Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Michelin Cup 2 tires are phenomenal

The San Francisco Bay Area is experiencing a heatwave, one of the few each year that balances out all of the parties we’ve been having in enjoying our typical mid 50’s weather, no matter the season. This particular heatwave is quite severe, though: not since Labor Day of two years prior - where temperatures in the city reached beyond 100 - has it been this bad. 94 degrees for three days straight really puts a strain on the nerves.

Especially when buildings in San Francisco aren’t equipped with air-conditioning.

Indeed, every time one of these hot weather patterns rolls around, I always declare that this will be the year I finally buy a portable air-con unit for my room, but it still hasn’t happened yet. Admittedly the not insignificant financial outlay for a machine only to be used a few days out the year is not so easily palatable. Add to the fact that usually by the time I’m ready to click buy, normal cool weather have returned, inducing me to procrastinate.

Let’s see if this year will be different, and I may have a secret weapon. Lately I’ve been super diligent on ensuring I get the appropriate quality of sleep, and a huge factor towards that is room temperature. Apparently, humans are evolved to get better sleep when the weather is cool (I certainly do during the winter months), so needless to say the last few days of this heat have not been conducive to me falling into slumber quickly; not when the bedroom is hovering in the 80s at midnight.

So, spend money to assist with something we do for a third of our lives; makes getting an air-con unit reasonable and justifiable, doesn’t it? I might get a chiliPad too while I am at it.

This first heatwave of the year did allow me to take the GT3 out this past weekend, the first chance to assess just what the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires can do when it’s within its optimal operating temperature. The verdict? So. Much. Grip. Astonishingly so. Only now did I realize that driving the Porsche around in San Francisco’s typical middling weather gives almost no information on the Cup 2’s true capabilities.

Is it possible to fall in love with a set of tires?

With the Michelins properly lit up, the GT3’s front-end is simply mighty. The communicative beauty of the 911’s steering shines in letting the driver know via the hands the grip level of the front tires, and in this maiden outing in hot weather, I’ve never felt more confidence-inspiring sensations through the GT3’s rim. I can truly trust the front-end: the tires dig and bite into the tarmac, no matter the amount of steering lock is inputed. The 911’s inherent understeer is still present, but it’s easily correctable when the tires are willing to do the work.

Obviously, the enormous 12-inch wide rear tires welcome the hot weather in equal measure to the fronts. Thanks to the engine being situated behind the rear-axle as is its signature, the 911 offers traction I dare say no other rear-wheel drive car can match. The Cup 2s with proper heat sticks to the ground immensely, but reassuringly so, allowing super fun mid-corner adjustability. Throttle-steer to tuck in the nose a bit or kick the rear-end out for some brief slip-angles: it’s all possible in the GT3, and easily accessible.

The 911 chassis reveals itself splendidly when the tires are on, and I’m ironically eager for more hot weather so I can sample the Cup 2s further it its absolute element. It’s so much fun.

Maybe I will get that air-con unit after all.

From my friend who’s traveling in Europe.

From my friend who’s traveling in Europe.

Depreciation really hurts

I’ll be the first to say that car enthusiasts shouldn’t give a single care about depreciation, and that we should simply drive and enjoy our cars. This is especially so after the car is already bought. Obviously, before signing on the dotted line you should take depreciation into consideration, so if a particular car is hellish on retaining value, you’d want to buy that car used.

However, buying sports cars with abnormal depreciation curves – like my GT3 – used, can be tricky. Special trim 911s are known to keep value superbly well, but one can never be sure if some future events or variables will dramatically affect the price. On the whims of market forces, a 911 GT car – or any high dollar sports car, really -  can easily fluctuate downwards in value in mere months.

I know this, because I’ve seen it with my GT3. Between January and now, the value of my car have dropped nearly $15,000, which is absolutely eye-watering, even if it’s an abstract, hypothetical number since I don’t plan to sell the Porsche ever. Sadly, my human mind doesn’t work like that, and often times I’ve been agonizing at the lost opportunity to save a significant chunk of money, if only I could have waited a few months to buy.

Yes, we shouldn’t care about depreciation, but it seems that’s easily declared than done.

Of course, I would say the joy of owning the GT3 for three months far outweighs any potential financial savings from delaying the purchase. I wouldn’t trade the more than 3,000 miles I’ve put on the car since January for having more money in my savings account. Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought the 911 if making sound monetary decisions were a top factor.

The GT3 is an emotional purchase, predicated on a life-long love of cars, and the mentality that if there’s something I want to do and I have the capability to do it, I should execute as quickly as possible; because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Deprecation hurts, but I don’t think it’s nearly as much as regret.

Sunny afternoons on campus. Or what passes for sunny in San Francisco anyways.

BMW M cars will have adjustable brakes?

During my daily perusing of automotive news today (not during work, obviously), I ran into this article from Jalopnik, stating the upcoming BMW M8 and M8 Competition will feature adjustable braking. By toggling a setting within the infotainment screen, the driver is able to select the amount of braking effort required between two settings: Comfort and Sport.

I cannot believe this is now a thing, and this isn’t even the good sort of adjustable braking: brake bias. All the system in the BMW does is vary how hard you need to stomp on the pedal to achieve the same level of braking pressure. This is in addition to the already myriad of adjustments available for things like steering, transmission, suspension, and throttle, offering an absolutely dizzying array of possible combinations.

I do miss the days of sports cars coming out of the factory with one setting only for everything. Parameters were set by the engineers, who would formulate a singularly best dynamic configuration to extract the maximum out of a car. Automotive engineers are highly paid and highly skilled; I want them to decide and set the optimal mode, rather than letting me figure out which permutation of modes feel most definitive to my grubby fingers and my uncalibrated rear-end.

M cars of old like the E46 BMW M3 offers zero adjustments, and it was and still is a brilliant car.

I’m glad my 911 GT3 offers “only” two adjustments: sport modes for the PDK transmission and the suspension. Both are practically useless on public roads – sport suspension is way too stiff, and PDK Sport is far too aggressive, so the car is de facto setup as is from Zuffenhausen as intended by Porsche engineers. The steering has one ratio with no adjustments to effort, the sharp throttle response cannot be changed, and sure as hell the brakes has but one setting: immense.

Keep it simple, sports car manufacturers.

Have a seat.

Fast mountain driving is an exercise

Can spirited driving be considered as exercise?

After what transpired this past Saturday, I certainly think so.

It was a glorious post-rain afternoon basking in sunshine, on a long stretch of winding tarmac where nary a car could be found (we were out in the middle of nowhere); I had the first opportunity to really explore the lofty limits of the 911 GT3 since I bought it back in January. For a word to sum up the experience, it would be ‘sweaty’.

Perhaps an empty parking lot might have been the more ideal proving ground to start off with, because for the first quarter stretch of the road I was super hesitant with my inputs, not daring to upset the car. Admittedly I had yet to break the GT3’s backend loose even once, so I had zero idea what its dynamics were like. All I knew at the time was the Porsche has tremendous power and grip, and it’s up to me to find the edge where either of those begin to falter.

That is, if my body is up to the task.

For the first proper go on a twisty mountain road in anger, I can say I handled myself fairly well: my friend who was following behind told me afterwards that I got noticeably quicker the deeper we got into the route. That said I simply could not keep up with the driver in front of me in a Chevrolet SS; he’s had 60,000 miles of familiarity with that car, and in his capable hands the SS disappeared from my windshield in short order. No doubt the GT3 is capable of going much faster - a 475 horsepower sports car ought to be quicker than a 4,000lb sports sedan; the problem is obviously not the car, but rather me.

Nevertheless, I was absolutely hustling the car to my (not so great) abilities, and it was indeed quite the workout. Even with the automatic climate control set at the standard 72 degrees, my back was perspiring heavily, and my palms needed periodic wipes on my shirt. I had to take off my hat because sweat was forming on my head as well. A leisure weekend drive it certainly was not.

And I felt the affects the following morning: I must have gripped the steering wheel too hard because my fingers were sore, and due to the countless shuffling of the right foot between braking and acceleration, the calve muscles were barking. I guess I never appreciated - until now - how much of an athlete a racing driver has to be, and how sorely lacking my own conditioning is.

Looking forward to improving on both fronts: mastering the GT3, and making sure my body is up to the task of doing it.  

Paying my respect to the locals.

Rich car guys discussing depreciation

Every day I frequent car forums because it’s a great place to chat with like-minded people and also to learn about cars. Model-specific forums are a fantastic resource to find out about the ins and out of a particular car; they’re extremely helpful for research before purchase, and to share in the ownership experience afterwards - truly a hive mind of knowledge. I’ve done this with every car I’ve own thus far, and presently with the 911 GT3 I’m a registered member of Rennlist.

There’s a strange phenomenon on Rennlist that I haven’t seen before in the dedicated forums of my previous cars: the constant talk and worry about a car’s value. I simply can’t believe the amount of chat regarding depreciation and how best to use a car to get the maximum resale value (don’t put miles on it, obviously). Honestly, what are all these rich car guys worrying about?

And those people are rich, because Rennlist is a Porsche forum, and transactions for Porsche cars can easily reach into the six figure sums. One would think that if you’re wealthy enough to pay 3 to 4 times the costs of an average new vehicle, you aren’t likely to fret over losing money on depreciation like the rest of us plebeians. So what if a 911 loses value like a Maserati luxury sedan (it doesn’t, but that’s beside the point)? Most of those guys can afford to buy the same car many times over!

The depreciation talk is especially acute in the 911 GT car section - covering all 911 models with a ‘GT’ moniker attached, where seemingly every other thread is someone asking about best practices in speccing a car to get the most on resale, or is a particular model a good buy given the market trends. These are special 911s with prices well into the six figures – why is depreciation such a concern? I have to question do these owners truly love cars and driving, or merely the symbolism that comes with owning a Porsche.

In my past experience, there were no such silly discussions in the Subaru or Mazda forums; people there buy cars to drive and enjoy - that’s it. No one cared that not opting for the sport package is going to negatively affect the resale down the road, or question is it okay to daily-drive a car because the value will go down.

I guess I’ll have to keep saying this: cars are meant to be driven.  

This little one needs a bit of assist.

Should I get a second car?

Wait a minute; how did I go from no car at all to now pondering the necessity of a second car? Funny how perspectives and situations can completely turn around in less than a year.

Back in May of last year I embarked on the ‘no car’ journey, having sold the MX-5 and then henceforth only used public transportation and the occasional ride-sharing to get myself to places. That experiment ended this January when I bought the GT3, though I’ve still been taking the bus to and from work. The 911 isn’t the greatest of cars to commute with for many reasons, some idiosyncratic, some innate.

One of the idiosyncratic reasons is the lack of secured parking at where I live. There’s absolutely no way I am street-parking the GT3, especially since my neighborhood is not of the high-income and or gated variety. So instead I park the car at work, where there’s a covered parking complex. It’s not the most ideal situation to have my beloved car be located on the other side of the city, but it’s the best option short of paying monthly for a parking spot or storage unit closer to home. The carpark at work is somewhat secured, and more importantly the GT3 is not exposed to the elements.

Obviously then in order for me to go out driving on the weekends, I basically have to first head to work – every single time. This in it of itself isn’t too bad because I quite enjoy riding the bus and listen to podcasts. The problem starts whenever I need to do more than taking the GT3 out for a spin, such as maintenance work or giving it a solid detailing. Any gear required for such servicing, I’d need to schlep it with me on the bus, which can vary from merely inconvenience to downright impossible depending on the size of the job.

What I need is a second vehicles for parts running.

It needn’t be fancy or remotely sporting: all I need is a simple car that’s easy to drive, while small and inexpensive enough to be conveniently parked in San Francisco without worry. The cheapest new car on the market - those tend to be subcompact in size - available for lease should suffice.

But that presents a conundrum: do I use the second car to commute as well, and forgo using public transportation? In terms of being a kind citizen to the environment it wouldn’t be a good decision, and in terms of costs it’ll be significantly higher than the $78 I’m paying for the monthly pass. Dealing with the grind of Bay Area traffic is also a huge negative against this move. However, the convenience factor is difficult to ignore: the many hours saved, and not having to carry a bucket of tools with me on the bus.

We shall see what happens.  

It’s a frequent customer.

Damn it, why can't I just drive?

I am indeed that person who implores people to drive their cars, that vehicles aren’t meant to be permanently stored in climate-controlled garages, that superficial blemishes give character to a car (those sweet patina points), and it’s okay for it to not be as perfect as the day it rolled out of the factory.

I am also the person who is supremely obsessive compulsive about keeping a car as perfect as possible, and the two diametrically opposed ethos create quite the friction point for me. There’s not a lot I love more than taking the GT3 out on a long drive: music on to accompany the melodic rumble of the engine, and with no particular destination in mind. But, as soon as a set of loose pebbles get pelted onto the windshield, creating fresh pockmarks, that’s when the agony begins.

So much for putting miles on cars and embracing the patina. Given the opportunity and resources I’d totally park a car forever in a my living room and polish it with the finest baby diapers and extra virgin tears.

Admittedly my car OCD was immensely worse back a few years; these days I’m much more accepting of flaws and scars from normal wear and tear (or self inflicted extracurricular wear and tear). I’d thought buying a used car would alleviate some of the compulsions, given the car is innately imperfect, and the first few cuts (if you will) have already been done. Contrast that to the brand new vehicles I’ve purchased, where it was an utter mental drain to pay attention to each and every weird sound, and thinking the worse of it. That pothole I ran over? The car is ruined!

Turns out I’m equally obsessive with a used car, and worse, I’m being OCD about blemishes that weren’t even my fault! Isn’t that just the most pathetic: I’m letting things done to the car by the previous owners bother me. He put a scratch on the steering wheel leather - that bastard!

Obviously I’ve been fighting myself to not be so caught up with the GT3’s imperfections, whether or not they were caused by me. As long as the car remains clean and mechanically sound, that is all I can and should ask for. The GT3 is a driver, not a museum art piece; though the process to be completely at peace with that notion is going to take some time. The work continues.

Spring bloom in full effect.