Tag Archives: mazda

Cars in the Wild

It’s fascinating how automobiles can embody human emotions and ideas. For example, if you wanted to define “finesse” in the automotive realm, cars like the Lotus Elise or Mazda Miata would fit the bill perfectly. Both are lightweight, nimble, and give a sense of connection and fluidity like few others can. When describing the essence of those cars, Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s famous philosophy, “Simplify, then add lightness” couldn’t ring more true. The car featured in this edition of Cars in the Wild, the Dodge Viper R/T 10, is exactly none of those things.

IMG_2203

If the Elise is a scapel, the Viper is a rusty sledgehammer; if the Miata is a happy Terrier who’s eager to frolic and play, the Viper is an irritated pit viper who’s thinking about making a lunge at your face. The early Dodge Vipers contributed greatly to the stereotype that America’s supercars are really only good for going in straight line. Refined? An exquisite handler? A predictable gentleman’s racer? These things the Viper is not. But, IMG_2202what it may lack in traditional measurements of performance, it more than makes up for in character and excitement. I mean, just look at it – that hood! Those steamroller tires! The center exit exhaust! You get the impression that Dodge just kind of slid some money across the table to a group of wild eyed engineers and said, “Well, it needs to say Dodge on the car somewhere, and having it actually work would be great, but other than that, have fun.”

This particular car is a second generation model, produced between 1996 and 2002. Under that endless hood lies a colossal 8.0-liter V10, which can trace its roots back to the first-generation Viper’s Lamborghini-designed engine. Despite its monstrous size, the engine actually only develops 415 horsepower. Still, these second-gen Vipers were a marked improvement in every way over the original car. It’s faster and lighter, and while it looks similar, there were enough changes to warrant calling it a new generation model. The Viper mauls its way to 60 mph in about four seconds (which is properly quick, even by today’s standards), and runs onto a 185 mph top speed. And, while crisp handling dynamics are not this car’s forte, cornering and performance limits are high enough to make it worthy of the supercar mantle.

IMG_2201As the Viper has evolved, not only has it finally become more refined, but the performance threshold has continued to climb. Much of this is due to the car’s success in a variety of racing series. The current-generation Viper comes packing an even larger engine (8.4-liters!) and makes 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque. With the help of carbon fiber and aluminum, it is lighter and sharper than any versions before it, and with dollops of leather and plenty of Fiat money, it’s now more comfortable and upscale than any other Viper as well. While time and development have improved it’s maturity, it’s core DNA still reflects the original car’s recipe of intensity and brute force over delicacy and finesse.

There is no shortage of supercars that are superior to the Viper – some accelerate faster, others are better on a racetrack or have a more prestigious pedigree – with nearly all costing many times more. But, few can pull off the level of panache and intensity of this legendary all-American bruiser. The Dodge Viper, like the Chevrolet Corvette, brings a unique brand of performance to the table at a price that people other than oil tycoons and Crown Princes can afford. Flaws and all, the world would be a far duller place without the Viper, and that’s why we love it. *cue billowing American flags and fireworks*

Queen City Cars & Coffee III

Queen City Cars & Coffee is back! The past two years hosting this show have been absolute blast, and I’m stoked to be putting it on again this year. Last year, over 90 cars attended, about 30 more than the first year. For QC3 (just made that name up right now and I dig it) the goal is set at 125 cars. Let’s rally together and make it happen! Invite your friends, invite their friends, invite people that aren’t your friends, invite your grandma, your neighbor, the guy who cleans your septic tank, it doesn’t matter. Just invite them. I genuinely think we have the chance to create something epic and put the Manchester car scene on the map. This year’s show is on Saturday, September 13 from 8am to 12pm at the Arms Parking Lot in Manchester, NH. Be sure to follow @_DoranD_ and @TopDeadCenter on Twitter for updates. I’m beyond fired up for this, and I can’t wait to see everyone there!

qccc14_print

The Torque Tube: Synaptic3 Performance

Synaptic3 Performance is a prime example of what this website was started for. Located in an out-of-the-way, unassuming business park in the fully unassuming town of Candia, NH, brothers Ron and Dana Salb have created a world-class performance shop that is turning out some of the most complete builds to be found on either road or track. Simply pulling into the shop’s parking lot is proof enough that Ron and Dana are for real. A handful of Synaptic3 tuned and customized Mazda RX-7s, RX-8s, and Subaru STIs effortlessly shatter the cloudy, dull gray that permeates this late fall day—deep paint hues, pearlescent carbon fiber hoods, and lithe, aggressive stances make for a striking welcome party.

IF

The seeds of Synaptic3 Performance have been taking root for years. Ron and Dana starting tinkering with friends’ cars as well as their own, using their parent’s garage as an impromptu shop. Both Ron and Dana have kept their lives and careers woven around the automotive industry and have continued to build Synaptic3 even while pursuing school or other interests. The brother’s diverse skill sets, along with their infectious enthusiasm, is the driving force behind Synaptic3 and its growing success.

The Synaptic3 that exists today began in large part because of the rally scene. The ability of Ron and Dana to fabricate FIA-spec IFrollcages really helped jumpstart the company. The result has been Synaptic3 tuned cars that have not only competed in Rally America, but have won rally championships as well.

“While we have a fair amount of exposure in Rally, it’s actually a pretty small sport and community,” said Dana in an email interview. “We’ve worked on a half a dozen full blown rally cars. Some started out as virgin chassis, other were revamps of previous rally cars that were gutted and rebuilt to bring up to current class specs. We’ve covered everything from building FIA spec roll cages and chassis preparation… to doing motors builds, setting up suspensions, building wiring harnesses, fuel systems, and safety systems, etc.”

Two things are readily apparent immediately after stepping into Synaptic3’s crowded, but clean, shop. #1, the market for customization is as unique diverse and the people who enjoy it—a customer’s race-prepped Porsche awaits its turn on the lift, several Mazda RX-7s sit in various stages of completion and manage to look fast even while motionless, and a Nissan Sentra Spec-V is getting finishing touches on its crazy custom turbocharger setup. And #2, the guys here are really good at what they do.

“We’re currently working on a forced induction application for a brand new Nissan Sentra Spec-V. The customer is very contentious about the details. It’s going to be quite the sleeper. We have a number of big turbo Subaru’s being built and a host of third generation RX-7s for street, track, and show all leading into the winter.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things that makes this shop so special is the level of engineering and attention to detail that even the smallest parts receive. Case in point—Ron and Dana stick their heads under the hood of the turbo Spec-V to explain in detail all the time and effort that went into designing a single bracket used to move a part out of the way of the new turbo piping. Beautifully fabricated and covered in crackle finish, it’s a small but perfect example of their work.

“We can build you a tube chassis frame, an award winning stereo system, install and dial-in your track suspension, or turbocharge and tune your daily driver,” said Dana. “Two members of our staff have Bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Design (product design), so we can come up with solutions and execute them in a unique and effective manner.

A range of cars find their way under the wrenches at Synaptic3, but Ron and Dana’s specialty is tuning Japanese cars. They have found that Japanese cars are a preferable platform to work from because they begin life at the factory with a superior level of quality and allow for higher levels of tuning and customization.  This mirrors their own quasi-obsessive standards.

“We adhere to our own best practices that we’ve developed over the years. We sweat the details, and will not cut corners to get a job done quickly. Many customers have told us it is that reputation that has brought them to us. We take the time to make sure aftermarket components not only fit but allow for service in the field should it be necessary.”

IFWhen a car comes into the shop, Ron and Dana’s first mission is to figure out what exactly a customer is looking for. Instead of getting right to work, they start with questions—Do you know what you’re looking for? Are you going racing with the car? What kind of racing? What is the purpose for upgrading? A concerted effort  is made to clearly define what the customer is looking for, and then working to build a solution that meets or exceeds the customer’s end goals.

One of the significant customer service elements that Ron and Dana employ is to take meticulously detailed photos the car in its various build stages. Synaptic3’s website has literally thousands of such photos and they provide a unique glimpse into the kind of work Ron and Dana are capable of.

Next to Synaptic3’s main building is an unassuming steel shed that serves as the company’s dedicated dynamometer room. Inside it has to  2010-09-17_00001be one of the most thorough dyno setups ever put together. Instead of being installed into the floor, the all-wheel-drive Mustang 500SE unit sits above the floor, allowing for easier access to  car’s underside and the dyno’s moving parts. Built directly into the wall facing the dyno are four giant fans capable of pushing 40,000 cfm through the room, while a dedicated exhaust fan sucks fumes out from the back of the building. Like anything Ron and Dana do, this facility was heavily researched and designed to meet their exacting standards, and it’s clear the guys are proud of the setup.

When asked if he could describe what Synaptic3 was all about in one word, Dana paused, let out a deep breath, and thought for a moment. He then looked up and said, “Dedication.” And, after seeing the inner workings of the shop and spending several hours with Ron and Dana, there couldn’t be a better word to describe Synaptic3. To learn more about the company and how they can help you on your next project, be sure to visit the Synaptic3 website at www.Synaptic3.com, and ‘Like’ the Facebook page.

Welcome, Synaptic3 Performance, to The Torque Tube.

IF

Many thanks and much respect to Dana and Ron for their time and energy for this piece, and for allowing me to poke around their shop.

Cars in the Wild

In my feeble brain, the general rule of thumb has always been that the more expensive and powerful a car is, the more I want it. Doesn’t matter if it’s new age or old school, if it makes a ton of power, looks the business, and causes my wallet to wilt in fear, that’s the car I have to own. Take Ferraris for example. Sure, you can tune your GT-R or Audi or Evo to make more power than, say, the Ferrari 458 – there will always be people with a faster car than you, no matter what you drive – but there is something about that emblem, that power, that noise, and that name that makes me want to mash the loud pedal to the floor and ride its sonic waves all the way to Valhalla. Its a strange thing then, that there is a small, inexpensive, and comparatively slow car being featured on this edition of Cars in the Wild. Welcome, everyone, to the car that defies my own status quo – the Subaru BRZ.

Here’s the deal – The BRZ makes 200 horsepower, does the 0-60 mph shuffle in a shade over six seconds, and costs around $26,000. Those figures don’t exactly make me tingly all over, if I’m honest. So if that’s the case, why is this car being featured in the most honorable segment of the most prestigious automotive website in all the land? Because the BRZ does something many high-end sports cars and the great majority of inexpensive cars don’t – it drives. The BRZ was never meant to compete with Chevrolet Corvettes or BMW M3s or Porsche 911s. The premise on which it was built is the same as the one that underpins the legendary Mazda MX-5 (Miata) and the nimble offerings from Lotus – low weight, sublime handling, and the tactile driving experience over bloated belt lines and prodigious horsepower.

200 horsepower may not seem like much (and it isn’t), but when it’s responsible for motivating a relatively svelte 2600 pounds and the whole package has a balanced and progressive chassis, you’re left with a controllable and enjoyable driving experience that focuses on mastering the craft of driving. The BRZ was born from a most unlikely corporate marriage between Subaru and Toyota which actually resulted in the creation of two sister cars to the BRZ – the Scion FR-S and the Toyota GT-86. Here in the US, we only receive the Scion and Subaru versions, while the Toyota badged model is relegated to the European market. The Subaru-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine sits deep in the BRZ, giving it a terrifically low center of gravity. The fastidious attention paid to balance, weight, and handling by the car’s engineers makes the BRZ a unique and compelling rival to cars like the the Nissan 370Z, Ford Mustang, and the V-6 Chevrolet Camaro. Need proof? Check out this fantastic comparison from Drive on the BRZ and the Mustang HERE.

When perusing the interwebs in search of car reviews and videos (which happens probably more than it should), I naturally default to Googling stuff like “Lamborghini” or “drag racing” or “epic burnouts”. It’s a rare day that I take the time to read or watch something about a car that costs less than several houses and makes fewer than a whole kingdom’s worth of horse-power. That changed, however, with the BRZ. I appreciate it in a different way than I appreciate cars like the Ferrari 458 – it’s a compelling, exciting and inexpensive sports car born out of an inspiration rather than from a marketing team or a budget committee. Thank you, Subaru/Toyota/Scion for making this car. I. Must. Own. It.

The Torque Tube: On the track with Guardian Angel Motorsports

In this edition of ‘The Torque Tube’, TDC caught up with Bruce Ledoux from Guardian Angel Motorsports on his participation in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. This year marked the 50th anniversary of this legendary race on the steep banking at the Daytona Speedway, and it proved to be a memorable weekend for everyone involved. To learn more about GAM, check out their website HERE, and also read their previous ‘Torque Tube’ feature. Enjoy!

How did team GAM end up finishing throughout the weekend?

Bruce was involved in an accident back at the beginning of January during the “Roar Before the 24″ practice race. He slid into the wall and ended up with minor injuries. Fortunately, the crash wasn’t too serious and he was able to take part in the race weekend at Daytona. This year, Bruce competed behind the wheel of a Mazda MX5 in the support race that takes place before the Rolex 24 hour race. Another GAM driver, Eric Curran, drove a Chevrolet Camaro in the 24 hour race.

“My three hour race last year was with over 60 cars, this year it was over 80… It was packed, packed, packed… It brought out a lot of competitive people and I thought that was a neat part of the equation for us… We didn’t get good seat time in the car before qualifying so when I got  in the car, I was still pretty jittery from the accident.

“When I got in the car to drive it, the seat was pretty far back, too far back actually and when I sat in it, in the garage, my line of sight was actually underneath the steering wheel and over the dashboard… The clutch was at the end of my toe and I had to actually lurch forward to grab the shift lever if we were in the odd gears because it was too far forward… We didn’t have any time so I just jumped in the car.

I had two snap spins from missing my downshifts because I couldn’t get my hands on the [gear lever] right… So, we brought the car in and made some adjustments and the next time I got in the car was actually qualifying and I was feeling a ton of pressure. I hadn’t been in the car at all to do any fast laps, so we just stickered it up and shot me out there… I was delighted to find that of the four MX-5’s that were out there, I qualified P2!”

The Mazda MX5 is a phenomenal race car, but at a big, fast track like Daytona, it’s immediately at a disadvantage car because of its lack of horsepower. In the hands of the right driver, however, it can be a seriously competitive machine

“Fast forward to race day and it’s pouring… I mean, pouring. For some reason, our guys decided to send us out on the parade laps on slicks, and I was doing maybe 35 or 40 miles per hour, and the guy in front of me [slowed] up and I just brushed my brake pedal and shot toward the wall… My nerves were really, really frayed as we went into the start of the race… The green flag dropped and I don’t know where it came from, but the car just felt like a million dollars. I was able to move seven spots in the first two turns… Then we went into the bus stop in the back and I was able to divebomb a few guys and get up into the 13th or 14th position up from 26th. The car came to life, the chassis was fantastic and I was able to run pretty hard.

We run a Mazda RX8 differential in the car and it’s slightly different than the stock differential… Come to find out, when one wheel is doing two mph faster than the other wheel on the banking, it gets the diff pretty hot, which makes the casing expand, which caused it to spring a leak. So, it started burning up… It got to the point where our straightaway speed was down 10 mph. When you’re full throttle for 26 seconds or so like when you’re at Daytona, that drop in speed is crippling.”

Despite lack of speed and the differential working against them, the team was able to maneuver through the field all the way up to P12.  “We were thinking we had a top 10 finish on our hands, and that’s when the diff blew up with 22 minutes left in the race. And that was it, party’s over.” Naturally, the team was heartbroken with the result. Overall, however, when Bruce looked at the car’s performance before it broke—being ahead of all the other MX5s by five or six places, and this being the first time the team had fielded a Grand Am car—he was thrilled with how everything turned out.

Fast forward once more to the 24 hour race, and Eric Curran and his team are basically driving the wheels off their car. They were cranking through the field and posting great lap times. “I logged onto the internet [to check the current lap times] at 4 in the morning, and they were turning laps that were only half a second off their qualifying times…. What was amazing was that we were at hour 13, and they were still flogging a car like it was qualifying.”

The thing about endurance racing is that it’s not all about your fastest lap time. A lot of the challenge of these races is finding the balance between outright performance and conserving the car. And, like so many other competitors, Eric’s car suffered a major mechanical failure and wasn’t able to finish the race. “The car gave up at the 21 hour mark and they were really upset about that. They had all really, really worked hard.”

How did you involve the families and kids from The Starlight Foundation who came to the race?

“We were giving them what we called a ‘Great Escape’—They could come down and basically forget about life for a couple of hours and escape all of the pressures that they are dealing with. We got them into the track, we got pictures with the cars, we got to have four kids push the car with the crew and the drivers out onto the gird as the team was being announced, it was very, very cool.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the impact that seeing these kids would have.[The kids] got around the car and there was an eerie silence. No one was talking within 50 yards of the car, there were few dry eyes; it was so profound.”

More than the racing, this weekend solidified for Bruce that the things he and GAM are doing is genuinely having an impact that extends way beyond the track. “There was one guy there named Eric, he’s mid-teens and in a wheelchair… We headed out to the chain link fence right at turn three… About an hour later, Linda and I walk by and Eric is not only standing out of his chair with his dad, but he’s stuck to the fence. He’s got his fingers through the fence and he’s just elated with what he’s seeing. His parents sent us an email after and said that they can’t remember the last time that he was standing out of his chair for as long as he was… You just can’t put a value on that.”

What was another highlight of the weekend?

“Another family that showed up has a fifteen year old girl who’s in a wheelchair and it’s difficult for her to communicate. She was being introduced to [one of GAM’s sponsors, Jason] that was there. The father said, ‘Thank you for doing this, we don’t go out because of her being in the wheelchair.’ So, Jason said, ‘I feel so badly for you, Elexis.’ And she said, ‘Oh, don’t feel badly for me, I’m a fighter.’ Jason couldn’t believe it, he was totally blown away and burst into tears. It was off the hook.”

Despite having both cars not finish their races, the entire event was a major success for GAM; there is even the potential a NASCAR race will be named for them. Through GAM and the efforts of Bruce and Linda Ledoux, the thrill, excitement, and camaraderie of racing at Daytona was given to people who may otherwise never make it to the track.

“All in all, even thought we didn’t post great finishes for either car, we won in the paddock… One of the things I’m learning when I stand outside and look at this is reframing your expectations and what you’re hoping to get from your outing has to include winning in the paddock and translating that sense of good feeling and voyage to all the people who can’t be there. That’s our mission.”

– Many thanks and much respect once again to Bruce Ledoux for his time and energy for this interview. Be sure to visit Guardian Angel’s website and support their tremendous cause!

Autumn leaves and hairpin turns: Discovering NH’s back roads in the Mazda Miata

There isn’t anything quite like autumn in New Hampshire. When the maples begin their explosive journey from green to red to yellow, and falling leaves catch the wind and look like the whirling snow that you can feel is only a few weeks away, it’s time to go for a drive. And the best vehicle for the job? On a day like today when the temperature is in the mid-seventies with nary a cloud in the sky, there’s nothing better than a nimble convertible sports car. Enter, the Mazda Miata.

To drive the Mazda Miata (technically called the MX-5), is to know what a small lightweight sports car should be: crisp, engaging and above all, smile inducing. I’ve always told people that it’s like driving a leather clad go-kart, and if you read any review written about the Miata, you’ll probably see the go-kart reference made several times. This car, purchased brand new by my father in 2008, was spec’d out with the optional Grand Touring package which features leather, traction control, 17-inch wheels, cruise control, keyless entry, and a strut tower brace among a host of other features. He also opted for Mazda’s Suspension Package which adds Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential.

As this is my father’s car, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive it on many occasions and each time I drive it, I’m struck all over again by what a blast it is to drive a car who’s focus isn’t outright power. What the Miata lacks in brute force, it makes up for in tractable and linear horsepower and torque (166 hp and 140 lb.-ft), and terrifically crisp steering. Far and away my favorite part of the Miata is the shifter. It has a six-speed manual with short and satisfyingly precise throws, and rowing up and down the gears on a winding back road is one of the real true joys in life.

When I was considering what route to take on this journey, I was reminded of an autumn drive I had taken a few years ago in western New Hampshire. The western part of the state often feels like the neglected child of the family when compared to other parts of NH: the well traveled lakes region, the oft-visited North Country, and the easy accessible and popular seacoast. The small towns and twisting roads around Keene and Lake Sunapee would make the perfect place to take the Miata for a drive.

My journey started on Route 13 through Dunbarton, and then to Route 77 towards Weare. Large sections of 77 aren’t terribly interesting, they have that clinical/basic highway feel to them with wide shoulders, guardrails and the trees cleared wide on either side, but as 77 closes in on Weare, it starts to relax a little and the section before it connects with 114 is a genuinely nice place to be. At the intersection of 77 and 114, there’s a brown State Park sign for Lake Horace that I’ve seen about a hundred times, but never followed. I looked left, then right, grabbed first gear, and scooted ahead towards Lake Horace. On a day like today, why not go exploring?

I’m embarrassed to say that I never actually found Lake Horace. Later when I looked on a map to find it, I legitimately missed it by several miles. How you miss an entire lake escapes even me. What I did find, however, was a divine piece of tarmac about two miles long that made my useless wandering totally worth it. Dips, blind crests, slightly banked turns, and a blemish-free covering a fresh asphalt. It ended at Deering Center Road, and I immediately turned around to run the section again. I arrived back at the 77/114 intersection with a big smile on my face, all thoughts of Lake Horace gone, and took a right to head south on 114.

Route 149 darts off 114, snakes through the rolling hills surrounding Deering and Hillsborough, and reaffirms in my mind that this is a truly great road. While pavement quality left something to be desired, like a lot of the roads I drove, the Miata still stayed relatively planted even through tight off-camber corners with rough pavement.

In the center of Hillsborough where 149 ends, my route took a brief stint on Route 9 and then an eventual left onto Route 31 towards Washington. Both the road and the town of Washington were completely unfamiliar to me, but as soon as I turned onto 31, I knew I was in for a treat. The road was flowing and fast, and with the exception of Windsor and Washington, there weren’t any other towns near it for miles. One thing 31 does have plenty of are protected parks and forests: The Pillsbury State Park, Long Pond Town Forest, and the Washington Town Forest all located between Washington and East Lempster, which is where I left Route 31 and picked up Route 10.

When my father was considering buying a sports car, I implored him to get the best possible variation of whatever car he bought. It made no sense (in my gearhead mind) to buy a sports car and get the base model when a few more grand would get you a far superior driving experience. Because he knows what’s good for him, he listened to me.  And for Christmas last year, we added to the experience by getting him a Racing Beat axle-back exhaust system. Called the Power Pulse Muffler, it adds some significant exhaust noise and manages to sound fantastic without being overpowering. You can check out all of Racing Beat’s products HERE.

One of the more unexpected gems on the journey was Route 123 which I picked up after Route 10. While the quality of the pavement isn’t so hot, someone clearly had a day like today and a car like the Miata in mind when they made it. Scenic straights separated by fantastic lefts and rights, walls of green pines and red leafed maples perched on the edge of the road, and not a single car in front of me or behind me. My grin stretched from ear to ear as the Miata revealed it’s magic to me on this amazing road: Blip the throttle, grab third gear, steadily feed the power through the turn, upshift to fourth, hard on the brakes, blip to third, blip to second, on the power again, then smile and laugh as a carpet of fallen leaves crackle and whoosh beneath the car.

After taking 123 through the town of Hancock, which might be the most quintessential New England town I’d ever seen, I picked up Route 202 to Route 47 towards Crotched Mountain. As I hustled the Miata over 47’s writhing pavement onto an equally excellent Route 136, and across River Road through New Boston, I was thoroughly convinced of two things: that New Hampshire is an incredible place for an autumn drive, and the Mazda Miata is the perfect car for this kind of journey. In terms of driving dynamics and driver feedback, it has few rivals. It’s also comfortable, affordable, economical, built with quality, and reminds you what a joy it can be to drive a great car on great roads like these. I’d say it’s about time to grab the keys and find yourself a good stretch of road.