Posts by Dustin Driver

My Midlife Crisis, or Adventures in Audi Maintenance

Posted in Beater Cars, Car Buying, European, European Review by Dustin Driver | January 15th, 2015 | Leave a Reply |

a4-desert

Sure, it’s not really that bad as midlife crises go. I mean, yes, when I hit midlife I did switch jobs three times and got divorced, but that’s more the result of a constant and chronic whole-life crisis, not one of the midlife variety. No, my midlife crisis was automotive. My vehicular partners have all been Japanese and reliable and, literally, colorless (silver, beige, white, black, gray). I had owned my 2003 Mazda Protégé 5 for 10 long years. It was a fun, zippy, practical, economical car that could really do anything. But at 37 something snapped and I decided I needed more elegance, more power, more refinement. Enter the A4.

About a year ago I became obsessed with Audis. Their clean, understated Bauhaus lines, their elegant interiors, their smooth power delivery, their formidable Quattro drivetrains. But I was afraid. Terrified of famously and disastrously complicated German engineering, of bank-breaking repairs and the inevitable ulcer they would induce. You see, I lacked the one prerequisite for blissful Audi ownership: Mountains of cash. A new Audi, blessed with a bumper-to-bumper warranty, was beyond my grasp (see job changes and divorce). If I got an Audi, it’d be old and I’d be on my own. I’d be playing a very dangerous game.

Still, I couldn’t stop scouring Craigslist for a deal. One day I found a local mechanic/Audi/VW dealership selling a minor unicorn (at least in my remote part of the world): A 2002 A4 Quattro with a 3.0 V6 and a six-speed manual. In shining Garnet Red with soothing taupe interior. A Teutonic masterpiece, an Autobahn bomber with dual climate zones and sport suspension. Mileage: 120,000. New clutch, timing belts, accessory belts, and tires. It simultaneously aroused me and set off blinding warning lights and deafening klaxons in the fight-or-flight center of my brain.

It was mid December and icy on the test drive. The 3.0 V6 hummed to life with German precision, all 30 valves working flawlessly to deliver a remarkably flat power band from idle to its 6,500 RPM redline. The gearshift was heavy and mechanical. The steering light, yet precise. One stab of the throttle and an easily controlled four-wheel drift across the icy Central Oregon roads and I was sold. The price was fair, a near even trade for the Mazda. Major work had been done. What could possibly go wrong? I drop-kicked caution into a canyon and took up the Challenge of the Four Rings—without an extended warranty or a live-in certified Audi mechanic.

Thus began my masterclass in Audi A4 maintenance and restoration.

a4

I’d love to say that the past year of geriatric Audi ownership has been trouble free, a delightful autumn drive through a wooded Bavarian valley. It has certainly been reminiscent of a Bavarian valley, just one under constant artillery bombardment by German forces, a smoking mire of charred trees and blood. Well, okay, it hasn’t been that bad. But it has been an enlightening and sometimes painful journey deep into the convoluted minds of German engineers.

Almost immediately the PCV valve went out, causing an erratic idle. My mechanic replaced it free of charge. Then both horns went out. An easy fix with a pair of aftermarket replacements. Then I noticed, to my dismay, that the foremost engine mount (snub mount) was completely missing—its rubber long since crumbled to dust. The other two engine mounts were also badly cracked and bleeding hydraulic fluid. Not to be dismayed, I recruited the help of a fellow wrench monkey and the two of us painstakingly replaced all three with upgraded aftermarket jobs from 034 Motorsports. Then it started mysteriously reeking of gasoline, but only when the tank was full. I sniffed around for the culprit, but could find no obvious leak. I shamefully admitted defeat and drove to my mechanic, who attributed the leak to a cracked rubber seal on top of the gas tank. Luckily it was an easy fix, but an expensive part.

Then there was an unfortunate off-road incident involving the oil cooler and a large rock that taught me a lot about the limitations imposed by ride height, or lack thereof. I don’t want to get into details, but that led to an almost total DIY overhaul of the cooling system, including a new radiator and coolant overflow tank. Oh, and two window regulators went out. Which I replaced. Twice. Long story.

But here’s the thing: I love the car. Maybe even more now than if it had been showroom perfect. Because I know it. I’ve scrabbled around under its grimy undercarriage more times than I can count, loosened and tightened countless fasteners, bathed and swallowed its lifeblood of coolant and oil, inadvertently bled into those same fluid system. I even learned a few words of German. This old, rickety A4 has, in Top Gear speak, become my mate. We are connected by a shared experience, by hours of companionship. It’s also something that I’m quite proud of. In this throw-away consumerist culture, fixing and restoring something old gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. I get to take things apart, admire (or scoff at) the engineering genius that went into them, then put them all back together again. Successfully. The process itself is meditative, temporarily occupying a raucous mind. It requires strategic planning, concentration, finesse, and contorted body poses that would tax the most experienced Yogi.

And I suppose in some ways that’s why I bought the A4. I knew, deep down, that it would need restoration and attention. It was something I could pour my energy into and get direct results. Replace engine mounts, get better throttle response. Fix radiator, stop leak. Polish paint, shiny. The A4 is therapy. It’s a soul-soother, a means of fighting off the sense of futility and worthlessness that comes with middle age. And it certainly costs as much as a good therapist.

I was going to compose a list of repair/restoration costs for the A4, but I quickly realized that such a list would unravel my psyche, plunge me into a fog of regret and self loathing. Instead, I’ll end on a positive note. The A4 has been a great car. It starts every time. It’s smooth and fast and shiny and capable. It’s packed with thoughtful features and it’s well designed. I think I’ll hold on to it. For a little while, at least.

The Bugatti 100P Lives

Posted in Bugatti, History by Dustin Driver | April 29th, 2013 | Leave a Reply |

Bugatti plane.

The Bugatti 100P is a streamlined organic flying manta ray with counter-rotating propellers and two screaming supercharged straight eights. It’s half flying machine, half H.P. dream. Bugatti only made one and sadly, it never flew the skies in anger. Now, however, a group of intrepid engineers are bringing it back to life in the form of a meticulous, full-size reproduction.

Ettore Bugatti built the 100P to compete in the 1939 Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup Race. This was the hay day of aviation, when winged monsters like the Gee Bee tore the skies asunder in pursuit of ultimate speed. Usually in the presence of an audience. It was by all accounts, incredible.

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Porsche Le Mans 1971

Posted in 24 Hours of LeMons, History, Porsche, Racing, Videos by Dustin Driver | April 28th, 2013 | 1 Response |

1971 Martini Porsche 917

Porsche is getting ready for its return to Le Mans in 2014. And it wants to remind you all that in 1971 it thoroughly and properly kicked ass. The monstrous 240-mile-an-hour 917 took first and second places, setting multiple records along the way. Oh, and 10 of the 13 cars that finished that year were Porsches.

In 1971 Porsche built the first magnesium-framed 917. The delicate birdcage of highly flammable and ultra-lightweight metal weighed just 42 kilograms, or 92 pounds. The frame was swathed in gossamer sheets of flowing fiberglass and perspex and given menacing tail fins. Then Porsche gingerly installed their latest creation: A magnesium and titanium air-cooled flat 12 good for more than 600 horsepower. The results were positively manic. Click through to see a highlight reel from the season, featuring the tarmac-swallowing, fire-breathing, time-warping 917.

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Ultimate Shag Wagon

Posted in GMC, History by Dustin Driver | April 27th, 2013 | Leave a Reply |

77-GMC_9

The Vixen RV and its campy promo video has gone viral. But, really, the Vixen was a miserable lump and an almost complete failure. The GMC motorhome, however, was the ultimate in RV luxury and technology, a shagadelic masterpiece of late ’70s style. It’s one of the most advanced motorhomes ever devised, featuring fully independent suspension, front wheel drive and a great, big torquey V8. Custom murals optional.

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Hellfire: Turbine-Powered Triumph

Posted in Bizarre, Cool Stuff, Custom, Triumph by Dustin Driver | April 26th, 2013 | 4 Responses |

Triumph Spitfire with turbine engine.

The Triumph Spitfire is adorable. It’s perky. It’s sweet. And that’s exactly why it needs a screaming, searing, sky-splitting, pavement-melting turbine engine from a helicopter. The appropriately named StanceWorks forums member godzillus is installing a 320-horsepower Allison T63C18 turbine into a rusty Spitfire as you read this post. Oh, and it’s a senior design project for engineering school. Who said school isn’t any fun?

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Lament for Fisker

Posted in auto industry, Fisker, News by Dustin Driver | April 10th, 2013 | 3 Responses |

Fisker Karma041

It seems Fisker is finally succumbing to the relentless seas of misfortune. It’s been battered by storms, supplier problems and financial troubles. Founder Henrik Fisker has fled. Its workforce has been laid off. Nearly all of them. Things are grim. But should petrol-guzzling, tire-burning, fire-breathing gear heads like you care? Yes. Yes, you should.

You should care about Fisker for one simple reason: It’s disruptive. The automotive industry is big, old and stagnant. It moves at a glacial pace and changes very little. Fisker, and other new car companies, are free to innovate, to explore new technology, and to do crazy things like use a turbocharged Pontiac Solstice engine just to spin a generator.

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The One True Zombie Apocalypse Vehicle. Really.

Posted in Alt Fuels, Biofuel, Pop Culture by Dustin Driver | October 30th, 2012 | 3 Responses |

Ah, zombies. You’ve shambled into our psyches and captured our collective conscience like no other. Is it your chilling resemblance to our mindless consumerist culture? Or is it simply that we all want to brain each other with blunt objects? At any rate, we obviously want you to take over. When you do, we’ll be driving this. It’s the HEMTT A3 Diesel Electric by Oshkosh. It’s an armored, eight-wheel-drive beast that can run on diesel, biodiesel and even veggie oil. And it carries its own power station.  Read More…

Orange: The Best Color Ever

Posted in Design, History, McLaren, News by Dustin Driver | September 27th, 2012 | 2 Responses |

The new McLaren P1 dropped last week and it’s orange. Just like its grandaddy, the achingly awesome F1. Why? Because orange is the best color ever. It’s not garish and angry like red or psychotically cheery like yellow. No, it’s eye-searingly incredible and it tells the universe: I mean business. Read More…

Found: Mazda 1800 Sedan

Posted in Classic, Collector Cars, History, Mazda by Dustin Driver | September 25th, 2012 | 1 Response |

I kinda have a thing for Mazdas. Even the lowliest Mazda dances like a Braavosi sword master . But most Mazdas aren’t what you’d call beautiful. This 1972 Mazda 1800 sedan, however, is simply stunning. And for good reason: It was penned by one of the most legendary automotive designers in history. Here in the US, the 1800 is exceedingly rare. Only 2100 or so were imported. This 1800 is for sale on Craigslist for the low price of $4500.

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Crower Six Stroke

Posted in Car Tech, Emissions, Environment, Gas Prices by Dustin Driver | September 21st, 2012 | 3 Responses |

We’re all familiar with the venerable Otto cycle—intake, compression, expansion, exhaust. But that’s just not enough for veteran race engine builder and performance aftermarket mogul Bruce Cower. He added another two. The Crower Six Stroke promised to boost power and efficiency while eliminating the cooling system altogether years ago. So what happened to the concept engine? 

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