Monday, August 29, 2011

Four-Seater Supercars

I'm not sure when it became popular to own a Ferrari, Porsche, or Aston Martin with four doors, but it's a trend that I think is going to die out quickly.  People don't go out and buy a $300,000 supercar with enough room to seat a family unless they really have nothing left to do with their money.  If I bought a Ferrari, you better believe I'd be getting a 599 GTO or a 458 Italia, not the incredibly ugly attempt at a four-seater known as the Ferrari FF.  That just goes against everything the Ferrari name stands for!

    I think the big problem here is that the great automotive companies like Aston Martin and Porsche have deviated from the path they have followed for so many years.  They now cater more to the rich and famous rather than the successful car enthusiasts of the past.  I doubt you'd ever see Roger Penske hopping into a Porsche Panamera.  It's a celebrity's vehicle.  This goes back to what I've said about many companies getting rid of manual transmissions.  Our world as a whole cares less about performance and more about accommodations and high-class luxury.  How does the Ferrari FF stack up against a Ferrari F50? It doesn't.

    The German and Italian supercar companies that create all of the dream cars we know and love today need to get back to their roots.  Nobody in their right mind is going to go out and buy the Bugatti Galibier or the Aston Martin Rapide and gloat about how it is better than the Veyron or the DBS.  These companies are targeting an extremely small group of consumers that are interested in their version of a glorified minivan.  Forget about them.  If they want a Ferrari, they should be buying a 458.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's Not Pretty...

     Every automotive enthusiast has to get their start somewhere.  Typically, it is our first car that makes us really fall in love with cars as a whole.  Some of us may get an earlier head start than others but everything hits home once you have a car under your name.  For those of us who don't settle for stock, there needs to be a jumping off point; a car we can modify cheaply just to get a feel for the process.  The ideal car for a job like that is the '94 Civic hatch.  At this day in age, you can pick up a stock '94 Civic hatch (if you can find one still stock) for just a couple thousand bucks.  It won't be a car worth bragging about but you can sure learn a lot from owning and working on one of these hatches.  Even in its most powerful form, the '94 came with the intimidating 1.6liter I-4 putting out a dominating 125 horsepower.  That kind of power may not even be enough to toast a piece of bread properly but it sure is easy to give the Civic some cheap boost for the extra horses you've been looking for.

     What's perfect about this hatchback is that you can suck plenty of extra horsepower out of that 1.5-1.6liter engine for hardly any money at all.  You pick up a full exhaust from the header back, buy an intake, swap out the manifolds, and you've picked up decent power for less than a grand.  If you decide to go the boosted route (which you inevitably will), a turbo won't empty your wallet either.  Another positive is that if you end up blowing your engine will running twice as much boost as you should have, you can swap in a new 1.6 for dirt cheap.  It's a simple, clean car that allows you to do everything you want for a little cash and through the work of your own hands.  In my opinion, that puts the beginning gear head way above the sixteen year old basketball star with a rich daddy and a brand new Camaro.  It pays to do the work yourself.

    Granted, you will never be able to make a '94 Civic hatch look nice.  The wheels are too small, the lines are too submissive, and the technology is something awful for this day in age but that doesn't mean they can't teach you everything you've wanted to know as a beginner.  I wouldn't worry about buying a carbon fiber hood or some 15" Volk wheels.  You're going to wish you had saved that money for when you trade your Civic in for something new.  However, if you put a little money and a lot of effort into the engine, you'll emerge a new man with a whole new respect for the automobile and how to properly modify one.  Plus, you can pick it up with a 5-speed to get acquainted with a manual transmission.  Perfect.  With a decent amount of work done to one of these little hatchbacks, you can own a rocket capable of an 11 second quarter mile while paying as much as the kid with the Camaro did for his new 24" wheels.  The '94 Civic hatch isn't pretty, but you'll love where this jumping off block takes you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Stance is Everything

     Whether you own a 2011 Challenger V6, Honda S2000, or a Volkswagen GTI, the stance can make all the difference in the world as far as exterior appearance goes.  I'll use the new 2011 Dodge Challenger as an example. If you opt for the V6 model, you're still getting the same great body with the retro-looking taillight setup and the aggressive front end.  However, your stance is severely lacking.  Most low-end trim models of each car come with a pair of 16" or 17" plastic five spoke wheels which does nothing for the exterior appearance.  Look at the difference between the 2011 Challenger V6 and the Challenger SRT-8.  The massive difference in wheel size and tire width would amaze you.  The four things I typically look for in a good stance are wheel diameter, width of the tire, minimum exposure of the wheel well and negative camber of the wheels themselves.  If you can minimize the exposure of the wheel wells with a 1.5"-2" lowering kit while adjusting your wheels with a little more negative camber, you can turn your car into an instant show-stopper.

    As unfortunate as it is, most cars don't come stock with a stance that is good enough to satisfy a great majority of car enthusiasts.  Automotive companies have a tendency to give you good options for wheel diameter but not the actual width of the wheel and tire.  To give your car a good stance, it helps if your wheels are flush with the fender openings instead of inset by a couple of inches.  That means you have to upgrade from the usual factory tire width of 225-275mm to something more like 315mm in the rear.  Sure, it's expensive but it looks fantastic.  You typically need at least a 10" wheel to fit a tire that size and factory wheels seem to be more like 7.5" to 9" most of the time.  On the bright side, that gives you an excuse to go get some new, sporty, five spoke wheels!  Please do yourself a favor and avoid chrome wheels, though.  My favorite wheels are matte black, brushed aluminium, or gunmetal with a simple five spoke (or split five spoke) setup.  It's clean, sporty, and intimidating.

     With a good combination of some clean and sporty wheels, thick performance tires, lowering springs and shocks as well as a little negative camber, you can make even a V6 Challenger look like the heavily modified R/T I've posted above.  For JDM cars like the S2000, 350Z, and 240SX, I am all about the Volk wheels.  They are very expensive but you will turn more than a few heads with an aggressive stance.  That seems to be something people overlook quite a bit when trying to trick out their new car; the stance.  Forget the forced induction and massive body kit for a while and just focus on your suspension, wheels, and tires.  If you can fill out those wheel wells with a good looking wheel/tire combination and drop your vehicle an inch or two, you'd be surprised how far that will take you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

All Hail the Cobra R

     Mustangs are everywhere.  Whether it be a Fox from '89 or a new 2012 Mustang GT, we see them whenever we hop on the road.  There's a reason for that.  Mustangs are great pony cars if not the best muscle car all around.  They have great straight line performance, can handle decently on a track and they come at a price that most people can afford.  Their only downfall is that their popularity makes them a hated vehicle by anyone who is sick of seeing the running pony logo everywhere they go.  To own a Mustang and receive positive comments on a regular basis, your 'Stang has to be something special.  That means lots of modifications unless you are one of the fortunate 300 who owns a 2000 SVT Cobra R.

     The 2000 Cobra R came at the right time, using a newer body style Mustang as its base rather than the '93 Fox body that the first generation of Cobra R used.  That gave Ford's Special Vehicle Team the chance to make this car gorgeous, which it is.  The '99-'04 Mustang caught people's attention because it looked infinitely better than the '94-'98 body style with its crisper and more sleek appearance.  SVT took that a step further with their exterior modifications to the Cobra R, including an extremely aggressive front fascia, massive chin spoiler, side exhaust, and a rear spoiler that could even grab the attention of a Plymouth Superbird.  With all of these components working together with the Mustang's high-impact orange paint, the Cobra R is really something special to look at.  Performance-wise, the Cobra R sure backs up its looks.

     Compared to the standard Mustang GT of this era, the powertrain of the Cobra R was light years ahead.  SVT outfitted this monster with a 5.4liter V8 instead of the typical 4.6 which bumped horsepower and torque from 260 up to 385.  The GT wasn't even close.  From an acceleration standpoint, the Cobra R could hit 60mph in the mid-4 second range and tore through the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds.  Those performance statistics would put the Cobra R right up there with the new 5.0, despite being over a decade older!  Not only could it accelerate like a true muscle car, but it could handle a track quite well.  I've heard talk about the chin and rear spoilers looking "ricey" because of their large size but the fact of the matter is that they work.  This Mustang generated enough down force to allow it to handle like a proper track car.  The '99-'04 Mustangs that race today are still using this spoiler because it is one of the few that is actually functional.  Say what you will about its design, but it works brilliantly.

     I could go on about the Cobra R all day but I'll spare you the time.  Instead, I will summarize this post by saying that the Cobra R is at the top of my list as far as Mustangs that I would like to own.  Yes, above the 2012 Boss 302.  Yes, above the '03-'04 Terminator.  Yes, above the 2011 Shelby GT350.  It's just that good.  With a limited run of only 300 produced, the exclusivity you buy when you pick up a Cobra R is something out of this world.  Sure, you will turn the heads of Mustang owners across the globe if you roll up in a 2012 Shelby GT500 but in a 2000 Cobra R, you have the ability to awe the entirety of the automotive world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Living in the Z06's Shadow

     We see them all the time; standard C6 Corvettes in both coupe and convertible form being driven by middle aged men and women as a "mid-life crisis" car.  I see so many of them, in fact, that I stopped acknowledging the C6 Corvette as anything more than a $50k vessel for those with graying hair and no sense of originality.  When I see a C6, my only thought is "well, it's not a Z06...let alone a ZR1."  I'm sure I am not the only one who has had this same feeling while tailgating another dark red C6 who's following the speed limit down to the last mile per hour.  We may see C6 Corvettes more than we do Toyota Camrys, but this mid-life crisis sports car does deserve some credit.

     The unfortunate truth about the C6 'Vette is that it lives in the shadow of the Z06.  What is 430 horsepower compared to 550?  Not only that, but the Z06 looks infinitely better with it's widened fenders, thick wheels, big brakes, and more aggressive front fascia.  Why pay any attention to the standard C6?  Because it's fast.  We may not acknowledge the 'Vette for what it is because we see them everywhere, but they really are fantastic cars.  A C6 Corvette with its standard 6.2 liter LS3 aluminum V8 uses its 430 horses to thrust the car to a 4.2 second 0-60mph and a mid to low 12 second quarter mile.  If you heard those statistics without knowing the make or model of the car, you would be impressed.  It's only when you figure out it's a C6 'Vette that you stop caring.

     Despite the fact that this car is typically owned by the entire field of high middle-class men and woman and is never driven to its full potential, I simply ask that you recognize this car for its performance instead of its stereotypical consumer base.  Sure, most of the people who buy a 'Vette pick up one with an automatic transmission and never drive it above 75mph, but what if this car was in the hands of someone who loved cars and opted for the manual transmission?  It would be a dream machine.

     The standard Corvette C6 is not a Z06 or a ZR1.  Of course, it is also $25k and $60k cheaper, respectively.  The reason this Corvette has become the spitting image of a mid-life crisis is because it's $50k price tag puts it out of range for most people below the age of 40 who would prefer to drive this car the way it is meant to be driven.  Also, anyone who can afford one but loves cars will typically just opt for the Z06 which limits the C6 consumer base to mostly non-car loving, semi-successful businessmen.  With all of that put aside, if your buddy showed up in your driveway with a 2011 C6 'Vette and let you take her for a spin, you would fall in love.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Slushbox Automatic

     Modern day cars come equipped with more features than we could have ever dreamed of ten years ago.  Blind spot warnings, rear view cameras, massaging front seats, refrigerators in the center console, etc. That's all fine and dandy if you're spending hours each day commuting from home to work and back.  I can see why people would like that kind of stuff.  However, what happened to our transmissions?

    It seems like a majority of the cars being produced today were designed with so much effort put into all of the extra features that the engineers ran out of time for the transmission and half-assed the build process to fit the car with whatever would change gears, no matter how sluggishly it would do it.  Even if a transmission is built right, it seems like everyone is still preferring an automatic!  Cars like the Taurus SHO and Dodge Charger SRT-8 don't even have an option for a manual transmission yet they can reach 0-60 in 5 seconds or less with a mid-12 to 13 second quarter mile.  Acceleration statistics like that deserve a 6-speed manual transmission and not some automatic slushbox.

     Every time I come across a sports car parked out in the street or in a lot, I come up to the window to check out what kind of transmission the driver as opted for.  It saddens me to say that a majority of the high-end cars I have seen in the past few years have come equipped with automatic transmissions.  I don't care if it has a paddle shift option, a "manu-matic" or "slapstick auto" option, or a 7-speed dual clutch.  It's still an automatic.  In my opinion, that takes away from the entire car.  Even Ferrari and Lamborghini have outfitted their new models with only a paddle shift option!  If I am getting a high-end car like that, I want a stick.

     The issue with making all types of high performance cars from Ford Mustang GT's to Ferrari 458's is that it eliminates the exclusivity of owning a top-of-the-line sports car.  If they only came with a manual transmission, the only people who would buy them would be real car enthusiasts and not wealthy high-class snobs with no real interest in the car itself.  Obviously having an automatic option on sports cars allows companies to sell more vehicles, I understand that.  I would just prefer if we would stop sacrificing the drive for extra profits.  Some cars don't deserve to be insulted by being equipped with an automatic transmission.  Some cars simply deserve to be driven the correct way.

     The real art behind a manual transmission exists because it allows a driver to feel like he/she has complete control over the car they are driving.  Take the Viper for example.  No traction control, no ABS, no automatic.  It's pure car.  Owning a 600 horsepower beast like that without any electronic assistance puts you above even the Lamborghini owners who use paddle shifters simply because you actually control your car.  I respect companies like Ford who have decided not to make the Mustang GT500 in anything but a 6-speed.  Dodge and Chevy should follow suit with the Challenger 392 and Camaro ZL1.  Hell, if high-end car makers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Lexus did the same, we wouldn't have Paris Hilton driving around in a $400,000 LF-A.  I suppose it's going to be impossible for car makers to revert back to the origins of true sports cars with a majority of the population not knowing how to drive a stick, but I do hope they will always have it as an option on high-performance cars.  The control you have through a 6-speed gearbox attached to an engine with enough power to rip the tires clean off the rear wheels is a feeling you cannot replicate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Woodward Dream Cruise - Who Belongs?

     As any real car enthusiast in the United States is well aware of, the Woodward Dream Cruise took place this past Saturday on the fabulous 8 lane wide Woodward Avenue.  The show brought about an amazing outcome of stunning cars and trucks along with all types of car enthusiasts.  I'm not a big fan of August because it feels like the year's biggest "Sunday" ever since the summer is coming to an end and it's about time to get back to the grind in September (which feels like the biggest "Monday" ever).  However, the Dream Cruise gives us petrol-heads something to love in such a month and it did not disappoint this year.  I was out there with a few friends in my 2006 Charger Daytona sporting my new windshield banner to help promote my website.  Talk about impression ads.  You can't lose with a Dream Cruise population that's over one million strong.

     I heard something interesting on the radio the other day that I feel the need to discuss.  A local radio station was talking about the Cruise and how it should be exclusively for classic muscle cars.  While I love the classics and what they stand for, that was one of the dumbest, most arrogant statements I had ever heard.  So, the Woodward Dream cruise should only cater to old men who were fortunate enough to hold on to their first cars for fifty years?  That just seems wrong.  I get it, the Dream Cruise is a fantastic show if you love the classics like the '64 1/2 Mustang, Hemi 'Cuda, and '73 Camaro Z28 but that's not all it's about.  In my opinion, the Dream Cruise is about cars.  All cars.  It's about the evolution from the first generation of a model year to the most recent.  Where else are you going to see every single generation of Mustang in the same five minutes?  Talk about watching the evolution of an icon unfold right before your eyes.

     If the Dream Cruise was truly only for the old, classic Muscle cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, then I obviously shouldn't have been there in my '06 Charger.  However, where is the cutoff?  My car is five years old and is by no means a classic.  What about the '90-'93 Mustang?  Is that far back enough?  Maybe the Camaro IROC-Z is?  The line is very, very blurry on what should make the "classic" cut.  That's when I would say "screw it, just let everybody come".  If somebody has a car they are proud of, they deserve to be a part of the cruise.  Us car guys don't have the luxury of exclusivity.  Subaru or Ford, we need to stick together!

     The Dream Cruise is one of the automotive world's largest events and I think some people have gotten a little too stingy about what belongs and what does not.  Let's just forget about that crap and get back to appreciating great cars for what they are: a phenomenal source of entertainment.  There was a point in my life where I disliked anything that wasn't American.  Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Evo, Honda S2000?  I would not have it!  That side of me has long vanished and I can now truly call myself a car guy.  I enjoyed looking at Toyota Supras just as much as I loved watching a '69 Charger Daytona roll by with it's 3' spoiler.  If you don't share this outlook, then you have some learning to do.  It's not about the make, it's about the model.  Let's just do away with the discrimination of the Dream Cruise and appreciate everything that shows up for the show.  Now, if they start saying the Cruise should only be for electric cars, that's a different story...