1998 BMW Z3: Jeremy’s Automotive Review.

You probably won’t believe this, but car companies aren’t throwing keys at me and begging for me to review their latest creations.  Shocking right?  So I’m doing things a bit differently than most.  I will be begging for, borrowing and buying cars, driving them for a while in the real world, and then letting everybody know what I thought.  The huge benefit to this is that I will be driving real cars, not Pagani Zonda’s.  By all means, if a fresh Pagani lands in my driveway, I am willing to take it for a jaunt around the block, but my celebrity status isn’t at that level just yet. So until then, with your help, I will be tackling the slower and carbon fiberless real world vehicles.

First up: My very own 1998 BMW Z3.

Let me start off by stating that all of my life I have hated BMW’s.  Granted, I had also never driven a new one, so my opinion was completely biased.   Each one that I had the “pleasure” of driving felt like a 7000 lb gutless turd that was filled with cracked leather and broken electronics.  While not nearly as bad as the Saab’s, Buick Reatta’s, or Cadillac Allante’s, it always seemed like I needed to know a secret slap-the-dash move to make stuff work.

Fast forward to last summer.  My friend’s neighbor said “Hey Jeremy, I have a BMW Z3 that I don’t want, it’s got some issues (no surprise), you wanna buy it?”  I checked it out and decided that BMW’s couldn’t be all that bad.  Maybe I did need a little bit of the ultimate driving machine in my life.  The price was very right, and with the top down, summer sun was going to be better than ever.

Drivetrain:

The Z3 is a 1.9L with a 5 speed manual and 90K miles. It is not the slowest thing that I have ever driven, but it feels like a typical 4 cylinder as far as power goes.  The truth is that the engine feels rock solid, way more so than any of my other vehicles.  I could probably rip 3 spark plugs out and the little devil 1.9L may not even notice, it feels like a tank.  The 5 speed transmission is a different story.  Mine was completely replaced at 60K by a BMW dealer, which means it only has 30K on it.  Instead of feeling like a new transmission, it feels sloppy.  I’m not sure if all BMW manual transmissions feel like this, but it is just not sporty feeling like I expect to find in a 2 seater sports car.

Steering and Suspension:

It’s small, and light so the steering feels tight & fast, especially with the relatively wide tires.  The suspension on the other hand feels like it has 90K miles.  It lacks heavily as far as sportiness goes, leaning too much, and being more bouncy than firm.  If you buy one with 1998 suspension still attached, new shocks and struts should be the first priority on the list of parts to buy.  If the suspension parts were new, I bet it would handle & drive 100X better than it does currently.

Interior Pros:

- Heated seats are toasty hot.

- The stereo sounds decent for an OE 1998 system.

Interior Cons:

- Incredibly awful. I hate nearly everything about the interior.

-  The steering column doesn’t adjust down.  Seriously BMW? Really? My knuckles are against the windshield!

- The seats and door panel belong in a 1985 Celica.  They could not be more sleep inducing.

- The cup holders are right where your elbow is and they are too small for a medium ice coffee.  Buy a coffee and it’s “Cya Armrest!”

- The power windows move in slow motion.  I have honestly never seen a vehicle with slower moving windows. The time it takes to roll the windows up or down is measured in hours.

- The dashboard styling is really dated.  It’s like they designed a crazy round unique shaped body, and then said “we have no time left to design a dashboard, here is one from a 1983 Mercury Capri, customers will never know.”

- The heat and A/C blowing ability is offensive. Then again, why am I driving a convertible with the heat or A/C on?

Exterior:

The looks of the car are pretty good overall, it’s really a matter of taste though.  The fit and finish is all original and it really is high quality.  The paint still looks fresh, and everything opens and closes properly.  My only gripe is the headlights that are yellowed.  Unfortunately all plastic headlights eventually look like that. I need to spend some time polishing them to make them pretty again.

Overall:

Overall, I am glad I bought the car.  It is a lot of fun on warm days, and with a little maintenance it could be a really fun car on windy roads or an auto x track. My biggest gripe is that I feel like people are calling me names and giving me dirty looks.  I may need to paint it flat black and add some numbers to the side so that people don’t assume I’m a rich snob.

To Do List: Shoehorn Viper Engine into a Cuda.

While flipping through some of last year’s local cruise night pictures, I came across a car that deserves to be swooned over by people other than myself.  Under the hood of a 1970-74 Plymouth Cuda, you expect to find a hopped up 340, 440, or maybe the 426 (since apparently everybody has one these days), but this one is unique.   It has an injected Dodge Viper engine lurking under the hood with all the accessories in place.  I see the car quite frequently at all the local cruise nights and I can’t help but admire it every time.  My absolute favorite part about it is that it clearly gets driven regularly.   It’s spotless, but not spotless enough to be mistaken for a trailer queen.  If I knew who the owner was I would give him a high-five for building such an awesome looking car, but sadly I don’t.  The best I can do is post pictures up for the world to be jealous of.  So, here you go world.  Well done Mr. CudaViper owner, very well done.

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Weekly Rotting Car: 1933 Plymouth PC

Sad Looking 1933 Plymouth PC

Sad Looking 1933 Plymouth PC

Sometimes you look back in life and realize that you let some awesome cars slip right through your hands.  This is a story about one of those cars, and I think about it all too often.  It began about 15 years ago when my parents bought a “drivable” 1933 Plymouth PC 4 Door Sedan.  Unknown to my parents at the time of purchase, this was an extremely rare car.

Back in 1933, cars didn’t have fancy model names like “Zephyr” or “El Camino”, they just had model numbers.  Boring, I know.   Even with its brand new fancy-pants one-year-only straight 6 engine, it didn’t have a chance of survival.  The great depression was hurting the country worse than ever, and Plymouth had decided to remake the 1932 bodies (for all intents and purposes) and call it a 1933 PC model.  Much to Plymouth’s surprise, the few customers that they still had were less than impressed with this grand idea.  The Plymouth PC was built for a mere 3 months before they ended production early and switched to the longer wheelbase PCXX and PD models.  That’s right, the customers hated the PC and wanted something different, so Plymouth gave them a longer vehicle.  At least it wasn’t a 1932 model anymore, right? Several years later, WWII began, and cars were being crushed and melted left and right to make war vehicles.  Naturally, the cheapest, crappiest cars out there were the first ones on the chopping block.  (Almost sounds like the Cash For Clunkers program!)  For reasons unknown, my parents Plymouth had survived all these years against all of these unimaginable odds.

Ok, enough of the history lesson,  let’s get back to when the vehicle arrived in the driveway, shall we?  My dad is the best technician I have ever met by leaps and bounds, and he was doing a little nitpicking of the new 4 wheeled acquisition.  A grind here, and hammer there, and pretty soon a frame-off restoration was in full swing.  In his defense, the “drivable” car was built of 80% body filler, 13% rivets, and 7% original sheet metal. The lack of solid body was bad enough that it had to be redone by somebody with more time, the right tools, and more work space.  So off it went to a body guy.  Weeks passed and a fair amount of money exchanged hands.  Frequent phone calls from the body guy assured my parents that everything was going great.  New metal was going on, and it was going to be straight as an arrow when they got it back. Yippy!

A month had passed since we last saw the car, and out of the blue my dad received a phone call from the a storage unit owner looking for rent money.  “What the?”  Well, the body guy had put the Plymouth body and misc parts into a rented storage unit, and took off with the cash.  Nice guy right?  He had never even touched the car, which was truly crushing.

Weeks turned into months, and months turned to years.  The sour taste for this once loved vehicle never left their mouths, which understandably left this ultra rare pile of auto parts sitting dormant in the yard for many years.

At about 18 years old, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I decided I would take charge of the project and teach myself how to do nice bodywork because I couldn’t stand to see it rot.  Hundreds upon hundreds of hours went into that car.  Cutting rot, welding 300+ rivet holes in the roof, fitting the suicide doors, assembling, building a new firewall, removing the doors again, reassembling….. and on and on it went.  Within a summer, it was finally running again.  It was far from drivable, but it did run.

Going Back Together Again!

Going Back Together Again!

Then, the big move happened.  The house was sold and all the rolling stock had to move from the old house to the new.  “Temporarily” the car went to my brothers house.  Temporary then turned into permanently, and before long, the car was parted out and sold piece by piece.  Yes, it was all gone as quick as that, and I am still sickened from it.  Unfortunately, I lacked time to finish it, and space to work on it.  I already had too many cars and had to make choices.  Looking back I would have done things a lot differently, it’s too bad I can’t get it back because I would have loved to finish it.  Hopefully this Plymouth’s parts have helped bring others back to life again. That is what I tell myself at least.

If you happen to know the whereabouts of any of the major parts from this car, I would love to hear from you and see your own Plymouth project!

What kinds of cars you have you let slip away? Leave me comments!

Automotive Misfortunes, Let’s Review.

My cat Malibu and I were recently reading an issue of HRM while it was too cold outside to actually do something productive. One of the editors was describing some of the unlucky automotive related events that have happened to him over the years.  Some were admittedly his fault, and others were beyond his control.  So I began to reminisce myself on some of my own “misfortunes”.

Let’s take a look back, shall we?

- I once hung a car from the shop ceiling….. by it’s hood.  Hood hinges are much stronger than you would think, so is the chainfall for pulling engines out.

- While still not fully awake yet, I opened the garage door and took a very complete step into a drain bucket full of waste oil.  That was a bad way to start the morning.

- After not being able to loosen a bumper bolt on one of my trucks, I got out my big 1/2 inch drive breaker bar.  I applied all the pulling force that my body could possibly make, when the breaker bar suddenly snapped and I punched myself in the face. It was definitely the hardest punch I have ever thrown or received.

- I learned that throwing a brake-less 1964 Thunderbird into park when it is rolling will not even begin to slow it down. Then in a panic, if you push the Thunderbird’s “emergency” brake pedal to the floor, the cables WILL snap.  This chain of events will guarantee a firm crash into a beautiful 1976 Corvette.

- Late at night, when cruising home from a friends house, I missed the end of the street, drove across a busy road, got a little bit of air-time, and landed my truck in someones beautifully groomed front lawn.  That sure was awkward.

- It turns out that a clogged catalytic converter can cause a 1988 Camaro automatic transmission to not shift properly.  So spending 11 hours replacing a working transmission with another working transmission is not going to unclog the catalytic converter and fix the real problem.  Mental Note: Only buy cars older than 1973!

- You will never see as much traffic on your road as when you lose your driveshaft during the maiden voyage of your project car.  I guess I should have tightened those u-joint caps down.

- I think we have all forgotten to install an oil drain plug before. The difference is, the Cadillac that I forgot it on held 8 quarts of oil (with the drain plug in) .  8 quarts makes one heck of an oil slick.  Luckily, I noticed before I started the engine.

- Just because the neighbor is rumored to be in jail, doesn’t mean you can take his 83 Riviera through the woods.  However, it did prove that a V8, front wheel drive car is not a good off-roading vehicle.

- I got pulled over by a police officer that was on a bicycle.  It was kind of a humorous situation, and I deserved the ticket.

- Contrary to popular belief, Olds Cutlass Ciera’s aren’t good at hill climbing in the sand pits.  My friend rolled his onto it’s roof, and I got to help him flip it back over.  As far as his parents knew, a tree fell on it.  I hope they don’t read this.

- An easy way to test the strength of a wooden 4×4 is to place a 60 Pontiac body on it. If it breaks, and dumps the body on the ground, then it is not a very strong piece wood.

- It turns out that the automatic transmissions in rear wheel drive cars are very close to the floor pans. So if you aren’t paying attention when installing a B&M shifter, you can easily drill through the floor pan and into the top of the transmission.

I will finish it off with an explanation of the fine moment in history pictured above.  Yeap, it’s me many years ago….. borrowing a pair of women’s sunglasses to protect my eyes from the burning magma 2 feet from my face.  There is so much wrong with this picture that I cannot even begin to explain.  What the heck was I thinking?

AUTO NEWS: Toyota Gas Pedal Fix!

The Toyota Press room is reporting that they now have a fix for the gas pedal sticking problem.  They will be adding a “precision-cut steel reinforcement bar” to the gas pedals to reduce friction within the pedal that on rare occasions, could cause the pedal to stick.

Drive-by-wire failure was inevitably going to happen at some point, it was just just a question of  which manufacturer it would be.  Toyota was the unfortunate winner of this fail-contest, but their immediate reaction (from what I saw) is commendable in my opinion.  They not only halted the sales of the effected models (huge money lost), but they even stopped production on new vehicles until the solution was in place (massively huge money lost).  So although this issue was clearly a serious one that affected a lot of people, Toyota deserves a pat on the back for locking down the problem and correcting it in timely fashion.  Maybe I would have a different opinion if I owned a new Toyota with a sticky gas pedal. Though, I think would probably just push in my clutch pedal, instead of crashing ;) Call the “precision-cut steel reinforcement bar” a shim if you want, but hey, if it works, it works.

Image from the Toyota Press Room.

1967 Chevy Chevelle Bored to Death.

While on one of my weekend junkyard journeys, I came across possibly the saddest looking 1967 Chevy Chevelle in the history of mankind.  It was in tough shape as you can tell, and basic in every possible aspect of the word.  It had some of a small block still hiding under the hood, and a terribly boring automatic transmission to match its painfully bland paint.  I have to assume that this car put the previous owner to sleep every time they looked at it, which ultimately drove the most boring Chevelle ever to its final resting place.

Got pics of rotting cars?  I want to see them!  Send them to jnutt@1aauto.com

625 HP LS7 Powered Pontiac Solstice.

You may not think anything could be more thrilling than the “Pants on the Ground” singing sensation General Larry Platt from American Idol last night, but there is in fact something far greater.  A simple internet link from a friend yesterday took me to some fresh pictures of an absolutely unreal Pontiac Solstice built by Stenod Performance.  One quick peek, and I was desperately clawing at my mouse craving more.  I mean who doesn’t need one of these? It could be the most perfect daily driver for any gearhead out there.  An LS7 with 625 horsepower and a dry sump setup, 6-piston Brembos, and coilover’s for that absolutely perfect stance.  Wrap all that up with a new tiny convertible Pontiac Solstice body, and you have an ultimate win.  It doesn’t even scream “arrest me”, so staying under the radar is even doable.  Stenod definitely built this car just right in my opinion.  I have to guess that when this car is in motion, the driver is laughing hysterically at how absolutely absurd it is. Well done.

I will shut up now, enjoy the eye candy, I know I did.

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