You’re Either the Fence or the Switch

May 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm

“Hold onto your butts.”

Ah, the immortal Samuel L. Jackson and his cryptic words of wisdom before doing something that would both save the asses of everyone trapped in Jurassic Park while completely screwing over the slow kid stuck to the electric fence. In a somewhat premeditated move, I chose these very words to describe how I feel the night before I take delivery of a 1995 BMW M3 coupe from San Diego that I bought sight unseen.


In one regard, I have feelings of great anticipation. Hope for redemption, that after falling out of love seemingly overnight with my 2003 BMW 330i ZHP, that the M3 will indeed unlock Pandora’s Box of daily-driver bliss. That like the moment ol’ Samuel realized he had found the path to potential safety from certain death by tyrannosaurus, I have discovered the automotive fountain of youth, where, with every turn of the key, I am reminded that a car can deliver such satisfaction that its welcome is never worn out.

At the same time, I could be that idiot who climbed so God-awfully slow up the fence that you were almost rooting for him to get his brains fried when the juice was pumped through the lines. As you watched, you’re at first cheering for him, something like this: “Yeah, Jeff – a nice, clean E46. It’s got modern safety features, functioning air conditioning, hasn’t been stolen and put back together after an insurance auction, etc…” But then, as you watch little Joey Mazzello climb up the fence like he’s afraid it’s going to give him AIDS you start to think, “Goddamnit, you’re  a few apples short of  bushel, ain’t ya? You know what? You deserve whatever you have coming to you. Sam Jacks, turn that mother on and let’s see some suffering.”

All that said, I’m not sure what side of the fence I’ll end up on. Slowly taking a drag from a cigarette after a job well done, or writhing in pain as my intestines turn to jello.

Either way, it’s safe to say we better grab hold of our posteriors and hope for the best. The M3 should be here by this time tomorrow night.

Summer Crusin’ in Vegas

May 25, 2013 at 12:14 am

I live in a town that’s know as a beach community. During the summer months it’s estimated that the population in my town increases by 15,000 people. That means more vehicles at the beach, at restaurants and other places in town that I frequent. So here’s five vehicles I expect to see a lot more this summer in Marshfield.

1. Jeep Wrangler


The white suburban beach vehicle. YJ’s are driven the by the diehards or the long time beach bums. They’ve been roughed up over years by carrying board and other materials to the beach. The drivers are usually well tanned from years hanging on the beach. The TJ’s are the younger crowd, the high school kids or the middle aged folk who have them as summer vehicles as they go through their mid life crises and try to recapture their youthful summer memories. JK’s are for the yuppies or Massholes with cash or the trust fund kids

2. Jeep Grand Cherokee

jeep gcwj

WJ’s are a frequent site at the town beach, Haddad’s or Blanchard’s Liquors. The Grand Cherokee is the one tick more reasonable or richer sibling of the Wrangler. Most these SUV’s can be found in their Laredo version.

3. Toyota Camry


Face it, they’re everywhere. A large amount of them can be found in any place and being in a town whose population increases by 15,000 for a few months each means there’s going to be more of them. The Camry is the car for people who are soulless. All they care about is getting to their destination and making sure there is enough room in the car to take everything they need.

4. Kia Optima


In the past year I’ve started to see these everywhere, it’s as if all of a sudden out nowhere a quarter of the world’s population bought Kia Optimas. What is it? Is it the commercials? bang for the buck? Could someone please tell me why? It really racks my brain.

5. Small Four Door Sedans


Take your pick from Nissan Sentra’s, Toyota Corolla’s, previous generation VW Jetta’s etc. It’s the car of women aged between 16-22 who are spending their summer going to and from the beach. These cars always carry four females (driver and three passengers), all wearing aviator sunglasses and blasting some various form of top 40 music or whatever college kids are listening to these days. All these cars feature a lay hanging from the rearview mirror.

A Road with Many Turns – Why there are no Americans in F1 – Part II

May 22, 2013 at 8:45 pm
Al Jr. Tests the Williams

Al Jr. Tests the Williams

If you can’t beat them, get them and embarrass them

In the early 1990’s the world had two top open wheel series to pick from. In the old world, F1 was the grand stage and the new world had the ever growing CART; with full grids, star drivers, competitive racing and expansion into Australia, a place that was once the domain of F1.

One thing that Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t like, is something that could fight F1 in being the premier motor racing category. When the World Sportscar Championship threatened F1, Bernie got the rules changed so that the cars had F1 powerplants which increased costs and gave him a chance to say to manufacturers “Hey, you’re wasting your money in sportscars, come to F1, you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck. And what do you know, you already have an engine”. While the World Sportscar Championship was under the thumb of the FIA, CART wasn’t.

The threat became greater when Nigel Mansell, F1’s reigning world champion after a fallout with Williams over a new contract decided to retire from F1 and drive for Newman Hass in CART for the 1993 season. The international interest in the series exploded with the ever polarizing Mansell winning the CART championship in his red number 5 Lola-Ford.

In December of 1992, Ayrton Senna, one of greatest driver’s of all time was distraught over the state of F1. He was upset that a driver of his great talent could not beat a driver of much lesser talent in the gizmo laden Williams. His offer to drive for Williams for “free” in 1993 was rejected as Alan Prost had a clause in his contract not allowing for Senna to be his teammate for the 1993 season; leaving his only option to be back at McLaren which would be using a customer Ford engine for the ’93 season (note: Senna drove for McLaren on a race by race contract in 1993 with his rumored salary per race being over one million dollars).

Senna was then invited by his great friend, CART star and two time world championship Emerson Fittipaldi to test his Penske. Senna accepted the invitation which was made easier as he was in reality a free agent and two of his biggest sponsors (Marlboro and Hugo Boss) were also Penske sponsors. Senna drove the Penske at Firebird and enjoyed the experience. He refereed to the Penske as being a human car, a car that relied on the skill of the driver and not a computer.

It was then decided the best way to destroy CART was to steal it’s best drivers. In 1992, Al Unser Jr and Michael Andretti, two second  generation drivers and CART’s two biggest stars attempted to cross the Atlantic and try their hands at F1.

1992 was the year of Al Jr. He had won the Indy 500 and was arguably the best road racer in America. Unser had a seat fitting with Bennetton but rejected their offer because it was half of what he was making in CART. Little Al also tested the Williams in Portugal and was quicker then Riccardo Patrese and then test driver Damon Hill (who would get the seat for 1993). After the test Junior went to the Williams factory to make a deal to race the car in 1993 but was rudely turned down by team principle Frank Williams and Technical Director Patrick Head. Unser would stay in CART and go onto win the championship and the Indy 500 for Roger Penske in 1994.

Andretti signed for McLaren in late 1992 for the 1993 season. At this point, McLaren were no longer the dominant team in F1. Their engine supplier Honda, had pulled out of F1 leaving them customer Ford’s and they fell behind in the technology race to Williams. McLaren had also signed Mika Hakkinen in case Senna decided he didn’t want to race. A few other factors went against Andretti in that he decided not to live in Europe and instead flew to races and testing. Also, testing rules had changed for 1993 leaving Andretti not enough time to gain experience at the F1 tracks and the gizmo laden cars which were the opposite of his CART Lola’s.

The 1993 season started off as a disaster for Andretti as he completed only three laps in three races. His results improved but was then sacked after the Grand Prix of Italy in Monza. He went back to CART for 1994, driving for Chip Ganassi and winning the first race of the season beating Nigel Mansell.

Andretti later said that he was put in a position to fail at McLaren and in F1. Andretti claims the car was sabotaged by McLaren staff and that Bernie and McLaren Principle Ron Dennis conspired to the make the season a disaster. Andretti later commented that the F1 paddock viewed CART as a threat and the best way to make them look bad was to have a CART star fail in F1.

In 1994 there were no Americans in F1, in 1995 Elton Julian, an American who came though the European racing ladder and had tested several times for the Larrousse team in 1994 was a candidate for a race seat. Sadly the Larrousse closed its doors due to financial issues right before the start of the 1995 season.

As the decade reached it’s halfway point the last thing American road racers were thinking about was going to F1.

Part 3 – A return to America and mysterious lack of Speed


Feel Special for $800

May 16, 2013 at 11:46 pm

It’s not often you see a Saab Special Performance Group (SPG) 900 in the wild, let alone one that’s sitting idle waiting for the next sadistic fool to take his chances on this Swedish chariot. But points must be given to the current owner of this broken banger for having the foresight to store it indoors for at least part of its hibernation.

I don’t know much about Unity, New Hampshire but I’m assuming its namesake doesn’t apply to the status of this car’s most important bits. They’ve been scattered a bit like ashes, with the body kit removed, a dead fuel pump and a blown turbo. Perhaps it’s unified in its project car status, or maybe united in its goal to bankrupt subsequent owners.


Whatever premonition the car’s location supports, there’s no denying its significance as a crowning achievement in the Saab lineup. The 160 bhp 16-valve motor made for spirited performance, but this one’s faulty components – primarily responsible for fuel delivery and delivering the turbocharged-rush Saabs are famous far – let down what is otherwise a truly special car.

It baffles me sometimes how cars can be torn down in what seems like a valiant attempt to bring it back from the dead. Unfortunately, whether life gets in the way, bills pile up or the spouse gets cranky, many cars lie dormant, victim of their owner’s ambitions. With only 7,000 SPGs imported into North America, its rarity is well documented – but will this one get out of a shed in remote New Hampshire town to return to the ranks of its limited production brethren?

Hopefully, time moves a little slower in Unity.

A Road with Many Turns – Why There Are No Americans in F1 – Part 1

May 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

mears brabham

A discussion that can be kicked around for ages by American F1 fans is Why are there no Americans’ in F1. Truly, there has to be drivers in the US who are talented enough to compete at what many consider the pinnacle of motor racing. Doesn’t F1 in it’s quest to be a global brand have to have an American driver? In this multi part post, we’ll take a look at where we’ve been, why we are where we are and what would it take to get an American into F1.

A la CART?

Thanks or blame (depending on who you are) Bernie Ecclestone for making F1 into the hybrid of the highly exclusive country club/grand corporate spectacle that it is today. Gone are the days when a team could buy a competitive chassis from March or McLaren, put a Cosworth DFV in the back and select a few races to run and with a good driver, have more than a puncher’s chance of being competitive.

In addition to buying a competitive car, driver’s raced multiple series at a time. There was a point when Mark Donohue in the early 70’s was running Can-Am one weekend, USAC the next, the Trans-Am and then the occasional F1 race thrown in. With the cost of racing going up, teams began to protect their investments and have their drivers sign exclusive contracts; everyone was now stuck to one series which didn’t allow opportunities like drivers such as Revson, Donohue, Lunger and Folmer had in F1 in the 70’s.

The emergence of CART and the F1 Concorde Agreement in the early 80’s can be seen as when the fate of American drivers and teams jumping in and out of F1 began to be sealed. F1 was now an exclusive club and CART gave American’s a well paid, organized and prestigious series on their home soil. The door for American racers to F1 was offically slammed in 1980 when Rick Mears tested for Brabham (whose owner was…Bernie Ecclestone). Mears tested for Brabham twice and was fast as their world champion driver Nelson Piquet. An offer was given to Mears but Mears declined it. According to the way the story has been told, a number was in the contract that Mears (who at this point was a CART star and probably the most talented driver in America) thought he would be paid, but instead it was the amount that Bernie wanted him to bring to the team for the seat.

While the 80’s rolled on, CART began to look a bit like what F1 looked liked before Bernie, there were top teams but a team could buy a competitive chassis and engine and with right preparation and driver could be competitive. F1 became a place of the have and have nots, with only a handful of teams at the sharp end of grid. Foreign drivers began coming to CART in late 80’s/early 90 as they could be in a competitive car and get paid instead of being at the tail end of the F1 grid paying for a ride.

By the early 90’s CART was the best racing series in the world with a full competitive grid and was beginning to make a global expansion that had started with the Surfer’s Paradise race in 1991. It had stolen F1’s thunder in the US starting in 1984 when the Long Beach Grand Prix became a CART fixture, while the F1 race in American finally died out with Phoenix in 1991. Any American star was now in CART with a competitive ride and a multi million dollar retainer. The last American in F1 during this time was Eddie Cheever. An American who had grown up in Rome, Cheever was talented driver who spent his F1 career driving for mid pack teams. At the end of 1989, Cheever left F1 and joined CART running for Chip Ganassi’s team.

As the 90’s began there we no Americans in F1 as CART had all the American stars and was starting compete as a global rival to F1,

Coming Soon – Part II – The Biggest is the Smallest.

Finding the Fairest of Them All

May 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Why do people tear apart perfectly good cars in the name of making them better? Why? What level of self-confidence do you possess that you somehow determined your concept of suspension, or your perception of suitable contact patch, and yes, your feelings on engine internals, are better than the instincts of a highly-trained and well-compensated engineer?

This question has been wracking my brain for days as I pour over listings for E36 M3s. So many of these magnificent cars have been gutted, both figuratively and literally, of any cohesiveness they once possessed as a new car. What I mean by cohesiveness is the feeling that every screw is still in the correct location and that when you open a glove box or move the shifter, each movement evokes a sensation that only a motorsports engineer could create.


Now, I have to admit in fairness that I’m living in a bit of a glass house at the moment. I have modified my cars, thrown out the stock parts and done what I felt was a  bonafide improvement. But as I would learn, the Becks-chugging geniuses in Bavaria, Zuffenhausen and Wolfsburg actually know a thing or two about vehicle dynamics. They just may have built an entire chassis around schematics and designs based in years of study and evaluation, giving them at least some credibility to sell you a car that is just what it needs to be. And nothing more, nothing less.

So, as I click on yet another classified ad that divulges yet another M3 loaded with Dinan equipment, slammed on TC Kline coilovers and riding on staggered 19″ BBS basketweaves, I start to wonder just how many more times we’re going to take what was once great (and still largely is) and improve it for the sake of saying, “I was here.”  If you want to make your mark and leave a lasting impression, become a street artist. But leave the E36 M3 alone.

In the words of Billy Joel: Getting closer

May 2, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I drive the E30 to work most days now, and it reminds me why I enjoy this car so much. It’s just so damn visceral, and despite the discomfort that comes with the rattles and bangs and clunks found in a car with 27-year-old door and window seals, the E46 stays in the garage more often than not.

This could be the reason I’m trying to unload it at the present moment, in hopes of accelerating the body restoration of the E30 with the influx of money left over from a potential sale and replacement with an E36 M3. Of course, this is all pure fantasy at this juncture as multiple planets would have to align in fairly dramatic fashion, but it hasn’t stopped me from turning my eye to what will be needed to complete the E30’s rehabilitation.

As some of you know, the original carpet went bye-bye after a poorly repaired front passenger floor revealed a water leak that, for years, allowed moisture to sit trapped underneath foam insulation. You can imagine that this not only led to a strong odor of mildew but it also to rust holes developing in the passenger rear floor. If I am able to pull my plan together and get the car to a body shop this summer, I will need this:


Carpet! Oh yeah. OEM, factory carpet for black interiors with all foam insulation still intact. Fun fact, it’s not supposed to come off in bunches like mine did. Apparently, when it stays dry, it remains one piece. This will need a basic steam cleaning but for the price paid, it’s totally worth it – especially with factory mounting holes and pre-formed to an E30 coupe interior layout. As my friends can recall, trying to corral a new carpet with no intention of conforming to the car’s interior is about as pointless as politely asking Lindsay Lohan to quit drinking. I almost slept on this thing the other night I was so psyched.

Now, my other purchase was equally necessary but a bit daunting as to how it will go in. The dashboard in my car suffers from the usual E30 cracking phenomenon, with basically the VIN tag all that’s holding it together. I did find a crack-free dash with some light sun fading issues from a friend who’s paring down his collection of parts.


I have no idea how or when this will get installed, but similar to the carpet, it’s a vital final piece to bringing this car back from the dead. Although I’m sure I should be knocking on wood as I say this, it feels  good to be thinking more about the E30’s cosmetics for a change and less about its likelihood of imploding on the way to work.

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