Wildcat Canyon Trophy Dash

I’ve sort of neglected the “Vehicular Amusement” category for a while now, and I’m not totally sure as to why this is so.    I enjoy driving my BMW Z3 as much as any car I’ve owned over the last 40 years or so.    I live in the middle of wonderful mountain driving roads and I can take off in any direction and quickly find myself lost in the tactile pleasure of driving.
Z-3 August 1Viewing the car as a “project” has pretty much ceased since I finished with the suspension work: new control arms, ball joints, harder bushings, new shocks and a fresh set of tires.    I’ve added a cold air intake and an exhaust that I can actually hear.   The stuff I need to do basically boils down to cosmetic stuff.

Part of the “fun” with every previous car I’ve ever owned that might have pretentions of being called a “drivers car” (or motorcycle) has been a never ending project waiting for my next modification to “improve” it.  I’d rather drive the Z3 than be plotting my next improvement to it.    I do love the way it looks, but I can’t see it when I’m in the driver’s seat.   “Pride of ownership” is a very small part of my involvement with this car, but driving it always brings a smile to my face.

I love the steering.    Replacing the soft rubber bushings had a major impact on steering feel.  It’s a big part of the sense of involvement that driving the car brings to the occasion, along with the sound and feel of the inline six.

I love going into a corner and giving the car enough throttle (and maybe a little flick of the steering wheel) to where I can feel it start to rotate through the steering and power my way through the corner riding the creamy waves of torque and wonderful sounds from the engine.

The Z3’s torque curve has been criticized in a number of quarters for no being “sporting” enough, but it makes it super easy to “steer with the throttle”.

I have no concern if this isn’t the fastest way through a corner and I’m not taking lap times.   Most of the time, I stop short of hanging the tail out and just add enough throttle to give the car a neutral attitude.    It’s really fun to go at about a “seven tenths” pace.   I think I probably went faster in my Miata over the same roads as you needed to keep the little four cylinder on the boil to keep the pace up to the point where the car was fun to drive.   The Z3 is fun at most speeds and the motor has enough torque to make going up the mountain as much fun as going down.

The Z is also entertaining to drive at less than banzai velocities although I can go about as fast as I’m going to go on public roads if I want to.   Sheer speed has lost most of it’s appeal to me at this point in life.

The other day, I found myself behind a Porsche Cayman with an aftermarket exhaust going over Wildcat Canyon Road, which is one of my favorite driving roads once you’ve got past the casino and the school.    There was no traffic and when he spotted me in his mirror, took off in a cloud of glorious noise.   For a while, the chase was on, and he had the extra power to pull ahead on what short straights do exist.   Knowing the road as well as I do, I managed to reel him in in the twisty parts.   I noticed he was often drifting into the other lane, probably trying to see a little further down the road, and I decided to back off and let him go at his own pace. We both ended up behind a mini van anyway and when we parted company at the end of Wildcat Canyon, he gave me a friendly wave.

I’m not trying to make myself look like a paragon of responsibility, it’s just that the capabilities of my car, beyond a certain point, have little to do with my enjoyment of it.

Back in the 80’s, I had a Honda VFR that I had to ride for miles to get anywhere I could use it’s speed and acceleration capabilities for more than a few seconds.  It was a superb machine, but almost boring to ride in normal conditions.

The Z3 is faster than most of the machines I lusted after in my youth, like an XKE, a Stringray or a late 60’s 911s, or maybe a 1973 BMW 3.0 CSI.    On the other hand, you probably could beat it on a track with any number of modern sedans, or maybe even a SUV or pickup.   (You probably would NOT be having as much fun, though.)  Attaching your ego to an automobile is a little bit of a lost cause.  Or at least it is for me.

What is important is fun, which is something entirely separate from lap times for me.   It’s much more of a subjective thing.     A lot of people can’t grasp why people love their Miatas, often dismissing them as “chick cars”.    Most of these people have probably never driven one, or feel  a car with the personality of a playful puppy isn’t macho enough.

I’ve noticed that my interest in automotive magazines has faded somewhat.    Few of the vehicles have much interest for me beyond mere technicalities.    I’ve always preferred lighter vehicles and a two ton sports car has little interest for me, no matter how quickly it gets to 60 MPH.

The other day, driving home from band practice (the BMW being large enough to carry two guitars and an amplifier), Wildcat Canyon was nearly free of traffic beyond the Casino and it was about 70 degrees, sunny and calm.    I found myself downshifting to 2nd gear for a couple of corners where I normally use 3rd for no other reason than to hear the exhaust burble on the overrun.  I then turned off the traction control so I could get a little drift action through two of my favorite sections of the road without fear of the electronic nanny cutting in.   I love the sensation where the car hooks up, straightens out, and then seems to shoot down the road.

Having worked the inner Hooligan out of my system, for the rest of the ride, I was happy to resume a more rational pace and enjoy the wind, the sound of the engine and the zen-like experience of driving briskly and smoothly.

z3 kiddycar

How to finance an older (sports) car.

 

First off, I think the term “Sports Car” is a little limiting as I don’t exactly mean a to limit the discussion to two seat roadsters.  It’s hard to think of an all encompassing term that fits:  if anybody has a good one or two word term for our little hobby, I’d sure like to know what it is.  

To clarify things: I’m speaking about older (approximately between 6 and 20 years old) cars that have a high entertainment factor in terms of actually driving them. Sport models of BMW’s, most any Porsche, Miatas, 350Z’s, WRX’s and Toyota MR@ Spyders. (see a more comprehensive list at the bottom of the page) Not just imports either, as there are plenty of Mustangs, Corvettes, Firebirds and even the (re-badged Holden) GTO.  Most of these cars are also reasonably simple to work on and fix, or modify; either by the owner of the car themselves or an independent repair shop.   Some people race them, take them to track days, or just enjoy driving them.  I’m talking about enthusiast oriented cars that have discussion forums and Facebook pages devoted to them, with a plethora of companies stocking repair parts, accessories and other assorted Tchotchkes. 

Although today’s cars are faster than ever, performance in a car that’s also entertaining to drive comes at a price.  Anything that’s much fun to drive at all is going to be north of $25,000 and anything with 8 or more cylinders is going to be over $30,000, as will most new Miatas.  A new Boxster is going to be over $55,000 and a Z4 will be over $60,000.   

The idea here is one can find cars that can deliver a similar driving experience to a new car, for a fraction of the cost by purchasing a nice used car from the 90’s or early 2000’s.  There are thousands of fun cars out there in the $4,000 to $16,000 price ranges out there with plenty of life left in them.   Go to Auto trader and set the upper price limit at $16,000 and see how many cool cars there are out there for Under $16,000.   Here’s a link to one I just pulled out of the San Diego AutoTrader.  1998 Porsche Boxster with 45,000 miles 

Pretty sweet ride for less than $14K, I’d say.  Put $3,000 down, finance it for three years and you’d own it free and clear before the next presidential election for around $300 a month.   But, take a look at the link to RoadLoans in the advertisement and in the fine print, you’ll discover they don’t give loans on anything made before 2004, six years after this nice little roadster was made   But don’t give up just yet.   There is a myth out there that you can’t get financing on cars older than 10 years and there are still companies that are living in the 50’s and think that any car that is over a decade old is about to wear out and fall apart when it hits 100,000 miles.   If you Google “How to finance a used car over 10 years old?” you’ll get all sorts of answers including advice from “experts” telling you how bad an idea it is and to go by something like a Chevy Cobalt with a new car warranty.  That’s probably, in fact, the rational thing to do.  But, if you’ve read this far, that might not apply to you———– 

Modern cars are much more durable than that, many of them will now put 150,000 to 200,000 miles (or more)on the drive train, (Along with being serviced regularly) without having to be rebuilt.  That’s not to say things don’t wear out,  I replaced a bunch of stuff when I got my 1998 Z3; Water Pump, Belts, Fan Clutch, Control arms and ball joints, and am about to fit a new set of struts to it this weekend.  But I planned on having to do that, and the car is simple enough for me to work on it myself.  Anyone contemplating buying a used car can easily find out common faults and how often things are likely to need replacing by looking in online owners forums, and taking a prospective purchase to a mechanic to have them check a car out is also a very good idea.     

Going back to the concept of the rational thing to do, you or I might not be in that category, but I can tell you someone who IS and that’s a banker.   These are people with no emotional involvement with the car you want them to lend you money to buy, and they’re only going to let you do it if it makes business sense.  And you’ll be happy to know that I talked to three of them on the phone who seemed more than willing to lend money on performance-oriented older cars.   And all three would make loans to people who wanted to purchase a vehicle from a private party.  So much for the advice of experts who say this is always a bad idea. 

The first company I talked to about this that told me they were open to the idea was Nationwide, the same company that sells insurance and they told me that everything they do is on a case by case basis, depending on the circumstances, but that it someone called them they could  take an application a pre-approve you for “X “amount of dollars and some guidelines for selecting a car.  

You can find them online: http://www.nationwide.com/auto-loans.jsp   

Nationwide can be reached by phone at:

1-877-669-6877

The second company I spoke to was Wells Fargo and I had noticed they stated on their web site  that cars manufactured more than 7 years ago as might NOT qualify, and when I told them this, they told me while that was true, there were many cars that might, and I read them off a list similar to the one at the bottom of the page and they said those were exactly the types of cars that might.    They also told me that everything was handled on an individual basis and that the best thing to do was to call and  get pre-approved.   They said they only made loans in  areas where Wells Fargo operates banks.

Wells Fargo’s Website is here:   https://www.wellsfargo.com/autoloans/used

The Wells Fargo phone number is: 1-877-700-9345

Finally, the last place I contacted was the most helpful.   I spoke to a man named “Chris” at JJ Best Banc and he understood exactly what sort of cars I was talking about and how they are the largest company of their kind in the United States, specializing in Antique Cars, Classic Cars, Exotic Cars, Kit Cars, Muscle Cars, Hot Rods, and Sports Cars as well as Antique Motorcycles, R.V.’s, Boats and Aircraft loans.  They have traditionally specialized in cars made prior to 1990, but have expanded to include newer sports and performance cars.  Chris also recognized that this was a new niche that a lot of companies might stay away from because they don’t understand the collateral involved.   Chis was obviously a car guy himself and made me comfortable that people wouldn’t be greeted with:  “What, you want us to lend you $10,000 on that ancient piece of crap!”.   If you want to speak to someone who understands your hobby, I’d advise to you call and ask for Chris and be sure to tell him I sent you.  You won’t get any better deal, but I’d like him to know I appreciated his time

Their website is here:  https://www.jjbest.com/about_jjbest/about-jjbest.aspx

and a great FAQ page: https://www.jjbest.com/about_jjbest/faq.aspx

And here is the phone number, and be sure to ask for Chris: 800-872-1965

If I can find three potential lenders in less than an hour, there are probably more out there.  The point I do want to make is that you don’t need to go to a dealer to get financing for an older performance car and it’s probably to your advantage to get financing arranged before you go out an look for a car. It’s a little beyond the scope of this blog to give anyone financial advice, save for telling you that finding loans for older cars is possible, but I do hope this might open the door for a possible purchase you might not have considered otherwise.  OLD CARS RULE!!!!!!

Nissan 350Z, Porsche Boxster, BMW Z3, BMW Z4, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Camaro, Porsche 944, Toyota MR2 Spyder, Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan 370Z, Infiniti G35, BMW M3, BMW 328, BMW 330, BMW528, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Volkswagen GTI, Audi TT, Audi Quattro, Mazda Miata, Pontiac Firebird, Pontiac GTO, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, Mercedes Benz

BMW Z3 Control Arm and Bushing Replacement Tutorial Suplement

ArmsThis whole enterprise started when I wanted to replace the control arm bushings on my 1998 BMW Z3 with some polyurethane bushings made by Powerflex.  I’d read a Blog Post on ZRoadster.Org by Mike Fishwick about them and since he seems fairly rational in terms of the things he recommends thought I’d give them a try.    When I got the car up on the jack-stands I discovered some bad ball joints, so decided to replace the control arms and all associated parts with new stuff.

There are plenty of tutorials and videos online to give someone a fair idea of what it takes to remove the Control Arms on a BMW Z3, and other BMW’s that use basically the same chassis.  (Mine is a 2008 with a 2.8 liter engine).  There are also a couple of manuals that one can turn to for advice on how to accomplish this task.  Before putting my car up on jack-stands, I probably watched and read most of them. If you plan on performing a similar operation, I’d suggest you do the same.  At best, my comments are intended as a supplement, and I plan to bring up things that the tutorials and manuals didn’t mention and some comments about what worked for me.   At the end of this entry, I’ll list a few links I found helpful.

What you see above are the right and left Control Arms from my Z3.   That alone should provide you with some comfort as I managed to do it by myself using only hand tools.   See Below:Tool complement

The only specialty tools were a couple of pickle forks and the little black device in the lower right  hand corner which is a $19.95 ball joint separator from Harbor Freight.

I should add that all my comments are stated with the idea in mind that I’m replacing the entire control arm assembly, sway bar end links , bushing and bushing bracket (identified as “C”). Thus, I don’t have to worry about preserving things to re-use them.   The new bushing brackets, along with the Powerflex bushings made installing the arms a snap as everything just pressed into place, with a little coaxing with a rubber mallet

In any case, the major obstacle you’re likely going to encounter in this  job is getting a wrench on the 22mm lock-nuts that hold the Inside Ball Joints  (Identified by the letter “B” in the top photo, “A” indicates the outside ones) loose.  Open the hood to let some light in and  use a flashlight to locate them.   They are a little hard to find from below without doing this.  They are located is on top of the cross member, to either side of the motor, and they are a large nut, 22mm.  To get to it, I had to remove the air cleaner assembly and also the black plastic “snorkel” that leads cold air to the alternator and to get to that, which required that I unbolt enough of the plastic fender/ wheel well liner to peel it back to get to the snorkel.  The snorkel is held in place by just one bolt, (it snaps on to the alternator and behind the bumper without an fasteners) and you’ll have to jiggle it around to get it to come loose, but be patient and don’t force it, as you want to get it out of the way without breaking it.

(It would be a good idea to use some sort of spray lubricant/penetrative spray like PB Blaster to loosen the nut and bolts at this point, particularly if the control arm assembly hasn’t been removed in quite some time.  I’d give it a half hour or so to let the spray soak in and so you might want to find some other task, like giving a shot of PB to other nuts you’ll need to remove at some point.)

Once you do get access to the nut, there seems to be something in the way of the wrench, or at least moving it very far, no matter what you do and also it’s hard to get a good position to put any force on the wrench.   I think I had to use the open end wrench to loosen the one on the passenger side but was able to get the 22mm socket on the driver side.

Looking at the outer ball joints, most of the videos and write ups explain that they are fastened to the steering knuckle in such a manner that you can’t get fully remove the nut until you pop the ball joint loose.  That was the case with my car and so I loosened it till it was flush with the top of the bolt. I had to keep the shaft from turning by using vice grips, so I pretty much destroyed the boot, but I’m tossing the ball joints anyway, so it wasn’t much of a concern.

Since I wasn’t going to re-use them, it was pretty simple to remove the sway bar end links (“D” in the photo).  When detaching the links from the sway bar, the  shaft of the small ball joint rotates when you try to take the nut off of it and it’s pretty easy to destroy the boot attached to it, by using vice grips or something else.  The new Lemforder end links I installed  have a place to insert a Torx tool into the bolt to prevent rotation, but I didn’t look to see if the old ones did.

The next step is to see if you can get the ball joints to drop down.  If you’re lucky, they’ll pop out easily, with maybe a tap on the side of the steering knuckle where the ball joint attaches. I wasn’t quite that lucky and had to resort to a pickle fork and a 5 lb sledge.   I managed to get the inner ball joint to drop fairly easily on both sides of the car, but the outer ones stubbornly remained attached.

I ended up using the Harbor Freight tool you see in the photo.  It’s a little hard to get upper arm of the tool on the bolt as there’s not enough room, but you can get it on the nut that’s attached to it.  It pretty much finishes the nut off, so you need to get new ones, which is something you should do anyway.  But just make sure you have them before you start the job.   Pelican Parts, where I got most of this stuff, has them in stock, along with new ones for the inner ball joints.

Doing this job put quite a strain on the little Harbor Freight tool; the threads on it look fairly worn (yes, I greased them) and I was actually quite amazed how much force I had to use before I heard a sudden “crack” when the joints break free.  It’s a curiously rewarding sound, in the same league as the sound of coins falling into the tray at the casino, (or the old “pop” on pinball machines if you’re a baby boomer.)

That’s about it for the removal of the old stuff: putting the new stuff back on was a LOT easier.    As I said before, using the Powerflex bushings make this a fairly easy job.  I bought new brackets to avoid the hassle of prying the old bushing out of the bracket, or even bothering to remove them from the control arms, as you can see by the (above)photo. The new Meyle arms are shown, below, with their thread-protecting blues caps on the ball joints.  You’ll notice the bushings and bushing brackets are already mounted.

Control-arms

I used my floor jack to position the arms right under the holes for the ball joints, inserted them into the holes  in the knuckle and cross-member far enough to get the locknuts on them but didn’t tighten them down fully.  The only thing that presented much difficulty was getting the bolts onto the holes in the new brackets to mount them to the bottom of the car.

You’ll notice the brackets have a countersink around the mounting holes and there are a couple of circular fittings around the mounting holes on the bottom of the car.  I used a pair of vice grips to sort of force the bracket into place over the holes in the frame and then was able to get one of the bolts to start to thread into the hole.  You just need to make sure the flat part of the bracket where the holes are as flush with the frame. It only took me a couple of minutes to do each one.

I did both sides of the car, reinstalled the snorkel and fender liner, then went back and tightened everything down  with a torque wrench.

The car now steers precisely and has much improved steering feel.    You get a great sense of what the front tires are doing.  You can now place the car exactly where you want it and bumps in corners seem to bother it much less.

I spent a little over $400 total to do this, and I find the return on investment to be worthwhile.  I’d posted a little blurb about this on a Facebook Z group and a couple people  replied they were intimidated by the prospect of doing something like this.  I’ll agree it’s not for everyone, and I don’t think it would be a great first project if you have little or no mechanical experience.  But it’s pretty straightforward.   I think if you have a good manual, and take a look at a couple of tutorials and write-ups, you’ll start to get a good mental picture of what is involved.     Using just one as a guide, you might find that there are things they didn’t mention, but by reading or watching multiple methods, you eventually have the confidence that you can take on something like this.

I’ve worked on cars and motorcycles since I was a teenager, and my father and uncles were they kind of guys who always worked on their own cars, but I’m no mechanic by any means.  I have friends who are mechanics, and I do call them once in a while and humbly ask them for advice.    I’ll tell them about some dead end I’ve reached and they usually tell me some simple way to get on track.   I don’t do it often, in fact, It’s been a few years since I’ve done so.   So far, I’ve managed to complete every task on the BMW with my own resources, and what I’ve been able to glean from the web and a Bentley Manual.

LINKS

Pelican Parts Tutorial

You Tube Control Arm Replacement Video

Powerflex Bushing Replacement Video

Old School Bushing Replacement