Friday, August 29, 2014

In The Dragon's Den

A good spot, whether hauling your own mail past it or sitting under the easy-up with Kamal talking gearhead.

Watchtower and I will take one more whack at the Tail of the Dragon this fall.  He has a set of new Michelin Pilot Super Sports he wants to try out.  Even though I'm about Interstated-out, it's hard to bear the thought of not making passes again until next spring.  I hope to have a chance to hang out with the Killboy crew, and maybe even make a pass or two with a couple of them as a passenger (that is, me as the passenger).

I got into a discussion about this recently with a Dragoneer who knows I'm a big fan of the crew.  He said "You're faster than you think, Pilote.  Given equal experience with the road and similar equipment, you would not be much if any slower.  Get over your fandom."  That's flattering, but not on point.

Item: I don't have years of experience on the Dragon.  I know maybe 30% of it to the point where I'm confident about the next bend or two.  But my brake lights still flash too often, to get my entry speed right.  There's a vid on the 'net shot by a member of the Killboy crew, following Darryl.  "Notice how he almost never uses his brakes."  Yup.  At the risk of repeating myself, here's a link again to Killboy's "Jay Multistrata" video.  They make it almost to Crud Corner, in traffic, in about 10 minutes 30 seconds.  I'll call that about 11 minutes for the complete southbound pass: hauling the mail.

Item: The equipment is not similar.  Many of the Killboy crew drive or ride vehicles they've modified for slaying.  If you've got a wider track and wider, sticky rubber, and adjustable shocks, your passes are faster.  But such a vehicle can get away from you faster too.  This is way above the pay grade of an ancien who's done his slaying on four season radials and stock suspension.  I admire anyone who can keep a capable car underneath him, be it a journeyman road racer or a Dragon slayer.  Killboy's crew is good--very good.

Item: I love the Killboy crew because they love the road.  Without doubt, the locals were behind having the pulloffs installed and paved.  This allows tourists to work and play well together, if not with each other.   The Highlights preach situational awareness, safety, and respect for the limits of your vehicle and own skill.  Before he had a wide readership, Killboy used to say something like this: "This is a cool pool we've got here, isn't it?  Why would you pee in it by getting us unwanted attention?"

Many of the Killboy crew, including Darryl, moved to Maryville or Robbinsville because they love the road.  That's commitment, or passion, or an unbalance mind.  ;-)   Spend 20 minutes with any of them and you discover that's it's not just about their businesses and schmoozing tourists, it's about their gearheaded love for the road.  I loves me some peoples who love a good road.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Off Topic: Living In A Fool's Purgatory

And by that I mean just sitting here, waiting for something bad to happen.

When Killboy took his blog to Facebook a couple of years ago, for understandable commercial reasons, I didn't follow.  I miss the hilarious comments, and the ability to comment, but am unwilling to be "tracked" on social media.  (At the time, some blog members predicted a decline in the quality and humor of comments on the Killboy page, and they were right.  To put this another way, as Jon Stewart recently said, "[the terrorist group] Isis uses social media as a weapon?  I have news for you: everybody uses social media as a weapon.")

Of course I use Google all the time--who can get by without a search engine?   The display ads which annoy me (all ads annoy me) are for or about cars, often local: targeted to my zip code.  Recently I showed my sister a website on her iPad.  When she brought it up, the ads were for women's clothing. When it comes to tracking, nobody gets out alive.

I don't shop or pay bills or bank online.  When I visit a customer service desk, this sometimes makes the representative smile condescendingly.  Not to mention my children and nieces. "Who's got time for all that Luddite paper and stamps?!?  Think of the convenience, man!"

All the same, the customer data of the department store I shop at most often was hacked last winter--right after I had finished my Christmas shopping.  Today brings the news that the customer and employee data of my bank was hacked.  For a second time, as I recall.

So here I sit, fortress-like, surrounded by the wall of my paper invoices, pre-addressed envelopes, and stamps.  Waiting for the first breach of the wall by a teenaged Ukrainian, Russian, or KGB spy.  (I pick on the Ukrainians and Russians because they are, improbably, 22% of the overseas hits on this blog.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Road Trip Rant

I've spent more than my normal allotment of time on Interstates this summer: Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  And I've seen more of my constant companions on these roads, O. Blivious, E.R. Ratic, and O.P. Tunist.

O. Blivious is typically a left-lane bandit.  He's dealt with easily enough if you have three lanes to play with: pass on the right.  If you're stuck with two lanes, you're condemned to being a unit in the long train behind him as the miles roll by--slowly.  Drivers who want to run various speeds, with various amounts of patience, pack up behind Blivious.  Cars get too close, brake lights begin to flash, and the risk of a chain reaction collision rises.  This is when I usually back it down and pull into the right lane to let Blivious's train fight it out amongst themselves.  Eventually they get sorted.  He continues on at or below the speed limit in the left lane.  Then this movie, which is on a continuous loop but with different lead and supporting actors, re-runs.  I've come to suspect that Blivious is not clueless--he just doesn't give a damn.

E.R. Ratic is harder to deal with.  He comes screaming up behind you, passes, and then slows down. The most accomplished of this type slows down to just a couple of miles per hour slower than where your cruise control is set.  So you pass him, and maybe even put some distance between you.  Then he speeds up again, passes you, and slows down again.  Some Ratics go for extra style points by pulling into your lane right in front of you, even though nobody is following them.  Repeat as necessary until exasperated.

Then there's O.P. Tunist.  I run a radar detector.  Some people notice.  Then I notice that I've collected a little wake of barnacles, now seemingly stuck to me, who were previously going 10 m.p.h. or more slower.  Do they hang back, sensibly, 1/4 of a mile or more behind, so that if I get nailed they won't?  No. They follow me around like puppies (to mix the metaphor), constantly getting underfoot.

The Indiana and Ohio Turnpikes have done a role reversal.  It used to be that the Ohio Turnpike was perpetually under construction, with lane closures.  The pavement was rough.  It was hard to make good time.  The oases were dirty and aged.  The toll seemed like an insult.  The Indiana Turnpike was much smoother and a comparative bargain.  Now the Ohio Pike is three smooth lanes across most of the State.  The oases have been renovated and are clean, airy, and pleasant.  Well... as pleasant as a toll road oasis can be...

The Indiana Pike is now bumpy and features "jumps" over its many short bridges and overpasses.  The oases are now aged, dirty, and unpleasant.  The toll was doubled within the past 10 years, and was recently doubled again.  This was around the time that the management of the Indiana Pike was privatized.  So much for the benefits of privatization.  I suspect the residents of Indiana don't care.  Most of them don't use the Pike.  Leaving aside Gary, which is really part of metropolitan Chicago, the biggest town anywhere near the Indiana Turnpike is South Bend.  The Pike is used mostly by out-of-staters and trucks, trying to get somewhere not in Indiana.  "Let 'em suffer: our taxes are lower."

Monday, August 25, 2014

The First American Sports Car

McGee '32 Ford Highboy Roadster

Sorry, Corvette, but that boat-anchor of a Stove Bolt Six disqualifies you, even though the McGee Highboy was a one-off.  Any Euro-snob of the 1950's and '60's--and I are one--could immediately bond with this car as the real deal.  Here's the link to Jay Leno's paen:

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Family That Slays Together...

Above: Grampa, grandson, and nephew, slaying.  Below: Pilote slaying with Instructor Cuz aboard.  "You're better than
you were the first time we came."  I would hope so!  But my approach is to get better, not outstanding.  I'm reliably
informed that a fast pass on a sportbike is in the mid-9 second range, and in the mid-10 second range for a car.
My best times are in the 14's, and I don't bother to count the seconds.  It's all about the fun.

This was my first summer trip to the Tail of the Dragon in three years.  The reason for it was our triennial family reunion, on which I discovered the Dragon in 2011.  Mrs. Cuz's Triumph TR-6 is still not finished, and Cuz was unable to bring his Shelby GT 350.  The rain predicted for KY and TN on Saturday and Sunday turned out to be Biblical, so I was relieved that I hadn't tried to bring my own Mustang.  This left us with only one toy to play with: Old Reliable, my Civic Si.

On Monday my grandson (8) and nephew (10) were introduced to the Dragon.  They were unimpressed until I stepped it up a notch.  Then they said "Oh... I get it now: it's like a roller-coaster."  You got that right, boys...  Their favorite corner name was Gravity Cavity.  Alliteration is memorable.

On Wednesday I went with my Cuz.  We had to cut the day short because he wanted to buy a fishing license.  Apparently some people actually fish--or play golf--and enjoy it.  Cuz made one pass himself at a sedate pace.  I learned that we share a Rule: you don't make hard passes in somebody else's car. And being a passenger during a hard pass is a "been there, done that" experience.  That's why I encourage Hotshoe to bring his own car when we make our spring runs.  I don't mind being his passenger for a pass or two, but a full day of trading the wheel can get old.  When you're driving, there's a steering wheel to hang onto.  A panic handle is a poor substitute.

While I'm on the subject of my Cuz's Rules, here's my favorite: Family Members Don't Sell Lotuses To Family Members.  This came up years ago when he told me he'd sold his Lotus Elan with twin Webers, which he couldn't get running right or often.  "I wish you'd told me it was for sale," I said, "I'd have made you an offer."  That was when he cited his Lotus Rule.  I've learned enough in the past 40 years to understand that it's a Very Good Rule.

All-in-all, I prefer the spring or fall for a trip to the Dragon.  There's less traffic and fewer LEO's.  That said, the traffic was not especially heavy.  The crowd at the DGMR and the Tail of the Dragon Store is different in summer.  There were lots of cruiser bikes with two up, and trikes.  Not many sportbikes or cars, let alone interesting cars.  But, as usual, the crowd was mellow.  I managed to block a Ducati 1098 rider on a northbound pass, getting close to the Overlook, because the pulloffs were limited.  I apologized to him at the Overlook and he waved it off.  It turned out that he was from Florida and has crewed at Sebring many times.  He went down Memory Lane with Cuz about great Sebring races.  He was a fast, capable, knee-dragging rider.  He also had silver hair.  His tolerance for risk is a lot higher than mine.

Cuz and I had a chance to chat up Killboy at the TotD Store and Kamal at his "location shoot."
Talking gearhead and Dragon lore with them is almost as much fun as making passes.

World-class slayer: Killboy's S-2000.  The track is about four inches wider, but the main point of that modification was
to get wider rubber under the car at all four corners.  Sharp-eyed viewers may notice that the driving lights are gone.
They went to make room for an intercooler.  Darryl is in the process of installing and tuning a Garrett turbocharger.
His main complaint (maybe too strong a word) about his S-2000 has been lack of grunt from mid-corner off,
compared to his Mitsu Evo.  The turbo will cure that.  But it, and the injectors, need to be carefully tuned
across the rev range with an air/fuel mixture gauge because the VTEC breathes so well on the top end.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Another Whack At The Dragon

Why is this man smiling?  Because he's leaving the motel in Lexington en-route to the Dragon.

Our triennial family reunion is in the Smoky Mountains again this year.  That's how I discovered the Tail of the Dragon.  Having heard about it, I took the opportunity of the 2011 reunion to check it out.  It didn't disappoint: this will be my seventh attempt at slaying.  The GoPro battery is charged, and my cuz is bringing one of his toys.

I had hoped to take my Mustang, to see if I can handle a broadsword as well as Watchtower does.  It can be done: I've seen him do it.  But, to put it another way, trying to slay the Dragon with a Mustang seems to me to be like doing a gymkhana in a Winnebago.  

However, the weather in KY and TN is not cooperating with my Doesn't See Rain Rule for my 'Stang.  So I will again attack the Dragon with a Bowie Knife--my Civic Si.  The ideal weapon for slaying is a Stiletto: a small rear-drive car with strong torque, to rotate the car in mid-corner.  But the grin factor remains high in my Si.

Having become a Dragon regular (plenty of previous posts), I may not return with much that's blogworthy.  Amazingly, there are no car or bike club events scheduled for the next two weekends.  That bodes well for unobstructed passes mid-week.  And you never know what or who you might see in the parking lots of the DGMR and the TotD Store.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Foose Outlaw Porsche 356

Generally I like Chip Foose's work.  And I was impressed when he stepped off his beaten path to do a Lotus Europa on Overhaulin'.  It was a brilliant build.  So I was curious to see what he'd do with a 356.

Some of his changes were predictable, like tucked bumpers.  They look just as good on a 356 as they do on any other car.  And I can see "the look" he was going for: a homage to the early 356's.  Thus the small, oval, rear window from an early Beetle, the small round quad taillights, and wheels reminiscent of the Glocker Porsche.  The white paint harks back to German racing cars of the 1920's (and was the owner's choice).  The interior is a nice nod to 1950's German cars in general and early 356's in particular:

But the rear window doesn't quite work.  Even the earliest 356's had rectangular rear windows.  The 356 C (which this car began life as) had an enlarged rectangular rear window and an engine cover with a straight upper shut-line to echo it and the larger twin deck vents.  The car would look better if the standard rear window and tail lights had been retained.  But then it wouldn't look much different from a regular 356 C.  Compared to Foose's best work, the car is a Cookie Monster: good, but not delicious.

Part of the fun of researching this post was looking at the Emory Motorsports website and reading the threads on the Pelican Parts website that commented on the Foose build.  Emory, which did most of the mechanical work, built its reputation on Outlaw 356's, and still likes to tweak Porsche Purists.  In the Pelican Parts threads, the outlaw/purist battle seems largely to be over.  Or the purists have just gone dark for now.  There were posts about how much a commenter likes (or doesn't) Foose's work, or Magnus Walker's outlaw 911's.  There were detailed comments on the Foose 356 itself.  But not much gasping about the travesty of modifying a 356--especially the cancerous frame Foose was dealt.

Of course Pelican itself has done some Outlaw builds.  But I've noticed that Outlaw Porsches are now welcome even at Porsche Club of America events--although they have to park in the back of the lot.  ;-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Individual Results May Vary"

"After:" weight born by each wheel of the Mini after adjusting the suspension arms, with driver aboard.  The "before"
varied by 70 lbs. across the front wheels and by a lesser but still significant percentage across the diagonals.

Here's one of those things I'd not thought about, but now seems obvious.  A guy I know just finished full restoration of an Old Mini.  He decided to put it on a wheel scale before he aligned it and aimed the headlights.  It registered a 15% difference across the front wheels, and a smaller but significant difference across the diagonals.  Not good for braking and handling, especially in a light car.  (This Mini weighs about 1600 lbs., soaking wet.)

My first thought was "This is race car stuff--who needs to put a restoration on wheel scales?"  My second thought was surprise that there would be so much variation in a production car.  The restorer pointed out that cars come off the line with much closer tolerances now than they did 50 years ago.

That got me thinking about production tolerance variance.  There's variation in the chemistry of steel batches, variation in the wire-drawing die bench (for springs), variation in spring height, and variation in chassis assembly tolerances.  If the variables "stack" to one side of the ranges, it's not hard to imagine a 2-3% deviance from nominal.  If each side happens to "stack" on the opposite extreme, 4-6%.  On a 3000 lb. car with 60% front weight bias, that could be a 90 lb. variation--right off the assembly line.

For Minis, substitute the variability of elastic hysterisis in the rubber springs, depending batch chemistry and mold tolerance.  An Old Mini restoration website recommends replacement of the rubber donut springs every 5-7 years, due to loss of elasticity.  This is similar to the recommended interval for replacement of unworn rubber tires as they age.

So, is it surprising to find a 5-10% variation in static weight-per-wheel on a restored or even new car? Unusual, but not impossible.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Video Track Demo: Ferrari 458 Speciale

Sorry about that (two Ferrari posts in a row)...

This is the best track demo/evaluation of the 458 I've seen (despite the seemingly inevitable drifting).  It gives a very good feel for what being behind the wheel is like.  The Presenter says the 458 "draws you in." He could have said the car's electronics say "I've got this" if you make a minor mistake near the limit.

Most of us are not Stig Quality drivers--not even close.  The 458 delivers from the most important vantage point: the driver's seat.  If I could afford one, I guess I could put up with paddles.  ;-)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Purdy Car

What's prettier than a Ferrari 250 GT California?  A Ferrari 250 GT California with the front and rear bumpers removed.