Monday, July 11, 2011 08:00
In a happy moment of gearhead awesomeness, we’re going to veer away from the straight up automotive video ecstasy to something more esoteric. It’s a few bits of viewing that, although not strictly automotive, are just the kind of actions that gearheads looooove. Big explosions, massive destruction, incredible levels of power being delivered in huge doses that anybody who adores mechanical awesomeness and force-unreckoned can embrace.
For starters, let’s get to explosions. We’re not talking about moron-with-a-lighter or nutjob-with-a-rifle-and-a-propane-tank (though YouTube’s full of them), but military-grade explosions. Massive, tactical force-equalizing super-destructive rocket versus tank explosions. The best part, outside the massive destruction, is that the rocket is named the Bill.
It’s a Bill 2, to be specific, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) built by the Swedish firm Bofors, who has made lots of nice weapons in their time. And, note, this is a test video, so the tank is an old remote-controlled Centurion (so it says – we’re not tank experts here). And as cool as tanks are, the grade of explosion with its surface-of-the-sun molten burndown of the tank, renders us much in awe. More...
Tuesday, January 4, 2011 05:08
Former Formula 1 champ Kimi Raikkonen is doing it. Multi-time MotoGP champ Valentino Rossi has tried it. More and more racers are looking at the World Rally Championship and seeing a series that offers challenges mere road racing doesn’t. The cars themselves are built to slither and slide down dirt roads at speeds you’d normally find only on pavement courses. Despite their stock appearance, there’s a lot going on under the sheetmetal of a WRC car.
A WRC racer starts life as a production car with a minimum of 2500 built, to avoid ringers and special one-offs. Engine size is limited to 2000cc, and turbochargers are allowed, even if the production version was normally aspirated. An airflow limiter on the turbo inlet caps horsepower at about 300, although some teams are rumored to be getting about 40 more. While more power is possible to achieve, most teams concentrate on getting a wide powerband.
Six-speed semiautomatic gearboxes are common. Sequential electronic shifters let drivers change gears in about .04 of a second, the same as a Formula 1 car. The cars have conventional clutches, too, but they’re used only at the start and finish.
Four-wheel-drive is allowed, with the differential settings adjusted to suit different courses. WRC events take place on pavement, gravel, and dirt roads, sometimes in the same race, and even snow-covered roads during some of the far northern races. More...
Monday, November 29, 2010 02:28
I’m a BBC Top Gear fan. In fact, it’s my favorite motorhead program. Period, or as Brits say: “Full stop.” Any thinking car guy has to love the sheer lunacy Jeremy Clarkson and company consistently cook up every week. And then there’s the Stig and the nutball contests the program creatives dream up.
That said, I watched Discovery Communications’ new “American” version of Top Gear with a large dollop of skepticism and a hatchet next to my keyboard. At first glance, everything is very familiar, bordering on a complete rip off. However, there aren’t any quirky British accents, phrases or the British dry sense of humor. The Yanks have their own test track, airport runways, the same live audience, celebrity drives in a small car…and yes, there is now an American Stig. The American scriptwriters, however, have not come up with the hilarious “Some say…Stigisms.” Bottom line, they swiped the entire BBC playbook.
I wasn’t sold on the cast the producers chose either. They picked funnyman Adam Ferrara, drifting star and “Battle of the Supercars” second banana Tanner Faust, not to mention NASCAR pre-race goofball Rutledge Wood to host the show. All three did surprisingly credible jobs, but may need time to develop the personas of their counterparts across the pond. Faust seemed hell bent to show off his drifting prowess by smoking the tires off everything he drove, mostly sideways. Rutledge Wood toned down his NASCAR goofiness to the point that he seemed reasonably intelligent. Ferrara was largely invisible. More...
Friday, November 12, 2010 03:31
I “got into wrenching” literally. I opened the hood of a ’59 Ford F-100 and climbed over the fenders into the engine bay. On that old machine, a svelte 14-year-old (or even a hefty 53-year-old) could easily find several spots to stand and inspect the engine.
My self-education began by tracing wires to see where they started and ended and trying to figure out what did what. Then I started taking unimportant-looking stuff apart. Much to my chagrin, I discovered the pickup had an oil-bath air filter. Instead of a modern paper element air filter, the truck employed oil to remove dirt. The contents of the oil-bath filter covered me and the driveway. Often, you have to learn the hard way.
I crawled under the truck, took wheels off, and generally just looked around. I changed the oil, carefully renewed the air cleaner, replaced the rearend and transmission oil, and changed the spark plugs. All this could be done today by a 14-year-old with few tools, no fear, and a lack of parental supervision.
My first mechanical success came when the truck’s crankcase vent tube clogged up. I diagnosed and corrected the problem. Success is a great motivator. Success comes when you like something and you like something when you’re successful. From there, it was on to changing drum brakes, repairing leaking wheel cylinders, and more.
When I moved up to a ’71 Ford Torino, I purchased a repair manual. That started a reading frenzy. I bought a textbook from the local high school auto shop class. If the Torino needed new shocks or its bearings repacked, I read the manual and started to work.
Not every project was successful. I pulled the head from friend’s Fiat 124 to have the leaking valves ground. Reassembly one the double overhead cam engine went perfectly. Except for one tiny detail. The Fiat’s fuel pump had to be timed to miss something important (never figured out what). The manual either didn’t address it, the important part was smeared in grease, or the Italian-English translation wasn’t clear. That near success turned into a very bad failure. (Later, a pro mechanic friend, an Alfa Romeo specialist, said, “I’d rather starve than work on Fiats.” I sure hope they’ve improved over the years.)
Here’s how to get into wrenching: Just do it. Get a manual: A dead-tree instructional is better than one on a computer. You don’t want to screw up the computer AND the car.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 02:11
Removing the starter fuse is a great way to disable a vehicle and make the driver think it’s just a dead battery. I’ve employed this tactic with both my son—when he wasn’t permitted to drive—and my mother when she was not capable of driving. Only a very skilled mechanic—not your average road service wrench—would diagnose this problem.
For your favorite senior drive whose car might have to be towed to a repair shop, just place note inside the fuse box that reads, “Please don’t fix this car without calling me first,” and include your number, of course. Then you have to have an unpleasant talk with you mother.
With the teen, I told him that if he could find and repair the problem, he could drive the car. Chance of diagnosing the problem: Almost zero. Chance of him walking to the auto parts store for an extra fuse. Zero. Not everyone is a real car guy.