Aug 12, 2010

Enjoy the Process or Walk

This week I was going to write about serviceability of your sports car, but after an interesting morning, I've changed my mind.  For the last several weeks, I've been shopping for a motorcycle and had made arrangements to view a classic BMW on Orcas Island.  Now, this involves a 2 hour drive with 2 ferry boat rides. In other words, a long trip to buy a motorcycle! After making reservations for the 6:30am ferry, I emailed the seller to confirm. He replied with a curt email stating that I better not be planning any negotiations and that I better have cash. I was prepared to pay asking price, but of course, I intended to negotiate for my travel and registration fees, if possible. Bottom line, I cancelled the purchase because I couldn't see myself enjoying it, knowing that I'd be buying it from this grumpy fellow.

So, back to cars now...

It was 1 week before our big road trip to Utah and I'd decided that this year I wasn't going to get caught in the rain with my Cobra again. I'd left many messages to reserve a Lotus Elise from our local exotic rental place. They never called back or returned my emails. I had supposedly reserved a car, but no one ever could be bothered to converse with me in person so the shopping commenced what else could I do.

My wife and I were covered in drywall dust and driving my Ford F-150 when we rolled into Park Place our local boutique exotic dealer not far from Seattle. Our objective was to observe the black 1998 Carrera C2S I'd spotted earlier between runs to Home Depot. We dusted off, and sat down in it. Once the door clunked closed my wife turned to me and said "buy it." Wow! You gotta love this woman! I told the salesman that we'd be back the next morning after we cleaned up to drive this baby. He responded "you can drive it after you buy it."

I know there may have been some rule or policy forcing him to deny my wishes to drive this car, but the delivery of the message offended me. In retaliation I bought a 1988 Carerra off Craigslist that week. Shortly after my Carrera purchase the Lotus people decided to call to confirm my reservation. It seems communication in this modern era has become harder for everyone instead of easier. Go Figure.

Now, make no mistake that '98 Carrera could have been driven. I could have worked it out if it was the last Porsche on the planet or something. And I guess I could have been more aggressive regarding the Lotus rental people. But hey! This is not the purchase of an SUV at the dealership. This is a car for fun, and I'm trying to give people my money here!

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The fireman who sold the Carrera to me had taken great care of this car.  He told me some interesting stories and shared with me his future plans for his next project, a classic firetruck restoration.  Start enjoying yourself now, during the decision and shopping process. Don't tolerate anything less than fun from the very beginning.

After all, the deal of the century comes around about every 2 weeks.

Aug 8, 2010

How Much Attention Do You Really Want?

How much attention should your car get you? As much as Elvis, or as little as your friendly neighborhood postal worker? No offense to postal workers but we rarely wave to them when they drive past.

Most of us want a car that people notice, it’s the level of attention we want that varies. You may think you want the same attention as a Viper engulfed in flames at a stop light, but think hard. You can expect people to tell you the same stories and ask the same questions over and over again and that can get old. Also, the car you choose will determine the types of people and the nature of the conversations you're going to have. Remember, this could be your last car, so be prepared for what you'll get.

When I took my wife on her first ride in the Cobra, I remember telling her "Now, I will concentrate on the driving while you wave at all the people." She kind of rolled her eyes (this was our second date) and I later learned that she thought I was pretty full of myself. But, when we left the parking lot that day, with the usual side-pipe roar, 3 men came running out of the NAPA auto parts store from across the street, pointing wildly. Catherine took to the smile-and-wave concept quickly, like a seasoned beauty queen in a parade float. Similar experiences occured throughout the course of our drive that day and by the end of her first Cobra ride, she got it.

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to the right on this page is a video clip from that date night

The Shelby Cobra, real or replica, may very well be the most magnetic car on the road. Dramatic and loud, flashy and All-American, you can expect all sorts of comers. I’ve been condemned for owning a replica (sorry, I’m a ¼ million shy in funds for the real deal). I’ve been flashed (thank you). I’ve received the finger and some very sexy winks. I know now to expect  the question "is it a kit?" everytime I drive it and to elaborate on the motor at nauseum. Once, I stepped out of my local Starbucks to find a 250lb man crawling around under my car to observe the suspension. People follow me for miles just to chat, often ugly people that smell badly. I even had a man hug me outside of a Wendy’s.   Many of my Cobra's admirers have no front teeth, and a very long story to tell me.

A good contrast to the Cobra experience was my 2006 E46 M3 ZCP. An M3 ZCP is a fairly esoteric machine. Most people see it as a 3 series BMW. Car people see it as a really fast 3 series. BMW people see it as a ZCP-packaged car that's modeled after the CSL lightweight. It sports exclusive improvements including: improved suspension, faster steering ratio, huge upgraded brakes, lighter wheels and a limited run in production. Anyone who gives you a nod in this car is clearly a member of the exclusive automotive secret society.

I’m not passing judgement on those of you who want attention and a lot of it, nor am I trying to tell you what level of attention is best. That’s up to you. If a car is special to you it will probably be special to others too. Just be sure your car choice attracts the amount and type of people you really want to talk to. Be careful not to turn into that guy others think is a big swinging d*** with a really cool car. We all know how that ends... with key marks through your expensive paint.

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Remember, this could be your last car, so there is no turning back.

Aug 7, 2010

Are You Really a Racecar Driver?

Let's be sure about what you’re really going to be doing with your car. While track capabilities are impressive, don’t let the tail wag the dog. Your track days may be far less frequent than your imagination tells you. If track ability is affecting your street ability think hard about which way you’ll be going and how often.

I finished the Cobra and found I needed to get some serious track time. After all, I’d spent a lot on options that I’d only see used at the track. The events at SIR (now called Pacific Raceways) hosted by Don Kitch were great. I enjoyed the theory of driving the perfect line and read the requisite material Speed Secrets, by Ross Bentley with enthusiasm. The popularity of the Cobra was enjoyable too, especially since these people were my kind of folks. Their appreciation of my project was much more gratifying than that of the vagrants swarming me at stoplights in Seattle. These were my people.

After a year of going to every track day I could afford, I began to notice that I’d pit early and spend the remaining time watching and talking with people. Track time was tiring and I felt a lot of tension in my back and neck. A vintage designed car requires maximum concentration, so I’d pit whenever I felt the slightest bit fatigued. My car was pretty well known to the teachers at the school and one day Don (the lead instructor) asked if he could drive it. There was no greater honor for a driving school student. After all, Don was a real race car driver... he lived the dream. I happily gave him the keys.

When he returned from a few restrained laps, he handed the keys to me with some positive comment and a question, “how much do you think you’ve got in this thing?” I responded, “Probably about $100K after the second motor.” He nodded and said, “That’s a nice car.”

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What he really meant was, “can you afford to drive that here?” An expensive car that’s very hard to drive fast: not a very wise formula for a limited budgeter like myself. The answer was clear: I couldn’t. I managed to afford to build this car, yes. But I could not afford to repair it or replace it. I was taking a gamble every single time I went out. That tension in my neck was stress. I knew I was risking a lot every time I hit 155mph.

That was the last day I drove the car at the track.