Saturday, August 13, 2016

Do you like it? Then it is perfect.

Today someone in a BMW E28 group on Fa
cebook posted a pictures of some wheels he planned to install on his car and asked the inevitable question:

"What do you all think?"

I looked at the post and knew, just knew, many purists were going to comment 'Dude, that is hideous', or 'I guess if you like to look like one of those guys' and the other myriad of comments that come from the question 'What do you think?'.

I wrote to him:

And I meant it. I recently purchased a 2000 M Roadster in silver. Very cool car, very fast and very cool - oh, I already said that, but it is that cool. It has very BMW looking aftermarket wheels and, what I knew would be controversial, BMW Original Equipment (OEM) rear wing. I was so excited about the car. My first BMW M car. I posted a picture of it on Facebook in some of my favorite groups from BMW groups to other car related pages. The response I got from many:

'Wow, very ricer looking.'
'What's with that wing, are you going to keep it?'
'Too bad about the wing.'

There were many other comments that purists in the Roadster community thought of the wing on my car. I went from excited to practically embarrassed to drive the car around. I immediately started shopping for a trunk lid without a wing to replace the certainly hideous appendage my car had grown. I shopped for a couple of weeks, some people had trunk lids to sell me, and overall I wasn't getting my Elephant Man car fixed for less than $300 to $400.

I then looked at the car and thought 'I like the wing.' Sure it is a bit gaudy but it just fits the car - I guess that's why BMW offered it as an option. I then thought 'Why am I going to spend money because others don't like it? I am the one driving the car.' In the end, I have decided to keep my grotesque looking M Roadster with the hideous rear wing and enjoy the car.

The above scenario plays out all the time, In hairstyles, clothing, houses, stereos, TV's, what our kids do and don't do - pretty much in everything we do. In the car world we seem to be less charitable with our comments. Someone paints a car a strange color and many laugh at the owner. They lower the car
but 50% of the people don't like stanced cars. They raise the car (or
truck) and put big tires on it and 50% of the people don't like raised cars. They modify it outside, inside and under the hood and people ask why the car wasn't kept original. Some keep their cars perfectly original and many respond about how boring the car looks and why haven't they modified it?

Essentially, you aren't going to make everyone happy. In fact, probably most won't like what you do to your car because it isn't what they would do. I am 52 years old soon and maybe with age I have learned to not care what others think or maybe I have learned if I like something then why not do it?

The moral to this story is:

If you decide to modify (or not modify for those keeping a car original) and you post a picture online asking the opinions of others realize that many are not going to like your decision. That's their prerogative. But don't base what you decide to do on what others think. As I told my new friend today:

'Do you like them? Then they are perfect.'

That's the thing about cars. Really, no two cars are alike and not everyone is going to like your car. But isn't that half the reason cars are so cool?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Horsepower or Handling - Which is best?

In the car world there is always something to debate. Ford versus Chevy. Slammed and stanced
versus original. Stretched tires or sidewalls as tall as Mount Olympus. Even import versus domestic. If you put two car people in the same room they will have 8 opposing positions on a single car. I know this because I am one of those people.

The big debate that I lived through during the end of the horsepower wars (mid-60s to the early 70's) and through the economy car wars of the 80's was:


When I was young, back in the Canestoga wagon days, you had to make a choice. You could own a car that could go fast and get to high speeds quickly but if the road ahead had a dip or a 2 degree turn any tree or wall was a magnet inevitably pulling your car to crash into it. I am describing muscle cars and pony cars of that day. The other end of the spectrum was the pesky little European cars where little roadsters and sedans had somewhere between 90 HP up to sometimes a whopping 150 HP. They weighed less than nothing and even at that weight these cars were not fast, even by turtle standards. Unlike a muscle car, getting up to speed was a chore but once you were there who needed
brakes? These little cars would zip down tree-lined thoroughfares in Vermont and with just a twitch of the wheel you were through the corner. These were often known as momentum cars.

In today's world not only can you have both power and handling, you can do so in comfort, get 28 MPG on the highway and all can be had for a price that many people can sort of afford.

However, even today there are few affordable cars that do both perfectly. Manufacturers tend to still lean one way or the other. Some still love horsepower above all else and others try to find perfect handling, sacrificing horsepower to do so.

The mainly horsepower cars are easy to spot. You see them in ads dominated by racing stripes, big wheels, big exhaust with the rear wheels smoking in an abandoned shipyard, down side streets, and around the corners of a racetrack near you. Think Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, Charger. All loaded with gobs and gobs of power with tires wide enough to make a steam roller weep with envy. Despite weighing as much as Dumbo's mother, they handle well. Somehow with large springs, wide tires, and things like magnetic ride control, these cars can actually go and stop and turn. Sports cars?
I have to say I still have to say no but they are sporty cars.

Then comes in the balanced cars. These cars have high, but not necessarily astronomical, horsepower so they can get up and go. The manufacturers have spent billions designing a chassis, suspension, wheels and a motor that make the car feel nimble, turn in and come out of corners fast and make you look good done in style coupled with driver aids that make Grandpa Jones look like he can drive better than one of the Andretti boys. Most, not all, of these cars hail from Germany and represent cars that are almost affordable for many. These manufacturers also design models for the elite to drive. BMW's, Mercedes, Audi and even Porsche make cars that you can drive everyday, take on a trip and with the tires from the factory go out on a racetrack and almost compete with the big cars.

We are now seeing the resurgence, yes from Europe, (and Japan) of the lightweight, adequately powered sports car. Honda has done this with the S2000. Mazda, the epitome of the sports car, has conquered this with the Miata but now we are seeing a new breed - the nearly affordable, perfectly balanced, fast mid-engine sports car. Alfa Romeo has brought to our shores the wonderful 8C. While ONLY 235 hp (remember when we used to say 'IT HAS 235 HP!'), However, you combine 235 hp with a car that
weighs right around the 3,000 lb mark and while it may not beat a Dodge Challenger Hellcat, a BMW M3 or an Audi S4 off the line but after the first corner it won't matter as the Alfa dives in, drives through, and exits the corner at speeds Superman dreams of. As long as the road or track is twisty,you will only see taillights from that point forward.

So you decide. The gap between only horsepower or only handling has narrowed considerably. Whether you go the pony car route with 500+ horsepower, the modest looking sedan with a mere high 300 hp or an outright sports car with a tiny 200+ horsepower is all up to you and what do you want in a car.

I will leave this thought before I close. For those that think 'Horsepower solves everything'. Realize that 99.99% of the time the need to go from 0-60 in breakneck speed is rare. Driving a car on a back road and enjoying it - that will happen often. So ask yourself - 0-60 in 3.9 seconds but lack other things or 0-60 in 5.1 seconds and you can drive on every back road at your limit? Which do you want? Before you decide, realize, it took you almost 3 times as long to read that sentence than the difference between 3.9 and 5.1 seconds. I will take a little less horsepower for 10 MPH faster around a corner any day.

In the end, who wins? All of us. As cars go faster, handle better, become more comfortable, safer and reliable the future looks very bright. That's the thing about cars, you can try to knock them down but they will always come up fighting and be even better.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Carism for World Peace

I belong to many automotive related groups on different social media. From old cars to new cars, cars that people see on the highway to ones sitting in someone's garage in 1,000 pieces, particular brands, types and even colors - you name the category there is most likely some car group out there related to it. Most of these groups require a 
No Politics
No Racism
No Being a Jerk, Idiot, Moron
rule that when broken is dealt with swiftly and with justice. What makes me write about these groups along with the above rules is that I theorize that if we could get everyone to be car fanatics most of our social, racial and other issues could go away. 

One gentleman wrote:
The only race info that should be on this page should be about horsepower and end with a checkered flag.

I believe if all people became car fanatics world peace would be achieved. I have seen, and know first hand, that car people just don't see race, gender, sexual orientation, or the host of other ism's that plague social media and the news today. What we see are cars, cars and more cars. While attending a weekend Cars and Coffee meet if a beautiful 69 Pontiac GTO Judge shows up I can tell you that if Christie Brinkley (for the older crowd), Gisele Bundchen (for the younger crowd), Vladimir Putin, President Obama, Heisenberg of Breaking Bad fame - pretty much anyone who steps out of that car will be just background as we all rush to see the car. (Note: Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are the exceptions to the above rule as they are car guys' car guys). On a good day we might eventually realize who the driver is and on a normal day after the person drives away someone may say 'Wasn't that Matt Damon?' and others would say 'I didn't notice.'


It's just the way we are.

Those of you not stricken with the car bug may say it is because we are shallow and simplistic thinkers and can only focus on one thing at a time. I can assure that is not true because:

  • First, many car fanatics are women - we know women can focus on more than one thing.
  • Second, if a second car pulled up we would notice that as well.
  • Third, well, I just know there is a third that will come to me but I am thinking about a car right now
The reason why we don't judge people by gender or race or whatever is because we like the person based on the car, not the car based on the person. Now you are thinking:

So if I don't drive a cool car then I am not cool?
Pretty much.

What you are missing is that you don't have to be rich, famous, smart, male, female to drive a nice car because a cool car to us isn't just a new $110,000 Mercedes but instead could be a $600 Ford Granada that is cool because it is still running (trust me, I know this, I drive an obnoxious, beat up BMW and it gets many a fair 
share of looks and comments). So we don't care if you are a 1%'er or only have about $.01 in your pocket. Additionally, you don't even have to own a great car to become a member of the group, if you love cars like we do, then welcome to our club!

All this is true because we have our priorities straight. Cars are not human and therefore don't have built-in prejudices and since we live for cars we too have lost that built-in prejudice. We see the world through paint, wheels, suspension, turbos and a host of other inanimate objects. Those inanimate objects only worry that the parts they are connected to continue to do their job - regardless of the color, brand, store the part came from. As a car crazy person that's how I see the world as well. I don't care where you came from, what you do for work, your car is what I want to know more about.

If you are tired of politics, Fox versus MSNBC, liberal versus conservative and just plain old negative talk go on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and look up some car pages and enjoy the beauty of old and new cars, car history and car culture that is also enjoyed by others all without judgment or name calling. 

That's the thing about the car culture, it really is a judgment free zone and if people stop judging, then world peace can be achieved.

PS - Some great pages to start with can be found on Facebook.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Cars

Will you get one? Will you? You know, the Lexus 'December to Remember Event'. Did you get a new Lexus? Will Santa deliver a brand new white, or maybe his personal red, Mercedes? Maybe a new Acura fresh from the 'Oh what fun it is to drive' specials. BMW, Ford, Audi - all manufacturer's believe only a Neanderthal wouldn't purchase a brand new car for Christmas.

How many people actually purchase a car for Christmas? Do you know anyone that has ever been given a car to celebrate the First Noel? Let's go one step further, how many people do you know that received a brand new $50,000 Lexus or $65,000 Mercedes as a gift?

Some teenagers get 'new' cars for Christmas, new to them that is. But really, the car was something they would get anyway, Christmas just makes it more fun. The question I am asking is do you know people who purchased a new car because, well, an ad on television said that if you love that special someone you will buy her a brand new, very expensive, very fancy car and deliver it to her with a huge bow on top.

I have seen this once in my life. In the late 80's I sold Ford, Mercury and Subaru's in a small town. A gentleman from New Hampshire had a ski house just 30 minutes north of my town in Vermont. He had just purchased a new Subaru wagon to help him get back and forth to New Hampshire. His wife loved another Subaru on the lot. The next day he called and said he wanted to buy the other car for his wife and deliver it as a Christmas present. I purchased a giant bow and on Christmas Eve he arrived, picked up the car and headed up to his ski home to deliver to his wife. I am sure she was surprised, he was happy to purchase it for her and I liked the commission. However, a new Subaru isn't the same price range as the $90,000 Mercedes SL or AMG sedan.

Why would I never buy a car as a Christmas gift?

Let's forget the part that I simply can't afford it. I wouldn't do such a
thing for so many reasons. First, my wife is very particular about her cars. After 27 years of marriage and me being a car nut I know exactly what my wife wants in a car (Between you and me, I haven't a clue). I have an idea of the types of cars she likes but what she really likes is beyond my small male mind to comprehend. When we do start the car shopping thing I will list out the 4-5 cars I think she will like and we head out to drive them. The one that I am 100% positive she will love often
ends up on the bottom of the list. We are currently driving a Mini Cooper Countryman because I didn't know she would like one. So reason one to not buy a new car for my wife? I would purchase the wrong car. Heck, I can't pick out a sweater she likes much less a car.

Second, the color that I love and the one she loves is of course the same, not really. Give me a gorgeous burnt orange, dark burgundy colored car and I would be a happy camper. She on the other hand likes aqua blues, mint greens and other colors (and if you are reading this honey - I know I probably have these colors wrong - remember - small male mind).

Third, how the car feels inside and how it drives is important. Get me a vehicle where the inside replicates an F14 fighter cockpit where the buttons are only pinky twitch away. I want to feel like the Red Baron as I shoot down the cars around me. She on the other hand hates, I mean really hates, that tight cocoon type
feeling that many car brands brag about. I think we purchased our last Ford a few years ago because all Ford's now have that tight driver's center that I guess most males like. And how about how it drives? More power! Kidney breaking suspension! The ability to make a passenger throw up when I take a corner is how all cars should be made. I want to know heads versus tails when I drive over a dime. My wife, not so much. Yes, she likes a car that drives nice, is sprightly but the race car turned road car is not on her Christmas wish list.

Finally, I said that we don't have the money but let's assume I do. How in the world, unless you are Bill Gates, hide a $65,000 purchase from your spouse? Even if you manage the books, somehow, somewhere she is going to say 'Hey, remember that CD we had? The bank says we cashed it in. Do you remember doing that?' There is no way I could get away with it. I once bought my wife a $10 gift while traveling and Visa called to confirm the purchase. So she found out that I had bought something for $10 in the state of Washington. Yeah, a $70,000 purchase is not going unnoticed.

Again, dear, if you are reading this, you may be surprised to know that you are not getting a new Range Rover, Jaguar, or Porsche for Christmas. I may get some jewelry and that perfume you want, but don't run down to the garage in the morning unless you want to see the two cars that are already sitting in there. How about a sweater?

Are you someone who purchases expensive cars for Christmas as a gift? Do you know someone who does? Would you dare? This is something I think about each time I see one of the perfect families walk out of the house on Christmas morning, standing in fake snow, hair all perfect (even though it is 5 in the morning) with a surprised face for the new car in the driveway. Maybe it is just jealousy that makes me ponder this. Maybe I just don't get it.

That's the thing about buying a car for someone as a gift or even as a necessity, bring that person with you, it is too personal a purchase to just pick one out for that special loved one.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas season.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Tale of Two Cars

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. No real reason for that line but it is required with the title.

Most, if not all, of you know that I own and regularly drive 2 BMW 2002s. A 1974 and a 1975. These two cars while beginning life as family sport sedans clearly lived in different parts of the country with different owners who had different ideas of what car ownership meant. How I came to own these two cars that are nearly opposite, even in color, I still sometimes wonder myself.

Having driven wagons, sedans, and small SUV’s coupled with a new driver on the way, meant it was time for me, the car guy, to get a car guy car. I wanted something I could drive every day, be cool, and handle well. After much consideration my dream was to be a BMW 2002 owner. Now Birmingham, Alabama is certainly not a mecca for small, unique, vintage German cars so my search went to the web with the entire U.S. my location.

Hemmings, Craigslist, 2002 forums became my morning reading list. If I found something interesting I would post on the forums for advice where I would get frank responses such as:
  •  ‘I wouldn’t buy a car from them.’
  • ‘That price is crazy.’
  • ‘No’.

However, my questions did not go unnoticed. One day I received
an e-mail from a guy in St. Louis, MO saying he has a car for sale. He includes a few dark pictures of the car. St. Louis has snow, right? This thing will be a rust bucket, but I will at least listen. He promises more pictures that weekend. At the same time I have located a 1967 1600 with a potent 150HP Metric Mechanic 2.0 liter engine that has caught my fancy. I call that owner and the car is exactly as described. No serious rust issues, really pretty upgraded interior, with a great motor. 

Meanwhile the pictures of the car from St. Louis arrive. I ask the owner:

‘Can you send me current pictures, I don’t want the ones of when the car was new.’
Seriously, the car is that nice. Now to decide:

  • A near perfect, automatic, 1974 that has had 2 owners and clearly been cared for its entire life
  • A really unique 1600 with a motor that is worth the price of the entire car

Being about the same price didn’t help. Regardless of which car I went with, I was going to modify the Hades out of it (Sorry about the language). I went with the 1974 because it met my needs at the time.

When Ivory, that’s what I call her, got home I realized that the car is simply stunning. The paint looks better than new, the interior carpet isn’t faded, no cracked dash, the seats recovered and re-stuffed using original BMW materials could not be overlooked. Add to that the larger carburetor, the upgraded sway bars and the car was simply perfect and there was no possible way I could modify it. If I did the car gods would surely send down a bolt of lightning and destroy my points so that the car would never run again. So I drove her as is all the while questioning should I modify the car or not?

A couple of years later I am driving home and I see what has to be the drug addicted, party going, live life to the fullest Black 2002 in the country. She has an obnoxious exhaust, doors that don’t shut and an interior that Satan himself couldn’t make look worse. In short, I make a friend and soon negotiations for purchase happen. A good price is agreed on. The car runs but can’t propel itself forward so we ‘tow’ it home (which means on flat stretches of road and downhill the car can move itself, uphill his friend’s Wagoneer will pull it). Ebony, that’s her name, is officially mine.

When a car doesn’t run it is always one of three things:
  • Spark
  • Fuel
  • Something else

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo, it must be spark so there I’ll go. A new starter coil, conversion to electronic points and voila – she runs AND drives. Half the lights work, windows don’t roll up or down, wing windows partially work, seats can’t be moved back and forth and there is no ignition key or tumbler or trunk lock. A few turns of a screwdriver, some used and new parts and the car runs and drives well. I have me a daily driver.

3+ years later and I still have both cars. Both cars start and run nearly every day. Both draw a crowd where ever I go. When asked about the cars I say that Ivory is an accountant, has never had a speeding ticket and is in bed most nights by 8:00. Ebony loves Grateful Dead concerts, has never said no to a party invite, goes to bed late and gets up late. And while Ivory and Ebony are 
complete opposites, I love driving them both. They make me smile each time I get behind the wheel. I like to see the reflection of them in store windows, I love to see the smiles and waves I get and the frequent ‘I love your car.’

So the Tale of Two cars continues on. It amazes me that that two cars that are nothing alike except for make and model can make the same owner grin ear to ear on each and every outing. I guess that is the thing about cars, like puppies, they just find a way to get into your heart.