Finally healed up from surgery, I landed in New York yesterday to hang out with my girlfriend and start stretching my professional network as I look for new sources of income.
This morning she went to work, and I went up the highway to call on one of the Craigslist gems I had earmarked while surfing the internet under the influence of (legally prescribed) narcotics last week.
The machine in question was a Honda dual-sport motorcycle called an MT250, vintage 1974. By virtue of it’s age it had a round headlight, metal fenders, and beautiful swooping lines that have since disappeared completely from off-road vehicle designs. Enthusiasts will know it’s one of the few roadgoing two-strokes Honda ever made, and by virtue of it’s engine is noisy, smelly, and very hard to kill.
I found the siren song of this one in particular so enticing because it was well-photographed, cheaper than most of the bicycles I’d seen in Brooklyn, and the ad boasted a “clean title in hand”… a niggling but necessary accessory to any vehicle you hope to get Massachusetts license plates on.
Rolling up to the address with the mild anxiety that prologues any potentially awkward social situation I rang the seller and told him I reckoned I was in front of his house.
“Then you must be looking at an ’82 Harley in my front window” was the reply.
Indeed I was… the gentleman had actually mounted a complete Harley-Davidson where a family in my old neighborhood might mount a giant statue of a stupid horse or something. I was instantly glad I had made the drive out here.
The seller, whose name and location will remain unpublished, came out to greet me with hair-metal swagger and a faded black t-shirt to match. I shook his hand and instead of taking me straight to the motorcycle I had called about the night before, he told me the story of the Harley in the window- a long tale of romance, drama, and swashbuckling, that he transitioned seamlessly into a tour of his house and photos of his drag car; a Rambler on racing slicks with a six-hundred-horse Corvette V8 crammed down it’s throat. Cool.
On the way to the photos we passed two full-sized racing go-carts affixed to the wall, assorted trophies, and a few Playboy magazines as old as the Honda I had come to see. I couldn’t believe the righteousness I had inadvertently stumbled into. I no longer cared whether or not I left with a new bike of my own, my shopping trip had become an ethnographic study and story hour.
We made our way outside and passed his AMX, Corvair, and the Rambler I had seen pictures of. Naturally I asked about each, and he was happy to indulge me with spec sheets, back stories, and a popping of every hood. Each car had the same theme- roll cage, giant tach, and an engine so large only an unmarried man could be allowed to own it. Nearly an hour had passed and I hadn’t even seen the bike I had called about, but couldn’t haven been happier.
We made our way through his basement. Remember that scene in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves says “we need lots of guns” and suddenly infinite racks of ordinance appeared? Turning on the lights in there was like that; only with gearhead treasures. We stepped into a well-lit cave of wonders chock’a block with engines, bikes, tools, more bikes, and a nudie calendar on the wall. (Cliché: accomplished.) Affixed to the floor with racket straps was a stripped Harley with a damn turbocharger the size of my head bolted to its intake. Seller saw my eyebrow go up and smiled; “Snail’s from a Subaru XT. Used to have nitrous on it.”
This was easily the second-best way I could have possibly spent a morning in New York.
“So, this is my mancave, and there’s the Honda” he gestured to the MT250, a little sandy and scratched but essentially as-advertised. I felt the motor; cold. That’s important when buying a vehicle private-party- be wary of guys who spend all morning starting/warming up a machine so it sounds artificially healthy when you go to inspect it.
We wheeled it outside and the seller kicked it, nothing. Kicked it again, and the feisty little oilslurper burped to life- spitting smoke and oil like a dragon with indigestion. It sounded like a a chainsaw. Not like an over exhausted-Civic sounds like a chainsaw. No, like if the thing could drive itself I’d expect it to head straight to Texas to conduct a massacre.
“I’ll be damned. Year-old gas and she goes second kick.”
The engine idled at two grand and fought for life like a drowning bumblebee, coughing and sputtering as a thirty-year-old-engine dormant for a year would. At this point I was content to thank the seller for his stories and move on but he was not satisfied; he busted out his toolbox and we pulled the carb, cleaned the pilot jet, reinstalled, and got the bike partying like it was 1974.
It was pretty, and funky as hell, but after few rips around his block I wasn’t convinced this bike and I were destined to be soulmates. Despite having the signal lights and gauges allowing it to take to the roads, the two-stroke thumper was so noisy and shaky I was having trouble picturing myself enduring it for many consecutive miles.
I’ve already got one impractical, short-range motorcycle… the dirt machine I’m looking for has got to be something for long, epic, adventures- not throwing roosts around a paddock. Though this little Honda was beautiful, I reckon it’s future lies more in a sand pit playground than on an expedition.
I told the seller I’d think about it overnight and departed; all up I spent almost three hours at the guy’s place, about twenty minutes of which had been devoted to discussing the item for sale. Felt great to meet another interesting member of the motorcycling community… and somebody who’s looking for a rascally, historic machine will get a great buy when they take that 250 off his hands.
Amazingly, my wayward sportbike seems to be operating within acceptable parameters so far. So on the workbench will be dad’s ’77 Honda Express, to which I lamentably lost a tiny-but-key piece to two summers ago (carb float pin; paper-clip like object the size of a fly’s leg), and my newly acquired ’76 Schwinn lay waiting to revived.
After having the carburators on the GSXR rebuilt I was left with enough bits to get the Express’ tiny thumper pumping again, whether or not the rest of the machine is willing to cooperate remains to be realized… the rear wheel bearing is weak enough to shake with a slight pull of the rear brake and the (original) tires are literally molding.
The bicycle’s issues are more cosmetic, by nature of being significantly less complex.
Let the labor begin!
Having managed to rack up around 5,000 miles on my UA6 since it joined my squadron this summer, I’m ready to drop a deep report on it’s real-world performance.
Honda’s UA6 (Acura TL) is a tidy, unassuming sport sedan. That’s right, I said sport sedan. FWD or no, LSD and big-ass Brembos take this car from mild to… well… let’s say “moderate”. Anyway, the thing’s got enough gadgets, LEDs, and carbon fiber (albeit, faux) to allow you convince yourself you’re in an M car if you squint hard enough. Which you should never do while driving.
Whatever your thoughts on car branding, the third-gen TL has a niceness-to-affordability ratio that anyone can get behind; fuel efficient as an Accord and quick enough to keep up with your friend’s M3… as long as you’re both stuck in Newbury Street traffic.
What can I say, it’s the first thing you notice. And on this car that’s a good thing. Honda has a great track record of designing handsome vehicles that compliment their overall product, and this might be one of the marquee’s most elegant to date. Those sharp angles give it the chisled face of a Spartan warrior, while the smooth creases across the back put a suit on him. The A-Spec body kit on mine give it just enough sass to appeal to my inner Paul Walker, but are subtle enough to remain cool long after those F&F style wings have fallen out of fashion. As for the wheels, you really can’t argue with the OEM stocky five’s. Though the gunmetal-colored BBS-style rims featured on the TL Type-S are hot enough to melt tires; even before they start rolling.
Comfort & Convenience
This is where it becomes obvious how poor I am… as I’m blown away by seven-year-old ergonomic technology. One-touch control for both front windows and the sunroof, not to mention rear windows that go all the way down, was enough for me to brag about to my racecar-driving friends for the first couple weeks. But then I discovered the voice-command button on the left side of the steering wheel.
Push this button, say something like; “set temperature; sixty nine degrees” and not only does car perform the task, but it repeats the command in a sultry-lady-computer voice. Which is far and away the coolest part.
The gigantic touch-screen navigation/infotainment screen seemed a little less impressive since my phone is about twice as advanced and ten times more accurate, but it is worth noting that the Acura deck (made by Alpine) absolutely crushes the diminutive interface in my grandfather’s 05 E-Class. The comparable-era Mercedes-Benz nav screen is much smaller, is not touch screen, and does not have nearly as sexy a voice for driving directions.
The TL’s seating arrangement is more than acceptable, though I have to admit this is one department where the Japanese brands generally fall short of the Germans. Front seats are heated, easy to adjust and quite aggressive looking. Back seats have ample room for sex or fatter passengers (hey you want both, get an SUV).
Why, was there something else you needed a back seat for?
As far as road noise and suspension, I’m amazed to report that the shocks and bushings on this 160,000 mile car are more solid than those on my mum’s one-year-old cute ‘ute.
On my last trip to the wildlands of North New England I had an opportunity to get a second opinion on the vehicle’s straight-line stability, so while my friend and I made our way down US-91 I walked the car deep into the third quarter of the big clock and pinned it for about five minutes. Not only did my passenger not an eyebrow… but she was surprised at our pace when I disclosed it later.
Drag racer? No. Canyon carver? Neither.
While the TL is extremely light for a vehicle in the E-Class/5-Series/A6 size strata (just 3,500 pounds) it’s still massive, and it’s still front-wheel drive. This is a dangerous pairing when trying to hustle a vehicle off the line or through hairpins.
Mashing the gas off a stoplight quickly overwhelms the tires, and once the rubber finally does hook up; oversteer rears its ugly head and the car tries to put itself into the curb.
Of course, that’s wearing “okay” Nankang tires, and usually wet conditions.
In aggressive cornering this Acura is rigid enough to inspire confidence (with front and rear strut braces, it should be) but the FWD layout lets it down once again. With the front wheels doing the pulling and steering, it’s difficult to find that prime float-speed at which the weight of the car is exactly where you want it.
Where a skilled pilot could lay out a beautiful and pants-shitting yaw in a BMW, or a razor-sharp assault of the apex in an Audi, the TL just has to back off. This problem is significantly more apparent on a wet road.
The möbius-strip of nonsense that encircles the Boston Sand & Gravel facility is great for finding the limits of a car’s cornering speed …so I’m told… and apparently the tail of this era of TL only starts to wash out a little shy of twice the speed limit. Right around the time all but the least squeamish passengers will start to verbalize their terror.
This car comes into its own on the highway, and can be driven extremely aggressively from 2nd through 5th gear with smile-widening results. Hold VTEC open a little above four-and-a-half grand and the TL can surge through tiny cracks of traffic, or blast your ass into the back of the heated seat in a clear merge situation.
Acura claims the car’s good for up to 150 MPH, which is righteous, though I wouldn’t attempt it with anything less than exceptional tires and fresh brake pads.
FWD finally starts to redeem itself with weight savings, and as a result fuel economy. I track my MPG everyday, and on a normal first-on to last-off (about 3.5 hours on the road, averaging speeds in the mid 30’s) I see between 25 and 28 depending on how many Bimmers I’ve antagonized on the Pike.
The TL may get left looking at taillights in dogfights with the German Armada, but for the difference in ownership costs and real-world useable performance, the Acura decidedly earns its seat at the table of premium sport sedans. And when you consider how many times an M5 would get keyed in my neighborhood, this Japanese four-slammer is really the only viable option in this market.
When I can afford a few garage bays in Belmont I may switch my DD to something a little more pretentious, overpriced, and RWD. Until then, it’s Acura all the way.
In a rare stroke of luck I managed to wash up in Los Angeles on opening day of one of the nation’s biggest auto shows. Perfect excuse to put off looking for a job another day.
My oldest friend lives in town, and he was kind enough to scoop me up from LAX in his fresh RX-8. We headed to the convention center via Señor Fish… where I got the most righteous Mexican food I’d had since my last visit to tinsel town fourteen months ago.
Coming from Far North Queensland and Cape York just over a week prior, the Shock & Awe factor of L.A. freeways was nothing short of overwhelming. I had forgotten just how nuts the traffic was here- and I’m not just talking about the volume of vehicles.
I looked around at the first stoplight we came to and realized we were surrounded by half a million bucks worth of motorcars. Continental GT to the left, AMG Black to the right, and the entrancing HIDs of a Rolls Royce Phantom burning a hole in our rear-view mirror. A few blocks down the street we passed a Fisker Karma shored up at some brunch place… I didn’t even think that car was real!
We hit LA LIVE late-afternoon and started taking in the show with the Tuner section downstairs. I could tell I had been in the bush for awhile when I realized how many vehicles I didn’t recognize, and how much the tuner scene has changed since the last car show I’d been to (Geneva ’09).
The late-nineties Japanese imports I’m used to seeing have long fallen by the wayside in favor of ultra high-end European exotics. Not just 458 Italias and Murciélagos… even a Bugatti Veyron and the new Lamborghini Aventador had been sprayed and tweaked by local skunkworks.
But upstairs in the main hall, the Manufacturers’ displays were just a little less awesome.
Lexus had their unicornian LFA sports car on a turntable, and BMW was toting a pair of glow-in-the-dark Tron cars. But other than that, the main floor was largely devoid of the world’s truly unique automotive offerings that I had been hoping to see.
I can’t get that excited about a face-lifted Camry or economy-trim Civic. Even the new Mercedes SLS, easily one of the sexiest current production cars on Earth, didn’t blow me away- but only because I had seen three on the street between the airport and the convention center.
Where were the Spykers? Moslers? Gumperts? Even Tesla was noticeably absent. I come to car shows to see the wacky shit you can’t see on the street anywhere, no matter how many rich people live there… and am disappointed to report that most of the coolest stuff at LAAS this year could have easily been in the parking lot.
My friend speculated hard times had hit these independents. Perhaps true, but if so I think these small shops are losing out in the long run by skipping the show. Mega-marquees like like Toyota will never have a problem getting the word out about a new sedan; it’s a well-known brand selling a mass-appeal product.
But companies like Weismann, Noble, and other great automakers you’ve never heard of rely on buzz and interest generated by having a presence at shows like this to make names for themselves. After all, their target audience; the automotive press and hardcore enthusiasts, are pretty much the only people at such events.
Three badges that did make use of the soapbox were Land Rover, Subaru and surprisingly- Kia. Rover has a concept off-roader they’re calling the DC100, and they flossed a pair at LAAS complete with pastel-colored paint and, TV screens and a Barbie-house interior.
I hate to admit I’ve been loosing faith in Land Rover as their offerings get softer and softer… And these two over-sized PowerWheels cars aren’t helping their case. The Range Rover and RR Sport are getting glitzier themselves, seems like they drop another centimeter with every revision since the Classic. At least the Defender is still with us, for now.
Subaru, on the other hand, came up huge with the world debut of the BRZ sports coupe. They’ve teamed up with Toyota to collaborate on engine and suspension technology to build an entirely new car.
The BRZ caught my eye from across the room and nabbed my attention like a hot chick walking into Stats class. That signature STI blue on such a sexy shape was a beacon of hope parked between some Hyundais and a weird art fixture made of Mini Coopers.
Since this is a concept, I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to test-drive it. The real version, which the Subaru rep told me I wouldn’t be allowed to drive either, will be revealed at the end of the month at the Tokyo Auto Show.
It’s being released in conjunction with the Toyota-branded version; the Scion FR-S, and I have to say I’m joining import enthusiasts everywhere in being very pleased at this news.
As a Scion you can bet the FR-S will be reasonably priced, as a Toyota/Subaru you know it will be reliable, it’s sexy as hell and best of all- it’s rear wheel drive.
The birth of a car like this gives us hope that economy-centered automakers are still capable of building something exciting.
Unfortunately for me, they will probably hold their value well enough to stay expensive for awhile. Guess I’ll just have to hang around an L.A. Scion Dealer and try to con my way into a test drive after Thanksgiving.
But Kia might have pulled the biggest coup of the event by showing up with a spectacularly svelte sedan rocking a 395 horsepower noisemaker and rear-wheel-drive eight-speed automatic transmission.
Will we see this car on Kia showrooms next year? Probably not… while the company is planning on moving forward with development, an LA Times interview with Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer seemed to hint that the strategy surrounding the GT was more to boost the company’s image than to build a mass-production model. Vehicles like this, referred to as “halo cars”, revel in long stages of concept development since the car’s working nearly as hard for a brand’s image as a concept as it would an available model.
In any case, do a double-take next time you see and Aston Martin Rapide… it just might be the Korean doppelganger.
Photos provided by LA Auto Show.
A lot of time’s gone by since the Australasian Safari… and a lot has happened since we said goodbye to our fellow racers and friends at the finish line in Kalgoorlie.
But you never trusted this site to be timely, anyway did you?
I could give you a stat sheet on who was there, who was riding what and who won, but if you wanted that information you would have found it somewhere else a long time ago.
So here’s a quick reflection on what transpired in the Team OAT camp.
We picked up our service crew at Perth International on September 20th. Okay, so it was one guy. Fresh off the jet from Albuquerque, New Mexico, our friend Rodger is a beer-swilling, spanner-swinging badass that we were confident could carry the team in the service department.
Magnus ran in to the terminal to find him while I was left in the truck to argue with the TSA officers about whether or not the massive Isuzu would fit in short-term parking.
Later that day we met the three other riders we would be supporting for the week, heavy-set Aussie blokes from Melbourne with enough body armor in their luggage to start a war with Sparta.
Our team assembled, we piled in the Isuzu and motored to the bike/car show and ceremonial start- followed by the KTM Kickoff Party at the Breakwater Club.
Most in attendance were rocking sport coats and heeled shoes… we rolled up covered in grease, but were allowed in with a quick flash of the team logos on our jackets.
While most other teams had spent the day polishing their helmets and signing autographs we had been flat-out for the last three days putting bikes together… and Magnus’ race bike didn’t even have tires on it yet. Rally racing legends Cyril Despres and Ben Grabham were there, among others, and Despres’ race bike was toted out for the admiration of onlookers. When Magnus saw the $130,000 work of art, he got inspired demanded his race bike look at least as cool by the end of the next day… so it was an early night for Rodger and I, leaving before last call for once in the hopes of starting another big day with just a mild hangover.
The actual start of the race was over a hundred kilometers north of where the party had taken place, so the day before the prologue (pre-race race that determines everybody’s starting position) we packed up and boogied to the town of Geraldton with motorcycles in tow. It was the first time I had seen the cab of the Isuzu full… and I hope the last. There may be enough seat belts for six men, but no cab is ventilated enough to support those oxygen consumption/fart expulsion ratios.
Once racing action got underway, Safari truly evolves from just an “event” to an experience. Helicopters sawing the air overhead, power tools wailing all through the night, radios going ballistic and engines roaring like dragons create a sensory-overland that rivals Japanese game shows combined with that first scene in “Saving Private Ryan”.
It’s enough to make any motorhead think he may very well have died and gone to heaven… I’d take a rally-spec Husaberg 570 over seventy two virgins any day.
But desert racing isn’t all money for nothing and chicks for free. This shit’s dangerous… which we learned all too well on Day 2 of the seven day event. While waiting at a checkpoint for our racer to show up, Roger and I heard some chatter on the radio that was most disconcerting indeed.
Bike 22, our rider in the field, had washed out and couldn’t finish the stage. And more, he was being evacuated by helicopter and rushed to Meekathara Hospital- five hundred kilometers away.
I had seen Magnus ride over, around, and through obstacles I couldn’t even look at without falling off. To hear about him coming off was disconcerting to say the least, but nothing could prepare us from what we saw at the hospital. After the six-hour punt across the desert, Rodger and I rocked up on the outpost medical center and rang the doorbell. The nurse knew who we wanted to see as soon as she spotted our truck, and we followed her to the bed our racer was lying on, looking worse than Gary Busey in a mug shot. We could barely hear his voice over the heart monitor, but he was conscious enough to greet us with his typical candor; “You’re a long way from tonight’s rally point.”
Mags told us to carry on supporting the rest of the riders, and to expect him at the event’s closing ceremony and afterparty in just under a week. Orders taken, we headed for the door and prepared for the massive drive ahead. As I hit the threshold Magnus summoned the strength for one more comment;
“Andrew. Be careful. With my truck.”
On the way out I chatted up the nurses a bit. They weren’t sold on the idea of motorcycle racing as a good way to spend your days and dollars…
“So you just, ride around the desert all day?”
“No, I mean, you have to follow a certain route, and go as fast as you can while navigating unknown territory.”
“And then fall off and get sent here?”
“Uh, well, ideally no…”
I could tell the conversation was drying up, and we had a long way to go to the next waypoint; a town called Sandstone.
The ride back was hell. The desert was pitch dark, the road was bumpy, and kangaroos were bouncing off the bumper like popcorn kernels in the microwave. We finally rolled into the bivouac around 9:00PM and recovered the race bike… which we saw Magnus had stubbornly tried to tape back together before calling in an evac. It was a valiant effort… but where there’s a will there ain’t always a way.
The day after the crash brought its own set of disasters. Rodger and I were now in charge of Team OAT, as acting face, hands and brains of the entire operation. We would have to clean up our act and start acting like real professionals and uphold the sterling standard Magnus would set if he were around… by using the Bear Grylls signature knife as much as possible, answering questions with riddles, and being the first team to open beers every day.
But first, we’d have to get out of the parking lot.
Rodger and I had been disagreeing on the necessity of locking the truck when leaving it… which lead to the incident of the doors being secured while the keys were in the ignition.
“No problem, there’s an extra set in the yellow Pelican case.”
“You mean that one on the back seat?”
We had to innovate. We considered picking the lock, removing the windshield, and using the angle-grinder to add a permanent sunroof… but none of those options really seemed viable.
Finally I spotted a crew with the same model of Isuzu. I approached and asked them if they had any insight. Naturally, they began by responding with sarcasm; “Got a brick?” but came over to help when they realized how distraught I was.
The driver of the other NPS showed me a battery access point in the rear of the cab’s underbelly. Too small to crawl through, but maybe big enough to get an arm…
I pushed through the panel and flailed my hand around while Rodger watched from the other side and guided me.
“Not even close.”
We didn’t have it yet… but we were on to something. I grabbed the longest screwdriver we had and made another attempt and knocking the lock mechanism, but the angle still wasn’t quite right.
After three more stages of evolution, genius struck. We could roll down the window much more easily than undo the lock, and so we set to contriving a new tool. We added a few inches to our extra-long screwdriver by taping a handlebar riser on he end, then proceeded to secure a large hose clamp to the end of that.
I wiggled the ridiculous contraption through the panel and moved it toward the window with Rodger’s audible guidance.
The window came down about four inches after forty minutes of laboring, with enough room for me to weasel my scrawny arm in and undo the lock on the left rear door.
Rodger and I cheered, slapped hands and bumped guts in a display worthy of a Superbowl touchtown.
Of course by this point everyone had cleared out… our truck was left alone in the middle of the desert. But it mattered little- we were victorious and would make it to the next bivouac with beers open before the first teams had the carburetors stripped.
If we step on it.
We rolled into the Leonora bivouac and night’s camp early, striding straight through the parking field and into a central location where we flung open the doors and proceeded to unload our cargo. Sun was hot, Jimmy Buffet was pouring out of the stereo and life was good. But it wasn’t long before the Fun Police arrived to curtail our moment of glory;
“Hey guys, did you get a map of tonight’s parking area?”
“Didja look at it?”
I could see where this was going… so I answered honestly.
We had parked in the caterer’s spot- a decision that would be most unpopular indeed when hungry racers showed up in a few hours.
So we piled everything on the trailer and dragged it ten meters forward to satisfy the race official… who threw his hands up in disbelief as another race team proceeded to occupy the space we had just left. I could hear the official repeating his comment as we re-installed our tents and tables.
Later that night we had a run in with the other Fun Police… this time, the guys with blue hats and guns.
Determined to uphold Team OAT’s “reputation”, Rodger and I convinced the mechanics from Team Husqvarna to come to the bar with us for a pint.
But once we got there, we learned we had shown up on a night when the barmaids were working the taps in lingerie. Apparently this is a Western Australia tradition, but in any case I had a hard time convincing the rest of the boys I not been apprised of it beforehand.
Photos were, let’s say “discouraged”, which is a damn shame- because the scene was something to behold.
Imagine a bar full of hard-faced and tattooed miners, being served by women in bikinis who were, let’s say “overweight”, and us standing in the middle wearing race gear and expressions of sheer astonishment. My bright white BMW jacket was pretty tough to miss between coal-stained work jerseys, and I estimated we had six-point-five seconds before I got my ass kicked. But we were determined to stick it out for a round, and whaddaya know, all was forgiven after a couple rounds of Jim Beam.
I folded my arms to avoid brushing the sleeves of my favorite jacket against the walls as my friends tried their hands at hitting on the strippers. Everyone was describing their jobs on the team until the barmaid, Kelisha or Kaylie or whatever, looked my way; “So what’s that make you, the pretty boy who does fuck all?”
At least she said I was pretty… I guess. Damn, are Australian chicks mean. A flood of retorts came to mind at various levels of offensiveness but not wanting spit in my next beverage I decided to take the high road;
“Hardly! I drive the truck.”
“Oh, I thought you were the guy who just stands around and looks good and doesn’t do anything.”
The boys were having a proper laugh at this point, and I had no clue if this chick was trying to flirt with me or make me cry. Rodger came to my rescue; “No, he figured out how to break in to the truck the other day!”
The conversation deteriorated from there as we convinced each other to buy more rounds. Finally a cowbell interrupted our babble and one of the barmaids yelled over the noise; “THAT’S IT BOYS, EVERYBODY GO HOME!”
I stumbled out into the street… I mean the one street in town… and into the arms of the local constable.
“Oy! Good-day, man. Any idea where the camp is?” I burbled in Australian/American hybrid vernacular.
One of the Husky guys helped me articulate; “Yeah, yeah we’re with the race cars! Is there a short cut back to the camp?”
The cops laughed and shook their heads.
“Yeah, mate we know yer with the race cars.”
The first officer looked at the second, and motioned to their vehicle- a Police spec Hilux with a big plastic holding cell on the back instead of a cargo tray.
We were all pretty rapt at the idea of getting a free ride home, especially if it was in the back of a paddy wagon.
We piled in the back and laughed like idiots as we got tossed from one side to another when the cop driving jerked the wheel. The cops parked in the middle of the bivouac and we spilled out of their vehicle. We thanked them for the ride and they left with a laugh and something like “good luck tomorrow.”
The boys from Team GHR Honda, hard at work on their CRF 450’s, glanced up and laughed like hyenas when they saw us stumble into our swags from the care of Mr. Plod.
Reputation: intact. If anything, I’d say improved.
A few days later we arrived in Kalgoorlie for the end of the race and the afterparty. Nearly everyone we knew who was competing had dropped out or sustained serious injury, and Magnus had since been transferred from Meekathara to the major hospital in Perth. But so determined was he to show up for the event’s closing ceremony that he hopped a bus from Perth Royal to the train station, and rode the rails for eight hours to meet up with us in Kal.
I parked the Isuzu, extra carefully, at the train station and Rodger and I headed to the platform to await our fearless leader. When his train showed up, they kicked him off about a hundred meters away from us.
For twenty minutes we watched him hobble toward us with broken ribs and a hematoma in his hip the size of a football. But he did look better than the last time we had seen him; prone and hooked up to a heart monitor.
We exchanged salutations and he snatched the keys as we headed for the truck.
“You sure you want to drive, man?” I said hopelessly, knowing full well my truck-commanding privileges had expired with the arrival of the boss.
“Yep. Gotta toughen up some time.”
He winced as he pulled himself into the driver’s seat, but was clearly pleased to be back in his “office”.
We updated him on what had transpired in his absence, and he was especially glad we hadn’t resorted to violence against the truck in our efforts to liberate the key.
Everyone at the bivouac was glad to see Magnus back in action, and congratulations were issued to the finishers over Coronas at the Kalgoorlie country club.
The Australasian Safari was a mind-blowing event that hooked me into racing that much more… if that was possible. I’m dead keen to give it go on two wheels next year, we’ll see if I can work it in to my compensation package next year.
Race Day One
Day one of the actual “race” a fellow adventure rider named Martin rides shotgun and navigates while another riding enthusiast we picked up named Big Joe sits in the back and adds color to the conversation.
Racing atmosphere is full-on. This ain’t no Friday Night Thunder at the New England Dragway… there are straight-pipe exhausts cracking, million-dollar support trucks stumbling around and helicopters blazing overhead.
It’s loud, crazy, and awesome.
The support trucks are allowed to meet the racers a few times per race. We get to the first station and lay out tools, put a pot of coffee on and tune up the CB to get word of any crashes.
Most riders make it to the first stop. A quad gets a round of applause for limping in on three wheels.
Our boy makes it in one piece needing just a splash of tea and a cup of fuel. Or was it the other way around?
Either way Team OAT finished the first day in good nick, so Big Joe convinced me to join him in a bit of a celebration.
After cleaning out the truck’s cache of beers we headed into town, and after picking up a few bridge-playing ladies from the RSL (Australian American Legion) we stole some street signs and lit fires all the way home.
Race Day Two
I fought my way out of my swag late in the morning, shoving myself into my boots hoping desperately that my truck hadn’t left without me.
“There he is. Thought you had a sheep in there, mate,”
Looks like the team was yet to mobilize, but only just- there was no time for coffee and since my BAC was still a few clicks above racing standard, Martin took the help of the Isuzu for the day.
The bikes seemed a lot louder today… and the road bumpier. But after putting on a kettle of coffee at the first service stop, things were coming back into focus.
Because we had a lot less ground to cover between service stops than the racers, the second day of the Condo involved a lot of waiting around. Luckily we had a good view of the helicopter landing area, where an R24 Raven was busily going to and from with photographers and injured racers.
At the end of the day, our racer had earned himself a medal for completing the event without breaking of self or steed.
We hit the pub and were serenaded by a drunk local… who refused to play Jimmy Buffett despite our repeated requests.
Baaack to the camp.
The debate rages on about whether or not hybrid cars are “better” for the environment than, say, a 1984 Honda Civic (of course, the answer is that they are not).
But the fact remains that some people would just rather have a new car- and can actually afford it.
When first introduced in the 1990′s hybrids like the original Honda Insight were laughed off as goofy and nerdy, an unfortunate stigma that tended to plague their drivers as well.
I mean, come on- gasoline was $0.99 a gallon and the new Suburban just came out.
Once environmentalism came into fashion, the “hybrid movement” had another shot and the cars manifested themselves in the shapes we’re more familiar with today:
So it’s a little more “practical”, but it’s still reserved for people confident enough to ride around in a jellybean/shuttlecraft/dorkmobile.
Before you start commenting that Toyota “couldn’t keep Priui on their lots” and they “sold out quickly” I will say yes that’s true, but you’ve got to consider that these cars were produced in quite limited numbers for the first few years of their lives. Something to do with the government not having enough cash to award all those “green” rebates.
In the last few years, a new hybrid market emerged: high-end luxury. Now that Green is the new Gucci, the sex appeal of a Range Rover is just a little dented thanks to its bigfoot-sized carbon footprint.
So Lexus introduces the 460h, and later its RX and GX series hybrid vehicles.
Not to be left behind their Japanese rivals… Mercedes Benz cooks up the S400 Hybrid:
This thing takes the “green” concept a step further with interior parts made of recycled fibers and all that crap.
Plus, it’s an F-ing S Class. This car is decidedly awesome.
Well now that rich people ride around in hybrids… the rest of us start wanting them too.
Ford provides the Fusion hybrid, Toyota releases a Camry hybrid.
Decidedly less exciting than a new S-Class… you can Google you own images for those if you’re that interested.
And no I didn’t forget about the SUV hybrid market. I just think it’s stupid.
Ford Escape: too small to carry a lot or tow anything and definitely not going off-road, so why deal with poor aerodynamics?
Chevy Tahoe/Escalade Hybrid: It’s sad when automakers can brag about 20 MPG. If you need a vehicle this big, get a diesel.
So let’s recap.
Ten years after the original Insight rolled out, we’ve got a pretty dynamic family of hybrid cars on the market for all four of the major car-buying demographics:
Nerds: Toyota Prius, Honda Insight
Rich People: Lexus LS460h, GX…h, RX…h
Normal People: Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid (and I think the Ford Escape hybrid snuck over here from the SUV category).
SUVs (also applicable to Rich People): Chevy Tahoe Hybrid/Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
But in the next year or two, the forerunners of hybrid cars are promising two new models to appeal to the most important demographic of all: Cool Kids.
You know, the people that marketing companies everywhere want you to be- the Facebook using, vintage sunglass-wearing, music-loving party people that are in catalogs.
These people need cars like the Lexus CT200h and Honda CR-Z.
The “hot hatch” category is finally getting back to its MPG-friendly roots with this pair of tiny-yet-heterosexual cars that I wouldn’t mind owning.
Once thought of as just a teaser concept, I’m now pretty sure the CR-Z is for real. The picture above is from Honda’s official website.
These cars are pretty cool, but don’t get your hopes up about neck-snapping performance.
Despite what the world’s ricers and eurotrash will have you believe, you’ve got to remember to take “hot hatch” performance with a grain of salt.
I’m afraid you will get crushed by creepy old guys in Mustangs at a stoplight in one of these.
But you’ve got to remember you’re getting 30+ MPG, you don’t have to rebuild your carburetor every Sunday, and your girlfriend won’t complain about the omnipresent smell of gasoline when you take her places.
And if you can’t afford one… try an 88 CRX.
The Little Scooter That (Hypothetically) Could got some work done the other day, when Jeff and I finally had a chance to take it apart and peer inside its tiny little engine.
The damn thing actually would start, the only problem is you had to pour petrol directly into the carburetor… and once the single-cylinder burned that up we were outta luck.
Assuming it was a fuel-delivery problem we took all the lines apart, ran Seafoam through everything, cleaned everything, and were ready to put it all back together…
Except for the fact that in the process I had lost a tiny-yet-essential part of the carburetor that ensures a steady flow of fuel.
It was a tiny, tiny little piece of metal… so light that I literally couldn’t feel it in the palm of my hand. Which is exactly how I totally forgot it was IN the palm of my hand when I started walking around the garage and using my hands. What an idiot.
We put the thing back together anyway and got some satisfaction; the thing ran long enough for each of us to take a quick buzz around the block:
But that was all the love the little Honda was willing to give us.
So we’re right back where we started… for now. Time to hit eBay in search of carb rebuilt kit.
If you’ve been following automotive news for the last few years, you’ve probably heard of the Honda CR-Z.
If you haven’t, it’s a hot hatch design with a high-efficiency hybrid drivetrain. Basically a return to Honda’s roots: a tiny little car with a lot of energy and a fuel-sipping disposition. Many are calling it a revival of Honda’s original sporty gas-miser, the CR-X. If you haven’t heard of that then get the hell off my website.
Honda has been taunting us with images of this cool little hatch for a long time, but now that the car looks like it’s going to become a reality, I felt like I should share it with you.
While another Honda hybrid may be making the tree huggers happy, driving enthusiasts are bitching and moaning that the new hatch will not feature a K20 (currently one of Honda’s better front-drive powering engines) or something similar.
Relax guys, we all know putting a ton of power through the steering wheels is dumb. There, I said it.
Since I don’t operate in what is accept as the “real” world of automotive journalism, I won’t be given a test car to pilot. But I’m excited to read what other reviewers say when they get their hands on it, and what kind of lap time The Stig can rack up on Top Gear.
I know it’s not that new, but after finally getting around to giving the Honda Accord Crosstour a closer inspection I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s awesome.
I was skeptical when I first saw the weirdly animated commercials for this car, and my general aversion to the “crossover” genre made me want to disregard it altogether. But after stumbling across a 360-view on Honda’s website, I decided it warranted my attention.
It’s the least SUV-ish of any crossover I’ve seen, which I think is why I like it.
It’s more likely that people will mistake it for a Porsche Panamera than a Nissan Murano, and I don’t need to tell you that’s a good thing.
I feel like it manages to be a station/estate wagon while tricking you into thinking it might be a hot hatch.
I also think the grille is a bit too big for its body, but nobody’s perfect. Actually… I have a suspicion I’m not the only one with that idea because Honda.com offers a downloadable picture of every angle of the thing, except head-on.
Without actually climbing inside it’s hard to say how much extra cargo space is actually offered by that back-bulge, but if nothing else rear passengers will benefit from a nice upgrade in headroom.
Gas mileage isn’t great in town (18 MPG) but gets quite a bit nicer once you get it up to a canter on the highway (27 MPG).
The biggest drawback of the Crosstour is its price. Honda.com lists it starting at just below $30,000, but once you option up it approaches $40,000.
I could see that for the Acura incarnation (which is real, and called the ZDX), but forty grand for a Honda is pretty steep.
For the record, the lowest trim level of the Acura ZDX starts at $45,000 and the best one starts at $56,000.
Whoa, that’s… too much money.
But the Crosstour could be an alternative for people in the market for a Subaru Forester, Nissan Rouge, Mitsubishi Outlander (maybe) or some other small SUV who need room for a dog and kids but don’t want to be seen in a full-blown truck based personnel carrier.
If the style’s not… your style… the ride might be redeeming, so give it a look.
There was a time when this symbol meant something.
Not a cool movie with a terrible sequel, go further back.
Not the TV cartoon either… go a newer than that.
Back in the good old 1990′s automotive tuners were using this symbol to identify their cars as “hybrids”… another title which now has a different meaning.
The term “hybrid car” today makes you think of hybrid propulsion- half gas, half electric, half unicorn farts or whatever people think will slow down the rapid destruction of our atmosphere.
But it used to mean cars that had an engine from another, totally different car… or even better half an engine from one car the other half from another.
Think a Honda CRX with a B20 engine block from a CR-V and a GSR VTEC head from an Integra. Now that‘s a hybrid.
Why go to such wild lengths to build a car you’ll look poor in and still get smoked by $2,000 Mustangs?
Because it’s unique and very, very cool. It’s also not terribly expensive if you’re very good with tools.
Did those letters and numbers go a bit over your noggin? I’ll break it down for the non-Honda freaks out there: a CRX is a light little car that comes with a puny little 1.6 liter engine, and if you want to keep up with the big boys you’ll have to get some Enzyte in that thing pronto.
Although a CR-V is not a sports car, it does have a larger engine that can serve as a better base for adding power.
VTEC is Honda’s name for their variable-valve timing system (Mitsubishi has a similar system called MIVEC, Toyota as VVT-i, BMW has VANOS, ect…).
Such a system basically means when you keep the RPMs low, the engine only lets in a little bit of air and fuel to be more economical. But when you step on the gas and you rev over a certain RPM, the engine opens up and sucks in more air and fuel leading to more combustion which makes moooooooorrreee pppoooooowwwwahhhhhhh.
When you add the VTEC head to a bigger-displacement engine, you suddenly have that variable-valve advantage in addition to more room to burn all that gas and air your engine can suck down.
So, ironically the original hybrids were created to be less efficient than they were in stock from.
As you probably guessed that was a super-simplified explanation… so if you’re really interested give it a Google or check out this website which describes and illustrates the process.
If that sounds like a project you’d like to undertake, I’ll warn you you’re going to need new valves, pistons, cam gears and a host of other things to do it right. If those words don’t sound like English to you, I’d recommend buying something that’s pretty much your style right of the box
But today I came across another exceptional hybrid, and it’s not even a Honda…
If you recognized that shell as a BMW E30 I’ll give you a cookie. And if you recognize the engine… well, then you should probably be reading a more legitimate news source.
THAT is an RB26DETT from a Nissan Skyline… and finished in Hello Kitty pink to boot.
The creator of this (now completed) monster is Christian Newman of New York, and if you can’t tell he’s a maniac by considering the logistics of this project then the paint scheme should leave no question.
I mean come on guys, there are still a million E30 325′s running around… is it really that much of a travesty that one dude decided to be creative and do something unique with his?
It’s not really my style, but I give the guy respect for thinking of it and pulling it off. Apparently it makes around 260 horsepower, which is a lot more than almost every other E30 out there. I would be interested to learn more about what this swap did to the suspension geometry and handling dynamics though.
By the way:
…You didn’t think I’d be able to search images for “transformers” and then not find a picture of Megan Fox, which I would consequentially have no choice but to post did you?
Whoops, there’s another one. Isn’t the internet useful?