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Musings from the left seat

They say you can’t go home again.

Thomas Wolfe wrote that as you go out to make your mark in this world, going back home seems different. Feels different. Shit. It is different. See, you have changed. And it could very well be that the home you remembered changed to. Sometimes, it’s just hard to tell. More often it’s glaring, slapping you in the face with a cold open handed smack. Or in your mind’s eye, it is still that perfect place, exactly how you left it. Where you left it, when you left it behind. But somewhere along the way you and home travelled down divergent paths, never to exactly merge again, no matter how hard you may try.

Life is funny like that. Like the time you ate at a local restaurant and ordered the crispy fried duck wings in chili sauce. Turns out they almost burned the batch by accident, but served them anyway. You took that first bite and it was perfect. Perfect crunch, perfect texture, perfect taste. And you go back to that same restaurant and order that same thing again and again, even asking them to cook them crispy well done. But they never, ever get it right. No, you can’t go home again.

 

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With cars it’s kind of like that too. You keep on looking for that one car over and over. Wanting to relive that perfect moment when you twisted the key for the first time and heard the mid-mounted flat-six motor roar to life. But then you went down a divergent path and sold it. Over time, nostalgia creeps in and you find that you’re longing for it. Beating yourself up for selling it. Then plotting to buy another one to rekindle that lost love. The next one and the one after may be newer, more powerful, have better options, but it will never be the same. It will never be that combination of Arctic Silver and Boxster Red leather interior. No, you can’t go home again.

I am on my forth Boxster. Well fifth actually if you count the Cayman S. I love the new one. Well new to me anyway. It is just a couple of options away from being perfect. But fear not, I will manage, I will solider on. Still that love affair with my first Boxster persists. I remember opening the two garage doors simultaneously and seeing the Boxster sitting side by side with my 930 Turbo Carrera. The Turbo - low and squat and menacing. The Boxster – tightly curved flanks recalling the early glory years of Porsche’s racing past. Wow, did they look good sitting together in the garage. My garage. Had to sell them both. Our paths diverged. No, you can’t go home again.

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But damn, the new Speed Yellow Boxster S sitting right now in my garage is sure making a good case for it.

 

And on that exhaust note -

The Track Cars - One and done, the 930 aka Bad Boy

I had been in Porsche purgatory for several years. This is otherwise known as being Porsche-less. The last decent Porsche I’d owned was a 1987 Porsche 944S 16 Ventiler (or 16 valve). But by now it was long gone and a litany of not so great, uninspiring cars had followed. Finally, in 2001 I was able to pull together enough hard earned scratch to buy a (new to me) Porsche.

I looked into getting a Boxster, a 944 Turbo, a 968 and even an older 911, but so far nothing had made me get out my check book and write a number on an actual signed check. All great cars, but I kind of wanted something different, something special, so I kept on searching. Then one day – looking through some just published online listings in the Dallas Morning News something caught my eye. No, not just caught my eye, it jumped right off the screen and seared itself into the very core of my deeply automotive attuned brain.

A 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo Carrera.

Let me say this one more time, just to let it sink in. A 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo Carrera.

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The dream car of my youth. Hell, not just my youth, this lightning bolt of an automotive icon was still a dream car in my adult years. Holy Mother of Autobahn, a real Porsche 930, in my price range and only about fifteen minutes away. I could not drive fast enough to go see it, heart pounding, willing the lights to stay green, worried it would be snatched out from under me.

Met the owner, a very pleasant guy who was buying a new 911 Turbo and his wife would not let him have two. What?! Then he opened the garage door. And I saw it for the first time. There is sat, against a black and white checkered garage floor, a 930 Turbo Carrera. My heart skipped a beat. It may have skipped 6 beats, one for every one of its 6 horizontally opposed turbo charged cylinders. I was thunderstruck and doomed all in a 360° rotation of the crank shaft (basically a tiny fraction of a second). If the car was good and this guy says it was, then I had to have it.

I did not have to do a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI), turns out we used the same mechanic and I took the car right over to the shop and spoke with the service manager, whom I knew very well and knew to be a very straight shooter. He said simply, it was the best old Turbo they had even serviced. It needed nothing. The check book in my back pocket started calling my name, saying “write the check”, “write the check”. Whipped out the check book and pen in hand bought the car of my dreams. Hell yeah!

The car was awesome, flawless Grand Prix White paint with black leather interior. It had that low and menacing look with steel fenders flares punched out to curvaceous proportions over polished Fuchs wheels and that beautiful turbo whale tail perched above the rear engine hatch, announcing – I am special. But it also scared me pretty much every time I drove it. It had a nasty reputation, called the Widow Maker, it needed to be tamed or really, you need to learn how to drive it. The main reason? If the massive Turbo boost kicked in mid corner and you were not prepared or were expecting it, the car would swap ends. Sometime with disastrous results. Hell the US Government tried to sue Porsche over how dangerous the car was. I needed to learn how to drive this amazing car and stop obsessing over the whole swapping ends thing.

Looking through the regional Porsche Club magazine, I saw an ad for something called a DE or Drivers Education. Hmmm, high speed on-track instruction, with an instructor who most likely had done thousands upon thousands of laps, what was not to like? I signed up, paid my fee and started getting me and the car ready. Day of the event, of course I arrived early, before dawn, maybe I was a bit over anxious. I brought every tool I owned, along with jack and jack stands, air tank, chair, umbrella, a case of water, 6 changes of clothing (just kidding), pretty much the kitchen sink, or everything I could think of. I might have over packed.

 

My instructor was a very nice British chap. He was a national BMW champion in some such series or another and he took me and my old car under his wing for the weekend. You know, it’s funny, I have done close to one hundred events over the years but that first one is a bit of a hazy fog. Sure I remember driving the car, slowly learning how to get more out of it. Slowly learning to get over my fear and slowly learning my way around the race track – the ideal line, where to brake, turn in, hit the apex, track out and accelerate away to the next corner. But it’s been seventeen years and a lot of events in between. I know I have stated that history looks 20/20 as it recedes in the rearview mirror. But sometimes you just see the back seats too.

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Obviously I liked it enough to want to keep going, the track bug had bitten me. That weekend was the start of an adventure of doing track events that is still going on seventeen years later. But not in the 930. As original as it was, it was not a track car. It was a car meant for cruising down the road at a very, very fast pace, an unbelievable exhaust note loudly shouting its turbo charged fury at the world and winning several concourse awards along the way. It was a car that elicited oohs and ahhs from everyone that saw it. It had a track career of exactly one event and since I was a newb, I did not drive it all that fast anyway. Yep, one and done. But what a great track car!

On that exhaust note…

The Track Cars - The Miata Experiment part 2

Well when we last heard about my Miata, it had puked all its oil all over the track and for all appearances the motor was toast. On my whole 5-laps, although I did run the race line, the amount of oil leaked on the track was not enough for other cars to spin. Thank goodness! You hate being that guy. The guy that puts enough oil on the track that other cars, driving really fast spin out of control. I was lucky, the oil the motor put down was not enough to cause any delays or spins. At least I have that!

Now it was time for the post mortem. I spoke with the shop that did the work and we hoped that it was a minor melt down. Maybe just the top end of the motor. So a few weeks later, I hauled the car over to the shop and turned them loose. At first we thought the budget for a minor rebuild would be about $5K. I prepared my wife for that budget. Although not exactly happy; she reminded me that every time my race car broke, it meant that we could not buy a new professional oven for our kitchen or any new furniture. Yep in the dog house once again. Maybe I should move in permanently. Just call me Bad Dog.

The shop dug in, the calls got more and more serious. Finally the prognosis came in. It had been a complete engine failure and the whole motor needed to be replaced. Now keep in mind that this is not a JDM motor. Meaning that you just buy a stock replacement motor and stick it under the hood. NO…this one is special. Forged everything – crank, rods, pistons, block, head, all the parts that make up the motor are custom. That also meant that the bill started creeping upwards. Well not actually creeping, more like sprinting.

Then we really got serious. Since this had devolved into a pure track car (although barely street legal), we decided to really increase the power. To do that, it meant that a special engine management system had to be installed. Called MegaSquirt, it allows the motor to be tuned to really high levels. When combined with the large supercharger, MegaSquirt can help the motor make more than 350HP. That is a lot of Horse Power, especially for a car that weighs about 2400 lbs. We decided to dial the engine back to about 325HP / 275 HP at the rear wheels so that the motor would last for another hundreds to thousands of hours.

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The bill came due. I got a break on the work since I am friends with owner and it probably should have cost north of $9-10K. I paid a little over $8K. I was not in the dog house, I was in the dog basement. No, maybe more like sleeping in the yard with no dog house roof over my head, with just a thin cheap tarp. In the cold and rain. My wife laid down the law. The car had to go.

So the bright red 1999 Miata, aka the Beast is for sale and the new owner of this car will get truly a monster of a track weapon. It has enough power to run with the big boys like C7 Corvettes, GT3 and GT4 Porsches. Yep, in the right hands this car can embarrass a lot of much more power and much more expensive cars. Priced at just $15K, it’s a deal.

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I hope to be back in a track car some day. But I have to dig my way out of the dog house and be a good boy for a while.

Wish me luck! Oh and will someone please buy the Beast? You will be very happy with an amazing track Beast.

On and there is a link to learn all about this car above in the menu. Just click!

And on that exhaust note…

The Track Cars - The Miata experiment

Hmmm, what kind of track car do I want to drive? Well which way is the wind blowing? When it comes to track cars, that wind has been ever changing and sometimes it blows really hard. Let’s see – two 944 Turbo’s, a 968, a Cayman S, two Boxster S’s, a Mini GP and a couple of Miata’s. You may notice that it has been pretty much biased towards Porsches. Wow, that is eight track cars over seventeen years of track events. Until now, I never counted them up. Some have been dual purpose cars meaning that they have been daily drivers as well as track warriors. And some have been dedicated track cars that only drive on the road to and from an event or have been transported to the track via truck and trailer. And over the years I have learned some valuable lessons about dedicated track cars and their dual-purpose counterparts.

You would think that they dedicated track cars would be more reliable compared to the dual-purpose cars. You would be wrong. The dedicated cars are edgier, tuned more towards the higher end of the motors power spectrum, the brakes and suspension are more highly tuned and much more highly stressed. Fact is, you just drive these harder, because you know if they brake, you can just put them in the trailer and drive them home. The dual-purpose cars, not so much. They have to make that homeward journey. So, you baby them just a bit more, not drive them at ten 10th’s but maybe at 8.5 10th’s, leaving those last few tenths in your pocket so you can actually make it back to home base.

My current track car is one of the dedicated ones. It lives in a very nice twenty-foot enclosed trailer and only sees the light of day when it is running on the track or needs to have some work or repairs done to it. Which lately has been pretty much all the time, the repairs part that is. The current car is a bright red 1999 Mazda Miata also known as a MX-5. It is also known as a NB, meaning the second generation of Miata’s. This particular car is also known as the “Beast” previously owned by a well-known developer of supercharged kits for all generations of Miata’s. This was the owners personal car and was the NB development platform for over ten years.

After hundreds or maybe even thousands of hours of hard core track usage, the oil pump gave up the ghost this past fall during a Miata event at Hallett Raceway. It puked all the oil out of the motor during my one and only run on the track. But wait, I am getting ahead of myself, let’s rewind back two days. Arriving at the track Thursday evening with a group of fellow Miata racers, we unpacked our trailers and I noticed there was fluid on the trailer floor. But it was not too much, so I unloaded the car, parked it in our garage and cleaned up the small puddle in the trailer.

The next morning, I was greeted with a much larger puddle under the car. Oh-oh! Collectively we had all torn apart and rebuilt countless race cars so we dug in to see what the problem was. And the verdict, the water pump had failed and needed to be replaced. We found one in nearby Sand Springs, OK and I went to fetch while the rest of the gang rolled up their sleeves and started pulling stuff off the car to get to the water pump. While they all ran their various sessions, I did the rest of the R&R (removal and replacement) of the water pump. And during their breaks, they helped out. So we had five guys all wrenching and racing and when the new pump was finally reinstalled, we put everything back together. It was getting late and but we wanted the job done before we left the track for the evening.

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Now it was the moment of truth, we put fluids back in the car and started it up. And – all the fluid puked back out. Crap! Now it was late, the sun was setting and we sorely in need of margaritas. What could have gone wrong? We were not sure, but I suspected that someone had not tightened all the bolts down. I mean we were busy working, wrenching, racing, talking and maybe, just maybe someone had gotten distracted and not tightened down those bolts. And that someone would be me.

The next morning, we arrived back at the track and since we are all instructors we would be working with students for the whole day teaching them racing techniques. That left limited time to tear the car back down and get to those bolts. We figured that we just would not have enough time to tackle getting back at the water pump. But amazing (or weird) enough, one of our group had a student that had brought her teenage son to the track and this kid was already a Miata expert, having rebuilt two motors and complete cars by the time he was seventeen. He was totally stoked by the prospect of helping me getting access to the water pump. We turned him loose with a whole batch of tools and away he went.

We did get to the water pump, and sure enough the bolts were all loose. Yep, I had not  tightened them. You know, that is how I roll. Usually I have to do repair jobs twice to correct for my screw ups the first time through. By noon, the job was finished. We put water back into the car and started it up and there were no leaks. Everything held! A cheer when up in our garage. While everyone else had lunch and then gathered on track for a huge group photo of all the Miata’s at the track, I was putting the finishing touches on the car to get it ready to head out onto the track. Yes, I wanted to drive the damn thing.

Finally, the Beast was out on the track. I worked for a lap and a half to get the tires up to temp, to dial in the grip then I started to hit it. But there was no power, no boost, no fun. I had to pull aside to let a faster car pass in a corner and almost parked the car and when I put my foot back into the accelerator, the car snap spun twisting in a very fast 360° spin. What the F…

Pulling back into the pits we were all collectively horrified when we saw the entire underside of the car covered in a sheen of thick oil, with more pouring out of the bottom of the motor. We put some oil back in the car and started it, it ran rough and we immediately killed it. The prognosis, the motor had blown up. Damn. The water pump ordeal, five so-so laps and now this. But it also solved a mystery, when I had pulled aside, my rear tires got covered in enough oil to cause the car to spin. What a terrible day. We pushed the car into the trailer and left the track very late. Arriving at the after-track party, I proceeded to drink a fair amount of bourbon and beer. Yeah, I deserved it. Got an award at the party. One for the least amount of laps turned in the whole two day track weekend – total of five. Yeah it was a terrible weekend.

So that brings me back to the premise, that dedicated track cars are more delicate than their dual purpose counterparts. So now I have the prospect of a new race motor, meaning get ready to open up the check book. But that is another story.

On that exhaust note, see you next time.

Welcome to Exhaust Notes - The Driver-Series Blog

Check out my other blog: Mylifewithporsches.blogspot.com 

So it was time to put the brakes on my old blog. I may still post up occasionally on it, but really the blog attached to this site is the future of my blog efforts. What will you find here? Thoughts and rants about stuff automotive, the occasional TOP TEN list (hey they drive traffic to the blog and site) and other random stuff that I will riff on. I used to post up on mylifewithporsches.blogspot.com a lot, but it slowed over the years as I started writing guest columns for Planet-9, Flussig Magazine, 9 Magazine and Slipstream Magazine. I will try to get more content posted here so you, my dear reader have something to chew on. 

Hope you like the blog, please comment on the content and PLEASE buy my books so I can afford to keep this site up and humming along. 

And on that exhaust note...until next time.