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Posts filed under ‘Miscellaneous’

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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3 Examples of Aesthetic Corner-Cutting

July 20, 2013 by Matt

Oldsmobile Aurora

No metal between the door and rear wheel arch. On the vast majority of cars, there’s a strip of bodywork between the rear edge of the door and the wheel well. It represents the outer lip of the inner fender and makes that area of the car looked tucked-in and finished. However, on some cars like the mid-’90s Olds Aurora shown above, the automaker decided to forgo the strip and bring the rear edge of the door all the way back to the wheel arch. While the result may have fewer bodywork edges, it also looks incredibly cheap.

Buick Riviera

Chrome wheels. Regrettably, GM seemed to be the worst offender when it came to cheap-looking styling in the ’90s. Rather than invest the resources to either make the wheel design more inherently appealing or complex or simply larger, GM’s idea of a “high-end” wheel was to take a very basic design and simply slap chrome on it. They apparently reasoned that the shiny stuff would provide the required showroom “flash” in lieu of, you know, actually styling the wheels.

Chrysler 200

Artificial window area enlargement. Shameless. Either properly enlarge the window area, or figure out how to make the C-pillar and greenhouse merge harmoniously, but for heaven’s sake, don’t cake on a kind of fakey-do artificial window mascara to camouflage the fact that you couldn’t crack the oh-so difficult puzzle of a sedan’s rear window treatment. Disgusting.

Image credits:,,

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On the Theraputic Nature
of Top Gear Challenges

June 18, 2013 by Matt

We need these.

By “we” I mean car enthusiasts, and by “these” I mean Top Gear segments wherein the trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May buy classic cars and subject them to a series of challenges, in the process often completely ruining their vehicles.

Watching bits like the Cheap Porsche Challenge (S5:E6, shown above), the Alfa Challenge (S11:E3) or my favorite, the Budget Supercars Challenge (S7:E4), I alternately double over with laughter at the hosts’ antics and cringe as they invariably subject the cars to gaudy paint jobs, cobbled-together modifications and thrash them around the track and on the street. Sure, the cars themselves aren’t expensive—the initial rules of each challenge specify the car must cost a pittance—but many of them turn out to be real diamonds in the rough, the kinds of cars enthusiasts would love to get their hands on and restore. It can be difficult to watch them “go to waste,” and it would be nearly unbearable except that the challenges are so amusing.

All that said, I think the challenges are good for car buffs to watch for another reason besides mere entertainment: As much as we revere our cars and the automakers that produced them, it’s good to be reminded, from time to time, that at the end of the day, they’re just cars. A Porsche, Alfa or Maserati can be dinged, scratched, abused and beat on the same as any other car; there’s nothing about a classic’s pedigree or reputation that gives it the kind of untouchable aura we risk bestowing on it if our only point of contact is through glossy car magazines or concours events. The TGUK challenges bring matters back into needed perspective even as their humor takes the edge off what would otherwise amount to a cringe-worthy desecration of our beloved classics.

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of Top Gear Challenges

PSA: Injury Hiatus

June 15, 2013 by Matt


Well, my new (to me) car got its pound of flesh. Eerily similar to an injury I had to my pinkie about ten years ago when working on my Supra’s driveshaft (you’d think I would have learned), the BMW’s left front wheel hub backing plate made a nice incision in my middle finger while undergoing a damper replacement, requiring five stitches. I was buttoning up a Koni Sport install, tightening the sway bar end link on the strut bracket and…the wrench slipped. As much as I’ll miss the tactile nature of car work with bare hands, I think it’s time to invest in a good pair of work gloves.

So, faithful readers, everything will be just a little slower for a few days while my finger heals, including updates. I’ll do my best to have some original content up in the next few days. In the meantime, check out our archives, featured series or one of the excellent blogs on the sidebar. Cheers!

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You Can’t Run From the Law in Dubai

May 31, 2013 by Matt

Dubai Police Cars

This simultaneously amazes me with the audacity of its spectacle and fits right in with what we’ve come to expect from our flush-with-oil-wealth Middle Eastern friends.

The police department of Dubai, United Arab Emirates—a city well-known for its over-the-top construction projects like the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest structure), among others—has begun amassing a collection of supercars that would put that of many auto moguls to shame. Just to list a few, they’ve snapped up a Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari FF, Mercedes SLS AMG, Bentley Continental GT, Chevrolet Camaro SS, BMW M6, Ford Mustang and top it all off, an über-rare Aston Martin One-77 and Bugatti Veyron. The Core77 article rightly points out that the majority of the acquisitions are two-seaters, making the detainment of a suspected malfeasant impossible, and that there are far more economical and effective ways to nab speeders in this day and age.

Like most everything else in Dubai, then, it’s done for the spectacle, the buzz, the attention. As much as I cringe at the idea of one of these exotic thoroughbreds on a police beat, it is kind of fun to imagine trundling along the highway, doing the speed limit while a teenager in a be-stickered Fast & Furious reject whizzes past and is subsequently nabbed by a highway patrolman in an Aventador. Visualize one of those in your rear-view mirror…

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Zen and the Art of the Oil Change

May 28, 2013 by Matt

BMW Oil Change

Did my first oil change of the new BMW 540i yesterday morning. It’s swimming in 8 fresh quarts of 15W-40 Shell Rotella T heavy-duty oil (love the stuff), pumped through a clean Mann filter element.

An oil change is always the first, or nearly the first service I perform on any new-to-me car. It amounts to a mechanical handshake of sorts, a chance for a new engine bay and its unique quirks and particularities to introduce itself. With the 540i, I can report than the process went very smoothly, the drain plug was a little tight in the initial going but loosened up, and the oil pour was quick considering how much of the liquid the engine drinks.

I love the activity. I love the rote mechanical nature of it and the fact that it’s a clearly delineated process of involvement with the lifeblood of the source of the car’s mobility. I even love its regularity. Changing oil isn’t infrequent enough to be relegated to the realm of the occasional repair, nor does it happen every week or even every month (depending on driving habits, of course), where it would become so regular as to be tedious and mundane. Fundamentally, it’s a ritual, and just like any ritual, it assumes a quasi-ceremonial significance, as if it were some kind of regular “sacrifice” to the car gods, or a kind of communion, a routine reconnection with the mechanical side of what can so easily fade into the background in the midst of our daily commute. I maintain that even if regular repairs are being performed, and grease has taken up permanent residence under my fingernails—even then, the oil change performs a necessary function: It re-centers me with respect to my relationship with the reciprocating bits under the hood; it serves as a kind of reset button for my mechanical inclinations.

With that in mind, I was slightly disappointed that an oil change on the 540i is marginally less complex than on the 525i. They both feature cartridge-style filters (instead of the standard spin-on type), which I love if only for the assortment of o-rings and crush-washers that come in the box with the filter element. The 540i’s canister lid, though, screws onto the filter housing body as a single piece, whereas the 525i’s employed a long through-bolt with extra sealing hardware to replace. I miss the extra complexity; the additional steps kept me involved in the activity that much longer—but never to the point of tedium.

In any event, whatever the car, no matter how inaccessible the filter or messy the process, an oil change remains an often-overlooked opportunity to find value in a simple, regular interaction with one’s car. I relish that.

Image credit:

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5 Cars That Dropped in Weight
and Were the Better For It

May 8, 2013 by Matt

Call it The Car Diet Hall of Fame. The automotive win-win scenario, losing poundage benefits every performance metric, from acceleration and braking to handling and fuel economy. The only conceivable downside, besides the potential for a loss of interior space, is the surrender of protective bulk attenuating the force of a collision, but careful engineering can mitigate that disadvantage almost entirely.

Adding weight, more features, more space, more heft seems to be the path of least resistance when it comes to car development. The following, then, represent somewhat anomalous engineering solutions; they’re the exceptions, and deserve to be recognized as such:

1993 Mazda RX-7 RX7 FD Red

1993-1995 Mazda RX-7. Its explosive performance was as much a result of its 255 hp twin-turbo rotary engine as its 2,850 lb curb weight, a figure the wizards at Mazda managed to pare down by 100 lbs compared to the previous generation.

Lexus LS400 UCF20

1994-1997 Lexus LS400. Already covered in our “Underrated Lookers” series, Lexus was able to trim the original LS400’s weight by 200 lbs for the follow-up, down to a remarkable (especially nowadays) 3,600 lbs. Its lighter weight directly contributed to a Car and Driver comparo victory over such lofty competition as the BMW E38 and Mercedes W124 E-Class.

2014 New Mazda 6 Six Red

2014-present Mazda 6. When I first got wind that a new 6 was forthcoming, as much a fan as I am of the looks and execution, I was nervous about its performance vis-a-vis its competition, since I thought a 145 hp 4-cylinder would be the only engine available with a manual transmission option. Turns out not only was my worry unfounded—the new 6 weighs in at a very trim 3,100 lbs, making it easier for the supposed engine’s meager power to move around—the 189 hp engine is the lowest output available, and that with a 6-speed manual option to boot. Looks, handling, weight, power: Win-win-win-win.

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Turbo Coupe Super

9th-Generation Ford Thunderbird. The 8th generation really represented the initial downsizing after the brutish land yacht wasteland of the ’70s, but the 9th generation was arguably when the Thunderbird finally found its newer, smaller footing, appropriating the very serviceable Fox chassis from the contemporary Mustang and the clean aero styling from the Taurus. The newer, smaller package holds a lot of appeal.

1996 Lotus Elise Silver

Lotus Elise. Singlehandedly responsible for the renaissance of the moribund brand, the Elise’s back-to-basics philosophy is almost entirely built around its featherlight, sub-2,000 lb weight. 500 more pounds and it would have been a non-starter, and Lotus would most likely be dead.

Given that cars that undergo a diet are almost universally praised for their dynamic qualities, while the additional space (if present) and features of the outgoing cars are rarely missed, it’s surprising that more automakers don’t prioritize light weight.

Image credits:,

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and Were the Better For It

In Favor of Debadging Your Car

May 6, 2013 by Matt

Debadged 1986 BMW 635CSi White E24

Debadged 1995 BMW 525i E34 Oxford Green

I was against it before I was for it.

The standard line of argument against debadging hinges on pride in a particular make and model. I’ve heard variations to the tune of “such-and-such car is one of the most prestigious and revered models to be made by this-and-that automaker; you should leave it on as a tribute to the car’s pedigree,” and so on.

I understand that; it used to be my very own line of thinking, but several years ago, during an online forum discussion about the subject, a contributor gave me a new perspective on debadging. He wrote:

Take it off.

I take any adhesive badges off my cars. If there weren’t holes/indents on some, I’d take them all off.

In general, I’m sick of corporatism and being constantly marketed to. Why should I carry and display a corporate logo wherever I go?

I like the cleaner look. I don’t know why I need to clutter up the rear, just to make sure everyone knows it is what it is. Who cares? It really is silly when you think about it.

I wouldn’t go as far as removing the actual brand logos like roundels and emblems—larger design elements of the car are often built around them and don’t work without them—but his overall point really struck a chord. After all, who are the model badges intended to inform? Those who don’t know what the car is; true enthusiasts are aware of what they’re looking at by the car’s lines and details alone. Why festoon my car’s decklid just to advertise what I have to those who aren’t interested in the first place? Like the contributor points out, from a certain perspective, it is a bit ridiculous. And, like him, I appreciate the cleaner no-badge look as well.

Needless to say, all my cars receive the dental-floss-and-adhesive-remover treatment soon after the title is signed over.

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A Collection of Cars That Were Debadged…
By Their Manufacturers

April 5, 2013 by Matt

In the automotive world, the ultimate badge of shame is the lack of one applied by the factory. The following are a few examples of cars effectively disowned by their manufacturers while they still remained in production.

Pontiac Aztek Yellow Rear

Pontiac Aztek. The modern byword for complete automotive failure, it appears Pontiac had an inkling that the Aztek’s reception would be…less than favorable almost as soon as it hit showrooms, and quietly downsized its badging. The car’s name is still present, but only in non-contrasting body colors, and the trunklid bears the smallest logo imaginable. I wonder if they repurposed the keychains from the Pontiac gift store in order to create the emblems?

Hyundai Genesis Silver

Hyundai Genesis. This one’s somewhat unfortunate, since by all accounts the Genesis is a very nice car, and pleasing (or at least not offensive) to look at as well. Conscious that potential buyers might harbor concerns about brand cachet, its manufacturer designed the car with an unadorned grille and hood, as shown above. Here’s an idea, Hyundai: Why not create a new luxury marque and release the car under that brand? It’s not like it’s never been done before, and would give you the opportunity to, you know, actually seem proud of the worthy car you’ve created?

1995 Buick Skylark Grille

Buick Skylark. Between its angular grille (which paid homage to that of the 1940’s Buick Special), and its overwrought, late-’90s-Pontiac-ish plastic body cladding, the 1992-1995 Skylark was hardly a looker. It had the potential to be attractive, but Buick seemed to take all its designers’ worst ideas and combine them on one car. Initially released with a badge, after a year or two the emblem was removed from the grille, the prominence of which made the design decision very obvious. The Skylark underwent a full refresh for 1996 and the result looked much more normal…if more forgettable. So it goes.

Kia Amanti Gray

Kia Amanti. Like the Genesis above, this is another case of an economy car automaker attempting to go upmarket, but worried (somewhat justifiably) customers would cringe at the idea of driving a “luxury Kia.” So off came the badge, leaving other drivers to wonder exactly what kind of car was filling their rearview mirrors. As for the Amanti itself, other than styling that slavishly aped that of the W210 and W211 Mercedes E-Class sedans, Kia’s first crack at an entry-level luxury car was merely serviceable.

Image credits:,,,

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By Their Manufacturers