Saturday, November 19, 2011

1200 miles in a 911

I've had the 911 for about a month and put 1200 miles on it in that time. Rain or shine, I want to get all the use out of it before Wisconsin's winter arrives. How has everyday life been with the Porsche? In a word: fantastic. Really. It does just about everything really, really well.

I'm continually impressed how everyday-usable and comfortable the 911 is while still ripping off 150mph country road blasts and slithering roundabout exits. The physical size means I can't haul four adults and large cartons like I could in the M5, but it's far more special-feeling than the M-car. On paper the 911 looks a lot like a contemporary M3 but in reality driving the 911 is more of an occasion. It doesn't have the pins-and-needles celebrity vibe of the F355 but it's also easier to park, with more storage space, and scalpel-like in traffic. Until I get the car to Road America I can't make a final judgment on the performance but it doesn't quite measure up to the Ferrari. The handling isn't as sharp (but the ride is more forgiving), the motor is nowhere as razor-sharp, the noise is unique but nothing compared to the flat-plane V8 wail, and the styling isn't as head-turning. I do love the bassy, odd growl of the flat six. There is a qualitative difference between the 3.4 and 3.6 liter motors. I've read Porsche changed the exhaust on the MkII 3.6L cars to make them sound more like a 911. It worked. There's a boomy roar in the car and a nice bark with the windows down.

The steering on the 911, though, is something else. The overall handling of the Ferrari trumps the Porsche but the alive, always-changing feeling through the Porsche's steering wheel is 911ism that can't be matched. The light nose bobs and moves around, causing changes in grip and feedaback. The heavy rear moves around despite having huge 285mm rubber.

I was really nervous about the pendulous rear. After driving the car in 36 degree rain (my car isn't equipped with PSM) I can say that it's not as dangerous as the 911 lore suggests. Yes, the rear likes to wiggle but it's easily caught and even easily encouraged. I haven't resorted to putting a post-it reading "DON'T LIFT" on the windscreen but my need to for track days. It really is fun, feeling the nose rise then feel the rear step out, leaving your foot into it and steering through the slide.

Of course all the normal-car creature comforts work well. The stereo is pretty good, the the auto climate control is flawless, and the visibility is excellent. I'm a bit conflicted on the seats; there is plenty of space but the backs don't fit my tall built. My shoulder blades are always being rolled forward. I cringe at the thought of trying to procure different factory seats. The P-car tax is significant. Maybe trying out some GT3 seats is a good start.

I feel incredibly lucky to get to experience this amazing car. It's fantastic. It might me a Porsche guy out of me. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

new steed, extra silly

Been a dearth of updates here, but it's a fine time to announce that the M5 is gone. It's somewhere outside Chicago in the hands of a young man who is hopefully ready for the "special" needs of an again M-car (he had a Porsche 944 turbo, so he ought to know what he was getting in to).

I thought long and hard about what to get next. I saw a clean red/black NSX in Chicago and after some financial calculating, realized I could afford it. I've always wanted an NSX, it's most certainly my attainable dream car and I will have one someday. I remember drooling over new ones at Acura of Brookfield as a kid. I remember thinking I could buy one immediately after graduating from college. I now can in fact buy one. Unfortunately, this specimen had some potential issues and just wasn't worth the price.

Price. That proved to be an issue in the NSX hunt. My budget placed me in the scruffy, bottom end of the market. I deliberated and realized I should wait to get a clean, sorted example when I had the funds.

What to get instead? Well, I've looked at early watercooled 911s in the past. Turns out they've continued to depreciate. For good reason: the motor can go bad, leaving you with a $10,000 bill on a $20,000 car. Good news, though, someone has developed an aftermarket fix for the issue!

Certain numbers of M96 motors, used in Boxsters, 996s, and 997s, can suffer from failure due to the intermediate shaft bearing. This shaft, part of the timing system, has a sealed bearing that can suffer from lubrication wash-out and poor oiling. Once it starts to wear, ferrous bits circulate in the motor and eventually kill it. LN Engineering has a fix but this requires removal of the motor or transmission. However, once fixed, you can expect years of happy motoring.

I looked at a lot of different cars, and ending up driving a 2002 Cabrio. I loved it. It was tons of fun and very fast. I had no interest in buying a convertible, but it resolved my fears that a 996 wouldn't feel special enough. It was.

After sifting through a sea of silver-over-gray car, I found a clean, higher-mileage red-over-tan. I loved it. I had a PPI done at Porsche North Olmstead and found no surprises. I ended up buying the car, sight unseen, and shipping it back to Wisconsin. I wasn't disappointed!

Friday, July 29, 2011

they love to watch her strut

Almost have the M5 buttoned up. After having to cut a nut off the top of the passenger side strut to release the spring and needing my American-made lightweight cheater bars to release the seized collars holding the inserts in the strut housing, I have the suspension put back into the car. Both struts were leaking a large amount of oil so it was a good thing they got replaced. I need to reattach the swaybar and do a 10-min alignment check still tomorrow, but she should drive! I sure hope this fixed the steering issue.

Here you can see where the spring left the perch. It was installed upside down I think, and somehow worked itself loose. It was under zero pre-load when I took it off the car. Didn't even need a spring compressor to disassemble the strut. Scary.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

no willpower

I see beautiful things and I must have them. Sometimes it's problematic. Today's it's splendid.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

trouble at the helm

The M5 is acting up. I was pulling out of the garage one morning, and heard a creak from the right front suspension. Pulled over to take a peek, noticed a squeal from the powersteering at full left lock. Everything looked legit, so I continued. Now she pulls right, hard. Like insta-lane-change hard.

I've checked everything! The right front looked towed out, so I changed it. No difference, so I changed it more. Apparently too much, because even the slowest turns yielded screeching tires. Lots of judging looks on that shakedown run. Back to the drawing board. Adjusted tow angles on both sides, all suspension components are tight. Tires all at 36 psi, all lug nuts tight, no brakes dragging.

What gives? I know this is part of owning a 20 year old car, but this one is tricky. Time to put it on the lift.

I refuse to call a 'professional.' I'm too stubborn. But I want to run this car! I had to drive on some of my favorite deserted roads on my way to a friend's house yesterday. That little wagon runs out of steam at 115. Not acceptable. Need the continent-crushing speed of the M5.

Here's a distraction, my German radio I inherited from my engineer grandfather and total gadget-geek. Classy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

brilliance while riding

Sean and I came up with some genius ideas while riding south today.

  1. Chainstay/dropout mounted corkscrew to accompany your toptube-mounted wine bottle holder
  2. Crank-driven tire inflation/deflation system for the Surly Pugsley
  3. Bar-mounted, cone-shaped frites holder with stem-mounted mayonnaise pump
  4. Baguette holster instead of a pannier
  5. Built-for-speed water bikes, with propellers
Need to get busy in Solidworks. Need to market to Japan (they love weird shit). Then profit?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

M5 fog light repair

The BMW's onboard computer was kind enough to remind me that I had a dead bulb in my parking light and also a fog light. Sick of getting these messages every time I drove the car after dark, I decided to replace the bulbs. I was quickly reminded how much fun it is to do repairs on old cars, especially when it involves ancient plastic clips. I uncovered a lot more wrong than just a bulb with the fog lights. One lens was cracked and was missing all the mounting tabs. It was just sitting in the hole in the airdam, rattling around. The plastic bracket that holds the assembly was also cracked. Brilliant. That can be repaired easily (and this little bit of plastic is forty bucks to replace), but the lens/bucket assembly is beyond recovery. If I replace one, its tattered mate would stick out like a sore thumb so I turned to FCP Groton for replacement OEM lenses.
  Cracked and sandblasted glass lenses

Proper projector lights
The worst part: broken, brittle mounting tabs. The driver's side fog light was sitting loosely in the air dam. You can also see how badly pitted the glass is: just shy of sea glass from the beach.

New glass

BMW glovebox flashlight repair

E34 BMWs came with a neat rechargable flashlight in the glovebox. It serves mostly as a light for said glovebox, but can be removed to find lost change under the seat. Mine didn't work, so I investigated.

Turns out the NiCad batteries popped at some point. I found a nice walkthrough here and ordered new batteries for just a few dollars.

Disassembled, with dead batteries. Lots of corrosion to clean up.

New batteries fitted

We have light! Just awaiting solder and re-gluing the case. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

True Swedespeed: Volvo breaks its boxy shell for a new, boxy shell

The Volvo 850 was introduced in 1993 to replace the 740-series cars. There were many differences between the models, chiefly in the drivetrain. The 740 series cars were powered by longitudinally mounted, inline, iron-block four cylinder motors, either single or dual overhead cams, some turbocharged. These motors were mated to a live rear axle, rear wheel drive layout. The newer 850 cars featured all-alloy, twin cam, inline five cylinder motors mounted horizontally. These were mated to front wheel drive transmissions. The 850 has an all-new independent suspension, front and rear, as well as the first side-impact airbags on the US market. The styling continued Volvo's boxy design, with key edges softened for the 1990's. The shape was striking against the many jelly bean shapes popping up on the landscape (the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable is my favorite example of the lozenge school of auto design).

The 850 wagon was introduced shortly thereafter, in 1994. The wagon was powered by either a 2.4 liter naturally aspirated five or powerful high-pressure 2.3 liter turbo five (T5 in Volvo-speak). Producing 222 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, the T5 powerplant easily propelled the rather heavy car to surprising speeds. At the very end of its life the 850 would receive a 2.4 liter 'light pressure' turbo. The LPT also found its way into the 850 AWD cars never sold in the States. The press was impressed by the haste that the wagon could achieve, and also commented on the competent handling.

The story of the 850 wagon gets interesting right from the start. Volvo wanted to use the new 850 platform to compete in the popular British Touring Car Championship series, which pitted (heavily) modified versions of everyday (touring) cars against each other on the track. Competition included the BMW 3-series, Alfa Romeo 155, Renault Laguna, and Ford Mondeo. Volvo decided to use the wagon version of the 850 as the basis of their touring car program. The choice was rather controversial, as every other team used 'saloon' cars as the building blocks of their racing machines. Volvo joined with Tom Walkinshaw Racing to construct the 850 touring cars. The motor was a 2 liter unit developed specifically for competition. The motor was also mounted lower and far back in the engine bay to create a more favorable center of gravity. The 850 'estate' racecars did reasonably well, competing in the 1994 BTCC season but never securing any points for Volvo Racing. The next season, race officials changed the rules governing aerodynamics, rendering the wagons noncompetitive. Using the sedan version of the 850, the Volvo Racing team went to to finish third in the manufacturers points standings in 1995 and third again in 1996.

The success of the 850 touring cars helped create a new 850 in 1995, dubbed the 850 T5-R. Painted in 'T-Gul,' a pale yellow, the T5-R sported motorsports badging, special 17 inch wheels, a deeper chin spoiler, a more aggressive rear wing on the sedan, two-tone black leather and suede seats, stiffer springs, and larger swaybars. The 'rest-of-world' models got a full 247 horsepower put down through a five-speed manual with a viscous limited slip differential; the North American market got only automatics and no rise in power (some sources claim that the US-spec R computer allowed an overboost, yielding 240 horsepower). The 'R' model continued until the 850's demise in 1997, relabeled the 850R. The famous yellow was gone, replaced with black, white, red, and dark green. The two-tone seats reversed there arrangement on the 850 R, with the suede now on the inner seating surface.

The early R cars have attained a bit of a cult status, especially so within Volvo communities. However, it is the 'base' 850 Turbo that really made an impact on the market. The original Volvo turbo wagons were quite popular and complete with the Countach-comparison ads, a little controversial. The 850 Turbo was a genuinely fast car when it debuted. In 1994, the Volvo's 222 bhp compared favorably to other European competition: BMW's M3 only mustered 240 bhp and the king-of-the-luxosedan-hill 540i made 262. Today, Volvo 850 owners can turn to firms like IPD to quickly increase their 222 bhp to closer to 300 with simple upgrades.

What I remember most about my '97 was the overall feel of the car. It had a solid, vault-like quality to it. The overall structure was stiff, the doors closed with a satisfying thud, and the steering had an agreeable heft to it. Sure, the stock suspension was too stiff on the little stuff and wallowy when the pace quickened but the overall composure was good for a wagon of that size.

The motor was a great one too. It had tons of pull, and a satisfying rush when the boost came on. The original Volvo setup was more than ample for everyday enthusiastic driving, never feeling out of breath. On the racetrack, the system was quickly overwhelmed and the heatsoak sapped power. The Swedes who put the car together never really intended it for hard-core abuse; even the later S/V70R cars are unhappy when really flogged at the track. These are supremely livable, practical road cars with just enough performance to satisfy drivers who might be used piloting 2-seat sportscars.

The 850 wagon really was a practical car. The cargo area on those traditional Volvo wagons truly maximized space. Compared to the newer V70's or my current Passat, the overtly square opening and flat load floor swallowed 10 bicycles at once.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

MM-MM good

 I've gone off the deep end, and bought my first M car.
It's a 1991, late 1990 build. It lost all its M5 badges at some point in time, which I don't mind at all. It's also shod with rare 17x8, 17x9 Style 10's, with nice M centercaps. I didn't much care for the wheels in photos, but in person they're attractive and understated. The lips are nice touch. It also has a neat, 4-seat, leather/cloth euro interior called "Webstruktur" offered on some late, euro-LE models. The front seats are heated and manually adjusted. I'll work on getting some photos of the interior, it's pretty cool and very period. The self-opening rear console is great party trick, even if the mouse-fur dividers seem sized for defunct cassette tapes.


It has a lot of miles. A LOT. I had a compression and leakdown test done and saw good numbers. The valve clearances were checked. On top of that, the owner claimed it recently trapped 98 mph at the drag strip. Not bad for an old gal. She definitely feels like 315 bhp.

It's a blast to drive, that S38 motor howls and just begs for revs. I always read about how M5s tend to shrink with speed and feel better that harder they're driven. It's true. I can't wait to take it to the track to responsibly access that speed. It's very solid and full of character. It's a far cry from the WRX I sold to buy it. It feels like a well-engineered, complete execution instead of a very fast appliance.

Hopefully I won't live out any of the horror stories that can go along with low-production cars. It'll be interesting, for sure.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

no more scooby snacks for me

After an emotional struggle to get the darn thing working right, a bunch of things changed in my life. I spent some time in Europe and North Carolina and the WRX sat in the cold for two months. After much deliberation (with myself) I decided to sell the Subaru.

Yes, I admitted defeat. I bit off more than I could chew, I took on too big of a project with too little time and money. I might (might!) do another motor build, but decades from now. How about after retirement? Oh wait, people don't retire anymore. Scratch that.

In typical fashion, I've been hunting for something to fill the void. Always torn: do I go for something new and reliable-ish or something old and oozing character? How about a Saab Viggen? They're fast, weird, and full of flaws character. Maybe an old Volvo wagon with a mid-nineties Ford Cobra drivetrain? I could find parts anywhere (even down South). Maybe even an Audi ur-S4. Sure, it's a porker, but it has that blitzkreig 20 valve five complete with that wonderful, terrifying warble.

No, I think I'll go for something more ridiculous. Details to follow.

How about a few farewell photos of the Subaru? She was fun for the 2.1 months I actually drove her.