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Saturday, December 22, 2007


So maybe it's not just me...

About a week ago, I wrote about how I hope small sports cars might make a comeback. About five days after I posted that, CNN had an article looking back at one of the models that defined the breed, the Honda CRX. They noted that the CRX in HF trim even manages to beat the Prius when it came go mileage, with considerably less technology but also less weight. You just don't see too many tiny cars out there, and certainly not ones that have styling in the same league as a CRX or with any hint of sportiness. I have to wonder why manufacturers think that customers want miniaturized minivan looks on their small cars instead of something sportier.

Well, the government has finally decided to raise CAFE limits to 35 miles to the gallon, so it's possible we may see a revival of this sort of micro-rocket.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007


Random PRI stuff

Just a bunch of random pictures of cool stuff from PRI.

A diesel with compound turbos. I've heard about these, but it was the first time I'd seen a compound turbo engine in person. You can get a lot of boost by feeding the discharge side of one turbo into the inlet on a second, smaller turbo - too much boost, in fact, for almost anything gasoline powered. But diesels can get away with it.

This is the mystery motor that's shown up in a few magazines. Ford's been making a big show of running this thing out at drag races and not saying what it is. All I could tell is that it's got overhead cams, a distributorless ignition, two injectors per cylinder, and it's really, really big and fast. Most of the speculation is that it's a future truck motor, which makes sense given its size. But it would be pretty cool in a Crown Vic, or maybe an Aussie Falcon. Whatever it is, I'm guessing it's meant for production vehicles and probably not meant to be race only. Not too many racing classes would let in a motor that's such a far departure from a production block, and if it were headed for something like LeMans Prototype I'd have expected it to have appeared there before anything else.

Garrett / Honeywell had a drag car on display fed by two massive turbos. The turbos on there make my GT4082 turbo look tiny.

I took this photo at the end of the show when everyone was packing up and going home. Somehow, I'd missed this Gasser-style coupe when it was on the showroom floor. But it sure looks pretty, even if it has to be pushed out on car skates.


Saturday, December 15, 2007


Silver linings

As a car guy, I'm starting to wonder if there is a good side to these high gas prices. Perhaps it will revive a type of car that's pretty much dead in the US market, tiny sports cars. I know there's a couple of good roadsters on the market right now - the MX-5, BMW Z4, Honda S2000, and the Solstice / Sky twins. But I'm thinking of a slightly different type of car, one that produced a lot of interesting results in the 1980s and early 1990s. And this type of car is pretty much gone now, but many of the surviving ones from that era have a cult following.

Team Gutty CRX It seems in the 1970s, some American and Japanese manufacturers either realized that there would be a market for people who now needed great gas mileage but didn't want cars to be boring, or at least in one case found this would be a good way to spin a project. This led to quite a few tiny cars, usually with two seats, armed with revvy engines, sporty bodywork, and excellent handling. So you get an all around great car (unless you're trying to carry children around), one that looks cool, is fun to drive, and gets great mileage too. The prime examples would be the Honda CRX (pictured at right is the Team Gutty CRX from the GRM $2007 Challenge) and Toyota MR2, both of which still have cult followings. GM got into the act with the Pontiac Fiero. The Omni-based Dodge Charger of the era had more seats than this formula calls for, but it's still pretty close to the formula, and it also has some pretty determined fans.

Granted, this category did produce a few stinkers. It seems Ford Motor Company for some reason just couldn't pull this off even after trying with the Escort EXP and the 1990s Mercury Capri. GM also built a two seater version of the Chevette. But I've got to wonder if this is being dusted off somewhere around automotive boardrooms with gas prices climbing. Right now there isn't much out there that fits this formula - the closest thing I can think of is the MINI or the roadsters I mentioned above. You could drive the original CRX to an autocross, then take home a trophy and get 50 miles to the gallon on the way home. I don't think any automotive industry execs read this blog... but I can dream.

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Toluene, the cheap octane boost

With no fan on the Miata's intercooler, we had a bit of a pinging problem on the dyno at PRI. Jerry wanted to get some race gas, but we had no idea where to find any (OK, so all the race gas makers exhibit at PRI, but we weren't sure they had any for sale at the show). After talking things over with one of the Dynapack representatives who's used this trick himself, we dumped two gallons of toluene in the Miata's tank. This stuff is typically sold at paint stores and is around 114 octane. It costs around $16 a gallon if you're not buying it in industrial quantities, but that's actually cheaper than most auto parts store octane boosters and more effective, too. You don't want to run it straight as this stuff evidently doesn't work too well in cold weather. But it's safe to mix with gasoline, and won't damage your fuel system. In fact, most gasoline has a bit of this stuff in it already.

That's Jerry mixing it into our gas can while Justin watches. Funny thing is, the guys at the Sherwin Williams paint store had never heard of toluene being used that way, and they seemed to be a bit into cars. I just know they'll be talking about the time three crazy guys wandered into their shop and tried to put toluene in a Miata. We didn't try to see if we could capitalize on the extra octane by retuning the car - after all, we had to drive it home to Atlanta.

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Monday, December 10, 2007


Wondering where the Mopar A-body Konis have gone?

I've sometimes seen people talking about running Koni shocks on their Darts or Barracudas in road racing and autocross applications, and talking about how well they worked. But I've never been able to find a set for sale. So I asked at the PRI booth what had happened. I wasn't all that surprised to find they'd been discontinued, and I was quite impressed that the representative knew that without having to look it up. He mentioned there were two ways you could get a set, though - find a used set and have Koni rebuild them, or go with their drag shocks (which are still available) and have them custom valved. Not always cheap, but it's what to do if you want Konis on a Dodge Dart...

Not surprisingly, he didn't exactly think the off road truck shock swap idea I covered earlier was ideal, although he mentioned some less high end shock companies have actually been doing somthing a lot like this. Konis are valved for the specific application, and a Rancho off road truck shock might not be exactly the right thing on a car that weighs 1000 lbs lighter. (Although it still may be better than the stock shocks from what I've heard.)

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And I can't seem to find my camera...

I've just gotten back from the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show in Orlando. Unfortunately I haven't unpacked my camera yet, since I was there with DIYAutotune and my personal and business luggage got a bit mixed up. Yes, you heard that right - I was there representing Megasquirt at PRI, along with Jerry and Justin. Well, technically, we were actually representing Dynapack by providing the demonstration car for their dyno exhibit, but Dynapack also let us set up a table with Megasquirts on display.

So, what was going on at PRI? Here's some things I noticed:

1. A lot of the show, perhaps as much as half of it if you don't count the machinery and trailer exhibits, was dedicated to circle track racing. Most of the other cars were drag machines or road racers, with a handful of other types of cars such as a Bonneville racer. The Miata was one of maybe three autocross cars there.

2. There was a surprising number of diesel performance exhibits, including a compound turbo on display and a semi truck built for road racing.

3. A surprising number of people at the show had already heard of Megasquirt and used it.

4. If a lot of people fly into town for an exhibit about racing, it's really bad news for car rental companies.

5. I got to talk with Garrett's technical staff. They didn't think the GT4082 turbo was all that crazy for a slant six - maybe a bit large for the 400 hp range, but not an unspoolable beast, either. We'll see.

6. Conference food is really overpriced.

Pictures will be up soon.

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I've seen this before, but only in forklifts

Check out this Chevy V8 powered Festiva. It's got a 355 mounted where the back seat used to be... driving the front wheels. Sounds kind of like a forklift drivetrain, except without the rear steering. I'm kind of impressed by this as an exercise in mechanical weirdness, but I've got to wonder whether it can get any sort of traction. Particularly on those tiny tires.


Saturday, December 01, 2007


Needed new tools

I was going to do a bunch of tune up items on the Corvette today - oil change, new plugs, new distributor cap and rotor, new plug wires, etc. However, when I was getting ready to remove the access cover over the distributor, I saw it was held on with Torx bolts. In fact, it seems like half the C4 Corvette is held together with Torx fasteners, and I don't have any Torx drivers. So I had to settle for just an oil change, and picked up a set of Torx drivers at Sears later today.

By the way, putting a C4 Corvette on jackstands is also quite a challenge. GM seems to have designed this car to be serviced on a lift, and not in a home garage (well, except for some very well equipped home setups). You shouldn't support a C4 by its floor pan, and it's nearly impossible to drive it up normal rampstands. There's two triangular jacking pads that make a good point for a jack, but then there's no spot for the jackstand. I ended up lifting it with a jack high enough to set the tire down on the ramp. Not pretty, but it worked.


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