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"The value of life can be measured by how many times your soul has been deeply stirred."

          -   Soichiro Honda


I'm a seriously afflicted car nut.  I probably got hooked on cars when a neighbor got a Pontiac Firebird in 1969.  Or it may have been when one of my father's friends came over in a brand new, silver 1969 Porsche 911T.  There was just something about cars like those that stoked my imagination.  I was fascinated by the articles on cars in Popular Mechanics magazine.  Then the movie LeMans came out in 1971 with Steve McQueen.  Now it wasn't just about the cars, it was about the people, the drama and the zeal with which car people lived. 

Any chance that I might have moved on to more acceptable recreational pursuits was doomed when I saw my first issue of Car and Driver magazine.  They wrote stories about exotic machines like the Lamborghini Muira.  When I saw a Muira in the flesh, I just new I was one of the lucky ones to be able to appreciate the scintillating shriek of the peaky V12 engine.

Alas, I have yet to experience the thrill of driving any of the truly exotic machines, built by men who understand something I can only sense.  But I've had a few interesting cars. 

November 2008.  After the lease (finally!) expired on the 2006 BMW 330i, I bought a car that seemed unlikely in light of my recent history: the 2008 Volkswagen GTI.  The GTI is the sporty version of the Rabbit and is the Volkswagen adaptation of the Audi A3.  Having had both the GTI and the A3, I can honestly say I prefer the GTI.  It's quick, nimble, solid, roomy, economical...and just plain fun.  Because the GTI powertrain and suspension is essentially the same as the Audi A3, it drives very much like the A3.  But it is somehow a little less crude and a little more sporty.  It may sound odd to say that a VW feels less crude than its Audi counterpart, but that's just how it feels to me.

February 2006.  Shortly after getting a 2006 Audi A3, my wife traded her '99 Land Rover Discovery on a 2006 BMW 330i - this is the new E90 body-style that made its debut in 2005 as a 2006 model.  I drive the BMW and Stephanie drives the Audi.  After a year with the two new cars, I am looking forward to the expiration of the lease on the BMW so I can get back into a 2004 or 2005 330i ZHP.  It just drives right.  The driving experience in the newer car is, oddly enough, diminished by its "improvements."  Sorry Bimmer fans, I just can't warm up to this car.  That's not to say that there is anything wrong with it, it's just not as spry, eager and satisfying as the prior generation of 3 series BMWs were.

January 2006.  In a lapse of common sense, I traded my 2004 "ZHP" on a 2006 Audi A3 2.0T.  The Audi is a very cool car.  It has a turbo-charged 2.0 liter engine that puts out 200 HP and an unbelievable amount of torque for a 4-banger - 207 lb. ft. at only 1800 RPM.  But the real heart of the A3 is an incredible transmission marketed by Audi as the DSG (direct sequential gearbox), which was developed by Borg-Warner.  The DSG is essentially two manual 3-speed gearboxes with two wet clutches that are actuated by computer controlled servos.  The computer perfectly matches engine revs as it shifts up and down and engages the next gear in a fraction of the time of a traditional automatic or manual transmission.  This technology grew out of Formula 1 racing and its application to the road-going, turbocharged Audi A3 is remarkable. 

October 2004.  The car I wish I still had...this is a 2004 BMW 330i with the performance package, also known as the ZHP package - the ZHP moniker is derived from the manufacturer's ordering code for the performance package option. 

I took this from the top level of the Bank of America parking deck shortly after I bought the car.

This is another angle from the same location.

A few months later, I shot this behind the Centura building on Providence Road.

 

The ZHP engine upgrades include more aggressive cams, revised engine software and more open exhaust, gaining 10 horsepower over the standard 330i for a total of 235 at 6000 RPM.  The drivetrain enhancements include a six-speed manual transmission with short throw shift linkage and a lower final-drive ratio (3.07 vs. 2.93).  The suspension was tweaked by by BMW's Motorsports Division and includes firmer shocks, springs and bushings, larger anti-roll bars, 18 inch wheels (style M-135) and low profile tires (225/40/18 front and 255/35/18 rear).  The body received some visual and functional enhancements, including the M-Technik front fascia with open brake-cooling ducts, side moldings, rear diffuser and trunk-lid spoiler.  The interior is purposefully outfitted with  machined aluminum accents and an alcantara (synthetic suede) wrapped steering wheel.  All-in-all, it's an excellent package and transforms the driving dynamics of the car from being merely best-in-class to damned interesting. 


 

“We who take risks may die, but those who do not are already dead.”

– Jean Behra (French racing driver), as quoted by Brock Yates in June 2000 in memory of Car and Driver editor Don Schroeder, who was killed performing top speed tests of a RENNTech Mercedes-Benz.

“To this everlasting memory, Donald Martin Schroeder was vividly and proudly alive until the very last moment of his life.”

– Brock Yates, "Thoughts on a loss in the family," Car and Driver (June 2000).


 

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