Thursday, December 7, 2017

Winter nostalgia...

When winter rolls around (I know, it's not winter yet!) and the racing season is on hold, I tend to look at old racing photos on my computer and think fondly of cars from my past. Here are a couple of the photos I dug up, one for each car, from the oldest to the most recent. 

I attended my very first driving events with this car in 1998. It wasn't suited for the track, but at least it didn't break.
In 1999, I bought a Neon that was supposed to be more economical and more suited to track driving.
In 2002, I bought my first Civic, which was also my first "real" race car (i.e. with a roll cage)
In 2003, I bought this old rally Mazda 323, also with a full cage
I built this 2000 Civic coupe in 2004 and kept it until 2014, going through several engines through the years.
I bought this 2002 Civic SiR in 2016 and it was fun right out of the box. Too bad I crashed it in the summer of 2017...
The latest Civic track car, another 2000 coupe, is a work in progress, but already a capable track car.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our new winter car: the Saabaru

When Alex and I realized we would be driving Jules to kindergarten every weekday, regardless of weather, we decided to buy a car equipped with all-wheel-drive for winter. Initially our budget was 10 000 $ and we were looking at various BMW's, Audi's and some nice Subaru's. Alex was leaning towards the luxury brands, while I preferred a turbo Subaru. Then we decided it would be more reasonable to spend around 5 000 $, so it became unlikely we would find a super-clean car in great mechanical condition. I went to look at a BMW and an Audi, but both needed a lot of work. I tried to find a nice Subaru, but WRX's are either in really rough condition or are really expensive. Then, I saw an ad for the WRX's weird cousin, the Saab 9-2X Aero. We went to see the car in Victoriaville and the owner, a mechanic, inspired confidence. The car was in pretty decent shape, had low mileage, and even came with winter wheels. We negotiated the price down to 4 600 $ and I drove the car home.


I am much more excited about this car than I would have been by an Audi or BMW... this car is so different from our M3. It's not modern-feeling or luxurious. It feels more like a high-performance tractor... It's so analog and everything feels so mechanical. I can't wait to drive it in the snow! I left it parked for 5 days after we bought it and the battery was dead, but hopefully it's because I forgot to shut off the map light (I'm not sure). Anyway, I will be putting the M3 away for winter for the first time since we've owned it (since 2010) and start daily driving the Saabaru as soon as I can confirm that the battery holds a charge.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Racing season is already over...

The track driving season is officially over: there are no more events to attend and even if there were, I would need new tires before hitting the track again. I have been working on small projects with the Civic, the first being attacking the rust I found on the driver's side floor and around the gas cap. I applied a couple of heavy layers of POR-15 rust treatment, and I hope this will be enough to stop the rust in its tracks. 

I want to improve the comfort and safety of the car before addressing any of the performance issues. The performance of the car on track was actually fine, apart from the fact that it really needs a race seat. The acceleration, braking and handling were satisfactory, and just installing fresh tires in the spring should make quite a difference in lap times. Carl let me have the old OMP steering wheel from my former Civic, and I will install it in the new car as soon as my Ebay hub arrives. Hopefully, I will be able to make the horn work. I also have to figure out what is the most economical way to get a roll bar installed before next season.


There are still many cool cars on the road, and there were some cool cars at the ASE track day I attended on September 30th as well. 

I handed the race steering wheel to Oscar when we picked it up, and he fell asleep shortly afterwards
One of the best spots of the year: a Delta Integrale on Laurier street
Oscar was offered to sit on this police motorcycle for a photo. He was pretty happy about it.
Cool brown 80's 911, with roof rack
This Saab 900 looks almost identical to the one I had in the late 90's. 
Carl's new Civic Type R looks at home at the track. I got a passenger lap and it was darn quick, even in "break-in" mode.

This S15 Nissan Silvia had some kind of cool V8 swap.
This insane Alfa Romeo 155 touring car replica was mechanically pretty stock, but still hit the track.
Shelby Cobra and 991 GT3 ready for some track time
A couple of nice convertibles near the office
A dirty Challenger Hellcat in Old Montreal
This is how you transport a Civic hood with a BMW M3...
Carl's Civic Type R, first time I've seen one "in the wild"
Maybe the best wheel you can install on a GTi
I used to really want a Datsun 510... simple and fun
A nice white Ferrari 488
A very clean Jaguar XJS

Friday, October 6, 2017

Introducing the new track car...

The new track car is here!

The deal I had with Alex was that I could buy another track car after my crash in the yellow Civic if I did so with funds generated by the sale of parts from the crashed car. When my sales amount reached about 4000$, I started actively looking for another Honda. 

I had decided I wanted to go back to an older Civic or Integra so that I could have a lighter car with better suspension than the 2002 Civic had. Also, I knew these cars pretty well. 

It turns out it's not that easy to find an affordable Civic that met my criteria. My wish list included a body with little or no rust, some kind of engine swap, upgraded suspension, rear disc brakes, a roll bar or roll cage, a racing seat... I went to see a couple of 92-95 Civics that met most of these criteria, but one had serious (hidden) rust and the other had a terrible roll cage and many small issues.
I came across the ad for this red car, which was supposedly track ready and had its original paint with no rust. It was also advertised as having an Integra Type R engine and transmission.

We went to look at the car and it seemed to be the real deal, although my test drive was limited: it had the wrong seats which were held in by 2 of 4 bolts and no gauge cluster. It had some nice 15x8 949Racing wheels and 4-wheel disc brakes from on Integra. I made a deal with the seller whereby he would could keep his carbon fiber hood and he would provide the missing parts (gauge cluster, hood and front seats). I arranged to pick up the car after a couple of weeks.

The car mere minutes after I bought it
Things did not go fully as planned... the seller was having trouble finding seats and a hood. I ended up buying a brand new black hood at Perry Auto Parts and found some inexpensive OEM seats online. During this period, I also found out that the engine was not from a Type R, but from a Japanese GSR (SiR-G in Japan), which meant it had 180 hp instead of 197. I was pretty annoyed by this, but the seller thought it was no big deal. I managed to knock 500$ off the price and I drove the car home. I was dismayed to discover rust around the fuel cap and on the driver floor (probably due to the fact that the window would not stay 100% rolled up). The driver side window got stuck in the down position on my way home with the car... That meant I could not even park outside until I fixed the window. That was on a Friday and I wanted to try the car at St-Eustache on the following Monday.

The car when I first got it home
After dismantling the whole mechanism, I got the window back up. I checked the fluid decided the car was ready to try on the track, at least at St-Eustache. I did not want to drive on any "big tracks" until I had installed a roll bar and harness. 

The car did well enough on its first outing to the track. Given that it was riding on Falken Azenis tires of unknown age (they were very worn), I figured I would be lucky to run a lap time of 1:04. Most of the other instructors in the club with similar Civics are running in the 1:00-1:01 range, and my best with the previous car had been a 1:01.8. 

After a few tentative laps to feel out the car, I started to push a bit more. The car was very stable and had decent grip. It was 30 degrees outside, which I hoped was the reason the engine felt less than powerful. The transmission would grind on the 2-3 shift unless I really took it slow. The driver's seat, from an Acura 1.6 EL, was miserable. Still, the car felt at home on the track and, despite the conditions, I managed a best lap of 1:03.8. By the end of my second session, the brake pedal was pretty soft, although the brakes still worked well enough. The mais issue was that the OEM stle radiator had given up the ghost and cracked near the radiator cap, spewing coolant everywhere. Still, I was mainly just happy to be back in the game, and began to calculate how much faster I could go with decent tires, a proper seat, and a hard brake pedal. There was a track day coming up the following Saturday at St-Eustache, and my plan was to install a new radiator, bleed the brakes and attend.

While bleeding the brakes, I noted that the front tires were both corded, so I swapped on some worn Bridgestones I had left from the last car. As I pulled out of the driveway on my way to the track, I heard a loud ticking coming from the rear. It turned out the wheel weight from the newly installed tires was hitting a suspension component... talk about tight clearance! I swapped the rear tires to the front and drove to the track, a bit later than planned.

I was unsure of how the car would handle with different tires front and rear, so I did not push as hard as I might have with more "equal" tires. Still, I bested my lap time from Monday in every session and managed a best lap of 1:03.08 in my third session. I was satisfied. The brake pedal was firm and the temperature needle never budged. The car seems to burn a lot of oil, but I can live with that. I don't know if I subconsciously modified my driving style, but the transmission seemed to almost never grind. 

The car handles much better than the yellow car did, in that you do not have to fight it to get it to turn in and grip in corners. This was really what I missed the most from my older, lighter Civics. 

On track for the first time!
There is still a few things to be done to make the car into a great track toy, but really not that many. I am confident that with fresh tires and a proper seat, I will break into the 1:02's and eventually the 1:01's A new exhaust line that doesn't rattle and bang would also be nice. 

Had I carried on with the yellow car, it was going to be difficult to go much faster that 1:01 without spending quite a bit of dough. With this car, once I stabilize the rust situation, I think I will have a good platform to go reliably fast. Also, the car looks eerily like my old 2000 Civic SiR, when I first built it, doesn't it? I guess I'm going back to my roots!
The old SiR when I first put it together

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Another car spotting thread...

My blog seems to be turning into a car spotting blog! This will change soon, as I am in the process of buying my next track car. I put down a deposit and can't wait to take possession of the car in the next few days. If it all works out, I may get a chance to try the car on track before the season ends (which is soon!). 

We have had a great summer as far as family activities, including a trip to southern France, a week-long trip to Ogunquit, and several smaller trips to the countryside. 

I have started running more seriously, which means 10 km three times a week, and I feel I am in decent shape, in that I could potentially start a marathon training plan without too much suffering.

There was also a big event in our lives: Jules has started school (kindergarten). The whole family heads out to drop him off every morning, which involves us leaving the house earlier than in the past. We met his teacher, and she seems fantastic.

Back to cars: here are a few interesting ones I have come across since my last post:

I don't love these Jetta's, but these wheels really improve the look of the car.
This Maserati is also greatly improved by its aftermarket wheels.
Same Jag, I still love it!
A really clean early turbo Volvo
I've never seen a VW Transporter 4-door pickup before... I like it.
This Bentley looks lowered. It greatly improves the look.
We took a ferry across the St-Lawrence a few weeks ago, and there were a bunch of vintage Citroen's on board with us.
991 GT3 in Old Montreal
A now rare BMW 850i
I've never seen this colour on a 997 before
Another "budget" Maserati, I often see it near my home.
I like the Miata coupe, but I still don't love the design of any current Miata's.
Very cool Mercedes 190e 2.3-16, don't like the wheels though.
I've always thought these Suzuki's were ridiculous, but I respect that the owner has kept this one so clean.
Rolls coupe in Old Montreal
Extremely rare Accord hatchback in remarkable condition
I respect that Chevy is trying to make a 90's style hot hatch, adding a turbo and bright paint to an econobox.
Someone in my neighbourhood bought the AMG S63 coupe in satin black.
Big rain, German muscle on my street
Lovely 930 on the way to daycare. Same dealer plate that was on the E30 M3 I recently posted.
Not my thing, but in excellent condition.
Cool Rolls convertible
Mini John Cooper Works
Loud paint on a loud Jag
Yas Marina BLue M4
A rare unmodified E30
Another Honda chosen by Oscar for a photo
... and finally, another BMW 850i