Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mercury Grand Marquis Review

This was the first car that Avis tried to give me last week during my trip to the mid-west. The lady at the counter in the terminal said that I could either wait about an hour for a PT Cruiser or take the Merc. I had already waited 45 minutes for my bags and was just ready to get out of St. Louis. The minute the Avis van pulled up to the car I knew I had made a mistake.

If you haven't sat in a Grand Marquis in the last 10 years you aren't missing much. Remember the old family sedan your folks drove in the early 80's? The one with the couch for a front seat? Yep, that is what the front seat of the Merc was like. You pretty much sank down into it. As a whole, the interior looked like it had not been updated since the 80's, which was about the last time they updated the car as a whole and the last time someone under the age of 60 bought one of these things. It was just poorly laid out. The split arm rest didn't fold all the way back level with the seat, the steering wheel was strange..... I don't remember much else, my mind has chosen to block most of this car from my memory. I don know that the trunk was huge. You could fit 5 or 6 friends in there. Although, the strange deep well in the middle of the trunk looks like it would make loading a few golf bags a little akward. Anyway, after 5 minutes of grumbling, I dragged my luggage up to the on-site customer service counter and demanded a new car. I lucked out and Avis was able to put me in a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder for less than the Merc cost.

So in review, I would much rather drive pretty much any car over the Mercury Grand Marquis/Lincoln Town Car/Ford Crown Victoria. They are just awful.

Monday, July 30, 2007

On the Road: Moline, IL to Atlanta, GA

I got back to Atlanta in one piece. I am still trying to catch back up on work and sleep from the trip (I had a 5:30am flight back to Atlanta). All in all it was a good trip, lots of new business contacts. Thursday night I decided to do something different from baseball and went to an Arena Football2 game. I didn't even know that the Quad Cities area had a team until I heard about it on the radio. Picked up a 2nd row seat on the 20 yard line and had a blast. If you like football and have never been to an Arena Football game, give it a shot. It is like watching a pro version of the backyard football games you played while growing up, very little running plays, no zone defense and high scoring. I also visited another one of the Quad Cities fine Brew Pubs (there are 5 or so locally owned Brew Pubs in the area, which is 5 more good brew pubs than we have here in Atlanta). Bent River Brewing Company was the name. Good beer, good food, nice folks. They had about 17 locally brewed beers on tap, every type you can think of. I started off with the daily special (a Black Lager, a very nice beer) and moved on to my current favorite style, a Dry Hopped Pale Ale. The pale ale was excellent. For my last beer of the evening I asked my very friendly Bar Keep (Eric was his name) to surprise me. He then did something that I had never really thought of, he mixed the Pale Ale with a Red Ale (Ok, yes I have heard of a black and tan and a half and half but those are layered pours and not really mixed. They MIX the beers at Bent River). I was really good, added something a little different to the taste. Eric told me they mix many of their beers and most of the regulars have at least one or two mixes that they will order. So, try mixing your beers. That is it for now, Eclipse Spyder review, Merc Grand Marquis Review, College Football preview, and TR/MINI update will follow this week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On the Road: Fulton, Mo to Moline, IL

First I want to admit that I am stealing the first part of the title of these blog entries from Charles Kuralt. If you are un-familiar with him, he did a traveling TV segment called "On the Road" for years. He also ended up writing several books about the TV series, highlighting some of the things he covered along the way. I don't remember who turned me on to these books but I think it was my Dad. Reading the books had a big impact on me, showing me that there is more out there in the country than just the stuff off the interstates. The books have to be one of the causes of my wanderlust and love of just driving to new places. My love of just grabbing my road map and heading off to somewhere I have never been. It has been one of the greatest things about this new job, being able to drive places that I would never have thought to go and see different parts of the country (I've been to 34 states + DC, ones I have not been too: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Mass., Vermont, New Mexico, N & S Dakota, Oregon, Arizona, Delaware, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Washington and Wyoming. Driving new roads in new places is what makes a 4 1/2 hour drive (like the one from Omaha to Moline) seem short because everything is new (it is also this that makes a 3 1/2 hour drive from Atlanta to Savannah seem to take forever because I have only driven it about 100 times?). Anyway, on to my trip journal for the last two days

I took the looooong scenic route from Fulton, MO to Wolf Creek Nuclear in Kansas. Drove across Lake of the Ozarks and Lake Truman. You wouldn't think that there would be many twisty roads in southern Missouri but I can tell you I found some. Not much to say about Kansas other than "Look, Corn....". Stayed in downtown Kansas City and went to a Royals game. Kauffman Stadium is a great place to see a ballgame. The Yankees where in town and the game was sold out. Apparently it was the 24th anniversary of the George Brett "Pine Tar game. Yankees won the game but it is a great stadium and a cheap ticket is you are ever in town.

In the past 2 days I have driven through Mexico, Mexico City, Nevada, Nashville, Savannah, Oregon (This is in western Missouri and I am guessing some lazy wagon train folks on the way to Oregon state quit early and said, "Heck, I'm not sitting in this thing for 3 more months. Let's stop here and build a town names Oregon"), plus a few other interestingly named cities.

I drove from Kansas City to Omaha, making one stop between and one north of Omaha. If you ever find your self in Blair, NE I suggest getting a Malt or Shake at Goodrich's in downtown. Nice deli with a great old ice cream counter. Apparently, they have been open in Blair since the '30s. I then drove clear across the great state of Iowa. If I thought Kansas had a lot of corn, boy was I wrong. Corn as far as the eye could see. I also passed the largest truck stop in the world, Iowa 80. Not much else exciting about the drive, it did have some neat views and not much traffic.

No more long drives for the rest of the trip. I am going to take customer out to the Swing of Quad City Minor League Baseball game tomorrow. Should be a good time, as most single A games are. I am really digging the Eclipse, only a few complaints. It is a car I could own. Best thing are the seats, they are fabulous. I wonder if I could mount a pair in my MINI? Anyway, a full review of the Spyder and the Merc will be coming when I get to it, maybe tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, July 23, 2007

On the Road: St. Louis and Fulton, MO

I fly into St. Louis today to start my swing through the Mid-west Nuke Plants (Callaway, Wolf Creek, Cooper, Calhoun, Duane Arnold and Quad Cities). All in all the first day has been a bit strange. Let's start from the beginning.

This is the first time that I have flown into the St. Louis airport and I already don't like it. All the signs are hard to read and there aren't enough of them. The signage around baggage claim was particularly terrible. And while they where at it, lets just put two bathrooms in the baggage claim area, have them as far away as possible from anything and hide them around a few corners with some signs pointing you in the general direction. It took 45 minutes to get my bag, I don't know if this was an Airtran problem or a St. Louis Airport thing but by the looks of some of the other flights that landed when we did I am going to go with an Airport thing. Next, I go to rent a car. Lady at the counter tells me all they have is a PT Cruiser (which will take a while to get) or a Mercury Grand Marquis (!). So I am in a hurry (to get to the Budweiser Brewery before it closes, more on that in a minute) and go with the Merc. Next I have to catch a bus (!) to get to the rental car lot (Nice idea, lets put all rental car and airport parking off-site and across a busy interstate from the Airport. This is the Atlanta equivalent of if they put all the parking across 285 from the airport). Once I get dropped off at my car I know I made a mistake (Review of my 5 minute experience with the Merc will come later). So I walk back to the on-site office, on the way one of the wheels on my bag comes off (day is just getting better and better). When I talk to the lady at the counter to see if there is anything else I can drive (give me anything, I'll even drive a Chrysler 300 again) she finds me a nice Mitsubishi Eclipse Convertible that I can take 1-way because it is an Illinois car anyway (Sweet! Review coming). Things start to look up, I get the car (pretty nice) and head off to the Budweiser Brewery.

Brewery tour was quite nice. I suggest it if you are in the St. Louis area and have an hour or so to kill. So far from my experiences in St. Louis this is the only thing I have liked. I am just not a big fan of St. Louis. Bad airport, strange road system plus a lot of other things, but back to the beer. Picked up a nice glass set at the store at a very reasonable $20 (2 glasses, a rubber bar mat, bottle opener plus some other swag). In fact, everything in the store was priced pretty good. Best thing about the tour is you get 2 free 10oz beers at the end. Guide explained that they give you 20oz free because the typical human can have 24oz of beer in 20 mins and still be under the legal BAC limit (thus the 20oz to keep Bud clear of any legal problems). I tried Bud Select and Beach Bum Blonde Ale. Both very good and will be bought again by myself (if I can ever find the Beach Bum stuff).

After the tour I made the 1 1/2 drive out to scenic Fulton, MO. Staying at a hotel near town. I checked my e-mails (I have 13 news one from my customer in South Korea, joy), grabbed so food and then headed out to find Callaway plant so I know how to get there in the morning. Driving through Fulton I see the speed limit change to 30 so I slow down to 30. I then see a 20mph sign with a yellow "School" marking above it. Thinking this must apply only during school hours I stay at 30 mph. After pulling away from a stop sign what (to my delight) comes on in my rear view? Cop Lights! Yeah! The cop comes out and asks why I think he stopped me, I answer that I have no idea and he tells me the speed limit is 20 and he clocked me doing 31 (great). Asks for my license and where in Illinois I am from (Quick side bar, I am in a convertible Mitsubishi Eclipse with the top down, out of state plates and the radio up. In other words a nice target to add some money to the local repaving fund). I tell him it is a rental and that I am from GA and in town to do some work at the Nuke plant. This catches his attention and looks at my license and tells me he is going to check my insurance. At this point I am praying for a warning. Thinking of ways I can argue out of this ect. Officer comes back, hands me my license and tells me to watch the speed limit, it changes quite a bit around town, explains that the school signs are all the time since I just drove through the local college (oh....) and to have a safe trip to the plant tomorrow. Sweet! No ticket, I would like to thank the officer for cutting an out of town southern boy a break. I then pull out into traffic and up to a stop light. Another car pulls along side me with the officer behind him. Light turns green, I turn left, the car next to me goes straight, and the officer follow and turns his lights on to pull the guy over. What for, I have no idea but apparently you had better have everything in order before driving through Fulton, MO (Later on in the night I saw police have 3 other people pulled over!)

So that was my day. Up and down. I am really digging the Eclipse. Plan on using the drop top mode a good bit tomorrow on my trek across the whole state of Missouri. I will post reviews of the Eclipse and the Merc sometime the week. Nite.....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rebuilding the TRs brake calipers

Ok, I spent Saturday afternoon tackling the job of rebuilding the front brake on my TR4A. I used a rebuild kit from Victoria British, it included new pads, anti-squeal shims, rotors, flex hoses, new retainer pins, all new gaskets, and some new mounting hardware for the rotor/hub assembly.

All in all the job was pretty easy and straight forward. A few things to note below.

First off, the rotor assembly on the TR4A is unique. The wheel hub mounts outboard to the brake rotor. So, in order to remove the brake rotors you have to take the hub completely off of the stub axle. Pretty easy job, only really tricky thing is getting the grease cap off the end. After that it is very easy to take the whole assembly off and then detach the rotor from the hub and replace with the new one. This allowed me to examine the wheel bearings and to add a little more grease to them. The picture below shows the stub axle after I have removed the hub assembly.

Here is a picture of the new and old brake rotors. The old rotors are quite glazed and have a lot of rust on them. Hoping the replacements help the braking a bit.

Here is one of the brake calipers after I got it off the car. You can see it is in rough shape. I ended up having to split both of them down to two halves. This allowed me a little more room to clean them up and some clearance to get the brake pistons out to replace the gaskets.

This is where it got tricky. When I tried to remove the old brake pistons only one of them would move freely. Guess this is why my braking performance has been a bit sub-par. The three that where stuck took some persuading with my handy pair of vice grips and a BFH. You can see below just what kind of shape they where in. One of the little nuances about this car is that the OEM brake pistons where made out of chrome-molly, just the kind of stuff that brake fluid loves to eat over time. So, this is what ends up happening to them. I am going to order a new set of Stainless Steel brake pistons this week. Hopefully I can get them in and on the car by next weekend.

So the TR has it's wheels back on but no front brakes on it. As soon as I can get the new pistons in it should only take a few hours to install them in the calipers, get the calipers back on the car and then bleed the whole system. Next thing on the list is to go after the rear brakes and hope they are in better shape than the fronts.

I did find out some interesting info regarding the brakes on the TR. Apparently I can swap on the front brake from an early 80's Toyota Truck to upgrade the system from a 2 piston set up to a 4 piston system. The only modifications that you have to do to the system is buy new mounting bolts and fab up a custom flex line (metric threads on one end and SAE threads on the other). The write up I read about doing this had a test that showed a 30 or so foot improvement in stopping distance from 40mph. So that has been added to the end of the to do list of the TR.

That's all for now. I am in the Mid-west this week (MO, KS, NE, IO, fun fun fun...) so I should have another car review depending on what Avis gives me this time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Future Plans

Figured I would let on to what some of my future car plans are. I would love to add a few more classic cars to my collection some time in the future (distant future if my wife has her say). The 2 main cars I would like to pick up are a Willys CJ2A and a Datsun 2000 Sports. I know where I can get the Jeep, Kel's uncle has a '47 sitting in his front yard that needs restoration. Sooner or later I am going to badger him enough that he will let me buy it from him. The Datsun will take some looking around but there are always a few for sale and they are not to expensive to pick up. Pictures of both are below.

You may be saying, "Where is he going to store all of these cars?". Well, Kelly and I have discussed adding on to the house some time in the future and add a detached garage on the back corner of our property. It would be a pretty simple metal building, just electricity (no water), with one roll up door on the front. After doing some research on these types of buildings, I am pretty sure that I have the tools and skill to put the thing up. I would just need to get someone to grade the area off and pore a concrete pad. I want the garage to be big enough to squeeze 3 small cars in (I would have to pull 1 or 2 of the 3 out in order to have space to work on a car). This would let me put the TR, the Jeep and the Datsun out back and then be able to keep the MINI in the garage on the house.

Anyway, that is all just a pipe dream right now. Maybe someday. Hope everyone has a good weekend!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back in town

Got back in town Friday and slept most of the day. Didn't end up working on the TR's brakes this weekend because the brake fluid that I ordered has not come in yet. Hoping to get that done this coming weekend before I head out of town again.

Glad to be back driving the MINI after a week being stuck in the 300. Picked up a used rear bumper for the MINI. I just need to find a paint shop so that I can replace the dinged up current bumper on the car.

Not much else going on. Long term car plans: Brake work on the TR, work on the seat rails in the TR, replace rear differential seal on TR, find someone to do TR body work.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chrysler 300 Take III

Ok, final update on my rental. I am really digging the satellite radio. It may be the only thing that is keeping me sane while driving this car. Plenty of good music to choose from but I find myself ending up back on the comedy channels.

As for the car, I'm done with it. I've said everything I can say about it. It just is a mediocre car made worse by terrible controls layout. If you get in a car and can't reach anything, can't figure out how to work the windshield wipers without turning on the high beams (and once you get that figured out the high beams keep turning on whenever you use the turn signals?), takes 10 minutes to figure out the cruise control, and can't figure out how to set either clock then the car probably isn't that good.

Off the subject of crappy rentals, I am going to rebuild the brake calipers of the TR tomorrow. Replace all the seals, the flex hoses, pins, pads, and about everything that can be replaced. After getting all that done I plan on changing out the discs as well. Hoping it will only take a few hours.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chrysler 300 Take II

Ok, after 6 1/2 hours of seat time today I think I can add a bit more to my rant of yesterday (good and bad).

The car does look good from the outside. The guards at Indian Point told me nice car and tried to get me to leave with them so they could "wash" it. It does soak up the bumps on the highway pretty nicely and doesn't beat you up. I tried out the manual shift option today on some twisties and it wasn't half bad after you figured out how it worked. Engine sounds good when revved up to 6k and the car actually handles a lot better than I thought it would (when the road is wide enough to drive the thing comfortably). I discovered this car has satellite radio (Sirius). A HUGE plus for the drive across the Empire State today. Ended up listening to mainly the 80's station and the comedy stations most of the way.

I can see why this is a nice car to RIDE in. Heck I said it in the last review. My companies agent in Chicago has a 300 with the Hemi, a slick looking ride. Great car to be a passenger in but I still can't get over how poorly laid out the interior is from the drivers perspective. I know this is a big cruising car, not my style at all, and that may have to do a lot with why I don't like this thing. Still, a lot of what they did on the inside just makes me think why? I also can't come up with an answer as to what car this thing is supposed to compete with? I guess the Full Size cruiser sedan market is an American only thing. It isn't a Luxury car and it isn't a sports sedan or even an economical family car. If it where any of those it would comepete with BMW, Lexus, Benz, Infinity, Acura ect at the top end and Toyota and Honda at the other. I dunno, maybe some folks just like big cars that drive like boats (Lincoln Town Car, Ford Taurus, Chevy Malibu). I sure don't.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Utter Crap (Chrysler 300 1st thoughts)

Ok. I'm in and around New York state this week. I flew into White Plains today in route to the nuclear plant outside of New London, CT (Millstone Plant). I go check in at the Avis counter and I am told, "We have a Chrysler 300, would that be ok?" I say sure, get the keys and my bags and head to get the car. I have ridden in the 300s several times and they always seemed to be comfortable cars. Well once I got in the drivers seat I realized just how wrong I was. These are just my first impressions from spending about 2 hours of windshield time in the car while dealing with NY traffic (Yes, they drive worse here than the folks in Atlanta).

Trunk, it has a big trunk.

What ever models Chrysler used to layout the interior obviously had arms that where 5 inches longer than mine.

Do you really need an analog clock right above a radio that has a digital clock?

What the hell is that buzzing noise coming from the front speaker? What the hell is that noise coming from under my seat?

Baby is this leather? Cause, um, it's sticking to my leg.....

At least the brakes work. Kind of.

Hey, it has an ashtray.

Nice touch with the Black on white instruments, who designed these things? 8 point letters and small black dots on a white background, because when you look down to check you speed you want to have to spend 10 seconds trying to figure it out....

Another nice instrument panel feature: a shiny black surface that surrounds the white faced instruments and at the right angle can blind you due to glare.

Can a car have twitchy steering and numb steering at the same time?

Why do I get seasick looking at the fisheye passenger sideview mirror? Oh, so I can see the Semi hidden behind the c-pillar.

Where did that MINI go that just passed me? Oh, it's hidden behind the A pillar.

Parallel Parking? Right....um no.

Did I mention the big trunk?

I am driving an 80's turbo diesel? I swear I floored the thing a second a go in order to pass... oh, ok the thing finally shifted.

Why do I keep speeding up or slowing down when I signal to change lanes? Oh, that because the damn cruise control stalk (?) is right above the turn signal stalk, which is located a lot lower and farther away from the steering wheel than any other car that I have ever driven.

How the hell do I get the wipers to come on? Do you really need to put 4 functions of one stalk? (Turn signals, high-low beams, wipers, washers, fog lights, trunk release, ignition, self destruct button......)

Ok, so far this thing sucks, bad. The only thing it does ok is go 75 in a straight line on a level road. From a comfortable driving position I can't reach anything. I can barley read my GPS since it is roughly 8 feet from me stuck to the windshield. The seats are crap, the steering wheel is real crap, the rear view out of the thing is a joke, you could hide a whole ro-ro carrier of cars in the blind spots. I can't see the road when going over the top of step hills. I just have no clue, this car really is that bad. It feels a whole hell of a lot bigger than my in-laws '77 Chevy truck (which is easier to drive). Heck it feels harder to drive around than the 40 foot u-haul I rented to move with. I had to 3 point a 2 1/2 lane u-turn!! I'm done for now, I am sure I'll have some more thoughts on this utter piece of garbage tomorrow. (Kind of wish they would have given me a Taurus instead, or maybe the Lincoln towncar that was next to this thing, or maybe the Minivan that was parked behind it.....)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

General Exclaim UHP Review Part II

I've had these tires on the MINI for 6 months so I figure I would give everyone a follow up on my thoughts.

I like them a lot better than my previous set of Dunlops (Direzza DZ101s). The Generals ride better day to day and look to be wearing a bit more evenly than the Dunlops did. I got these tires from Tire Rack and I chose them from the very positive reviews that they had gotten. I have to agree with everything on Tire Rack. These things stick very well in the dry and track great in the wet. They gave great feedback on my run up to US129 (Tail of the Dragon). Even when they where good and hot they didn't get greasy and didn't lose any grip. For such a tall tire (205/50-15s) the sidewall is very stiff on turn in so there is no "lag", for lack of a better word (If you have driven a "tall" tire with a mushy sidewall very aggressively you know what I mean, the Dunlops had a very flexible sidewall).

They have aged very well, I can't even tell that much difference between the fronts and the rears in terms of wear (I plan on rotating them in the next week or two). So, all in all I have been very impressed by these tires and I am guessing that I will stick with them for my next set.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Front Brakes are here

Ordered the front brake rebuild kit from Victoria British last week. It showed up today, guess that gives me something to do this weekend. I am looking forward to seeing how the car stops with all new hardware up front. Figure I will take the rear drums apart to inspect them while I am working on the fronts. This should give me a better idea of when I will need to learn how to work on drum brakes.

Still no oil dripped from the oil pan with the new gasket in place! (Yes there is oil in the car). Since the new gasket has helped so much I am rethinking replacing the gasket on the rear differential. I can drain the oil I just put in it to reuse and then replace the gasket and stop the seeping and dripping.

I also cleaned up the top a bit last night. I drove the TR to work today because the high temp is going to stay at 80 or below. I had never cleaned the rear window and I alway thought it was just fogged up real bad as plastic windows do. I got to cleaning it and it has cleared up very nicely. If it wasn't for the few rips in the top it wouldn't need replacing. As it is I am hoping that I can squeeze maybe another year or so out of the top and replace it when (or if) I get the car painted.

That is it for now. I am sure I'll have a new car review next week while in New York, guess it depends on what Avis gives me.