Too often we find ourselves talking about the small details and comparing “the numbers” or basic formula of how a car “should” be set up to be awesome. Sometimes we lose sight of what it really means to be awesome rather than achieving what it should mean to be awesome. Numbers on paper are all fine and good, but what it all really boils down to is how fun the car is when you’re driving it.
(If I could still fit in this, I bet it’d be the most fun car…ever)
I’ve been skimming around and trying to decide on a second project car so that I can eventually turn my tC into a race-only car and have a fun daily driver. This searching has brought me across the RX7/8 LSx conversion. Basically you take out the existing rotary engine (which probably has a broken apex seal by now anyway….zing!) and put a V8 motor in its place. While I can practically hear rotary fans gurgling with barely contained rage about breaking the ‘purity’ of having a Wankel in the engine bay I’m not too worried about it. The swap has been well received by those who are open to having a better motor in an excellent chassis and it’s a relatively cheap and effective swap.
(Wait a minute…that’s not a rotary!)
When discussing this Alex and I got into discussing the handling characteristics of how the change would affect the chassis. In the conversation we got into the ever-present debate about achieving the holy grail of weight distribution and attempting to maintain the car’s 50/50 balance. My argument here is about looking at the big picture though, and while we were bickering back and forth about the impact of the slight weight increase of the V8 we lost sight of the bigger picture.
(The big picture is that you might get to do something this rad some day)
My main point is: Who cares what the numbers say? If the weight distribution changes to 48/52, but the car gains +150 horsepower, a much more enjoyable/usable torque curve, and is really fun to drive…who cares if you lost the 50/50 distribution. Will you have a minor impact to handling? Possibly, but you’re going to be out driving that car all the time and if you do end up bringing it to the limit and you start to get a little understeer, use the new-born torque to kick the back around a little more. Problem solved.
(See, this guy knows what I’m talking about)
In the end it’s all up to preference and what you want. If you want to build (or buy) a car based on the numbers so that you can quote them out to people at a car meet, by all means you should do it. I personally like to get into a car and actually drive it to figure out if I want to keep driving it. Which do you prefer?
– Steve loves unpopular engine swaps
You’d think I was a god damn psychic… or just really, really unlucky. I recently made a post about the differences I’ve observed from owning a nearly-20-year-old car and a brand new one. Not even a week later, the age of the VR-4 hit me right as I was settling into everything being stable.
I have my psychic moments, just like Miss Cleo. When this moment came around, my face looked about the same, minus the skin tone… and fake accent.
Not long ago, I decided to get a set of cheaper used tires to put on my OEM wheels for winter use. I wanted something pretty good on wet roads and snow, but I didn’t want to spend too much money. I ended up buying a set of Kumho Ecsta ASX tires with 7/32″ tread (about 60% life) left. At only 200 bucks, I was pretty happy with the purchase. Anything would be better than the Hercules brand tires I had on there, especially considering they only had 3/32″ tread left. I brought the tires to my man Byron at Tru-Line in Bellevue to be mounted. Everything seemed to go well and the tires were already feeling tons better than the ones the previous owner put on the car. But just as I was letting my guard down on the whole tire situation, tragedy struck.
Kumho Ecsta ASX ultra high performance all-season tires are now installed on the VR-4. Not the best, but they’ll do for my cheap winter wheels.
I was going to take a drive with my son, so I got him all loaded up. That’s more difficult than it sounds – you try putting a car seat into the back of an early ’90s 2-by-2 sports car with no LATCH system or automatically locking seat belts. By the time we were all saddled up, I had broken a sweat from struggling with the car seat and toating around my impatient son and his stuff. Finally, though, we were off. Or… maybe not. Five feet out of my garage, I got out of the car because something didn’t feel right. That’s when I noticed this.
Flat tire. Waah waah. (That sound is harder to portray with text than I thought it would be.)
One of the new tires was totally flat. Byron had warned me that he wasn’t sure if the bead on one of the wheels would hold, but I was really hoping it was something simple like a nail in the tire. The next day I took it back to Tru-Line and Byron confirmed that it was, indeed, the bead. He smoothed it out some more, but the amount of corrosion there was causing a problem he felt likely couldn’t be fixed. And he’s right. After three days, that tire lost 8 pounds of pressure.
So now, instead of actually enjoying my car, I’m stuck trying to fix yet another age-related problem. This is a $100 that I really did not anticipate having to spend. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right. Anyone want to trade an RX-8 for a 3000GT VR-4?
~ Alex “at least Redhook Eisbock 28 makes me happy” Gregorio
As you should know by now, I work on and drive a car that’s fairly close to my own age. Being a 1992 model year car, it’s staring to get a bit long in the teeth. It’s still a rocket of a car and I love the hell out of it, but there are definitely pros and cons with owning a car this old compared to a newer one like Steve’s 2008 Scion tC or the 2005 Mazda RX-8 that I used to have.
Mazda RX-8: I still miss this car… a lot. One day I’ll buy another one and turbo the hell out of it.
There are several major factors to consider if you’re in the market for an older used car:
Previous owner(s). When a car gets this old it’s rare to find single-owner instances of them. My particular 3000GT VR-4 was owned by two others previously and, although I feel that both of them took pretty good care of the car, it’s still a complete mystery what really took place under their ownership. Did they regularly change the oil and filter? Did they live in an area that salts the roads every winter, causing significant rust and corrosion to the car’s underbelly? Did they drive it like madmen every chance they got? You never really know for sure unless there are detailed records, and even then you’ll never have a record of how the car was driven.
Sheer age. Although my VR-4 only has 110,000 miles on it, there are still lots of problems that had less to do with the previous owners and more to do with the natural aging of the materials in the car. For example, I recenly blew a rubber clutch line while on the highway. It just cracked, causing all the fluid to spill out and I lost the ability to shift gears. While it’s a perfectly valid argument that the previous owners should have caught this since recommended maintenance plans include both mileage and age, you will still hit problems like these far less in a newer car. Plus – and this goes back to the previous point – you can only know for sure if something is done right if you do it yourself. So the more scheduled maintenance that happens under your care, the better. Thus, buying a car earlier in its lifetime is generally preferable.
This lady may have owned your car before you. How do you think she did when she tried topping off the oil?
Price: Of course, a big part of the reason for my purchase of an older car was the price. I spent less than 7 grand on it, and this is a car that was over $35,000 brand new in 1992. Whereas, with the RX-8, I was the original owner and spend over 30 grand on it to have the privilege of rolling it off the lot with 3 miles on the odometer. In fact, the only reason I had to get rid of that beauty was that it was costing me too much between monthly payments, insurance, and gas expenses. If you’re in the market for a car to get your blood flowing, obviously price is going to be a big factor. But you also need to consider what you plan on doing with it. I was afraid to modify the RX-8 because I didn’t want to void my warranty or do anything harmful to it. After spending so much money, can you blame me? It’s only crazy bitches like Steve who prefer to play with that kind of fire. On the other hand, I look forward to a long line of performance upgrades to the VR-4. If I blow it up I’m only out four digits worth of money – a much easier pill to swallow. Plus, what warranty? I don’t have that burden to worry about, either.
Maintenance: Besides planning upgrades you also need to consider how much regular maintenance and just plain old “fixing shit” you want to be doing. Look at Steve’s work vs. mine. In the year that I’ve owned the VR-4, I’ve had to fix a couple of broken panels in the interior, replace the shifter and e-brake boots, replace the shitty stereo the previous owners installed, cut out the very poorly-installed aftermarket alarm system, replace multiple lamps, rebuild the brake calipers, replace the entire exhaust (out of necessity, not for performance gains), replace several broken or stripped bolts throughout the car, replace all the fluids (because who knows what was in there before or how old it was), and replace a clutch line along with the slave cylinder. I have yet to replace the motor mounts (the stock ones are shot), replace the brake lines from fear of losing those like I did the clutch line, and replace a couple of the gauge clusters in the interior because their internal bulbs have burned out. And let’s not forget that I still want to replace the poor condition factory wheels and fix several dings in the paint. These are not things that I want to do… they’re things I have to do. Steve, on the other hand, has done virtually all performance upgrades. With his car being so new, he doesn’t have to deal with the effects of previous owners or age.
A momento to Steve and my boneheaded play of dropping a washer into the exposed intake manifold of the VR-4 last year. The real problem wasn’t previous owners or age… it was us.
If I end up destroying the VR-4 worse than Steve and I did last year with the washer-in-the-engine debacle, I’ll probably shoot for a middle ground of age vs. price. Perhaps a car 5 years old or so. Assuming the previous owner(s) are a respectable bunch, that should net a good balance of low maintenance overhead vs. not spending so much money on purchasing the car.
– Alex “Uh, did you hear something drop?” Gregorio