Thursday, January 1, 2015

Quiet time in the garage …and not a movement on the road!

The festive season has just wrapped up. For Margo and me traditions need to be maintained. Good wine is shared and then even as it’s darkest January, Margo and I are fond of pulling out the maps and looking at roads less travelled and this time, given the general poor road conditions everywhere we look, a trip to southern California via Interstate 10 is really enticing. Simi Valley via Tuscan, Yuma and San Diego just has to be done. A very long time ago I drove my then-current 1976 BMW 530i down this route at pretty much this time of year and enjoyed the winter sunshine.

I know I have a picture of that very BMW around here somewhere. It was my very first BMW and I really enjoyed driving it all those decades ago. After two GM Holden Toranas, one a 3.3 liter straight 6 GTR the other a screaming 5 liter V8 SLR5000, the step up to the BMW turned out to be an experience on a whole different level – I skipped the air conditioning in favor of a sunroof and checked the stick-shift, row-as-you-go, manual gearbox. Driving it up and down the Canadian Rockies proved to be quite the adventure where (yes, it was the mid-1970s) the open roads and twisty passages just begged for the BMW to be opened up and more than once I downshifted a couple of gears just to hear the exhaust note and then the pop and crackle as I lifted off the gas. What a car!

However, times change and a week or so ago I walked onto the showroom floor of our local Bimmer dealership. Over the years we have leased several cars from him – all 7-series – but I thought it might be a good time to look at the latest M-series offerings. On the floor were an M5 and an M6 and outside, in the snow, was an M3. As much as I really tried to warm to these vehicles I left without once experiencing that “just-have- to-sell everything and buy one” feeling! Yes, times have certainly changed. For me to even think that BMW’s latest performance offerings were a tad ho-hum highlights just how quickly the competition has caught up and in many cases simply pulled away from Munich’s finest offerings. 

During a lull in the Christmas Eve festivities, I took advantage of some quiet time in the garage where I snapped off a quick photo of the cars in residence this winter – all the vehicles can now be parked in the garage following the sale of the Viper SRT/10 roadster. What crossed my mind was what would this garage look like next year and indeed, would we even be in this garage in twelve months’ time?  The lease on the Nissan GTR ends midyear and that will raise a number of questions with the option out there of simply paying the lease residual and keeping it – what other car can match Godzilla’s performance numbers for a shade under $60K? At any rate, as we contemplate 2015, there will be changes for sure – there always has been!

Up for negotiation in 2015 are the motorcycles – following Margo’s accident two years ago, bikes have been barely ridden this year and trading them for a Can-Am Spyder is definitely firming up as an option, particularly should we sell Godzilla. I wrote about this option in previous posts, but there’s now another option beginning to take shape – the new Polaris Slingshot. In case you may have forgotten about trikes and performance, then perhaps it’s time to revisit the original Morgan “Three Wheeler” to better understand the attraction from dropping a rear wheel, so as to speak.

The future mix of cars, bikes, trikes, whatever, is only limited by our imagination but there’s also the issue of where exactly we will be living come the end of 2015? And just as importantly, will we be splitting our time between Boulder and somewhere warmer? In the meantime, a most enjoyable thing this Christmas was underneath the tree; there laid a GoPro video camera that I am sure will find a home in whatever vehicles we will drive, whether on track or simply canyon-carving nearby in the foothills. 

What is holding up any near-term plans is the sale of our home, or the lack there off. We have just elected to continue with our realtor for another year – yes, the Billy Van Heusen team have really been trying hard and we like the lads and continue to keep our fingers crossed. There’s been a couple of nibbles, but nothing firm and it continues to keep our future plans firmly in limbo – we still have no definitive plans for the future although, even as we know we will de downsizing in a big way, we will most likely keep a condo / townhouse / loft somewhere close to Boulder. But what else?  Of course it all depends on our family plans and our daughter’s need for our presence here in Colorado, but as plans unveil we may be able to become a tad more flexible. 

Totally undecided, but as my intention is to keep on working, we may look into moving the RV to a site in a warmer climate and treat it as the remote office. Perhaps, on the Intracoastal Waterway of Florida? More practical, should this opportunity ever eventuate, would  be finding a campsite in the Nevada / Southern California area as spending winter somewhere warm certainly has its appeal.. If we can find a site where we can park the trailer and keep the track-car nearby, then that would be great as we enjoy our time with the folks in the SoCal region of NASA (where it all started) and we always enjoy our time on track under the ever-watchful eye of SoCal director, Ryan Flannery. Reckon there could be a NASA category for the Polaris Slingshot, Ryan?

Whatever plans develop we will not miss the treacherous winter driving conditions that we face each year – no matter the choice of car, there’s little pleasure to be gained while out on Colorado’s slippery highways. A warm sunny day and an open race track – priceless!

But again, from the very first time Margo and I took those tentative steps out on a “hot circuit” with all the other newbies, our plans weren’t about becoming racers or even about becoming the quickest driver in our group. Rather, it was a social outlet where the goal was to eventually develop enough confidence to drive on famous tracks across the country. The opportunity that arose this past year to spend a whole day lapping Road Atlanta was very much an experience in this vein and the only downside for me was that with surgery on her back scheduled a week or so later, Margo was unable to share the experience. As we discuss social outlets it would be remiss of me not to reference the wonderful magnum of Cabernet Sauvignon we opened Christmas Eve – a 1996 Wynns’ Coonawarra Estate “John Riddoch”- featured at the top of this post!

The Corvette C5 Z06 on street tires has been an enlightening experience for us both, not to mention a financial God-send. Relatively inexpensive to campaign from springtime through fall, it’s still a very practical car to track with little need for constant care-giving; just make sure the fluids aren’t nasty, the brake pads have ample depth, and the tires free from wear and it becomes a simple case of rolling it onto the trailer and heading to the track. Yes, we plan on getting new tires but after two and a half years and some sixty plus 20-minute sessions, there’s still no sign of chording, but I have to believe, it’s just a wise move to have them replaced. And oh yes, we ran one full day with a front tire patched after picking up a blade during our last outing to Willow Springs.

Including the day on track at Road Atlanta, we spent five weekends trackside and this represents the balance we have been looking for. Those years where we spent ten or more weekends trackside proved too stressful and the wear and tear on the vehicles was unsustainable, and a poor return on the investment in time and money – there’s a lot of other things we like doing. Readers will have seen just how much time we spent on the road last year and these outings proved to be among the most enjoyable occasions of the year for both Margo and myself. So much so that already we have begun mapping out the program for 2015. Watkins Glen, perhaps? If we spent time on track in Atlanta why not an outing to New York and the Finger Lakes topped off with a visit to one of America’s most famous race tracks?

Looking at the maps and checking routes out of Boulder late Christmas day, the snow began falling, and it kept falling all night. Waking up early Boxing Day, there was more than six inches of snow on the ground and it just kept falling throughout the day. As picturesque as the snow covered houses and trees looked, there’s no escaping the news that the month of January is not only a dark time, but a very cold time and with plenty of leftovers in the refrigerator, we were in no hurry to step outside. Although, watching the local FedEx truck slide off our street to become stuck in a neighbor’s yard did see me venture out with a flask of coffee and some warm muffins to a hapless and somewhat startled FedEx driver.

Just before the clock wound down on 2014, we had one more round of snow and out of necessity, we took to the highways. Splitting time between the Jeep SRT and our daughter Anna’s family Toyota Highlander, it was difficult not to like the Jeep – whether it was the additional weight or the better power steering, it just felt a lot safer out on the interstate. Then again, there’s always something positive to be said about driving your own car when conditions deteriorate and visibility becomes problematic. Perhaps I was under-appreciative of the Jeep’s much-travelled tires but no, it’s time for a new set.

The incident with the FedEx truck reminded me of just how easy it is to forget the lessons of winter and take for granted the conditions of the road and indeed, often the condition of our car. Almost immediately, I began paging through Tire Rack looking for new tires for the Jeep. In the previous post I wrote about just how many miles we had driven in the Jeep but looking at the tires, there’s no way I can get any more life from them so off they go. Coming as soon as this is after just replacing the tires on the Nissan, it’s not leaving much spare change for a night out but these next few weeks bring with them several important milestones, but I will leave further commentary about them till the next post.

Before anyone thinks that the message of Christmas has been somehow overlooked, or that the season for sharing totally ignored, then that would be a totally incorrect assumption. Yes, we had the extended family around for a traditional Christmas Eve get-together, followed Christmas day with a light brunch at our daughter’s, Anna, home. Watching our granddaughter continue to grow took me back to my own time as the father of a newborn, thirty-one years ago.

My daughter Lisa was born just before Christmas and as much as I write about sports cars and SUVs, that very hot pre-Christmas day in Sydney, I drove Lisa home in a Volvo station wagon bought for the occasion. The only concession made was the addition of sports wheels (with stickier tires) and of course, it was bright red. Down through the years, across the numerous continents and the multiple time zones, so little has changed all these decades later; when it comes to vehicular transportation, there’s only ever one real requirement and the color red provides just one clue!

Returning to the house from my quiet time in the garage, just a couple of minutes as it turned out, with the wine breathing and all sorts of goodies arrayed on the countertops. it wasn’t thoughts about the turn of events this past year or of the cars in the garage or even of warm sunny Christmas days spent on the beach in Sydney. It wasn’t about the changes that may happen should the house finally sell and it certainly wasn't about the upcoming trips we would be taking or of the upcoming anniversaries I knew we would be enjoying shortly. As I watched Margo pull hot dishes from the oven and top up drinks as she joined in conversations already in full flight, what really occupied my thoughts was just how lucky I have been to be simply married to Margo and to have the opportunity to share the years with her. For me, all I can hope for is for many more festive occasions to come!