Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Made In Japan

Back in the 80's "Made in Japan" was a running joke in the US. Much like "Made in China" is today. In the Styx song Mr. Roboto the robot was described in a line as "with parts made in Japan". There was also a line in the movie Strange Brew where a police inspector says to an officer "The whole world is made in Japan?", the officers' response "Could be sir".
The 80's was also the time when Toyota and Honda built some of the best quality cars ever made. Making Ford, Chevy and Chrysler look like the lemons they were. Japan's whole manufacturing philosophy was different and almost mysterious to us. The fact was they were doing it better than anyone. By the mid 90's the American people were finally convinced and started to become loyal Japanese car buyers. Some of the best selling models were the Honda Accord, Civic and Toyota Corolla, Camry.
Once we were all buying Japanese cars to our hearts content some changes in the economic world started to change. First Japan is a small country with few natural resources it became easier to open factories closer to the resources rather than ship them to Japan first, then ship the finished product out. Second import taxes made the cost of importing cars not price competitive with US domestic autos. Third, and this is just my opinion. The Japanese companies felt we as Americans would feel better about ourselves if the cars we were buying were built in our country by our employees.
Now my whole point to this post. I feel that the quality and workmanship that made these car companies succeed was lost in translation along the way. The American cars have caught up and the Hondas and Toyotas are at the same level of quality they were 15-20 years ago. I as a consumer no longer feel as confident in the quality of our US built Hondas and Toyotas. I would feel better about a Honda or Toyota purchase if the car was made in Japan. My Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was assembled in Japan using 99% Japanese parts. Our Honda Pilot was built in Alabama. Guess which vehicle has had more quality issues. Our Japanese made 1996 Acura Integra was nearly bullet proof with no quality issues during our entire time of ownership.
The country of origin of an automobile used to say something about that vehicle. Whether it be German, Italian, British, America, Japanese, or Swedish. Now we have BMW and Mercedes factories in South Carolina and Alabama, Fiats made in Mexico, Hondas from Ohio. Personaly I want my Mercedes built in Germany, My Fiat from Italy and My MINI from England. I wish our automobiles reflected their national heritage more. I want to sit in the drivers seat and feel the national pride (or lack there of) of the people who built it.
The Suzuki Kisashi is built in Japan, Porsche still builds in Stuttgart Germany, Ferrari and Lamborghini are pure Italian, Lotus is British and lets give credit where credit is due, Kia and Hyundai are built in South Korea. For now.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Photo of the week #11

This is in Colonie Center mall. I thought it was pretty cool. The car is a Suzuki Kisahi. Aside from the annoying radio adds this seems like a really nice car. I would purchase this over other mid size sedans in it's class for one major reason. It is made in Japan, not Mexico, China, S. Korea, Alabama, Ohio, or Detroit. Looks really good too.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Photo of the week #10

Hauling race cars in the 1970's. SCCA Trans Am Dodge Challengers. #77 was driven by Sam Posey.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Guest Review: 2012 Golf TDI

This past week, as part of my dog sitting contract, I negotiated the use of a 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI (diesel). The car was purchased less than a month ago and only had 800 miles on the odometer. Ever since the Audi R10 made its debut at the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring (which I attended) and the launch of the VW TDI Cup racing series in 2008, I have been curious as to what it would feel like to race a diesel powered car.

Every year that diesels have run at the 24 Hours of Lemans, I listen to the broadcasters debate that the sound of a racecar is essential to the overall racing experience, while another will point out that the speed and relative silence of a diesel powered racecar allows for other audible ambiances to emerge, such as the gearbox and related drivetrain, tires, and wind noise over the bodywork at 200+ mph, which are equally as visceral as a gasoline powered race engine.

Besides the racing pedigree of the TDI, which is key in my interest in selecting a vehicle, I read an article in Grassroots Motorsports Magazine that featured professional racecar driver Randy Pobst’s 2000 Jetta daily driver that he had converted to run on straight vegetable oil (which he buys in 5 gallon containers at Costco, not wanting to deal with the hassle and mess of treating waste oil from restaurants). This flexibility creates a much more intriguing option over a hybrid that still relies on fossil fuel, however the conversion will void the warranty if applicable. Also in Grassroots Motorsports, the publisher Tim Studdard wrote about purchasing a used 4th generation TDI Jetta wagon for his wife, which they did not keep long, stating that the engine’s powerband through the rpm range was too uneventful and therefore not appealing to drive.

Now that my TDI preconceptions have been stated, I will continue with the test drive. The Golf I drove was appointed exactly as I would have wanted it, 6 speed manual, no sunroof/navigation option and no technology package. The only thing I would change would be the color, I would go with Candy White as it would provide a bit more racecar appeal by following with the ‘body-in-white’ purchase option for factory race car shells. Additionally, since I live in Florida, the white paint would provide a comfortably high albedo, although I do admit the United Gray Metallic of the test vehicle is appealing.

Getting in the car, you notice the nice cloth black interior and plenty of head room due to the exclusion of a sunroof. Although I am not the tallest driver out there, I have long legs which require me to move the seat far back to properly operate the pedals, which can create an issue with performance driving, as you want to have the steering wheel up close to your body to gain full maneuverability and reaction time. Typically I compromise this situation by moving the seat closer than what is comfortable so that the steering wheel is the right distance away. When adjusting the seat, I moved the seat back (as the vehicle’s owner is very short) and noticed the steering wheel distance was not ideal, I by chance checked to see if it was a telescopic wheel, and surprisingly it was, which allowed me to move the steering wheel closer and into the proper performance driving position. This is a great feature that I have never had in any of my vehicles before.

The starting procedure was the same as a gasoline engine, press in the clutch and turn the key. Being a diesel I had anxiety over trying to find the glow plug button or if I needed to leave the key in the on position momentarily before activating the starter in order for the glow plugs to be ignited. These are procedures that I needed to follow during my previous diesel driving experiences, which were limited to a Chevrolet Suburban diesel, a Dodge Ram dually diesel, and some sort of diesel passenger van that I drove in Panama after our local guide became too intoxicated to drive. Once rolling, the shifter operation was smooth, not quite Honda precise, but much better than the Subaru I currently drive. The clutch pedal had a low amount of resistance, which would be nice for driving in traffic, and the steering wheel had a very expensive feel to it. The radio controls are on a touch screen and I had no trouble learning and operating even while driving.

The engine felt very powerful and you get a definite turbo surge from right before 2000 rpm up to 3000 rpm. The turbo 'sweet spot' for this engine is basically the opposite of my vehicle, a Subaru WRX, which you wait until after 3000 rpm to feel the turbo kick in. You don’t need to take my word for it, peak engine torque for the Golf’s 2.0 turbo diesel is 236 ft lb at 1750 rpm (where as my WRX is only 217 ft lb at 4000 rpm). Given the large amount of torque this engine produces at such a low rpm, the car feels very powerful when driving around town, since you do most of your driving at lower rpms. Conversely, once you pass 3000 rpm, the engine power levels off and you reach the 5000 rpm redline quickly and without drama. Interestingly the engine makes a maximum 140 hp at 4000 rpm but compared to the large torque peak, this goes unnoticed. Given these engine characteristics, I would be curious what it would be like to drive the Golf TDI on a race track where you keep the engine operating at high rpm. During the driving experience, the engine note is very quiet, but you can identify it as a diesel if you listen closely. Compared to the 2.0 liter, 8 valve gasoline powered Golf that this TDI replaced for the current owner, the interior engine note is actually quite similar.

The car’s suspension was silky smooth and quiet, and with the 17” Continental tires, the car handled well too. While one might think the Audi A3 fitted with the TDI engine would be sportier than the golf, it should be noted that the A3 is not offered with a manual transmission and weighs considerably more. In conclusion, I believe the Golf TDI is the sportiest diesel available in the US and would make a fun daily driver, while yeilding over 40 mpg.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"New" New Beetle

So they dropped the "New" this time. It is just the Beetle again. I stopped at the local VW dealer this Saturday. They had a 2012 Beetle Turbo sitting out front that drew my curiosity. I didn't have time for a drive as I was supposed to be Christmas shopping. A quick glance at the window sticker had to do. This Car comes with VW's tried and true 2.0L Turbo four. In this model making 200hp. The sticker on this particular car was $25,000. That is a pretty good price for this engine. It is essentially the same engine that Audi sells in half their lineup (A3, A4, A5 and TT). Maybe this thing is worth a second look. Maybe the new marketing approach is working. My wife says it is starting to look like an old Porsche. I think she works for them!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Car Movie List Update

I got some criticism over my car movie post. Some said I should have made the good and bad list a little easier to read. I also thought of a few movies to add to the list since then. I realized I left off one of the all time great if not the greatest car movie of all time American Graffiti. There is so much to say about this movie. Great story, director, actors, cars and of course John Milner in the yellow '32. "Hey what happened to your flathead?". Watch it, enjoy it.
I also forgot Talledega Nights. This movie is just plain funny. Days of Thunder should have been more like this or Stroker Ace. When you watch the movie think of when Juan Pablo Montoya joined NASCAR racing. What could be better than a NASCAR movie that makes fun of NASCAR and their fans without either realizing it.
Another movie that needs mentioning is The Fast and The Furious. The movie was not great overall, but it came out at the height of the import "tuner" era. It represents an era in car culture sort of like American Graffiti did. Just don't bother with the sequels.
So here is the list as it stands now
The Good:
Original Herbie Movies
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Blues Brothers
Smokey and the Bandit
Cannonball Run
Greased Lighting
Grand Prix
Dust to Glory
American Graffiti
Talladega Nights
Stroker Ace
The Fast and the Furious

And the Bad:
Smokey and the Bandit sequels
Cannonball Run sequels
Cars 2
The Fast and the Furious sequels
Dukes of Hazzard the movie

Yet to be seen and rated Senna and Truth in 24.
i hope this makes things a bit clearer

Get to Know: 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe R-Spec

Today I stopped over at our local "HUGE!" Fuccillo Hyundai of Schenectady and took a drive in the 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe R-Spec with the 3.8L V-6. The Genesis coupe is a front engine rear drive platform which set the stage for Hyundai to develop a true enthusiast model. This is where the R-Spec comes in.
The version I drove was white with the 306hp V-6, it is also available in 210 hp 2.0L 4cyl. turbo. R-Spec model is only available in 6 speed manual. Also comes with a limited slip rear differential and Brembo brakes. Hyundai also cut some weight out of the car. What they put together is exactly what I like in a car, all the performance parts and no extra frills. The car felt very nice and solid on the road. It was easy to have a nice spirited drive right out of the box. Engine had a nice smooth and long power band. Seating position, seats, and steering wheel felt right for the package. Brembo brakes were as expected with good pedal feel and stopping power. Suspension was firm and provided good feel. The car overall gave me the confidence to push the car a little in the corners. The stabiilty/traction control kicked in a little sooner than I would have liked. I left it switched on since I didn't have the time to become fully acclimated to the cars handling characteristics.
Overall for the price (sticker $27,700) it is a very nice solid package. Other companies should build a car like this for enthusiasts. Anytime BMW or Porsche build a special no frills model they actually charge MORE money for it. Hyundai takes the other approach which is refreshing. I would compare this car to the Nissan 370Z, Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, BMW 135i or even 335i. It may not win the race but it will give you a fighting chance. Don't forget it costs $10-20,000 less than the above mentioned cars. Hyundai has come a long way in the last 10 years. They seem to be covering all the bases. Maybe a super car is on the way?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Photo of the week #8

Mark Donahue at Bridgehampton raceway on Long island. He is driving a 1970 Penske racing AMC Javelin.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Event: Albany New Auto Show

Every Fall for as long as I can remember the Capital District auto dealers have an auto show at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. It coincides withe Ski and Snow expo at the same location. I remember going there with my father and brother in 1983 to see the much anticipated all new Pontiac Trans Am. What a disappointment that was for an 11 year old fan of Smokey and the Bandit. I was horrified at what they did to the Bandit's Trans Am. Oh well.
This year I went with my family to see what auto makers have to offer for 2012. This is an auto show where you can get in and check out all the cars and trucks. Where else can three kids climb around in a $98,000 BMW 750Li like it is a jungle gym?
Some notable new models we were able to kick the tires on were The new New Beetle, Mini Cooper Coupe, Hyundai Veloster, and Buick Regal GS.
I took some time to show the kids what a luxury car feels like. We checked out the old world make Jaguar XF, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes E350, Audi A7 and previously mentioned BMW 750Li. I was surprisingly impressed with the Suzuki Kisashi and Buick Regal GS. The car I would most want to take home was the Audi A5 S line. That car felt fast just sitting there.
Anyway it was a fun afternoon with the family kicking tires

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photo of the week #6

2007 24hrs of Daytona, Stevenson Motorsports Corvette. Middle of the night repairs.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Guest review: Citroen C3

I had the opportunity to rent a Citroen C3 for two weeks while on vacation in Sardegna, Italy. Due to differences in driving culture and habits, road design, and most importantly emissions restrictions, this is not a car that you are going to see in the U.S. anytime soon.

I have to start by apologizing for not getting some critical information, such as the precise model year (the vehicle we had is from at least 2009, probably newer) and the exact engine configuration. My rental vehicle was a naturally-aspirated turbocharged diesel with a 5-speed manual transmission. This car had front disc brakes a rear drum brakes.

So that you know where we are coming from, my garage currently consists of a 2007 Honda Civic LX with a 5-speed manual and a 2004 Nissan Frontier XE in a 2wd and automatic transmission configuration. I previously owned a 1995 Subaru Legacy with an automatic and my wife had a 1997 VW Jetta with a 5-speed manual.

In keeping with apparent Italian tastes, this car is a compact 4-door hatch back. In general I saw very few sedans either in Tuscany or on Sardegna. The vast majority of passenger cars we saw were compact hatchbacks or larger station wagons, including BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes, along with the other European nameplates.

Driving position was nice and very adjustable. I like to be relatively upright and close the steering wheel, while not having my legs cramped. I was perfectly happy driving for up to 2 hours on twisty roads with lots of gear changes. Rachel really liked the front passenger leg room. Back seat leg room was non-existent (something like them1997 VW Jetta), but luckily we didn't need that seating space.

Similar to the Peugot 206 (which we spent a lot of time riding in but did not drive), the C3 has no cupholders and power windows in front, but crank windows in back. My sense is that cupholders are not considered to be important because when you are driving in Europe, you are driving, not drinking your coffee (although talking on your cellphone while driving is apparently legal in Italy and France).

Sardegna is a very rural and mountainous island in the Mediterranean with few divided highways. Except for a few developed tourist areas (such as the very chiche Costa Smeralda) the island is generally quite poor relative to the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and most of mainland Italy. The primary roads, however, are generally in very good condition (particularly by U.S. standards). This may be why the Italian debt situation is particularly bad.

This allowed for some fun (and at times scary) driving. The Citroen C3 was quite adequate for handling hills, cornering, and passing on straightaways (although the natives don't feel that need to wait until straightaways with adequate sight distance to pass). Body roll was minimal and steering was quick and precise. The C3 has a short wheel base and can get around corners quickly with minimal deceleration. The little diesel was more than adequate to bring this seemingly lightweight car back up to speed even on inclines.

The gearbox was fine. Generally I think that noticing characteristics of the transmission is not good and this one was easy to use with no oddities, similar to my Civic (the same cannot be said for the 1997 Jetta). Likewise braking was fairly unmemorable.

Italians have a reputation for being crazy drivers (but perhaps not as crazy as the reputation of Mumbai drivers). Superficially this may be true, but I found that they generally take driving very seriously while not taking the actions of other drivers personally. It seems that there is an expectation that drivers are fully alert and focused on the road, which does not generally seem evident on the roads here in the U.S.

Sardegna is mostly popular with German motorcyclists but is otherwise off the beaten path. Only once did we see a fleet of sports cars and that was a line of Ferraris that came pass in the opposite direction on a particularly narrow and twisty road. I would have thought that with cars such as Testarossas, F40s (I think) and 308s, among others, they would have had the cornering ability to stay in their own lane on blind curves. To be clear, this was near the Costa Smeralda and the drivers may have been some nouveau riche from who knows where in the world that decided to rent some Ferraris, rather than Italian or even European drivers. I was glad to have C3s abilities and small size to avoid a very expensive accident.

On the last day we had the car the service engine light came on with a message about the motor oil.

Maybe European motor oil is supposed to be black and thick?

I returned the car the next day and it became not my problem.

All in all, the Citroen C3 is a no frills, budget car that has nothing particularly special about it, however, the engineers did remember that a living person would be driving it, unlike some of the offerings that come out of some companies. Toyota and Chrysler come to mind.

While I would still choose a Honda Civic over this, I was perfectly happy to drive a car designed for driving while not violating Oliver's instructions from his dad never to ride in anything made in France that goes over 200 mph.

Happy motoring,

Photo of the week #5

This is for last week. Another one from my Father in law's collection. This is Connie Kalitta at a dragstrip on Long Island, NY. Around 1969-70.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Orange is my favorite color. It isn't always the best color for cars but this one is so cool. It popped up on a dealers lot near me this week. Give me a 1970 Plymouth Superbird in Vitamin C orange a Lotus Elise in Chrome orange and this Audi TTs in Solar Orange

Car Movies The Bad

Save yourself some time skip these movies. I haven't seen all of these. I was forewarned by others who care. I will start with Cannonball Run II. I owned the DVD and started watching it 3-4 times and could never bear to finish it. Days of Thunder was terrible. The story was great and done right would have been a great NASCAR movie. The script made me want to puke. Skip watching Days of Thunder and watch Stroker Ace instead (I'll let you borrow it). Cars II was a disappointment. I really feel that the first Cars movie was a great movie. The second had a poor story line and added violence that wasn't needed for the story. I have never seen Driven or Dukes of Hazzard the movie and never will. There are probably many more for this list I just can't remember right now.

Car Movies The Good

There many "car" movies that have been made over the years. I started a list of some of my favorites and it started to get a little long. I came up with thirteen pretty quickly. There are also a few movies I hope to see soon the I anticipate could make a top ten type list. I have yet to see the new movie Senna based on the life of Aryton Senna. here is a brief list of some movies I would recommend for the auto enthusiast.
Some of my favorite children's car movies are The original Herbie movies, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and of course Pixar's Cars. There are the fun 70's classics like Blues Brothers, Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run (early 80's really), and Convoy. These movies were all fun movies with lots of burnouts and crashes. How much better can you get. Some of the drama car films that I enjoy to watch are Greased Lighting, Grand Prix, and LeMans. LeMans and Grand Prix have some of the greatest car sounds ever. Crank up the volume on the TV when watching LeMans. There are some documentaries that one should see. Dust to Glory comes to mind. It is about the Baja 1000 race in Mexico. I hope to seen Truth in 24 soon. this documentary is about Audi preparing for the 2008 24 Hours of LeMans race.
If you get stuck in the house on a rainy or cold winter weekend check out some of these movies. There should be something on this list for all moods or tastes.

Dan Wheldon

I was sad to learn today of the passing of Dan Wheldon. I had the pleasure of watching him race in 2006 when I attended the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona. He won the race driving for Chip Ganassi. He was a true champion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photo of the week #4

I actually bought this black & white photo at a flea market for around $.25. I know it is a Porsche, I am assuming a 356.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Porsche Exhibit

This autumn season the Saratoga Auto museum's main exhibit is Porsche automobiles. My family and I stopped over this Sunday to check out the new display inside the museum. They also had a small show in the front parking lot. It was nice of the Porsche owners to brave the early wet weather to bring their cars out for people to see.
The Display inside was as always second to none. There were some nice LeMans 24hr race cars as well as street cars both modern and classic. Also on display for the weekend was Porsche's new 918 RSR hybrid race car.
If you get a chance this fall stop up and see the display.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall Road Tour

Today my wife and I joined some other car enthusiasts and the Saratoga Auto Museum for their fall road tour. We met early in the morning at the museum under some rainy skies. We then set off on a 100 mile preplanned trip through Saratoga, Montgomery, and Schoharie counties. The weather improved shortly after we left. We made a stop at a restoration shop in the town of Glen. After a brief tour of their shop and what they do there we headed off on the backroads again. Our next stop was at the garage of a private collection of cars that was second to none. The collection consisted of many rare cars which included many pristine Corvettes of all eras. Equally impressive was the on site restoration shop to support the growth and maintenance of this amazing collection. We had a nice lunch as we casually viewed the cars and trucks. We had a great day of driving and conversation with some fellow enthusiasts. We look forward to next years tour.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photo of the week #1

This is a picture my father in law took in the summer of 1970. He followed the Trans Am series through out the northeast. He attended races at Lime Rock, New Hampshire, Bridgehampton, and Watkins Glen. This photo is of Swede Savage in a Plymouth Barracuda during a pitstop. This picture really captures the moment well as the crew changes tires and fuels the car.

Photo of the week

It has been a while since my last post. A few weather related issues have been keeping me busy lately. I decided to do a photo of the week to keep the site fresh even if I don't have a chance to write any commentary. Most of the photos will be my own very amateur photography unless otherwise noted. Photos will vary in subject from racing to road cars.
There are a couple of events involving the Saratoga Auto Museum I will be attending soon. I will have photos and a write about them in a week or two hopefully.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Road Trip: Lombard St.

Another famous road is Lombard St. in San Fransisco. Although this is a short drive the steep hills and views make it great. This street has been used in countless movies and TV shows. The most recognizable section is the block of brick switchback. It was very steep but lots of fun. Overall I found San Fransisco a challenge to drive with many bicyclists, pedestrians, cable cars, street cars , buses, and of course the really steep hills. It all seems to work well though, with a strange harmony. It was easier to get around then say New York City or Boston. Everybody was on the same page, so things flowed well.

Road Trip: California Route 1

There have been many travel articles written about California's Pacific Coast Highway or Route 1. This is my recent experience. My family and I traveled north from Monterey Bay to San Fransisco. The section from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay was nothing short of spectacular. The coastline scenery was breathtaking. There were hundreds of places one could pull off and take photos of the coast. There were also amazing beaches that are open to use. The road was a well maintained two lane road most of the way, with moderate traffic. There were some great turns and twists to keep it exciting. The closer we got to San Fransisco the road got more twisty. I highly recommend you add this to your road trip list.