Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Last of my Dream Cars. 1994 Cadillac Seville STS

The STS was the first Cadillac since 1977 that car guys could take seriously.

When do dreams die?

There was a time in my life as a young adult when I still lusted after certain cars. I would read all the magazine road tests and my head would swivel like a parrot's when one would pass by on the street. I even did a little daydreaming about them. I was still naive enough that I thought that the ownership of a certain car would make a statement about who I was. My success, and my prospects for a successful future. It would be a sign that I had made it. Maybe.

Now it wasn't just that I was a status conscious person. I was also a very serious Cadillac fan. Of many years standing. I had owned many older models from the '50's and '60's. My previous dream car had  been my 1977 Coupe de Ville. Up to that time, the '77 was the realization of the perfect Cadillac. These were the downsized models that proved that Cadillac's concept of the luxury automobile still had validity. I had purchased a '77 when it was three years old, it was 1980 and I had finally graduated from college.

I drove that car until 1984 when I was working down in southern California. I was now married and my Wife used the car for her daily commuting. She did a good job of it. I had owned the car for four years and though I really hadn't had many problems with it I was making frequent trips back home to the Bay Area. I was new on the job and did not want to have a breakdown, miss work, and call attention to myself. So we ended up buying our first new car, a 1984 Mercury Cougar. A nice car but no Cadillac.


                                            My Wife and I really liked this commercial.

Twelve years later it was 1996 I had been back in the Bay Area for several years. We had owned our current home for seven years and our three kids were still young enough that I wasn't worried about paying for college any time soon. This is a great time in family life, and while not flush with cash, money wasn't as tight as it had been.

While I was still involved with motorcycles, I had gotten the itch for a hobby car. I had bought a couple of older Honda Civics. These were small inexpensive little cars and I did have fun with. On a day off I had been driving my little Honda wagon and had stopped at a used car lot to check out a first gen Prelude as I was getting the yearning for something a bit plusher than that Civic. When I got home I was surprised that my wife had passed by that lot on her way to lunch, and had seen me.

What really surprised me was the question that she asked. "Do you ever feel poor driving that little old Honda?" I couldn't say that I did. I mean it was just an old car, it wasn't like I couldn't afford anything better. Besides I still had my Harley Sportster in the garage. My self image was still tied up in being a Harley rider.

Again my Wife surprised me by telling me that I should look around for a car that I might like.

Of course there were already several cars that were already on my radar.

One was the Mercedes SEC coupe.

photo source:

This is a car that I still find very attractive and would still like to own. I found several examples that were pristine, and were priced less than the Cadillac that I would ultimately buy. I love coupes and this one is just the right size. I always found the immensely fashionable SL a little too cramped.

Another Mercedes was the S class sedan. The 560 SEL was quite the impressive sedan and Mercedes was becoming the status standard. I had been enthralled by the earlier 450 SEL and even more by the 450 SEL 6.9.

What counts is that little badge on the trunk.

I had become infatuated with the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9. Everything  that I had read about it described the performance as incredible. Also incredible was the amount of specialized maintenance and repair that would be required. There was that amazing hydraulic suspension system for one thing. All the articles warned about avoiding one that had important work neglected or came without any kind of service history. I guess I dodged a bullet on this one. I waited many years before I dived into that pool!

I was at a used car lot that specialized in pristine European luxury makes looking at SEC coupes. There happened to be a very nice Jaguar E type coupe parked next to the Mercedes, and it was substantially less expensive. I barely gave it a glance, I mean who would ever take a car like that seriously?

Being an avid reader of Car and Driver magazine I learned that an American competitor to the 6.9 was in the wings.

It came in two flavors, the Eldorado ETC and the Seville STS. Both were powered by the high performance version of the new Northstar motor. Performance exceeded that of the 560 SEL and matched the 6.9. Plus it was a Cadillac!

Although I had always preferred coupes and would have liked to have the Eldorado I also had a family to consider. There was plenty of room in the back of the Eldo, but getting the kids in and out would be easier with the sedan. I promised my young son that "he could have a door of his own." This was the first time that I had ever chosen a four door as my special car. Up to this time I had always considered a sedan as an old man's car. Or even worse, a family car.

This car looked great from either direction.

Very supportive but comfy seating.
This was not your Grand Dad's Caddy!

The interior was spacious front and rear. Those seats were so comfortable and did that leather smell good! The STS was trimmed with real Zembrano wood, gorgeous! The Seville was a very good handler and could cruise at ridiculous speeds. There was plenty of room inside. With a large trunk it was a comfortable and practical family vehicle. The first five or six years of ownership was spent driving everywhere in comfort and style. I felt like we were one of those lucky families portrayed in those old Cadillac advertisements.

This was the engine that replaced the notorious HT 4100.
In 4.5 band 4.5 configurations. It was proven to be a worthy motor.

The '92 Seville had debuted with the 200 hp. 4.9 OHV V8. This was a smooth and reliable powerplant. It was a massive improvement over those awful 4100 engines. I test drove a couple of Sevilles with the 4.9 and they were quite competent.

But the STS came with the Northstar, and almost 50% more horsepower!

It was truly a marvel at the time.

The 4.6 DOHC 16 valve all aluminum V8 was the stuff of dreams. In STS form it produced 295 hp. with an even 300 lbs. ft. of torque. It may not sound like much now, but the Corvette, and the turbo 300ZX had the same output. This car was tested by many automotive mags and it attained 145 mph. on the top end.

I had a custom license plate frame made that read; "Northstar, Make a Wish!"

My car was a low mileage '94 example that had been treated to a set of '96 chromed alloy wheels. This made it look like a brand new car. It made it appear that I was driving a brand new Cadillac.

This caused me some mixed feelings. On one hand I was proud to drive such a prestigious automobile. Then conversely, it made me feel a bit self conscious. Like I was a poser. My Wife thought that after I bought this car that I would be happy, if only things were that simple! I became fixated on keeping the car immaculately clean. I decided that the best thing to do was to keep it in the garage under a cover except for the infrequent times that I chose to drive it. This was how I kept my '71 Rivera so clean. My Wife asked me why I was keeping it in the garage. She was not so sympathetic with my concept of preservation. Especially since we still had several years of payments to make.

So she said, If you're not going to drive it, then I will. So she did.

That put an end to any special feelings that I had towards the car. It was now "just a plain family car."

My poor Wife just couldn't understand my feelings about the car. She thought that my buying the car would satisfy me. But unless I could keep it perfect, and solely under my control, it just didn't do anything for me. It seemed that after it was no longer my sole possession that I lost interest in it.

My Wife has come to the conclusion that there is no "magic" car that can transform the "sturm and drang" of my automotive passions into some kind of placid Eden. I have reluctantly also come to realize this.

To this day, whenever my Wife hears me talking excitedly about some dream car that I would die to own, (which actually still goes on incessantly) she realizes that this is all just talk. For me, there is never just that one special car that would fulfill all my dreams. There is no car that I could own and cherish for the rest of my life.

There has been a lot of complaints lodged against the reliability of Northstar motor. There weren't any complaints about the performance. The acceleration was ferocious. Even at high freeway speeds, flooring the throttle would push you firmly back in your seat while the speedo needle rapidly spun to over 100 mph.

Still not everything was perfect in paradise. There were some actual shortcomings. Primarily blown head gaskets and shallow spark plug threads that blew out. That was not my experience. Although mine went through three starter motors while I had it. Since the starter was located under the intake manifold it was not an easy or cheap repair. Plan on it costing a grand for a replacement. It also developed prodigious oil leaks in it's later life. These could not be cheaply or easily fixed. My mechanic recommended just installing a new or rebuilt motor.

In all honesty it wasn't until the mileage exceeded 100,000 miles that the troubles really started. By that time I didn't think the car was worth fixing, and I sold it at Wheels and Deals for 1,600 dollars. Since then the luster on the hallowed crest of Cadillac has faded like my memories of this car. I just don't aspire to own anything with the Cadillac name anymore.

There was a time though, when I drove in glory.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

It's always something. Isn't it?

photo source:
Life with old cars keeps you on your toes!

Having a lot of old cars means having the potential for multiple problems to occur with multiple applications of bad timing. Keeping on top of this is a lot like playing "wack a mole."

Or, you can say that you are always putting out fires. Whatever trite expression you choose.

Either way it keeps you busy.

My Daughter's car, the '07 Mustang was treated to a set of new tires last year before the Winter rains set in.

It received a new set of Falkens just like the ones that are on my '96 Mustang, along with a wheel alignment.

Now if any of you have adult children living at home, you know that they are constantly in and out. Always going and doing something. So I don't often get a chance to drive their car and learn if there are any problems. Now it's even worse if it is my Daughter's car because she doesn't often notice the problem or communicate it to me clearly. To be honest sometimes I don't listen very closely either!

I was using her car to make  quick run to the store.

I noticed that the steering wheel did not line up. The wheel was not straight up when going straight. It was about five minutes off. She said that she noticed it a while back, but didn't think that it was very important. The car was pulling a bit to side. The front end alignment has a one year warranty so I asked her to make an appointment to take it in and have them take a look at it. Of course that didn't get done. A couple of weeks later she told me that the car was making squeaking sounds when she came to a stop. I pretty much dismissed that observation. Finally she told me that it getting harder to steer and wanted to dart to the side, especially over rough pavement. I decide that I better take a look at the car and discovered this.

Wow, those tires were only five months old.

The left front tire has most of the center tread worn off. The right side had only then inside edge worn down. Wow, this thing must be way out of alignment or have some other problem, maybe a bad wheel bearing.

I raised the car to check the bearings and ball joints. They appeared to be okay.

I took a look underneath to see if I could see anything that was noticeably wrong.

The rusry spot is the amount that the nut had backed off.

The tie rod lock nut had backed off a half inch, I'll bet that the toe in must be way out of specifications!

Luckily the tire store stood behind their alignment warranty, (it was their fault!). They replaced both tires and did another alignment without charging me a cent. Perhaps the damage could have been avoided if it had been caught sooner. My Daughter and I both learned a lesson from this incident. She learned that a lot of things about the car are more important than she thinks, and I learned that I should listen a little more closely.

Now to get that air bag recall appointment scheduled!

My attempt to exorcise the ghost in the Explorer hasn't been very successful. The darn thing still keeps unlocking itself.

I've been trying different locking strategies to see if a different protocol might produce the desired results.

I tried using the key fob. I locked it manually from the driver's door. I locked it using the power switch on the passenger side.

The car taunted me, sometimes it would work properly for days. Then suddenly the gremlins would be back.

This Explorer is a fancy model, even equipped with the famous Ford door lock keypad.

A recent post on Curbside Classics concerning user's experiences with the digital entry system got me to thinking...

This method is kind of redundant now.

I did an online search and found out that the code was printed on a label attached to the module. The module was located under the left side cargo area side panel. It is visible from the jack access panel opening. I did see it, but it was too far up to get a clear glimpse of the code. Even using a dentist's mirror. I ended up loosening up the panel and pulling it out far enough out to get that mirror in to read the sticker.

I spent awhile familiarizing myself with it's operation and re-coding procedures.

This system had obviously been superceded by the rise of the keyless entry keyfob.

Unfortunately it didn't make any improvement. There are a lot of wires that run into that module plug. Disconnecting it could lead to other problems. I might have to disconnect the power to each individual locking motor. That's more work than I want to consider right now, so I disconnect the battery if the Explorer will sit for a day or two.

I've been able to drive the XJS to work occasionally. It's good to keep all the fluids hot and flowing and the parts all moving.

I park in a big flat employee parking lot. Yes, I know that there is always the chance that "something" might happen. It has, actually fairly often. My truck has been "lightly swide swiped" several times. Luckily almost all the damage has been able to be "rubbed out."

Like many workplaces in California there have been solar panel installations that make a suitable substitution for covered parking. I will usually park anything but my truck under there. It keeps the car out of the sun. I have observed that several of my coworkers have quite a bit of trouble parking their little cars in those stalls.

Come on, How hard could it be to park in this stall?
That car bears the signs of numerous skirmishes.

Whenever I park there, I usually check my car for damage before leaving. A quick glance didn't reveal anything, so I was getting inside when I noticed that a note had been passed through the slightly open window.

At first I thought, wow! someone wants to buy my car, I wonder how much they are offering?

They weren't offering anything, they just informed me that they had bumped into my car while parking next to me.

Obviously, I hadn't noticed anything that stood out on first look, before getting in, so I wasn't too concerned.

Luckily the XJS has those rubber cushioned bumper side extensions that run along the quarter panels. The rubber strip was scuffed, with only a small amount of deformation. Hardly noticeable.

The scuffing is the light colored area.
There was no damage to the metal bumper extension ot quarter panel.

This brings up a serious issue. As low buck car guys we are really into our cars. Even if they are not new and usually not in perfect shape. Still, we want to preserve and restore and improve their condition. Especially preserve. Regular folks might not understand why we care so much about them. Why get so worked up over an old car? This especially becomes a problem if we elevate one of our beaters into "diva" status.

I've got no use for, or respect for, folks that beat and neglect their cars. Or those that are thoughtless around other folk's cars.

It is a real dilemma.

We want to enjoy our cars. We want to use our cars. We need to use our cars.

The problem is that our cars are often high in emotional attachment and value, but relatively low in monetary value. If we have a well preserved example we want to keep it that way.

I don't carry conventional full coverage coverage insurance on my old cars because almost any mishap would result in the car being "totalled."

There was a informative volume that I read entitled "The Car Keepers Guide." The entire thrust of this book is that it is cheaper to hold onto, and properly maintain a car over a long period of ownership. The advice was to buy a good car, and keep it. A good car, well kept, can be a source of satisfaction and pride.

It recommended that in considering long term ownership, it is very important to maintain the cosmetic condition of your car. There can be no satisfaction in driving a piece of junk. Their advice was to attend to major body damage immediately. Minor dents, dings, scratches and usual parking lot damage should be addressed after there has been several "events." The paint less dent removal guy can take care of several minor dents in one visit, The body shop can touch up several scuffed areas, and the seats can be repaired also.  These repairs can be completed every three years or so. This is the most economical course. This way your car is generally well maintained, but it is not perfect, and will show some signs of daily use. But you never let your car deteriorate into a heap.

This can require a little readjustment on the owners side. The car will never be perfect, but the owner knows that they will take care of a raft of minor issues on a preset schedule. You've got to take a breath, slow down, and keep everything in perspective. Dents and dings are going to happen. Though it is very irritating when they occur because of another person's thoughtlessness. It does call for a degree of automotive Stoicism.

If you want a show car, that's fine. I can understand that feeling. But then you will end up severely restricting the occasions that you will drive the car. Sometimes that is appropriate, a highly valued, restored or reconditioned vehicle is a major investment. Not only in money, but in time and emotional engagement. It makes a lot of sense to protect the value of your investment. However I made strange observation several years ago.

Many popular, restored vintage cars are still priced well below what is the average new car price.
Older Mustangs are often priced in the mid 20's to mid 30's. (Thousands of dollars). Many times the owners of these cars never drive them in traffic for daily or even occasional use. They just dote on them and display them at shows. That's where the phrase "garage queen" comes from. They are just pampered. The owner will tell you that he wants to protect his investment.

His daily driver may be a forty to fifty K (maybe even lots more)  fancy pick up, SUV or Mercedes or Lexus. And he drives that thing everywhere! The heavy commute, and workplace parking lot. Squeezing into tight parking spots at the mall etc. Drive through fast food dinners, whatever. Why not? It' a car and it's fully insured, right?

Worrying about your hobby car and freaking out about things when they do happen, just adds a lot of unneeded stress. It also takes the all fun out of driving your special car, and makes you a righteous pain to your spouse, family and friends.

The wailing, and the gnashing of the teeth, makes for a very poor ownership experience!

I was upset to learn that my car had been hit in the parking lot. And I had the perfect right to be a bit angry. But the responsible party admitted fault and left their contact information. I spoke to them and they want to make it right. Most importantly though, is that there is very minimal damage. It can be regarded as "normal wear and tear." It could have been a lot worse, but it wasn't.

Ar least this time!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

That's my Dad on the right. This picture with his '38 Ford was taken sometime in the late 1940's.
My Dad was always good at saving a buck, so he had a car when his buddies didn't.

A lot of car guys were lucky to have a Dad that inspired their love of cars.

A Father / Son bond.

Not the actual car but a dead ringer.

The first car that I recall clearly was a brand new '59 Chevy Impala two door hardtop. Black with a red interior. Powerglide with a 283 V8. The side emblem fascinated my young mind. Crossed flags with leaping Impala, was this a racing car? No, but I remember my Dad thinking of racing a train to the crossing, but my Mom put a kibosh on that idea.

My Dad never liked the low seats or the way that back window fried the rear seat upholstery. The Impala was traded in on the '64 Pontiac wagon.

The quality of the detailing was quite impressive.

My Dad didn't grow up in a car owning family. He didn't have any experience fiddling with cars during his youth. He only learned about repairing them due to necessity. My parents had been married a few years and had to take a long trip in their used, early 1950's Ford. At some point the red warning light came on. It could have been for low oil pressure or overheating. He wasn't sure what he should do. Instead of stopping and checking the oil level or allowing the motor to cool off, he pressed on instead. Having an infant with them in the car, probably led to this decision also.

When they finally limped into a gas station the engine was ruined. A used engine was sourced from a local wrecking yard and installed. This resulted in a delay of several days and several hundred dollars. My Dad decided that he would never be at the mercy of his ignorance again. He followed the process that he would do for the rest of his life. He got some books and studied the theory of automotive mechanics and repair. Then he acquired some tools and dove in.

My Father was not really a car guy. When younger, he did enjoy his early new car purchases, but his interest was in providing for his family, and cars just became something to be used as transportation. Buying used cars was a way to save money, buying a new car was a needless expense and a luxury that he didn't need. He was a pretty fair mechanic and he kept his older used cars on the road, like he said, he kept a couple around as spares.

Some of these spares were cars that he must have found interesting. A 1955 Chevy Bel Air sedan. A 1959 El Camino, With the sweetest sounding set of dual pipes ever. A 1960 Dodge Seneca coupe? Equipped with a slant six and a three on the tree, it's grunting exhaust note led me to label it "The Pig." And lots of station wagons.

First he tried his luck with a Corvair Greenbrier Van. The memories of thrown fan belts and a family trip to Mexico are burned into my memory.

The first wagon he bought brand new, was a 1964 Pontiac Tempest. It was white with a bright red vinyl interior. With a 326 V8 and auto it seemed a pretty sporty family hauler.

He went used with a 1960 Chevy two door Suburban, the "hillbilly wagon!" This truck was turquoise and white, quite attractive on the outside but surprisingly Spartan within.

The '64 Pontiac stayed around alongside the Suburban but was later replaced by a '67 Chevy Bel Air wagon. Big and cheap!  This was followed by a used '68 Le Mans wagon.

In between these wagons he decided to try a fancy car, probably with my encouragement. He looked at a couple of early 60's Cadillacs but decided to get the light blue '63 Lincoln Continental sedan.

Ignore the guy with the bad hair cut. The Lincoln is behind him.

Then he finally bought a truck. His last brand new vehicle was a '75 Chevy Stepside pick up, black with a red interior. These trucks were the hot set up at the time.

Not a bad looking little rig.

When my Dad passed away there were two '78 Chevy Malibu Classic wagons in his driveway keeping the Stepside company.

It would make a nice story if I had kept the truck and restored it as a tribute to my Father. It could have become a treasured family heirloom. But I didn't. I never really liked that truck, it was just too uncomfortable to drive, and the bed was too small to be useful as an actual hauler. I didn't want it, my brother didn't want it, so he gave it to a mechanic that he knew.

At least it did better than the two wagons, which ended up at Pick and Pull!

My Father was nothing if not consistent. If he wouldn't spend a lot of money on cars, he certainly wouldn't spend a lot of money on buying fancy tools. Looking in his tool box you wouldn't find any Proto or Mac brand tools in there. There were some Craftsman pieces, but most were auto parts store purchases and flea market finds. Actually many flea market finds.

Still, he was successful in his repair endeavors. I learned a lot by watching my Dad work on the fleet. It wasn't like there was any formalized plan of education. My Dad wasn't the kind of guy to force his kids to help him, he would never put himself in a position where he depended or needed his kid's assistance. A lesson that I took to heart. Sometimes I would just hand him tools until I got bored and wandered off. In the manner of most kids I didn't have that much interest in helping him with his problems.

When I got my own motorcycles and cars then I mostly just wanted to use his tools.

My Father was never a car enthusiast as such. But if I look behind the scenes of my automotive history he was always clearly there.

When I was in grammar school he would take my Brother and I to an empty parking lot and let us drive around it! Just like in that Alan Jackson song "Drive." When this song was released my Dad had been gone for several years but I went straight back to the memory of my Dad letting me drive the '64 Pontiac in the parking lot. This song always hit's me straight in the heart.


                                            Video from YouTube. Drive, for Daddy Gene, Alan Jackson

My Dad was also responsible for me learning to ride my first motorcycle, a '65 Honda 50cc. scrambler. After I was busted by the cops driving around the neighborhood, it seemed like a better idea to find an off street site to practice. We would load the Honda in the back of the '68 Pontiac wagon and go to the parking lot next to the old Alameda drive in. He'd bring a book, usually about electronics repair, and sit in a shady spot, while my Brother and I would ride the bike around the lot. That went on for a couple of years.

He never bought me a car or motorcycle outright, but he did take me and my Brother out bike shopping, looking at bikes we found in the classified ads. He also lent me a buck or two when I needed to get something for my machines. I know that he enjoyed seeing the variety of cars and motorcycles that I brought home.

"I am older now, than my Father was, when he was my Dad." I read that somewhat confusing statement in some car mag, and it took me a while to mull it over, and see the realization that was achieved.

During the early parts of my childhood my Dad was only in his early thirties and forties. When I graduated from high school he was barely fifty years of age! We both started our families in our early thirties, at a slightly older age than many. I now realize that my father probably felt many of the same conflicts and burdens of responsibility;  marriage, family and employment that I have experienced.

I'd always thought that he became a family man because he was trapped by the mores and expectations of a post war America. I was quite surprised when my Mom told me that he was actually very happy that he had three sons. I had never even considered that was possible.

But he wasn't one to complain or whine about things, or at least I never got the feeling that he had any issues with his life.  He was a man like Henry Ford. "Never complain, never explain." My Father was a great guy that taught me some important Life lessons, and set a great example.

We never played catch in the evening. Or went on fishing and camping trips. I never engaged in organized sports, with him cheering me on from the sidelines. I was happy to tag along poking around used car lots, with an occasional trip to the wrecking yard or auto parts store. I did learn to fix things though. Cars and motorcycles. Home repairs, plumbing and electrical work. Building fences and other projects from wood. I have become a fix it man.

My Mother died five years before my Dad. It was during this time that I really got to know him and we got as close as we were going to get. We would talk for hours and hours about a surprisingly wide range of subjects.

My Dad  always maintained a certain reserve between us. He was my Father, not my friend. He knew that the strength of our relationship lay in the Father /Son dynamic. I never considered or wanted to see him as an equal, though he recognized that I was an independent adult.

Raising my own family I tried to be the kind of man that he had been. My children will pass their own judgments on my efforts. I hope that they will be able to cut me a little slack on my deficiencies when they make their assessments.

I've tried to pass on what I could.

I know that I've had some success passing on the car guy gene. My oldest Daughter still likes driving a manual transmission. My Son rides a motorcycle and drives a Porsche Boxster. My youngest daughter seems to like her Mustang. Further generations will complete their own story.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Gilding the Lily.

Photo source: ridelust
The Mack is Back!

The urge to personalize their car seems to strike most car enthusiasts. Some accessories are added to "dress up " the machine and others are added to increase the "visual performance" of the car. Some are even added to improve the actual performance of the vehicle! Either way, the idea is to make the car an expression of the owner's taste, (or lack of!). However it is a lot like seasoning your meal, we all have certain favorite flavors and some of us add just a little sprinkle, while others empty a whole container on our enchiladas.

What seasonings we choose to use are a matter of taste, and of our cultural backgrounds, and the reference groups that we identify with. So it is with our automobiles,

photo source: chevy
Does this guy even identify with the planet Earth?

Some modifications and accessories are added to increase the performance in specific areas; handling, acceleration and top speed. Wide tires, jacked up rear ends, spoilers and hood scoops are common street machine additions that were made back in the 1960's and 70's.

Some are added to make the car look more "Deluxe". ( You're So Fancy!) Spotlights, fender skirts, and jeweled mudflaps were the hot set up in the 1940s.  Theses were replaced by the wide white wall tires, wire spoke hubcaps, chrome Rolls Royce type grill covers, padded carriage roofs, and gold trim packages.

This roof treatment still has it's fans.

I'm not planning to go in that direction with my '96 Mustang.

The pinnacle of the SN95 Mustang series modification is probably best exemplified by the Saleen Speedster.

Cool, but oh so '90's!

I'm planning on a lower key look.

I've always thought that this Mustang had a bit of a weak chin and could benefit from a front spoiler or air dam.  There are plenty of body kits available that include new bumper fascias with a deeper air dam. Using the front bumper alone probably wouldn't blend in too well with the rest of the stock styling.

I think that this is the right look.

This is a replica of the front spoiler used on the 2002 Mach One. It helps define that weak chin, it should reduce drag, and it hopefully won't hang low enough to hit on parking stall stops.

This is the Saleen S-351 rear wing. I like the way that it sits lower and extends about six inches past the end of the decklid. It visually widens, lengthens and lowers the rear of the car. I never really cared for the stock or even the Cobra wing. It seemed too high.

I've always thought that my car always rode pretty rough. Some is just to the nature of the car, after all it does have a performance suspension.

Repop Cobra 17 inchers.

When I bought my Mustang it came with a set of chromed 17'' replica Cobra wheels. They weren't bad looking but I thought that they were probably heavier than the OEM wheel would be. I replaced them with this set of OEM 17'' wheels from a 1999 Mustang. I found that they were almost five pounds lighter and for some reason, I just like them better in silver.

Used in 1999.

Many times we will make modifications to our cars without really knowing whether or not the changes are an actual improvement.

Sometimes it doesn't matter. They are just made to satisfy our need to have different cosmetics. Like that Eldo's half landau top. Would a tiger print be an improvement over a leopard print?  Would it really matter? As long as it compliments the overall design aesthetic!

I would have to say that most performance modifications are done to enhance the visual performance of the vehicle.

Oversized tires require more power to turn, sapping power from a stock motor. The increased traction can lead to a new imbalance between over and under steer, not to mention the increase in unsprung weight. Lowering the car can affect the way that the shock absorbers and springs coordinate, resulting in a reduction in overall handing. Not to mention changes to esoteric concepts like roll center. 

Generally a loss of ground clearance will result in the driver having to excessively slow down to negotiate pavement dips, driveways and rough pavement. Where's the performance increase there?

Those mile high, bi plane type rear wings, It's safe to assume that they wouldn't have any beneficial effect at less than race track speeds. I can imagine that they might however make the car less stable in a side wind situation.

There are ways to quantify the amount of improvements from any modifications of course. But do we really want to know?

Improved aerodynamics should result in lowered drag that should improve fuel economy and increase top speed.

Power modifiers should result in lower ets. at the drag strip.

Chassis and suspension improvements should produce lower times on the track, slalom course or autocross circuit.

Do we really want to know?

So much of this modification is done to personalize our machines. If done to a new car it is differentiate it from the hordes of similar or identical vehicles on the street. 

If done to an older car it is meant to put our stamp on the vehicle's design or our vision of how it should have been done the first time. It also displays the commitment and pride that we take in our older car.

You could of course take your car to a drag strip and compare results. A lower ET would indicate more power, better gearing, increased traction, or just better response from the driver.

Taking your car to a track day event or auto cross could provide feedback on handling improvements.

These evaluation methods will cost both money and time. There is an easy method to evaluate aerodynamic improvements though. It's called the "coast down" method. Start out with a base line run to establish the results prior to modifications.

First you have to find a flat, straight, lightly traveled section of roadway. A lightly used county road will serve best. You need to find one with at least a 50 mph. speed limit. 

Accelerate to a steady 50 mph. Then release the throttle, and simultaneously start the stop watch, and allow your car to coast until it reaches 40 mph. Measure this elapsed time. Do this three times and average the results. If you want to be super accurate do the same thing in the opposite direction to account for wind, etc.

My Daughter bought me an old time stopwatch.

Now, any modifications made that could affect the rolling or wind resistance of your car will be reflected in future results.

If the coast down time required increases, then you have reduced the drag factors. If it is shortened, then you have increased the drag factor. In other words the modifications are now slowing you down.

The use of radial tires should reduce rolling resistance and will increase fuel economy. However wider tires may increase rolling resistance and even aero drag if they are now sticking out into the airstream!

An under bumper, front air dam will usually reduce drag. Many stock, non performance cars in the Seventies sported a small air dam behind the front bumper where it was scarcely noticed. This was later combined with a raised rear deck lid to further improve airflow.

Rear spoilers and decklid wings have always been a more controversial subject. When they were introduced in the late 1960s on the GTO Judge, Mercury Eliminator and Z28 Camaros, there wasn't much proof that they did any good on street driven cars. That would change.

This was a most revealing article.

There was a great article in a 1969 issue of Car Life magazine. The staff did an actual test on the efficacy of these add ons. They employed an instrument measured value for vehicle lift, comparing spoilered and un spoilerd configurations. The results were surprising. This subject is well worth pursuing. I will dedicate a future blog entry, along with a link to this fascinating article.

I think that I have wandered off topic in this discussion of aerodynamics. Maybe I'll save a more detailed  discussion for another time. Obviously, this has been a key design element that the OEM manufacturers have paid a lot of attention to.

1970 Plymouth Superbird
OEM efforts were incorporated in a more subtle manner, at least most of the time!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The case of the haunted Explorer.

image source:

Was it haunted or possessed? My '96 Explorer was a great used car buy, for quite a while. Then it happened.

I would lock the car using the power door lock button as I exited. I would hear all the door locks click. Then I would return overnight, or just a short time later, and find the doors were all unlocked!

How could that be happening? I couldn't be accidentally activating the keyless system since I only had one working fob, and my Wife used that one. I wondered if one of my neighbors had a remote keyless entry device with a similar frequency. Perhaps when they activated their's it would open up my car's locks. But how could that be? My Explorer is a '96 model, all my neighbors drive much newer cars that are only a couple of years old. I couldn't imagine that the frequencies could be that close.

Then I came up with the theory that someone's TV remote might be doing the same thing. But my car was parked in the street at the curb. I was pretty certain that I couldn't control my TV while standing outside the house in the street!

Maybe it's due to being activated by someone's cell phone use. That theory was also flawed, since it had started happening after I'd had the car about a year and cell phones have been everywhere for years.

I'd just got used to the fact that I never knew when I would come back and find the car unlocked, so I just didn't keep any valuables in it. It's an old car so I hope any potential thief would be tempted instead by my neighbor's hybrid and electric cars. I just hoped that I didn't end up finding some homeless guy curled up asleep in the cargo area.

Whenever I drove my other cars I would pass the Explorer cruising slowly by, looking for the tell tale raised door lock button!

I had plans to do something about it, of course. I figured that I could disconnect the door lock motors and then even if the remote "wanted" to unlock the door, it's plan would be foiled. Naturally I hadn't gotten around to it yet. I didn't relish the thought of pulling all those door panels.

It was all kind of weird, like the car had a mind of it's own. There were times when I locked the door and walked away and I could hear the doors unlocking as I crossed the street! I would go back and relock them, and sometimes they would unlock again and sometimes I would return the next morning and find them secure.

It was very disconcerting to think that my car had a mind of it's own!

Were the door locks just the beginning?

Sometimes I could hear the locking/unlocking cycle go on several times, and I would just ignore it.

I did an online search and found that this problem was not uncommon. One guy took his car to the dealer, but of course the problem didn't manifest itself. The dealer told him that he might have activated the keyless system by accident or something in his pocket might have pressed the button. That guy returned another time to the dealer, who again couldn't duplicate the problem. He subtly suggested that the problem might all be in his head!

Luckily they went for a ride together and the dealer saw the locks go into a cycle where they were locking and unlocking themselves.

My problem reached a point where I found that the battery was dead one morning. Now it could just have been sudden, without warning, battery failure. I have noticed that this is now the normal mode of failure. I remember back in the day, that the batteries would go dead when asked to play the radio for a long time with the motor off, or they would start to crank the motor over slowly.

I checked the battery with my multimeter and found that it was dead. I jumped it and ran the car for awhile. I found that the charging system was putting out enough juice. So I parked the car and disconnected the battery cable.

I returned from a ten day vacation and tested the battery when I got back. It still held over twelve volts. When I reconnected the cable the car started fine. I decided that the car must have gone into an extended locking/unlocking cycle that eventually ran the battery down.

I had found a video showing how to replace the keyless remote receiving unit on YouTube. I plan to disconnect the unit and see if that will prevent the system from unlocking the doors. I will have to remove the inner quarter panel cover to access the module, so I deviseded a temporary plan.

I hadn't used one of these in years! 
Much easier than constantly disconnecting the terminal clamp.

I installed a manual battery disconnect knob on the negative terminal. Whenever I park the car for a long period I will pop the hood, lock the power locks, then open the hood and disconnect the battery. Now the car can't unlock itself!

This isn't a bad idea, although I don't expect that my Wife will want to go through this process, but it will help me to cope in the near future until I have some time to fuss with the module. I can also use this period to monitor the health of the battery as in how well is it holding a charge.

Besides I've got three quarters of a tank of gas in the tank I need to use up!