Friday, February 22, 2019

Sorting out what to keep and what to trade …

When did the mighty BMW M4 become a grand tourer and when did the even more magnificent BMW i8 become a supercar? Given how the i8 stole the show in the Mission Impossible movie when Tom Cruise’s character said “wait till you see the car!” It was his only comment as he unloaded munitions and transportation from an air transport plane. On the other hand, trying to squeeze each and every car into a recognizable category these days when crossovers cover so much territory is becoming next to impossible. Do we really need cars like the BMW X6 M or the even rounder and more unsightly Mercedes Benz GLC Coupe? The world of cars has gone mad, I tell you.

With snow falling here in Windsor, Colorado, (as unexpected as it is these days given how it still is winter) it’s time, once again, to explore the topic of which five cars to keep. Well, at least for the next year or so and it is timely as once again, Margo and I find we have five cars in the garage, storage and on the driveway. Spread out as they are and with much less driveway to park them all than we had back in our former home in Niwot, Colorado, this is but just one small challenge that comes from downsizing. Whatever happened to the two bedroom townhouse with six car garages? Not to worry, since I last posted on this topic a year ago, the cars seem to be getting smaller. Not only is the M4 now a GT and the i8 an exotic but the Corvette remains a track-focused toy even as the Jeep SRT well, is still just a Jeep.

One of the primary objectives, indeed possibly the single overriding decision to make when we go out and shop for a new car is that it just has to be pretty. While we really worked hard at trying to like the new bevy of SUV / Coupe crossovers, they just don’t work for us and yet, the need for another All-Wheel Drive (AWD) car continues to be a major consideration given just how many times our roads here in Colorado receive a dusting of snow. Slushy roads just aren’t good for sports cars and track toys so having options is always good. And what isn’t as maddening as it otherwise might be is that today’s performance cars are all getting a big boost from having AWD as an option, as while it may add a little to the vehicles weight it more than makes up for getting the power down onto the road – acceleration numbers and cornering prowess are getting a major boost in vehicles with AWD.

The Jeep SRT with its big naturally-aspirated 6.4 liter hemi V8 continues to be our go-to car whenever the conditions call for it. Last year we made the decision to transfer it away from being just a company car used on business trips to where it is now our personal car. With 120,000 miles racked up in under six years we have decided to make it a “keeper” and to drive it until its wheels fall off, which as a matter of fact, comes close to the truth. We were advised only this week after we rotated the tires yet again, that we would be needing new lug nuts all around as the extremes of heat and cold the car has lived through has caused the lug nuts to swell to where regular sockets no longer fit – have a puncture out on the highway and it may be impossible to remove them now. At least the world didn’t go mad when it produced this Jeep as there is real world use-case scenarios that are best left to be handled by this SRT.

After fifteen plus years, our beloved track car – the Corvette C5 Z06 – remains with us and serves us well even if it has less than 25,000 miles showing on the odometer. Call me old fashioned or just call me old but Margo and I have a fondness for this car and while its retail value has dwindled to an insignificant amount there really isn’t any reason to consider parting ways. Our time on track is winding down and for 2019 it will mostly consist of semi-social marketing efforts where we will focus solely on our home track out at Byers – the High Plains Raceway. As much as we would like to make one return weekend trip to Willow Springs or even Buttonwillow, it is probably not going to happen. For a decision made very quickly back in 2003, this Vette has proved to be one of the wisest car purchase decisions we ever made.

There is a couple of nagging “issues” with this car that apparently every C5 Z06 owner has had to deal with and that is the problems we continue to encounter with the computer overseeing traction control, active handling and yes, anti-lock braking (ABS). The demand to have all three items serviced immediately has appeared many times and try as we might to isolate the “gremlin” involved, driving it back into storage after our last track outing at HPR resulted in these three messages appearing yet again. It will necessitate a trip to service where I am hopeful the fix this time will not be too expensive but I have to tell you, I am nervous as I have read the cure can be anything from a fuse to a wiring (around the ignition switch, no less) to replacing wheel speed sensors to swapping in a new processor. Ouch!  

The picture above is telling in its historical context. This was the very last time our good friends Brian and Jan Kenny trailered their Corvette C6 “Wide Body” to our Niwot home. Their C6 was a finely tuned track car that sounded every bit as wicked as a Corvette can sound – with a track-focused cam shaft, headers and long tubes and a tricked out exhaust system. It was fast. If it hadn’t been for an unfortunate wheels-off incident at Laguna Seca’s turn 11 that careened the car into a barrier, Brian would have set the track record for the day during an outing with Speed Ventures. Whereas Margo and I ran our C5 Z06 on street tires, Brian and Jan had mounted Hoosier slicks and the level of grip these tires provided had to be experienced to be believed.

Unfortunately, after a lengthy stay in the shop being repaired, the Kennys sold their Vette and they are no longer seen trackside. It’s unfortunate too in that we have lost our track buddies and with them sidelined, our own enthusiasm for track weekends has waned. Hence, our decision to only do social “open lapping” days at HPR. On the flip side, the Kennys did buy a plane and have already made the journey from Simi Valley, California, to Windsor, Colorado – a routine we hope that they repeat on a regular basis.

Perhaps an even bigger distraction for them may be the immediate success their grandson, Colton, has been enjoying this early in the year. His first outing in the Daytona 24 Hours saw him as part of the winning GTLM entrant – yes, a BMW M8 – taking home the winners Rolex watch, no less. Then, a matter of just a week or so later, he was back in his new Indy Car ride for testing at Austin, Texas Course of the Americas (COTA) where he topped the leaderboard for three of the four sessions (landing a P2 during the last session where only Indy champion Alexander Rossi recorded a faster time)! It’s just good to be Colton! And to think, he is the only driver in the Indy field born after 2000. And to think too that he had to visit a Rolex store to have his winning watch resized only to have to explain that yes, he did win the watch and no, it wasn't stolen!

Those with a good eye will be able to tell that there is now another coupe in the garage proper. And there is a story behind this that is worth telling – with the exotic i8 and the grand tourer M4 there was a need for a true sports car. A sports car, mind you, that just had to be pretty. I had been eyeing a new BMW M850i X Drive but it was white and it was rather big. Perhaps a good choice at some point to become the grand tourer in the manner that our former Maserati GT-S had served, but for now, with the i8 already stabled in the garage adding the new 8 series would have been overkill. On the other hand, the reports hitting the auto magazines were listing it very high in terms of looks and capabilities so who knows, maybe one day. I guess we may have to sort this all for ourselves at some point!

While we were driving to yet another BMW dealership Margo saw a sleek white sports car turn into a side street. “What was that?” she asked. A Jaguar F-Type, I responded as I continued to drive towards the intended dealership. “When we have finished talking to BMW can we make a trip down to the Jaguar dealership – you know the one that’s just opened near the Flatirons Mall?” As it turned out, the time we spent in the second BMW dealership led nowhere – you want a new i8 roadster for $175,000? Well, not really! So it was a short drive to the Jaguar dealership and what do you know. They had an F-Type on the showroom floor that they were heavily discounting. 

Back in 2003 in the months before we bought the Corvette C5 Z06 we had been looking to buy the then Jaguar sports car – the XK8 or possibly the XKR. We visited the showroom several times but on the day we took the checkbook with us, the dealer in one of the poorest time decisions that they ever made took us aside to show us their additional showroom that now featured Aston Martins. Well, the rest is history as we so liked the Aston Martins so much that we dropped all further consideration of buying the Jag even though we knew the price of the Aston Martin was out of reach. Awkward ... Or, so we thought. In the months that followed, we bought the C5 Z06 and returned a few weeks later and bought a second Corvette. This time it was a 2004 C5 Convertible and our first entry into the world of blue Corvettes. 

However, it was also around that time that Margo’s niece, Joanna, asked whether we would be interested in buying a XK8 Convertible and from the pictures she provided, it looked beautiful. Also at that time Margo was demonstrating her prowess in the stock market as a day-trader and in one day of trading, she profited to the point where she had gained enough money to buy the Jag. Unfortunately, Joanna’s friend selling the new Jag (he was waiting for his Bentley to be built-to-order) sold it to his neighbor. Little did I realize that Margo really wanted that XK8 Convertible and even though she was happy enough with the C5 Convertible well, it wasn’t a Jaguar! 

Margo now has her Jaguar sports car. This time it’s the new F-Type and yes, it’s AWD. Powered by a supercharged V6 with some 380hp, it moves along nicely and with its 8-speed ZF gearbox (the same as is in the Jeep and practically every other car these days) receiving Jaguar specific software upgrades, it performs almost as quickly as the automated manual dual-clutch transmission in the M4. Many years ago, we had been invited to an outing in the Denver Bronco’s Mile High Stadium for an autocross session inside a bevy of new Jaguars. While we didn’t perform all that well – the cars were enormous saloons – Margo did score a Jaguar baseball cap which she kept to this day. Now she has the car to go with it; who knew!

Before we get too wrapped up with the five cars we now have, the Jag is only in the garage because the lease on the i8 is almost up. We had originally wanted to wait, but when the Jaguar dealer knocked 25% off the price, “temptation stepped right in!” We will have about three months of overlap that will give us the balanced mix of exotic / supercar, grand tourer, sports car, track car and the SUV. Will we be able to live with only four cars plus the venerable RV and trailer or will we be back on the hunt for another exotic or perhaps grand tourer? For us, we have always appreciated that we should never say never, but in reality (and in time), we may be headed the other way and come up with just the three cars we absolutely must have. Suddenly that BMW M8 (when it appears) might fit the bill but then again, that’s a story for another day. For Margo, she has her sports car and it’s a Jaguar, at last, and I am not sure she will ever want to trade that car away for anything else.