Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thousand Mile Month

Yeah, in the grand scheme of thing it's really no big deal. But it's still the first time that I've ever done that many miles in a month.

18 miles on the Pivot Mach 5 mountain bike
31 miles on the Gunnar Crosshairs cyclocross bike
954 on the Moots Vamoots CR road bike

And I had to ride 57 today to hit 1,000.

I am such a dork.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Miata Mania - Project List, Pt. II

Okay, so the red car sold to a woman in her late 30s within a few days of posting it on the local Craigslist. After almost getting into two fender-benders during the 30 minute test drive, I don't have much faith that the poor car is long for this world with her as the owner. She seemed very easily distracted and somewhat of an airhead. Oh well, at least I had the cash in hand - the same amount that I had spent on the car a few months prior. Since she was new to the area and didn't have an easy way to pick up the car (I thought of the Coaster commuter train after the fact), I offered to deliver it to her San Diego apartment for her. Here's the last shot, sitting outside her apartment and sporting the alloy "Daisy" wheels from the silver car:

The grrrls drove me back home and I started formulating the plans for my new blank canvas.

Like the project list I made for the red car, I wanted to make the car look better, perform better and enhance safety and comfort. Nothing too flashy or out-of-character for the car, and taking advantage of a deep pool of enthusiast knowledge from these cars being well-loved and modified for the last twenty-plus years.

First, to get it to run properly, a new ignition system was ordered. Ignitor/coil, spark plugs and wires to replace the damaged ones.

With almost two year-old oil in the crankcase (the car had set for over a year prior to my purchase), and who knows how old the coolant, brake fluid, trans fluid and diff oil, it's time to flush and refresh the fluids. The clutch pedal has too much "dead travel" before engaging, but three minutes under the dash with 10 and 12mm open-ended wrenches took care of that.

And after crawling around the underside of the car while it was on jackstands, a fair oil leak was discovered. Thankfully it's just from the valve cover gasket, a common failure with these engines and a quick and easy fix.

Thankfully the original shocks aren't as bad on the silver car as they were on the red car. And remarkably, the front end sits about 1" lower than that of the red car. Regardless, the shocks are tired and I still plan on making the same upgrades that I had planned for the red car. Flyin' Miata Stage 1.5 suspension kit and related bracing to stiffen up the chassis.

I was fortunate to find a well cared-for and always garaged example in the red car. The silver one is very nice overall, but has some light bodywork to attend to. The goal is to get the car to a similar level as the red car. Clean and straight, but not go so far as to do a full repaint. Repair the rear quarter panel and bumper, re-spray the mirror surrounds, do some paintless dent removal and refinish the front bumper. The faded wiper arms desperately need a fresh coat of paint.

Above and beyond that, the same OEM front air dam, shorty antenna and Hard Dog roll bar that were also planned for the red car.

The trunk had a slight water leak from the optional hardtop attachment points, repaired with $2 worth of Home Depot-sourced o-rings:

Thankfully I don't have to spring for a new top, the glass window-equipped version is in great shape.

Since the OEM speakers in the silver car were totally fried, I didn't see it fit to swap them out with the mid-range aftermarket speakers that were in the red car. A new set of door and headrest speakers will be installed. The distance between the brake and gas pedal is slightly wider than that in the red car, and my All-Stars have a hard time matching revs, so a Flyin' Miata pedal kit is on order.

I had planned on replacing the all-plastic steering wheel on the red car with something nicer (and Italian), but I will probably wait a bit until undertaking that on the silver car. The leather-wrapped wheel on the silver car feels quite nice, and there are better places to spend money.

I've already tackled a lot of these projects, I've just been behind (and uninspired) in posting. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Musical Interlude

Too much car/Miata talk as of late. Check out this new Wilco video instead of me blabbering on about a twenty one year-old roadster.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Decision Time

Not wanting to hold on to two Miatas of the same vintage, one was going to have to go. 
 (pic taken after I had already swapped the wheels, see below)

The trouble was, having limited discretionary funds, I couldn’t afford to get the silver car registered and road-worthy in order to properly evaluate it against the known entity of the red car. Plus, an overly-aggressive underhood cleaning by yours truly kicked the crap out of the silver car’s ignitor/coil module. One of the spark plug “outlets” ended up cracked and charred - possibly from moisture entering. 

I don’t really know if I actually caused all of the damage or just exacerbated what may have already had one foot in the grave. But I do know that after the engine was considerably cleaner, it ran considerably worse and would not rev over about 1,500 RPM without the number three cylinder misfiring. At least that part is one of the known weak spots of this marque, with an average lifespan of 60-80k miles. With nearly 102k on the clock, the part was likely on its last legs anyway. The silver car felt good during the brief test drive and pre-cleaning, short drive around Carlsbad, but not enough seat time was spent to have real confidence that it was going to be a reliable car.

So, which car would be sold? Do a quick flip of the silver car or the slightly more-involved and risky selling of the red car?

First the evaluation.

One of the reasons the silver car was aggressively priced was due to the minimal damage to the rear quarter panel. The paint wasn’t quite as shiny as that on the red car, but it came back to life after a clay bar treatment, a couple of polishings and two coats of wax. However, the paint was missing completely on the tops of the rear view mirror surrounds:

A few deep door dings sullied the body in a few places, the worst of which was on the hood.  As previously mentioned, the top is in excellent condition and has an upgraded glass rear window. The car also sports the world’s ugliest aftermarket replacement antenna in place of the OEM power antenna. 
Lots of spider webs and egg sacs were stuck to the undercarriage.

Aside from it smelling somewhat of bad carwash fragrance and having a thick coat of Armor All adding too much sheen to the abundant plastic and vinyl surfaces, not much was needed here. The front speakers were shredded paper OEM units and the most of the light bulbs in the radio were burned out. The owner’s manual, passenger-side floor mat and lighter were all absent.

Since the car had been parked for more than a year before my acquisition, an oil change was high on the list of tasks – whether or not I decided to keep this car. The oil itself still looked good and light, but the filter was dated FEB 09. And I do know from this door jamb decal that the oil was changed once about twenty or so years ago.
and the shop even over-inflated the tires by 9 PSI.

The almost two year-old oil would have to go. The ignitor/coil, referenced above, would also have to be replaced, along with the spark plug wires. Running the old license plate through the CA smog test history website showed that the car has consistently passed the inspection. There was an oil leak coming from the crank sensor location which dripped oil on the back side of the engine and on to the transmission. No big deal, a cheap and easy fix. It’s been too cool out to check the function of the A/C, but even if it was in need of a recharge and leak fix, the cost to repair is minimal. The red car didn’t even have A/C anyway.

Suspension, Brakes and Tires
The shocks on the red car were about 90% gone with very little damping left, but the original shocks on the silver car felt about 75% gone. Not great, but not in as much of an urgent need of replacement. Plus there are no virtually-impossible-to-chase-down squeaks on the silver car. The brake pads still had a generous amount of life left in them, and the rotors were thick and straight. The BF Goodrich tires on the OEM “Daisy” seven spoke wheels were down to the wear bars and showed significant cracking.

So, on the surface a lot of stuff checked out well for keeping the silver car and selling the red one. The higher-level of optional equipment, such as the A/C...
...cruise control...
 ...power windows...
  ...and leather-wrapped steering wheel...
...along with the fresh soft top and preferred silver color outweighed the relatively small list of things to attend to. Plus, keeping the silver one would give me more, much-needed Saturday afternoon wrench-turning projects.

The decision was made – the red car had to go.  Some time was spent moving many of the mods I had made on the red car over to the silver one. Wheels...

 ...headlights and headlight surrounds and radio head units were swapped:
 The aftermarket sill plates...
...owner’s manual, passenger-side floor mat and lighter were all swiped from the red car, as was the battery disconnect.

A little clean up of the red car and some new pix and description were posted to Craigslist. 
More to come...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Miata Mania - The Sickness Spreads

To paraphrase Lay's potato chips and their "betcha can't eat just one" tagline, it seems that my Miata addiction is not unlike an addiction to junk food - I can't *have* just one. Like a potato chip, Miatas are cheap, plentiful and far-too-easy to buy. Especially when one is grossly-underpriced.

I've been hitting Craigslist for the past few months, looking for odds-and-ends to pick up for my car. Things like wheels, trim bits, hard tops and complete, wrecked cars have piqued my interest and been chased down from time-to-time. Searching both the auto parts classifieds and the cars for sale by owner (with a max price of $2k) have netted some interesting finds. Including this silver '91:

I wasn't at all in the market for another complete and straight Miata, but the listing was too appealing - and the ad had only been posted about an hour prior to me seeing it. Thankfully the car was close to work, so I borrowed the shop truck and drove over to take a look. What I saw I liked; for the most part at least.
This woman approached me during my test drive and asked if I was selling it -
turns out she owns a yellow Miata.

Yes it's another '91, but the car has far more options than the elemental and pure red base model car I already had. Factory-equipped with air conditioning and anti-lock brakes. Plus, as a "B" package, this car also featured power steering, power windows, cruise control, alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, factory headrest speakers and a power antenna (no longer present on this car). Every option except the desirable limited-slip rear differential. None of these options matter much to me. Living in coastal northern San Diego County, I have little use for these comfort and convenience options and prefer the feedback provided by the manual steering in the red car. But all are good to have for future resale, should the time come.

Not only was this a relatively-loaded specimen, but it was also a clean, low-mileage (102k) car that was being sold by the original enthusiast owner. She loved the car, but got spooked after getting grazed by a lifted pickup truck on a local freeway exit ramp in late 2010.

After the incident, she drove home and parked the garage. That would be the last time she drove the car. She now drives a boring Nissan Murano. Not realizing the true market value, she priced the car closer to the blue-book value and hoped for the best.

A brief test drive made my decision to purchase easy. It had fewer squeaks than the red car, a less-faded interior and the top was newer and had been replaced with a unit with a glass rear window. A tonneau cover was also included - all major plusses. However, the tires were cracked and worn down to the wear bears. And the paint, while in a preferred and less-flashy silver, wasn't as nice as on the red car. The oil filter was dated Feb '09, but the oil still looked okay. No matter, it was a major deal at her asking price. So that's what I offered.

I had sold a mountain bike the previous weekend, so I had most of the cash on-hand. A trip to the bank the next morning secured the balance.

Since the registration had expired, and since the seller had a few extra, unused tows from her annual AAA membership, she offered to have the car flat-bedded the five miles to my house, free of charge.

It was home 24 hours after first laying eyes on it.  Then I started making plans.
To be continued...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SAAB Story

Sorry for the massively-cliched headline, but it's all I got.
Sadly the collection of the SAAB museum is headed for auction. I've long been a fan of these quirky Swede machines and have owned three examples so far. Anyone care to loan me several hinkar* of krona to keep the museum going? If so, email me.

*Swedish for buckets (according to Google Translate anyway)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mexico Day Trip

Some pix from a quick trip to Tecate, Baja California to wrench on some bikes at the Rancho Nazaret Hogar de Niños oprhanage.
 border crossing at Tecate
 the boy's bikes, ready for some repairs and tuning
 with a gadget
 I've never seen a tire so evenly and thoroughly worn out
 ready to rip down a hill
 Electra bikes last
 diesel injectors
 mangy mutts
 discarded desks
 Jose, future mechanic
 lumber store dog
 street taco stand
 70 min border wait
ads painted on the border fence
 tamale wagon
 street vendor tries his best to peddle religious tchotchkes (we bought churros instead)
border Maria

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Down On The Street

Or, more fittingly, down on the parking lot of a soon-to-be-demolished onetime Carlsbad resort, being scraped away for a Lowes.
I've been pedaling past the former Olympic Resort in Carlsbad for a few years now. About a year ago my "cardar" spotted an interesting shaped vehicle under cover along the south side of the doomed building. It turns out, that parked amongst the construction vehicles and trailers was a shooting brake of genuine English provenance.

In this case, it's a 1976 Jensen GT. And if the Wikipedia entry is to be believed, this is certainly the rarest car I've spotted in the wild, with only 509 having been built during the car's brief eight month production run.

I've always loved the shooting brake body style. Then again, I am a sucker for wagons and hatchbacks. Notchbacks are such a waste, give me the long-roof version of any car where it's available.

And vintage tires had such cool tread patterns and minimal graphics on tall sidewalls. Too bad these old Pirellis are no longer road-worthy

Check out the registration on these blue plates - this car has been off the road for at least 27 years:

At least it looks complete and pretty straight and complete. Maybe some masochist will take on a restoration of it and its 2 liter Lotus engine.
One more look at that roofline:
Somebody make it run and lash a surfboard to the roof.