I've just been thinking recently about what I really need as far as speed. Being without a vehicle (I have a nice new $300 bicycle, I'm borrowing my sister's old car, and I still have a motorcycle eternally being worked on, but you get the picture) recently has made me think about how nice ANY vehicle really is/can be. I remember how after a while, I learned how to drive the vans at James Wood aggressively, to suck all the performance I could from them, to have actual fun in them. Heading to the drag strip made me think, so did talking cars and bikes on the way home. Hearing another friend talk about the Turbo Beetle made me think. And I dug out a couple pertinent magazines. And then there's the new economy rules being passed very soon (Tuesday?). So thoughts...
First, congratulations John, on the purchase of your new bike.
I went to the dragway in Ennis on Friday. This was alot of fun. Lots of dumbass teens who think they know everything. Just because your daddy bought you a Z28 does not mean you're the fastest thing on the road! I saw lots of people who have no clue how to launch a rear wheel drive or front wheel drive car. Some people got a re-education in what fast is. There were a couple of cars probably putting over 500 HP down that just smoked the field. Great sounds! Nobody I know ran (I might have run the Stealth, which can do low 14s, if I still had it, but we came in a Ford Probe which can't even break into the 15s), but it was fun to hang out, although it's a long drive. And putting up with some of the attitudes of the poseurs was difficult at times. I really didn't go there to socialize, I went to see and hear some racing. No bikes that I saw though. I think the lowest I saw was a 12.5 or 12.6 (I could be wrong though). Not bad at all considering this was most definitely 'amateur night'. There was lots of underachieving going on. Oh yah, and the cops were out in full force. And oh yah, why the hell do these vacuous morons have to try to race out of the parking lot? You just left a drag strip ya idiots!
In other news, my father has a track day coming up! He's joined a local Corvette Club and they're going to take the cars out to a course next month. Not Texas Motor Speedway (yawn), they're going to an actual track with left AND right turns and braking and shifting required. I might go along to videotape if the timing is right. No driving for me (or even riding in the car). I don't know what the other cars are like, but if there are a bunch of modded cars or Z06s, he'll be hard-pressed to keep up. Then again, so much of that is the driver and my father at least has the basics of heel and toeing, RPM optimization, mid-corner throttle/brake correction, etc. down (been driving sports cars for decades, had one of the most powerful Vettes in Texas back in the 70s). He at least needs to change out of those lame EMTs before heading out there. $1400 in tires. At least he has the hardtop with the Z51 competition suspension and 6 speed manual. Plus he's got that torch red paint. Remind me to tell about the FWPD (next time).
I did some checking on that Beetle Turbo (note: NOT the TDI "turbo direct injection" which has a diesel engine and Ugh a 3800 RPM redline). Not bad really. $21,000 with the 16" wheels. Of course, the looks are 'love it or hate it'. It keeps up with the Honda Civic Si for the most part down low. 150 HP, 0-60 in 7.1, 1/4 mile in 15.6. Hangs on well at 'normal' speeds, starts to lag behind a tad by 70 (quite close numbers to my old RX-7, actually). Skidpad seems low, but with better tires that would improve a lot. It goes 93 mph in 3rd but is electronically limited to a 118 mph top speed (but it takes 9 seconds to go from 63 to 93 in 3rd so spending much time up there would be inviting the fuzz (remind me to tell about the FWPD) to harrass you anyway). Clearly it's a nice step up from the original flaccid New Beetle. They liked the undersquare engine's low end torque and said the boost arrives so smoothly it's hard to remember the car uses forced induction at all.
I found this thing called, of all things, the '84 Chevy Sprint. Went 0-60 in 14.5 seconds, took over 20 seconds for the quarter. And that's its max acceleration while flogging the engine. See, this is an example of a vehicle so dangerously slow I wouldn't let a loved one drive it. No passing power. No brakes, no handling. You're basically up there drifting along with the flow of traffic, hoping nothing comes up that requires power or deceleration or high speed swerving. You're stuck. The Cavalier I'm using now gives me that feeling to some extent (lame suspension/tires that feel like cooked spaghetti or an old man's legs, that obnoxious 80s/90s GM throttle response where it appears the engine is on heavy downers and just wants to lie down and take it easy, the amazing hunting transmission which can never decide which gear to use, mashed potato brakes, and a cacophonous assortment of squeaks and rattles not to mention what is possibly the worst made convertible top ever). Contrast that with my last two cars, which had excellent handling, stout brakes, and moderate acceleration after downshifting (bordering on strong acceleration in the case of the Stealth when the turbos were allowed to fully spool). I want a vehicle that at least won't have me up there defenseless. It's much more reassuring (to me) to know I am an alert, attentive driver and that I have the requisite skills and vehicle to accelerate, brake, or maneuver my way around most things that come up than to rely on crumple zones, airbags, safety cages, the bulk of an SUV etc. for my safety.
I found an interesting article on the Honda Insight, the 'hybrid' vehicle. I learned that the Insight is a 'series' hybrid and furthermore is characterized as a 'soft series' vehicle. Basically, this means the electric motor augments the gas engine, but that the gas engine also charges the electric motor (the electric also receives power from other sources, including braking force). The tester first tried to drive the Insight like a normal car up Interstate 15 and found things weren't going well. But he finally realized this: the Insight wants YOU to take an active role in its efficiency. An entirely new logic prevails and by following the car's frenetic shift indicator lights, the car had enough power to make the climb and got much better mileage. Traditional techniques of high-efficiency driving don't apply to hybrids; hybrids make their own energy. I still find the performance a tad lacking though: 0-80 in 19.4 seconds and not always consistent (it's a little better than the ugly Toyota Prius). No doubt things will get better (although I'm not sure how far they can go with this--it's still powered by a gas engine and there is no real battery storage). At least the thing doesn't look like a bar of soap and weighs under a ton (unlike fully electric cars). BMW has a car powered by I believe natural gas which gives actual snappy performance.
I guess something like the Neon ACR, the Acura RSX Type S, the Celica GT-S, the BMW 116i, one of the VWs with the VR6 motor, the Mercedes C-Class Coupe, or the Si would be my choice, something between $20 and $25 with 160-200 HP and around 2700 pounds, manual shifted, front wheel drive if I must (all but the Bimmer and the Benz are fwd).
Because here's the thing, if it's exhilirating performance I'm after, a car (of this price range) is kind of a pathetic way to spend the money. Consider the numbers alone... ZX-12R, $11 grand, goes 0-100 mph in under 5 seconds, goes 80 mph (which feels and looks like about 120 in a car, and a cheap sprocket mod can up that to 90+) in 1st gear, goes 0-150 mph AND back to 0 (braking) in 18 seconds, highly maneuverable, close to the ground, in the wind... Turbo Beetle, $21 grand, takes over 21 seconds to get to 100 mph. It's the difference between a moderately lively car and an open air rocket with staggering acceleration and what must be an Unreal adrenaline-pumping experience.
Unless you can spend ALOT of money, you're not going to have a car that performs anywhere close to even a modest motorcycle. And for sheer excitement, nothing beats a bike anyway. So the goal, to my way of thinking, is not to have a *fast* car per se (not now), but one that feels good to drive, that inspires confidence and reassurance out on the road, that is quick enough, maneuverable enough, and has strong enough brakes and chassis to lend safety in avoidance and to eliminate that feeling of drifting along helplessly that I can't stand. Nobody would say the RX-7 was a better performer than the Stealth, but that intangible feeling you get while heading out to get in the car was much more favorable with the Mazda. It just *felt* right (despite the poor stereo system, lack of AC, slippy clutch, dinged up bod, and relative slowness). Same reason I might have bought a Boxster or M3 instead of the Vette if I were my father.
Because spending lots of money to have a very fast street-only car, whether it's so you can pose and make others think you have the fastest thing around or because you believe you're getting the most driving exhiliration legally allowed, looks rather silly next to the hyper intense and extremely cost-effective experience that owning a sportbike can channel. Dr. Warren, my father's business partner, owns a Porsche 911 Turbo S (air-cooled '993' model, one of the last years for it (like 1997 I think), black, all wheel drive, manual). License plate: PAFU (Payments Are Fucking Unbelievable, and they were, at $3500/month, although he payed that off long ago). A fantastic, super solid handmade car with an engine that seems blessed by God. And if I had that kind of money I might have something similar. It still gets embarrassed by $8000 sportbikes, and it's still an insulated cage. You're still just sitting there, sort of like you are when you're on your couch.
The point of all this... well there is none, really, I just wish I had a car, wish I had a motorcycle (that worked), I'm jealous of John and his bike and all the hot cars at the strip. :o) Hey I grew up riding around in a convertible Vette with a 454 with solid lifters, double barrel Holley 1100cfms, headers and side pipes, and a huge cowl induction hood, and riding on the back of a Z-1, Aspencade, and FJ1100, so what do you expect? :o)
Charley was discussing the safety and fuel efficiency of SUVs once again tonight. This is actually a hot topic right now because the Senate is about to pass new rules about the minimum fuel efficiency of US-sold vehicles. The way I read it, they're dispensing with the 'average efficiency for all vehicles sold per manufacturer' thing as well as the exemptions for trucks and SUVs and just saying all vehicles must reach a minimum of 21.5 mpg. Now I'm not a fan of SUVs in the slightest. I would never want to own one (V-6 minivans are about as close as I'll get), I find nearly everything about the driving experience unsettling, I think they're tremendously unsafe, I think abominations like the Excursion are about as novel a marketing coup as the pet rock (or bottled water if you wish), and I feel some SUV drivers are the most dangerous drivers on the road (whether because of attitude, overconfidence, inexperience, naivete, whatever)... But I'm not wanting to tell people they can't buy SUVs. I ask you, is there a hewn cry going out across the land to kill the SUV? Sport Utility Vehicles (which I think should be called 'UVs', since I can't for the life of me find what's sporty about an 8000 pound passenger truck which regularly forgets what direction it's pointed in) are poised to become the best-selling vehicles in the country. Obviously some people are buying them DESPITE the wretched gas mileage.
I went and I did some digging on actual gas mileage figures for some of the big SUVs. The EPA currently does not rate the fuel economy of vehicles with gross weights above 8500 pounds. However, I was still able to find some numbers. The Excursion? 10 mpg. The Expedition, 12 mpg. The Aztec, a smaller, more van-like SUV was at 16. The Ford Escape was rated 20-24 but actual numbers are closer to 17. I could list a whole bunch of these but you get the idea. What will the new law mean? Possibly the death of the SUV as it exists right now. I don't want to get too political here, but why are they doing this? SUVs are wildly popular, why even my sister is buying one (Honda CR-V). There are 40 or 50 different models. Some makers have 7 or 8 different lines with many variations within. It's simply not possible for a vehicle like the Excursion, a commuter vehicle of gargantuan proportions powered by a V-10 to get a minimum of 21.5 mpg. Therefore the Excursion, and a whole lot of other vehicles like it, will either have to change ALOT or die out. But the amount of change it would have to undergo to meet the new guidelines would so alter the concept that so many buyers (although personally I think it's more of a fad than anything) are going for that that would be an extinction anyway.
So there's that. But what didn't get discussed was another class of vehicle which gets relatively low gas mileage: sports cars. Now, to be fair, there are alot of sports/sporty cars of the DOHC/VVT/inline-4 variety that have no trouble meeting the new guidelines (for instance, the Turbo Beetle has a rating of 25-31, and the lighter, more powerful Celica GT-S is rated at 26-40!). And the Corvette (large pushrod V-8) is already at 18-28 (although under hard driving that can dip below 10 easily, but the engine has such effortless power while cruising that it's almost asleep on the freeway in 6th and doesn't require much in the way of fuel... on a sidenote, the old Vette 454 could burn about 3 gallons of leaded per mile if you were flogging it to death, so says my father). But what of the Viper? Ferrari? Porsche? The NSX? One more nail in the coffin of the true sports car.
I just don't want there to come a time when the only thing available and legal is some God-awful teardrop-shaped sewing machine-engined sterilized and eviscerated vehicle which accelerates as quickly as a kid on a skateboard and communicates with the roads to make sure you don't step out of line and try to have a smidgen of fun. I respect the modern day SUV's (and true sports car's) right to exist.
On another note, how long before there's an organized Congressional effort to completely eliminate sportbikes (or, less likely because of the political influence of The Motor Company (Hardley Davidson), motorcycles in general)? I mean, I've read the recent thing about how motorcycles have somehow 'fallen through the cracks' of government regulation, that they are an aberration, etc. Cars will soon require 6 different airbag systems be installed and operational. Virtually every state has seatbelt laws. Most states are soon going to pass anti-cellphone legislation. And people are riding around on motorcycles, with no airbags or seatbelts, let alone any metal surrounding them at all? It could happen very swiftly. It might even be retroactive--that is, instead of just saying no motorcycles can be sold here, they could declare all existing motorcycles illegal to use on any public roads. Of course, I'd be leaving the country around that time...
The thing is, a small motorcycle can get 50-70 mpg fairly easily. It's alot easier when you're only feeding half a liter of engine and pushing 600 pounds around with it. If anything, the gov't should be encouraging people to seek out two-wheeled travel (no, it's not the government's place to have an opinion about what you should drive, I know... I said 'if anything' though).
One of the worst vehicles I ever travelled in was a Ford Aspire. You know, when I say 'econobox' some might picture a Honda Civic, but the Civic Si makes a good 170 HP and responds well to mods and is very well put together. But the Aspire was a TRUE Econobox. Forget the fact that this thing had 4 wheel drum brakes and a couple of thin metal bars for suspension. Forget the diecast metal and super cheap plastic interior. Forget the cow-like profile and the 12 inch wheels. The most glaring flaw of this thing was the powertrain. 1.0 liter 3 cylinder SOHC 6 valver with a terminally optimistic 3 speed automatic (I made sure to look it up at the time after riding in it and being so amazed at the gutlessness). Rated for 55 HP and 58 lb-ft of torque. All this and it needed a tune-up as well and it was carrying three people (it was a 4 person car, or were they just kidding about the back seats?). That's less rear wheel HP than my motorcycle and pushing over 4 times the weight, for those keeping score (meanwhile, Triumph has a .955 liter 3 cylinder bike engine which delivers 130 HP). The poor pathetic thing needed 6 or 7 seconds just to get to 30 mph from a light. Getting on the highway (mistake) was a real adventure and once up there we were hitting its apparent top speed at a little under 65 mph and my friend had to keep the pedal floored to maintain speed. No thanks. I'd rather walk. Or ride my bicycle, which, I'm sure could out-drag that car for the first 100 yards or so. If that's what 'environmental conscientiousness' or unfettered government regulation will bring to us all, then just shoot me now.
**Update** I wrote this a day or two ago. Yes, some of it at home. Two things happened today. One, they voted NO on requiring SUVs to meet the 21.5 mpg minimum standard. And two, they voted YES on drilling for oil. Don't worry, they're drilling in the tundra. More than 99.99% of the Alaskan wilderness will be utterly untouched and oblivious.
The Cavalier is now only starting when I use my portable battery booster. The battery can't hold a charge more than 5 minutes. No idea.
Honda released pictures of my #1 most desirable motorcycle. The Hornet 900. Unfortunately, not coming to the US. *sob*