I’ve always been a fan of Japanese cars. The two I now own are, in fact, from Japanese manufacturers. But I just need to get this on record: I think the current generation of Japanese cars suck. At least aesthetically. My first point in case is Mazda since my previous internal combustion passion was for the first generation RX-8. Although it’s not a unanimous opinion, I love the way those cars look. Bulging fenders, rotary styling cues, and a very nice ass makes them still very sexy to me. I liked the Mazda6’s styling enough that it was almost my first sports sedan purchase. And the Mazda[speed]3 are now one of the defining hot hatches. But the new generation of these cars just leaves me wondering what Mazda was doing. That big, open mouth on the front of the 3 is ridiculous. I think it’s right up there with the original gaping hole on the older Miata (note that I left that car out of this article for a reason). The designers went overboard with the rotary styling cues on the new RX-8, adding them seemingly everywhere they could find a place. And the new Mazda6 may as well be made out of vanilla beans from South American mountains carried to civilization on donkey’s backs.
Another manufacturer that I always appreciated for the good looks of their cars is Acura. The previous-generation TL is one of my favorite sedans, and the TSX had a certain appeal about it that just rubs me the right way (Steve, you know which way). But the new generation of these two cars is terrible. It seems like Acura got a bit too heavy-handed on the attempts at making them aggressive, and to me it just doesn’t work. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but they’ve somehow lost the charm that made the previous generation so appealing.
Let’s not forget about the two cars that took the throne from the 3000GT for king of turbo charged AWD vehicles: the Subaru STi and Mitsubishi Evolution. I affectionately refer to them as the definitive boy racers. Although I’ve never been a fanatic about the styling of the previous generation STi, it has a certain look about it that turns heads. Maybe it is the wing large enough to fly a charter plane or the hood scoop big enough to rival Paris Hilton’s genitals. Usually I think these things are over the top, but on the STi they just work. You would see that car and know that it was something special. As for the Evo, I always found the previous generation to look a lot better from the front. It has a super aggressive face that commands a presence, but the back end just seems marginally better than a standard Lancer. Regardless, it still is fun to look at when passing it in parking lots.
With the new generation of these cars, I just don’t know what the hell happened. The new STi originally only came in hatchback form, and I was really surprised about that. Maybe they were trying to copy the success of the Mazdaspeed3 or something. Either way, the new styling just seems a bit “blah” to me. I wouldn’t put it in the same league as the new Mazda6 by any means, but it just seems to have lost some of that spark. I’ve read that it has been tuned to handle in a similar manner: no longer the brute that it was, it’s been tamed to appeal to a larger audience. Sounds familiar. Meanwhile, the new Evo is a disaster. First off, that black area of the front grille just doesn’t do it for me. I bet the car would look alright from the front when in black, but any other color just makes that thing stand out. Second, it has suffered the same fate as the STi in that its styling seems to have been toned down a shade or two, but again I think it lost something in translation. Finally, just as in the previous generation, it looks only a little better from the back than a standard Lancer. Not cool, Mitsubishi, not cool.
“So what new cars do you like” you might ask? My response can be summed up in one word: Germans. I love the new models of my favorite German cars. The new BMW 3 Series is, like always, on fire. And I think that’s especially true in the aesthetics department. The 335i coupe is just fantastic, and I drool over a blue one in my parking garage every day. The M variant of the 3 Series takes the 335’s styling and puts it on steroids that are good for you – you know, the kind with whole wheat in it. The bulging hood, huge wheels, and aggressive stance does more than just turn heads. People stop what they’re doing to look at it.
Let’s not forget the other German manufacturers’ pride of this generation. The new Audis are all superb looking cars, but I especially like the new S5 – a brand new model this generation. It looks like nothing else on the road, and I go out of my way to oogle over them when I see them. I have mixed feelings about eyelash headlights (I’m looking at you, Porsche), but on the S5 they work wonders. Seriously, if I had 50 large laying around, I might just buy an S5 on styling alone.
Lastly – and Sir Richard over there will get a kick out of this one – the new VWs are sexy this generation. I really dig the new Jetta and I love the new R32. Although it has always been somewhat of a sleeper compared to other high performance cars, they always seem to look just aggressive enough to clearly separate them from their slower siblings. I would take that kind of gradual styling over an Evo vs. Lancer any day of the week. And the new R32 does a fantastic job of this subtle aggressiveness.
(The newest generation of Germans: VW R32, BMW M3, and the all-new Audi S5.)
So what’s to be learned here? Simply this: if I were documenting a war between Japan and Germany based solely on aesthetics, I think that the Euro beats the Yen hands-down this generation.
– Alex “I swear Subaru is Australian” Gregorio
Last week, I was missing my 3000GT when I got home from work (explanation), so I go around to the front where the engine is as naked as a college sorostitute and turn on my shop light. With heavy heart, I look closely at the damaged piston and say to myself, “Hey, it looks like there is still some of the washer on there.” So I take a small screwdriver and take a few pokes at the piston surface not even considering the possibility that the two coolant ducts just below the piston are totally exposed and something could easily fall down there. Need I say more?
Well, yea, probably. I’ll say that I felt like an idiot as I watched that piece of metal sink down into the coolant and out of my reach. I then began considering the consequences if I didn’t remove it: the shard of washer flows around in the coolant ducts and then ends up in the water pump. Said pump chokes up and stops working. The engine quickly heats up and boils the coolant still in the block. If I’m really dumb – and I should be honest with myself on that one – and continue to run the engine, the pistons heat up so much that they weld themselves right onto the block and seize up. End of the road for Mr. Twin Turbo.
Fast forward a few days and I decide to try my hand at getting the shard out of the duct. My first reaction is to flush the coolant out of the engine and hope the shard comes with it. The problem there is just that: I’d be hoping the damn thing came out. I could make it worse if the shard got caught on something. I could pressure-flush the system, but that’s messy, a pain in the ass, and again wouldn’t guarantee the shard would come out or I could find it even if it did come out. So I thought long and hard (giggle) about it, and came up with the stroke (snicker) of genius below.
(This is how I supplied light into the coolant duct)
I used a dust buster with this tube taped on the end to suck out enough of the coolant so I could see the shard. After struggling for a while with how I was going to retrieve the shard, I attached the tube onto the end of my wet/dry vacuum and went at it. The shard stuck to the end of the tube without actually sucking into it. I then turned off the vacuum and pull the shard out.
And finally, here is what I pulled out. Obviously the circle of pieces is the original washer that came out of the cylinder.
-Alex “MacGuyver” Gregorio
I had a moment a few weeks ago when I threw up my hands and exclaimed “Enough is enough; good bye Mediocre Jetta!”. I have since reconciled with the little black sedan. I think in cars as with most hobbies, sometimes we enthusiast reach that tipping point. I’d like to talk a bit about how I decided to keep going. But first, some background.
I overpaid for a 1991 Jetta GLI. After overpaying, I put almost the cost of the car into repairs to bring it up to daily-driver status. Since that time, I’ve spent many weekends handling routine car maintenance. Oil changes, brakes, back-up sensor, lights, cracked dash bezel, poorly installed radio, hacked radiator support and the like. A small fraction of that weekend work is dedicated to fun or performance oriented work.
All that work is why I feel like my car should work. Every day, I should be able to get in and it should start and run like a well maintained machine. When that isn’t the case, I start to get agitated.
The morning after returning from a hectic business trip to Vegas (I averaged less than 2 hours of sunlight exposure per day!), I hoped in the Jetta with Mo Volks to do our usual Saturday running around. The Jetta didn’t start. I took a deep breath, depressed the clutch pedal and tried again. No dice. Being extra tired and jet lagged, I launched into an epic rant about the car, blaming everyone from Houdini to the Pope for its problems. Quick self-diagnosis jumped to the (il)logical conclusion that there were starter problems.
(Mr. Rich while in Vegas)
Frustrated, I began to calculate what I could handle for a car payment, swearing off the Jetta and wishing nothing but ill upon its German engineered beauty. Many hours later, my head began to cool. I called AAA and had the car towed 2.8 miles (take THAT 3 mile free limit), to a shop for a more professional diagnosis. The problem was nothing major, a worn distributor cap.
How did I decided to keep going? It was simple, really. I looked at my parts list, and realized I was less than 20% ‘done’ with the Jetta. With a little inspiration from a beautiful VRT (VR6 Turbo) Black GLI on ‘tex, I thought to myself, “Screw it, I’m with this car till the end. Ups, downs and all”.
Fixing the car last weekend was therapeutic. Aside from the distributor cap, I replaced a burnt-out light, put new OE door handles on the car and did a quick oil change. After the car was fixed, I realized why I keep going through the ups and downs with this car. It runs every day and looks the way it does because of the work that I do to it (with help from friends, of course). That satisfaction was worth every penny I put into the car, and then some.
Next time you get pissed about a flat tire or a dead battery, remember, you can fix it. Next time you’re WOT heading down the highway, smile, and remember, you keep your car on the road. Not a tech at the dealership or the oil guy at Speedy Lube, but you.
The head has finally come off and we’ve assessed the damage. I’ll make this as concise as possible:
- The cylinder wall is not damaged. We’re unable to feel any scratches at all and it looks just as good as the other two cylinders on that bank.
- The valves do have some minor scratches, but appear to be otherwise undamaged.
- Used parts to replace the pieces that were damaged (see below) look to be pretty cheap.
- No broken bolts at all, woohoo!
- It appears as though we’ve located the rest of the washer. It doesn’t seem that any of it got passed the exhaust valves and into the front turbo.
- The job went really smoothly and took a lot less time than I had expected. I also was really diligent about labeling all of the bolts we removed and the turbo-related pipes that start to look alike after they’re removed from the car. This should really help when everything is reassembled.
(Bolts removed during the job labeled with shreds of paper for the inevitable rebuild portion. My wife hates that I’m using a dresser we’re storing in the garage as a place to put my oily stuff.)
(Turbo-related pipes labeled with painters tape and a Sharpie. Take a lesson here guys, always label stuff to make it easier to put back in)
- I’m a bonehead for not draining the coolant out of the engine. I got it all out of the radiator, of course, but I neglected the two drain plugs on the two banks of cylinders. As such, there is coolant over every god damn thing.
- We couldn’t figure out how to get in there to remove the bolts holding the exhaust manifold onto the head, so we just unbolted the manifold from the turbo and removed the manifold with the head. Now that the entire assembly is out of the car, I need to figure out how to get that thing off there.
- The head itself is definitely chewed up. There are portions of it that come very close to the piston and they are beat to hell. There was a piece of the washer that was dented into the piston that was certainly smacking the head over and over. This is probably what was causing the sound. I don’t know that it’s repairable at this point, so I might just have to replace it.
- The piston is also pretty jacked. It will definitely need to be replaced. Not only will this cost me some more cash, but I’ll also replace the crankshaft bearings while I have them out for replacing the piston. Might as well, but again, more money to be spent.
I think the pictures here will speak for themselves.
(Damage to the piston in cylinder #1 on the exhaust side of the piston.)
(Damage to the piston on the opposite side. Check out the little dimples from all the less damaging impacts)
(Dents in the bottom of the head. See those arc like scratches on the valves?)
(More head damage of the “better looking” intake side)
Well, at this point I’m figuring out which parts I need to purchase to get the car back on its feet. I’ll be doing the 120k mile service while I have all of this apart, so that includes a new timing belt, tensioner, water pump, a bunch of gaskets and a few other things. I’m also going to need a new piston, maybe new crankshaft bearings, and possibly a completely new (used) head. I’ll ask around, but I seriously doubt the damage to the head can be repaired without its performance being negatively affected. My guess? I’ll be out 600 bucks when all is said and done. Luckily I have some great resources to help me figure this out, find parts, and to re-assemble everything. I’ll post back once I have all the parts purchased, and then again after everything is rebuilt. Wish me luck!
Today, I was skimming my most commonly frequented automotive forum (www.scionlife.com) and I was reading a thread about my specific paint code and the “cult” of other people with said color. I was looking through some of the modifications of the other guys/girls in the thread and remembered that I had finally gotten around to installing my new Charge Speed seats. Hell yea! I finally have more pictures to update people with, I thought excitedly. Reach for the camera, find out it’s not charged…/sigh…piece of junk sucking all the wind out of my sails. Ok, fine, no biggie, I plug that sucker in and sit down to read for around 15 minutes.
As I’m sitting there waiting for the camera to charge I notice that I’ve missed a call from my landlady. I had called her earlier this morning to tell her that I’ll likely be moving out at the end of the month so seeing the message from her didn’t really make me nervous or anything. “Hi Steve, this is your landlord calling…I just wanted to let you know that someone called me and told me that your passenger side window was broken. Was this something that happened outside the garage?”
Ok, the camera’s charged and I’m ready to go downstairs so I take a little stressed out stroll down to see the carnage. Well there it is… my fucking window has been smashed in. My work laptop is conspicuously missing from the passenger side seat. Funny…my Zune is still sitting in plain site…all my tools are sitting right there too. Weird. Taking a quick look around, no one else has a window smashed in and the garage door that only about 6-7 people have buzzers for is still very closed.
(Charge Speed seats…cool. Smashed window…not so cool)
(The miracle of safety glass. Awesome in a crash…hours of vaccuuming in the case of d-bags)
(Seriously…the Zune is RIGHT THERE. Why not take it too?)
Awesome, the one time I leave my fucking laptop in the car by accident…someone comes into my “secured” garage and smashes the fucking window in. Thanks a fucking lot Seattle. Like I didn’t have enough stress already these past two months. Fuck this city, fuck the scrubs who live in it, and fuck the wastes of human beings who steal shit instead of working hard for it.
– Fuck you Seattle. You’re the worst city I’ve ever lived in.
There is a lot of trash on the internet (this blog included), but somewhere in that big steaming pile of manure there are nuggets of true gold. People who really know what they’re talking about instead of just regurgitating their opinons and anecdotes and calling it a car blog (sound anything like this blog?). It’s these small islands of truth and magnificent justice that keep me searching the internet to hopefully find more and more of them.
(Artists rendition of the Intertubeswebnet)
The long and short of it? This post is all about linking to some of my favorite blog sites. Some are for the information and technical articles, some are laden with amazing pictures and videos, some I just like.
These guys know their shit. The end. They’ve got a great balance of posts too, ranging from full on no-holds barred engine builds to suspension tuning to awesome event coverage. Luckily they’re able to avoid the pitfall that most hardcore blogs fall into and they actually have a sense of humor. Take some time over at their site and let me know how you like it. Prepare for your face to get melted off from all the well explained technical knowledge
This is a great place to get in there and check out some sweet videos or awesome photoshoots of automotive lifestyle. The site has a cool/polished feel to it so you don’t feel like you’re on some lackluster (Mediocre?) blog when you’re watching and digesting all the high quality content they’re serving up.
This has elements of awesome sauce all over it. There’s a healthy dose of real racing experience, new automobile news and test drives, and snarky commentary as well. My personal favorite articles on the site are the Racer-Boy series (by Rob Krider) and pretty much anything from author Jack Baruth. Look for the articles from Zerin Dube for some seriously high quality automotive pornography.
Here’s the uber blog for all things relating to “The cult of cars.” You can find tons and tons of interesting stuff from racing, to new cars, all the way down to some nostalgia. While the site has grown in popularity over the last year and they’ve suffered a little bit of dillution because of it, I still can waste at least 1 hour per day skimming the articles and the comments here.
Ok, so that’s it for now. Take a few minutes and skim those blogs and see if you like any as much as I do. Stay tuned here though for the next “Garbage to Gold” post that I write as it’ll focus more on print media. I’ve got plenty of gripes and love affairs with print media nowadays so be prepared to see some of your favorite magazines get torn to shreds and some magazines you’ve never heard of get elevated to a pedestal.
-Steve is self-deprecating today