Friday, September 13, 2013

Car rant-I blame you America!

Somebody said something a few days ago, that made my head spin, and it's time I get it off my chest! Brace yourself this is going to be a semi-lengthy rant.

I don't quite remember what the article/video was now, but one of the comments was "bring back the G8" (a pontiac 4-door sedan, V6 or V8, RWD..a proper sedan, if you will). It had a short run of 2 model years, because of the impending bankruptcy, and lack of interest really. Now a few short years later, people crave this car, and other like it. The bankruptcy of GM was hard on lots of people, especially those directly effected by it, but also hard on enthusiasts like myself who saw their favorite brand in uncertain times. Enough of that though, lets talk about the vehicles themselves. What upsets me the most about the recent turbulence of the auto industry is that not once did anyone consider, that maybe THEY were to blame for it. If you read my blog, or facebook posts, or listen to me talk at all, you will know a car is much more than 'just' a car to me, and many like me. But not to you...the general public. Today we are in a new golden age of cars, performance driven, highly optioned, better equipped machines like no other time. In my humble opinion it rivals the former "golden age" of automobiles (think muscle era), maybe even edging it out. My complaint is we could have had this YEARS ago, but you wouldnt have it. 10 years ago, the general public didn't care about performance, whether it be handling, engine, braking, or otherwise. You became obsessed with getting the highest MPG possible, with gas prices and all. You needed the maximum number of cup holders possible, big enough to fit a big gulp in hopefully. You wanted a navigation screen, the size of a TV, a simple map or mapquest would not suffice. You let yourself be convinced that the natural progression of technology needed to be included in your vehicle. All that is fine and dandy, until you realized you were driving a piece of shit, that had 8 cup holders, navigation, back up cameras, blah blah blah. I am all for the natural progression that technology has taken, I use it every day. BUT, you were willing to sacrifice the quality of the car itself, for more equipment. As a college student, who is very broke, I understand the role the price of gasoline plays in everyones life. Todays engine technology is achieving great things to reduce gasoline consumption. The great things we have today, could have been had a long time ago, if you were willing to worry about the car as a whole, and not the options it had. Back to the G8, which is a car I am quite fond of. Today we have the upcoming Chevrolet SS sedan, which is basically an updated refresh of the G8 from the now dead Pontiac, both of which are more or less Holdens from Australia (also a division of GM). A couple of years ago you didn't want it because it was a performance car, today we get word there will only be 900 units built initially, and the internet goes ablaze with complaints. YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE TO OWN a similar car in 2008, but it didn't have enough gadgets for you. You let yourself be convinced you needed a car with lots of gadgets, even if it was an absolute embarassment to the industry. It needed an EPA estimated 40 mpg, with no guts to get out of its own way. News flash, good MPG can be had, with technology and a proper driving skill set.

So, what were manufacturers supposed to do? They put out exactly what you wanted, a shiny piece of junk, with gadgets. So the rest of us had to partake  in the junk buys, because we wouldnt afford the 1 or 2 performance cars. Or buying a car strictly because it had the mark of your favorite brand, even if it was junk. This can be applied to anybody's brand...90's/2000's mustangs, decent looks, sounds good, decently put together, turd in the performance realm, save for the 03-04 cobras (note: mustangs have come a long way, the new 5.0's are great). What about the almighty LS1 powered F-bodies from 98-02? Huge leap in engine technology and design, rest of the car slowly rattles apart (I've owned 3 F-bodies, and worked on numerous) note: I do still love the 4th gens, no matter if they rattle apart or not. Dodge/Chrysler? Please! Nice engines, rest of the car falls apart around them though.

Today we get a new 5.0 Mustang, Gen IV powered Camaros, absolutely wicked Corvettes, etc etc. And they do much more than recent vesions could ever hope to do. Manufacturers are finally bridging the gap in all around performance, with the junk the rest of you want.

Of course all this is a matter of opinion, but seriously, the rest of us are tired of hearing your praise to your respective brands for the nice cars they are finally putting out. We could have had them years ago if you hadn't wanted anything but, at the time.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Being original...

A couple of things from today made me want to write about this. In todays automotive world, being original is hard. The aftermarket is so vast, and so easy, that is almost makes more sense to NOT be original. But there are an odd few like myself that stick to it as closely as possible, in some aspects. Now if you are a performance enthusiast like myself, original is basically not an option. To go faster, you have to go with aftermarket parts to do so. A new Z06  is a blistering sports car, but that only goes so far, for so long, before you want more out of your machine...and I don't blame you. However, sometimes there is a person like myself, who sticks to originality sometimes too. This is for a couple of reasons. When it comes to my daily driver, nothing is more important to me than being in original form. I sell parts for cars for a living, at a local parts house. I do not put these parts on my personal car, though. It takes a lot of engineering work, before a car hits the showroom floor at your local dealership. That car was engineered a certain way, with a certain part, and I want that part back on my car. That's not to say a part I sell, won't perform just as well. But it means more to me if I know my car has original GM parts on it. Right down to the 25$ a piece wiper blades I buy at the dealership.

When it comes to muscle cars and classic cars, I also prefer originality. Todays "pro-touring" machines are all the rage, much like "pro-street" was 10 years ago. But nothing appeals to me more than an original, or restored to original spec classic car. I'm not the only one, as events like Barrett Jackson auctions and Concours De'legance, show original still reigns supreme in the classic community. Maybe that's what drives me to be original sometimes. I am not foolish enough to think my car will be worth a lot of money sometime in the future, but it's still cool to see the original stickers and tags in various locations on the car.

Now that brings me to my next point, and a question that gets asked a lot in todays automotive world. Will my car be worth some money in the future? The general consensus is no, because too many of them were built, as opposed to limited numbers built of yester-years classics. But you never know, 20 years from now, as technology progresses, and todays cars becomes more obsolete, maybe my car will be worth some money, even if its to laugh at how outdated it is. Maybe our original form 98 Sierra will be the belle of the ball at a Concours event. I can dream right?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The blue collar truck

A few nights ago I posted a picture of a brand new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, and called it the working mans luxury sedan. Allow me to make my point more clear.

In todays world, the fact is, most people earn a living for a few different, but select reasons. You earn a living to provide for your family, pay your bills, buy a house, buy a car, and have some left over to have fun with. That is after all the American dream to most people, to be comfortable and be free to do things you want to do. A simple google search or reading a book will reveal that buying a new car has always been apart of the "modern" way of life. Whether it be as a reward for hard work or just to show off to your friends (keeping up with the jones reference here), a brand new car is a nice way to show you've finally achieved your goals. A celebrity buys another high end model, a business man buys a new luxury car, a family buys their high school graduate a new 4 door gas saver for college, and a do it all parent buys a new mini-van. Then there is the blue collar worker...

The blue collar worker buys a truck, a truck that does it all. This truck will go from working in a field to dinner in his Sunday best, later that day. It's a unique group of people that see a brand new truck, and it feels like that ultra luxury sedan to them. Where a Doctor buys a new Mercedes, this man buys a new truck and to him, that IS a new Mercedes. It will do everything the above vehicles do, and then some. It will haul a tractor, then kids, then the Mrs to dinner. Around here, you grow up wanting a brand new truck. Our dad had trucks, our friends had trucks, our grandfather had trucks, and a lot of people around in general have a truck. The truck is a do it all machine, some things that other vehicles  cant do, or at least weren't equipped for it. Does this man want or have a sports car too? Sure. Does he have a nice sedan also? Sure. I'm one of the enthusiast driven people myself. I want a new Camaro, a Corvette, an old muscle car, a nice Cadillac. But nothing will ever take the place of the truck, and it will most likely get used the most. There is nothing like the smile on a man or womans face, when they pull up to the store in a brand new truck, and you say "nice truck".

More often than not, around here, when you see a nice new pickup and the owner smiles like that, he is seeing that truck for what it is. It is his luxury sedan, his sports car, his children hauler, vacation mobile, trailer tower, his driveway ornament, but above all his pride and joy.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Maybe it's the little things...

It's no big secret that my ultimate goal is to become a productive employee of General Motors one day. As a life long GM enthusiast, it would be a dream come true to not only work amongst my passion of cars but, at the brand that I am loyal too. I'll admit that I may be way over doing it, but I am also trying to take tiny steps to aid in finding a job with GM. Obviously my mechanical experience working on cars could come in handy, but there are a few other areas I decided to dabble in to hopefully be a more appealing candidate at some point.

1) Trying to learn a programming language is by no means easy, but surely won't hurt. GM opened brand new IT centers in a few various cities, and is looking for numerous programmers. I figure if I can teach myself the basics it can only help.

2) Not only for a prospective job, but also for myself, learning to draw. For the entire span of my recognizable life, I have been a terrible drawer. I am trying to change that, not only for myself but, wouldn't it be more appealing if I could draw on paper, the designs of a part I see in my head. What happens if I were to be elected to an engineering position in charge of designing a car. I could bridge the gap between drafters and engineers, a daunting task indeed.

Maybe it's summer time boredom, lacking the chaos of the school semester. But, I would like to be as well rounded as possible, and attempting to learn new things is something I enjoy. So books on the subjects are piling in the Amazon account, and nickel and diming my back account.

The hopeful factory test driver! :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The best book I've ever picked up!

I finished reading "Camaro: a legend reborn" by Edsall, a book about the current 5th gen Camaro and how it was conceived. From the 2006 Concept, to the finished product, every detail on how it came to life is detailed. The best part is hearing from the many engineers involved in the project, from the different countries. You get to read and see how the car goes from a drawing on paper, to a clay model, to a concept, to a 65% test car, to a 99% test car, and finally an inside look at the manufacturing process of the 2010 Camaro being built. Like most enthusiasts, I was heart broken when the Camaro was finally given the axe. And the "Fbodfather" himself, Scott Settlemire recalls the feeling he had when he was given the phone call that the last 2002 Camaro rolled off the line. I can recall hating the 2006 concept, and hating the 2010 production version when I first saw it at the local dealer. But over time, the car grew on me, and finally one day as if I was struck with a magic wand, I fell in love. I can recall the exact place I was too. A friend of ours invited my girlfriend and I to her dad's condo on the water. When I got there i parked my car and underneath the condos in a parking space was a new 2010 Camaro SS in PLAIN white. No stripes, no accents, just a plain white Camaro. That very moment was when the car came alive to me. Combine that with all the things you read about in this book and I am a full fledged believer now. As a past Camaro owner, and hopefully future owner, this book is great! Now the SS is great and all, and the ZL1 is truly an engineering masterpiece. But the car I have been waiting on finally showed up, the Z28. The Z28 has been my Camaro of choice because of it's roots and origin. The Z28 was a handling machine that would run as well. The Z28 was a drivers car, and it would only be fitting that I own another. After a few years of being disappointed that the new car lineup would again, not feature a Z28, I started to wonder if GM was listening to us car guys anymore, like they had in mid 2000's for the return of the Camaro. What we thought the Z28 was going to be, ended up being the ZL1 and at that point, for me, I assumed the Z28 wasn't alive anymore. This year, at the NY auto show, I watched the live unveiling of the refreshed 2014 Camaro. To set the scene, I was in a relatively quiet computer lab at school, next to a friend who was doing work in there also. With my headphones on, I watched and listened as the refreshed 2014 Camaro made it's way onto the stage. WOW! It's amazing what a few tweaks can do to a car, it looked spectacular. And then Mark Reuss says, but thats not it...and suddenly all homework came to a halt. After a short chat, the lights went dim, and a short video plays of a Camaros exhaust, wheels, spoiler, all teasers...and out comes a 2014 Camaro Z28!! Unable to control it, I shouted for joy in the middle of that library computer lab. The day had finally come, GM had listened after all, a Z28 was finally going to be made available again. True to its original purpose, the 2014 Z28 is a drivers car, LS7, six-speed manual only, no radio, AC optional, lightweight, big brakes, and better suspension. I am a GM nut, and this new lineup fro Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, and Buick is nothing short of awesome. The new C7 Corvette, all new pickups, new V8/RWD sedan, new CTS, new small cars, new midsize cars, it's all been great. But this new Z28 takes the cake for me. Without a doubt it is the most excited I've been about any new car, ever! And I've been crazy about cars since my first Automobile Magazine subscription when I was around 9 years old.

Two quotes stuck out to me while reading this book;

"If you are a mechanical engineer, and work in the automotive industry, it's like heaven"

A holden engineer talking about getting his mechanical engineering degree to become an engineer for Holden, "My friends would ask, 'what if you don't get a job with Holden?' I would say, I don't know, it's all I've ever wanted to do"

Both quotes speak to what I truly desire in life.

This was easily the best book I've ever picked up and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Camaro, cars in general, or is curious how a car goes from concept to production.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A sentence sets the tone...

Funny how hearing just a sentence out of a paragraph that someone says, can get you thinking. Cruising home from work tonight, I heard comedian Chris Titus say this:

"Some of you in this room are successful because at some point, someone told you, you were a loser. SO you busted your ass, became successful just to cram those words right back down there throat"

For some that is true. Not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up with a nice support group around them. I have a loving and supporting family that guide me through the best and worst, life has to dish. I have a nice support group of friends that keep me sane, when I feel like I am about to go insane! But for those few people I have come across, that are not supportive of my vision for myself, just keep watching me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

So I've been reading books lately...

I added a few more book to my Camaro collection this summer, and am done with 3, partly through another, and 3 more on fedex for tomorrow.

1) "Camaro Z28 is back!" by Walter J. Banacki. The book is pretty short, but detailed how the Z28 made a comeback in 1977. A story of how engineers, designers, testers, and managers all came together on a huge time crunch to produce a new Z28 after being away from buyers for a couple of years. The book is a pretty good read, if you want to hear what all goes into to producing a car for the "driving enthusiast" as opposed to a Camaro everybody else has.

2) "Camaro Classics" by Publications international. Another short book, mostly pictures with brief paragraphs about each car. An automotive version of a childs book, but what initially drew me to the book was the pictures. On one page is a full page classic ad that you would have seen for a Camaro in that year.
 3) "Camaro: five generations of performance" by Darwin Holmstrom. Another year by year, model by model breakdown of every Camaro, but this one includes the current 5th generation Camaro.

4) Current book, "Camaro Z28 and performance specials" by Jason Scott. This is your run of the mill model by model, year by year detail book of every performance Camaro, namely SS's and Z28's. I have a couple of these book already, but some have details in then that others do not.

On order: "Camaro: a legend reborn", a book about how the 5th gen Camaro came to be. "Camaro: an American icon" basically a big picture book of beautiful Camaros. Lastly, a book simply called "Camaro" by Jim Dietzler. I have no clue what this book is going to be like, so it will be a surprise.

When that fedex box gets here tomorrow, my collection of Camaro books will be 9 books total. 7 of them are normal books, 2 on my tablet. It seems a little excessive, but like I said, some books have different material in them than others (though the rest of the book may be re-hash of a different book). They are all fun to read, and after all, it is the car I am most passionate about. I read a lot of car magazines, and one "success magazine" as I call it, that is "Heavy Hitters" . But nothing takes the cake like a good ole fashioned car mag. On a long boring work night, or if I'm simply strapped for cash and have to stay at home, I should have enough car books to get me by.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The balance beam of retail...

In a retail business there is a balance beam that has to even out for things to run as smoothly as possible. A small upset in weight distribution can unbalance the so called beam, and eventually fall to one side. There are obviously three parts to a retail business; the consumer, the retailer, and the product. The first two have to be on the same page, so the consumer gets the correct product. But there is many obstacles to overcome in order for the end result to occur in a satisfactory manner.

1) The consumer has to, at minimum, have just enough knowledge of what they want, to be dangerous. Many problems come along with this, though. Sometimes the customer doesn't have a clue what he/she needs or wants, and leaves it to the retailer to decipher what feels like the Davinci code to figure out what they want. In some cases the customer is having a bad day, and will eventually be rude enough to the retailer for them to tune the customer out. Here I will use myself as an example, so I will say I. In most cases, I am infinitely more knowledgeable about my product than you are, so do not tell me how to do my job. The saying in retail is, the customer is always right! But you and I both know that is not 100% true, and they only say that to make you want to come back. I know it is hard, but you have to try and put yourself in my shoes. Try to realize how hard it is that day in and day out, I have to LET you make an idiot out of yourself and then apologize to you, even though I didn't actually do anything wrong. It takes a tole on my mental health, to listen to you be so wrong, yet, tell you you're right when it is all over. All so you can eventually call me an idiot, and leave. But alas, those few customers who have talked to me long enough to realize I have put my life into the field I serve, make it worth it when they shake my hand and tell me helpful I have been.

2) The retailer all too often, especially with todays technology, sits on a very slippery slope. They are combining a couple of elements and slowly declining their worth in todays market. The micro management has to stop, or at least be kept to a minimum.  The process of retail is such a simple concept, and with the right people, can be accomplished so easily. But the micro managing is taking it's tole on not only the salesman but the customer. We don't need to reinvent the wheel to sell a product, just let me sell it. That is, after all, why you hired me to begin with, so let me do it! The dreaded "car salesman" approach to selling can run off potential customers. And for salesman like me, I don't want to bother people to the point of running them off. It's part of my nature I guess, I want to be liked, and hate to be hated. The protocol set in place by some companies and how, when, and why to suggest certain things is bothersome. In a perfect world, the salesman is knowledgeable enough about the product he/she is "slinging" to not need guidance on how to "sling". But that leads me to my next concern. People like myself are getting run off, for less qualified, 'yes' people. You can imagine if the customer doesn't know what exactly they are looking for, and they happen upon a salesman who has no idea what they are doing either, the problem that creates. But that is what is slowly but surely happening. The people that spend their time working their way through the chain, becoming a master of their service are being pushed out, in favor of less qualified people to save a few bucks in pay roll. Next time you run into someone at a store who clearly has no idea what they are doing, don't put 100% of the fault on their shoulders. Most of the blame should reside on the shoulders of the company itself, because that is a part of maximizing profits.

3) Lastly, the product should be something I can stand behind. To me, honesty should be a key role in all aspects of retail/service. It isn't of course, but that is how the corporate chain conditions a salesman. If I have on hand , 3 similar products, 2 are high quality pieces and 1 is a low quality piece and I happen to be sold out of the first 2. Protocol suggests I still try and push that low quality piece on you, knowing full well it will have poor performance, for your needs. Oral protocol also suggests I tell you, the first 2 are better, but this one is still good, knowing full well it will probably break soon. Hell, it could break as soon as you get home, but at least I made the company the dollar it expects me to make them. But this can all circle back to the first two points I made. If the company banks on the lack of knowledge that both parties will have about the product, neither of you will ever know what just happened. I would rather lose a sale, because I was honest, than make a sale, with a lie. Write that down.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The long haul to...enjoyment!

I should say,  multitude of hauls actually. As a car nut and racing fan, it is important to me that I hit all major events on a "car nuts" list of to-do's as well as see all the racing events I've  always wanted to go to. Money is always an issue for lots of people, and a broke college student(me) is no different. So sometimes these events and races seem impossible to attend, but what started with a Daytona Nascar race in 2010 has veered me on the path of realizing the dreams I have of attending these things.

I consider these events and races as a two part deal, the process and the event. The race or event, is just that. I want to attend every major auto event in the U.S., things like the Concours d'elegance, hot rod power tour, north american auto show, the list goes on for days(or scrolls forever if you look at my bookmarks on my laptop). Something I have wanted to since i was around 9 or so, was attend a Nascar race, and in 2010 I got the luxury of doing so (with the help from a few friends, you know who you are!!). Next up was a Formula 1 race at the new circuit in Austin, TX, which I attended with one of my best friends and fellow car/racing geek. This year it will be an American Le Mans Series race, which is also a huge check mark on the life goal list!

But equally important is the process, as I call it, of getting to the event. There is nothing quite like a long car ride to think, talk to myself, and experience my surroundings through my windshield. Yes, I love the outdoors, and enjoy a breath of fresh air as much as the next guy. However, I do and always will, enjoy driving much more than anything else. I don't have a fun hotrod to cruise around anymore, but my HHR means more to me than any of those cars ever could have. It's the car my girlfriend and i  have gone on all our dates in. It's the car that has gotten me to and from school to earn an education. The car that gets me to my job to earn money.  And appropriate for the article, the car that has gotten me to the events and races I am writing about now. In a perfect life, I will have all my toys again, my go fast cars, my nice truck, and a sweet private jet(surely), but I plan to always have this little car. The things I have experienced in this car, and things that are still TO BE experienced in this car, cannot be replaced. Would it be cool to do the power tour in a hot rod one day? Of course! But in my opinion doing that long haul in my HHR would be better. One day when I have a garage full of nice cars and trucks and people see them, I want to also have my HHR in the garage. I want to tell people all the things I did in the car and all the places I went. When I plan to attend some automotive event, I dont find the best flight and rental car package online, I google map a route and plan accordingly.

As the old saying goes: "Getting there is half the fun"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What happens if I avoid the fork altogether?

There is a certain way people explain to you how your life will go, but it usually sums up all the same. There are a few paths to choose in life, and the wrong path can lead to trouble. Some can go through life, and take it as it comes. That has never really been my outlook, I try to plan my life to a T, though I know it may not go 100 percent according to plan. It is told to you as if there is a proverbial fork in the road to life, right and you go on to lead a great life. Go left, and you end up in shambles. What if I said I wanted to avoid that fork altogether? Surely I can forge my own path, and lead my life EXACTLY how I want to, right? I know some of my plans can be subjected to various things, but I like to sit back and think exactly what I want to be doing in a few years.

I interviewed for a job recently, with a couple of engineers from a plant. Not really because I wanted to work there, but mostly to get something on my resume to aid in finding a job upon graduation. For reasons, I won't get into it here,  I had already had in my mind I was going to decline an offer, had they made one. Timing is everything, and the time wasn't right for me. One of the questions I was asked, is where I wanted to be with my degree. I value honesty, but part of me knew what they wanted to hear, and part of me knew I could lie and say "Oh I see myself in a plant with you guys for all my days". But my honesty got the best of me, and I said, an engineer for General Motors or somewhere in the automotive industry. Obviously, this is not what two guys from a plant want to hear.

But that is part of what I consider "avoiding the fork in the road". That path that takes you slightly longer to trek, but has more to offer is the one I have chosen. But I feel like it will take me where I want to go, the path to being one of the greatest automotive engineers of all time. Write that down.

I heard an awesome quote this year,  when you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful. Write that down too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My passion

It's no big secret to most, that my passion is automobiles and racing. I grew up as a car nerd, and still am today. The guy that sits on the couch and carefully watches every play of every football game, that is me but with racing substituted in. I do like other sports, just not as much as racing. In general though, my passion is for all things automotive. I don't like cars the way normal people like cars, I view them from a completely different perspective. First thing's first, I'll be up front, I am a "General Motors guy". In families like mine, you grow up around a certain brand of vehicles and for us it was the blue GM logo. Now when a normal person sees a brand new car, say a Corvette, they see bright shiny sports car that everyone turns their heads to look at. I eventually see that, but at first, I don't. My eyes will usually dart from spot to spot locating things I find appealing that your average driver doesn't concern themselves with. This goes for any car, not just a corvette, so some of this varies between makes and models because obviously a Honda won't have carbon brakes like a Corvette ZR1 does. My initial reaction when viewing a car for the first time: What brakes does it have? Carbon ceramic? Steel rotor with semi-metallic pads? What tires? Does direct sunlight reveal swirls or random scratches? DO they take care of it? Is it clean? How easy would it be to replace a particular part? And so on. I don't stop at the pretty face, I see what is behind it.

From my viewpoint, there are three types of drivers, and subsequently 3 types of cars. There is a normal person, an enthusiast, and a driver. You can be an enthusiast and a driver, but not a normal person and either of the other two.  A normal person does not concern themselves with what an enthusiast does or what a "driver" does. Personally, I am both an enthusiast/driver, I enjoy all things automotive but still pine for cars that are for the driver, not just the enthusiast. Example, an old Dodge Viper is a drivers car. It's lack of modern "help me not kill myself" technology is what it makes it such a car. The control is solely placed on the driver and how much he is in touch with his car.