Archive by Author

It’s the little things

19 May

A while back, I installed Corksport’s short shift plate and shifter base bushing combo to improve our Mazdaspeed 3’s vague factory shifter feel.  At the same time, I got a lightweight countersunk delrin knob from Carbing and while the trio of parts made for a fantastic feeling shifter, I didn’t like the way the Carbing knob looked.  While the Carbing knob came with several shift pattern stickers, I thought it would look ricey so I really wanted a knob with an engraved shift pattern for more of an OEM look.

I ended up having a custom stainless knob made a with the shift pattern engraving and wrapped in black leather.  Although the stainless knob would be much heavier, I still had Corksports super-light counterweight that I wasn’t using so I was confident I could get the same feel I had from the combination of a light knob and heavy counterweight.

Unfortunately, it was all for naught because I ended up not liking the stainless knob at all.  The flat top was awkward to shift and the leather section was smaller than I was expecting.  In fact, by comparison I really liked the Carbing delrin knob but I was still adamant about an OEM style shift pattern on the knob itself.  Thankfully, I was able to return the stainless piece in favor of a custom delrin knob with a similar the same dimensions and a similar knurled grip to the Carbing but with a shift pattern engraved in red.  Now I’m happy with the result as it looks and feels great.

It may seem silly to spend so much time and effort on something as trivial as a shift knob but considering how much contact the driver has with it, I should be happy with every flick of the wrist.


The Gotham Dream Car Tour

17 May

I will begin this post by saying that my wife Linda is pretty awesome and I’m lucky to have her.  The wife/girlfriend of a car guy is NOT usually interested in cars, but she is a trooper.  First of all, when I’m driving, she’s always Johhny-on-the-spot with the iphone camera when I notice a rare or interesting car on the road.   Plus, over the years, she’s come to a number of meets, BBQ’s and car shows and while I know it isn’t her favorite thing to do, she actively participates in my enjoyment.  She asks me questions, takes photos and probably talks to other attendees more than I do.  Basically, she is not the tag-along chick sitting in the car listening to music or doing her makeup while simultaneously texting me asking when we’re leaving.  She enjoys that I enjoy these things and she does it wholeheartedly.

That said, we heard about the Gotham Dream Car Tour for a few years now and it’s something I’ve really wanted to do.  Located in Englewood New Jersey, the tour can accomodate six drivers who rotate through six exotic cars over about three and a half hours of seat time.  At $895.00 per driver (with a passenger) it’s pricey,  but for a once in a lifetime kinda thing it’s not out of reach.

Until recently, the tour would have been tough if not impossible for me to enjoy.  I won’t go into too much detail, but over the years I’d had Ulcerative Colitis that got progressively worse.  After experimenting with many failed drug treatments, surgery (well, three of them) became the only option and I’m glad to say that I’ve been healthy and feeling great for the last year and a half.  When my birthday rolled around last November, my Linda surprised me with a gift certificate for the Dream Car Tour because I was finally healthy enough to enjoy myself without worry.  I don’t think the tour runs in the winter, but the certificate was good for a year so we decided to wait until spring to schedule.

Our tour was the morning session and we arrived at 8am as requested.  The staff at Gotham were friendly and asked us to wait in the garage until all of the guests had arrived.  They had breakfast out if anyone was interested (coffee, bagels, pastry etc…) and an episode of Top Gear was running for a bit of background distraction.  The food and TV didn’t interest me as much as the garage itself as guests were welcome to check out the fleet while waiting.  I didn’t snap any pictures in the garage because I figured there would be plenty of photo opportunities later on.  Plus, Gotham employs a staff photographer for each tour at no additional charge which is a nice touch considering the already hefty price tag (unlike costly entertainment like Universal Studios theme parks that nickel and dime you for every extra like photos).

After about 30 minutes, one of the staff members greeted the group and went over a brief summary of the tour as well as safety instructions.  They had a few stories and photos as kind of a wall of shame if you will…an example of how NOT to behave on the tour which can result in damage of the cars and the loss of that $5,000 security deposit on your credit card.  It basically boils down to driving with reasonable care…no launching, drifting, burnouts or excessive speed.  They assured the group that drivers can enjoy the performance these cars offer but in a way that is SAFE for other drivers on the road as well as the cars and guests on the tour.  Once the safety portion was over and done with, the last thing you wanted to be was “that guy” who drove like an idiot and ruined the tour for everyone.  Finally, we met the rest of the staff including the pace car drivers and our photographer.  The pace drivers controlled the tour on the road.  One guy leads the pack at a safe pace while another trails the group to keep people together.  The pace cars were new Ford Fusions, nothing exotic that would be hard to keep up with.  Each car was equipped with two way radios to provide directions and warn the group of any hazardous road conditions.  Tour members could also communicate with them in case there were any issues with the car or general questions.

Once on the way, drivers got about 20 to 30 minutes of driving in each car before stopping at scheduled points for drivers to swap cars and take pictures of their own OR get photographed by the staff photographer.  Most of the driving is on some nice country backroads in the mountains.  The scenic roads are very smooth with a nice blend of winding turns and straightaways to take in the sights.  Gotham chooses the car rotation in advance so I will say that the only downside is that the your first leg of the tour is pretty sedate as you’re mainly on the highway before hitting a rest stop to swap cars for the first time.  On the last leg of the tour, you double back to this same rest stop for the final driver change and for the staff to check the fuel level on the cars in case anyone needs a fillup.  I enjoyed every car and every piece of the tour but some sections were better than others.  In a perfect world, each driver would be able to select the car they want on the section they desire but it has to be fair for everyone in the group.  Therefore, it only makes sense that they choose for you.

Car #1 for me was the Gallardo coupe.  I’d never driven a Lamborghini before and it really was an experience.  Despite driving on uninspired roads for the first leg of the tour, this was actually my favorite of the day.  Everything that the driver touched felt so right.  The steering was fast and sensitive but nicely weighted.  The paddle shifters also had a heavy but pleasant weight to them and they reacted quickly.  The brakes required some leg effort and a little travel to work but the pedal was firm.  The powerband was wide and the car made great noises all the time.  The suspension was firm for sure, but it was never too much for me, nor was it uncomfortable.  Unlike a car with overly stiff coilovers, the Gallardo felt solid and well dampened.  The Gallardo had a nice blend of civility and supercar which is why I think I liked it the most.  It felt raw and it made you work a bit, but it’s still something that was very livable for every day.

Car #2 was the Maserati Gran Cabrio.  I think everyone gets to try something in this category on the tour (they have a Bentley as well in the fleet).  Where the Gallardo growled and snorted, the Maserati was almost silent by comparison.  It was comfortable to sit in and the ride was pleasant despite some cowl shudder over large bumps.  When you put your foot in it, the car is fast but it felt better to cruise along in comfort.  There were paddle shifters here too and I used them briefly, but the automatic mode is better suited for a car like this so I let it do the work for the most part.  I’m glad I got the chance to drive a Maserati but this model left no large impression.  Aside from being powerful, it neither exceeds or fails in anything.

Car # 3 was the Porsche 997 Carerra 4S Cabriolet.  At first, I wasn’t that enthusiastic to drive what many may categorize as a housewife’s Porsche.  Afterall, the legendary 911 is NOT a drop top nor does it have all wheel drive or a tiptronic transmission.  Also, The interior didn’t impress me to be honest.  The knobs and switches inside felt cheap compared to the Gallardo and the Gran Cabrio.  However, I was pleasantly surprised as I really enjoyed driving this car.  Steering was super sharp and it handled beautifully in the corners with tons of grip.    If not for the open air, I’d have forgotten it was a convertible as the chassis still felt very agile with no cowl shudder or flex.  The motor sounded great and had more than adequate power, but the tiptronic was a bit slow to respond so I chose auto mode.  It’s obvious that the Carerra 4S Cabriolet is for, achem, more mature drivers but it’s much more exciting and entertaining than I thought it would be.

Car #4 for me was the Lamborghini Murcielago LP-640 and it was intimidating.  First of all, it’s crazy wide and it had an aftermarket exhaust so it was STUPID loud.  They warned us about how limited the visibility was in this car, but to be honest it wasn’t that bad.  The hump on the engine cover cut most of the rear view, but there was enough visibility to understand what’s going on around you.  I drove the LP-640 exclusively on country backroads which is great because in the city I think it would be a handful.  It takes careful throttle input in first gear for the E-Gear tranny to take off smoothly.  Once underway though, using the paddle shifters was effortless.  Like the Gallardo, the paddle shifters were weighted very nicely…it was enough to feel mechanical but not so much as to stuggle to pull them when needed.  And I will confess, I didn’t always shift when it was required because I could listen to this car downshift all day long.  Seriously, it’s pure automotive boner-time when downshifting.  That said, I was very aware when I downshifted as the staff told us NOT to downshift to first gear which was completely unnecessary.  But yeah, downshifting a from say fourth to second gear for a tight low speed corner was just a brilliant experience.  Once the road straightened, getting some rpm in second gear was equally entertaining!  Steering was the heaviest in this car so I took it really easy in the turns.  In terms of powerband, the LP-640 wanted to be revved but the roads we were on would mean unsafe speeds, even in second gear.  Still, I was plenty excited and plenty scared by this car because it’s just menacing and I knew it would bite me if I dared it.  For the record, this was Lindas favorite of the day!

Car #5 was the F430 and I was SO excited to drive it in real life!  I’ve used this car a million times in Forza 4, but the reality of driving it first hand was very different.  The F430 also had an aftermarket exhaust so it was pretty noisy, but intoxicating. On the highway there was some drone at times but it all depended on throttle input.  I’d say the Ferrari had the best interior of the day in terms of style and the quality of the materials.  I think the paddle shifters are made of magnesium and while they were a bit discolored, they worked beautifully.  The weight of the paddle shift action in the Ferrari was lighter than all of the Lambos.  I actually preferred the heavier weighting, but that doesn’t detract from the experience.  The F430 personality fits in between the Gallardo and the Carrera 4S.  All of them are easy enough to drive every day and while the Porsche feels like an athlete, the Gallardo is super-powered.  The F430 is a blend of them both as it’s more civilized than the Gallardo, but much more aggressive than the Porsche.  The F430 carbon ceramic brakes were my favorite of the day.  They were firm and progressive but not grabby or requiring excess effort like the Lamborghini’s.  As for acceleration, the F430 had a huge powerband and felt fast everywhere in the rev range.  While it has the same motor as the Maserati, it feels unrestricted in the Ferrari while I suspect it’s detuned for the Maserati.

Car #6, my final for the day was a Gallardo LP-560 Spyder.  Despite being a bit lighter and a bit more powerful than the coupe, it’s easier to drive and feels more grown up.  The LP-560 is a rocket and I believe it has an E-Gear tranny like the LP-640 but they behave differently…the 560 is notably more foregiving.  Since this was my last car, I drove it mainly on the highway on the way back to Gotham’s garage so, again, not the best roads but by no means boring (yay for on-ramps and exits).  Since the car felt so refined, it was well suited to the public highway anyway.  Despite the surface quality on the Garden State Parkway, the car didn’t complain on the bumps or tramline aggressively.  As expected, the 560 Spyder made beautiful sounds, but it wasn’t at all excessive like the LP-640 with the exhaust.  I think the Gallardo coupe made you work more than the Spyder but then again I think the focus of a convertible is more towards a spiritied attitude than pure performance so it makes sense.

Finally, as if I haven’t written enough, I’ll throw down some final notes.  The staff at Gotham were friendly and had a good attitude, but they weren’t overbearing or too chatty (like a waiter in Friday’s or Applebees).  I didn’t have many questions, but it seemed like they were quick to help the other guests with anything they needed.  In terms of logistics, they have things down to a science.  Directions were repeated many times and the pace cars chattered back and forth at times to keep themselves aware of the positions in the group in case we got separated at lights or in traffic.  Also, at every stopping point, when drivers swapped over to their next car there was a “check” to make sure the two-way radio in each car was working correctly.  The photographer was friendly and took lots of pictures for the group at every stop (and some while on the road).  Once back at Gotham HQ, the office staff had gift bags waiting for each driver with a certificate, a T-shirt, a super speeders DVD and a web address where we could access pics for the day.  Sure enough, that night they posted a couple hundred pictures of our tour.

All in all, it was a great day.  I would totally do it again, but considering the cost I’d wait a few years to make sure I get a totally different fleet of cars.  Oh, and thanks again to my amazing wife for such a thoughtful gift!!!

Wiggle it – Just a little bit…

21 Apr

If you remember when the 2007 Mazdaspeed 3 was released, you may recall the rave reviews from the automotive press.  If I recall correctly, they called it the “Wild Child” in the Mazda lineup.  It boasted huge power for a FWD platform and enthusiasts were quick to buy and modify them for even more thrust.

Unfortunately, Mazda’s 2.3 liter direct-injected, turbocharged torque-monster was a bit TOO powerful.  How so?  The stock rear motor mount is very, very soft relative to how much power the motor makes.  Even on startup and shutdown you can see how much the motor moves around.  Hell, you can pretty much rock the motor back and forth with your hands while it’s bolted in.  Such a soft mount translates to unwanted movement that exacerbates wheel hop and torque steer.

In response, the aftermarket has come up with many, many mounts over the years.  Some companies offer several choices of stiffness to appeal to a broad amount of people.  The stiffer mount works better to limit movement and lessen wheel hop/torque steer, but that translates to a cabin loaded with vibration.  Cobb came into the rear motor mount game pretty late, but hopefully that means they have perfected what others have been doing for a while.  Unlike the other companies, Cobb offers one mount in one configuration and one stiffness…done.  While the competition has chosen urethan bushings ranging from 60-90 durometer, Cobb’s mount is 85.  To offset some of the added vibration, Cobb’s mount has several holes drilled through the bushing.  They claim that this feature offers the performance benefits of the stiffest mounts while keeping the vibrations tolerable.

Recently, I had the opportunity to install Cobb’s new rear motor mount for my 2011 Mazdaspeed 3.  Not surprisingly, the Cobb piece is beautifully machined.  It really is a shame that such a nicely finished part is tucked away out of sight.  It’s a pretty straightforward affair involving 5 bolts in total.  A vertical bolt attaches the mount to the subframe and a horizontal bolt attaches to a bracket on the transmission.  The transmission bracket has 3 bolts that must be loosened to swing the bracket out of the way for removal of the old mount and installation of the new Cobb piece.

Once installed, I was shocked at the amount of initial vibration while the car was just cranking to start – it really shook the entire car!  After reading about motor mount upgrades for a while, many people have mentioned that the start is the worst and that the urethane breaks after a few hundred miles once it’s flexed/loaded on and off.  I’ll admit, I was skeptical…the initial vibrations and idle were annoying but thankfully there was no drone on wide open throttle.

After some 600 miles and a short road trip weekend along lots of different roads, I’m pleased to report that the mount has definitely calmed down.  On a cold start, you can feel a bit of vibration during cranking but it’s nothing like that first start.  As a frame of reference, I used to have an Ingalls engine torque mount on my old 2006 Civic SI and the vibration during start-up is very similar.  In fact, I really don’t notice the mount at all except during start-up and if I blip the throttle at idle while stopped (which is super-douchey anyway).  Nothing in the cabin rattles at idle with or without the AC and there is no squeaking or rattling while shifting or loading the car with power.  On the road, torque steer and wheel hop are very much improved and replaced with a bit more wheel spin as the power is getting right to the ground.

I’m really happy with the mount so far.  I’ll admit, I do have minor concerns about the longevity of the bushing itself.  Over time, I’m wondering if the drilled sections of the urethane may crack with the constant flexing.  I’ll inspect the bushing itself and check that the mount is properly torqued during oil changes.

As a sidenote, this mount fits all 2007-2013 Mazdaspeed 3’s as well as Ford’s new Focus ST (not surprising considering how many OEM parts on my car are marked “FOMOCO”).


IMG_0758 IMG_0761

Ooooh, that feels better!

22 Feb

Our 2011 Mazdaspeed 3 is an impressive car to drive, even in stock form.  That said, there are areas that could be improved… The stock shifter action is smooth and comfortable, albeit vague.  Interestingly, this is at odds with the lovely chassis/suspension which offer lots of good feedback.  The shift throws could be a bit shorter and more precise.  If I could set the bar for comparison, the Honda S2000 has probably the best shifter I’ve ever…ummm…shifted?

Thankfully, there are a number of products on the market that can help improve the situation.  I chose Corksport’s adjustable short shift plate and solid shifter base bushings.  Together, they should shorten the gap between gear engagements and limit the side-to-side movement of the shifter.

Installation is pretty simple, even for someone like me with no mechanical ability and fat, stubby fingers.  Still, I managed to get my hands cut up a bit!  The Corksport shift plate mounts on TOP of the factory piece so installation is simply a matter of popping off the shift cable under the hood and unbolting the stock shift-counterweight.  Corksport also supplies a lighter counterweight with their short shift plate, which should give the shift action a more mechanical feel.  The plate and counterweight fit perfectly and are made from sturdy CNC’d steel with a black powder coating.  The plate is adjustable from a 20%-40% reduction in throw.  I started at 20%…

Corksport short shift plate packaging, with free candy.  Cool.

Corksport short shift plate packaging, with free candy. Cool.

The Corksport shift plate and counterweight installed.  Easy!

The Corksport shift plate and counterweight installed. Easy!

Those with mechanical ability will come out unscathed...

Those with mechanical ability will come out unscathed…

The next step was to move on to the interior to install the shifter base bushings.  One look at the stock bushings will show you how the shifter base can rock from side to side.  The Corksport bushings and washers are made from solid billet aluminum with an anodized finish, so they should help tighten things up and eliminate some free play.  This installation is still simple, but there is the potential for aggravation if you aren’t careful.  The stock rubber bushings go through the shifter base while the Corksport bushings go UNDER the base.  Once the shift knob is removed and the shifter/ebrake console pulled up, you will see the shifter base.  The base is bolted in four locations so removal of the factory bushings is a simple matter of unbolting with a deep 10mm socket and a long extension, then pulling the bushings out with some needle nose pliers (it can take some effort).  The tricky part is sliding the bushings under the base, lining them up and bolting them in without having them slide down the underside of the carpet (which would be a chore to retrieve).  I put each bushing in one-by-one, carefully lining them up and lightly threading them by hand . This way, the base has some wiggle room without worrying about losing one bushing while aligning another one.  Once they are all in place, they get snugged down and the interior panels are popped back in.  Good to go!

Nice embossed tin case for the solid shifter base bushings.

Nice embossed tin case for the solid shifter base bushings.

Stock Squishy bushings out!

Stock Squishy bushings out!

New solid billet bushings ready to go!

New solid billet bushings ready to go!

So, all done right?  Nope.  I took the car out for a quick spin and things weren’t perfect.  The shift action was defintely shorter and more defined, but a bit too notchy for my taste.  Even worse, gears 1, 3 and 5 didn’t shift the same way as 4 and 6…as if they were just barely engaging.  Fortunately, the gear-select cable is adjustable (yay Mazdaspeedforums!)  You can unlock the factory position by pulling the set spring toward you while lifting the orange lock.  Once unlocked, you can move the select-cable up or down the shaft (hehe shaft)  and lock in a new position.  This changes the neutral position of the shifter a bit and how the gears engage.  After a little trial and error, I found the perfect position and locked it in.  So, now that all of the gears shift accurately, things are feeling pretty good…but not perfect.

The gear select cable adjuster.

The gear select cable adjuster.

So, the shift throw is shorter (20% position feels nice) and more precise but with perhaps a bit too much mechanical feeling which means “notchiness” requiring excessing shifting effort.  The MS3 is my daily driver so I’m not banging gears on the way to the grocery store…things still have to be comfortable!  I re-installed the heavy shift counterweight and everything was smooth…too smooth.  Oy.  So, it seems to me that the key is the amount of weight in the system and where the weight is.  I have Corksport’s light counterweight and a heavy OEM counterweight and neither feel perfect with the OEM shift knob.  See where I’m going with this?  So, I ordered a couple of shift knobs.  The first one I tried is the Carbing high grip knob made out of “duracon” (like delrin).  It’s super, super light and has a nice grippy, knurled center section which is cool.  With the heavy OEM counterweight, the shift-feel is just about perfect.  Shifting is quick, crisp and fun!  Unfortunately, the Carbing knob isn’t very pretty.  So, I also have a knob being custom-made from brushed stainless steel with a leather wrapped center section and an engraved shift pattern.  It will be a bit thicker than the Carbing knob, but height is the same and the threads of each one are countersunk.  I plan to try the new heavy knob with the lightweight Corksport counterweight to see which setup I prefer.  Hopefully I can achieve the same feel that I have now and retain an OEM quality look inside the car.

I will report back when the custom heavy knob arrives!  For now, I’ll live with the way it looks and concentrate on how it feels…crisp and tight!

The super-light duracon knob made by Carbing.

The super-light duracon knob made by Carbing.

The Carbing knob includes a few shift patterns if you can deal with a sticker inside your car.

The Carbing knob includes a few shift patterns if you can deal with a sticker inside your car.

Shift feel = great!  Shift look = eh.

Shift feel = great! Shift look = eh.

Ready for Spring

12 Feb

After last weeks storm, I’m really looking forward to Spring and weekend window-down driving. In preparation, I cleaned up my summer wheels for our 2011 Mazdaspeed 3.

It’s been a couple of seasons since I’ve done this so it was a chore to get the old weight adhesive and road tar cleaned up. The job calls for some simple green, WD40, rubbing alcohol and a few old microfibers. A plastic razor also helps with the tar and adhesive residue once you soak the affected areas in a bit of WD40 to loosen up the grime. A plastic razor won’t scratch the surface like a real blade…

Each wheel took about 40 minutes to clean up and polish with a good cleaner wax like klasse AIO but it’s time well spent. These wheels are now 6 years old and still in decent shape with only minor rash that I’ll touch up and wet sand soon.




The COLD hard truth

1 Feb

 A clean car is not a major priority to the average person. I would guess it probably falls somewhere between mowing the lawn and picking up the dry cleaning. For most, it’s a chore and it costs a few bucks and 15 minutes of your life at the local carwash.

If you are reading this, you are not most people; You’re a car nut and an immaculate ride is right up there with eating and breathing. That said, it’s tough to keep your car tip-top when the weather is this cold. Thankfully for me, my apartment has a heated garage and it is invaluable!

For cold weather detailing, I still wash outside but an Autogeek foam gun and Sonax wheel cleaner help save time and keep exposure to the chill minimal. Using a warm water bucket to rinse the wash mitt is a good idea in between panels and helps your hands stay warm. After the final rinse, I pulled into my toasty garage to dry the car and begin cleaning and sealing the paint.

I haven’t driven much since my last session with the claybar in the fall so I moved right to my bottle of Klasse all-in-one for paint cleaning. This stuff is easy to use, even by hand with a bit of pressure. While the Klasse AIO is sufficient for protection, I topped it with Meguiars NXT which goes on/off very easily, adds slickness and smells great. If you have a darker car, the NXT will also hide some minor imperfections.

Now, our Mazdaspeed 3 looks showroom fresh and the paint should be protected until the seriously hot weather arrives. Check the pics for nice reflections and gloss for a Silver car…


More reflections, pretty clear...

Reflections, pretty clear…


Nice reflections for Silver...

More reflections, nice for Silver…


Sighting: Kia Optima Turbo

20 Dec

Yea, I never thought I’d consider buying a Kia either.  However, with a 274hp turbocharged direct-injected motor that produces 269 lb-ft of torque from 1750-4500 rpm, I’m certainly interested.

I know the new Optima has been around for a while, but this is my first encounter up close.

Is it a real competitor to Honda and Toyota?  In recent years, the Koreans have made more interesting products and it’s translated into better sales.  This Optima is certainly better looking than the now-boring Camry/Accord V6…but will it be as reliable as the Japanese cars?  Time will tell.

Would you consider buying one?

Used Car Find – A Silver Bullet

15 Dec

I have wanted a 300ZX Twin Turbo since it was first released. I was 11 years old and already a Z-car fan as it’s history is legendary.   While I still coveted the 70’s and 80’s Z’s, the 1990  Twin Turbo sold me at first glance.  It was so modern, and packed with so much technology…Nissan had obviously been looking towards the future rather than focusing on the strong Z-heritage.

The 1990 300ZX Twin Turbo  started a revolution.  The new design made previous iterations look ancient and it’s twin turbochargers and super HICAS four-wheel steering were new technologies.  In my opinion, this was also the car that brewed a kind of war between Japanese car companies.  The Z32 Twin Turbo set the bar that Mazda, Toyota and Mitsubishi were forced to compete with in their own versions of Twin-Turbo supercars.

Today, the Z32 is still beautiful.  I’ve always loved the fighter-cockpit feel of the switches surrounding the guage cluster…and that weird gray carpet around the dash.

This particular 1990 has only covered 28K miles in the last 21 years and unlike many Z32’s these days, it’s unmolested.  This is 100% original Nissan.  OK, so it’s an automatic…but so what.  This would make a great car to cruise around in, T-Tops and all.

Good luck to North Jersey Auto Mall – I hope this Z finds a good owner.  If it’s one of our readers then I demand a ride!

Z1 on the Top Gear Test Track?

28 Nov

Well, kinda…read on.

If you’re reading this, chances are you own or have owned several modded cars over the years. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that most of us enjoy our cars in daily driving and rarely (if ever) see a race track.

Thankfully, Forza 4 for the xbox 360 is packed with a large variety of detailed cars, mods and a lifelike physics engine so you can enjoy some of your present/past machines on the worlds most famous tracks.

I was able to build our old, sadly missed FC RX-7 and it’s accurate down to the rare Mazdaspeed front spoiler. With identical mods, the total power and power-curve are shockingly accurate.

Even more impressive, the game even realizes that one cannot perform traditional “headwork” on a Mazda Rotary engine.  Rather, the game allows you to select various levels of intake/exhaust “porting” options just like a real Rotary engine builder would perform.  Our setup was simple; street intake and exhaust mods, a street port, an upgraded fuel pump and ECU, and a large front mount intercooler for the stock turbo. The results are around 300 horsepower and 275 lb feet of torque; plenty to push around a relatively feathery 2600 pound car.  I even added an adjustable final drive set to 4.30 to simulate the coveted 1989 RX-7 GTUs unit in our old car.

Finally, I did some research and found the actual spring rates from our coilovers and the anti-roll bar sizes, rim diameter and tire sizes to match the game setup to that of our real-life car.

With our virtual car completed, it’s truly a blast to take a spin around the famed Top Gear test track, or try to tackle the corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

Share your FM4 builds with us!

We’re Back!

31 Aug

The Speed3 is back from the bodyshop and the hail damage is repaired. In the end, paintless-dent-removal (PDR) was utilized for the fenders, doors and hatch. However, there were too many dings and dents on the hood and roof so those panels were replaced with Mazda OEM parts. Richmond Auto Body did a very nice job…the color-match and paint blending look great. Also, the common body-shop blunders cannot be found here (overspray, sanding marks etc…). The work is guaranteed, so I’ll keep a sharp eye in case I notice anything in the future but so far so good!

I’ll resist the urge to seal the fresh paint for 30 days (to allow for proper outgassing). However, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue the weekly washing routine.

Thankfully, my new Gilmour Foam Gun makes washing a snap. The gun allows you to adjust the ratio of soap/water in the foam to suit light or heavy soil.  This thing rocks!

So we’re looking factory-fresh again.  We’re now in the process of tuning our latest round of mods. I’ll report back once the final Map is dialed in…

Under the Knife

19 Aug


Here we are at Richmond Auto Body in Amityville NY.

I have some photos of the initial damage-inspection and repair of our once flawless Mazdaspeed 3. Hopefully, it is resurrected to the same quality…

In the end, the hood and roof were replaced with Mazda OEM pieces. Paintless dent removal will be used to repair the dings in the fenders, doors and hatch.  Unfortunately, Bondo is required for one ding on the driver’s rear quarter panel and a few dings in the panel between the roof and the top of the door.

I’m skeptical of most shops, but this place was very, very clean (the mark of any good shop) and the people were friendly. The insurance company guarantees the work for as long as I own the car, so that puts me at ease!

One pipe, one pump and a magic box!

18 Aug

While our Mazdapeed 3 was in the bodyshop to repair the hail damage, we were in severe turbo-withdrawal. In preparation for it’s return, we thought it was a good time for another round of simple, yet effective mods.

Like it’s predecessor, the 2010+ Mazdaspeed 3 responds well to mods. Early Speed3’s were able to run most bolt-on’s without incident. However, Mazda made some serious changes in the Gen2 ECU in the interest of safety…changes that further tax the OEM direct-injection fuel pump.  In fact, anything more than an intake on a 2010+ Speed can be downright dangerous(especially in cold weather where the ECU calls for even more fuel).

The solution is to upgrade the DI pump with new internals that have the capacity to sustain pressure commanded by the ECU. Autotech’s upgraded internals have a good reputation with the VW/Audi crowd. Thankfully, VW/Audi direct-injection motors use the same DI pump Mazda does (made by Hitachi). The installation is straightforward and takes about an hour.

Confident that our fuel demands can be me, we also got our hands on a Corksport racepipe.  This pipe replaces the OEM secondary cat and significantly increases the MZR motors volumetric efficiency. This racepipe is also a nice compliment to the Cobb SF intake system we installed a few months back.

Our motor is now breathing better thanks these simple intake/exhaust mods and the upgraded DI pump can keep up with the additional airflow.

The final piece in this round of mods brings it all together. Cobb’s Accessport makes it easy to reflash the ECU over 100 pre-set maps to match a variety of mods. The new Accessport can datalog at even faster sampling rates so we can monitor performance and even create a custom tune with their Access-Tuner-Race software.

Results to follow!

Hail to the Speed…

18 Aug

Long Island, NY…home to super-celebs like Billy Joel, Howard Stern and Alec Baldwin. We’re famous for our laughable accents, our over-priced real estate and our moderate weather. However, my 2011 Liquid Silver Mazdaspeed 3 would argue with the latter.

“Speedy” is rambunctious and always itching for a fight. Unfortunately, it couldn’t outrun the recent hailstorm that hit Nassau county earlier this month.

The storm generated golf-ball sized hail that has many local auto body shops booked solid until late October.

With only around 5500 miles on the odometer, we made haste before shops became overwhelmed with work. The morning after the storm, Speedy was in good hands ready to be mended.

Pics of the damage below.  So what do we do to make ourselves feel better?  Buy mods of course!  Stay tuned as we have a new round of mods ready to go!

Future Imperfect?

22 Jun
It’s human nature to be curious about our own future.  We’ve all pondered where life may take us, and we’ve all looked back and wondered “what if something had happened differently.”  If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve probably daydreamed about how your favorite automakers will evolve their products in the future.  However, the future is rarely what we fantasize.  Considering the current line of enthusiast vehicles, let’s try looking backwards for a moment.  What if you could jump into the Doc’s Delorean and go back 10 years.  Armed with your knowledge of next decade, what would happen?
A car-guy surrounds himself with car people.  Surely you would take to the local “meets” and internet forums of 2001.  You would prophesize the market in 2011…and you would likely be labelled an automotive heratic, burned (or more appropriately “flamed”) at the virtual stake.  Afterall, 2011 looks VERY different from 2001…
Honda fanboys would be in full-force in 2001.  Bolstered by the success of the 1999-2000 SI, They would be looking forward to the next iteration of the SI nameplate.  Like a modern day Nostradamus, you would tell them about the fall of Honda.  You would tell them that the upcoming 2002 SI hatchback was reminiscent of a VW GTI, albeit without the charm.  You’ll remark how the anemic K20 under the hood is from their brand new base model RSX, rather than the vtec screamer in the RSX-S.  You’ll tell them that in 2006, the RSX would be dropped and Honda would install the RSX-S drivetrain in the 2006 Civic SI coupe.  With a limited slip.  For LESS money.  But, it wouldn’t last as the 2012 SI would again become an uninspired bean-counter’s car.  They would say, “well the 2011 S2000 must be awesome, right?”  Nope.  The beloved S2000 is also discontinued in 2009 with very little evolution along the way. In 2011, Honda’s most exciting car will be the V6 accord coupe and that is very disconcerting.  The big “H” from Japan becomes boring and lifeless and the hardcore Honda-files from 2001 won’t believe you.  However, it’s the rise of the “H” from Korea that will REALLY set them off!
In 2001, Hyundai is laughable to an automotive enthusiast.  Their sporty car is the Tiburon, but it’s slow and strange looking.  “It takes time,” you’ll say “but in 2008 Hyundai is a contender because of their new model; The Genesis.”  In sedan form, it’s a solid rear-drive luxury sports sedan created in the image of a 5 series BMW.  It’s no slouch either, with nearly 300hp available from the standard V6 or almost 400hp from the optional V8.  You’ll tell them it wins car of the year in 2009, and their jaws will drop.  Furthermore, the sleek ‘n sexy coupe now competes with the legendary Nissan Z-car in both spirit and design.  Enthusiasts may choose from a turbocharged four cylinder, or a big 3.8 liter V6.  Eventually, even the Hyundai Sonata is a promising alternative to the Accord or Camry.  Upon further disbelief, you’ll mention that the Sonata has an optional 274hp turbocharged 4 cylinder motor and MSRP is less than 25 grand.  In 2011, Hyundai is winning hearts and minds, but they aren’t the only ones…
Ford.  “Fucked on race day.”  “Fix or repair daily.”  You’ve heard all the acronyms. Their flagship, The Mustang has always been an iconic car, but in 2001 the passion has fizzled a bit.  In fact, Ford’s entire line is…boring.  It’s as if they built cars specifically for Hertz and Enterprise.  However, in 2005 Ford draws inspiration from the past when it develops a modern version of their LeMans winning GT40.  Now dubbed the simply the “GT,” a true American super-car.  Interestingly enough, Honda discontinues the NSX that same year.  Since the introduction of the GT, the Ford line has undergone a dramatic shift.  For example, a V6 Mustang never got much respect, but in 2011 a V6 Mustang has it in spades.  When equipped with the performance package, Mustang gets shorter gears (and a 6-speed manual) firmer suspension, thicker sway bars and a monster 19inch wheel and tire package.  Die-hard American Mustang owners will love the throwback styling and will revel in the fact that the base V6 makes 305hp…nearly 50 more than the V8 GT in 2001.  The V6 is now a real performance car, but nobody in 2001 will believe you.  And it doesn’t stop with the Mustang; Fans of the original SHO may be disappointed in 2001, but you’ll tell them a suitable replacement is coming in 2010.  Aggressive styling and a 365hp twin-turbo V6 is impressive…  In 2001, twin-turbo’s are equipped on the likes of the Audi S4 and the Japan-only Skyline GTR.  Twin Turbo Taurus…it takes time to sink in.  Hell, Ford even the base Focus in 2011 makes nearly the same power as the SVT model from 2001.  Ford ups the ante with the upcoming 247hp turbocharged ST model.  

It’s remarkable how much the industry has changed in such a short period of time.  I could go on and on about Porsche’s development of the Cayenne and the equally strange Panamera.  Similarly, Ferrari’s recent FF hatchback has also spurred much debate among the loyalists.  Years ago, such projects would seem like automotive blasphemy.  Where will be 10 years from now?  Considering the current situation, do you look toward 2021 with excitement?  Dread?  Cautious optimisim?  Either way, if we had a window into the future, there is a good chance we simply won’t believe what we see.

A new spring in the Wild-Child’s step…

27 Feb

Upon it’s release in 2006, Mazda dubbed their new Mazdaspeed 3 sport-hatchback as the “Wild-Child” and the nickname caught on in the automotive press.

The current generation Mazdaspeed 3 has grown up a bit, but underneath the new-found refinement, it’s still a Wild-Child at heart offering big thrills at a low price.

Despite only a tick over 1000 miles on the clock, we couldn’t wait to dive into our new Speed3 with some basic mods.  The stylish new exterior is sharp, and the OEM 18 inch wheels echo that of the flagship RX-8 R3.  However, the wheel gap is large.  The solution; a set of H&R sport springs.

Installation was straight forward and trouble-free.  Throughout the process, there were some interesting things to note… among them, a sensor in the front suspension that is connected to a mechanical rod that moves as the system compresses and steers.  I can only assume this is one of the sensors Mazda’s ECU uses to adjust torque output based on steering angle and suspension compression in the lower 3 gears to limit wheel spin, wheel hop and torque steer.

The H&R kit lowers the car 1.25″ inches all around for a more aggressive stance.  Next week, we’ll get the car aligned and see if this spring kit requires any camber correction bolts/arms.

Ride quality feels like stock on most surfaces.  Large bumps and potholes are more jarring, but overall the H&R sport springs are well suited to daily driving.