Monthly Archives: July 2014

Jalopy Racing – Part 3: The LeMonista, A Racing Series For All

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The following is the final of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. See “So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons” (Part 1) and “Our Road to Lemons” (Part 2) for previous entries. In John’s words…

In 24 Hours of Lemons racing, I’ve found more than just a great way to get on track. There are a growing number of budget race series. Chump Car is the best known alternative, and has been described to me as being more fun on the track but less so off of it. Each series offers something different.

Lemons doesn’t take itself too seriously, and encourages a little lunacy. Case in point, a team recently sent a photo of an Integra they wanted to buy for an upcoming race to a Lemons judge for approval. The judge sent back a craigslist ad for a 1950s Studebaker in their area. They bought that instead.

I enjoy the pageantry of Lemons and find its culture more accepting of newcomers and amateurs – failure is celebrated as long as you fail in style.

There is also a high degree of car nerdiness – many try to find rare or unusual cars to bring – and a fair degree of redneck ingenuity (I’ve seen a Holley carburetor stuck onto an E30 to keep it in the race). If you already race in SCCA or something more formal, I encourage you to try Lemons for the novelty factor.

The true benefits of Lemons racing aren’t necessarily the obvious ones. Don’t get me wrong, racing 150 other cars – none of which belong anywhere near a racetrack – is amazing.

I enjoy karting and will continue to do it as often as I can. But racing streetcars on a proper circuit against that many opponents is a completely different experience – one that is truly addictive. If you haven’t tried it, you need to.

And you don’t need to start a team to do it. Many of the teams rent out spare places on their team for around $500 a weekend, which is a great way to try it out and get a taste.

Continue reading “Jalopy Racing – Part 3: The LeMonista, A Racing Series For All” »

Mazda MX-5 Miata, Time In A Bottle

Red Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster (NC chassis designation)

Mazda MX-5 Miata

It was 1989. Mazda came out with this neat little car called the MX-5 Miata, an anachronistic two seat roadster that looked of 1960s British origin, with solid build quality (shiny paint, precise and consistent body panel gaps, reliable electronics), and a starting price of around $13,000 ($25,000 in 2014 dollars).

Lo and behold the market embraced it and the Miata became a runaway hit. Fast forward to 1998 and Mazda did it again with the next generation model. By 2000, with more than 700,000 units sold, it was named the best selling two seat convertible of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records.

At the 2005 Geneva Motor Show Mazda unveiled the third generation MX-5 for model year 2006. The U.S.-only Miata moniker was formally dropped in favor of global consistency, but seems to have survived nonetheless.

Body and Chassis

Designed as a lightweight, compact two seat roadster with the simple purpose of pure driving pleasure, it shares its platform with the rotary engined Mazda RX-8. Engineers worked diligently on a “gram strategy” to reduce weight wherever possible.

Compared to the outgoing model (internally designated NB), the third generation NC model is slightly longer and wider. The wheelbase grew 2.6 inches while track width increased more than three inches. These changes allowed for placement of the engine and gearbox about six inches further back in the chassis for improved weight distribution and reduced polar moment of inertia, which can be explained as running around a corner with a bowling ball instead of a ladder of the same weight. It’s easier with the bowling ball.

Further weight savings were achieved through the use of aluminum in the hood, trunklid, wheels and front suspension arms. Double wishbone front suspension and a five link setup at the rear, to better control toe angle, are connected to the road via standard 16 x 6.5 inch wheels all around.
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Are Municipal Bonds A (Good) Hedge For You?

Bond rates and yields

Bonds, rates and yields – municipal and otherwise.

With the stocks trading with price/earnings multiples as lofty as they are, it would be prudent to consider other investments that may provide solid returns while weathering potential market corrections.

It seems everyone is on the edge of their seats wondering about when the Fed will raise interest rates. It’s almost inevitable because, well, they’ve said so and because it’s not like rates can really go any  lower. Unless you’re Europe. Then you can, apparently, go below zero.

Anyway, it appears that municipal bonds (“munis”) are one area that may (and I caution may) provide a hedge against stocks. Priced as they are, the market currently seems to regard the act of buying them with only slight preference to placing one’s hand on a loaded mousetrap.

What They Are

Bonds generally have terms of more than one year, often decades in duration (debt instruments for periods of less than a year are referred to as notes).

Municipal bonds are issued by state, county and city governments or other local government entities to fund general operating obligations or specific public projects such as airports, public utilities, toll roads and schools.
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Jalopy Racing – Part 2: Our Road to Lemons [w/ Video]

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The following is part two in a series of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. See “So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons” for Part 1. In John’s words…

The idea to enter a 24 Hours of Lemons race was first raised in January 2011 on the F1 Meetup page. There was a race at Summit Point in June, so we decided to aim for that.

At that point we really didn’t know each other and had virtually no experience in racing. We decided to buy a previously raced car to make it easier, and found a Suzuki X-90 with a 1.8 liter Mazda Miata engine for sale.

The car had raced in several guises, including one as pop-up camper. When we got it, it had a blown head gasket from the last race, but had a roll cage, race seat and other safety equipment. As we started taking the engine apart, we realized it was in bad shape and decided to buy another one from a junk yard.

To understand just how amateur we were at this point, consider that the first couple of weekends we struggled to figure out how to remove the engine and replace the water pump. But we eventually managed to revamp the whole car, upgrade the brakes and suspension, clean up and repaint it, and somehow managed to turn up at Summit Point in June ready to race.
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The Fabulously Fast Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano


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Throughout its long history Ferrari’s mission has largely been to win races, and then apply its technical expertise to building exotic sports cars for well-heeled clientele. Each car was a statement about Ferrari’s capability at the time.

The company made another emphatic statement at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show with the premiere of its flagship model, the 599GTB Fiorano. The front engine V12 sports car was intended to do nothing less than advance the state of the art in a manner that was unmistakably Ferrari.

Drawing on its lineage of classic front-engine V12 Ferrari Gran Turismos of the 1960s as well as its immediate predecessors, the 550 Maranello and 575M V12, the 599GTB did so on many fronts. The advancements are apparent in its aerodynamics, engine, transmission and drivetrain, engine, brakes and suspension.

Its design was based on an aluminum spaceframe derived from that of the four seat 612 Scaglietti. Ferrari had been developing aluminum forming and joining technologies for years, showing glimpses of what was to come with the 408 RM testbed of 1987, then gradually transitioning its volume production models to this type of construction.

The 599GTB’s chassis consists mostly of extrusions bonded, bolted or welded to cast nodules and body panels. Further, forged aluminum double wishbone suspension and wheels all around contributed to an overall weight of about 3,800 lbs., a reduction of some 88 lb. (40 kg) compared with the 575M. It came standard with 19” diameter wheels in front and 20” wheels at the rear.

The heart of the 599GTB is a DOHC 65 degree 6.0 liter V12 derived from the mill found in the Ferrari Enzo. At the time of its launch the 599GTB’s output of 611 hp and 448 lb-ft of torque made it the second most powerful Ferrari road car ever produced.
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2014 F1 Mid-Season Review

Sebastian Vettel leads Fernando Alonso at the 2014 German Grand Prix

Red Bull leads Ferrari at the German Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

It’s been about four months since the 2014 Formula One (F1) season began. We are just past the half way point with 10 of the 19 races in the books. So far the action has been pretty good, especially toward the mid-field and fears of F1 dullness have proven to be unfounded. However, the cars are more expensive, complicated and uglier than ever and the racing hasn’t improved – not that there hasn’t been good racing, it just hasn’t improved.

On-Track Action

Mercedes has won all but one race. Nico Rosberg, with four wins and one non-finish (DNF), leads the championship by 14 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton, who has five wins and two DNFs. At least the team has so far let the two drivers battle it out. Daniel Ricciardo, who managed to win one race for the formerly dominant Red Bull team, lies third in the points.

At this time last year there were five different winners from four different teams. Granted after that Sebastian Vettel won all nine of the races in the second half of the season, but what this year has shown is that these new regulations and technologies haven’t made a hill of beans difference in the quality of the action that a far less expensive rules package couldn’t have made.

Further, a lot of the action has been wrought through the continued use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which artificially gives a following car much more straightline speed since the leading car can’t use its system in that situation, and the appearance of the safety car at several races (most notably Bahrain), which also bunched up the field.

Other than Williams-Mercedes driver Felipe Massa securing pole position in Austria, the Mercedes team has claimed pole at the nine other races – five by Rosberg and four by Hamilton.
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Jalopy Racing – Part 1: So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons

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The following is part one of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. In John’s words…

Even at the grass roots level, motorsports has high barriers to entry. I have always had a passion for it, but never had the money, connections or opportunities to get involved other than crewing for a friend once in a while.

When I moved to D.C., I took the opportunity of a new start and reduced obligations to actively seek out ways to get more involved. I attended D.C.’s F1 Meet-up group and starting attending Volta GP kart races.

After an informal karting get together with the F1 Meet-up, we considered getting a group together to do an endurance arrive-and-drive kart event. This quickly grew into the idea of entering in a 24 Hours of Lemons race.

Before we knew it, someone had volunteered a car from a previous Lemons attempt and we had 10-20 guys wanting to be involved.

We drafted a team charter and opened a team bank account. Since the car we had wasn’t running and didn’t have the necessary safety gear, we decided to buy a previously raced car as an easy way to get involved.

As it turns out, Lemons legend Speedy Cop lived nearby and was selling one of his old cars – a Suzuki X-90 with a 1.8 Mazda Miata engine.  Speedy Cop has raced all sorts of weird and wonderful cars, including a “donk”, a pop-up camper, the Spirit of Lemons plane car (a Cessna fuselage on a minivan chassis), the Upside Down Camaro and most recently a twin engine Continental.

Speedy Cop, real name Jeff Bloch, was really supportive in helping us. Not only did he sell us the car, he’s also provided ongoing support and advice. We now run as an affiliated team, and our guys often race in his main cars. This open and supportive approach has been indicative of the culture of 24 Hours of Lemons, which is welcoming to new comers and offers a new avenue to get involved in grassroots motorsports.

The 24 Hours of Lemons is one of a number of grass-roots endurance road racing series that focus on low-budget cars and enjoy racing puns. The cars are supposed to only be worth $500, but at this point everyone cheats somewhat, and it’s just a matter of how much cheating you can get away with.

They run different classes so that the super cheaty cars (salvaged WRXs, MR2s and lots and lots of E30s/E36s) and the freakish, bizarre and slow can race their own kind. Safety related gear and upgrades do not count towards the $500, and even a basic car will still cost a couple of thousand dollars after installation of a roll cage, race seat and harness.

Between 4-6 people (the number of drivers per team at any race), this comes out to a couple of hundred dollars each. The races take place over two days, with about 6-7 hours of racing each day. If you run reliably at a decent pace, you will easily do 600 miles per event.

Make no mistake, it’s still not cheap. Even the minimum safety equipment will set you back $500, and each race weekend will cost between $300 – $500 [In racing, that’s cheap! – David], including race entry, fuel, accommodation, food etc. In our team, we each paid an upfront team entry fee (to buy the car and as a show of commitment), and pay $50 a month to the team account to cover other team expenses.

But when you compare it to most other race options, it’s a bargain – and competitive with some kart series and track days. It’s great bang-for-your-buck. But the real value comes from more than the racing, as you’ll see…

Read more about John and his team in Part 2: Our Road to Lemons.
All photos courtesy of John Watts & team

The “Where Were You?” Nissan 350Z

2005 Nissan 350Z hardtop coupe

2005 Nissan 350Z sports car

Nissan began its sports car line in the U.S. with the 1970 Datsun 240Z – Japan’s first big hit with sports cars on these shores. Subsequent model designations evolved with engine displacement (260Z, 280Z, 280ZX) and the shift in branding eventually led to the Nissan 300ZX of 1990-1996.

After an extended absence Nissan’s halo sports car returned for the 2003 model year as the 350Z. It had the familiar ring of the comeback of an athlete who gets carried away with celebrity and comes back leaner and stronger – after a seven year stint in rehab and seclusion.

Unlike its 300ZX Turbo predecessor, whose sticker price approached the $50,000 mark by the end of its model cycle, the 350Z harkened back to Nissan’s affordable sports car roots.

A mid-front engine and rear wheel drive layout provided front/rear weight distribution of 53%/47%. The two seat chassis consisted of a rigid steel unibody with bracing front and rear supported by forged aluminum multi-link suspension, disc brakes and 17” wheels all around. Its distinctive styling also yielded a drag coefficient of just 0.29.

Motive power for the 3,300 lb. Z came from a normally aspirated 3.5 liter 24 valve V6, which initially delivered 287 horsepower (260 for the automatic) at 6,600 rpm through a six speed manual or five speed automatic transmission.
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You Have A Spare House, Now What?

If you find yourself with a condo, townhouse or house you will no longer live in, what should you do with it?

Rental townhouse

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ll have an extra home you won’t be living in, and assuming it’s safe to inhabit and can be spruced up without too much investment, what should you do? I’ve been there a couple of times due to job changes. Here’s how I dealt with it.

Two main factors, of course, are usually financial: How long and secure is the financing (if any), and what’s the expected cash flow?

When Would You Need the Money?

Do you have a lot of equity tied up in the home, and how soon will you need the money? My time line has so far been indefinite so there has not been a need to sell.

Most residential mortgages are backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae with decent interest rates fixed for 15 or 30 years (who else could or would give such a sweet deal?) so that’s as straightforward as it gets.

If you have a floating or adjustable rate mortgage you might want to consider getting out of that loan whether by selling or refinancing, especially if it’s due for an adjustment soon.
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Late to the Party Lamborghini Gallardo

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Ah yes, Lamborghini, that upstart Italian marque that was perpetually in crisis during its time as an independent maker of exotic cars. It changed hands multiple times, at one point serving as a corporate trophy of Chrysler, until it was acquired by current owner Audi in 1998.

Since then the company has rationalized its lineup and produced a steady stream of new models to take on the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. First it replaced the Diablo with the Murcielago in 2001.

Then after some 20 years of rumors, conjecture and false starts regarding a “Baby Lambo”, including the stillborn Project L140 and Cala concept car of 1995, the Gallardo finally showed up at the 2003 Geneva auto show. It was late to the party but stayed up all night.

The mid-engine, all wheel drive, two seat coupe was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign in conjunction with Lamborghini. Featuring steel door panels and a mostly aluminum skin over an extruded aluminum spaceframe, it was more practical (and 15% stiffer in torsion) than the Murcielago. It also served as the basis for the acclaimed Audi R8 sports car.

Power was initially provided by an aluminum 5.0 liter 90 degree V10. A dry sump oil system, drive-by-wire throttle, and variable valve timing all conspired to produce 492 hp at an impressive 8,200 rpm redline. Peak torque was 376 lb-ft.

That all went out the window in 2009 when the engine was punched out to 5.2 liters and direct injection was added via some magic bits from Bosch. Power increased to 552 hp.
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