cloned.
  • Parts are nearly impossible to find. Similarly, try to find things for me. Lunch, apartments, cups of coffee? I’m incredibly picky. Except when it comes to waffles. Me and the engine differ extremely in this manner. (As far as I know, the BEAMS eats gasoline, not waffles).
  • We’re weird as fuck. And I don’t mean that as a good thing. The BEAMS being only available in one country, meant it wasn’t the best engineered thing in the world. I admit, that’s not entirely true. It puts out 100hp per litre. But it also retains every subtle feature from the 3S-GTE engine. The places where additional oil lines are are simply welded shut. Me? I wake up at 4 in the morning. And I run this damn blog.

Nonetheless, as cliche as it is (and it’s insanely cliche), I have to wonder if like everything else, you ultimately wind up with something that’s really as close to being “you” as is possible. Despite whether one of you is made out of amino acids and chemicals and some part of the periodic table or whether you’re made of red paint, aluminium and run on dead, ground up, gourmet dinosaur juice.