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An Update on E46 Life

May 2, 2017 by Matt

BMW E46 330i 2002 Orient Blue

Well into my 16th month of BMW 330i ownership, and things are as rosy as ever.

Over the past year and a bit and 17K miles, the car’s thrown a bunch of issues at me, but nothing too difficult to diagnose or solve. And it drives as well as ever—better in fact, since a number of parts such as cracked intake boots were replaced, and they were likely in the process of failing when I purchased the car.

The two biggest game-changers when respect to diagnosis and repair are the OBD2 app I purchased for my iPod, along with a transmitter interface that connects to the car’s OBD2 port; and the smoke tester I used to locate the vacuum leaks that were the source of a number of issues a month ago. The E46’s M54 engine is very sensitive to vacuum leaks, and if one is present, it can throw a variety of lean and misfire codes that make no sense as the DME (ECU) tries to adjust various parameters to compensate for the unmetered air. Hence the first course of action once the “check engine” light illuminates is usually to hook up the smoke tester and try to suss out a leak. I bought the $90 model from this site and couldn’t be happier. The only alternatives are the cheap YouTube method using a cigar and a hand pump, or shelling out many hundreds of dollars for a shop-quality smoke tester. The Stinger unit is very easy to use and does exactly what I need it to do. Highly recommended for anyone who drives a car with a mass airflow sensor or air flow meter and depends on a leak-free intake.

There are still a number of outstanding issues to tackle in the coming months, as time and finances allow:

  • I put a nice little crease in the driver’s rocker panel when the car slipped off the jack cradle when I was replacing the shift bushings last year. So that’ll need to be replaced.
  • The cowl piece surrounding the base of windshield wipers is crumbling. No leaks; just an eyesore.
  • The whole car could use a good detail. Finding time to do it properly is probably my biggest challenge.
  • Another E46 owner very generously gifted me an adapter to connect an AUX input to the factory wiring for a CD changer. Need to install.
  • The AM (and FM) radio reception is marginal. Need to diagnose and fix.
  • The passenger-side front inner fender liner is still missing. It’s tough to find a replacement compatible with the rare-ish MTech1 bodykit.
  • Long-term, I’d like to replace the shift pin detents inside the transmission in order to cure a persistent notchy shifting issue, but that will require dropping the trans. Maybe when the clutch goes…
  • Would like to install an M3 steering wheel. This is a direct replacement, is more attractive than the Sport wheel, and it has molded-in hand grips, which I like.
  • There’s a small A/C leak somewhere. I recharged the system last summer, and when the weather turned warm again this spring, I discovered the A/C was warm again. A couple of cans of R134a later and it’s ice-cold, but it still means I have a leak somewhere.

I still love driving it, even if it’s my daily driver. It still turns my head when I’m walking away; the proportions are dead-nuts perfect. My automotive promiscuity still rears its ugly head from time to time, but a quick reminder of what I’m driving and the desire to acquire something else subsides. On that last point, one mental technique that works especially well is to remind myself of how much I miss various car’s I’ve owned and sold, and then to extrapolate that to imagine how much I would miss the E46 if I sold it. It’s a safe bet that the feeling of regret associated with unloading the 330i would trump that of any other car I’ve sold. She’s still a keeper.

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Corvette Museum’s Sinkhole Exhibit

December 2, 2016 by Our Sponsors

Corvette Museum Sinkhole

In case you didn’t hear about the collapse of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky just a few years ago, here’s what happened. In the early morning hours of February 12, 2014, the floor under museum’s main display dome gave way and eight very special Corvettes fell into a deep subterranean sinkhole. Just like that, the Earth swallowed up eight irreplaceable Corvettes. When the museum’s own security footage of the disaster made its way to news organizations, it became an international event. Though the owners of the museum quickly removed the undamaged cars from the museum and rescued the mangled ones, the buzz from the story turned the museum into a major tourist destination virtually overnight.

After the disaster, the museum’s board of directors wanted to rebuild the museum and repair and display the damaged Corvettes as soon as possible. After all, the National Corvette Museum is a source of national pride for many stakeholders. There was no question that this needed to occur as soon as possible. However, the museum had immediately become an attraction because of the cave-in. The museum attendance had more than doubled and this was important because more paying customers allowed the museum to pursue its goals easier. After much discussion, then, several members of the board suggested that the cave-in incident become part of the museum’s new displays. And that’s exactly what happened.

Today, the Corvette Cave In, as the museum is now called, features both aspects of its history. First, the Corvettes that fell into the sinkhole have been fully restored. This was a major task, since they were heavily damaged during the disaster. Now, all the original Corvettes that were present, damaged and undamaged, are back on display for enthusiasts to see. In addition to the Corvettes, the museum now includes a primer on Kentucky’s karst landscape of underground caves, the sort that gave in to create the sinkhole in the first place. Who would have thought that a museum dedicated to American automobile technology would become a major science exhibit too?

So if you are in Bowling Green any time, the folks at Wolf Chase Chrysler in Memphis, TN, just a short drive away from Bowling Green, encourage you to visit this new, unusual museum. Not only will you be able to view some of America’s most famous and significant Corvettes, you will be treated to a first-rate geology lesson concerning Kentucky’s landscape of underground caves.

Image credit: foxsports.com

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Boring or Brilliant? Ferrari 456

November 20, 2016 by Matt

Ferrari 456

Is it an understated study in minimalism and proportion, or an overly-timid effort by a design house whose visual currency is Italian passion? The Ferrari 456, produced from 1992-1997, and from 1998 to 2003 in upgraded 456M guise, was the automaker’s top-of-the-line grand tourer, designed to convey two occupants (and their small children in the occasional rear seats) across continents in peerless style at breathtaking speed. Capable of cruising effortlessly for hours at triple-digit speeds, Ferrari equipped the 456 with its most powerful non-supercar mill, a 5.5l, 442-hp V12, and the car could be specified with either a 6-speed gated manual or a 4-speed automatic. The cabin is supremely comfortable and the chassis brilliantly capable, especially considering the car’s two-ton curb weight.

Ferrari 456

All that said, is it exciting enough to warrant a place alongside Ferrari’s greatest? There’s little dispute the car the 456 replaced in the automaker’s lineup, the unlamented yet underrated 412, is generally considered a sub-par effort, so the 456 arrived unburdened by the expectations inherent in following a truly outstanding Ferrari. Also, the market niche the 456 occupies is slightly different than that targeted by Ferrari’s bread-and-butter models like the contemporary F355, with a prospective buyer a bit more reserved, perhaps less interested in a hair-raising joyride than drivers of the smaller Ferraris.

Ferrari 456

Still, the idea of a Ferrari means something to enthusiast community, and given the strength of the brand, to the wider public as well: Speed, passion, excitement and a touch of flamboyance. Does the 456 live up to that preconception? I think it does, but it takes patience to extract those qualities from its shape and demeanor. The dramatic side cuts on the flanks of the car, for instance, and the way the character lines on its flanks change from concave to convex as they move back toward the rear—these elements admirably bridge the design gap between Ferrari’s outré ’80s and more restrained ’90s visual vocabulary. I love the way the 456’s proportions are allowed to come to the fore, accented with touches like the fender-top vents (sadly eliminated for the 456M) and the very obviously staggered 5-spoke wheels.

Ferrari 456

Above all, the 456 looks timeless and tailored, like an Armani suit, a shape with far more longevity than either the 412 that preceded it or its successor, the truly awful 612 Scaglietti. Would it look out of place in Ferrari’s current lineup? Perhaps—but the 456’s owners can rest easy knowing they have the pleasure of driving one of Ferrari’s truly classic shapes. And given my penchant for big GTs, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a bit jealous.

Image credits: classicandperformancecar.com, sportscarbible.com, autozine.com, autowpaper.com

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Movie Stars: The McLaren P1

October 22, 2016 by Matt

Editor’s note: Content advisory (language) in the clip above.

McLaren’s P1 hypercar is featured in the music video for The Weeknd’s new single, but it’s not the only piece of high-dollar machinery name-dropped by the Canadian R&B artist.

Overlaying the insistent beat, the singer seems to simultaneously flaunt and lament his fortune and what it’s turned him into. The video mirrors this concept, showing The Weeknd at first reveling in the tokens of his fame before systematically trashing them after the first chorus. The cars escape the carnage, and it’s a good thing, too, since the singer shows excellent automotive taste. He mentions his Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, Bentley Mulsanne and of course, the aforementioned P1 in the song, and gives us a glimpse of the first two before a lovely nighttime montage of the McLaren driving down Mulholland Drive with The Weeknd at the wheel. The nighttime setting gives the P1 an opportunity to display its quasi-alien lines and driving light arrangement to good effect, and nicely compliments the surreal tone of the video. Billboard reports the British carmaker was unaware the singer would include the car in his video, but was pleasantly surprised at the free publicity. All-in-all, it’s a worthwhile fusion of visuals and music, with some very heavy-hitting automotive iron thrown in.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing cars which featured prominently on film or television. Read the other installments here:

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I Hate Black Wheels on Cars

October 10, 2016 by Matt

ford-mustang-black-wheels

It’s over. Done. Played. The party’s over. The fad has reached its tipping point, its 15 minute of fame are up, etc etc.

Black wheels, I mean. Cannot stand them. I maintain that they were never attractive to begin with, but even allowing for the ebb and flow of popular taste, the trend is decidedly far past its expiration date.

Why the hate? Simple: When the wheels are painted black, the wheel design does not stand out and does not complement the car’s lines. Might as well be running steelies with no hubcaps. Especially complicated wheel shapes, which otherwise would harmonize with the styling of the vehicle to which they’re fitted simply disappear in a mass of black nothingness.

jag-f-pace-black-wheels

This epidemic is present everywhere, from expected places like wheel-and-tire ads in magazines to muscle cars even to factory fitment on $100K luxury SUVs like Jaguar’s new F-Pace (above). Visually, it does not work and has never worked. The design intent may be to make the car seem more badass and muscular, but the effect is to erase any visual gains by making the car seem like it has an egregious brake dust problem on all 4 wheels.

It’s time for a de-escalation of the wheel size arms race anyway, and a side effect of black wheels is to camouflage its true diameter. Perhaps if a car’s wheels flaunted a brighter finish, people would recoil in horror at their vehicle’s stonking rollers and demand a bit more tire sidewall. One can only hope…

Image credits: autocar.co.uk, bauercdn.com

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All About Airbags

October 9, 2016 by Our Sponsors

airbags

Some people were worried that they would be trapped in their vehicles when accidents occurred when car manufacturers began putting seat belt contraptions in vehicles in the 1950s. Despite early beliefs, however, most states in the United States have adopted seat belt laws today.

Like seat belts, the concept of the airbag—an inflated pillow to land against during a crash—was controversial. An airbag’s goal is simply to slow the passenger’s forward motion down as evenly as possible during a crash. The process begins with signals from motion sensors. When one of the sensors detects a large collision-level force, the car’s airbag inflation system receives an electrical pulse. Typically, that ignites a charge that produces a warm blast of nitrogen gas to drive the airbag out from its storage site.

Since auto airbags’ early days, experts have cautioned that airbags are to be utilized in conjunction with seat belts. Seat belts are still needed because airbags originally worked only in front-end collisions happening at more than 10 mph. Only seat belts could help in side swipes and crashes (although side-mounted airbags are becoming common), rear-end collisions and secondary impacts. Even as more and more technological features come about, airbags still are only effective when used with a seat belt.

It didn’t take long to learn that an airbag’s force can hurt those who are too close to it, particularly children. Experts agree that children aged twelve and under need to ride buckled up in a properly installed, age-appropriate car seat in the car cabin’s rear. This is also what the sales team at Bosak Honda Michigan City, a full-service car dealership in Michigan City, IN, recommends.

A Brief History of the Airbag

Around the same decade that seatbelts appeared patent applications for airbag devices did. As early as 1951 John Hedrick from the United States and Walter Linderer from Germany applied for some patents. Hedrick received a patent—U.S Patent #2,649.311– for a “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles,” while Linderer’s German patent #896312 was for a compressed air system that was released by either the driver or by bumper contact. It was in 1968 that Allen Breed invented a “sensor and safety system.” This was the first electro-mechanical automotive airbag system on the planet.

In 1971 the Ford vehicle brand built an airbag fleet for experimentation. A 1970s Chevrolet automobile had airbags in cars sold only for U.S. government usage. A couple decades or so later airbags—particularly ones for the driver and front passenger—became mandatory in all passenger cars. Most all controversy of the airbag wore away as time passed.

Did You Know That You Can Deactivate Airbags?

In certain cases, car owners can request the ability to deactivate their airbags. You can not usually deactivate your airbag without installing a retrofit on-off switch. However, if a retrofit on-off switch is not yet available (from the car manufacturer) for your car, the U.S government will authorize airbag deactivation on a case-by-case basis in appropriate situations.

Image credit: thecarconnection.com

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Local Finds: 1974 Opel Manta Rallye

October 7, 2016 by Matt

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

It’s always nice to see an example that’s obviously received some care and feeding during its lifetime. Most Spannerhead readers know I have a real soft spot for the Opel Manta, so I was pleased when this ad popped up.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The seller is asking $4,200, an entirely reasonable price for a Manta in the condition shown, especially since—by the seller’s description—there’s very little rust, and none of it structural. The color doesn’t really appeal, but the paint appears to be in good nick. If I bought it, I would consider painting the hood to match; the black hood was part of the “Rallye” trim package and doesn’t really jive with the brown.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The above really represents the Manta’s best view. The mini-pony car proportions are shown to good effect and the simple, cohesive lines draw together nicely at the rear. I don’t even mind the federally-mandated crash bumpers. Are they big? Sure. Would I prefer the thin chrome bumpers fitted to the 1970-1972 cars? Yes I would. But they’re not a dealbreaker.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

I believe the seats are aftermarket pieces, or at least not original to the Manta, although they look period and quite comfortable to boot. The aformentioned Rallye trim package includes a tachometer and additional auxiliary gauges.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The car is equipped with a 1.9l CIH 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission. As much a fan as I am of rowing my own gears, I’d gladly make an exception for the Manta, since the whole point of ownership isn’t about performance so much as style and presence. When it was first released, the Manta boasted very competent handling, but nowadays an average modern family sedan could wipe the asphalt with it in the corners. Owning and driving one, then, would be about cruising and enjoying the elemental feel of a little gem of a car from the 1970s.

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