Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Importation issue #17!

I received a notice in the mail saying that I owe 220$ to the Registrar of Imported Vehicles for the blue Civic. I thought that this situation was resolved, but I guess it isn't. This is becoming ridiculous! I phoned them and told them I was not the importer. They said that the form from Border Services said I was. I will have to phone them tomorrow to see what can be done. AARGHH!

I went running this evening and did my best 10k time since I started running again a couple of years ago: 46:46. This is still much slower than my lifetime best (15 years ago), but it felt good.

Cool cars spotted:
Ford GT
Maserati GT
BMW 635
Acura TL Type S

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Smallest car ever

I enjoyed the latest episode of Top Gear. They tested a car from the 60's that is so small, you can actually lift the rear bumper off the ground and drag it around behind you. It's called a Peel and it gets 100 mpg. Incredible. I actually had a dream once about a tiny car I could bring into the office with me, like a bicycle... I can't believe it actually already existed.

I've been reading Ben Lovejoy's Nurburgring trip reports for the past couple of months. It's a very interesting read and it really makes me want to travel to the Ring and do some laps. Here is the link... not for those with A.D.D.:

My street Civic is still at Pat Boyer's, as he convinced me that now was a good time to change the starter, since it doesn't work consistently. It's almost ready to become my daily driver... almost.

I saw photos of the new Honda Fit online... disappointing.

Random thought of the day:
Mazda Miatas are driven by people who enjoy life.

Cool cars spotted:
Viper SRT10
Aston Martin DB9
Chrome-bumpered MGB
Black on black Saab Viggen 5-door
Maserati Quattroporte

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall Trac School

This weekend, we held the last Trac Racing school of the year at St-Eustache. As usual, there was a large variety of car types. In fact, the first three cars I saw when I arrived at the shop Saturday morning were a Civic, a Skyline and a 944... typical mix. The different types of cars and drivers is one of the things that make it fun to instruct at this school. The cars on hand included a 996 turbo, a couple of 944's, various Honda's and VW's, including an AWD turbo diesel Corrado (!), the Kia that competed in the Targa Newfoundland a few years ago, a new BMW 3-series, 2 Skylines, an AMG C55, an Audi S4, a Mazdaspeed 6 and various other sporting and not so sporting cars.

The instructors assigned to my team were Martin Patterson, Dude and Nigel Heron. Sebastien Rochon dropped by and gave us a hand as well. My students were a good bunch and we had no real problems with them. I believe they had a good time and learned a great deal. In the mock race at the end of the school, they pitted the 996 turbo against a very quick 92 Civic hatch and, although the Porsche took the Civic on the start, the Civic eventually caught it and pulled away. I timed one of the Civic's laps... 1:01.2. That is extremely fast for the conditions we had today. It just goes to show the potential of Civics on small tracks. This, of course, was no ordinary Civic. It was weight reduced to the max, not even close to street legal, and had 200 whp. Still, it was being driven hard and well and it was a pleasure to watch in action.

Sometimes, I think that the only thing I am jealous of when I look at people with a lot more money than me is the cars they can buy. I'm not even talking about the Porsches and Ferraris... I wish I could have more Hondas to play with! In fact, Martin Patterson mentioned that he might be selling his 1990 Civic Si... almost rust free with only a few tasteful modifications. I wish I had an extra couple of thousand dollars lying around, as well as a couple of secure parking spots.

I was lucky to be able to leave the school early on rainy Saturday to attend my friend William's wedding. I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon and evening with Alex at the wedding and reception.

I talked to Pat Boyer and he told me that he had found the faulty wire that was making the car run like crap before ceasing to function altogether. He also managed to fix the headlight. I should finally be able to make the car my daily driver this week, as I'll be able to pick it up in a couple of days. I might still need to change the starter as it doesn't work all the time.

Over all, a satisfying weekend then.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Can anything else go wrong?

It seems that, when the blue Civic is involved, I always take a step back for every step forward. I picked the car up from the alignment shop (3rd try to align the car was finally successful) last night and, as I left the parking lot, the check engine light came on. The motor was hesitating and cutting at less than 3000 rpm. When I got home, I popped the hood and noticed the small intake snorkel had come off and was resting on a plug from the wiring harness. I put the snorkel back and "jiggled" the plug, and the engine stalled. There seems to be a problem with the wiring in that area. I checked the connector and it seemed fine, although I could no longer start the car at all. Time to call CAA for the second time in one week! The car was towed to Pat's garage, and I hope he can find whatever's wrong, as well as fix the headlight situation. One day this car will be my daily driver!

It's funny, because whenever I have a new car project, it causes me a lot of stress as I try to complete it. This is ironic, because when I don't have a project going, I always wish I had. I guess that all these small trials will be forgotten when the car is finally up and running.

Tomorrow, I'll be up early to instruct at another Trac school at St-Eustache. I look forward to it, because the students in this school are not attending as part of a corporate package deal, as was the case last week at Calabogie. In other words, the students tomorrow will have paid the school fee with their own money. The student body is made up of true enthusiasts, and enthusiastic students are a pleasure to teach. Last week I had a great team or instructors in my group, including Sam and Jean-Seb from Trac, Martin Patterson, Pascal St-Cyr and newcomer Marie-Laurence. I hope to have a similarly talented team tomorrow. I'll be leaving early tomorrow to head to my friend William's wedding, then spending all day Sunday at the track. Having a tolerant wife comes in handy when doing back-to-back schools like this!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Slow week

I finally finished the speaker installation in the blue Civic this evening. Alex reminded me today that it was time to make the car ready to become the daily driver. I guess I kind of liked having two potential daily drivers, but there's really no point in my neighbourhood. So I've put the 13-inch winter wheels on so I can try once again to get the car aligned tomorrow. Then I can put it into service as a daily driver. I will still have to fix the faulty headlight and annoying rattling exhaust.

There was a documentary on CBC about dog owners in Japan. I realize that dog lovers and car lovers have a lot in common. I guess it's the same with many involving hobbies.

I want one of these... this would be the perfect car for me
Cool cars spotted:
E28 BMW M5
Old Mini Clubman
Porsche 924 S

Monday, October 22, 2007

Weekend at Calabogie

This weekend, I headed out to Calabogie to instruct at the Trac Racing School there. It was the first time we had held the school at a venue other then Autodrome St-Eustache. I had been to the track once before this year. The school would be made up of some of the track owners and a lot of the staff. There would be 20-25 students rather than the usual 40-50. There would be 10 instructors, including myself. Alex decided she would like to come along as the hotel room was furnished by Trac, so we made a little road-trip out of it. She didn't plan to actually come to the track, as I would be busy and she could get more work done at the Motel.

We met up with the gang at Trac to form a mini-convoy for the 300 km trip. I was driving the race car, Carl had his Type R, Steph had his A3 and Sam had the Trac Golf Gti. We left before rush hour and hit the highway. It was raining really hard by the time we were at the Ontario border. A short while after that, I noticed early signs of an electric problem, as my speedometer needle started to go haywire. Not good! I radioed Carl and told him that my alternator had died or I had lost the alternator belt and that I would try to make it to the next exit. Luckily, I did, as the next exit was 15 km away. I parked the car at a service center and looked under the hood. The belt was still there, so the alternator must have been fried. My car has been through about 8 alternators in the past 3 years, so I have come to recognize the symptoms.

I called CAA for a tow and they came within an hour. Alex and I hopped in to the tow truck for the 125 km trip back to St-Eustache. I called Carl, and he suggested I join them at Calabogie with my street car by leaving early Saturday morning. Alex wanted us to make the trip right away. We got to St-Eustache around 6:45 pm, I transferred all our gear and a set of race tires to the Mazda, changed my clothes as I had got soaked in the process, and headed off at 7:00. After a gas stop, we finally arrived at the motel at 10:00. Not too bad. Unfortunately, I would still not get to try the track with my race car.

There was a weird variety of cars at the school: 3 Corvette Z06's and a Porsche 911 GT3, a Hyundai Santa Fe, Chrysler Sebring, Ford Focus Wagon, a couple of Pontiac Grand Prix... a real mix of hardcore sports cars and not-even-sporty cars.

The school went pretty well. It was raining off and on Saturday, so I didn't bother to put the race tires on the Mazda. On Sunday, the weather was beautiful, so I swapped tires and went out for a few very pleasant laps with the car. Of course, I was being passed by almost everybody, but I still had fun. The car had no power, of course (82 hp to be exact), but the grip with 205-50-15 Hankook Z214's was phenomenal.

The day ended at 4:30 and we were home by 7:30. All in all, it was a fun weekend, although not as fun as if I'd had the Civic, but still good. Also, Steph offered to have the Civic repainted in the colour of my choice, as the car had served him so well this year, so that will be something to think about in the next couple of weeks.

The 323 on race tires

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The season is ending

It's getting cold outside. This morning on the walk to work, my hand got too cold to hold the book I was reading. I was happy to see a woman driving an MX5 with the top down... that's hardcore. I hate it when I see people driving with the top up when it's 17 degrees out. This morning it was 4 degrees, so, MX5 driver, I salute you.

I had a crazy idea on the walk to work this morning. Alex told me that she was going to Toronto with her girlfriends on the weekend of November 11th. This got me thinking that I should find something fun to do for myself. I then had the brilliant idea to attend the November EMRA Lime Rock race as I did in 2003 (see that story here: ) if it happened to fall on that weekend. I would make it a one-day trip, just as I had in 2003. Anyway, when I got to work, I checked the date, and the race is 2 weeks earlier than it would have needed to be. I guess the race season really is over.

I got a call from Carl and we'll be heading out to Calabogie in a convoy on Friday afternoon so we can have an instructors' briefing at the hotel Friday evening. Apparently, there are 20 or so students. I hope it doesn't rain, as I have no usable rain tires for the race car. So far the forecast says cloudy Saturday, rainy Sunday. I wish I had taken track notes when I was last there, as I've already forgotten most of what I've learned of the track. Hopefully it will be one of those cases where it all comes back to me when I'm out there.

My Mom was trying to be helpful with the blue Civic project and went to a scrapyard to find the connector I need for the headlight. Unfortunately for her, she got a speeding ticket for doing 56 in a 30 zone. She called me while the officer was writing her up. This is only the second speeding ticket she had ever got in her life. The other was on the same street in the early 80's when she was driving my Dad's '76 Jaguar XJ6L. Ironically, she now has more demerit points than I do (2 to 0)! Still, I feel bad. She will check to see if the speed limit was indicated to see if we can contest it.

Cool cars spotted:
Ferrari 360 Modena
Porsche 996 turbo
Audi RS4

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Back from vacation

I had an excellent weekend in Maine with Alex which involved some exploring by bike and some exploring by car. The 323 performed flawlessly on the longest trip it's ever been on.

I left the blue Civic behind (stupidly getting a parking ticket in the process). When I picked it up from the alignment shop, they told me that they could not align it because the wheels were too wide for their machine. I still cannot check that item off the list! On top of that, they told me that one of the old tires I put on was not seating right on the mag. This puts me in the ironic situation that I will have to buy back some used tires I sold to a friend. I also have to put my winter tires on early to go get the car aligned. I finally managed to install the new speaker. It turns out the stupid connector I was trying to buy came included in the box of speakers and I hadn't noticed it. I had to drill 5 holes into the "universal" adapter plate to make it fit. Now I have to repeat the process for the passenger side (I will probably procrastinate on that one since that speaker works fine). I will soon take the car back to Pat's for the oil change and to try to fix the headlight.

I will be going to Calabogie on Friday for the weekend to instruct at Trac's first ever Calabogie school. I will be taking the race car, which should be fun, since last time I was there I had a Volvo C30 street car. I just hope it doesn't rain as I have no rain tires and the school as a whole will be more unpleasant.

It looks like the November Summit Point enduro won't be happening, as my co-drivers are just not that into it. Too bad. I have convinced Alex that with the money saved, I should be allowed to go to Le Mans as a spectator in 2008 (Alex gets jealous when I travel without her, as she loves to travel much more than I do).

Cool cars spotted on the trip:
Pontiac GTO
Cadillac CTS-V
BMW M Coupe
E36 M3 4-door
60's Mustang Fastback
Bentley Azure

Friday, October 12, 2007

You snooze, you lose!

Yesterday, an acquaintance asked me I'd like to drive a 600 hp Audi TT on my home track for a magazine shootout. I told him to check if they needed me for he full day, as it was the weekend. When asked if my friend Will would be qualified to drive the car, I said that he would too.

I thought about it yesterday evening and figured the opportunity was too good to pass up. I contacted the guy to tell him I was in, but he had already offered it to Will. In fact, Will jumped at the chance (as I should have). I snoozed, I loozed.

I'll be picking up the Civic from the alignment shop later on. Hopefully, it will feel more stable. It was darting all over the place when I last drove it, so I hope it was just a question of excessive toe out. We'll see.

I'm off for the weekend to Ogunquit, but I'll be taking the 323, as I don't know enough about the Civic's reliability yet.

Cool car spotted:
E30 M3

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I had a great Thanksgiving. It didn't start out great. I awoke to rain clouds, thinking that my lapping day at St-Eustache might be cancelled. It wasn't. I went to the track to get the race car ready for some lapping. I threw on some 2-year-old Kumho V710's that were near the end of their lifespan.

I headed out onto the track for the first time in a few weeks (it had been even longer since I'd had a fully functional car). Three of the Honda's that had done really well at the last Solo 1 event were there too. At that event, I had been over 2 seconds off the pace due to power loss from the engine. The engine had since been fixed and I had full power.

There were quite a few wet spots on the track in my first session and I was quite cautious out there. The car felt a bit squirelly. For the second session, I bumped up the tire pressures by 4 psi to take into account the cold weather. Indeed, the pressures barely went up 5 psi in a 20-minute session.

The effect of the pressure increase was dramatic and the car felt great. I had a couple of slides and a spin in the esses, but nothing too hairy. After the session, I checked the tires and one of the fronts had a small chunk missing from the tread. When I removed the rear to swap it to the front, I saw that it had also chunked. I did a 3-way rotation to have the best 2 tires in the front. In the following session, the steering wheel began to vibrate and the grip was falling off. This culminated in me going straight off at the Caroussel when the brakes locked up. I drove a bit on the grass and rejoined the track. I pitted at the end of that lap to go get some different tires. When removing the front left, I saw that it had pretty much delaminated. The tread was gone over 2/3 of the tire, showing nothing but cord in most areas. That's what the end of the season is for: killing almost dead tires.

Changing wheels at the track
I threw on some used Hankook Z214's and the car felt fantastic again. I had the confidence to go flat out through the oval-in (where I totalled my 91 Civic in 2004) on one occasion, but the car understeered and it ruined the entry into the dogleg. In my last session of the day, I decided on a particular lap that I would not lift through that corner. I realized that when you decide early and commit to not lifting, you can focus on other aspects of the corner. I went through flat out, making small corrections with the steering, and it felt safe. I don't know if it was faster than part throttle, but it was quite satisfying. In that last session, I easily caught and passed one of the three Honda's that had crushed me at the Solo 1, so I feel that I must have been putting in some pretty good laps by that point.

I left the car at Trac and headed to my parents' to meet Alex and the family for Thanksgiving dinner. On the way, I called Pat and he told me that the blue Civic was already ready to be picked up. I convinced Alex to make a detour after the dinner for that purpose. We went to get the car around 10 pm. I was excited. Pat told me about a couple of issues and that he thought the car felt a bit slow. When I drove it, it felt as expected. The original exhaust system is probably a bit restrictive, but the car feels responsive and makes decent power. Things to fix: the exhaust rattles at a certain rpm (Pat admitted he forgot to put on two exhaust rubbers though), the driver side headlight still only works intermittently and the alignment is quite scary. Also, the rear tires sometimes rub when I go over bumps. There is a grind on the upshift to 3rd at high RPM, but I guess that it was unrealistic to expect perfect mechanicals for 800$. Hopefully, I can have most these items fixed in the next few days so that I can make this Civic my primary car. I'll start with the headlight and by changing the faulty speakers (the seemingly easy stuff).

All in all, it was a very satisfying day. The race car is running strong. The street car is running (period). I can't complain.

Cool cars spotted:
Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
2008 Subaru WRX

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Swap

Yesterday I spent the day at my mechanic's shop "helping" with the engine swap for the blue Civic. It was a fantastic experience for me as I had never participated in such a big job as this. When I arrived at Pat's shop (well, his dad's shop that we were allowed to borrow), he had already been working for a couple of hours and was ready to hoist the almost dead engine out of the car. I realized that doing a swap when you have an experienced mechanic who has done this type of thing many times before, as well as the proper tools (including a big engine hoist) and a spacious shop, is not terribly difficult.

I don't think I contributed much, as I was asking a lot of questions and was only assigned simple tasks, but I got to witness the rebirth of my Civic. I wanted to put on the 15" wheels so that there was a visual change to hint at the change under the hood.

Ready for a 1.8!
I got to help with the extremely satisfying step of lowering the new engine into the engine bay. It's not anywhere near as hard to do as I thought it would be.

When the engine was mostly installed, it wouldn't start. When it did start, it sounded like a lawnmower and was clearly not running on all cylinders.

Pat traced the problem down to a faulty ground wire (my fault) and the engine began to run properly. There were a couple of things left to hook up (throttle cable, exhaust system, air filter and housing), but the car was running, with only a day's labour.

Pat's lightweight flat red Civic
One of Pat's four Honda's. This is the flat red drag project. Pat and his dad operate a bodyshop and they do great work He also has a Del Sol, an Integra and a Coupe like mine.

We were not to sure about the condition of our mystery engine, but so far it seems pretty good: no knocking and not too much smoke. Pat hopes to have the job finished in a couple of days. I can't wait!

Almost road-worthy
This is how the car looked at the end of the day. Even though the throttle cable was not connected, the car exited the shop under its own power (using the idle).

Friday, October 5, 2007

Project Blue Civic

I drove the blue Civic to Pat's place last night and might head over to his shop tomorrow night to help him with the swap (not that he needs help, but I would like to learn a bit about swaps). The car drives nicely on the highway. Although I will miss the 323, the Civic feels like a much more modern car, even though it was built in 1994, just like the Mazda.

I know that I should not be too optimistic, but it would be great if the Civic could be ready to try on the track on Monday at St-Eustache. Of course, this would depend on many factors, one of them being that the new exhaust manifold can be bolted directly to the original exhaust system.

One thing is for sure: at least one of my Civics will be driven on the track Monday (if it doesn't rain, as I have no rain tires). I called Trac to make sure that the red Civic would be accessible to me (and not locked away in the garage). It has been a while since I've driven it.

The Summit Point enduro project is coming closer to reality. There were four main conditions that had to be met for me to go:
1- Make sure it was OK with Alex
2- Find a 3rd driver
3- Get medical insurance
4- Finish 40 pages of my Master's thesis.

Number 1 is covered. Number 2 is still uncertain. I made good progress on both 3 and 4 in the past 24 hours. A racing friend told me to contact a certain broker about insurance. He found me a product that will cover 80% of medical expenses for 24$ per 50 000$ of coverage per 8-day trip. This seems to be the type of product I was looking for.

As for my Master's thesis, I manage to bring the total pages from 4 to 14 in the last day, so I'm pretty psyched about that. I have to hand it in in December.

So things are looking up for the Summit Point race. Let's see how things develop.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

One more race?

Circumstances seem to be favourable to do one more race this year. There is a four-hour enduro at Summit Point on November 17th. Every year I've thought about doing this event and every year there's always been a good excuse, usually involving a lack of money or a race car in poor condition. This year is different. I've only done one real race this year so the budget is OK. My race buddy Carl is pretty much in. We have a willing crewmember with a truck and trailer. All we need is a third driver. I also need travel medical insurance. I promised Alex I wouldn't race in the USA anymore unless I had insurance. A client of mine broke his wrist in the States without insurance and it cost him 14 000$. I called a broker today for a quote and he said he'd get back to me.

Cool cars spotted today:
Maserati Quattroporte (x2)

I got the call from Pat that he's ready to take the blue Civic tomorrow. I can't wait to get it back. I have to resist throwing all my energy and resources into this new car as it could very easily be stolen or worse... I remember my heartbreak when my 88 Civic street car was destroyed last year by a driver who blew a stop sign on my street. Even though my car was just parked there, it was totalled. It was so depressing, especially when I was arguing over the replacement value of the car. The moral was that I shouldn't get too attached to any car because it could so easily be gone, just like that.

The 88 Civic before the accident.
I only had the car a little over one month. I had plans to build a replica Honda Michelin car... I already had the wheels and had found an original roll cage as well. And then...

The Civic after the accident...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Pep is not enough for good lap times...
I just went to one of my favourite stores, Canadian Tire, and didn't buy anything. I don't really need anything for my cars. I guess I'm getting to the point that I have all the tools that I need (for the limited repairs and maintenance that I know how to do) and that the next step is to replace them with better ones.

The Mazda is still a pleasure to drive through the city. It's just the right size and it has "pep". I don't know how one defines pep (my wife asked me once what it meant). I remember that my Mom used to tell me that she liked her 1981 Civic because it was peppy. I never used to understand that as the car had something like 65 hp. But I understand better now. My 82 hp Mazda has pep. I guess it's a combination of throttle response, gearing and power-to-weight ratio. There are very few new cars that have what I would call pep and that's sad. I bet the original Mini had it (I've never driven one yet). I could go into a rant about how this is due to the increasing weight of modern cars, but that will be the subject of a future rant.

Cool cars spotted today:
Bentley Continental Flying Spur
Skyline GTS-T
Ford GT

Monday, October 1, 2007

Honda hassles...

I talked to my friend Carl today about his experience at the Solo 2 Nationals in Topeka Kansas. He told me how some loser protested him for an illegal aftermarket little hose on his valve cover, resulting in a loss of 9 positions. Unbelievable... He mentioned the Mosport lapping day in one week, but I think I'll have to pass. It's always a 2-day commitment to go to Mosport and it will cost a lot less in time and money to simply go instruct at the lapping day at St-Eustache. He told me that Trac had ordered new fenders, hood and bumpers for my race car, so I hope to soon have a pretty car once again. This is what the car looked like when I first built it:

This is what the car looked like when I first built it

As far as the blue Civic goes, the improper importation saga continues. I received a call from Border Services today. They told me that the car was supposed to be imported temporarily and never to be sold in Canada. They also told me that it never went through a federal inspection. They said that the provincial inspection was irrelevant. They initially wanted me to take the car to a federal inspection at a cost of 222$. I told them that it was not my fault or problem that the car was not inspected (if that was even the case, I told him that the car had clearly been modified to Canadian standards) and that I only paid 550$ for the car in the first place because the engine had a problem. I also told the guy that the car was in no condition to pass a new inspection and that I had no recourse against the seller, as he had moved to Europe. The guy seemed sympathetic and told me he would call back, which he did. When he called back, he told me that Border Services would not force me to send the car for inspection after all and that they were going to emit the document that says the importation of the car was done properly. He said that the importer had been fined and that he could therefore make a certificate of proper importation since all fees had been paid. He sort of said that getting the car inspected or not was none of his business anymore and that I could do what I wanted to. The guy suggested I call Transport Canada once he sends me the certificate of proper importation to see about an inspection. I guess that's what I'll do...

Cool cars spotted today:
RHD Mini Mayfair
Alpine A310 V6
997 Turbo (beautiful in white)