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Flawed Beauty: Lancia Gamma

June 4, 2016 by Matt

Lancia Gamma

The Lancia Gamma reprises a familiar story arc when it comes to Italian cars: Beautiful, ambitious, flawed.

Produced from model years 1976 to 1984 and sold only in Europe, the Gamma was offered in coupe and 5-door sedan (berlina) bodystyles. Powered by a SOHC flat four developing a healthy 138 horsepower in its later 2.5-liter version, the FWD Gamma moved with respectable alacrity for its day. The coupe weighed in at 2,850 lbs, a figure that ensured competent acceleration, handling and braking.

Lancia Gamma

The boxer engine configuration was chosen for a couple of reasons. Its lower center of gravity aided handling balance, but the real benefit was in the styling department: The hoodline could be more gradual, allowing for a very sleek profile. The overall design was penned by Pininfarina and is a masterpiece of proportion and understatement, especially considering the tacky, overwrought 1970s context of the car’s genesis.

Lancia Gamma

Rust was a major bugaboo for Lancia unibodies up until the late ’80s, and the Gamma’s sheetmetal had its share of challenges in that department. But the ambitious engine was the source of most of the Gamma’s problems. Its all-aluminum construction was underengineered, and any minor problems with one of the engine’s peripherals had a tendency to cascade and result in total failure. And speaking of peripherals, instead of being driven off the crank pulley as with most cars, the power steering pump was connected to the left timing belt, and when an additional load was placed on the pump—say, the steering was turned to full lock—the timing belt snapped under the strain, and, well, you can imagine the carnage that ensued.

Lancia Gamma Interior

The interior is sensibly laid out and has a decidedly no-nonsense German appearance, mildly surprising for an Italian machine but perhaps understandable in light of the Gamma’s competitors: Executive coupes like the BMW E24, Mercedes SL and Jaguar XJS. At least the switchgear is mostly reliable, especially compared to that of its British and Italian rivals.

Lancia Gamma Engine Motor

The Gamma was never imported to the US. While that might seem superficially unfortunate, at least the car’s lovely shape and powerplant were never marred by the 5-mph impact bumpers, sealed-beam headlights and performance-killing emissions equipment that afflicted those of its contemporaries that did make the trip across the Atlantic. No, the Gamma remains unmolested by US regulations, and the 25-year-old import rule makes it fairly straightforward for a moderately-determined enthusiast to be able to buy one in Europe, ship it and register it here. Sourcing replacement parts would be a challenge, especially given the Gamma’s maintenance requirements, but like with so many lovely Italian machines, I think the rewards of driving one or hell, just looking at one would outweigh the hassles of ownership.

Image credits: ourclassiccars.co.uk, classicitaliancarsforsale.com, driventowrite.com

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Getting Hosed

May 18, 2016 by Our Sponsors

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It was simple in the old days, when you needed to repair a fuel line your auto parts store had rubber hose that they sold by the foot. All you needed to know is what size to buy. It’s a lot more complicated today. The problem, Paul Conte Chevrolet in Freeport, NY says is that gasoline today isn’t the petroleum-based product that it used to be. Most of today’s gasoline comes with ethanol mixed in. Ethanol can eat away at some rubbers, plastics and even metals. The result is that fuel line problems are becoming more common than in the past. So, we offer this guide to the car owner so that they can better understand the different types of gas line hoses you may find today:

Standard Neoprene

Standard neoprene fuel hose can be used for fuel and EEC systems on all vehicles where working pressures are under 50 psi or vacuum ratings are under 24″. For fuel line in particular, the neoprene hose has a covering that resists weathering, ozone and heat and can be used for both ethanol-laced fuels and diesel fuel. Neoprene fuel line is available in 1/8″ through 5/8″ sizes on bulk rolls, with additional 3′ sections of large 1-1/2″ through 2-1/4″ sizes available for gas filler neck applications. Neoprene with an outer steel braiding is also offered for custom applications.

High-Pressure Neoprene

High-pressure neoprene fuel hose for clamp-type fuel-injection systems is also available. This fuel hose uses a fluoro elastomer inner liner that will withstand up to 180 psi and 300 degrees. It is approved for all fuel blends including straight methanol, and the outer coating is also ozone- and abrasion-resistant.

Nylon Fuel Line

Many late-model production cars are now using hard, black nylon tubing with special connectors to attach fuel lines to the gas tank. This gas-resistant nylon tubing can be purchased by the foot or in short sections with the proper ends already attached to one end. Nylon tubing uses special barbed fittings that are inserted into the tubing, and the connection is then heated to shrink the tubing around the fitting.

Tygon Fuel Line

Small engines on your lawnmower, ATV or motorcycle use a gas-resistant vinyl tubing called Tygon. It is usually clear or transparent yellow in color. Tygon is available in short sections or on a large roll and can be rather expensive, but it will outlast the standard vinyl by many years. This is because Tygon fuel lines and do not turn brown and brittle after extended use, as vinyl tubing often does.

Note: Standard rubber vacuum or heater hose should never be used in fuel applications. The hose will deteriorate from the inside out and can plug fuel filters and carburetors with rubber debris, long before it springs an external leak.

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Existential Moments with the BMW

May 17, 2016 by Matt

2002 BMW 330i Orient Blue E46 Sedan

Do you have to drive your car, or do you get to drive your car?

Relegated to daily-driver duty, even the most special car can seem mundane to drive. What used to thrill us about its engine note, interior design or chassis balance recedes into the background of our commute. Its ergonomics are familiar and we focus more on the car’s little annoyances (every car has some) than on its essentially good qualities. We have to drive it, and the enjoyment of the experience is muted.

I’ve lived the emotional trajectory of enthusiast car ownership many times over the course of my 20+ year driving “career.” Like any good relationship, it takes intentionality to overcome the fade of initial spark of attraction. My truck is currently up for sale, so my 2002 BMW 330i will assume daily-driver responsibilities soon, and I worry that living with it every day will sap some of its emotional pull.

2002 BMW 330i Orient Blue E46 Sedan

From an automotive perspective, the cliche “absence makes the heart grow fonder” could be rewritten “lack of wheel time makes the heart grow fonder,” and it’s true that when the 330 has been down for repairs for a few days and I’ve had to drive the truck to work, I really itch to drive it again in a way I don’t when the BMW’s been my commuter all week. Also, I’m somewhat comforted by the fact that the daily wear and tear my “fun car” experiences is lessened, so I feel less guilty about exacerbating the car’s natural level of entropy by driving it.

I’ve had to make peace with the situation in a couple of ways; both of them, as mentioned above, require an intentional mental effort, but they’re worth it.

2002 BMW 330i Orient Blue E46 Sedan

The first is simply to remind myself, however long or short my tenure of ownership lasts, that I have the privilege of owning and driving a truly exceptional car. The 330i won every single comparison test that Car and Driver (and others) could throw at it during its model run. I remember leafing through those magazines, admiring the car’s abilities but considering it completely, utterly out of reach. And now one parks in my driveway at night. I get to drive it. The needles of its gauges swing through their arcs for my benefit. If it has an issue, it’s my responsibility to diagnose and fix it and hopefully improve the car in the process. I don’t write any of this in a bragging tone; but more simply a recognition and remind of what a great car BMW designed and screwed together, and how fortunate I am to be able to own one.

The second mental method I use to assuage my guilt over consigning the car to commuter duty is simply to accept that the car will deteriorate. It may sound obvious, but the reminder of that fact helps alleviate my low-level nervousness about small dings and scratches, or that some subsystem will suddenly go belly-up on the highway. It’s gonna happen, and when it does I will fix it. Parts can be replaced. Bodywork can be straightened and repainted, all in good time. The car is not old; there’s a huge supply of replacement parts out there, and whole industries with very talented people devoted to the cosmetic aspects of the car. Reminding myself of these givens helps me keep my priorities in line vis-a-vis life in general; it really is just a car, and I have a little while to enjoy it, so why ruin it with low-grade anxiety every time I’m behind the wheel? Doesn’t do anyone any good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few twisty roads to hunt down.

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A Treasure Trove of Japanese Imports

May 9, 2016 by Matt

Japanese Classics Richmond VA Website

This has become of one of my favorite internet hangouts lately.

Japanese Classics, a car importer based in Richmond, VA, has built what appears to be a thriving enterprise catering to the pent-up demand for JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicles recently unleashed by the 25-year import rule. The essence of the law is that for most states, any vehicle over 25 years old (as of this posting, that would be MY 1991) is exempt from crash and emissions testing and can be freely imported and registered. For the enthusiast market, it means that a whole crop of heretofore unavailable Japanese machines can now be bought and driven in the US. Vehicles we lusted after from afar are here. And Japanese Classics’ website, more than simply showing the outfit’s current inventory, really pulls out all the stops in creating very nicely photographed and detailed listings:

Japanese Classics Richmond VA Website

For car nerds like me who’ve had trouble finding pictures of, say, a Mazda JC Cosmo’s interior, or the engine bay of a Nissan Silvia K’s, the site is a veritable encyclopedia of obscure JDM cars. For anyone who’s ever played (especially the early editions of) the Gran Turismo video game series and wondered how all those cars we’d never heard of actually look in the flesh, it’s a revelation. I’ll be revisiting the site regularly. And while I’m quite content with my E46 for the time being, who knows; I may actually spring for one of the featured cars one day. Maybe in a few years when the R33 Skyline hits our shores?

Editor’s note: I have no affiliation with the Japanese Classics.

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Datsun 240Z Restoration:
The Teardown Begins

April 18, 2016 by Matt

240Z_noseoff1

Finally, some progress.

So I obviously haven’t made a lot of headway here in the past couple of years. Our previous installment took place in the spring of 2014, and since then, the Z has just been up on jackstands, languishing in the garage.

With the acquisition of the BMW back in January, I’ve been motivated to move the Z project forward so that, eventually, I can move it out of the garage to make room for the Bimmer to take up permanent residence. First, though, I had to put in place the element missing from the project for years, and one of the main things holding me back: Storage space.

Zstorage1

That’s the utility room off the back of our garage. On the opposite wall (not pictured) are a whole other swath of shelves holding household items, and the shelves shown in the picture are exclusively for Z parts. Disassembly essentially doubles the amount of room needed for a car, so without space for bumpers, fenders, seats, mechanical bits and the like, progress was stifled. What’s more, without a concrete organizational system, I just wouldn’t have been ready to dig into the project in a methodical fashion, an absolute must for a restoration effort.

240Z_noseoff2

By today’s standards, the Z really isn’t that complicated. But it’s complex enough—there are a number of overlapping subsystems, fasteners and other components. The storage space has really taken a load off my mind re:moving forward.

The actual disassembly so far, undertaken this past Saturday and Sunday, was quite straightforward and incident-free. I will sing the praises of the world’s best penetrant, PB Blaster, until my dying day. Most of the rubber weatherstripping and other pieces like hood bumpers and brake and fuel line grommets disintegrated, but that’s to be expected after 44 years. I broke a couple of bolt heads, but nothing terminal and the whole process felt a bit like an archaeology dig as I peeled away layers of peripheral parts like the brake booster and wiring harness. I was disheartened to see more rust than I had anticipated (there’s always more than you think there is), but encouraged by the fact that, upon inspection, both fenders may be usable in their entirety. We’ll have to see what the body guy says when he takes a look.

Editor’s note: This post is Part 22 of an ongoing series chronicling my efforts toward the restoration of my 1972 Datsun 240Z, originally my father’s. Read the other installments here:

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The Best 1950s Cars to Restore

April 16, 2016 by Our Sponsors

Have you always dreamed of restoring a 1950s classic car? Today, the cars of the 50s are considered great restoration projects because most of the replacement parts are being reproduced again. When finished, certain cars of the 1950s are quite valuable today too. In this article we will look some of the best 1950s cars to restore.

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1955-1957 Chevrolets
We have to start off our list of 1950s cars with the famous “Tri-Five” Chevys – the 1955, 1956 and 1957 models. These are tremendously popular cars and you can buy just about every single part of these cars today. The service guys at Bob Pulte Chevrolet in Lebanon, OH say the Tri-Five Chevys are not only easy to work on, they have huge following of enthusiasts worldwide ensuring that these cars will always be in demand.

1953_Packard

1950-1954 Packards
It used to be that the only desirable Packards were the cars of the 1930s and some of the 1940s. Today, the 1950s Packards are becoming sought after mainly because they are good looking cars too. As far as replacement parts are concerned, nearly all mechanical and electrical parts can be bought new. Body and trim pieces are still tough to locate so look for a vehicle that that is in pretty good shape to begin with.

1955_Caddy

1953-1957 Cadillacs
Finding a good, restorable example of these Cadillac models isn’t a hard task because so many were made. All Cadillac sedans made this year were of the hardtop body style, so they all have that fantastic long Fifties look. (Just Google 1955 Cadillac and take a look at length of the trunk!) Unfortunately, these year Cadillacs weren’t simple cars. Most all of them were loaded with power features so you have a lot of sub-systems to take care of. Fortunately, there is a very active club, the Cadillac-La Salle Club, that currently has thousands members that can provide assistance.

1956_StudebakerGoldenHawk

1956-1958 Studebaker Golden Hawks
Studebaker’s classy Golden Hawk is just a great looking car. Plenty were built, so you should have no trouble finding one to restore. At one time, restoration parts for Hawks were few and far between but that’s changed now. The Studebaker Hawks were relatively simple cars so they aren’t any more difficult to restore than your average Chevy or Ford. Thanks to their upscale character and smashing good looks, a well-restored Golden Hawk will make you a nice investment vehicle.

Image credits: cargurus.com, wallpapers.com, bluechipmotorcars.com, oldcarsweekly.com

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Forever Car: 2002 BMW 330i 5-Speed

January 16, 2016 by Matt

2002 BMW E46 330i 5-Speed Manual Orient Blue

This might be it.

I’d been wanting something interesting for a while, and I bided my time over the holidays, scanning Craigslist and Autotrader. I was looking for something German (BMW or Audi), made from the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s, with a manual transmission. Most of the cars in decent condition that fit that set of criteria were a couple of hours away, and I even roadtripped with my son to go see a B6 Audi A4. It was nice, but had a number of cosmetic defects that would have been expensive to fix, and the seller (a dealer) wanted too much for it already.

2002 BMW E46 330i 5-Speed Manual Orient Blue

Then, last Saturday, the car featured in this post popped up not 15 miles down the road. A 2002 BMW 330i, 5-speed, Orient Blue over gray interior, with only 135K on the odometer. I jumped on it. The seller was a local auto mechanic specializing in BMWs and other German cars. He’d just bought it off a trade-in at another dealership and hadn’t even had a chance to drive it yet before he put it up on Craigslist. It drove very well, had good power and was in great shape cosmetically outside a baseball-sized dent in the lower passenger side of the urethane bumper. The windshield was cracked all the way across, and there was a clunk coming from the right front wheel area at low speed. The car pulled slightly under braking and the shifter bushings were completely shot. Furthermore, the interior had that faint whiff of having been a smoker car. Still—none of the issues were terminal, the car’s mileage was low and the price was right. I bought it.

2002 BMW E46 330i 5-Speed Manual Gray Grey Interior Inside Console Cockpit

A week later, I’m still in love. The car has been debadged (removed the “330i” emblem), the windshield has been replaced and the front control arm bushings are new. The car is tight as a drum and—with the exception of the shifter bushings—drives perfectly. It’s a hair faster than my old 540i 6-speed and feels much more compact and nimble. I installed Koni yellow dampers in the 540i, and while they certainly benefited the larger car’s agility, the ride they provided could only be described as harsh. In contrast, the 330i, on its OEM sport suspension, strikes the perfect note, with a supple ride over the choppy stuff and a good set in the turns. Oddly, it doesn’t feel quite as balanced as my old 525i, but much more controlled and maneuverable. I’m starting to think the 525i’s handling feel was more a case of a big car with a smaller engine up front, with all the weight distribution advantages that offered, but that’s a post for another time.

BMW Engine Motor M54 M54B30 E46 330 330i

The E46 (1999-2005) 3-series was, at the time, BMW’s most popular model ever, and was offered in myriad different flavors, from convertibles to wagons to sedans to coupes, with a plethora of option packages and a number of styling variations and refreshes. I told my wife that if I could have ordered any non-M BMW new in 2002 and optioned it exactly the way I wanted it, it would have been this car. The air dam and rear apron: Perfect. The Style 68 wheels: Right on. The color combination: Love it. Even details like the sunroof delete (extremely rare for a US-bound E46), the heated seats and the premium Harman/Kardon stereo are precisely what I would have chosen. The original owner, who clearly special-ordered the car, had exquisite taste. I can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to be able to own it, drive it and work on it. I’m notoriously fickle when it comes to my affection for various cars, but if any car was a keeper, this is it. There’s not a thing I would change.

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