Friday, March 8, 2013

SOLD - Yellow Mini

Well, I finally sold the yellow Mini. It was a lot of fun to drive, but turned out to not be a hot seller. I think the main problem was the color. You don't see many yellow cars on the road, and I think there's a reason for it. Those folks who do have a yellow car either had their mind set on a yellow car or got a great deal on it because it was yellow.

Also, my yellow Mini started off a little...girly. It had white stripes, white wheels, was missing a big flower on the door. A reminder of how it looked when I got it:

After a couple months I changed things up, painted the wheels, peeled off the hood stripes and added some sports details, as follows.

Much better, eh? Well, it still didn't do the trick. This was the ONLY car that I've sold that had NO (ZERO) test drives...and I had it for almost six months. I ended up selling it at an auction and lost a chunk of change.

Lesson learned: never buy a yellow car if you plan on selling it.

Next up: Audi TT Roadster.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2005 Mini Cooper S - Um, Yellow

After selling the gray Mini, I told my father-in-law to buy a car at the auction for me and gave him a few ideas. He came home with a set of keys to another Mini. When I picked it up I was in for a small surprise:

Yep, it's yellow. An has white wheels, stripes and a roof to boot. I think it's a bit "girly", but still sporty enough. I've toyed with the idea of putting a pastel flower on the door. Even the inside is yellow, which I like. Gives it a sporty feel.

It drives great, just like a Mini should. At first I didn't think I'd like the cloth seats, but I don't mind them and they give a little better grip in the corners than the leather ones do. I do miss the sunroof, and think that may affect potential buyers.

If it doesn't generate enough interest to sell, I may paint the white areas with Plasti Dip, a spray paint that you can easily peel off if you change your mind. Here's the look I may go for:

Friday, August 3, 2012

2006 Mini Cooper S - SOLD

After I spent several months driving a Porsche 911 and BMW M3, I didn't want a letdown on my next car. However, I wanted to get better mileage for my commute and get something that would be easy to sell before winter if needed. Enter the Mini Cooper S. I love Minis. So much, that I've had four of them over the past three years, both the sportier S model and the standard model.

This 2006 Cooper S fit the bill perfectly. It has the 4-cylinder supercharged engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. It gets decent mileage (I average 26mpg) but not as good as you'd expect. The non-S models get much better mileage.

Handling - The Mini is basically a large go kart. It is spry and turns on a dime. Take a sharp turn and give it a little throttle and it slaps a smile on your face. It gives you confidence in both the car and your own abilities. The ride suffers a bit due to the sporty stance, and you feel the bumps in the road a bit more than most cars.

Power - With the supercharger, the S model has just enough power to be fun but not enough to get you into too much trouble. It moves the Mini quickly, and if you work the gears right you can have a lot of fun.

Interior - Sitting in the Mini you would be surprised at how much room there actually is. You don't feel cramped or feel like your passenger is sitting in your lap. The back seats are tight and can't fit even kids without sliding the front seats forward. However, you can still go on shorts rides with four people on board. "Fun" is the best way to describe the inside layout of the car. The buttons are logically placed, once you get used to having the window switches on the center console. The rear seats fold down when needed and you can fit a surprising amount of stuff in the back.

Final Say
If you're looking for a small, fun, practical car, get the Mini. I recommend the S model if you're into sporty driving, but the non-S is still fun if you don't need the extra power. It's a fun car that will put a smile on your face any time you drive it. I'd stay away from the automatics, as they have historically had transmission issues and because the manual is just so much fun to drive.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

1998 BMW M3 - SOLD

Well, I sold the Porsche and went out on a limb on my next purchase. I picked up a 1998 BMW M3. I had read that it was a great handling car, but was a little nervous about it due to it's age. I bought it on Craigslist from a local college professor who used it as a weekend toy (note: Craigslist is the best place to buy used cars, and this type of seller is perfect because they care for the car and seldom use it).

Handling - I have to start here, because the M3 is one of the best handling cars I've owned. It stacked up right alongside the 911 and Boxster that I've had in the past year. In some aspects, I think it handles even better. The best part about it is being able to break the tail loose on a tight turn but instantly bring it back in line. The car seems to know what I want to do as I do it.

Power - It has plenty of power, but not as much as the 911 or even the Mustang GT that I had a few years ago. However, the relatively low power (compared to today's cars) doesn't bother me; the power seemed perfectly balanced to the car.

Interior - The interior is nice, with interesting M3 stripes on the seats. For being 14 years old, it has held up nicely. The layout is logical enough and there aren't too many buttons to worry about. However, it's a fairly spartan interior that looks a bit plain.

Final Say
I definitively recommend the 1998 BMW M3. It's one of the funnest cars I've owned. It handles like a two seat sports car, but has a back seat to hold two more when you need it. It's best attribute is balance - it is the perfect balance between handling, power, responsiveness and practicality.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Every once in a while, I post on my wife's craft blog. This week I added a post about Pinewood Derby Car racing that I thought might be applicable to some of you...

So you want to go fast?  Really fast?  Good.  So do we.  To make your son's car fast, you need to help him follow a few simple rules and also apply a few tricks here and there.  For our area, all of these hints are legal, but make sure you read the rules in your area just in case. And remember to let your son do the work. It may take a bit longer, but he will have fun and will learn valuable skills.

First, from the engineer in me, a little review of the physics behind the race (for a complete physics review, go here or here).  All the speed in your son's car will come from POTENTIAL ENERGY being converted to KINETIC ENERGY.  When the car is at the top of the track, ready to go down, it is full of potential energy, or the force of gravity pulling the car back to earth.  If the track were to suddenly disappear, the car would fall to the ground, converting the potential energy to movement, or kinetic energy.  

Theoretically, the fastest the car can go is the speed at which it would be traveling as it fell right before it hit the ground. Of course, your car (or your son's car) won't be going that fast since it loses some of it's kinetic energy to FRICTION and other forces. Friction losses come from the rubbing of the wheels against the side of the car, against the axles, and against the track. There is also a little bit of friction from air, called drag. Energy is also converted into rotational energy, i.e. the spinning of the wheels.  

So in essence, we want to maximize the potential energy in your car and minimize the losses due to friction and other forces. While I can't give away all our secrets, here are a couple of tips to do just that.

The easiest way to maximize the potential energy in your car is to make it as heavy as possible. Find out what the maximum weight is (usually 5 oz) and make sure you are right at that weight. Use an accurate scale and weigh your car throughout the build and design process.  Usually, additional weights will need to be added to your car. Tungsten is the recommended material for weights (denser than steel and safer than lead).

Put the weight towards the back of the car. On an inclined track, this will give you a little higher center of gravity, which means a little more potential energy.  Look at the car in the first picture. Most of the weight in it is in the back rear of the car. Just be careful not to put so much weight back there that it causes your car to do a wheelie.

One commonly used method is to make the car just a little heavy, then remove material at the race site by drilling a little wood out of the bottom of the car. This is the method we used last year.

Next, we need to get rid of the friction. Lets start with the wheels and axles. The axles that come with the car are really just small nails with imperfections from the manufacturing process. If you look closely at a new axle, it will have small "fins" between the head of the nail and the shaft. These fins sit right where the wheel spins and will cause a lot of friction and must be removed. We did this by inserting the axle into a drill chuck for polishing. We have a drill press, but if you don't, a standard drill will work as well, but you'll need two people (one to hold the drill and one to polish).

Next, use a small file to grind off the fins. Strangely, the best file that I had for the job was a file on my multi-tool. Hold the file parallel to the head of the axle and, while the axle is spinning, lightly touch the fins to grind them off. 

Then we start polishing the axles. This is a fun job that your son can do. Start with a rough grit sand paper and cut it into strips. Have your son hold the strip and pull it against the axle while it is spinning. Move the paper back and forth and change it out often. Fold the sand paper in half and push the exposed rough edge down gently on the head of the axle. Be careful not to pull too hard as you could bend the axle, which would really slow things down.
Move to a finer grit of sand paper and repeat the previous step. You can move through several different grits to eventually get down to a very fine (1600) grit paper.

Once you have the axle mirror smooth, finish it off with a bit of steel wool. We added a little graphite powder to the steel wool and rubbed it into the axle while it was spinning.

Another area of friction comes from where the inside part of the wheel hub contacts the side of the car body.  Make sure to leave a little space between the hub and the wheel so that the wheel is not pinched against the car. You can buy spacers to get the spacing just right. If you're big into painting your car, you can also help create a smoother surface by not painting the area of the car where the hub will rub.  My son's car had several coats of paint plus clear coats, and we didn't want paint build-up to slow down the wheels. We used small stickers to cover up the axle locations before painting. After painting, we very lightly sanded the hub area and rubbed it with graphite powder to create a smooth surface. (Free painting tip: poke several pins through a piece of cardboard and then rest the car on top of the pins to elevate it slightly).

Axle Location
The next tip that we'll share is axle location. The block comes with pre-cut slots in which to mount your son's axles. However, I would not recommend using them as they are usually not square, meaning they will cause your wheels to be ever-so-slightly out of alignment, which could pull the car to one side or the other and slow it down, especially if the wheels ride against the edge of the track.

Instead, drill new holes just outside the grooves. A #44 bit is the perfect size, but may be hard to find at your local hardware store, so I'd suggest ordering it online. The new hole needs to be drilled in perfectly straight, so either use a drill press or a guide (like the one below).


 Note that it's better to put the new wheel location on the outside of the grooves rather than closer together on the inside.  Placing them outside gives you a longer wheelbase, which will help the car go straighter as it will resist turning forces.

The last tip is one that most people know, but is also one of the most important. Use a dry, graphite based lubricant between the wheels and axles. There are several to choose from and not a whole lot of difference between them.  However, you will be amazed at the difference it will make in the speed of your son's car. Add a very small amount between the axle and the hub, then spin the wheel several times. If you get a chance, do a few test runs as this will allow the graphite to work into the wheels.

Here is Reed's car from last year coming down the track.

On a side note, our pack had fun, inexpensive, and easy to make trophies. They were small blocks of wood with Matchbox cars on top, spray painted gold.

Well, I hope you both have fun making your son's car. Remember to involve him in every step of the process. You can help him do most of the work while ensuring that things are done right. Be sure to explain why things must be done right and the benefit of taking time to do so. In my opinion, it should be fun for the boy but a little bit hard too, so that he remembers the effort that it took to build. That way, when he sees his car going fast down the track, he can equate hard work with positive results. Winning isn't everything, but teaching your son that research, correct application of principles, and hard work creates positive results is a valuable lesson.

Good luck!


Friday, December 30, 2011

1999 Porsche Carrera 911 (996)

1999 Porsche Carrera 911 (996)

The Porsche 911 has long been my favorite car. Something about the combination of power, handling and styling has called out to me since I was a boy.

A few months ago I was able to tour the Porsche museum in Stuttgart, Germany. It was a great experience, and further solidified my desire to own a Porsche. After the trip, I promptly bought a 1997 Porsche Boxster. It was an amazing car with superb handling and enough power to bring a smile to your face. I drove it all summer and loved it! Being the responsible adult that I am, I sold it before winter set in and bought a 2003 Audi Allroad with all-wheel drive to get me through the snowy months.

After driving the Allroad for about a month, I listed it on Craigslist as I usually do, but with no real intent to sell it. At that same time, I noticed a 911 for sale on Craigslist. I liked it and commented as much to my wife, but since I already had a car I decided not to consider it. Then about two days later I got an email, asking if I would consider trading the Allroad for a Porsche 911. A few follow-up questions later, I confirmed that it was the same 911 that I had seen on Craigslist. A week later I traded keys and titles and drove off in the Porsche. So much for a winter driver!

So far, it's been a great car. It is a Tiptronic (Tip) car, which means it has a 5-speed automatic transmission that you can also elect to shift manually via up/down shift buttons on the steering wheel. I've driven it both in full auto and with the Tiptronic shifting and it is smooth either way. The Tiptronic does give you a bit more feeling of control. I usually prefer a manual transmission, but have to admit that the Tiptronic is pretty slick.

The 1999 features the first water-cooled engine in a 911: a 3.4L six-cylinder that produces almost 300hp. I've had cars with more horsepower, but they were much heavier vehicles. The 911 feels much faster, with plenty of power available at an speed with a push of the pedal.

The interior is well laid out, but you can certainly tell that Porsche engineers focus more on powerplant and suspension than on the interior components. Some parts feel a little cheap and brittle, and there are a few rattles and shakes that I suppose could be just a symptom that the car is 12 years old.

That's enough for this post.  In summary, it's been the best all around car I've had so far.  If it was a manual transmission, it might be a keeper.

Friday, April 15, 2011

1992 Corvette

Most guys I know have always wanted a Corvette.  There's just something about them that call out to you.  In December I saw one pop up on Craigslist from a private seller for a great price.  I grabbed a stack of bills, jumped in the car, and went out to see it.  It was an older car, 1992, red, with red leather interior.  It was dark and cold and I didn't get a good look, but I figured I'd take a chance on it. After a quick test-drive, I was on my way.

It was fun to drive with a lot of straight-line power and a fun-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. Mashing the pedal in 2nd gear at low speeds produced a satisfying strong pull. It is one of the only cars that strikes a little fear in my heart when I give it full throttle.

Days driven:  134
Projects and fixes:  new interior carpet, distributor, spark plugs
Highs:  straight-line power, it's a Corvette
Lows:  rattles, must be an acrobat to get in and out