Archive for October, 2008

Rolling back the octane

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I have contemplated the tradeoffs of running lower octane fuel in my cars for several years, but the recent bounce in gas prices incentivized me to try it.   My SAAB 9-5 owners manual recommends mid-range (the only car I have ever encountered that goes for the mid-range) and my Audi A6 recommends premium, and of course my Mini S JCW also recommends premium.


So this summer I have run regular octane fuel in both the SAAB and the Audi (can’t bring myself to do it in the Mini).  I have been able to detect nether a performance or a mileage penalty.  Combined mileage on regular gas over the summer was about 8K miles.  In particular, I run a back roads route to western New York from DC with some regularity and I hammer it on the back roads (mostly driving the SAAB).  I seemed to have the same ability to pass on two lane roads as I previously had on the mid-grade.  Admittedly, neither of these cars are high performance, but I do want to and expect to run at high rates.


Car mags, notably Road & Track have begun to mention running performance cars on lower octane fuel, and the numbers they quote for horsepower loss are pretty modest.  There is also plenty of mention of the fact that you do not risk damage to the engine (this is for modern, electronialy managed engines only).  So my conclusion is that I will save the octane for the car I really like to wring out and bite the bullet on the others.  Maybe I can even plow the gas cost savings into investment in my next fun car.


I do remember the old days (60’s) when my buddy, Bill T., and I were running high performance Corvette’s (that we both still own).  Super premium and even octane boosters were the rule of the day.  I recall Bill even found a source for higher test (104, I believe) aviation fuel at the local airport and hauled it to his Vette by the 5 gallon can in order to extract that last bit of performance.  Of course, back then, lack of electronic knock sensors mandated that you run what it took if you wanted to avoid grenade-ing the engine.


So, my bottom line is:  Unless you are running at the track, or are always intent on extracting that last bit of performance from your wheels, run regular


Use low octane -- not in a race engine!

Use low octane -- not in a race engine!

Internet repair services — what it takes

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I just saved a wad of money by avoiding a dealer repair of my SAAB 9-5 Information Display.  Lots of cars have these things; they are basically a matrix of LCD pixels.  When you start seeing missing segments of letters and numbers, you know the unit is on its way out.  Having some background in electronics, I guessed it was a connection rather than failed integrated circuits; repairable, not a throw away.  Of course a dealer would never offer to repair it, but they would sell me a new one and then charge to install it.


I did a bit of web surfing and came up with a very nice and informative site,  They were informative enough that I had a high degree of confidence in the diagnosis of my flawed unit.  They had great information on removal, shipping, and replacement; all accompanied by sufficient visuals.


Kramer Micro Repair’s turnaround was even quicker than promised, the unit went back in easily, and performs flawlessly.  They are a great example of how a repair service can succeed on the internet.  The site is straightforward, it contains just the right amount of information to give one confidence in their product, their pricing is competitive and offers a real savings compared to alternatives, and their performance backs up what they promise.  Even if you don’t own a SAAB you will benefit from looking at their site.  They are a good standard to compare other internet repair services to.



Project Driveway

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

I recently received an invitation to join Chevy’s Project Driveway.  This is a program to put interested drivers, like me in the driver’s seat of a Chevy Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle for a long term test. Read more at  You only have a chance to join if you are near a major population center that has access to hydrogen refueling stations.  It appears that the current target areas are Washington D.C., New York City, and California.



Just joining the Project gives one access to a members only web site that is full of information related to hydrogen fuel cell technology.  I’ll share some interesting tidbits as I discover them.  It also sounds like most members who have been on board for several months have also been invited to test drive the vehicle.


Chevy may be late to the game, but they really seem to be going all out in their exploration of alternatives to conventional gasoline powered vehicles.  The Chevy Volt has the lead article in December 2008 Automobile magazine feature “What’s Next:”  #mce_temp_url#


So many cars ——

Monday, October 27th, 2008

What’s an enthusiast to do?  There are so many great and interesting cars out there that we invariably make lists.  Every car mag I have seen has, at one point, and often annually, made a list of the 100 Greatest Cars, or something like that.

I’ve decided to keep a running list, just in case I fall into that vat of cash and can afford some of them.  To make things more interesting and diverse, I have created three categories to list them under: Retro, runner, and racer.  Keeping with my “drive them as much as possible” philosophy my mode of driving helps define each category.  Retro (these are the classics): historic, technically brilliant, and beautiful; I’ll drive these gently, on sunny days, on scenic back roads.  Runner (quick, fast, great handling): the best road cars, great acceleration, torquey, corner carvers.  My first pick when I want to enjoy the journey.  Racer (memorable track cars): built to race, gut wrenching performance, formidable looks.  Track days only, the gearhead’s version of bungee jumping.

I’ll share my lists in future posts.  Find below a visual example of each.

The Retro: Type 59 Bugatti Grand Prix

The Runner: 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO

The Racer: 2002 ALMS LP1 Cadillac

Garage Envy — The doors are open!

Monday, October 27th, 2008

If I ever had the opportunity to live life large, I would live it exactly the way Jay Leno has. I would buy a very large garage (for starters, something about the size of a Wal-Mart) and I would fill it with as many interesting cars as I could get my hands on. Then I would fill the spaces between the bumpers with automotive artifacts: tools, models, pictures, books, engines, hubcaps, etc. This would not be a museum. Like Jay, I would drive the cars at every opportunity and I would handle and read the artifacts. Everything about cars speaks of action and more often than not, fast action. What better way to live life large.

So what is an ordinary gearhead like you or me to do with only the resources of an average human? Well, we can own a little and dream a lot. So hear goes; Garage Envy will be all about maximizing the little bit we can own and writing about the whole lot we wish we had. Not all that bad, as there are lots of ways to enjoy the things we can’t have. Can’t drive a Ferrari, watch one race. Can’t own a Type 35 Bugatti, visit one in a museum or own a poster or model of one. Never rebuilt an engine, start with your lawn mower. Want to share automotive interests and experiences, read and respond to Garage Envy.

For some, cars are about getting from place to place, for the rest of us cars are the journey, an empty garage is a place to fill. “Let’s motor”, (yes, I do own a Mini).