Archive for February, 2007

Senna laps an NSX

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007


A good friend of mine who is huge Ayrton Senna fan sent me a great Senna video today. Unfortunately I missed out on most of Senna’s racing days, I was only 11 years old or so and had yet to develop an appreciation for the great F1 drivers of the time. But thanks to online videos it is possible to relieve many of these driver’s greatest moments.

For all you non-F1 types, Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian born driver who raced for some of the top teams in Formula One (McLaren/Honda, Lotus and Williams). He was best known for his ability to throw down incredibly quick qualifying laps and for his uncanny ability to pilot an F1 car at high speeds in wet weather, the latter earning him the nickname “The Rain Master”. Senna’s brilliant career was cut short in 1994 when he was involved in a fatal accident during the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola circuit in Italy. Prior to Senna’s accident fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello had been involved in a serious wreck in Friday qualifying. Then on Saturday Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger died in a fatal accident during practice. The following Sunday during the race Senna’s car broke traction and went off the track at Tamburello corner hitting an unprotected concrete barrier. Telemetry shows he left the track at 310 km/h (193 mph) and was able to slow the car down to 218 km/h (135 mph) in less than two seconds before hitting the wall. There is some controversy over the cause of the accident, whether it was a result of driver or mechanical failure. There is also some disagreement on the actual cause of death, but most people believe that he died at the track due to massive head trauma caused by a tire or piece of suspension debris from the car.


When Senna was driving for McLaren/Honda he developed a close relationship with the Honda engineers that built the power plants for his Formula 1 car. As a result he was asked to fine-tune the Honda NSX’s (Acura stateside) suspension setting during its final development stages. He tested the car at Suzuka Circuit with chief NSX engineer Shigeru Uehara on hand to listen to Senna’s input. Senna’s main critique was that the NSX lacked chassis stiffness, a problem which the engineers fixed with additional reinforcements before the car went into production.

Here is some footage of Senna putting the NSX through its paces at Suzuka. Note that he is driving in slip on loafers…. ahhh the lifestyle.

Bill Mertz

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Going Racing: Firesuits

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007


The second running of the 24 Hours of Lemons is coming up quickly and this year I hope to be driving as part of an all Pinto Team. Most of the details about the team are either fuzzy or top secret, however there have been some upgrades to the race that are crystal clear and they mostly have to do with safety.

After last years event everyone came away unscathed but there were a few incidents that raised some eyebrows and left people thinking “What if..?” One was a VW Golf that got put on its roof at low speed. As a result window nets and door bars have been added to the list of race car requirements along side the already mandatory safety harnesses and roll bars.

The other major incident that had people talking had to do with a Volvo wagon that was leaking gas out of its filler. The car was black flagged and came into the pits, the teammates disheartened that such a minor problem could take them out of the race. One generous minded mechanic who shall remain nameless came rushing over eager to help them get back into the fray even though he was on a different team. He grabbed a spare blue nitrile disposable glove and zip tied it over the filler neck to keep gas from splashing out onto the track. At the time it seemed like a good fix, in fact it worked pretty well for awhile until the glove started to fill up with the excess gas that sloshed out of the tank creating a potentially explosive and flammable hand that waved at everyone who passed on the right hand side. Inevitably the hand broke and the Volvo caught fire, circling the tiny track a few times before the race was temporarily stopped and the car was extinguished. This car fire prompted two new safety requirements. The first is that all filler necks have to be moved inside the car, away from impact points. The second requirement is that drivers have to wear SFI rated driver’s suits.


Being the cheapo that I am, the second requirement had me a little disheartened. Driving suits are expensive. Last year I simply wore mechanic’s overalls and some fire proof gloves that I borrowed from a firefighting friend of mine who had just been at a large Marijuana bust where they had to burn a large field of weed plants. That’s another story, but in short the gloves smelled potentially of the sticky icky. The out fit worked fine, and best of all it was free.

Knowing that I had to buy one of these suits I hit up Ebay to see if I could find one for a bargain. Ebay was flooded with drivers suits some as cheap as $50, but I quickly noticed that some of the SFI ratings of the various suits were different. They all started with “SFI 3.2A” but then they had different numbers after that. I was getting ready to bid on one particular suit that read “SFI 3.2A/5″ when it occurred to me that it might be important to find out what that “/5″ actually meant.

After a quick search I found the SFI website and read it over to see what exactly SFI was and how a suit with their rating would help me to survive a fire. According to their website the SFI Foundation, Inc. (SFI) is “a non-profit organization established to issue and administer standards for specialty/performance automotive and racing equipment.” They exist to help keep racing safe for people like me. Their rating system for fire suits is based on how long a person wearing the suit can be exposed to the heat of a fire before they get second degree burns or blistering.

Here is their official explanation:
“The driver suit spec 3.2A tests a garment’s fire retardant capabilities. The spec contains a rating system based on the garment’s capability to provide Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) in the presence of both direct flame and radiant heat. The purpose of the TPP is to measure the length of time the person wearing the garment can be exposed to a heat source before incurring a second degree, or skin blistering, burn.
The TPP rating is the product of exposure heat flux and exposure time. The TPP results can be converted to the time before a second degree burn occurs. The higher the garment rating, the more time before a second degree burn.”

The ratings go like this:
3.2A/1 gives 3 seconds until a second degree burn
3.2A/3 gives 7 seconds
3.2A/5 gives 10 seconds
3.2A/10 gives 19 seconds
3.2A/15 gives 30 seconds

The suits are also tested for their resistance to flames, how much heat zippers transfer and thread heat resistance.


After reading the various ratings I went back to the suit I was bidding on and looked at it with new appreciation. Most suits I had been looking at were only /1’s but this /5 would give me an additional 7 seconds to get out of the car. 10 seconds isn’t very long to get out of a burning race car, especially when you consider that you have a bulky helmet on, you’re strapped in with a harness, the windows have nets on them that need to be removed, the car has steel bars welded across the door entry, and the doors themselves may be welded shut. But ten seconds is a hell of a lot longer than 3 seconds. And with the addition of Nomex underwear you gain another 3 or 4 seconds. With that in mind I bid on the suit and won it at a very reasonable price. Hopefully no one will put their suits SFI ratings to the test come race day, but it is good to know that if something happens you have that added measure of safety on your side.

-Bill Mertz

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Will GM Drop the Curtain on a New Transformers Lineup?

Monday, February 26th, 2007


If you grew up watching Transformers’ cartoons and playing with the action figures than you are no doubt excited about the upcoming release of the live action Transformers movie. The folks at General Motors are also giddy with anticipation, but not because they crave special effects or have found childhood memories of playing with transforming cars. GM has a huge role in the upcoming movie with several vehicles playing main characters in the film: a Pontiac Solstice will play Jazz, a Hummer H2 will star as Ratchet and a GMC TopKick takes the role of Ironhide.

The most controversial product placement character in the whole movie is the famous Transformer Bumblebee. Bumblebee was one of the most beloved characters in the entire cast, and appropriate to his name Bumblebee Transformed into a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. However, in a complete disregard for the originality of the series and probably due to a large sum of money coming from GM, director Michael Bay has cast Bumblebee as the a new Chevrolet Camaro. To be fair, it probably wasn’t Michael Bay’s call, but as a Transformer fan and hater of blatant product placement at the cost of artistic vision I think this blows. I can’t say that I blame GM for trying to plaster their name all over this movie, it makes great sense from a marketing stand point, but it would be great to see Bumblebee in the film as a new Beetle. Maybe Volkswagen missed the boat.

Original Bumblebee

In addition to having prominent vehicles in the film, there have been whisperings that GM will release Transformer Edition cars and trucks. This has left people asking the obvious question: What exactly will the Transformer Edition be? Let’s shoot down the wishful thinkers right away; GM is not going to build a car that actually transforms! This is the same company that came late and underdressed to the hybrid party, the small two seat sports car party, and the stop building giant ugly SUVs party, I don’t think they have it in them to build a real transforming vehicle. If anyone is going to build one (and why would you?) it’s going to be Honda or Toyota.

Chevrolet Camaro “Bumblebee” seen on the Transformers set

Beyond that we really have no idea if the cars are simply going to sport Transformer badges (Autobots and Decepticons) or if they will have any performance modifications, graphics packages or body kits. The film opens this summer on the 4th of July.

For more information on Transformers and other classic toys, check out the awesome 451 Press toy blog, Toy Bender: Lots of cool vintage commercials and up to date information on what’s going on in the world of toys, also the source of this story. Thanks Paul!

-Bill Mertz

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Supercars in Paris

Friday, February 23rd, 2007


Despite the fact that supercars are all about status, flash and money there is something unavoidably appealing about them; maybe it’s the power, speed and handling. I can still remember the first time I saw a Lamborghini Countach in person. The scale of the car was amazing, sleek low and incredibly wide. In fact most supercars are much bigger than they look on the glossy pages of magazines. This begs a few questions: what would it be like to actually drive one of these powerful, unwieldy and massive machines on the streets of a crowded city, and how practical would it be for transporting luggage and running errands? Fortunately the boys at Top Gear have a big enough budget to answer these questions.

Using three top of the line exotics, the Ford GT, Pagani Zonda and Ferrari F430, Top Gear put them through the paces of real world driving and parking on the streets of Paris…or they would have got to the driving part if they could have gotten out of the parking garage. This clip doesn’t bust any myths, we all know super cars are built for smooth open roads or race tracks not parking garages, but it is certainly interesting to watch the supercars try and do “normal car” tasks and fail. I knew there was a reason so many people drove Hondas and not Zondas.

Check it out for yourselves:

-Bill Mertz

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Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Nope, I’m not talking about a girls backside, I’m referring to the JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank that was spotted for sale on Actually I have to give some props to my little sis’ for putting me on the trail of this amazing vehicle. I’ve read the ad over several times and I still don’t know if it is a joke or legit.

Here are the features as listed:
- Carries cargo or a crew of up to five internally or on the roof.
- Piloted from within the armored shell or from an exposed standing position through the hatch.
- 6hp Tecumseh gasoline engine, top speed 40 mph.
- Includes head/tail and turn signal lights, trim and under body lighting.
- 400 watt premium sound with PA system, plush interior, and external camera.


And here is the text description:
The JL421 Badonkadonk is a completely unique, extremely rare land vehicle and battle tank. Designed with versatility in mind, the Donk can transport cargo or a crew of five internally or on the roof, and can be piloted from within the armored shell or from an exposed standing position through the hatch, thanks to special one-way steel mesh armor windows and a control stick that pivots up and down to allow piloting from the standing or seated positions. The interior is fully carpeted and cozy, with accent lighting and room for up to five people. A 400 watt premium sound system with PA is mounted to project sound both into the cabin and outward from behind the windows. The exterior is a steel shell with a rust patina, and features head and tail lights, turn signal lights, trim lighting, underbody lighting, fixed slats protecting the windows, and a unique industrial-strength rubberized flexible skirt that shields and protects the wheels to within an inch of the ground, while still allowing for enough flex to give clearance over bumpy and uneven terrain. Master power, ignition, all lighting, and stereo features are controlled from a single switchboard to the left of the driver, again accessible from either the seated or standing position. Standard drive is an air-cooled, 6hp Tecumseh gasoline (unleaded only) engine, with centrifugal clutch, giving the Donk a top speed of 40 mph. This vehicle is not licensed for use on public roads, and is intended as a recreational vehicle only. Badonkadonks are produced on an order-by-order basis, with each one having its own unique set of features. With your order is included unlimited consultations with the designer and manufacturer concerning all relevant options (a representative from NAO will contact you shortly after your order). Price does not include shipping and handling.

After reading the description I kept thinking this thing was for real. Even though I have my doubts about a 6 horsepower motor propelling an 1100 pound vehicle plus driver up to 40 mph, the rest is quite believable. But after reading some of the product reviews it was hard to take the Donk seriously.

Here are a couple samples:
It shouldn’t come as a shock that NAO Design is shutting down one of the two production lines in their leased, 2,500 square-foot space in an abandoned movie theater; the Badonkadonk is a lemon. Despite NAO’s claim that “The Badonkadonk can plow mercilessly through 4 feet of solid concrete while it’s owner-friendly construction shields the driver from excessive cabin noise,” I got a sofa stuck in the wheels while trying to ram through my neighbor’s living room to steal some Twinkies. And I couldn’t hear my Celine Dion for the life of me.

That was just the first-day’s problems. On day two I realized the Badonkadonk’s advertised “Comfort Zone, Climate Control” is nothing more than 6-inch slits covered with impenetrable safety glass. Try dealing with that on a thirty-minute trip to the pediatrician to treat your 3-year-old’s atrocious gas. My eyelashes nearly melted off (although, truth be told, the trip would have taken over an hour if the Badonkadonk wasn’t bashing through morning traffic).
On a positive note, the brown/rust/oxidation finish is as luxurious in person as in the photos.

Have you ever wanted to be the dictator of an obscure country whose name you can’t pronounce, only to realize you don’t have the appropriate armaments in your suburban garage to give you that tactical advantage? Let’s face it: installing that leaf blower and shop vac in the wife’s SUV just isn’t going to get the job done and will probably only lead to ridicule.
Now, thanks to the good people at NAO Design, you have access to a device that can make your third-world conquests a reality. Granted, the Donk won’t go head-to-head with a modern Abrams M1A2 fitted with the Urban Survival Kit upgrade, but in field tests against Russian-made T-72s, it performed admirably. Survivability was significantly improved with the installation of depleted uranium armor in key areas. The addition of a German-designed Rheinmetall AG 120 mm smoothbore gun made it possible to take out adversaries from nearly 4000 meters away.

Pros: The stock 6HP Tecumseh engine and drive train can be retrofitted fairly easily with an electric motor drive system powered by a surplus Russian-built Strontium-90 Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG). That change out pushed the top speed of my Donk to over 92 MPH (though I did also have to upgrade to “R” speed rated all-season tires). Plus, with a half-life of 28.8 years, I’ll be ready for a new cruiser by the time the fuel is no longer viable.
The soundtrack to Top Gun totally rocks on the 400 watt sound system as I charge into battle! Sometimes I also like to play it on the external PA system to confuse and disorient the enemy.
Cons: Cup holders are too small for the 64oz mega-size slurpees I like to take into combat zones. No trip odometer. A digital dashboard display for the outside temperature would be nice, as would dual-zone climate control. Oh, and the glove box is too small for my gas mask.

According to Amazon there are only two more Badonkadonks left in stock. So grab that $20,000 that you have stuffed under the sofa and go buy your very own fully customized Donk.

-Bill Mertz

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Tornado Chasers

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Early TIV prototype

Do a Google Search for “tornado chasers” and you will find there is a large and crazy following of people who love to chase tornados. While I have always admired the amazing power of mother nature, I haven’t wanted to get anywhere near a tornado since I saw the Wizard of Oz when I was young. This fear of tornados was heightened further when I drove cross-country with some friends in 2000. We pulled off at a gas station in Bloomington Illinois to get info on a huge storm that had just blown in. Within 5 minutes word came over the radio that a tornado had touched down less than a mile from the station. It was a pretty frightening and helpless feeling for a guy from the west coast. But believe it or not there are people that actually look for these tornado touch-downs, and try to get even closer to them.

In order to chase a tornado you need the proper vehicle; something that is relatively quick but can also take a beating. My first choice would be an Abrams tank or Bradley attack vehicle, followed closely by a heavily armored Humvee. But many tornado chasers drive remarkably average vehicles: everything from big American sedans to flat bed trucks with Doppler radar mounted on the back called DOW’s (Doppler on wheels).

Before turret

The coolest tornado chase vehicle I found was custom built for an IMAX documentary about tornados. The vehicle is called the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) and is built to drive extremely close to a tornado and possibly even survive a direct hit while filming all the action.

Based on a Ford F450 truck platform the TIV was built over a period of 3 months using a unique design that incorporates strength, visibility, and speed. While this 14,000 pound whale doesn’t look fast it is said to have a top speed of 90mph, an extremely impressive mark that clearly shows why they chose to build the TIV over a real military tank. The frame of this chase vehicle is made of 1/4″ steel tubes and I-beams with 1/4″ plate steel floors and 1/8″ steel plate providing the skin for the skeleton. To keep the wheels and tires protected 1/8″ steel covers were mounted on hinges to give access when necessary. The four doors on the TIV are also thick plate steel and lock solidly closed with massive steel bolts.

After turret

Half inch thick Lexan resin, an extremely strong plastic, was used for the side windows. Up front a hybrid of scratch-resistant tempered glass and Lexan laminate give the windshield the combination of strength and excellent visibility. To make the TIV extra camera friendly a military style turret was added to the roof, giving cinematographers 360 degree access to the weather outside. One of the coolest features of this tornado tank is a set massive steel plates that can be lowered all the way to the ground. These plates prevent the wind from getting under the vehicle and drastically reduce the chances that it will be lifted skyward if the vehicle takes a direct hit from a tornado. Inside the TIV is like a heavily armored weather station on wheels. The high-tech weather diagnostic equipment gives the occupants all the information they need for storm chasing.

TIV next to two DOV trucks

While the TIV is still in the prototype phase, the builders have high-hopes for its ability to gather amazing footage of tornados. Eventually this footage will be used for the IMAX documentary “Tornado Alley”. As of yet they have no plans to mass produce this thing, but just think what they neighbors would think if you had one of these in your driveway.

-Bill Mertz

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Incredible Barn Find in Portugal

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007


Every car nut dreams of discovering some valuable automotive relic tucked away and well preserved in an old dusty barn. Unfortunately barn finds are almost non-existent these days. Back in the 80’s (not that I remember much) it seems like people were pulling vintage Ferrari’s out of old garages and barns left and right, but now most of the discoveries have already been made. All the BMW 2002 turbos and Porsche 356’s seem to have been plucked from their hiding places and barn finds have become more legend than reality.

Recently some pictures surfaced of an amazing cache of vehicles tucked away in a locked stone building (read barn) on remote farm in the Portuguese countryside. I’m not going to pretend that I know the facts, but the rumors are probably better than the facts in this case:


Imagine that you have decided to move out to the country. You found a lovely farm house on a large plot of land in a remote area of beautiful Portugal. The house and land have been vacant for well over a decade as is evident by the overgrowth and the houses state of disrepair. As you are wandering the grounds of your new estate you come across a massive stone barn with a padlock on the door. An angle grinder makes quick work of the old rusty lock and you slide open the giant door. The sun shines in, its light filtering through the clouds of dust that haven’t been disturbed in twenty years. As the air begins to clear you make out the tops of what appears to be dozens of vintage cars. You quickly turn on a flashlight and shine it in all directions. You aren’t dreaming; hiding under a thick layer of dust are more than 50 vintage vehicles of all makes and conditions. Porsche, Lotus, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Mercedes, DKW, MG, Austin are only a few of the badges that catch your eye. This treasure trove of well-preserved vintage cars is probably worth well over a million dollars. It’s too much, the hot musty air gets to thick to breath and you lose consciousness.

How much of this story is true I don’t know, but I do know that the part about Portugal and the awesome stash of vintage cars is true and that’s good enough for me.

Here are a few more pics from the find:

Check out the rest of the stash here: Barn Find

-Bill Mertz

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Parking Stunts With Russ Swift

Monday, February 19th, 2007


If you have never heard of Russ Swift, don’t worry you’re not alone. I had never heard his name either until I watched a clip from my favorite automotive TV show, Top Gear, that demonstrated some amazing parking stunts. Swift is probably the worlds top precision driver/parker. Best known for his radical parking stunts including a Guinness World Record for sliding a car into a parallel parking space with barely a hands-width worth of room in front and back, Russ is an incredible driver who knows how to put on a show. If there is a parking stunt to be done Russ Swift is your man, and he gets called all over the world to demonstrate his skills in all sorts of vehicles to eager on-lookers.

In this particular episode of Top Gear, Russ is using an old Volvo station wagon, not exactly a small wieldy vehicle, to show his parking prowess to the host. He performs two stunts: for the first stunt Russ slides the Volvo sideways with liberal use of the hand-brake into a tight parallel spot, for the second he performs a high speed reverse flick and backs the car in between two other vehicles, he then gives the host a turn behind the wheel, and I must admit he does a pretty good job for a newbie. The first trick is quite nifty, but the second is simply thrilling. With the speed he carries into the maneuver a rollover looks very possible. I can’t wait to find an empty parking lot and give it a try myself.
Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home!

Here’s the episode:

And another clip of Sift in an MGF:

For more clips of Swift’s amazing antics simply search YouTube for “Russ Swift”.

-Bill Mertz

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Wanted: Small Diesel 4×4 Pickup For Veggie Conversion

Friday, February 16th, 2007


My girlfriend loves the mountains. She frequently hauls her dogs and ski equipment up to the Sierra Nevada range or up to Oregon to hit the slopes in the winter. For anyone who has driven to the mountains in the winter, you know it is much easier to pass by the chain control people if you have four wheel drive and snow tires instead of pulling over and chaining up in the bitter cold, or shelling out big bucks for someone else to do it.

She came up with the idea of getting a small diesel 4×4 and running it on Biodiesel. I must admit I liked the plan, although I’m a big advocate of SVO (Straight Veggie Oil) as it can be attained for free. Small trucks are great; they are easy to park and maneuver in city traffic, they get good gas mileage, pollute less than larger trucks and you can still haul a ton of stuff (scooters, beds, gravel, dogs). Diesels are pretty cool too; they are torquey, get good mileage and run forever if you take car of them. And of course I love 4×4’s and I’m all for alternative fuels, so the package did sound appealing. The only problem is there aren’t very many trucks in the US that meet these requirements.

I spent hours scouring the internet for small diesel 4×4’s and I cam up with a very short list of possibilities. The first, and best in my opinion, is the Mitsubishi Mighty Max which was also sold under the Dodge brand as the Ram 50 or D50 and under the Plymouth badge as the Arrow Truck. I believe the Mighty Max was available in the US from 1982 through 1996. The reason I like the Mitsubishi is it came in 4×4 and with a turbo diesel four banger, the 4D55 (later replaced by the 4D56). The 4D55 puts out a respectable 83 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque. This means that compared to other diesel trucks of its size it could actually develop a little speed on the road. Fortunately the Mitsubishi diesels were also very popular outside the US so there are numerous low mileage motors floating around and parts are still readily available.

Mighty Max

Option number two is the Isuzu Pup or more correctly P’up. Like the Mitsu, the Pup was also sold under the Chevrolet brand as the Chevy Luv. In my own personal searches it appears that the Isuzu diesel 4×4’s are a bit more common than the Mitsubishi’s and have quite a cult following. The C223 diesel engine became available in 1981. Producing 58 horsepower and 93 lb-ft of torque the diesel powered Isuzu achieved a remarkable 33 mpg city/44 mpg highway. The C223 diesel also proved to be extremely robust and it was not uncommon for them to go 500,000 miles between rebuilds. With production running into the mid-1990’s there were plenty of Pups made. Also like the Mitsubishi this truck had a large following outside the US so parts availability isn’t much of a problem. While the Pup is a naturally aspirated truck there are also plenty of upgrades available from bolt on tubochargers to complete turbo motor swaps. I also heard mutterings of a factory turbo, but I have a feeling it was only available on the gas powered engines.

Isuzu Pup on the trail

Nissan/Datsun also made a small diesel pickup from 1981-1986 called the 720. Unfortunately in the US the diesel was only offered in the 2wd truck, however a swap into a 4×4 would probably be a straight forward endeavor. Sporting a naturally aspirated SD22 diesel engine up to ‘83 when it was replaced by the SD25, the Datsun is similar to the Pup in performance, and like the other two trucks parts are readily available for this vehicle.

While I heard rumors that both Toyota and Ford made small diesel 4×4’s for the US market, I couldn’t find any concrete evidence to prove it. However, many of these companies sold small diesel trucks in other countries such as Canada and Mexico. This led me to investigate the last option, importing a truck to the US. After sifting through mountains of info from government sites like the DMV, to private accounts of bringing cars across the border I decided to throw this idea out the window. It appears to be an incredible hassle with high odds of failure and an extremely high price. The chances that you could buy a vehicle and have it not allowed into the US were too high for me to seriously consider.

Despite the fact that these trucks are hard to come by, they are still remarkably affordable, usually in the $1500-$5000 range. Now if anyone knows where I can find one of these diesel 4×4s at a decent price please let me know. If I do succeed in my search and convince my girlfriend to actually buy the truck, look for an in depth write-up on straight vegetable oil conversions.

Pup in the mud

-Bill Mertz

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Craigslist Supercar!

Thursday, February 15th, 2007


Craigslist is an endless source of fodder for my blog. There is always someone selling something ridiculous or trying to scam you out of your own vehicle by promising you access to an African diamond fortune. Today it was a ridiculous vehicle that caught my eye. But this vehicle isn’t ridiculous in the home built V8 powered X1/9 sense. This vehicle actually looks like it is well constructed and might perform well.

In the last year I’ve noticed several unique 3 wheeled vehicles cruising around my local Bay Area freeways. With two wheels up front and a single drive wheel in the back these creations are usually powered by motorcycle engines and tend to look both scary and fast. Well now you have the chance to buy your own crazy-fast three wheeled monster. If you search the Bay Area Craigslist for “Supercar” you will come across this ad:

“Supercar built by Dr. Technology at the SECRET MOUNTAIN LABORATORY IN 2001. Has Corvette front suspension, rack & pinion, disc brakes, aluminum A frames. 1000cc 4 cyl. Kawasaki with 6 speed gearbox sequential shifter, tube chassis with all aluminum bodywork. SCREAMS!”


I’ve actually heard mention of this “Secret Mountain Laboratory” and it is always in reference to some wild aluminum bodied machine. However, I have been unsuccessful in discovering the true identity of Dr. Technology. Either way he has churned out another amazing vehicle. Even though it looks a bit like a bottom feeding fish, this supercar certainly is unique and the fighter plane cockpit gives it a sporty look. If it is as light as it looks it can probably get down the road quick enough to make you forget that you can’t see out the back of this thing. So would you pay $50K for this “supercar”, because that is what Dr. Technology is asking. Maybe you can trade him some comic books and get a little discount.

-Bill Mertz

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Dodge Demon Concept: Will Another Two Seat Roadster Challenge the Miata?

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007


Dodge is gearing up for the Geneva Auto Show in March with a new concept car they call the Demon. Sharing a power plant with the Dodge Caliber the Demon is a two-seat roadster that looks like the illegitimate child that resulted from a three-way between a Dodge Viper, Honda S2000 and BMW Z4 (that’s not necessarily an insult). Using the same familiar ingredients that proved successful for the Mazda Miata, the Demon concept incorporates a peppy front mounted four cylinder engine and a small rear drive platform to make a package that at least sounds and looks like it would be fun to drive.

Under the hood of the new Dodge roadster is a hefty 2.4 liter four banger which churns out 172 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. This is the same engine which has already proven its merit in the boldly styled Caliber. The engine is said to be mated to a six speed manual gearbox although the actual details of the transmission are hazy at this time. According to Chrysler the interior is going to be a bare bones design that relies on basic aluminum trim to highlight the essential controls giving the car a distinct air of performance.

So far Chrysler hasn’t said anything about the production of this vehicle but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see it on the streets in the next few years. The drive train is there and the shape of the car is easy for the public to swallow. If Chrysler wants a piece of the Miata market they may have found a decent vehicle. My only concern for the Demon is the motor. After driving the Saturn Sky, which also has a large displacement four cylinder, I was left feeling like a smaller free-revving motor would have transformed the car from buzzy and truck-like into a genuine sports car. I worry that the 2.4 in the Demon will give it the same truck-like feel, despite its great power. Time will tell.

-Bill Mertz

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Viva La Scooter: Study Shows Scooters Can Help With the Environment and Congestion

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007


I’m always looking for another excuse to tout the scooter as one of the best forms of motorized transportation. My motives are 100 percent selfish: I’m constantly trying to justify purchasing, owning and spending further money on a vintage Lambretta scooter. So when I read about a study in New York City that showed scooters having a positive impact on traffic congestion and the environment my guilty conscience temporarily disappeared. If scooters help to reduce traffic and have less impact on the environment than cars, then I don’t have to feel bad about owning one.

A new traffic model released today showed that bustling and crowded NYC could cut fuel consumption, save considerable amounts of time normally spent stuck in traffic and slash carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly by getting more scooters on the streets. These results come directly in the wake of growing concern over traffic congestion in the nation’s largest city.

This traffic model traffic model focused on a specific section of midtown Manhattan. By using a detailed simulation that incorporated scooters into the traffic mix the model uncovered some interesting results. If the vehicle mix in city changed to 80 percent cars/20 percent scooters these would be the annual results:

-A total decrease in delay of more than 4.6 million hours per year –which translates to time savings of nearly 100 working hours per person
-A reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 26,000 tons (52,000,000-pounds) per year
-A decrease in fuel consumption by over 2.5 million gallons per year
-A total savings for New York City of more than $122 million per year in fuel and labor productivity

According to the folks at Sam Schwartz PLLC, these results are even a bit conservative as they didn’t take into account that two scooters can ride side by side or pass each other within a single lane. Paolo Timoni, the President and CEO of Piaggio Group Americas who sponsored this study, said “throughout the world, scooters are recognized as a smart transportation alternative, and this traffic simulation underscores the tangible impact that two-wheel vehicles can have on a major urban area like New York City,”.


New Vespa ET4

Mr. Timoni is absolutely correct. All around the world in major metropolitan areas people have left their cars at home (if they even own one) and have taken to the streets on scooters, mopeds and bikes. When I was in Barcelona I couldn’t walk a half a block without seeing a dozen scooters or small displacement motorcycles. It just plain makes sense to ride a scooter in a densely packed city where you are only driving on streets and you have to face the grind of heavy traffic. Scooters get great gas mileage, pollute less than cars, are easier to maneuver in traffic, fit in tiny parking spaces and are cheap to insure. They really are great city vehicles.

As far as my personal scooter, it is an old two stroke and probably wouldn’t have helped the scooter cause in this study; but what can I say it’s fun and cool (in a dorky kind of way).



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GM Catches Flack For Suicide Commercials

Monday, February 12th, 2007


The Super Bowl is perhaps the single biggest day for commercial watchers of the entire calendar year. Companies spend millions of dollars and months preparing for the chance to impress a massive television audience on hand to watch the game (and commercials). Each year the pressure mounts to out do last years commercials. Whether it is humor or incredible special affects companies strive to have the best commercial come Super Bowl Sunday.

This year was no different. Several companies shelled out big doe to have a few seconds of ad time, and a few actually came through with some creative and funny commercials. General Motors joined the party with a commercial emphasizing GM’s dedication to quality with their 100,000 mile warranty. In the ad, a robot that drops a bolt on the assembly line floor is fired (GM’s obsession with quality). The robotic arm tries other jobs but continues to fail. All the while he keeps seeing nice GM vehicles rolling by and he presumably feels guilty and depressed. Finally he can’t take it any more and jumps off a bridge. In the end the robotic arm wakes up and is still in the factory; turns out it was all a dream.

This commercial has come under heavy fire from the mental health and suicide prevention community, especially after a GM spokesperson announced that the company had received “more than a handful, but not a tsunami” of complaints over the commercial. Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) called the commercial “recklessly irresponsible”. In a letter to General Motors NAMI also pointed out that the rate of suicide increases when unemployment is up and that major restructuring at GM has caused significant job loss, “the irony is unbelievably callous”.

I know people with mental illness, in fact I myself suffer from depression but I also love to laugh. In fact I think laughing is a great tool (speaking for myself of course) for dealing with depression. That being said I thought the commercial was hilarious. I’m pretty outspoken about my views on GM’s lack of quality but this commercial was a great piece of work. The montage shots of the robotic arm trying out different jobs like sign waving and working at a drive through all set to Eric Carmen’s sorrowful song “All By Myself” is brilliant. The fact that the arm wakes up from the terrible dream, reaffirms my opinion that this ad is not all that offensive.

Suicide and mental illnesses are serious and they kill people every day. But I feel like this commercial was clearly fiction. It wasn’t as if it were showing an automotive employee getting laid off and jumping off a skyscraper. It was a robotic arm that has a dream that it gets fired from its job for dropping a bolt, then trying several other menial jobs before jumping off the bridge. Then the robotic arm wakes up from the nightmare safe and sound in the factory. I don’t know about you but to me that is clearly fiction. The news is much more depressing than a spoof GM commercial.

This controversy comes on top of another Super Bowl ad for Snickers depicting two men eating the same snickers bar and beginning to kiss. Mars, Inc. pulled the commercial after receiving complaints from the Gay community. GM originally stuck to its guns saying it planned to continue airing the commercial, but after meeting with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention they softened their stance and announced they would delete the “jump” scene from the commercial.

I think the Super Bowl is an appropriate time for edgy commercials and if this were most other countries it wouldn’t have been a controversy at all. I’ll be curious to see what others have to say on the subject.

-Bill Mertz

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Flying Lincoln

Friday, February 9th, 2007

What’s big, heavy and doesn’t fly well?

This has been a good week for amazing videos. Once again some of my car contacts came through big time by passing along this video of what was supposed to be one of the greatest car stunts of all time. This 1976 film depicts Stunt man Kenny Powers piloting a rocket powered Lincoln Continental up a steep ramp aimed at the St. Lawrence river. Starting on the Canadian side, Powers hoped to jump the river (a distance of over a mile) and land on a small island across the border in the state of New York.

When I first heard about this video I thought to myself “you got to be kidding me, a Lincoln Continental has got to be one of the worst cars to jump across a river in”. But then I saw the Lincoln Continental, complete with large rocket motor, some home made looking wings Elmer’s glued to the sides and those cool oval rear-quarter windows that came stock with the car and I thought “oh, shhfeewww”. Actually from looking at the footage if Powers had ditched those wings and if his chutes didn’t deploy so early he would have had a shot at getting pretty far. He could have kept the nose pointing straight ahead and maybe left the rockets firing a bit longer the LCBM (Lincoln Continental Ballistic Missile) had enough speed to cover some ground. Ah, what could have been.

Well the good news for all you dare devils out there is Lincoln Continentals from the mid-1970s are dirt cheap. Make yourself a 300 foot ramp, find a rocket and a river and you’re on your way to fame.

Can’t you visualize yourself jumping a river in this baby.

-Bill Mertz

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Vintage Footage From the Nurburgring.

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Jackie Stewart jumps his BRM at the Nurburgring in 1966

Jackie Stewart called it the “greatest & most challenging race circuit in the world”. Many of the top drivers of all time have competed on the legendary Nordschleife and come away empty handed. The Nurburgring is a difficult and demanding circuit, and even though its configuration has changed over the years, one thing has not; it is still open to the public. Pay a fee and you can still drive your street car around the legendary German track and see your true racing potential.

It’s easy to picture people flinging there modern street cars around the Ring. With all the standard safety equipment in new cars you can feel pretty safe tossing your car about the track, maybe even safer than driving it in city traffic. But what about the 1960’s before people wore seatbelts with any frequency (if there car even had them), before air bags, side impact beams, grippy tires and suspensions that didn’t induce rollovers. I was lucky enough to get this video in my email box that shows the Nurburgring as it was in the 60’s with amateur drivers trying their best to imitate racing legends of the day.

If this video doesn’t make you want to wear a seat belt and put a roll bar in your car than you are a glutton for pain.

-Bill Mertz

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About Automotive Blogger

Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession -

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