Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice!

Happy winter solstice, everyone. The days start getting longer today.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

4 American Vehicles Worth Owning

I've never been a fan of American cars. Since I've been following the automobile industry---in other words, since not long after I started walking---American cars have been plagued with quality, reliability, performance, value and styling inferior, on average, to their European and especially Japanese competitors. There have always been exceptions, however, and the domestics' future is looking bright, at least for GM and Ford. Chrysler's only hope is to cling to life for the two years or so it will take for the merger with Fiat to pay off. So, in order to cheer up the Big Three faithful, I present four American cars I'd consider buying, if I were in shopping in the appropriate classes.

The 'Vette has long been a standout based on the performance-per-dollar metric, and the sixth-generation C6 continues that trend. It's very primitive in some ways---the pushrod engine with 2 valves per cylinder, most obviously---but very advanced in others. Even the base 'Vette offers pavement-wrinkling torque, exceptional handling, beautiful styling, and respectable fuel economy.

I'd go with the Z06 model unless I had cash to burn, in which case the ZR1 would be the only way to go. Even Jeremy Clarkson says you should buy a ZR1 over the Audi R8 V10, because it's a worse car.

Ford Europe has long offered cars that were superior to the Fords we've gotten in the US, at least from the enthusiast's perspective. The Euro Fiesta and Euro Focus were prime examples of this pattern. The aforementioned Mr Clarkson found the UK-market Fiesta to be the perfect vehicle for...certain activities.

Ford has recently decided to bring some of these European products to this side of the Atlantic, and the 2011 Fiesta, scheduled to arrive in the summer, is the first of those. The front fascia was only slightly uglified on the trip across the pond, and the suspension, though re-tuned, is alleged not to be as noodly as previous American products from the Blue Oval. One recent review indicated that the Euro version of the Focus is a better driver's car than the class-leading and fun-to-drive Honda Fit, though not quite as clever with its use of space. Let's hope the US Fiesta live up to that comparison.

I'd choose the 5-door hatchback, of course, though I'm hoping a Focus ST with about 160 BHP is in the pipeline. Actually, this is the Fiesta I really want. Failing that, I'll take this one.

(By the way, the Fiesta shares a platform with the Mazda2, which is coming Stateside in the summer. Cross your fingers that the Mazdaspeed2 is waiting in the wings.)

The CTS is certainly the standout in Caddy's line-up. The sedan has offered luxury, performance, and space comparable to BMW's 5-series, but at 3-series prices. The high-zoot CTS-V, powered by a detuned version of the supercharged LS-series V8 in the Corvette ZR1, even set the fastest time for a production sedan around the Nurburgring. James May certainly enjoyed his time with the CTS-V , even after bemoaning how it rode like a sports sedan, rather than a "proper," floaty Cadillac.

But wait; there's more. More CTS variants, that is. Caddy just began offering a "sport wagon" version, and a coupe configuration will be on sale in a few months. There is expected to be a -V coupe before the end of the year, but I wouldn't hold out hope for a -V wagon. The coupe is gorgeous, although I suspect rearward visibility will be poor.

Sign me up for the CTS-V coupe.

I had to think for a while to come up with a Chrysler vehicle worth owning. Then I remembered the Wrangler. The original Jeep certainly doesn't make a good road vehicle, but it's ideal for four-wheelin'. In my opinon, the entire Jeep line-up should be trimmed down to the Wrangler---in regular and Unlimited (four-door) forms---and a production version of the Wrangler JT pickup concept. I might even include the Grand Cherokee, assuming it had been refocused from soft-roading to off-roading.

Since the JT isn't for sale, I'd take the base 2-door Wrangler; it has everything you need to hit the trail and nothing you don't, all for 22 grand.

Honorable Mention

This list should not be interpreted as an exhaustive listing of all the worthwhile domestic cars. For example, Chevrolet's Malibu and forthcoming Cruze are reported to be quite good vehicles, and Ford's Fusion, especially the hybrid, may be the best car in it' class. And, speaking of the Blue Oval, the F-150 SVT Raptor certainly offers a unique set of features in stock form.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Epitaph Two. No, Seriously.

It seems that the series finale of Dollhouse is to be called "Epitaph Two: The Return." It will feature Felicia Day and be written (in part) by the duo who penned "Epitaph One." Based on all that information, I can only assume it will show us the same post-imprinting-apocalypse we glimpsed in Season One's finale. My considered opinion on this news is as follows: squee.

In other D'house news, the show returns from its sweeps-induced hiatus this Friday. Two---count 'em---episodes will be broadcast. Be sure to watch them. There will be a quiz.

Bowling Ball

This perfectly cromulent phrase is actually a metaphor, though not one of the Darmok variety. It comes, unsurprisingly, from an episode of The Simpsons. I've used it so consistently, that Alison has adopted it as well.
bowling ball, noun phrase. A gift intended more for the enjoyment of the giver than the recipient.
Example: I often worry that a gift I've choose for Alison will turn be a bowling ball, since I'm so interested in or excited about it, but not one has turned out to be.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

That's not a wheel. THAT'S a wheel.

When I bought Emma, my 1995 Miata, she came with numerous performance parts. Since my plan was---and is---to make her my dedicated track/autocross/time-trial* car, this collection of parts was the primary reason I bought this particular '94-'95 Mx-5**.

One of these parts was a very nice Momo Team steering wheel. Unfortunately, at 300 mm in diameter, this wheel is laughably small. When Alison drove the car, she said she felt like she was driving a Cozy Coupe, but with enormously higher steering effort.*** the previous owner was a taller guy, and I think he needed the extra clearance for his knees and thighs, especially when sliding into the race buckets. Aside from the required steering force and the sheer silliness, there was another drawback to this size wheel. I was unable to see my oil-pressure gauge (sic) or the tops of my tachometer and speedometer. Observe:

I needed a new wheel, clearly. But what size? After poking around on,, and the Chesapeake Area Roadsters forum, I settled on 350 mm and ordered a Momo Mod 78 in that size from an online retailer for a price well below MSRP. As you can see, gauge visibility was dramatically improved:

Steering effort was reduced, as well. It's now a little heavy at anything under about 5 mph, but at any faster speed, it's just about perfect. As a result, the car feels much lighter and more nimble, even though the vehicle itself is unchanged. This wheel comes with a suede cover, which I thought would give me extra grip. I was correct about that, but suede has another benefit: it just feels very nice.

The Mod 78 has an "anatomic" grip, which appears to mean that the rim is deeper than it is wide. It's fine when my hands are at 9 and 3 o'clock, which is where they spend 90% of their time, but at other positions, it's simply uncomfortable. If I had to make the purchase over again, I might go with the Mod 69, which is the non-anatomic version of the wheel.

Here's one more photo for you. It's a pic of the stock wheel (about 370 mm), the new Momo Mod 78, and the old Momo Team. The difference in diameter is readily apparent, but what you can't see is the weight difference. The two aftermarket parts have similar mass (about 7.5 pounds), but the stock wheel is probably around 15 pounds, due mostly to the airbag.

* Someday.
** I was looking specifically for a 1994 or 1995 Miata, for reasons I'll explain later.
*** Emma was built with power steering, but the steering rack has been depowered. This modification results in much more precise steering feel, but at the cost of higher required force, especially since the power rack has a quicker ratio than the manual rack that was available on the NA Miatas.

A Few of My Favorites

Alison, Newton, Mia. These are a few of my favorite things.

PR: Joshie

It's been months since I posted a CrossFit personal record on the blog. While I've had a few since then---I just never made the time to post them---I feel like my workouts have been subpar for quite some time. Thus, I'm quite please to report that I recorded a PR for Joshie on Sunday: 37:58. That's not a spectacular time, but it's an improvement of about 30 seconds. So, yay me, I guess.

Girlin' it Up in the Garage

Tonight, I performed some maintenance---manly, according to conventional gender roles---on my track car---double manly---while wearing Alison's slippers---girlie. I can't decide if my transvestite auto maintenance* should count as masculine, feminine, or simply strange.

* The floor in our garage has been quite cold lately, so I needed footwear. Alison's slippers** were conveniently placed, and I only planned to be out there for a few minutes.

** These are the slippers that Newton seems think combine all that's good about socks with all that's good about leather. Mmm.

One of These Things

I've recently been listening to a few songs repeatedly, and I thought I should share them with you, gentle reader.
  • Melanie C, "Beautiful Intentions." Even though I've learned Mel C's identity and background since I last mentioned her, I still enjoy several of her songs. Really.
  • Luka Bloom, "The Acoustic Motorbike." This is my favorite song about cycling.
  • Snow Patrol, "Open Your Eyes." I discovered this song watching a video compilation of Spec Miata footage, and I used the Shazam app to find it.
  • Alexi Murdoch, "Breathe." I found this one while watching an episode of Stargate Universe. Again, Shazam to the rescue.
  • Anna Nalick, "Breathe (2 AM)." I discovered this piece while searching for the other "Breathe" in this list. It's funny how things work out sometimes.
  • American Hi-Fi, "The Art of Losing." I stumbled onto this track while wacthing a video compilation of World Rally Championship jumps. More Shazam-ing ensued.
  • Muse, "Uprising." Yes, I admit it: this song is very popular on the radio right now. Plus, it is---or was recently---being used to promote ABC's remake of V.
  • Tapping the Vein, "Complicate It." This is a recently released song from a band I've been listening to for a while.
Sharp-eared readers will note that only one of these songs is about a woman planning a murder. The rest of the songs are at least a bit outside my strike zone, as Nick calls it. I think I'm growing as a person.