It’s been a while! I took a little hiatus while I was setting up the site’s new store, but now I’m back! The new print store will be up this week!
The Geneva International Auto Show is underway…
…And already there are some poster-ready sports cars and concept cars that could adorn the walls of teenagers who aren’t really into Fortnite. The most notable car for me is the Pininfarina Battista; a technical tour-de-force from one of Italy’s most well known car design studios, famous for penning the sultry bodies of Ferraris for decades. The Battista itself is a push forward towards the limits of electric drivetrain technology, with a motor in each wheel making a combined 1,874 horsepower and 2300 Newton meters of torque. And of course, its very good-looking.
So, why is it that I’m not very impressed with it?
Don’t get me wrong; I think the Battista is an absolutely gorgeous car, with plenty of references to one of my favorite concept cars of all time; the Maserati Pininfarina Birdcage 75th Anniversary Concept. It’s just that with all of the super sports cars and hypercars that have come out in the last couple of years, I might be a little jaded hearing about another sports car for the uber-rich. It just seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it?
The Pininfarina Battista and the Maserati Birdcage 7th Anniversary Concept car. Definitely a family resemblance.
On one hand, of course a car like the Battista is going to be ridiculously expensive; it’s essentially a concept car for the road. I should be glad that a car like this even exists as it represents the cutting edge of automotive technology. On the other however, I’ll likely never get to own or even drive something like this as fast as I want, because I live in a country with an average maximum speed limit of 55mph.
It could be a multitude of things that are making me feel this way about this car. Could it be that I’m now more cognizant of the current issues of our society, such as poverty and income inequality? When viewed through that particular lens, the Batista becomes another tool of which billionaires can use to flaunt their wealth to the lower classes. Maybe it’s the practicality of it, or lack thereof. I’m certainly someone that believes a car is meant to be driven and enjoyed, especially with a standard transmission and a short throw shifter. A car like this is likely going to take up space in a climate-controlled garage filled with other pieces of beautiful automotive engineering, only to be brought out for special events and gatherings; not that I don’t appreciate it. Certainly there will be people who would drive the Battista, but then we run into the first issue again.
Mostly, I think it’s my own preferences evolving as I get older. As I said before, I’m not interested in things that I have little to no chance even owning, let alone driving. Instead, I’ve noticed a trend toward interesting, quirky cars that don’t break the bank for owning and maintaining. In fact, I’m more impressed with cars that tick all the right boxes and still reside in the land of feasible ownership. A Lotus Esprit or an 90’s Acura NSX fall within this realm for me, and lord knows how much I’ve drooled over something like the Mazda Autozam AZ-1. Even new cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C interest me more than the Battista, because there’s a slight chance that I’ll be able to own or drive it.
I suppose this is just the thoughts of someone shedding their teenage desires for owning an exotic car and settling with something more in my socio-economic standing. How many of us grew up with a Jaguar XJ220, McLaren F1, Lamborghini Diablo, or a Ferrari F50 taped to their bedroom walls, and are currently driving those around? I personally can’t answer that. But I can say that I could get a 90’s Lotus Esprit for around $25k and still feel like a million bucks.
The Pininfarina Battista is still a good-looking car though.
The Vector has always had my imagination…
There’s something about the pseudo-vaporware All-American Supercar that just stays with you. Is it the wild carbon-kevlar body? The movable aerodynamic surfaces? The three-across seating arrangement? Maybe it was the use of aeronautical technologies, like the aerospace-grade bolts? Or, maybe it has more to do with the massive 7.0L Twin Turbo V8, making somewhere between 600-1200 horsepower? The Vector WX-3 is all and none of these things; alongside the WX-3 Roadster, the WX-3 ended up being a footnote in American automotive history thanks to a hostile takeover by Indonesian automotive firm Megatech in the 90’s. But for a time, it seemed that WX-3 was ready to take the supercar market by storm and put America at it’s forefront. And yet, it was largely forgotten as Vector simply phased out of the public eye and occupied that space where broken promises and failed dreams go. You know; like most things in the 90’s. It seems sort of ill-fitting then, that such a machine is being auctioned off for Lexus LFA money.
RM Sotheby’s recently listed the Vector Avtech WX3 and WX3 Roadster on their website, and now, I’m suddenly reliving my early childhood playing Gran Turismo 2 and racing in Red Rock Valley with my trusty red Vector W8 Twin Turbo. It was one of my favorite cars in the game thanks to its futuristic (to me) looks and massive horsepower (in game, you could upgrade the turbos to put out 800+ horsepower), and high top speed (240+ miles per hour). As far as I know, the last time you could drive a Vector in a video game was in Gran Turismo 2; unless you count the modded cars you could add to Need For Speed High Stakes. That being said the last time Vector was ever mentioned again was in 2007, when Vector announced the development of a new car; the WX-8. In fact, the WX-3 prototypes are being sold partly to fund development of the new Vector supercar.
First offered for $3.5 million for both prototypes, RM Sotheby’s have listed the lot for $450,000-$550,000. One has to wonder if this is because the name “Vector” is pretty much synonymous with “vaporware”; a conceptual product that’s always being advertised, but never available to buy. In fact, that last time the new Vector WX-8 was even mentioned was several years ago, with no road going versions sold yet (that we know of).
Even so, the WX-3 and 3R are absolutely bonkers. Finished in the famous Jazz-pattern Solo Cup colors of Teal and Fuchsia, both cars are an insane amalgamation of styling cues; from the influence of other wedge-shaped sports cars from the 70’s (the original Vector W2 was heavily based on the Alfa Romero Carabo Concept Car from 1968), to the organic shapes and styling cues that defined the 90’s. But, styling is nothing compared to the unique combination of automotive and aerospace technologies present in the WX-3
What made Vector’s cars famous was their use of aerospace materials and technologies, including aerospace-grade bolts to hold the aluminum honeycomb monocoque together, and the use of carbon-Kevlar composite for the body. However, nothing was more in-your-face then the inclusion of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon’s Multi-Function Display Unit, modified to give you information readouts from the cars numerous sensors, and featuring a graphical representation of the car! And if that wasn’t enough, the WX-3 and 3R also used a unique, left-handed shifter arrangement meant to emulate the throttle on a jet-powered aircraft. Granted, the shifter was linked to an ancient Oldsmobile TH-425 Three-Speed transaxle, but still. And of course, you could entertain your wife, and your girlfriend with the three-across bench seat, and Sony 6 Disc CD Changer; assuming they can get past just how massive that windshield actually is (Vector once held the record for largest production windshield ever made)!
The WX-3 prototype first debuted with the same 6.0L Rodeck Twin Garrett Turbocharged V8 that was first used in the Vector W8 Twin Turbo, but when the WX-3 was reintroduced at the Geneva Auto Show in 1993, Vector had managed to squeeze in their 7.0L Rodeck V8, twin-turbocharged to 1000 hp! Despite being mated to a sluggish three speed transaxle, the car’s projected top speed was around 250 miles per hour; 12 years before Bugatti debuted the legendary Veyron.
With this combination of aerospace technology, insane looks, and massive horsepower, The Vector WX-3 is essentially the optimism of the 1990’s distilled into a single, high-speed form. It really is a shame that this car never got the chance to go into production, as Megatech locked company founder Gerald Wiegert out of his own building during the hostile takeover, and Wiegert countersued to prevent Megatech from building the WX-3 twins. Instead, we got a rebodied Lamboghini Diablo in the form of the Vector M12. In the end, Megatech also failed with their approach, as the slow sales of the M12 failed to keep the lights on, but not before Megatech tried to rectify the situation with a modified GM LT1 V8-powered version of the M12 dubbed the SRV8.
Still, it’s nice to imagine how the Vector WX-3 could have redefined exotic cars in the 1990’s, and rival other legendary cars like the Jagaur XJ220 and the McLaren F1. And for around $500,000, you could have two!
Do you think the bank would give me a loan?
Have I gone mad?…
…or is it just the sex appeal of those five spoke “Teledial” wheels on the 2000’s Alfa Romeo 156?
I have a fondness for wheels with simple geometric shapes. It must be because one of my first car obsessions; the 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. The wheels on that car had a simple five spoke design that consisted of basically a solid wheel with five circular holes cut out of it. It was so simple, when I sketched cars in my composition book during class, I always drew those wheels. In fact, I still do!
Recently I was chewing the fat with one of my best friends, and the subject of wheels came up. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting something a little more eye-catching for my Shinsen Miata, but finding wheels that I think look better than the stock five-spoke alloys is easier said than done. I could do what everyone else is doing and buy some JDM-style rims, but that option can get pretty pricey. Plus, I’m not exactly standing out at any Cars and Coffee events since there’s always a Miata with JDM rims anyway.
I started to lament that there weren’t a lot of aftermarket options that looked like my ideal design. I’d love to put Teledial-style wheels on the Shinsen, but my options were severely limited. Then, I had a thought: Why not look at used wheels from cars that used the Teledial design? I started doing more research, and almost immediately I found the ideal wheel.
And it belongs to a car never sold in the USA.
The (near) Perfect Wheels
Alfa Romeo has been using the Teledial-style wheel designs for decades, especially most recently in their current lineup of US-import vehicles. Of course, those newer wheels are pricey and too big for my diminutive Miata. Thankfully, Alfa Romeo made a 16-inch wheel that is nearly identical to the Miata’s stock wheels, and they’re pretty inexpensive (not factoring shipping)! The 2003 Alfa 156 and 147 had the option of a lightweight aluminum wheel with five circular “Teledial” spokes, and they look gorgeous. Aside from being based on a classic Alfa design, the treatment of the wheels is also nearly identical to the Miata’s, so they aren’t gaudy or too distracting like some other wheels I’ve seen.
I dug deeper trying to learn as much as I can about these particular wheels. I was worried that the wheel size and the lug pattern was too different from the stock Miata wheels to even consider as a replacement, but then I stumbled across Wheel-Size.com; a massive database for wheel fitment and tire sizes. With it, I was able to find the the exact specifications for both my Shinsen Miata’s Wheels, and the Alfa Romeo Teledial Wheels:
2003 Shinsen Miata 1.8L 5spd:
- Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
- Lug Pattern: 4x100mm
- Offset: 40mm
- Center Bore: 54.1mm
- Tire Size: P205/45R16
2003 Alfa Romeo 156 1.6L-2.5L
- Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
- Lug Pattern: 5x98mm
- Offset: 41.5mm
- Center Bore: 58.1mm
- Tire Size: P205/55R16
As you can see, not only is the rim size practically the same, but the Offset, Center Bore and Tire Size are incredibly similar! The only drawback to these wheels however is the lug pattern. Instead of the 4 lug, 100mm diameter pattern, Alfa Romeo utilized a 5 lug pattern 98mm in diameter. This means that if I were to find these wheels somewhere, I would need to rely on a PCD Wheel Adapter that changes the lug pattern from 4x100mm to 5x98mm. And that’s even if I find the wheels; because Alfa Romeo never sold this car in the states, all examples of this particular wheel is sold overseas. That means more shipping costs!
Alas, it might be more trouble than it’s actually worth. Still, I’d like to imagine how surprised people would get when I roll up with a Shinsen Miata using Alfa Romeo rims!
Nothing Says “Merry Christmas”…
…more than a red, Italian, wedge-shaped concept car! Santa Claus would be rolling in style with the Lancia Stratos Zero!
Lotus is reportedly making plans to create a 1000HP Hybrid Hypercar…
Is it just me, or does that statement seem kind of…wrong?
I know more than a few people that own a Lotus sports car. I also know a handful of people that have more than one Lotus. When I asked them what got them into Lotus in the first place, the most common answer is “Because they drive like nothing else.” Any Lotus is the culmination of a single ideal: to create a sports car that enforces the connection between man, machine, and the open road. To drive a Lotus is to eschew modern amenities for the sake of an unparalleled driving experience; without unneeded distractions, the need for more horsepower, and a high price tag.
In other words, Colin Chapman said it best when it came to designing his cars: “Simplify, then add lightness.” A 1000HP Hybrid Hyper-Lotus then, would be the exact opposite of what a Lotus should be.
When the Chinese automotive giant Geely purchased a controlling stake in Lotus back in 2017, a lot of Lotus owners held their breath. What would Geely do now that they controlled a small British sports car company with deep racing roots? Most feared that Geely would pivot Lotus from a boutique sports car maker into something that wouldn’t have stayed true to the brand, and Colin Chapman’s ideals.
However, with the introduction of newer and more powerful models of their current line up (including the fastest road-going Lotus ever, the Evora Sprint 430), most of those fears were abated. Recently, Geely announced plans to make a super SUV that utilizes Lotus’ suspension technology and tuning techniques, likely to be introduced as a vehicle under another marque within the Geely portfolio: Volvo. While that’s all fine and dandy (there have been cars with Lotus-tuned suspensions before, like the ill-fated DeLorean DMC-12), Lotus announcing that they are beginning development on a $2.2 million hypercar with a hybrid drivetrain seems to be a slap in the face of the brand itself.
When is a Lotus not a “Lotus”?
Lotus has never been a super-exotic car marque like Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, or even Bugatti. Anyone can learn to drive one without breaking the bank: Lotuses are not that expensive compared to other marques to own and maintain, and they have a cult following of like-minded and esoteric individuals who are simultaneously cocky and super-friendly (“Nothing drives better than a Lotus! Jump in; I’ll show you!”).
On top of that, Lotus cars are designed to follow Colin Chapman’s philosophy right down to the nuts and bolts. If a part is unnecessary, it’s tossed in an effort to save as much weight as possible. And with a lightweight car, minimal amounts of power is needed in order to create a sporty driving experience. This was how the legendary Lotus Seven was created. It was essentially a go kart with some creature comforts like lights, electric start, and not much else. Therefore, if Geely does create a Lotus hypercar with an electric hybrid drivetrain making over 1000HP, it can be argued that it’s no longer a Lotus since it’s such a large departure from what Lotus should be.
The “Lotus” Alternative
Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money developing a one-off hypercar with an electric hybrid powertrain, why not refocus on developing a lightweight car designed to take an existing electric powertrain? Several car companies have already used the Lotus Elise as a template for a sporty, fully electric car, including Detroit Electric’s SP:01, and the original Tesla Roadster. However, the design limitations of the Elise chassis meant that the hardware had to be designed around the body. This meant that room for the AC motors and the battery packs were severely limited, which translated to lower ranges for these electric sports cars.
Instead, Lotus could use existing hardware, and then design a lightweight chassis to house the powertrain. In fact, Lotus has always used off-the-shelf parts for developing the engines for their sports cars. The engines used in the Elise, Exige, and Evora are all Toyota engines with Yamaha-tuned top-ends. What’s not to say that Lotus couldn’t take the engine and drivetrain from the Prius Hybrid, lighten the engine and the battery pack, and then wrap the whole package in a new chassis design based on an existing product? Maybe Lotus and Geely could develop a faster, electric successor to the Elise, or even the Evora?
In the end, it all boils down to market share. Lotus has captured less than 0.01% of the European Market since 2001. Even if Lotus were to develop an electric sports car using existing technologies, then they would have to build to volume in order to recoup the the money spent in development. If that’s the case, then it does make sense to build a multi-million dollar hypercar.
That being said, Geely runs the risk of alienating the core fan base of Lotus by developing this proposed hybrid hypercar. Then again, if it does help Lotus recoup losses because of it’s minuscule market share, we’d all have to be content with Colin Chapman rolling in his grave.
Maybe we could hook up a dynamo to him then?
Michael stared up at me, cocking his head out of the tiny window of his Mazda Miata; a gorgeous 1990 Mariner Blue NA. His normally stoic gaze was instead incredulous, with his eyebrows propped up in bewilderment. I looked back at the crossover behind me, then at the pink slip.
“Yep, I just sold the Rogue. Let’s go look at the Miata!“
“The Avatar of Anxiety”
At the time, I was working as a sort-of photographer for a company that contracts out photographers to dealerships in order to offer “professional photography services for new products and older inventory”. Basically, I was a lot porter with a camera and an internet connection.
Aside from being underpaid for the amount of work needed to be done (imagine having to drive, photograph, and park 30-40 vehicles a day just to make $100), the hours were long, the commute was ridiculous, and each dealership had a different package deal, so depending on what needed to be taken care of I either made a little money, or practically nothing at all.
That being said, that job killed my car. At the time, I was driving a Nissan Rogue Crossover all over the Bay Area. It wasn’t uncommon to break 500 miles a week, which meant that over the course of 9 months I drove more than most soccer moms do in a year. The Rogue took it all, until the transmission started acting silly around 84,000 miles and it was transformed into a 15 mph rolling roadblock filled with hand-me-down computer equipment, a camera, and the avatar of anxiety. After stopping on the side of the road and trying the “turn it off and on again” method, it worked fine. Still, I didn’t like the idea of potentially getting stranded and having to resort to methods stolen from the I.T. Crowd. I decided the next chance I get, I was going to get the Rogue checked out at my local shop.
Fast forward to me sitting in the Rogue and having the technician practically shove a paper towel in my face with what looks like something he wiped off the seat at the local gas station restroom, and explain to me that the thing might need a fresh transfusion of transmission fluid. This was only 20,000 miles since my intermediate service, so clearly either someone was screwing with me, or my car was about to screw me. After doing some research later that night, I come to find out that Nissan’s CVT Transmission for my Rogue was known for having more issues than Autoweek. In fact, there are entire websites dedicated to Nissan and their lemon CVT transmission, with the same symptoms I experienced reported by other drivers.
I suddenly had the feeling I was riding on a ticking time bomb in the shape of a mom’s band practice transport, especially after seeing the darker-than-normal transmission fluid and reading a comparison between the CVT’s shift patterns and Helen Keller’s ice skating skills. So I made the decision to look for something that I could get for the trade-in value of the Rogue. And of course, in wisdom beyond my years, I asked Michael for advice.
“Miata Is Always The Answer.”
Michael drove a Miata. In fact, simply stating that he “drove” it would be a disservice because of his obsession of subtracting weight where he could to squeeze every ounce of performance from the machine, without having to take drastic measures or change the exterior of the car in any noticeable way. Thinking back now, I might have already had my mind made up when I asked for his help. I wanted a Miata, or something like a Miata. The allure of something sporty and fun like a rear-wheel drive convertible more or less guided my decision to look for a replacement for the Rogue, but I still had the frame of mind to look for a suitable replacement in the long term. I wasn’t just going to look at a Miata of course, but maybe something like a Mazda 3-Series, a Subaru, or a Volkswagen that wasn’t puking oil.
I decided that I might as well put my computer skills to work and create a spreadsheet comparing multiple cars and their costs of ownership for one year, with my driving habits, current gas prices, and mileage estimates gleaned from multiple sources. After all, I’d rather make an informed decision. After my date with Google Sheets, I managed to come up with a shortlist of cars that could be candidates for replacing the Rogue:
- A 3-door or 5-door hatchback, like a Mazda 3-Series: A car like this would have actually been my first car, but my parents thought “He needed something he could beat up.” instead. We ended up getting a Ford Contour. That car nearly killed me.
- A Toyota MR-S: Hilariously impractical, but the gas mileage was phenomenal. It took regular gas for it’s Celica-derived engine, so it was rated at 40+ MPG Highway which meant a savings of over $1,500 a year in fuel costs. The trunk space though was barely large enough for Schrodinger’s Cat, and insurance costs wouldn’t change due to the fact that the MR-S was more of a pure sports car.
- A Miata: Here’s where things get interesting, since I was leaning towards a Miata anyway. Though not as practical as a hatchback, the gas mileage was claimed to be 28-30 MPG Highway observed by multiple sources, which meant a savings of $1,000 a year for fuel costs over my Rogue. An insurance quote also told me that I would be saving $60 a year over my Rogue. That’s because apparently the Miata is considered a compact car. That, or they figured if I crashed it it would be more likely to kill just me, but no one else because there are no backseats and I’m single.
I had the data I needed; now, came the scheming. At this point, I was leaning heavily toward the Miata since it was cheaper to drive and maintain, and I would get to have some fun without having to resort to selling organs south of the border. However, I had an ulterior motive; I wanted to drive stick. I had learned a little bit because of my job, but my exposure was limited because I couldn’t legally leave the lot, so I never had the chance to actually shift out of 1st gear. Since getting started in a manual car is essentially the hardest part, it shouldn’t have been that hard to learn the rest and finally ascend to where all car enthusiasts should be. Still, cargo space would be an issue since I was carrying a massive (and massively outdated) boat anchor of a printer, and a bunch of stickers and buyers guides for different dealerships. I figured I could learn to carry less, and then pocket all those savings from the gas mileage and insurance costs. Having something more practical was still the logical choice, so I wasn’t about to just cave in and buy a Miata despite my desires.
Then Michael shot me a message: “Hey, there’s this guy selling a Miata in Santa Clara. It’s the shit.” With piqued curiosity, I asked him for the Craigslist ad. He sent it to me and I looked it over:
“Rare 2003 Shinsen Miata 1.8L, 93000mi”.
A fairly recent Miata, at 93,000 miles seems pretty common, but a Shinsen Miata? That’s a god-damn unicorn. I felt my resolve to get a more practical car melting.
“New and Fresh”
Let me clarify what a Shinsen Miata is:
In 2003, Mazda created a special version of the Miata that was slotted under the Special Edition model. Named “Shinsen” (meaning “New and Fresh”), this new version was intended to attract younger buyers to the brand with a myriad of interesting features:
- Titanium Gray Metallic Paint (used on the 2002 SE, and the later NB Mazdaspeed Miata).
- Unique Navy Blue Cloth top, Navy Blue Cloth bucket seats, Navy Blue door inserts, two-tone Navy Blue/Black leather-wrapped shifter knob, embroidered floor mats and aluminum trim.
- Leather-wrapped Nardi Torino steering wheel.
- Special Edition white-face gauges
- Convenience Package, including a heated glass rear window, electric windows, tweeters, fog lamps, power locks, cruise control, and keyless entry.
- A 1.8L 142hp engine mated to a 5-speed gearbox and a Tochigi-Fuji Limited-Slip Differential.
- Optional appearance packages, including the front air dam extension, side skirts, mud guards, front and tail light covers, and a rear deck spoiler.
Mazda intended to sell 1,600 Shinsen Miatas, however other sources say just over 1,400 were built. Additionally, the Shinsen was only offered for the 2003 model year. In other words, the Shinsen Miata is a rare and beautiful beast! You can imagine how skeptical I was when Michael sent the Craigslist ad to me. He assured me though:
“It’s legit man. The seller’s on the forums I belong to and he posted about it there. This car is perfect for you! I even test-drove it. It drives better than mine!“
Now I was in trouble.
I wanted something that was more practical than a rare entry-level sports car, but something like this barely comes up anywhere. Who wouldn’t want to own a car like this? Michael and I had made arrangements to see the car the same weekend I chose to bring the Rogue to a dealership to get it inspected and appraised. A test drive couldn’t hurt, right? After all, I was planning on selling the Rogue on Craigslist or AutoTrader anyway. Michael however, was so confident that I would love the Miata so much, he even promised to front the cash so I could pay him back when I eventually sold the Rogue.
“Oh god.” I thought to myself. What was I about to get into?
An eye full of CV Fluid
I was staring up under the Rogue with a technician after a detailed inspection. I was pretty confident that the Rogue needed work, since I was putting so many miles on it. However, I wasn’t prepared for the actual amount of work needed to bring the thing to a safe drivable state. The look on the technician’s face should have told me what I was in for. That, or the fact that as soon as I looked up under the car, a glob of a yet-identified fluid fell and hit me just under my good eye. The technician brought to my attention the transaxle and showed me the CV boots leaking fluid (oh shit). The boots were shot and spewing fluid, which meant that the whole transaxle would have to come out and be inspected (oh SHIT!). That would be a $2,000 repair if the transaxle would have to be replaced, not counting labor.
To add insult to injury, the rear brake rotors needed to be replaced, the bushings were all shot, and there was an unknown fluid leak in the engine; likely the culprit behind the face-soiling. Then came the final shock: The shop had quoted me $4,000 total for the repairs. The Kelly Blue Book Value of my car was rated at around $4,000 for a Good condition Rogue. At best, the Rogue was in Fair condition, but thankfully, I never told the shop about the CVT issues. If I were going to trade it in I would have to get KBB for it, otherwise, my next best bet would be to keep driving the car until I raised enough funds to repair the issues and try trading it in again. Clearly that wasn’t an option, because I had to pay the rent and I like fast food too much.
Ultimately, my decision boiled down to two things: Do I decide to keep the Rogue and attempt to repair what I can with whatever funds I could muster, knowing that at any time the transaxle could fail or the CVT could leave me stranded? Or, do I bite the bullet and trade the Rogue in right then and there, and use the check to buy the Shinsen Miata? I looked up at the undercarriage of my Rogue, and felt a sudden pang of guilt. Despite all of its issues, the Rogue survived two moves, a career change, several adventures to Laguna Seca, one Hit-and-Run, and four years of driving in the Bay Area. It was my Rogue after all.
Then, a glob of axle fluid falls onto my face. I wasn’t sad anymore. I looked over to the salesmen with the glob still dripping down my face and said “Ok, let’s make a deal.“
“Exit the Rogue, Enter the Shinsen.”
I stood in front of the Rogue with the paperwork under my arm smiling at Michael poking his head out from his Miata. His eyebrows were still cocked in either amusement or bewilderment, so I repeated myself.
“I traded in the Rogue!“
Michael finally snapped out of it and asked why, so I explained it to him. To put it simply, it made more sense to trade in the Rogue now than waiting to repair it later and then selling it on Craigslist. This way, I didn’t have to worry about getting the funds, or dealing with tire-kickers. On top of that, if I was going to buy this Miata today, I could pay Michael off sooner since he offered to lend me the cash. That being said, I might have been rushing the decision a bit since I didn’t want to deal with the Rogue anymore, and I had already done the research. I was determined to get a Miata now since it felt that the universe itself was lining up for me to get in this car and drive it off into the sunset. Plus, I actually broke even and got a solid $4,000 for the car, despite the costs it would take to get it perfect again.
Paperwork in hand and a box full of personal belongings, I looked back at the Rogue and felt that pang of guilt again. The thing did have some sentimental value after all; It was my mother’s before she gave it to me and had it shipped from the East Coast. I even helped her pick it out, despite the fact that I kept pushing her toward the Juke because it was clearly the cooler choice. And now the Rogue was sitting empty, 3,000 miles away from where it first came into my life. Then I remembered that tiny injustice I suffered when I was pulling off the highway at dangerously slow speeds, with me panicking and making inhuman noises. I shook the salesmen’s hand and thanked him again for the deal-making, and then I squeezed into Michael’s Miata and together we took off. It wasn’t until I looked in the side mirror and saw the Rogue that it hit me: “Oh shit, I sold my car!“
No going back now.
After we a quick trip to an auto parts store nearby, we arrived to the seller’s home with the Shinsen in the driveway. He had been tidying it up a bit before we arrived. He recognized Michael and shook his hand with a smile; Michael did say he test drove it after all. The Shinsen looked impressive; in addition to all the features a “standard” Shinsen comes with, this car had the factory air dam extension, side skirts, mud guards, and lamp covers. In addition, the owner also had added a magnetized phone mount, a bluetooth stereo head unit, and a chrome roll bar. At first glance, the car looked amazing, but there were some problem areas. The paint on the front bumper was pock-marked with paint chips; obviously from the dust and rocks that plague California’s highways. The paint was also peeling in some areas of the front bumper and scuffed off in others, and the lower lip extension in front of the passenger-side fog lamp had been cracked. To round it all off, there were some minor dents and scuffs around the body, and a gouge in the driver’s side skirt. Curious, I asked the seller what the story was with the car and how he came to own it. The seller went on to explain where the car came from; it was bought by a little old lady (I thought that was an urban legend) straight from the factory with all of the options, drove it until she couldn’t drive it anymore due to her age, and then sold it to him. He then proceeded to use it as a weekend driver/autocross car.
That would explain all the paint and body issues. On one hand, this car was a solid driver that had a lot of performance potential. But on the other hand, I wondered who would autocross this car? Despite it being a Miata, it was a still a rare Miata. The seller also went on to explain that the car had some major services done, including a clutch replacement at 75,000 miles,. Still, there was work that was needed to be done, including a timing belt replacement, and a resealing of the oil pan and differential. After talking with Michael about it more, we came to the conclusion that the car needed about $2,000 of mechanical repairs in order to get it running perfectly. This was course was not counting the body issues, but I could always do that later. After all, $2,000 in repair for a car like this was much better than having to pay $4,000 in repairs for a car that had all the sex appeal of a bowl of grits.
Michael then offered to test drive it again and the seller obliged, so off they went in a little jaunt around the neighborhood while I waited, surveying the service records. I figured that Michael wanted to get one more test drive in because he liked the Shinsen so much. Either that, or there was a little tinge of jealousy there. The Shinsen was better outfitted after all. While they were still out, my mind had begun racing:
I had just sold my car that I had been driving for four years, and I was about to buy a car that I had no experience driving, needed some work done, and was less practical. Despite the math all adding up and telling me this was the better option in the long run, I kept thinking to myself “Did I make the right choice? Or, did I just drain the bathwater, and stuffed the baby down the drain with it?” My thoughts refocused on the Shinsen coming around the corner and parking.
“This is it.”
“Learning the hard way”
Everything that happened next was a blur. Michael had the cash he had promised to front me if I decided to sell my car, and thanks to negotiations, we were going to pay less for the Shinsen because of the work that needed to be done. The seller agreed to sell it for $5,600 instead of the original asking price, which meant that my check for the Rogue was going straight to Michael. In the end, I would end up owing my gateway into the Miata world to the tune of $1,600. I signed the necessary paperwork, and then the cash exchanged hands.
Just like that, the Shinsen was mine! It all happened so fast that I barely had the time to process anything other than my combination of excitement and stomach-churning anxiety. I suppressed the urge to make another inhuman noise as Michael practically shoved me in the driver’s seat and told me “Show me what you can do.” The hard part was over now. Now came the part where I, a driver who’s only experience with a manual came from spending too many hours playing Crusin’ USA, was going to drive a car “I” just bought. So in other words, the part that could potentially kill me was just beginning.
Michael was patient while I got used to the car while puttering around his neighborhood trying to shift into 2nd gear. It took several adjustments to my seating position, learning the clutch points, and several stalls. Through his careful instruction of “letting things fall into place without forcing them”, I was starting to comprehend the complexities of the technique. Then, quite literally, it all slipped into place. I shifted into 2nd gear, with only a small amount of that acrid burning-clutch smell hanging in the air. But, that first time feeling the shifter knob slide into the correct gear and the accelerator and clutch pedals completing the successful hand-off between beats simply felt sublime! It wasn’t perfect; it would take more practice to successfully pull off the flawless ballet of manual driving, but I was doing it! I had now ascended from struggling to get uphill with a transmission comprised of molasses, to manually selecting a gear like a bolt-action rifle and truly being in control! Before long, I was making my way up Calaveras Road in Santa Clara, toeing the clutch pedal and accelerator as I got higher and higher and made my way up past the Calaveras Reservoir, towards Mission Peak. I struggled a bit when downshifting, but thanks to Michael’s careful instruction I was able to apply power when needed and carefully navigate the road’s hazards: other drivers.
A quick aside: it’s interesting how fast you notice how bad other drivers are when you’re learning to drive stick. Because most people drive an automatic, they’re not actively thinking about driving. Instead, they’re preoccupied. The end result is a driver who’s prone to bad habits such as tailgating, speeding, and using a cell-phone while driving. In a way, driving a manual makes you a better driver because it requires your focus and attention. There is no room for distractions. It’s almost meditative.
Soon, the hills gave way and a parking lot came into view. We had made it to the peak! I quickly parked my newly acquired Shinsen Miata and gingerly crawled out; my left leg throbbing from truly using a clutch for the first time. Below Michael and I was Silicon Valley, surrounded by the green hills of Mission Peak. Several others were present at the parking lot, but in my mind and in this moment, it was only us at the top of the peak. Somehow, the stars and the planets aligned just for me and something that I had always wanted seemed to fall into my lap. Despite all my planning and scheming; despite the spreadsheets, bookmarked webpages, and notes, it felt as if it was just some outstanding dumb luck that I ended up with this car. Like a sort of Voodoo .
“Voodoo.” I thought to myself.
“Hey, Michael? What was the name of your car again?” I asked. Michael looked at the car and back to me. “Did you ever watch Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends? My Miata is named after Bloo!” I asked him if it was common among Miata owners to name their car. In fact, it was. Whether by divine providence, dumb luck, or pure coincidence, Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child was playing on the bluetooth stereo during the drive up the mountain. “Perfect.” I said to myself.
“Hey Michael, how does the name ‘Voodoo’ sound?”
Since then, “Voodoo” has been my daily driver, and I have so far put around 10,000 miles on it. Thanks to a job change that allows me to work from home, and a new living arrangement, I’m driving it a lot less. I’ve had many interesting adventures with it, including a trip to San Francisco just a few weeks after I acquired the car (imagine how frightening those massive hills were in a tiny Miata!), more than a few trips up and down Hecker Pass, and several trips to Laguna Seca. I’ve also had some work done to it to keep it functioning well; including replacing the timing belt, water pump, and radiator. Soon, I’ll be working on the cosmetic issues such as the cracked lip extension, paint issues, and dents.
But for now, she sits; waiting for the next adventure.
I’ve been so busy…
… and yet, I still found the time to get access to The 2018 San Francisco Auto Show VIP Preview Party!
In addition to that, I’ve been working on writing more articles for this blog. I should be putting something up very soon!
Check out the new gallery!
In between moving to a new place, starting a new part-time job, and working on several projects at once, I’ve finally managed to upload my photos from the last couple of events!
Of course, one of the biggest spectacles of the summer was the Rolex Monterey Motosports Reunion, but imagine two events of this caliber happening within a month of each other! That was the Porsche Rennsport Reunion VI; a massive gathering featuring cars from the legendary marque from Stuttgart!
I spent two days shooting behind the fences at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca hoping to catch some great shots of all kinds of Porsche race cars whizzing past the lens. Little did I know I would end up with the biggest gallery of photos I’ve uploaded so far! I’m running out of space!
A little bit after the Reunion, I managed to attend the Mini Owner’s Association of America’s All British Car Show in Danville! Imagine what it must have felt like when a genuine Allard J2X arrives and steals the show!
Now that the season is winding down, I’m hoping to be able to try out something new I’ve been thinking of doing with this blog. No spoilers though; you’re going to have to wait and see what I have in store!