Thursday, January 22, 2009

Project Miata update #2

Suspension parts are ordered. Those of you who know Miatas have certainly heard of Flyin Miata. They are one of the top Miata specialists in the country. Their business consists of manufacturing and selling all kinds of parts to make Miatas go fast and handle great. So it's no surprise that I've looked to them to supply my suspension setup. I've ordered their Stage 1 suspension kit which consists of lowering springs of their own design along with some Tokico Illumina adjustable shocks. Everything I've heard about this suspension says that it is a great street/occasional track setup.

I didn't stop there though. I also ordered a set of mounts and bumpstops from another Miata suspension specialist, Fat Cat Motorsports. I ordered their custom mount and bumpstop kit for the Tokico shocks. This kit uses second generation(NB) Miata shock mounts modified to fit the first generation(NA) cars. This allows for more suspension travel and better ride when lowered.

Hopefully, I'll be getting all these parts over the next couple of weeks and I'll get them installed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 2009 Dream Car of the Month - TVR Sagaris

When I think of small, independent British motor car companies, I can't help but think of TVR. Over the years they have made some of the most outrageous and beautiful cars I've ever seen. The company was started in 1947 as TVR Engineering with the TVR coming from the first name of the company founder, Trevor Wilkinson. At first he started out repairing cars but he soon moved to design and manufacturing of cars of his own. Along with partner, Jack Picard, they designed and build various different models throughout the 50's into the 60's. By 1965, the original founders, Wilkinson and Picard, had left the business and the company then changed hands a few times over the next 30 years.

The 1980's saw the company owned by Peter Wheeler who was the most influential owner the company had seen since it's founder had left. Under Wheeler, the company moved to the Rover V8 and then finally to an all aluminum V8 of their own design called the AJP8. Under his management the company produced some of their most well known models culminating in the outrageous Sagaris.

TVRs from the Wheeler era have become well known for their wild nature. The Sagaris is no exception. They are described as being very challenging to drive to the point of being dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced driver. High power and light weight mixed with a lack of any driver safety nets make TVRs the hairy chested beasts they are. TVRs were imported to the US in the 1980s with the 280 model but there has been nothing from TVR here since then. Being such a small company it did not make sense to attempt to meet the all the safety and emissions regulations here in the states. Too bad for us.

The Sagaris debuted in 2003 and was based on the beautiful T350. It was powered by the now famous TVR Speed-Six engine which is a straight 6 cylinder derivative of the AJP8 V8. In the Sagaris, the 4.0L Speed-Six engine produces 380HP/349TQ without the help of any type of forced induction. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 5 speed manual transmission and the car makes due without anti-lock brakes, air bags, or traction control. The aluminum and fiberglass construction of the car help keep the weight down at 2,371 lbs allowing for a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 190MPH.

The Sagaris was initially designed as a track car that could be driven on the street. The car features various vents and aero additions meant to help on the track. The vents on the fenders of the car were originally open to alloy cooling and as a place where high pressure air could escape from under the front of the car during high speed runs. TVR ran into a problem while testing though when they discovered that these vents allowed mud and other debris to be kicked up from the tires onto the windshield. Therefore they were closed. The car still is quite striking though. Some would say not in a good way either. Design characteristics like the clear plastic rear spoiler and the sideways exhaust certainly make the car unique looking.

TVR began to run into problems in 2004 when the company was sold to 24 year old Nicolay Smolensky, the son of a very wealthy Russian businessman. His original intent was to keep the company as a British institution but with demand waning he announced in 2006 that some production would move to Italy with only engine manufacturing remaining in England. By the end of 2006 TVR had been broken up into several smaller companies and some of those went into the British equivalent of bankruptcy. Then in 2007 Smolensky had re-acquired the company and announced plans to sell it to a group of investors who had plans to revive the company and even begin importing into the US. This sale apparently never happened and Smolensky stated in October 2007 that he hoped to restart production with a target of 2,000 cars annually. In July 2008, the Sagaris was relaunched as the Sagaris 2.

Who knows what the future holds for TVR. Hopefully, this great company that has lasted for over 60 years will continue to produce the stunning and outrageous cars they have come to be known for.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Project Miata update #1

Time for a new suspension. I wasn't quite expecting to have to do anything to the suspension on this car since it came with a set of Koni Sport shocks and Ground Control coilovers already installed. I thought I was set on that front. Well, I was wrong. After driving the car around a few times I noticed that the suspension was bottoming out over larger dips. It is well know that Miatas, especially first generation models, have limited suspension travel at stock height which only gets worse when you lower the car. Mine however, is not very low so I decided to investigate.

Changing bumpstops is a common upgrade on Miatas to soften up some crashing suspension bottoming out. Miatas rely on their bumpstops more than most cars as they are designed as a supplement to the springs due to the limited suspension travel. I figured maybe I needed to step up to some better progressive bumpstops so that was my first area of investigation. Unfortunately for me, I discovered that there were no bumpstops at all. Bad news which only got worse.

While is was under there looking, I also noticed that the Ground Control coilovers were not installed correctly. After searching around on the net and miata forums, I found out how they should be installed and set out to disassemble the suspension in an attempt to determine if I could re-assemble everything correctly. Sadly, that is out of the question. The reason the Ground Control coilovers were installed wrong was because they were missing some parts. There is supposed to be a metal collar within the threaded Ground Control sleeve which sits on the c-clip that normally supports the lower spring perch on the Konis. Well that was not there which explains why the coilover sleeves were installed with the Koni spring perch still in place. The Koni shocks were also not in the greatest shape so I assume that this was a budget suspension install cobbled together from some used parts. Mostly, it's garbage and unsafe.

So, because of this, most of my Saturday was spent ripping out the front suspension. After using close to an entire can of PB Blaster and a big breaker bar I was able to get everything out in a few hours using this method where you disconnect the spindle from the lower control arm via a tongue that inserts into the lower control arm. This allows you to remove everything without having to worry about separating ball joints. There is also the long bolt method that also allows removal without disconnecting ball joints. I didn't use the long bolt method because I didn't happen to have a 21mm socket but both seem to work equally well.

So that's where it sits now. The car is on jack stands in the garage waiting for me to decide what suspension setup to get. Prices for good setups range from around $600 to about $1000 depending on what you want. I'll make my decision in the next couple of days and get to work on it. My only consolation is that it has snowed here in NJ the last two weekends so I wouldn't have been able to drive the car anyway. I just want to get it done in time for the warm weather. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Detroit Auto Show

I've been checking out some coverage of this year's Detroit Auto Show and I figured I'd highlight some of the cars that have caught my attention so far. Even though the economy has been taking a toll on the automotive industry, there are still some exciting cars to check out.

Audi R8 V10 5.2 FSI

Audi officially took the wraps off of the production version of the V10 R8. With 525HP/391TQ the R8 V10 can rocket to 60 in 3.9 seconds on it's way to a top speed close to 200MPH. Some cosmetic enhancements distinguish the V10 model from the standard R8.

Mercedes McLaren SLR Stirling Moss Edition

There will only be 75 of these built with a price tag of over $1million. They will only be offered to current SLR owners and will feature a 650HP 5.5L supercharged V8 capable of sending the car to a top speed of 217MPH. That should be lots of fun with no windshield. I bet a bug to the face would hurt at over 200MPH. Bring a helmet.

Volkswagen Concept Blue Sport

VW's diesel sportscar concept, the Blue Sport, looks like it has potential. Powered by a mid mounted 2.0L turbodiesel with 180HP/260TQ it should get to 60 in about 6 seconds while returning 35MPG. There is also an "Eco" mode that supposedly will achieve over 60MPG. Certainly won't be a high revving beast but should be fun none the less.

Cadillac Converj Concept

What do you get when you mix the design of a Cadillac CTS Coupe with the drivetrain of a Chevy Volt? You get the Cadillac Converj. It has the same 40 mile electricity only range until the gas engine kicks in to supplement the batteries and all that junk. I can't concentrate on the specs though. Just look at it, it's gorgeous.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More bad news from Honda

The poor economy continues to take it's toll on the automotive industry leaving no one untouched. If you thought this was only affecting the US car companies, you are seriously mistaken. Honda recently announced their withdrawal from Formula 1 racing as well as AMA motorcycle racing. On the production side, they also announced the cancellation of the NSX replacement supercar. Now, there is word that Honda is also putting the brakes on a few new programs. Honda had been working on a V8 engine for their flagship Acura models as well as a rear wheel drive platform, both of which are said to be dead. There is also info on the web that this will be the last year for Honda's wonderful S2000 sportscar and that a replacement has been scrapped.

As stated in their end of year press release, Honda will be concentrating on smaller more fuel efficient cars along with alternative fuels/hybrids.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New year - new car

Happy new year. Well, after many years of complaining to my wife that even though I love cars, I've never owned one that I really wanted, I now have one that I set out to buy because I wanted it. Usually practicality or finances won out in the decision process involved in buying a car but not this time. This car was bought to be a weekend toy I can tinker with and have some fun. It isn't needed for daily driving or family duties just pure enjoyment.

What is it, you ask? It's a very nicely maintained 1994 Mazda Miata. It's anything but practical but it will be a lot of fun. First off, no I'm not gay. Anyone who thinks that the Miata is a hairdresser's car is severely misinformed and has never driven one. Not only are Miata's one of the most affordable rear wheel drive sports cars available but they are well balanced, easy to maintain, incredibly reliable and a hell of a lot of fun. They dominate autocross classes and even have their own race series in both SCCA and NASA.

My particular example has over 136,000 miles and still runs like new. The body is good and the interior and top are in great shape. My plans are to make it into a capable weekend driver with some autocross and maybe track events sprinkled in. There are tons of aftermarket parts available for the Miata so it shouldn't be very hard to make it into a nice little package. Check back for more on my project Miata.