The Challenge is on!

One of my loyal readers, Hudsonjet has “thrown down the gauntlet.”  Hudsonjet has challenged me to do definitions of “valve sleeves” and “valve shims.”  I can’t back down from a challenge, so hold on for a wild ride!

Dear Hudsonjet,

I am sad to inform you that there is no such thing as the “valve sleeve.”  However, there is a sleeve valve.  I hope that this is what you were thinking of.  If not, than this mistake is on me.  I did some research on sleeve valves, so enjoy.

A sleeve valve is a type of valve that usually has a metal sheet around it.  (This helps the engine rev higher without danger of breaking the catalytic converter.  This type of valve is popular in heavy machinery or heavy-duty trucks.  The exhaust gets so hot that there is danger of damaging the engine valves.  The sleeve valve protects the integrity of the valve.  The sleeve valve also prevents oil from leaking too much.

For the less mechanically inclined, an engine valve forces air into the cylinder, where it is mixed with the fuel, and then the spark injector makes a spark.  There is a small explosion, and then the piston forces the mixture up into another engine valve.  The mixture is then sent to the catalytic converter, which cools down the mixture, and sends it through the muffler and out into our wonderfully polluted atmosphere.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

A valve shim is a disc of hardened metal that has a very precisely calibrated height to adjust the clearance of the valve lobe that is on an engine valve.  Without the valve shim, the valve lobe would flop open and stay there.  The valve shim forces the valve lobe to go back down and open when the fuel/air mixture comes out of the cylinder.The valve shim’s part in the engine play is sitting on top of the valve lobe and preventing engine gunk from entering the combustion chamber.  This is a very important part, because without it,  your mechanic would be a millionaire within a few days!  Without the valve shim, your valve lobe would allow engine gunk to enter the cylinder, and blow the piston.  Thank god for valve shims….

So, my readers, how did you enjoy these little answers to Hudsonjet’s questions?  You tell me, was I stumped?  Hudsonjet, were these the correct answers to your questions?  Anything to add?  Anyone else care to try and stump me on ‘Definition Day’?

Tune in Tuesday for a special post!

America’s Failed Compact Cars

Today, after extensive research (why this post is so late) we discuss America’s tries at compact cars within the last twenty years.  These are the histories of the Big Three’s attempts.  Some of them have very interesting histories.  Okay, we all know that Ford has it’s great new Focus, Chevy has the mediocre Cruze, and Dodge still has that horrible Caliber.

So, let’s dive into the world of barely roadworthy cars!  There is one thing I ask of you:  Please do NOT succumb to a case of road-rage should you see one of these things on the road (I can’t even call them cars)!

The Chevy Cobalt was a very bad car made from 2004-2011.  It had rough engines, a badly designed, cheap interior, and it looked like a slightly squashed 1960’s VW Beetle.  Car & Driver said of the unredeemably ugly Cobalt, “…The Cobalt has looks only a blind mother could love.”  It had a ready-to-haul sounding 155 horsepower, 2.2 liter four-cylinder.  There was also a 172 horsepower, 2.4 liter four-cylinder that wouldn’t be out of place in a Ford Falcon.  By this time, there needed to be a performance version.  Chevy introduced a supercharged 2.0 liter engine that would send a lion running for mommy.  After two years of many Cobalt SS’ sitting on a dealer lot, Chevy decided to turbocharge the engine.  Now, the only thing running for their radar gun would be the Highway Patrol!  It was one of the fastest compact cars ever built.  So, you think that Ford Falcon with a 427 V8 is fast?  Think again, Officer…

The replacement for the Cobalt is much better.  It is called the Cruze, and it blows away all your expectations of an American compact car.  I wouldn’t call it Chevy’s best effort yet, but it feels like a better second generation Cobalt.  The one thing that would get the Cruze cruzing (get it?) off the lots would be an SS version.  The 260 horsepower, 2.0 liter Ecotech engine from the Cobalt SS, a Tremec six-speed manual, and a body kit and 20″ wheels, and you’ll have a Dodge Neon SRT-4 ACR on your hands (hopefully)!

Dodge is notorious for making some pretty bad cars.  Think Magnum, 2010 Grand Caravan.  But, they do have the Challenger.  But I’m wandering away…  The first generation Neon was a pretty decent car.  It was cheaper than imports, had more horsepower, and was more powerful.  It won many awards, including Motor Trend Car of the Year 1996.

The Chrysler CEO at the time, Bob Lutz said of the first generation Neon, “Good, fast, or cheap.  I’ll take at least two, maybe three.”  Chrysler enjoyed huge success at the wheels of the first generation Neon.  When the second generation Neon came out in 2001, it was much worse than anybody could have imagined.  Sales dropped, and Dodge introduced an ACR (American Club Racer) model that was SCCA (Sports Car CLub of America) compatible. Sales were still slow.  So, Dodge introduced the SRT-4 model in 2004, but nobody expected much, until Road & Track tested one, and found that it was almost as fast as a base Porsche Boxster.  Dodge then started making ACR SRT-4.  They started to disappear off the lots like magic.  They re-started the pocket-rocket craze!  Unfortunately, quality started to go down hill soon afterwards.  When the last Neon rolled off the Bennington, VT assembly line, nobody really cared.  The replacement for the Neon is the Caliber.  The Caliber is Dodge’s failed (make that epic, please!) compact car. It is made in the same production plant as the Neon.  It is a world-wide vehicle.  That should be Dodge’s ticket to success.  Alas, no.  The Caliber is badly designed, and it feels like you’re driving a Conestoga wagon.  Further problems include:  hearing the engine with the stereo cranked up all the way, road and tire noise would give a deaf person a head-ache.  The last Caliber for the European market was built on December 10, 2010.  The Caliber hasn’t been updated since it’s 2006 introduction at the Chicago Auto Show.  There has been an SRT-4 version that was kind of a pocket-rocket. More like a cheaper alternative to a VW GTI.  Production is supposed to stop for the U.S. spec Caliber in November 2012.  The replacement for the Caliber will be based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.  It will hopefully have a turbocharged gas engine, and a diesel version.

The Ford Focus was introduced in 1998 to the European market.  A last-minute legal case forced Ford to hire a few lawyers to fight a case against a German magazine called “Focus”, over the name.  In the end, Ford got the name “Focus”, and the magazine had to change to “focus.”  The Ford Focus came to North America in 1999, as a 2000 model.  It came in four different body styles: four-door sedan, three-door hatchback, five-door station wagon, and a five-door hatchback.  Some three-door hatchback SVT (Special Vehicle Team) Focus’ came with a G-Shock digital watch.  The first generation Focus was produced from 1998-2007.  Some of the awards it received were Car & Driver’s 2001 Car of the Year, and 2004 Motor Trend Car of the Year finalist.  The first generation had almost nothing wrong with it.  The next iteration, the 2007-2010 Focus didn’t live up to the expectations of it’s predecessor.  It had chrome simulators all over the place, plastic wherever one looked, and had sporty, yet terrible seats.  No back support, no thigh support, no neck support, so you might as well rip out the seats if you own one, and put a milk crate in!  It came in a four-door sedan and two-door coupe body style.  The 2009 model year was by far the worst sales year for the Focus.  The 2007-2010 Focus never won any awards from any auto magazines, but Consumer Reports liked its fuel economy of 33 mpg. A few months ago, Ford introduced a restyled version of the European second generation Ford Focus.  Already, it has won awards from Motor Trend, Car & Driver, and Consumer Reports.  It has an amazing sounding 160 horsepower, 2.0 liter four-cylinder.  In six months, it has sold as many units as the 2009 model did in a year (55,345 cars).

Thanks for staying with me through all of this!  I’m going to give you some sage advice:  if you are at a rental lot, and the manager offers you a great deal on a 2010 Focus, any model year Caliber, or a Cobalt, go take a taxi!

The Ultimate Self-Driving Machine!

So, you know how BMW has always been known for building the “Ultimate Driving Machine” for so many years?  Well, the car of the future that was being bragged about in the ’50’s was a self-driving car!  Well, more than sixty years later, that brag is starting to come true.  There are many auto-makers working on a self-driving car.

Google, a longtime internet search engine has quietly and patiently been working on a self-driven car.  The cars they are using are six Toyota Prius’, and an Audi TT.  They are currently negotiating with Chevrolet to get a Camaro SS to use for research.  The Priii and TT have logged over 140,000 miles in testing.  These cars are not allowed to drive by themselves.  A manned operator and assistant sit in the driver and passenger seats.  The reason that there have to be an operator and assistant in the car is the car might go crazy and create a major car crash.  The problem is Google would lose years of valuable data.

Nevada passed a bill on June 24, 2011 that makes self-driving cars legal to drive within the state.  An operator must be in the car to make it legal, otherwise the NHP (Nevada Highway Patrol) will pull it over and impound it.  Google met with the governor of Nevada, and showed up to every meeting of the Nevada Legislature.  They even met with the Nevada state rep!

As Google Software Engineer, Sebastian Thrun said on the Google blog, “According to the World Health Organization, more than  1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. We’re also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow.” These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads. In terms of time efficiency, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Imagine being able to spend that time more productively.”

You can easily distinguish one of the Google test cars by its roof-mounted laser range finder, which helps it ‘see’ traffic and adjust its speed accordingly.  If any of the software ever malfunctions, the operator in the driver’s seat can turn off all the software as easily as a driver turns off cruise control.

Google also has a deal with Apple to supply them with computers.  The engineers in the cars take all the information from the car onto a computer, which then sends it all to Google’s Mountain View campus.  IBM is also trying to negotiate with President Obama to sign a contract to take out 450 traffic signals around the U.S. and put in “smart” signals.  This means that the signals will be able to transfer traffic information around the area to the car.  If this does work out, then the Google test cars could find out important information, and take a detour.

So far, the Google cars have gone down Lombard street, gone across the Golden Gate Bridge, gone down to Los Angeles from the Mountain View campus of Google software all the way down Highway 1.  They have driven down Rodeo Drive, down Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, and driven through LAX.  Wow!  I’ve even seen one in Los Angeles!  You know what I say, ONLY IN LA!

DARPA has also gotten into the self-driven auto field as well.  They host a series of races for self-driven vehicles (none of which Google competed in) across the Mojave desert, and in traffic.  Since DARPA is a branch of the military, the races were heavily sponsored by the US Army. More than 10,000 drivers of supply trucks, tanks, jeeps and HUMVEE’s have been killed since 1945.  The rate is expected to climb up to almost 300 deaths a year in 2020.  So, the Army needs to figure something out.  Soon.  The Army is currently working on a semi truck to tackle the European Alps in 2013.  There is even a documentary on the first DARPA race, titled “NOVA: The Great Robot Race.”

Colorado hosts an annual hill climb at Pikes Peak.  The goal is to get up to the peak in the shortest time possible.  Let me clarify, the hill-climb is for CARS, not people!  At last year’s climb, the Google Audi TT competed.  The Google Audi TT did fairly well for something with a radar system.  It did a 15 minute, 14.453 second hill climb.  Though there was no self-driven class at Pikes Peak, there will be one in 2012.  Now I can see why Google asked for that Camaro SS…  Google is thinking of taking their Audi TT to Infineon Raceway sometime next summer.  They are even thinking of having the car drive itself from Google’s headquarters to Infineon Raceway.  Maybe they’ll do it on a track day!

One can only imagine the possibilities!  You could have the car take the kids to school, take you to work, go to the market with your wife, and then fuel up!  Then pick up the wife and kids, and then you…  How fun!  Especially if the car could cook all your meals for you!  All right, I’ll be quiet now…

Nerdy Definition Day!

Okay, we all know that I’ve done ‘Geeky Definition Day’, or, simply, ‘Definition day’.  But today is different.  These are auto-related terms that you may have never heard of before!  You need a wide and varied auto vocabulary for this blog.  Are you ready?  I thought so…

Roller Cam:  The roller cam is also called the rolly.  It is a camshaft (a shaft of a cam) which operates against a small roller (hence the name “rolly”), at the base of each lifter; instead of the lifter itself.  The rollers are designed to reduce friction and wear, especially at high rpms.  A cam is located above or below the crankshaft.  A cam spins around, and pushes the bottom of the engine valves, which help produce the spark, which drives the car forward.

Cream hardener:  A type of cream used for hardening bondo.  You put the bondo on, but it doesn’t dry by itself (unless you’re planning on not driving your car for a year!).  Slather the cream all over the bondo, and the bondo dries.  Then (hopefully), your car will look as good as new!

Meats:  Refers to big tires, such as drag racing slicks, or 40″  off-road tires.  I wonder if they have any steaks…  There are also “meaty” tires.  They are very knobby tires, that are used for going off-road.  Now I wonder if they have any bacon…

Tune in regularly to get some more great ‘n geeky definitions!  Heard of these?  I dare you to find some random auto-related terms that I might not know!  Just post it as a comment, and you’ll be featured on my next definition post!

Tune in soon to get specs on my baby!  You’ll be surprised!

Life in the Pits (of a Racetrack)

Today we are lucky enough to have an interview with Mace Gjerman.  Mace worked on a pit crew, on and off, for years in the pits of many tracks across North America. A pit crew works on the sidelines of a racetrack maintaining and fixing the race cars.

I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer, so let’s get started!  And all the answers are Mace’s own words!

Mace, when did you start working in the Racing Industry?  I started in high-school, where I volunteered on club cars that my high-school raced.  

How exactly did you start working in the Racing Industry?  One day I rode my bike over to a local racer’s house, and said “do you need help racing?”  He said yes.  

What was your job?  I started waxing, nutting and bolting (nutting and bolting is where you check that every nut and bolt is tight).  A very basic job, but still a job.  Later on, I was in the Pits. 

What team(s) did you work for?  I started working for an ametuer SCCA racer in 1983.  At races, I would go over to the professional teams, and ask if they were willing to have another team member.  One team, Oftdaht Racing accepted and told me “come up to a race in Montreal in four weeks, and you’ll have a new job.”  I also worked for Huffaker Racing, another big company.  

Do you have any memorable experiences from your racing career?  Yeah,  Oftdaht Racing and Huffaker Racing both did the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 12 Hours of Sebring.  Those were some very memorable experiences.  

What tracks did you race at?  Well, let me think…  Well, just about every track except Lime Rock.  He even raced at Infineon Raceway before it became Infineon.

How many people were on your team?  Both Oftdaht Racing and Huffaker Racing had eight people per team.  

What car did you team race?  Well, the first person I worked for in high-school had what I think was a ’73? Mustang Boss 351.  When I worked for Oftdaht Racing, Pontiac sponsored us with Trans Am’s.  With Huffaker Racing, they raced Pontiac Trans Am’s and Fiero’s.  They both were pretty fast cars.  

Who were your team sponsors’?   STP, AC Delto, and my current employer, Petersen Tractors (they sell CAT machinery).  Petersen was the main sponsor.  

Did your team ever get into an accident?  Uh, once in a while. More driver error than anything else.

How often did your team win a race?  Well, there was one year in Trans Am, when, out of fourteen races, our team (Oftdaht Racing) got seven podium finishes.  One of those podium finishes we came in first place.

What did your team compete in:  NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, SCCA, Formula One Rallies, IROC, IZOD, etc.?  My first employer was in the ametuer class of SCCA.  Oftdaht Racing was in Trans Am.  Huffaker Racing was into IMSA (endurance racing), and Trans Am.  

Where were your team(s) based out of?  Well, Oftdaht Racing was based out of Minneapolis.  Huffaker Racing was in Petaluma, CA until shortly after I left my racing career behind.  

How often did races happen?  They were pretty consistent.  In a racing season, races usually happened every two-three weeks.  Races were typically on weekends.  They would start Friday (but we’d usually get there Thursday, and leave on Monday, and end on Sunday.  

What time did you have to be at the track by?  Usually, I’d have to be at the track by 5 am.  

What were your hours?  Usually a fourteen hour shift.  I would be at the track seven days a week from 5 am to 7 pm.  A racing season typically lasts four months, so I’d be at the track seven days a week for fourteen hours, for four months.  And, I didn’t get a day of rest those four months.  

Did you like out job?  Heck, YEAH!  I loved it!  

Do you have any funny stories from your racing career?  Yeah.  I’ll share one of my personal favorites.   It wasn’t funny at the time, though.   So, one weekend, the Canadian Sports Car Club (CSCC)hosted an IMSA race.  To cross over into Canada, all the truck drivers must have a list of everything in their truck and trailer.  For us (Oftdaht Racing), that was almost one million dollars worth of equipment and cars.  Pretty big deal.  So, we get to one of the border crossings at about 3 am.  All the employees are sleeping, so we go and wake them up.  We give them our list.  They look over it, and said “you came to the wrong border crossing.  We’re going to have to detain you until 6 am.”  We told them “we have to be at the track by 6!”  They said “We can’t let you go until we call up the CSCC  and ask them if you are going to the race.  They open up at 4 am”  Our semi driver said “Forget it.  I’m going to the right border crossing.”  He backs out of the border crossing, does a U-Turn, and goes back on the borderline highway and goes through a little farm road.  Finally, the rest of us get through.  But, the semi driver never got his permit to be in Canada.  So, we’re at the track on Sunday.  The mountie’s are coming through, asking for the permits.  They come to us.  We’re working on the cars.  They ask us for the permits.   We show them everything except one permit.  We told them that they have to ask our semi driver.  They go up and ask him.  Of course, he doesn’t have that permit, because he entered illegally.  They tell us to lay down our tools and back away.  We do.  They start putting that “Caution.  Do Not Enter” yellow tape around our cars and tools.  Trust me, when the owner came over to look at the cars, he was in for a nasty surprise.  He almost killed that poor semi driver!  Now, I’m sure that he laughs about it!  It’s a pretty funny story.  

Why did you stop your Racing career?  Well, one reason was that the driver of the car that I was in charge of retired from racing, and offered me a job at Petersen Tractor Company.  I accepted.  I also had gotten married exactly 364 days before that job at Petersen Tractor Company was offered to me.   

When did you stop your Racing career?  You know, I never really stopped officially.  I started and stopped.  Today, I still own a Formula B Ford.  But, when I started that job at Petersen Tractor Company, it was in the early 1990’s.  

Thanks Mace for the interview.  It sounds like a high stress life with a lot of traveling and driving.  But it sure sounds fun.  I can understand why you miss it.  Perhaps you could help me ‘parent’ my baby or at least ‘supercharge’ her!

My Baby

Guess what I have?

Remember last month how I said I was going to be getting ‘something’?  Well, I’ve got that ‘something’.  Can’t figure out what my special something is (hint:  it’s not a wheel)?  What about now?

Still can’t?  What about now?

All right. I know you’ve figured it out by now.

From last Sunday on, I have a truck!  It is officially mine (sssshhh!  Don’t tell the DMV).  It may seem like nothing special to you, but to me, it’s everything.  It’s my baby!  You might have a girlfriend or a spouse, but I’ve got a truck!

After waiting almost a year, I’ve got it!  It sat in a friend’s field for seven years.  When we (me and my dad) got it last Sunday, we rented a car trailer (thank God for U-Haul) and drove up to our friend’s house.  After five minutes of trying to back the trailer into the field (who knew it was so hard), we finally decided to turn the 800 or so pound trailer around 180 degrees.  Even with five people pushing and pulling, it took half an hour.  Then, my dad had to hitch the trailer back up to the truck.  After that, it was pretty easy to move my 1982 Chevy S10 onto the trailer.  (Don’t you love the sound of the word ‘my’?)   With three people pushing, a come-along pulling, and somebody steering and using the brake pedal, it was pretty easy to move.

But, due to a yellow-jacket nest near the truck, my dad and I can’t start working on the truck until all those nasty insects are in another world.  Then, you can look forward to regular updates on the truck.  Now I’ll stop blabbing and show you some pictures of my truck.

She’s my baby, and I love her!

With a 180 horsepower, 4.3 liter V6, one can imagine that she’s a rocket hauler!  VROOM!

I Have You in My Clutch(es)!

What has a clutch?  Just about anything with a motor.  Chainsaws, cars, planes, even the electronic razors men use to shave with!

What is a clutch?  Well, let’s dive in and see!

A clutch is a mechanical device that is attached to a manual transmission gear box, which is outside the engine.  Also, the clutch pedal is attached to the clutch.

Clutches are very important when a machine has  two rotating shafts, or two moving parts.  Clutches are instrumental in a car because it smoothly transfers horsepower and torque from the spinning engine crankshaft to the transmission, without slippage (clutch slippage is where the friction materials inside of the clutch’s flywheel [which is attached to the engine’s crankshaft] wear out, and the clutch is slipping as a result of varying speeds)

Friction is necessary to the operation of  every clutch.  Friction is the rubbing of two or more objects.  The clutch’s job is to eliminate as much friction as possible.  Thus, the friction between the clutch plate and flywheel is  sent through the clutch, where it is dissipated.

When a driver presses the clutch pedal, it releases the pressure plate, which pushes the pressure plate against the clutch plate against the flywheel, and causes the non-spinning transmission to spin.  When the clutch pedal is depressed, the transmission is still spinning, but there is no need to press the clutch pedal:  You will just need a clutch sooner.

If you drive a manual transmission car, and are driving up a hill with a loaded car, and are going up a steep hill in a gear that is too high, you will burn out the clutch; bringing a tow truck and quite a few large bills.  And a happy mechanic… Besides, who REALLY wants that?