Friday, May 31, 2013

LeMons Colorado Inspections: AMC Onslaught, Wankel Overload, and a Checker Marathon

We just wrapped up the pre-race car inspections at the fourth annual BFE G.P. 24 Hours of LeMons, taking place at beautiful-but-halfway-to-Kansas High Plains Raceway, and we're looking at perhaps the best collection of race machines since at least the 2012 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race. You like racin' AMCs? We've got three proud Kenosha products competing this weekend. On top of that, two twin-engined Toyotas, at least a half-dozen first-gen RX-7s, several rear-wheel-drive Corollas, a BMC ADO16, and the first-ever LeMons Checker Marathon are gearing up for tomorrow's high-elevation wheel-to-wheel action. Let's take a look!

The Blue Flag Special 1978 AMC Pacer wagon, winner of the Index of Effluency award at last year's BFE G.P, has returned to the scene of its victory, this time with a more powerful Jeep 4.0 six-cylinder engine and a lowered suspension.

The Blue Flag Special has joined forces with Speed Holes Racing and their 1966 AMC Marlin. The Marlin features Chevy 454 power, a Jaguar XJ-6 rear suspension, and… speed holes!

These two AMCs came to race equipped with generic labels and team members wearing plain white shirts labeled "COSTUME."

Nobody Approved!

We've been seeing quite a few of these AMC/Jeep sixes in LeMons lately.

We had two AMCs at the There Goes the Neighborhood race a couple months back, but the Colorado race boasts three American Motors machines. This 1970 AMC Gremlin— a Levis Edition, no less!— of Team Crapple Wapple Do Dang Gang sports a 4.0 swap, AX15 manual transmission, and Malaise Era stripes.

Every cheap junkyard in Colorado must have a dozen Cherokees with 4.0 engines. We're hoping that the BMW teams start switching over to this excellent American powerplant.

Speaking of BMWs, we had the usual excess of E30 3-series entrants, including this veteran of some of the earliest California LeMons races. The Raized Crazy 325i survived the infamous "Demolition Derby LeMons" race at Altamont back in 2007 and has now migrated to a new team in Colorado.

Some cars smelled of cheatiness and the teams offered little in terms of documentation proving the numbers for parts bought or sold; things didn't go so well for them. Others presented impeccably organized binders full of convincing proof for their budget numbers, e.g. this BMW team's itemized list of Craigslist ads for parts sold off to defray the car's initial purchase price.

The twin-engined "FX32″ Corolla and "MRolla" Corolla/MR2 mashup of Volatile RAM Racing are ready for more all-wheel-drive, eight-cylinder action.

Many teams were happy to get their commemorative BRIBED stencil.

We don't see many 3TC-powered early-80s Corollas in LeMons, so this car was a welcome sight.

This team managed to rescue this beat-to-hell AE86 Corolla before some tuner kid tried to make a drift car out of it; the engine and suspension are pretty well used up, but the car still looks good (from 100 feet).

The NSF Racing 1987 Plymouth Reliant-K, which has been traveling the country as it gets handed off from team to team, got dragged up to Colorado from Texas, where it received a 3.0 liter Mitsubishi V6 swap. So far this year, the K-wagon has competed in New York, Michigan, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Texas.

Rocket Surgery Racing, which ran a mid-VW-engined Renault 4CV at the 2010-2012 BFE G.P. races, rolled into High Plains Raceway today with their latest creation: a 1978 Checker Marathon.

Built from three donor Checkers and equipped with a random junkyard Chevy 350, the Rocket Surgery Marathon is so spacious that there's room for a comfortable back seat and a full roll cage.

That's a lip-curling, denim-shirt-wearing Jim Ignatowski theme for the Rocket Surgeons.

We've been waiting for years to see how the storied Checker Marathon-versus-Austin America rivalry plays out on the track.

Check in to the LeMons Roundup page Saturday night, to see how the apex-seal-blowing, rod-tossing competition sorts out!

from Car and Driver Blog

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Two

2014 Fiat 500e, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Because of my RA (Range Anxiety), I drove Zippy Zappy gently on day 1, plugged the EV in immediately upon arriving at home and nixed my impromptu drive to the beach. (I haven't named a car since I was 12 but the garish orange hue and pill-box proportions have made the name stick.) Thanks to my prudence (or was it fear?) I awoke to a 90% charge. According to Fiat's computer, that was good for an 87 mile journey, plenty for my 52 mile one-way commute. Of course, it was after I started climbing up the mountain pass that separates my home from civilization that I asked "how am I going to charge today?"

You see, [for me] planning is something you do after you meet a problem, then you back-date the plan so you can claim you were prepared all along. As a result, I decided to turn off the heater in the car to save mileage, after all it was "only" 43 outside. The heater is thing most people don't think about when it comes to EVs. In your gasoline car, you use the heater all you want and don't run the A/C to save gas because heat is a "waste" product of combustion engines. EVs turn this logic on its head. Since there's very little heat happening under the hood they have to use resistive heating elements to heat the cabin. According to Toyota, heat pumps would be more efficient but they cost way more and add a great deal of complexity and weight. Running the A/C in the little Fiat consumed about 1.5kW of power while the heater on medium sucked down nearly 8kW. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I decided the heated seat wasn't cutting it and I needed to be more realistic so I set the climate control to 68. Let the future be damned!

Once on the freeway I realized my RA had returned. I decided to set the cruise control to a decidedly pokey 59 MPH, a speed that even tractor trailers don't stoop to in California (even though their speed-limit is 55). At this speed I was able to commune with other EV drivers on the highway  (the ones I normally fly by in the left lane.) When I drove a BMW Active E, I got waves and thumbs up from the LEAF drivers. I decided to try the same in Zippy Zappy but the lack of decals announcing the Fiat's electrification caused confusion in the LEAF drivers and just made them swerve wildly thinking I was some crazy person out to get them. My bad.

2014 Fiat 500e Charging Illegally, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

55 miles later (I decided to take the flattest and shortest route) I arrived at work where I discovered my RA was unjustified. I had 45% of my battery left. Charge time at 120V was 12 hours and 45 minutes. Electrical codes in the USA limit the 120V EVSE plugs to about 12A which isn't very fast. Logically 8 hours at 120V would be more than enough to get me back home, but since I work in an area that has only street parking, things had to get creative. Extension cord plugged into the outlet in the hall (the breaker that wouldn't trip), down the hall, through my office, out the window, across the lawn, over the sidewalk and into the street. I don't recommend trying this in San Francisco, I'm sure an ADA compliance mob would stone you to death. (If you are meter maid in the Bay Area, I deny all knowledge of the picture above. It was someone else.)

After a few hours, I bothered to look into charging stations. After all, I did sign up for a ChargePoint account a while back. Low and behold there was a charging station just around the corner charging $0.49/kWh. Looking at the map it's obvious what a year has done to the EV landscape, there are easily three times the number of public EV charging stations in the Bay Area than there were a year ago. Because I'm selfish, what mattered was there were now EV stations near ME.

2014 Fiat 500e, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I'll digress for a moment. People call the thing on the curb with the cord and plug a "charging station" but that is something of a naming error. All modern EVs have on-board chargers. That thing that you connect to your car is an over glorified "smart" extension cord. The purpose of the "charging station" is to tell the car what kind of power is available (120/240 V) how much current the car is allowed to draw and to provide some safety mechanisms to protect the person plugging in. All the magic is happening *in* the car. As parts are getting cheaper and more widely available, faster chargers are being integrated into EVs. The first LEAF's 3.3kW charger took 9 hours to fill the battery at 240V, barely 2.5x faster than at 120V. A year later most EVs use a 6.6kW charger that completes the task in 1/6th the time. Good news for me. Since I'm supposed to be getting more exercise I drove a few blocks, plugged in and walked back. Two hours later I had for the first time in my life, a full EV battery and I have a picture to prove it.

Drive Route With Topo

Feeling like an ePrisoner eLiberated from their eBondage, I renewed my pledge to test drive Zippy Zappy like any other car. That meant taking Highway 35 home. If you aren't familiar with the Bay Area, the coastal mountain range separates the population from the sea. At some point a brilliant highway engineer decided to put one of the most scenic highways in the state along the ridge of the range. The trip (shown above with an elevation profile) takes me from sea level to 3,157 ft, then down to about 400 ft with plenty of ups, downs, sweeping curves and corkscrews. If you haven't driven it and live nearby, shame on you.

About the time I reached that first 2,000+ foot blip on the left of the graph, I had a mild panic attack. ZZ said I wouldn't reach my destination. Had I bitten off more than she could chew? No, because the software in the car is only using your past record for future range. By climbing rapidly, it assumed the next 40 miles would be on a similar incline. Don't blame the software. Blame me. The driver is in control so I had to take my (limited) experience into account. I decided not to bail (and charge in Palo Alto). I pressed onwards. (But I set the cruise control to 50.) In the process I snapped some cool photos.

2014 Fiat 500 Electric, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


My faith was rewarded as I neared CA Highway 17 with a battery still 40% charged. I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit downtown Los Gatos. The EV gods smiled upon my diversion and without looking for one, I stumbled upon a brace of EV chargers. One was occupied by a decidedly non-EV BMW 760iL, which I briefly considered putting a door ding in "accidentally" as I got out.  One expensive carrot cake and a 1.8kWh charge later I headed home.

Since I didn't make it to the beach yesterday, I decided today would be the day. Thanks to my nifty iPhone app from ChargePoint I found that there was an EV station operated by the City of Capitola By The Sea just two blocks from my favorite beach dive restaurant. A quick numbers game in my head told me that 2 hours would not only power me back up the hill to home, but also put me in a better charge situation. There was just one problem. OK, two. The EV station had one broken charge cord and some douche in a LEAF had occupied the other for 2 hours over the parking limit and counting. What would you have done?

Columb ChargePoint Station, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I sat in the car and contemplated my options. 1 unplug him and plug myself in (not on his dime, the sessions stop when you unplug). 2 leave him a nasty note and hunt for another station. 3 wait him out. I waited for 20 minutes at which point he had been over his 4 hour parking limit (clearly signed) by almost 3 hours (according to the charging station). I thought: lave a note explaining why I had unplugged his ride so that he (or maybe she) wouldn't retaliate by unplugging me when they returned. No pen. I took the high road and moved on to an EV station 7 blocks away.

After a stroll along the beach and dinner, we walked by the LEAF (still plugged in) and left him a more tactfully-worded note than I had planned. I reminded the driver that the spot clearly said "4 hour limit" and that there are other EV drivers out on the road that need to charge. I may or may not have indicated that I would unplug his shiny red LEAF with "NOGAAS" license plate should I see it there for 4 hours again. Or maybe not. Is this the start of "plug rage" perhaps??

Upon returning to ZZ, something else crossed my mind. This EV station is new, and like others is no longer in a prime parking area. Instead they jammed it at the back of the parking lot. Preferential EV treatment may be starting to end as early as it started.

EVs in the mist, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day two and 155 miles ended with a 68% charge.

from The Truth About Cars

Put the internet to work for you. via Personal Recipe 680102

2014 Chevrolet Impala 2.5 Driven: Spacious Meets Parsimonious

Chevrolet hasn't built an Impala to warm up to for 20 years, unless, of course, you were a fan of the bruising 1994–1996 Impala SS or a cop who loved a roomy squad car. In this latest example of how bankruptcy can occasionally be a good thing, Chevy has delivered a much-improved Impala. Our test of the 3.6-liter V-6 version of Chevy's full-size sedan proved the car to offer spacious accommodations, quiet composure, and solid handling, but will the good feelings carry over to the version with the base engine, the direct-injected 2.5-liter Ecotec four? READ MORE >>

from Car and Driver Blog

Put the internet to work for you. via Personal Recipe 647533

2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI vs Jetta Hybrid

"Have you driven the new Jetta Hybrid?" popped up in my Faceache message box. It came from Captain Leslie, an E-3 Sentry driver, consummate professional, a current Jetta TDI pilot (with a manual), and friend from a tour in the Middle East and Oklahoma City. Unable to resist her profile smile, I went in search of the elusive electrically motivated VW in a sea of 2.5L sorority mobiles. As she has saved my ass in the past, I shall attempt to repay the favor. Leslie, skip the Hybrid, get another TDI… but make sure its a Golf…wagon…in brown…with a manual.

Capt Leslie and her 185K mile, manual TDI

Sajeev pointed out my fondness for VAG products and warned me to be vigilant in my impartiality (cough, Panther Love for all) to render a verdict in true TTAC fashion. Having owned numerous Audis, a SEAT Toledo V5, Golfs, and a MKV Jetta TDI, I might have difficulty. But no, thank you VW for screwing up the Jetta enough to make this issue a nonstarter!

The latest Jetta does not live up to the previous generation. Before me was a stretched mk4 Jetta, only missing some of the details (Vellum Venom here). The MK VI Jetta looks attractive enough; readily identifiable as a Volkswagen, with neat creases, and all that Euro technocracity. But it's a bit boring compared to the beauties made in Korea. The MK IV forged a bold path and the MK V at least caused controversy, however VW played it too safe with the MK VI. At least it's not ugly.


The Jetta's most interesting external aspect are the taillights: sporting a complex lighting pattern for a slightly upscale look. And…thats it.

The taillights are especially helpful when attending accident scenes.

Step inside: virtually identical, the Jetta TDI and Hybrid showcase the latest in Germanic interior design: perfectly aligned plastic, a cutting edge notion in 1979 when Audi switched to black plastic in the Audi 4000 over the faux wood in the Fox. It's straight forward, easy to use and looks like it'll last forever, but exhibits no flair or panache. I'm thinking VW hired a hipster and they rehashed the mk5 interior…but ironically.

The comfortable seats still impress. The leatherette is attractive and will prove durable. Space is good, with the biggest complaint coming from the Hybrid, where the battery pack robs crucial trunk room, and makes the rear seat pass through about 30% smaller than the regular TDI.

Now about that infamous plastic dash. I know why VW equipped the low and mid-range Jettas with an injection molded dashboard so hard that Viagra should file a patent lawsuit:  Americans do not touch the dash, or care about squidgy bits like the Europeans, or so I have been told. They care about price and value for money.

Nicely put together, but not exciting to look at.

This fact explains why most Americans buy Corollas. VW once stood in a "just above average" slot, slightly aspirational and cool but avoiding BMW douchiness. Catering to a cheaper price point made VW just another player in this saturated market.

"But look at the engineering precision and how well it's put together!" say the engineers (or more likely the marketers). Yes, the engineers dotted their "i's" with this design, but failed to realize they spelled penis instead of pencil.

I learned in Germany that you don't buy a Golf for looks, as the Focus and anything French blow it away. You buy one for the dependability and the drive, true VW trademarks in the homeland. The Jetta, a be-trunked extension of the Golf philosophy, should follow this mantra of safe looking, yet wholly hooligan mannerisms. Flogging the TDI and Hybrid like I stole them, I found that not all is lost in Wolfsburg.

The TDI with a manual induces grins from the open road to city traffic. With the 2.0L, direct injected, common-rail diesel, VW engineered the finest motivator in the American line-up. Wind it up to the low redline and feel a surge of torque launching you through traffic. The numbers on paper suggest a middling 0-60 time but the thrust provided in real-time proves most addictive. I found myself punching the throttle just to induce grins.

Pitching the car into a corner netted more surprises. The front end moved around a corner like a GTI. Generous applications of the throttle failed to induce excessive understeer, or surprising amounts of torque steer. The Jetta TDI hunkered down and blew through the apex with a bit of turbo whistle. Wow.

I think the average looks and interior were a ruse so the police think you can't possibly speed in an efficient bar of soap.

I also found lift-off oversteer very possible with more speed and ham-fisted steering inputs. Careening around University Ave intersection onto the Marsha Sharp Freeway, I could lift off the throttle, step out the back-end and nail the go pedal in true Nürburgring fashion while netting an honest 40mpg. The cheap trailing beam rear suspension was not a handling detriment save for the fiercest bumps, which allowed just a bit of skipping. The steering was alive and communicative, provided you ignore the slightly artificial electric feel at lower speeds.

So what of the Hybrid? The "green" Jetta handles exactly the same, yet the leather wrapped steering wheel was a tad nicer. The same wonderful corner entry and roll transition urge you on to illegal speeds. The main difference? Power delivery: the TDI surges while the Hybrid just….goes.


Instead of a tachometer denoting engine revs, a dial ranging from 1-to-10 presents a percentage of available power currently being utilized. A tantalizing "boost" zone glares at you past the 10 mark. My goal was to live in "boost" as much as possible. Not the point of a hybrid, but I am still an enthusiast. I kick Priuses like the Taliban kick puppies!

The Hybrid proves an engaging drive, with a lackluster engine note and not quite sharp throttle responses. The TDI emerges as the clear driver's victor, especially when real world fuel economy figures are factored in. The Hybrid says 48mpg highway to the TDI's 42, but the TDI managed 40mpg in mixed driving, with the Hybrid only scored 38mpg. The Hybrid is not a green and happy GLI, it's an expensive alternative to the TDI for the hippy crowd. Just behold those blue Hybrid badges tattoo'd at every corner!


The TDI comes across as cheaper, more reliable, comes in a manual, and will hold its value (look at those used mkV TDI prices!). The Hybrid, well…it'll be an interesting Murilee junkyard find in 20 years.

Now Captain Leslie knows the truth: I suggest she keeps her current manual shift Jetta TDI (with 185,000 trouble free miles!) and save the money for her upcoming wedding. Leslie, if you have some scratch left over, get a Jetta Sportwagen TDI, which is just a Golf TDI with a big trunk. The current Jetta TDI and Hybrid are good, but after being a command pilot over Afghanistan, you won't have the wool pulled over your eyes: the new Jetta is not superior to yours.

At least the bartenders Courtney and Elise from The Roof in Lubbock seem to really like it!

from The Truth About Cars

Put the internet to work for you. via Personal Recipe 680102

Campaign Targets Child Heatstroke Deaths in Cars


As summer weather heats up in earnest across the nation, the death of an infant boy in Florida this month serves as a tragic reminder to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Hoping to prevent such incidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has partnered with Safe Kids Worldwide to spread the word.

According to CBS News in Miami, authorities have charged a West Miami-Dade woman, Catalina Bruno, with aggravated manslaughter following the death of her infant son, Bryan Osceola. Bruno allegedly left the baby in his car seat after arriving home; his temperature was 109 degrees when he was found, CBS reported.

NHTSA said that as of May 28, there had been four child heatstroke deaths so far in 2013; that's in addition to 384 between 2003 and 2012, according to a study by San Francisco State University. Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicular deaths for young children, NHTSA said.

"It is especially dangerous because vehicles heat up quickly," NHTSA said in a statement. "Even with a window rolled down 2 inches, if the outside temperature is in the low-80s, the temperature inside the vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes."

With their safety campaign, NHTSA and Safe Kids Worldwide urge parents and caregivers to remind themselves to check each time they get out of the car with the mantra, "Where's baby? Look before you lock." One tip the campaign offers is for drivers to habitually remind themselves to do a quick scan, front and back, of their vehicle by leaving a reminder such as placing their purse or briefcase in the back seat, writing a note-to-self or positioning a stuffed animal in the rearview mirror.

Most importantly, never leave a child unattended in a car, even if the windows are open or the air conditioning is on. Other tips include:

  • Asking your child-care provider to call if the child does not show up as expected.
  • Teaching children that a vehicle is not a play area and storing keys out of their reach.
  • Calling 911 immediately if you see a child alone in a hot vehicle. 
NHTSA Wants Parents to 'Look Before You Lock' This Summer
Study: Aftermarket Devices Not Preventing Child Deaths in Hot Cars

More Children Dying in Hot Cars

from KickingTires

Put the internet to work for you. via Personal Recipe 647517