Not all that long ago, an entire generation learned about high performance and hot rods from Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys. Their lyrics romanticized surfing, cars and the California lifestyle. I knew kids who quoted those lyrics as they described either the car they were driving, or the one they desperately wanted to drive.
We’ll never know how many of the kids those lyrics seduced into going home to tinker with their ride (or their father’s ride). Just like we’ll never know how many eventually found a home in our industry.
It’s a generation or two later, and while the music is gone, the car culture appears to be alive and well, although very different. Where kids in the ’60s learned about cars on the radio and dreamed of surfing off the Point at Sunset or at County Line, kids today are doing all their learning and all their surfing on the Web!
Once upon a time, “wiping out” meant choking down a little salt water and some seaweed when you were buried by the waves and had to fight your way to the surface. Today it can mean learning some very expensive lessons about what works and what doesn’t, what fits and what won’t, while “walking” up and down the aisles of any one of a hundred virtual high performance shops, pulling six of these and two of those from their place on one electronic shelf after another, until your shopping cart is full and your credit card (or, perhaps more appropriately, your father’s credit card) is exhausted!
When I started working on cars professionally in the late ’60s and saw kids who knew nothing about what they were driving, uttering the same words the Beach Boys were singing, I thought I had seen it all. Forty years later, I’ve come to realize just how wrong you can be, especially when the subject is kids and cars!
This time it was a little red turbo-charged Eclipse with a “wanna be” tuner owner. The Eclipse came to us with a serious noise coming from under the timing belt cover, a complaint of poor driveability, low power, really bad fuel economy and a driver who really didn’t look like he’d be old enough to drive for at least two more years.
When we opened the hood we knew we’d be in for a real adventure! There were cables the size of power lines headed toward the trunk, which, as you have probably already guessed, was filled with speakers and amps, sub-woofers and tweeters. No spare or jack to clutter up the truck, just enough mega-watts to melt your cerebellum and cause immediate and profound hearing impairment.
But, that didn’t compare with what was going on under the hood. The first thing you saw or, didn’t see as the hood opened and you were blinded by the chrome and polished aluminum was what was there and what was missing. You couldn’t miss the over-sized cold air induction system, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I happen to have one under the hood of my car. It’s just that mine fits.
The system installed on the Eclipse didn’t. And, as a result, you couldn’t help but think, “Well, this isn’t right!”
Following that revelation, your eyes immediately were drawn to the tangle of hoses, wires and connectors that seemed to be growing out of every empty space under the hood: wires, hoses and connectors going nowhere. It was a visual smorgasbord of “To do’s,” things that obviously needed to be done, and “Not to do’s,” things that should never have been done in the first place.
But, the visuals were nothing compared to the noise. And, I’m not referring to the heavy bass coming from the stereo causing the vehicle and everything around it to vibrate in concert to “music.” The timing belt was beating out a rhythm against the timing belt cover that would have made any rapper proud!
If this vehicle and its driver weren’t representative of an entire generation of cars and drivers, it would be easy to blow them both off. But, they are!
The cold air induction system was designed to fit a different Mitsubishi model with a larger engine, not available here in the States. The turbocharger installed on this vehicle was engineered and manufactured to fit the vehicle with the engine you won’t find here. In fact, there were all kinds of components and accessories installed on this vehicle that weren’t necessarily designed for it, but were bolted on nevertheless!
Where did all these “bolt-ons” come from? The Internet, of course! Our young hero had made his way through a virtual universe of forums and bulletin boards, user groups and individual messages, specializing in high-performance Japanese car modifications. He purchased a few of these, a couple of those, one or two of these over here, and of course, that one over there, because they were guaranteed to produce the desired result more ponies.
Then, he spent countless hours with his “friends and family” trying desperately to make it all fit. Please notice I didn’t say work! Some of it could and never would work because it wasn’t hooked up, it was just there. And, it was just there and not hooked up, because, well, it didn’t fit!
The turbo couldn’t work properly because it hadn’t been installed properly and because there was no way to control the boost. The engine couldn’t run properly because both the balance and timing belts were barely tight enough to remain on the engine, the mixture was off as a result of a half dozen vacuum leaks, and the engine was misfiring because, among other things, the spark plugs were loose.
We put together a laundry list of things that absolutely needed to be done to prevent a catastrophic engine failure starting with the timing belt and presented it to both the young driver, and then again to his mom. She seemed to get it, and authorized the work immediately.
Junior, however, was having some difficulty connecting the dots. He wanted to control the repair based upon information he had received from his pals in cyberspace. He didn’t want a tensioner because he wasn’t convinced he needed one. He wanted to provide his own parts, because he was sure the ones he could get would be both cheaper and better.
We told both the son and the mom just how the job needed to be done in the real world. We explained what we would do and what we weren’t willing to do; what we would “fix,” and what we would do the best we could with.
More importantly, we explained what we couldn’t do, what we were unable to do. Not because we don’t have the skills, the tools or the talent necessary to achieve success, but, because changes had been made to the basic physiology of the vehicle that made balance, and therefore, success, impossible.
Did we fix everything? No. Could we? I wasn’t really willing to find out.
We fixed everything we were able to fix and balanced overall performance as much as we could based upon the changes that had been made.
You see, while you and I can take advantage of everything the virtual world has to offer, we don’t live there. We can’t. We don’t have that luxury. We are constrained by the limits of the physical world in which we live and the laws of physics that govern everything that exists here.
In the end, our young hero wasn’t too happy. His wishes had been eclipsed by the mundane realities of life in the real world. Oh, he got back a vehicle that ran far better than the one he brought in; a vehicle that would prove to be far more dependable. He even got back a vehicle that was quicker and more powerful, something I’m sure he never expected. But, it didn’t work the way he thought it would because the parts that he had installed didn’t fit the way he thought they should; they way he was promised they would on the Internet.
If he had purchased them from you or me, they would work. They would work because they would fit! And, they would fit because…
Wait a second… isn’t that cool!
Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Repair in Simi Valley, CA. He is well-known throughout the industry as an automotive journalist, trainer and industry spokesman. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].