Podcast Episode 4: Deltawing Racing Chief Engineer Simon Marshall

What if your only limitation is designing a race car was your imagination? That’s a lot like what the designers of the radical Deltawing started with when they were honing their controversial, arrow-shaped design. We sit down with Deltawing’s Chief Engineer Simon Marshall to talk about the design and development process of this revolutionary car, and what it’s like being the kid on the block with the strange toy nobody understands.

Download episode 4.

See all our previous episodes and subscribe to the podcast.

Podcast Episode 3: Motorsport Marketing co-owner Marjorie Suddard

Margie Suddard was kind enough to play guinea pig in one of our first podcast technical tests. This was never intended to be a distributed podcast, but after we listened to it, we realized it was an extremely compelling look at what it takes to survive in the publishing and small business world these days. The audio is a little rough in spots, as we were still working through our recording methods, but we hope you excuse those and enjoy fascinating chat with our office mate.

Download episode 3.

See all our previous episodes and subscribe to the podcast.

Episode 5: Hot Rod Magazine Brand Director David Freiburger

Hot Rod magazine is an iconic title in our industry, and the guy in charge of making sure Hot Rod stays awesome is David Freiburger. More than an editor, Freiburger oversees the entire Hot Rod brand, from print magazines, to web media, to video and anything else they can think of to get their message out. We love chats with other folks in the car magazine industry, and we think you’ll enjoy riding shotgun as we talk shop with Mr. Freiburger.

Download episode 5.

See all our previous episodes and subscribe to the podcast.

Episode 4: Deltawing Racing Chief Engineer Simon Marshall

What if your only limitation is designing a race car was your imagination? That’s a lot like what the designers of the radical Deltawing started with when they were honing their controversial, arrow-shaped design. We sit down with Deltawing’s Chief Engineer Simon Marshall to talk about the design and development process of this revolutionary car, and what it’s like being the kid on the block with the strange toy nobody understands.

Download episode 4.

See all our previous episodes and subscribe to the podcast.

Podcast No. 3: Motorsport Marketing co-owner Marjorie Suddard

Margie Suddard was kind enough to play guinea pig in one of our first podcast technical tests. This was never intended to be a distributed podcast, but after we listened to it, we realized it was an extremely compelling look at what it takes to survive in the publishing and small business world these days. The audio is a little rough in spots, as we were still working through our recording methods, but we hope you excuse those and enjoy fascinating chat with our office mate.

Download episode 3.

See all our previous episodes and subscribe to the podcast.

Buyers Guide: Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky

The early 2000s were tumultuous years for GM. Most of the company’s brands were in disarray, and buyers were deserting by the thousands. The Camaro and Firebird were dead, SUVs and trucks ruled the product mix, and car line innovation was sorely lacking. GM leadership had to do something, or continue to fall behind Toyota in the American sales race.

GM had recently brought in head product guy Bob Lutz to invigorate the company’s numerous brands. One of the keys to more sales was more engaging products, and Lutz set out to streamline the number of nameplates and models so that more development money could be spent on more profitable segments. One of the company’s first moves was to put Oldsmobile out to pasture.

Cadillac was the first to benefit from this strategy with the launch of the successful rear-wheel- drive CTS, reversing a trend toward front-drive products in every other division. Pontiac was slated to become an enthusiast division, with new rear-drive replacements for aging products and more fun-to-drive products in general. Results included the Holden-built GTO, along with a number of concepts displayed at auto shows to judge consumer reactions.

The Solstice concept was one of the best-received, shown first in 2002. It was a convertible two-seater that was more than a little reminiscent of the Mazda Miata, with small exterior dimensions, a four-cylinder engine, and a rear-wheel-drive powertrain. It had a more aggressive wheel-and-tire package than the Japanese offering–as well as less refined styling. The interior looked great, and the whole package was appealing on paper.

All the key design features from the concept carried over into the 2004 unveiling of the production Solstice. The car was built on an all-new compact rear platform, dubbed Kappa, but relied heavily on parts borrowed from other GM vehicles to control costs. The Cadillac CTS donated a differential and automatic transmission, while other bits came from the Hummer H3, Chevy Colorado, Cadillac XTS and Cobalt/G5. Even the GMC Envoy, Opel Corsa and Fiat Barchetta were parts donors according to GM, giving the Solstice backup lights, seat frames and sideview mirrors, respectively.

Looking past all the cost cutting, including the rather heavy-handed use of hard interior plastics and “leatherette,” the Kappa platform was more akin to the Corvette than anything else. It was clear where engineers spent the most time and money. The chassis featured a rigid backbone frame, with a deep tunnel and hydroformed frame rails that GM claimed gave it rigidity without depending on a roof structure for strength. All four corners featured a short-long-arms suspension with unique control arms and uprights. It even had the distinction of being the first GM vehicle with adjustable rear caster.

A fraternal twin was shown shortly after the launch of the Solstice on the 2006 auto show circuit. This was the Saturn Sky roadster– basically the same car as the Solstice, but with a different front and rear fascia and a slightly different interior. The Sky shared its appearance with two other variants of the car–the only-in-Korea Daewoo G2X and the European-market Opel GT.

The Sky and Solstice shared a common engine: a 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower LE5 variant of the GM Ecotec similar to the one used in the Cobalt and various other GM vehicles at the time. It was backed by either a five-speed manual Aisin transmission or a five-speed automatic. The standard differential was an open unit, though a limited-slip differential was available separately or as part of the Pontiac’s “Club Sport” package, which also included four-wheel ABS and different suspension tuning.

True to its sports-car roots, the base Solstice had few standard features. Air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and door locks; and remote entry were all optional, as were a four-wheel ABS and improved sound deadening. The Saturn-branded Sky included most of these as standard, but otherwise it was almost identical in spec. Both cars could be loaded up with OnStar, satellite radio, upgraded audio and chrome wheels if the buyer wanted. Leather seating was a popular choice for both cars.

The Solstice and Sky were twins under the skin, but they had very different looks. The Pontiac was curvaceous and muscular, while the Saturn was razor sharp and edgy. The interiors were no less exciting, with far more design than most GM products in recent memory. Both received very high marks on their styling from reviewers and the public. Without a doubt, they’ll be noted as high points in the GM design language from the period.

From 2007 on, things got more interesting with the addition of a direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec-based engine to the Solstice and Sky. The Solstice GXP and Sky Red Line, as they were dubbed, limited-slip differential standard along with the new engine. With 260 horsepower on tap, the turbo twins could rocket to 60 mph in around 5.5 seconds.

Although the Kappa twins looked great, had some neat specs on paper, and were priced aggressively compared to the Miata and S2000, reviewers compared them unfavorably to their Japanese counterparts. The previously mentioned cost cutting was often cited. The interiors looked great but featured broad swathes of hard plastic and poor ergonomics.

The cupholders were behind the driver’s elbow or down near the passenger’s left knee, for example.

Another oft-mentioned problem was a top that required several steps to fold in; meanwhile, competitors had tops that folded simply or automatically. The top also removed valuable trunk space–so much that even in a market segment known for its miniscule boots, the Solstice/Sky stood out as being impractical. They couldn’t fit more than a few small bags in the back. Golfers had to either play solo or travel with the top up.

But by far the biggest complaint contemporary reviewers had with the GM roadsters was their disengaged steering feel and lax throttle response. While these were meant to be competitors of the Miata, S2000 and Boxster, they weren’t even in the same ballpark in handling and steering precision. The 260-horsepower versions were wonderful in a straight line, but they lacked the finesse needed to control the engine’s powerband.

Another major milestone for the Kappa platform appeared for the 2009 model year: the addition of a targa-top coupe model to the Solstice line. The coupe was even better-looking than the already-handsome convertible, with a functional tail spoiler and different taillights than its chop-top sibling.

The interior was more or less the same as the convertible’s, and the engine and equipment choices were identical. Unfortunately, the coupe was very short-lived, as the economic crisis conspired to end the Kappa model cycle early.

Things to Know

Solstice and Sky roadsters have depreciated to the point that there is not much price difference between the different models. Mileage and overall condition will have a larger impact on price than model year. GXP/Red Line models command a premium, and most owners agree that the cars should have shipped in this trim from the beginning.

These are not especially common cars. According to GM numbers, around 34,000 Saturn Sky convertibles, 64,000 Solstice convertibles and 1200 Solstice Coupes were produced. However, enough were made that their value is unlikely to increase in the near future.

Book values on the convertibles range from a low of $9500 or so for an early version to more than $17,000 for a 2009 GXP Coupe. However, most asking prices are well above these benchmarks. We’ve seen a number of clean cars sell in the $15,000-to-$18,000 range, so budget a little more than book value and hope for a good deal.

The only car most GRM readers should consider is a GXP/ Red Line with a manual transmission and a limited-slip differential, which narrows the field somewhat. The Saturn has more standard equipment but will be harder to find. If you want a Coupe, prepare to do some serious searching. Of the 1200 or so Coupes produced in 2009, the majority (781 according to GM) were GXPs; however, only 226 were delivered with the manual transmission. These are the most desirable of all the Kappa variants and have attracted some collector interest. Time will tell if this will be a repeat of the Turbo Corvair or of the Shelby Cobra.

The Kappa platform actually managed to live on as a V8-powered hotrod produced in Spain. A miniscule supercar manufacturer called Tauro bought the Kappa tooling from GM in 2012 and designed a new Corvette-powered supercar around a face-lifted version of the chassis. Just $150,000 at current exchange rates will put one in your garage.

CHASSIS

Several TSBs were issued for differential leaks, so most of these cars have been treated for this problem. Differential failures are also a common issue.

The basic Kappa suspension and chassis are great starting points for a competition car. The geometry contains few compromises, and there is plenty of room for more tire and a larger engine. Rhys Millen and Gardella Racing both fielded Solstice drift cars, and the model was successful in T2 and SSB while it was in production. Driveline clunks are a common complaint with these cars.

BODY

The body panels can be fiddly to get right after an accident, so look carefully for misaligned panel edges, inconsistent gaps and other problems.

Attempting to shut the trunk with the top partially down can result in a tweaked lid, another common issue that can be addressed by a determined owner or a good body shop. Convertible top problems (leaks, poor fitment and difficult movement) are often reported as well. Coupes are generally no different from Solstice convertibles. However, there is no place in the car to store the top, so you’ll need extra garage space if you want one with a roof.

ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN

The Ecotec engine in the base Solstice/Sky is no powerhouse, but it provides reasonable fuel economy. Supercharger kits are available to boost power from the factory 140 wheel horsepower to around 220–about the same as a stock Red Line/GXP. For $2500 or so, this isn’t a bad deal, but starting with a turbo 2.0-liter engine will leave more room for further power increases.

GM Performance Parts offers a kit for the LNF turbo engine that boosts power to 290 horsepower and torque to 340 ft.-lbs. with nothing more than a couple MAP sensors and an ECU reflash. The kit may provide only a modest horsepower gain, but it includes a full family warranty and can even be installed by a dealer.

If that’s not enough for you, V8 swaps began as soon as the Solstice/Sky twins landed on dealers’ lots. Several companies offer the parts to do the conversion, and while it’s straightforward, it’s far from a bolt-in swap. Any of the recent LS-series V8s can be swapped into the Solstice/Sky. For a period during the cars’ production, a company called Mallet marketed LS-powered Solstice roadsters through GM with full factory warranties. Mallet still performs the conversion on customer cars as needed.

INTERIOR

As the cars have aged, their weak points have mostly concerned the budget-priced interior parts. Rattles, scratches and broken clips are frequent annoyances 3 mentioned on the message boards.

Vintage Views: Honda CRX Si

You develop a lot of obscure muscles in your arms from that unassisted steering with 9- or 10-inch wheels and a Mugen differential. We call ’em ‘Honda muscles.’”

Driving his old C Street Prepared Honda CRX wasn’t just another day at the gym for Bret Norgaard, though. The abrupt nature of the car’s torque steer is a potential hazard in a slalom on a wet course. All of Bret’s CRX-driving colleagues have either badly sprained their wrists or fractured their thumbs due to their cars’ violent steering.

“We’ve all hurt our wrists driving these cars in the wet,” he cautions. “But the joy of getting it right offsets the fear of getting it wrong and getting hurt. With the right driver, not much can beat a small, front-wheel-drive car through a slalom.”

The CRX arrived for 1984, with the sporty Si following the next year–those swoopy aero headlamps became standard in 1986. Attendance is testament that the formula works. If you’ve gone to an autocross in the last two decades and so much as opened your eyeballs, you’ve seen a CRX. The sporty and efficient two-seater version of the Honda Civic can boast high fuel economy in HF trim or speedy autocross runs in Si form.

First-generation CRXs cemented Honda’s dominance in the autocross world, only to be supplanted by the second generation of the same car. Today, the CRX is still very popular in E Prepared and G Prepared. The second-gen cars often take the trophy, but the earlier ones still have their place in the mix.

The aforementioned HF trim, though valuable to hypermilers for its ability to hit Insight-level miles per gallon with decades-old technology, isn’t of much interest to enthusiasts as a package. Its engine makes the car a wheezy commuter, and its gear ratios are extremely far apart. That can make it a chore to drive around.

A CRX Si is properly entertaining. Though around 100 pounds heavier, it also comes with a more powerful, fuel injected engine and a suspension tuned for sportier driving. Bret tells of taking his car to a drag strip and, on Hoosiers and completely set up for autocross, putting down a 14.1-second quarter-mile.

“These are the quickest cars I’ve ever driven in 20 years of racing with regard to the amount of sensory overload and the attention needed to drive them,” Bret says. “My car was CSP-legal and weighed 1600 pounds. That makes for a great power-to-weight ratio.”

These cars are still in the bargain-basement price range–though they have been climbing a bit recently. Look to spend $900 to $1500 for a 200,000-mile car on its original engine; rebuilds fetch more money. Garage finds with low miles can approach $3000.

Shopping & Ownership

Bret Norgaard, longtime autocrosser and president of CRX tuning shop Yawsport, built the most developed first-generation CRX in the country and competed with it for seven years in SCCA Solo. He earned a second-place finish at Solo Nationals in 1998–at the time, it was classed in C Street Prepared. He still builds CRXs to this day. He gave us the following tips.

Generally speaking, these cars are very reliable if they’re given the proper maintenance and care. Fuel pumps go out, pump prefilters need to be changed regularly–nothing you wouldn’t expect on a car that’s a quarter-century old. “There weren’t any issues you could really focus on,” Bret says.

It’s hard to find clean cars for sale. You’ll have better luck finding one that’s not rusty in the West and Southwest regions of the country. If you’re shopping somewhere that actually has weather, rust can be a real issue. Look for rot in the rear fender wells and lower rocker panels, the rear trunk bulkhead and around the taillights. Any rust on the suspension is usually just cosmetic except for the occasional broken anti-roll bar link.

The hot ticket for low unsprung weight on the rear axle is to swap in the piece from the superlight HF model. These are smaller in diameter, have no internal anti-roll bar, and use finned aluminum brake drums.

All together, these add up to 20 pounds removed in unsprung weight, which helps offset the weight of big wheels and tires. You can restore rear roll stiffness by retrofitting a chassis-mounted aftermarket anti-roll bar. Without the aftermarket bar, you’ll have a really spongy ride with a lot of body roll.

The torsion bar spring used on the front strut makes it difficult to pick spring rates because of limited offerings. The largest you can fit inside the torque tube is a 27.5mm spring, which is basically the spline depth diameter. Anything bigger and you’ll have to make custom torque tubes. Though the Si engine made just 91 horsepower, you can gain a solid 30 percent without any internal engine work. Just add a good aftermarket header, individual throttle bodies and programmable fuel injection.

The body blow to ownership is that the valve spring retainers tend to fracture. When that happens, the valve will drop and grenade the motor. The following uppercut: They’re no longer available from Honda. You have to scour eBay Motors and hope to find one from somebody’s old stock.

Connecting rod and crank main bearings are also becoming hard to find. If you’re looking to compete in a class that doesn’t allow custom or aftermarket bearings, you’ll have a hard time doing a factory blueprint. The front fenders are made from plastic, and they don’t age like their steel counterparts.

Turn One: Fun Between Runs

Earlier this year, I walked into J.G.’s office and made a declaration: We were going to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals. Making magazines and helping run the company had kept us away from that event for way too long. We were going back, deadlines and workload be damned.

He countered with a logical question: What are we going to drive?

I answered that I didn’t know and shuffled back to my office. I had magazines to make.

By now, you have probably realized that we didn’t have some grand plan that involved winning a national title. No, we were going for the experience.

J.G. is a pretty decent shoe and has trophied at the Solo Nats before. Me? Well, I wasn’t hired for my driving prowess, although I can boast of a few local titles. No matter your driving talent, there’s a reality check you have to face: Not everyone is going to win. Yes, there are a lot of classes in autocross, but there are even more entrants—at Nationals, figure more than a thousand participants.

Simple math says that the number of entrants greatly exceeds the amount of available first-place trophies. So what’s in it for the rest of us? For one, there’s a chance to see how we stack up. Sure, at home you’re the big fish in the little pond. But how do you fare in a field where Solo legend Mark Daddio finishes an uncharacteristic fourth? You also get to see the cars that are in the magazines–our pub included. The creations unleashed at the event are just amazing. Imagination, fabrication and dedication team up to turn dreams into automotive reality. My favorite thing, in fact, is to walk the paddock in the evenings just to see the craftsmanship up close.

Then there’s the community–a chance to hang with people who understand why you spend all day getting heatstroke just for 4 minutes of excitement. Here’s how I see it: It’s not 4 minutes of seat time; it’s a day–or week–of hanging with like-minded souls.

I think the sport has matured, too. Back in the day, lots of people seemed to be using autocross as a means to road racing. Today, track events fill that niche. Autocross is still the best way to learn car control and hone your preparation skills in a low-impact environment, but it seems like we now have a sizable population of autocross lifers. This is their sandbox, and they’re happy with that.

When the time came to register, we did figure out a car: We’d run our VW Beetle TDI in the Road Tire FWD class. In doing so, we’d also become the first people to run a Stockprepared, diesel-powered car at the Solo Nats. Ever. Or at least that’s what some smart people told us.

Since we were going with diesel power, J.G. whipped up some special-edition, mesh-back, foam-front GRM trucker hats. He also scored us junior suites for the event.

Our car would be mostly stock, but it needed tires. Easy. I ordered up four BFGoodrich g-Force Rivals. It’s just a blazing- fast street tire that’s also novice-friendly. J.G. installed some brake pads and put together our snazzy graphics package. We were off for the races.

The first person I encountered at the site was multi-time champ Jack Burns, a gentleman who’s just a great ambassador for the sport. Whether you’re a seasoned vet or a total noob, Jack will answer your questions and point you in the right direction. Next I met our neighbors, the guys from Buzz-Thru Coffee. Did I want something to drink? Those two encounters set the tone for the event, as everyone I met–competitor, official, whatever–was polite and genuinely happy to be there.

The locals were pleasant, too. I had a delightful dinner with friendly conversation in downtown Lincoln at LeadBelly, a place described as a “contemporary American pub.” The meal was so good, in fact, that I ate there again later in the week. J.G. and I were in Lincoln on a diplomatic mission. Before leaving for the event, I requested that we have four chairs in our booth. Why the extra two? I wanted people to feel welcome in our space. I won’t lie: Walking back to our booth and seeing guys we didn’t know hanging out in our tent made me smile.

For the Tuesday evening movie showing in the paddock, we came prepared, too: J.G. filled the VW’s way-back with every snack imaginable, and that evening we passed them out. And when we had leftovers the following day, we drove around the paddock and handed them out. Chips? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?

During the week, we ran into all sorts of characters, from legends in the sport to a guy dressed as Dom DeLuise’s alter ego, Captain Chaos. We saw our Central Florida locals as well as guys we haven’t seen in a million years. Bryce Nash, a $2000 Challenge regular, flew out from Oregon and slept in his rental. Many others drove from all corners of the continent to be part of the event.

My runs? Forgettable.

The weeklong experience? Totally memorable. Just before I left for home, I returned the golf cart and then walked through the paddock to get back to our car. The event was winding down, and the paddock was thinning out. The air was quiet. The sky was huge.

I came across the Atlanta Region compound–a giant tent filled with used furniture–and grabbed a spot on the couch for a spell. I hung with Perry Bennett–he shoots for us–and Angela Carlascio, a fellow Central Florida autocrosser. Like J.G. and me, she was there for the camaraderie. This was her vacation, and she was there to see friends.

And that was the perfect cap to the week–no protests, no stress, no B.S. We just chatted as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon.

Yes, we’ll be back.

Your Cars: Swift Recovery and Triumph

A 1990 Suzuki Swift GT is an uncommon choice for stage rally racing, but Jen Imai has found in it a worthy dirt partner. Her underdog team recovered from a late-season crash and won the 2011 Performance Stock Class championship for the California Rally Series.

“We were leading the points and rolled the Suzuki at the Gorman Ridge Rally, and then had three weeks to get it back together,” she said. “By working late hours in addition to our day jobs, my co-driver, Terry Stonecipher, and I, with the generous assistance and expertise of Mike Welch at Road Race Engineering, were able to compete in the last major event of the season and won the championship there.”

Her car is a relatively simple setup, and she’s accustomed to chasing junkyard Geo Metros for replacement body panels. The drivetrain is robust enough to handle the frequent high-rev use, but after breaking a few sets of spider gears, she decided to get a nice Gripper LSD. To absorb those off-road bumps, a Hot Bits coil-over suspension system has been installed, and she has adapted rear pillowball mounts from an Eagle Talon.

Share & Save: What’s this?

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen these odd links with funny names somewhere on the site and want to know what they’re all about. Well, prepare to feel a bit more Net savvy. Those links are what the geeks call “social networks.”

Social networking sites allow you to store and share links and pages across the Internet. It’s like taking your bookmarks list and being able to see it from any computer.

Even better, social networks allow you to steer friends, relatives, colleagues and pretty much anyone else to the cool stuff you’ve found, so they have something better to do online than watching the skateboarding squirrel video on YouTube for the thirtieth time. You’re making the world a better place.

The only catch is that while all the social networks are free, you do have to register. Each site has a slightly different focus, so take a look through the links and see which service suits you best.

Tags:

Turn One: “Amazing Drives”

When it comes to most things in life, I admit that I’m a bit of a traditionalist. Call me old-school. I like my vodka unflavored, my “Star Wars” without Jar Jar, and my mouse with only one button.

Recently, I spent some time with the latest, all-new Porsche 911, and I fully admit that I entered the drive not wanting to like it. Yes, it looked like a 911 and still had a flat-six hanging behind the rear axle, but that Panamera-influenced interior wasn’t winning me over. Real 911s have a stick shift poking up from the floor, not a center stack filled with a few dozen knobs, buttons and sliders.

Guess what? I’m an idiot. The latest 911 is one of the best cars that I have ever, ever driven—so good, in fact, that it got me thinking about other life-changing drives I have experienced:

Mazda Miata: The best car ever pieced together by humankind? Yeah, maybe. End of debate.

Acura Integra Type R: If the Miata is at the top of the heap, then the Type R has to be the best front-driver ever. It marries Honda’s perfectly benign chassis with an insane redline, brakes that could stop the rotation of a small planet, and that wonderful Torsen diff. It’s like driving an air-powered impact gun.

In fact, this car made such an impact that I asked Honda if I could buy our test car from their fleet. Sadly, I was told, it was a preproduction example that would eventually have to be terminated.

Porsche GT3: Adapt that Type R rawness to the Porsche 911, and you have the GT3. Sure, the GT2 and Turbo may be faster, but nothing else sounds like a GT3. That shriek is somewhere between a TIE fighter and a Tasmanian devil hopped up on meth.

I’d totally rock an earlier 996-chassis GT3, too. Every time I get Panorama, the Porsche Club of America’s official pub, I check the going prices. They seem to hover around $49,999. That’s a chunk of change, but I bet in just a few years we’ll reminisce about when a GT3 cost less than a one-bedroom L.A. apartment.

MGA: A lot of you probably don’t know this, but I’m lucky to serve as chairman of the board of the British Motor Trade Association, a group that serves the businesses dedicated to the British car hobby. Between that and my duties at Classic Motorsports magazine, I can speak a decent amount of British car.

There are a lot of traditional British sports cars out there, but the MGA has a special openness. It’s part sports bike, part British motorcycle. The Miata may carry the torch today, but the English originals still have that special smell—a mix of Castrol, leather and dampness. If you ever happen upon a British car day, see if you can at least slip behind the wheel of an MGA.

Jaguar XKE: Speaking of British cars, the original supercar also comes from that land across the pond. Last time I visited Carl Heideman, I took his early XKE for a spin. You really owe it to yourself to bum a ride—not necessarily in his, but in anyone’s.

The XKE is just the definition of classy, from its pursed lips to the rows of toggle switches that punctuate the interior. Then there’s ride: smooth, composed, ready to pounce, yet supple enough to deliver you to work. Make mine British Racing Green, please.

Fiat 500: Carl also owns one of these—and I’m talking about the original 500, not the newly minted one. Carl described this one best: It’s a four-wheeled moped. Oh, and it has a non-synchro gearbox, meaning every gear change is a bit of an adventure. Like many of the cars on my list, it’s all about the journey, not setting the lap record.

Dodge Viper: The first time I approached a Dodge Viper, I got my calf a bit too close to a hot side pipe and wrenched it away—nice to see those reflexes work, huh? In the process, something popped inside my knee. After lying in the grass waiting for things to return to normal, the Viper and I had another go at it. The speedometer was flinging toward the three-digit zone, but the tachometer was barely climbing—I figured the tach was broken. Then I realized something: The Viper’s immense V10 engine wasn’t like anything else—it built power by its own rules.

Consulier: Before joining the magazine staff, I read the somewhat damning reviews of Warren Mosler’s Consulier in the buff books. It was crude and not fully baked. Someone criticized it for having too many cigarette lighters.

Soon after coming to the mag, Warren let me borrow one for what was billed as Florida’s first import drag race. True, Consuliers came from Florida, but for whatever reason, it was welcome—the turbocharged four-cylinder was at least in the right spirit.

My first run staged me against a Honda Prelude— remember, the import scene was still wearing diapers. He got the jump, and I simply buried the throttle. I beat him to the finish line by seconds. So I came to a stop and waited. After all, I didn’t know how to get off the drag strip. Someone had to show me the way back to the pits.

Volkswagen Kombi: Ever drive a VW bus? I imagine that the Goodyear blimp delivers a similar sensation regarding acceleration and handling. Like all air-cooled VWs, though, it’s about the experience, not the max performance numbers. Mark, my college roommate, had a bone-stock 1967 Bug when we met. Back then, that was just an inexpensive car. One day I’d like one just like his, down to the totally lackluster exterior almond hue.

My Own Porsche 911: I love it when the naysayers start beating up on the original Porsche 911. It’s just an overgrown VW Bug. The engine is at the wrong end. It doesn’t have a proper cooling system.

Know what? It’s a sports car. It’s not supposed to make any sense. If you can’t find joy in near-telepathic steering, an amazing view of the road, and possibly the world’s best exhaust note, turn in your sports car club membership right now.

And that, my friends, is why we drive, love and collect these silly cars—for the fun. So what cars changed your outlook on life? I’d love to hear your list. Just drop me a note at david@grassrootsmotorsports.com.