Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jeep Meetup 6/29/2013

"You need tires."  My friend Andy stands there in the parking lot looking over the old, worn out tires that sit at the ends of the 1981 Jeep CJ's axles.  "Yeah, you definitely need tires.  The trails aren't too bad, but the hills are steep.  If you stop half-way up, well, we're gonna have to pull the rest of the way up."

The words you hear in a normal conversation among Jeep owners may be the same as those in a conversation about drift cars: differentials, re-gearing, etc., but these guys build their rigs for the woods, not for the track.  The Jeep guys talk about disconnecting sway bars, about bump-stops, about what parts of the suspension rubs while flexing, and what armor they want to prevent more body damage.  They can easily stand around for hours talking about their trucks and the abuse they put them through, and this is exactly what we did this hot Saturday morning late in June.

To outsiders, the Jeep world may seem pointless: bad gas mileage, bad handling, bad ride.  But to those who "get it," Jeeps are a beautiful thing: they represent the ability to go anywhere, to see things so few people see, to explore the American back-country as it was meant to be explored.  To the few who consider themselves real Jeepers, they get it.  There's a reason they take their motto so seriously: "It's a Jeep thing, you wouldn't understand."

This meetup was organized by my friend Andy simply for the sake of hanging out and talking about Jeeps, wheeling, and everything in-between.  If you want more info about off-roading in the Northeast, contact me and I'll put you in touch with somebody who can get you involved.

- Ross, 6/30/13

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ford's 2014 F-150 Tremor Is A Lightning Aftershock

Ford just introduced its new sport-minded pickup, the Aftershock, the Tremor.

Powered by the well-liked 3.5L twin-turbo Ecoboost motor, this single-cab, short-bed pickup is hoping to bridge the gap between the workhorse F-150 and the vacanct spot behind by the long-departed SVT Lightning.  Fans of the beloved old Special Vehicle Teams truck will be pleased to know that the Tremor embodies what the Lightning once held as its core values.

Here's the power comparison: the Lightning had 380 horsepower from its supercharged 5.4L V8, the Tremor 365 from its new-age, twin-turbo V6.  The old Lightning put down 450 lb.-ft. of torque, the Tremor making 420.  No word has been released yet on weight, but this will definitely clue us in as to how close the Tremor will be to the Lightning in terms of performance.

The big news here, as this is a "sport performance truck," is the pairing of the Ecoboost to the 4.10 rear end, giving it the shortest ratio and, subsequently, strong acceleration and burnout-producing goodness.  Other features of the Tremor package include flat black accents, a graphics package, 20" black-painted wheels, and HID headlights.  Bucket seats are standard, and you even get some red stitching along the interior.  Ford has yet to release pricing but it should be reasonable - and with the Ecoboost on board there's a lot of room to turn this into a 2014 Lightning wanna-be.  Yet it will be hard not to miss the dual side exhaust and the supercharged V8 road, trademarks that helped make the Lightning a pickup-turned-sports-car.

So the Tremor is exactly as its name implies.  By definition, a tremor is a slight earthquake, a sort of an aftershock.  The Ford F-150 Tremor is just that: less powerful, less exciting, and less dramatic than the old SVT Lightning that it's hoping to be the spiritual successor to.  Here's to hoping the Tremor succeeds enough so that Ford is willing to put the SVT moniker back on the side of an F-series truck some day in the future, reviving the true performance truck breed.

- Ross, 6/27/13

Image credit: World Car Fans

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In The Beginning, There Was Nothing: Project e30, Part 1

It's 10 AM on a Wednesday early in the summer.  The low diesel hum of the tow truck grows closer as we stand around the red coupe that sits on the lawn.  It's stationary, immobile, motionless, call it what you want; this car doesn't run and it has a long path ahead of it before it does.  My friends and I joke around but it's not enough to overcome the air of nerves, excitement, and an ominous touch of "you don't know what the hell you are getting yourself into."  This is exactly how it's supposed to be.

Every car guy has their project car.  For some it's the old car they've been working on with their dad since they were a kid; for others, it's a car in a video game that they only touch through a controller, spending imaginary dollars and credits to modify every bit of their virtual ride as if it were real.  Then there's the guy who sends his hundred-thousand dollar supercar to a shop known for transforming "super" to "hyper," gives them a check with enough zeros to buy a house, and in turn receives horsepower figures that float somewhere in the stratosphere.  Yet in between these groups lies the "every-man," the guy who starts a project out of passion, excitement, and love, simply for the sake of his own enjoyment.  This is one of those projects.

Welcome to The Chronicles of the e30.

The e30 BMW is an icon.  It's the epitome of late '80s and early '90s entry-level luxury, it's the car that when equipped with the ///M badge helped set the performance standard for years to come, it's the BMW of BMWs.  Surprising, no: the chassis is nimble and willing to accept big power increases, the car relatively affordable and surprisingly reliable.  It's the caliber of vehicle that attracts everybody, with sub-groups like those who lower them, those who race them, and those who beat them up on the rally course.

This project is going to bridge the gap between all of those groups.  Think of it as that venn diagram you were taught in grade school that has the 3 big circles that overlap, leaving a little section in the middle where the color is darker and you have the best qualities from each.  It's going to be a car that can be driven comfortably every day, can be taken to the track for auto-cross, and can be whipped around the unpaved roads of upstate New York without the need to change wheels, tires, or suspension setup.  Easier said than done?  Of course; I'll undoubtedly bite my tongue and change my mind hundreds of times as the project progresses.  But for now, it's "challenge accepted."

So there I sit in the black leather driver seat of a 1989 BMW 325i Coupe that I "adopted."  The car is older than myself but the odometer has only done 100,400 ticks and as such has been driven less than my 2005 Avalanche that is 16 years younger.  The car's battery is old, the body an 8/10, the interior dirty but unbroken.  Hours after the tow truck picked up the car and transported it to its new home in Connecticut, it's show time.  My friend watches as I hold the key in the ignition, take a deep breath, close my eyes, pray silently, turn the key slowly, beg the car gods for it to start...but all we hear is the sorry sound of nothing.  No crank, no spark, no combustion, nothing.  The turning of the key is the only sound to be heard aside from the sighs and jumble of curses muttered under my breath.  We try another ten times but there's no point, this car is dead.

Yet there's beauty in this.  It's going to be a project from the beginning, from Phase I.  The car doesn't start, it doesn't move when it does (blown transmission at fault), and it needs more than a fair share of attention in the vacuuming and Armor-All'ing departments.  It's going to be a long, slow adventure, but it will allow me - and those crazy enough to want anything to do with an old BMW that hasn't run in years - to do everything perfectly, the way it should be done.  Do it once, do it right, from the ground up.  The worst part?  I don't have a clue in the world what the hell I'm doing.  Project e30 has begun.

Phase 1: get the damn thing running.

Project e30 will be updated as repairs, fixes, and modifications are made to the car.  Check back once in a while, as I'm hoping to get it running in time to cruise the beautiful roads of the Northeast during the peak of the fall season, and if I'm lucky maybe even make it to a few races.

- Ross, 6/25/2013

Credit for the photoshop work in the first picture is to my friend Jaime

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review & Opinion: The Kawasaki Brute Force

Somewhere deep in the abyss that is the world of the internet, there lies a review of the Kawasaki Brute Force in which the author calls the big-bore Kawi the "muscle car of the ATV world."  He cites big power, less than inspiring handling, and a sound that works your face muscles every time the engine turns over as the vital characteristics that help the Brute to perfectly fit this description.  Yet, a description is only capable of so much; more important than the power of words is the way the machine feels: the sheer, raw, startlingly brutal power; the way it's a beast to be tamed rather than a docile sports car meant for the Autobahn; the way you warn your friends who try it out to "be careful."  The Brute is different from the nimble, smooth-riding, trail-friendly machines from companies like Honda, Yamaha, and Can-Am.  No, the Brute's not refined, it's not easy to live with, and it's definitely not the most logical decision.  The Brute is mean, it's loud, and it's almost too aggressive for its own good.  Allusions to the Chargers, Mustangs, Camaros, Trans Ams, and GTO's, couldn't be more appropriate.

It's hard, if not impossible, to ignore the Brute Force's mean stance and aggressive bodywork; call it the Dodge Daytona Superbee or Plymouth Superbird styling of the quads if you dare.  High fenders with angled peaks are like nothing else in the industry and the dual-circle headlight treatment is a Brute trademark.  Nothing can be mistaken for a the big Kawi and you will never glance at another quad and think it's a Brute Force.  Oh, and if you look at the Brute the wrong way, you'll get spanked in a staring contest.  The quad simply has aggression written all over it.

Instead of boring you with the less important details, I'll cut to the chase about what needs to be touched upon but doesn't require an elaborate description.  Here we go: the ergonomics are fine, the digital gauge does its job displaying basic info, and the "pockets" on the front fenders are useless (although you wouldn't criticize a Superbee for its cupholders, would you?).  The four-wheel-drive system works well but is fundamentally flawed seeing as very, very few people think a progressive locking front differential is preferable over a push-button on-or-off style system.  That being said, all locked up in 4WD, the Brute is damn-near unstoppable.  Mud, rocks, hills, you name it, the Brute will eat it up and spit the bones in your face; it's exactly what you want from your muscle car.

More unnecessary though vital info: the suspension is mediocre at best, but there's the aftermarket to go to if you're a hardcore rider with a fancy checkbook.  Otherwise, take it for what it is and just accept that the Brute isn't about suspension, end of story.  Everything described above is adequate enough to let you focus on the really good stuff, and that's all that should matter.  Remember, the Kawasaki Brute Force is a muscle car trapped in a 4WD ATV's clothing.  This thing is all about the engine, and oh, does it deliver on its home front.

Words cannot do justice to the 633cc V-Twin that lives under the seat.  This is a force to be reckoned with and you really do have to experience it to understand how ferocious, hilarious, and absurd the power is.  From the bottom end all the way to the top of the powerband, the engine catapults the quad from a standstill to speeds you wouldn't believe are possible with such force that it truly makes one curious as to how and why bigger engines even exist.  To put things in perspective, consider this: a few of my friends have looked me in the eyes after riding my Brute for the first time and, amidst the simultaneous expressions of fear and utter shock, they mumble a phrase that holds its meaning in the word "dangerous."  With such a potent nuclear weapon sitting under the seat, you are only half a stab of your right thumb away from face-tearing acceleration.  Use said weapon wisely.

Even better is that with a proper aftermarket exhaust, the quad can make noises at idle that force you to question whether the engine was pulled directly from a Harley, while full-throttle blasts get you thinking about if anybody has ever heard the sounds of a Ducati and a Yamaha Banshee mating.  Music and force are the Brute's charms; they overcome the machine's downfalls to the point of making it worth your while every time you get on the gas.  It excites, it stimulates, it creates happiness.  This is what a recreational vehicle is supposed to do.  If you can't laugh and smile like a fool, what is the point of riding at all?

But perhaps there's something even more important than how the quad acts: it's the final element in four-wheeler ownership that solidifies its place in one's mind and soul.  This final element?  Passion.  Corny, yes, but without the burnouts, open exhausts, and drag races, a muscle car owner/driver never would have felt the adrenaline rush, the excitement, and the love they associate with the machine.  The Brute accomplishes all of this, putting a big ol' smile on your face every single time you throw a leg over it.  It's the ride itself that connects a machine with its rider, thus associating one's mind with the fun that riding an all-terrain-vehicle is meant to be.

The Kawasaki Brute Force isn't perfect by any means.  Hell, many would call it flawed and confused.  Awful suspension, good ergonomics.  Uninspiring handling, power to make the gods laugh.  But the quad's overall test grade is completely irrelevant: the Kawasaki Brute Force exists to put a smile on your face, to help you make the most of your time in the woods/hills/mud/whatever-your-terrain-is, and also to bring about an adrenaline rush that makes you laugh like a little girl.  For this, the Brute can say "mission accomplished."  It's violent, in a loving way.  It's flawed, but those flaws don't matter.  It's a powerhouse and it makes no apologies about it.  The Kawasaki Brute Force is a four-wheel-drive, fire-breathing off-road machine that would make the muscle-car guys proud, and for that, I love it.

Video evidence of muscle car roots: I present Exhibit A.

- Ross, 6/18/2013