This page is more for the car enthousiast; if you don't care much for cars, or
at least scenic roads, you probably ought to move along.
I enjoy going on spirited drives with my cars, and other car club events.
You can find pictures in the car events page.
Before I continue, all my pictures are here.
Bay Area Ms drive by HWY 1, closer to home
Scenic drive back up HWY 1, with the ocean on the side
Before the Miata, I had another Mazda, a 1990 Protege.
The Protege is a good car for its class, and with its 1.8L engine has a little
more power than stock cars (the original protege is a 1.6L), which gives it an
(sports car club of america) of E (A is best H is worst). But don't get
confused, it doesn't make the protege a sports car, they let you race anything,
even a Yugo (which, as a crappiest car know to man, gets a rating of H) :)
That said, it was a good daily driver, occasional Tahoe/snow car, and a cheap reliable daily driver.
The protege was a good car, and all, but I wanted a convertible, and
something with a little more power. Since I couldn't quite afford a BMW Z3,
a Honda S2000, a porshe Boxter/Carrera, or an Audi TT (these are $35,000 to
$80,000 cars), the Miata was an obvious choice, especially because being older,
you can actually find reasonably priced ones.
It turns out some that people who actually have money for either, still buy a
Miata. I guess it says something about the car
So, I got myself a good used 1995 Miata. Not only was it in very good shape
for a 5 year old car, but it came with nice options for a non M-edition miata:
cruise control, power steering, power mirrors, A/C, and headrest speakers.
Later, I made many mods to the car, including more than doubling its horsepower
and making it faster and more agile than pretty much any convertible within
2 or 3 times its price (not to show off, it actually doesn't look like much,
but because I enjoy the passing power, and the extra horsepower when I'm on the
While the 1.8L miata isn't a beefy as the other roadsters listed above, it
still gets an honorable
SCCA rating of
B (it doesn't come with a turbo or a supercharger, but that can be fixed
(see the Flying Miata web site for
I guess the main reason why the miata (called Mazda MX-5 outside of the US) is
such a popular is that in its class you get the most car for your bucks, and
it's a fun car to drive. It handles surprisingly well, but being a rear wheel
drive car with enough power, you can get the back to slide if you're not careful
(the tires make a big difference though, mine slide left and right in powerturns
while I've seem similar miatas with much grippier tires make the same while
keeping constant grip with the road.
Soon after I got my Miata, I joined the
Bay Area Miata Association
I've joined many Miata Events, as well as other ones, for which I have many
pictures on the events page
Then again, this eventually ended up not being the right group for me, so I
joined BAMO, the Bay Area Miata Outlaws
While I'm not a car mecanic, like many, I can't resist to apply small
improvements to the car here and there.
So far, what I've done is:
- Disabled the remote
trunk release so that people can't open my trunk after breaking the
center console (it's a convertible after all)
- Disabled the annoying
buzzer that makes noise when you have a door opened with the key in the
ignition (all American cars seem to do this for some reason)
- Installed my Empeg (this took a
couple of tries as I had to find the right CD player to act as an amp). If
you don't know what an empeg is, click
- Installed the low profile
headlights kit (this also took a couple of tries
because the initial kit I got was incomplete, and I ended up having to
upgrade for the new kit)
- Put in an RX7 transmission (sorry, no picts, I didn't do that one myself
Well, the 5th gear in the transmission from my Miata died a few weeks
after I bought it. It turns out that it was a badly rebuilt 1990
transmission that had been installed there, and (from the mechanic who took
it out) a botched rebuild rendered it fragile, which caused it to break
after a few slightly harder than usual shifts.
Why an RX7? Because the first gear is shorter, so you get a much better
"jump" start, and the 5th gear is taller, so you can bring those RPMs down
when you're cruising on the freeway.
- Installed a wooden dash kit I
won at the BAMA Christmas Party
- 15" Rims and Toyo T1-S tires.
The rims were barely used stock rims from a 99 M2 ($320 for the set), and
the Toyos were ordered locally, in Mountain View ($115/piece)
The car not only looks much better, but corners and brakes like there is no
- Fixed the
electric windows switch
(well, that's not a hack, it's just a tip in case you need to fix yours
too): make sure you scrape off all the carbon accumulated on the switch
(I first checked the electric motor in the door, and it was for naught,
the motor was very hard to get to, and working fine).
- Added dynamat to the doors
and the trunk to remove car body vibration which interferes with music
- Finally installed a
rollbar (the link brings you to a page with all
the gory details)
- I then installed a
made (of all things) out of pet screen, strung across my rollbar
- In preparation for my turbo install, some of the cooling upgrades included a
Dualcore Radiator and
second fan install
- Next came an upgrade to a
to handle the extra torque
- Then, finally came the
turbo install itself. It took
several months to get everything installed, first the Tec-II, then the
turbo, the boost controller, the gauges (boost, oil temp, exhaust gas
temperature), custom fit of the undertray, and a few more trips to
re-tighten some bolts, and fix the problems with the bolts from the external
wastegate that kept falling off due to vibration and temperature (we ended
up switching for studs and bolts, and that's been holding so far)
- Soon after came a full exhaust upgrade to an
enthusa racer 3 inch system
(to which I later added a resonator so that it wouldn't be as obnoxious)
- After that, it was time to get the car
- and get a serious
big caliper and rotor upgrade
(otherwise known as the Panache kit).
- Err, there was also the problem of the stock shocks not being very good
after 110k miles, so I got a set of
bilsteins shocks off a
1999 Miata with the Sports package
- Later came a second set of stronger wheels for my track (or street while
it's dry) tires: Rota Slipstreams with Toyo RA-1s
- And well, my suspension was just shot due to my stock and very worn
bushings, so came in a set of Flying Miata Superpro bushings, along with a
shock replacement with Teins HA 16 way
ajustables (the car handles much better now). Thanks again to Jason
for all his advise and help.
This is my latest toy, to replace my aging Mazda Protege, and it had to be
faster than my miata, which well, is damn fast already
So, I ended up with one of my dream cars back when I was learning about fun
cars: a BMW M5 (this is really all Top Gear's Tiff's fault, you can click on
this big video to see why).
It has about as much power as an Ferrari 360, has a top speed that is apparently
slightly higher (mine doesn't have the speed limiter at 155mph/250kph, I somehow
know that it goes to at least 170mph/272kph, and apparently it can reach about
190mph/300kph given enough road and the right conditions).
Its 0 to 60mph/96kph time is 4.8s instead of 4.5s for the lighter Ferrari. All
in all, those are very respectable numbers considering how much bigger the M5
is, that it can carry 5 people and has a much much bigger trunk
At thunderhill racetrack, looping for fun
Yes, it's quite nice inside too
Eventually, my miata required more maintenance (due to the turbo), than
I was able to give it, so I gave it to Rick Weldon to give it expert
care instead of having all the work that went into the car end up in
some junk yard, or sold to someone who wouldn't know how to address
the O2 mixing issues and resulting misfiring it had developed.
So, came the task of replacing the miata with a roaster that was at least
as fast at the track, and that was stock (no more long list of aftermarket
mods that made any sane mechanic refuse to work on the car after that).
My former miata was so fast at the track that the resulting list of options
was quite small, and I had to "settle" for an F430
The car is obviously a lot faster in a straight line (sub 4 sec 0 to 60mph, top
speed a bit over 190mph/310kph), but on stock tires, it was at least as fast as
my severely modded miata on sticky tires, which was exactly what I was looking
(sub 2mn14 at thunderhill, and I'm now sub 2mn09 with "enhanced" street tires
and a bit more skill).
It is indeed an amazing car to drive, especially with what it lets you
do with traction control in race mode, while still saving your butt where
By Reno Fernley runway
By Nancy's Cafe in Willows by the runway
Well, I did have a good time with the 430. Over time I brought my TH times down to 2:08 and mostly got stuck there (with good street tires). I know the car had a bit more, but I did run out of talent.
Still, I had a good time trying and having fun with track buddies and work colleagues, as well as the occasional spirited drive.
That said, the F458 came out, the GTR started being able to do more than 4-5 laps faster than me and without overheating or blowing up a transmission, and well, after 6.5 years came time to upgrade.
The F458 spyder was the obvious choice, I drove the 458 on the track, it is a good car, nothing to complain. The hard top was nice too. But... at the time it was about to come out I wasn't mentally ready to buy one, and by the time I was, the wait was 1.5 years.
Around that time came out the McLaren MP4-12C, and finally its spider version. It's a totally different car (twin turbo small 3.8L V8 twin turbo with 28psi of boost (!) to deliver 620HP), and yet the relative performance of the F458 and the MP4-12C is actually pretty close, each car wins on some points. This article does a nice comparison of the F458 and MP4-12C convertibles.
So the McLaren won for me, and the fact that it was available for order and delivery within 3 months was no small part of it, but I'll be honest that I am fond of the aero wing that can be used as an airbrake and add downforce on the rear tires under braking at the same time. I think that's brilliant. I also liked the geometry which allowed the car wheels to stay flat under cornering when the ferrari was using up the tires sideways. I wrote more details on the comparison and the choice here.
On my first track day, I got my time down to 2:03 at TH, and I know it can go lower once I get better. Unfortunately on the 2nd day the undersized and undercooled steel brakes didn't do well with the higher heat. We'll see how this goes after some adjustments (I also had to upgrade the F430 brakes). Right now, I'm down to 2:02 and hope to reach 2:00 as I learn to drive the car better.
I ended up upgrading the 12C to a 650S. It's mostly the same car with the same options (plus rear facing camera), but faster and with more torque. I got to lap the [thunderhill 3 mile track 2 seconds faster (1:56 with the bypass)|/perso/cars/post_2015-10-05_John_s-private-TH-track-day_-My-first-1_56-on-the-original-track-_with-bypass_-on-street-tires_-and-out-in-8.html].
[More pictures here|/perso/cars/post_2014-09-04_650S-Delivery.html] and a few included here:
My BMW M5 was still a great car, but it was almost 15 years old, and missing the new technology that's been around for several years. I was personally interested in self driving features as well as safety features (auto braking, lane departure warning, not hitting the car in your blind spot if you missed it, etc...).
But more recently I had been waiting for a car that could drive itself in a freeway lane (if you think about it, it's not that hard a problem compared to driving on city streets). Mercedes kind of that had, but it failed when I tried it during a test drive. Tesla had been promising this for almost a year, but I was a bit dubious that they could deliver with the limited sensors on the current model S. They however proved me wrong, and that was great because I did prefer the idea of having an electric car to another gasoline car anyway.
Learn about tickets, how to avoid them, and how to fight them if they are
undeserved. Please give a monetary contribution to Geo for his work if it
was helpful to you.