Marc's Public Blog - Cars


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Below is a recounting of various car events I've attended along the years, from car club meets, autocrosses, track events, and enthusiast drives.

Table of Content for cars:

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2004/12/20 M5 Shakeout
π 2004-12-20 08:00 by Merlin in Cars

Current Music: AVB - ASOT - 164
Current Mood: Good

Yesterday, I really felt like I wanted to get out after all the paper sorting I had been doing (and all my overdue expense reports for the past year, more than $2000 worth, ouch :) ). My regular Mountain Biking / Rollerblading options didn't sound too appealing because my right knee is still bothering me, so I went for a drive instead, something I hadn't done for a while.
I took the M5 up pagemill to Skyline, and then ended up taking the dreaded Alpine road (damn, that road is still a piece of shit) before catching 84/La Honda back to skyline upper north, and back down south on Skyline to take pagemill back down. The cool thing is that satellite navigation came in quite handy to know where the hell I was going :) but also (even better), so see the curves that were going to be in front of me to see if I was going to get a chance to pass someone in front of me in a slightly straighter section.
On one side, I was a little bit apprehensive since it was my first time out curve driving with this car, and those roads can be treacherous (pagemill can be interesting, but Alpine was definitely the one to worry about), but I have to say that the car performed beautifully.
Despite its size and weight, it felt fairly nimble, ABS was useful considering that all 4 wheels are not always in full contact with good road due to bumps, dirt, holes, etc, and it some places. However the winner was traction control, which was going crazy and blinking a lot. This reminds me of a Top Gear quote about a 500hp mercedes "you can feel the traction control constantly working on keeping you on the road. See, right here, machinery just saved me from driving off the road" (said Jeremy Clarkson joking while driving in a straight line)
Anyway, it's hard to judge speed from the inside, so I have no idea how the car did compared to my miata, but at least it felt really good driving, and safe. The only issue was that the car being bigger, it was much harder to pass someone on a narrow road: I just wasn't sure that I was going to fit on their right while passing. As for traction control, this is really where it correct one or two wheels where needed faster than you even could even if you had control on individual wheels. I don't actually think I need the "thrill" of driving without it, I just stick to the miata where I don't have a choice since it doesn't have any.
Anyway, long story short: it was a fun drive and the car did great.
2004/12/11 Well, 400hp will be enough afterall :)
π 2004-12-11 21:06 by Merlin in Cars

Current Music: AVB - ASOT 172
Current Mood: Like a kid with a new toy :)

Funny how things work out, I went to check out and test drive the RS6 I had
seen available. Turns out the owner just put it for sale a few hours before I found the ad. While I liked some parts of it (outside of what I read online and little "details" like 450hp :), it had quite a huge trunk, and a reclining back seat if you needed extra space (handy to fit a snowboard or huge luggage). Unfortunately, the avant (hatchback) model never got imported in the US. For that matter, the current model had less than a 1000 units imported in the US altogether, making it rarer than an NSX.
Anyway, it does look nice


And then, I drove it...
Well, of course I made use of the paddle shift since I'm certainly not going to settle for an automatic today. Long story short, tiptronic gearboxes suck. Sure, they're smart, sure they'll make sure I don't overrev the engine by downshifting when I'm not supposed to (i.e. 4th to 3rd instead of 5th). It will even resist auto-shifting when you have lateral G-forces (i.e. in the middle of a hard turn). But, then, it also decided that I didn't have enough RPM to shift from 4th to 5th or auto shifted back to 1st when I stopped at a red line (which is kind of what I wanted, but that's just back to an automatic box, and that just annoyed me).
On top of the fact that I hate automatic gearboxes, the shifts took close to one second after I initiated them on the paddle shift, and that was just utterly unacceptable.
In the end, it just felt like a fast boat, and I don't like driving boats, even if they do have 450hp.

So, it was back to the BMW dealership to see the used M5 they had just received, and do a luggage fit test on my way back home for lunch (I was lugging a couple of pieces of airline luggage with me to give me a idea of what trunk sizes I was dealing with).
I can't believe I'd ever say that about a car salesman, but he levelled with me from the beginning, knew what kind of driving I was into, and sold me on the certified pre-owned concept: paying a little more for a car that's been thoroughly checked, brought back to spec, and will be fully warrantied until december 2007 (it's a 2002). Quite frankly, for that kind of car, it's not only a nice insurance that you're not being a lemon, or an overly abused car, and it's also nice not to have to worry about all the hassles of being from an individual, getting a VIN inspection, getting it to green slip or AAA for a full 100+ point inspection, etc, etc...
I'm not a big impulse buyer, but there was definite value in being able to drive the car away an hour and change later. I also really appreciated just being able to tell the guy "look, so I'm not into playing games, haggling and all that unpleasant stuff: what's the real price you can sell it for", and him returning with his final price 5mn later.



Thanks to help from Xav, I got the car home, and we went for lunch to celebrate after that :)
My only two small complaints about it would be: no cigarette lighter adapter in the back, for passengers to get laptop power :) and more importantly, the reverse gear is very easy to mistake with the 1st gear (that's more disappointing and a real life potential problem if you back up into the car behind you when the light turns green)
Apart from that, it has a lot of nice amenities, pretty much all the options that were ever available on that model (including a folding back seat, which strangely enough, was a rare option, but something I wanted very much). I'll probably spend the rest of the evening reading the manual and fiddling with all the buttons (of which there are many :)
I think one of the most impressive parts of the car, outside of fixing very stupid driving moves that you might try (its rims and tires are a bit more money than a miata if you smack a curb :), is how quiet it actually is inside, and how you have no idea that you're suddenly driving the speed you are before you look at the speedo and slow down.

I also felt a bit bad buying the car on the spot without going home and going through the used M5 ads I had seen online, but having done that now, it turns out it was the only M5 anywhere close, it had all the options I could have wanted, and it was actually quite fairly priced, especially for a certified vehicle.
And boy, does it feel nice to fulfill an old dream (yeah, I still remember watching one of my first Top Gear videos, and tiff driving the M5 sideways . If I quit my day job, I can also become a cab driver :)

Now, I just have to figure out how on earth I can plug in my empeg in there. That's definitely not going to be a piece of cake... Oh, and after upgrading my 4 door car, maybe I need to buy a new pair of shoes without holes on the side :)

Info and stats on the M5 if you're curious
2004/12/09 There are days with, and days without
π 2004-12-09 15:18 by Merlin in Cars

Current Music: ATB - Mix Vol1 - 04 ATB - Long Way Home
Current Mood: Undeterred :)

Today was the break stuff day. First, I somehow manage to drop (lack of coordination) my empeg mp3 player , and still get my useful reflex to set my foot out so it fell on it, and got fairly cushionned before finally hitting the ground. No external damage, but the hard drive isn't recognized anymore. I'll have to open it up to see if I toasted one or two of the drives.
That should probably have been a clue, but never mind that, 10mn later I oversteered on my usual shoreline left on amphitheater turn. Actually, I didn't really make any mistake: got the apex right, some speed but no godly amounts. Unfortunately, while the road up to there had been ok, that patch was too wet and slippery, and the back wheels broke traction almost at the end of the turn, at a time where it's too late to do anything.
End result, the back right wheel hit the curb pretty hard. The wheel and tires are toast (no big deal, I have fully mounted spares, they're not very solid anyway), but it also bent at least the axle. I'll know tomorrow how much needs to be swapped and what the bill will be.
All in all, I'm not pissed because I didn't really do any clear driving mistake outside of just having driven a little hard for the last 4 years, and finally got nailed by a piece of road that didn't allow it and left no room for correction. I'm not complaining about bad luck either, I've taken calculated risks, had a lot of fun in return, and eventually am still in the same risk category than the average unskilled driver (who also drives slower as a result), something I was already fully aware of, and was ok with.
It's just a good reminder to always judge the consequences at all times of loss of control and adjust accordingly (hitting a curb vs going sideways on the freeway or off a cliff), something which I've been very careful to keep in mind every time I goof off.
Comments:
Well, I just fixed my empeg player again. This thing is really well designed. The hard drive anti-vibration rubber pieces took most of the shock, and came out of their sockets, but apparently they did enough work to save the drives: the player wasn't booting because the shock unplugged the IDE cable from the drive. After taking it all apart, and putting it back together, it works fine again. Yeah! (a little known fact is that it's a very overpriced sweet piece of technology which unfortunately did cost $1500, so I had some vested interest in seeing it still work :)
posted by MM : 09 December, 2004 19:59

In other news, the repairs on my car amount to about $1100, which is more or less what I expected, and what I spend on a set of wheels and tires anyway. Obviously, I'd have done without it, but it's really not that bad.
posted by MM : 10 December, 2004 15:00


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