Wednesday, July 27, 2011


This morning (well, almost noon) I ordered some tires from (for the Mustang). Pretty good price on the tires (local shops - if they had 'em - were asking "full retail price" - about 25% cheaper at Free shipping, too. That was a little before noon. At 2 pm I got an e-mail from TireBuyer that the order had shipped (again, free shipping). Checked the tracking number this evening, and the "estimated delivery date" is... guess when? TOMORROW! Free shipping on a set of four tires, FedEx Ground, and estimated delivery is the day after I placed the order! Granted, they shipped from a warehouse about two hours away from here, but still. That's 108 lbs of tires, shipped free, arriving the day after the order was placed. I'm impressed! Granted, I'll still have to load up the tires and take the car and tires somewhere for installation (wal-mart will do it for around $60, and I expect that will be the "going rate" for most places; I'll check around and see if I can find a closer place than wal-mart in the morning that will be around that same price). However, this is a total savings of about $100 off what I'd been quoted for "out the door" from local shops (one shop quoted me about this price on that tire, but didn't have any available source with the tires in stock).

So, to install AC in the Mustang or not? That is (probably one of) the next question(s). And whether to install a Pertronix Ignitor in place of the points. And there's still the paint and (minimal) body work...Link

Friday, July 22, 2011

Carbs... and I'm not talking nutrition!

A few weeks ago my beloved BMW bit the bullet. (OK, that sounds stupid, even if alliterative... the car is dead.) The last time I saw it was this:


Yeah, it was a pretty awesome car! Comfortable, near-perfect handling, reasonably peppy, and still returned 30 mpg highway! (It was a 2003 5-speed 525i with the sport package.) If you ever have a chance to own or at least drive one, please take it. (I'll admit, it wasn't a perfect car: the cupholders were quite lacking.)

So, in its stead, I decided that, as long as I'm working from home (really nice, by the way!), I'll just "fix up" my old 1967 Mustang and use it as my "around town" car. This Mustang was bought my my uncle brand new off the showroom floor in November, 1966. It has just over 100k miles on it. It's been living at my brother's house (thanks, Jayme!) while I was renting in South AL, and this past weekend I rented a U-Haul and trailer to bring it down (now that I have my own house). Here it is on the trailer:


(By the way: I was pretty impressed with my own trailer driving... I managed to back the trailer down my brother's long driveway, unassisted, without hitting anything! And I'd never really driven anything with a trailer before!)

Now, the old carb was basically disfunctional; accelerator pump was shot, vacuum issues, and just basically ran horribly, if at all (often wouldn't idle, and took forever to get started, and even longer to stay running). It was an Autolite 4300, which my uncle said he'd had problems with basically since the car was new. Looks like this:


My uncle, back when he'd given me the car, suggested that I put a Holley Street Avenger on it. Well, I should have. I should have done that LONG ago. I finally got around to putting a new carb on it yesterday (an Edelbrock 1406, not a Street Avenger, because the Edelbrock is what they had in stock at the semi-local O'reilly Auto Parts). Spent last night getting it (mostly) hooked up, but didn't crank it. Finally, this morning, I hooked up the last little bit and cranked it... and it started! Own its own! Without my having to pour gallons of fuel down the carb and crank and crank and crank... and it idled! High, very high... I hadn't hooked up the electric choke yet, and my first test drive: it was idling at 30 mph. But it was idling, and running.

Hooked up the electric choke, and it's running fairly well now (phenomenally well compared to the older carb: like a totally different car!). Without even spending any time "tuning" the carb. Really, it's amazing to me how much of a difference the carb has made... I may not even bother with going to an electronic ignition (like Pertronix Ignitor or Ignitor II). I'd expected it would run better, but this is much more than I'd expected.

Granted, the vacuum gauge (in the aftermarket gauge set under the dash) is showing no vacuum, but I think perhaps it's the gauge itself and not the vacuum (pulling the tube from the back, I can hear the vacuum, and I can feel it when I cover the tube with my thumb). The car still needs some brake work, tires (the ones on it have tread, but have mostly sat idle for the last ten years), and some body work (minimal rust areas and a leaking front windshield - at least, I think that's where the water in the driver's floorboard when it rains comes from) and a paint job (when it was restored in 1987 they painted it "the wrong color" - a very nice "Firethorn Red," but the car is supposed to be Dark Forest Green), but it's running fairly well now.

If you want to see more pics, check my Flickr gallery. And feel free to honk if you see me driving around Spanish Fort... but make it a melodic honk, so I'll know you're not just being a jerk. Maybe do a tune of "Superman" or something (OK, "beat of" the Superman theme song - I know you probably only have a single tone on your horn, not multiple ones!).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Livin' on the edge... (not really, it's GPRS)

I'm in my car (ok, wife's van), blogging on my computer, which is connected wirelessly to my Android phone (My Touch 3g Slide). So, I'm "living on the edge" - but not really: my phone isn't displaying the "E" of EDGE connectivity (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution - why it's not "EDRGE" I'm not really sure!) - instead it's displaying the "G" for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). 3G? - hey, I use T-Mobile, what's 3G? (Although, according to the Wikipedia EDGE article, EDGE technically qualifies as a 3G standard.)

Got me thinking about Styx' "Edge of the Century" - and I found the video (above); note: I haven't watched the video yet (as it hasn't finished loading yet on my GPRS data connection), so use your own discretion when deciding whether to watch.

Anyway, kind of cool that we live in a world now where you can be conencted while driving down the road, working (as I was) or blogging (as I am) or whatever (having Facebook discussions on whether "nuclear bomb" can be used as a unit of measure when attempting to describe large quantities of energy like the sun to non-scientific folk - see what you started, Alex?). We're out of town, but don't bother trying to steal all the stuff from my house. First, it's probably not worth much. Second, I have dogs in the back yard that will bite you (they bite me, and I'm familiar to them!). Third, I have a house-sitter in my absence. Fourth, it's probably not worth much, so you'd be wasting your time (i.e., you could probably make more per hour at a clothing factory in South America or Asia than by robbing my residence).

On the other hand, it's kind of uncool, too... the more "connected" we become (as a society), the less "unwinding" time we seem to have. Yesterday evening I was wading around my pool (small, above ground thing - nothing spectacular, but nice to cool off in), thinking how nice it was to just be "off the grid" for a while, taking a break from the fast-paced society that is the norm these days. Sometimes I wish I'd been born 100-200 years ago instead of about 40 (yep, I turn 40 this year!). Granted, the work would probably have been much tougher, but I'd also be in much better shape. The interior environment in my home wouldn't be as "comfortable," but I'd be more acclimated, and stepping outside in summer wouldn't hit me like a really hot hitting thing. Evenings would be music and reading and stories, maybe some rudimentary board games with the family.

Oh well, we've pulled off the interstate now, gotta go get me some fast food, another of our modern societal joys. Later, all!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sorry about that, Facebook friends...

For those of you who are my friends on Facebook (note: if you're reading this "note" on Facebook, you are most likely my friend!), I apologize for the unrelenting onslaught of "status" posts from Empires and Allies. Now, I like the game (for a FB game, it's not bad), but I didn't realize just how much "junk" it was throwing on my wall! I've revoked its publishing rights, and painstakingly gone back and removed (most of) the entries it posted to my wall. That's one downfall of Facebook games - they all-too-often spam your wall (and sometimes that of your friends!) with too many stupid posts. And there's no way to say "clean up all posts by " - granted, you can "remove post and remove " - but then you've removed more than just the posts, you've removed the application as well. At least, I think that's how it goes.

I also found that my blog posts - via my "notes feed import" on Facebook - were not being updated. Looks like perhaps Feedburner had altered the feed URL since I started the import (long ago), but I've fixed that (by removing and re-adding the note-blog-post-feed-import setting on Facebook). Hopefully you'll be able to read this on my Facebook within three hours. If not, I'll have to look for some other way to get it there... not that it really matters, since I don't publish all that often anymore. Life getting in the way... but hopefully things will ease up a bit soon(er or later).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lucky Cars!

[WARNING: long post ahead! sorry about that...]

The title may be misleading. Maybe you thought I said "lucky stars," but I didn't. I said "lucky cars." Also, it's kind of a lie... I really intend to tell about my "unluck" with cars (but there's actually a lot of luck in there, too!). It all starts many years ago...

The year is 1978. I'm a wee lad of 6, turning 7 that year, and Alfa Romeo builds a vehicle that will eventually be my first car. It's their "Sport Sedan," basically the Spider drivetrain with a sedan body (you can see an example here - that's, I believe, even the same color as mine, but mine was a manual transmission; this was the same car that Ferris Beuler's friend comes to pick him up in at the beginning of the movie - the brown sedan, not the red Ferarri). Poor little car - it didn't get along well with my driving behaviors; that is, I didn't drive it on long enough trips to burn off the extra fuel the mechanical fuel injection system threw in the cylinders to start the thing, and it would foul plugs and injectors and then not start. About the third time we had it towed to the shop, my dad decided it was time to replace. Time of ownership: year or two.

Second car was French, a Renault Fuego... an engine and cooling system later (as well as a new glass hatch due to some, shall we say, less-than-gentle-shutting-in-anger) we eventually sold the vehicle to the local French specialist for parts. Time of ownership: year or two.

Next car that was mine was a 1985 Toronado... it got wrecked (multiple times; at time of disposal the driver's inner door panel would not connect to the door) and eventually was left to a junkyard for super-cheap (didn't want to take it with me when moving from South Carolina to Virginia). Time of ownership: a couple of years.

(Note that these first three vehicles were from my dad - totally free of charge; hence, the lucky! Plus, who gets to have an Alfa Romeo as a first car and a Renault as a second?)

Next was a 1984 Buick LeSabre (yeah, the big one). It was a relatively reliable car, and we got it at a good price - and owner financed - from my Grandmom B (and her husband, Irving, who - a retired Cadillac salesman - sold cars on the side). Can't complain about that one, except one time it did pop a ball joint and drop a lower control arm onto the interstate at 65-70 mph, which happened the weekend before we were supposed to go to sea. This left my wife (and kids) without transportation. (That car actually handled snow fairly well, as we found out the day we went to Wal-Mart in Virginia to get a bunch of stuff for the new place, just having moved there, and came out a few hours later to 3" of snow on the ground!) The LeSabre was joined by a 1991 Park Avenue Ultra (a gift from my dad) - and this is one car I don't recall ever having any problems with. These we owned for maybe 4 and 2 years, respectively (I don't recall exactly).

The pair of Buicks was replaced by a pair of Fords: a 1995 Ford Windstar minivan (traded the two Buicks on the Ford, difference paid for by a cash gift from my dad) and a 1987 Ford Taurus (gift from my parents - it was my mom's car, and she got a Mercedes to replace it: a fantastic 1990 300 CE coupe). The Windstar developed major transmission issues within a year and the Taurus decided to dump all its coolant at the drive through at Krystal on University Drive in Huntsville. Taurus made it home, but sat until I tried to pull the water pump; the last bolt snapped, and was of course in a spot where there was about an inch of clearance between the engine and the fender, making it impossible to get a drill in there to use a screw extractor.

The pair of Fords was replaced by a pair of Chevys: the Windstar traded on a 1998 Chevy Venture, probably the worst vehicle I've ever owned, and the Taurus replaced by my (late) Granddad B's 1977 Chevy C-10 pickup (a gift from my Grandmom B). The Venture had no transmission issues (one of the reasons I bought the Chevy: GM transmissions are among the best in the world), but had to have its engine replaced at 120k miles, always had the air bag lights on, windows didn't work (one "fixed" 8 times under warranty!), eventually had intermittent ABS issues, ate batteries and charging systems, etc. etc. etc. The Chevy truck managed to overheat and punch a hole in the #1 cylinder (I don't understand, fully: the distance back was the same as the distance out, from where I'd stopped it and left it, and it was cooler outside when I was trying to get it home). I tried to fix the truck's straight six (4.1L), but never got it running again (it was eventually sold to a coworker who dropped a 305 in it... still miss that ol' truck! "Sea-Foam Green" was the original color!).

During the Chevy ownership I also had a 1984 Buick Riviera (gift from aunt & uncle), and eventually sold that to a guy at church who needed a car. It had some choke issues, but not too bad.

After the Chevy truck broke, I borrowed a 1995 Ford Escort from a friend at church (actually, I think the act of borrowing helped create the friendship). Super-nice guy; you should check out his blog (but please come back when you're done!). Eventually I bought the car from him, and drove it until the clutch went out (along with the exhaust manifold) a year or two later. The Venture was replaced (yet retained) by a 1995 Mercury Villager - another gift from my dad. The Villager is a really nice minivan - very, very car-like. In fact, my parents still think it's the best riding/handling van they've ever had, and don't like the two Honda Odysseys that replaced it nearly as much. Alas, the Villager eventually developed a weird ABS issue, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the clutch went out on the Escort, I was nearing the completion of my degree at UAH, and we decided I could get a 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V as my graduation present. That was a fantastic car... which had its windshield cracked by a rock on the 6th day of ownership. But that was fixed by my insurance company (with a factory OEM windshield). A few months later I was run off the road by an 18-wheeler, but that didn't really seem to do any damage. I wish I hadn't done what I did next... which was to trade the Sentra for a Toyota Tundra (while my wife was away, no less). That was probably one of the worst financial things I've done in my life...

Anyway, about 3k miles into Tundra ownership, I managed to pick up a screw in the sidewall of one of the rear tires, such that it was not repairable. That was about the worst thing to happen to the Tundra (except the time it got stuck in my own side yard... friend helped to pull it out). But the Tundra, wonderful of a truck as it was (but I still miss the old Chevy truck... it was after buying the Tundra that I sold the Chevy to my coworker), was too expensive for my income. So we decided to look for a replacement vehicle. I had pre-financing set up, and was looking for a replacement van as the Villager was beginning to show signs of wear, but we never could find "the right deal" to fit the parameters of the prenegotiated financing and lower our payment at the same time. Eventually, Driving 2000 of Huntsville (no longer open for business, I think) provided a solution: replace the Tundra with a Suzuki Forenza (2007). We also traded in the Venture on the Forenza.

That was in May, 2007. Made the June payment. July 4th of 2007 someone (identity suspected but never confirmed) decided it would be a neat "joke" to throw a roman candle in the car while I was asleep. Yeah, it burned up the interior. Two months later, after multiple attempts at "getting the smell out" by ServPro, the car was eventually totaled by my insurance company. That is, the car was totaled by an act of vandalism before the second payment was made on it. We ended up owing about 3k on it, but considering that we went in with a negative 5.5k trade equity on the Tundra, we actually came out ahead.

So, along comes my dad again, and we end up getting the 1994 Lexus LS400 that he'd bought used, then given to his mom, and she no longer drove it. The car was great (boring, but great)... until the power steering reservoir o-ring split and dumped power steering fluid all over the alternator, destroying it. About that same time the Villager developed its brake issue, which was this: somewhere inside the ABS unit it "locked" up... keeping the front left and right rear brakes applied at all times. Leaving us with zero working vehicles. After borrowing some cars for a short while from church friends, we eventually managed to 1) trade the Villager on a 2006 Kia Sedona (the whole amazing story of getting the Sedona, including the issues of the Villager in more detail, can be found at this earlier post); 2) fix the Lexus (details of *this* repair can be found at this post).

So far the Sedona's been pretty good; has a soft brake pedal right now, but we've put over 70k miles on it in the 3 years or so we've owned it, and haven't had much trouble other than having to replace one or the other headlight bulb every 3-6 months or so.

The Lexus... it let us down again. The amusing details can be found here. It was eventually returned to my dad to be used in a multi-way trade in which he ended up with a newer Honda Odyssey (his second), my youngest brother ended up with his first Odyssey (which had been my middle brother's before my dad bought it from him to help him out, which sent the Villager our way), and I ended up with my Grandmom B's husband Irving's 1996 Cadillac Deville.

Two months into owning the Deville the transmission went out (what was it I said earlier about GM transmissions?). I think it must've been due to having sat for long periods without being driven, then put under the strain of 60+ miles daily to and from Mobile. Or maybe it's just my luck with cars.

The Deville we traded on a 2010 Kia Forte (that my daughter uses... lucky kid!). I was driving the XG300, when my dad decided that despite the BMW 525 he was driving being the best car he'd ever owned, he couldn't deal with the four-door body any more. You see, he has back problems, and the BMW, being a sedan, has the back of the front seats behind the B-pillar (between the front and rear doors), forcing you to "twist" into the seat. That motion was killing him. So, he decided to get a Mini Cooper (people think it's funny when I say he sold me the 525 and bought the Cooper because of his back - but the Cooper's a coupe, so he can just "fall" into the seat, not having to twist into it, and while short, it's actually not any lower to the ground than the 525 - maybe even higher, due to the 525's having the sport package). So, I traded the XG300 on his Cooper and bought the 2003 525i for the difference between the trade value of the XG and the 525. (That is: I got a really, really good deal on it.) Note: back when he let me borrow the car last summer for a couple of weeks, after the first week one of the ignition coils went out and I had to drive it home running a little rough. I replaced the coils (and spark plugs) myself before he returned, and it was running as good as new.

That was back in September. The car now has ~145k miles on it. This past Friday my wife and I were driving on I-10 West, running 75 on cruise, passing a van. Faint noise was heard (tapping/buzzing), which we both thought was the tires on the van we were passing. It was getting slightly louder as we approached the van. About the time we got alongside the van, I noticed in the rear view mirror TONS of smoke coming out the back of the BMW... and looked down at the dash, and the temp gauge went to max; I think the oil light had come on, too. No buzzers or anything. Slowed, engine died when I depressed the clutch pedal, and we pulled off the road. Oil all over the driver side of the engine bay. Not good.

Firestone towed it to the local Firestone shop, and (a couple hours later) they called and said, "not good news: turns over freely (by hand), so zero compression, oil down one side of the engine, coolant down the other; basically, your engine's shot."

Today I had it towed to the BMW dealer in Mobile, hoping for (but not expecting) a better diagnosis (e.g., "it's only the head gasket"). Still waiting on the diagnosis.

Anyway... there you go. My "luck" with cars. Fortunately, my luck with parents is pretty good, and God has always provided (often through them). While being aggravated, I'm expecting no less (than the provision of God) this time around.