Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I love Jaguar cars

Historically I was always a Ford fan.  I had all Fords until I acquired a BMW many years ago. My wife had always loved Jaguar cars.  They were beautiful, however, in the 1980's they were one of them most unreliable cars on the road.  British Layland pretty much destroyed the brand during this period and even today many people love the looks of the car but still remember the Jaguars of those years.

In 1989 Ford purchased Jaguar and began resurrecting it.  This took a long time as Jaguar was in bad shape at the time.  I bought my first Jaguar in 2000.  It was a 1994 XJ12.  We had a Ford Crown Victoria at the time and it had over 250k miles on it.  It was time to upgrade.  We looked at replacing it with another Crown Vic but when we saw the XJ12 for sale nearby we thought, what the heck.  We always wanted a Jag so now is the time.  I got the car cheap.  It was under $14k for a car that was originally over $70k.
This was not only my first Jaguar, but also my first (and only) V12 car.  This V12 had been upgraded under Ford ownership to fix all the oil leaks and other issues that had tarnished Jaguar.  We took this car on many trips and really liked it.  We eventually sold the car with 145k miles on it.

For a while I owned both the XJ12 and a 1998 XJR.  The XJR was a fantastic car for its day.  Very quick and fast.  Compared to the XJ12, and most other cars actually, it drove like a sports car.  I seriously considered taking this car to the track.
I still love the look of that XJR.  We sold this car with over 150k on it.

While the XJR was great in my book, my wife preferred a larger car with a smoother ride.  The XJR had firm suspension and wide tires for great handling.  She never used these features though.  So we bought a 2007 XJ8L.

In 2004 Jaguar created the X350 body style of the XJ which was all aluminum.  This reduced the cars weight considerably.  The whole car was redesigned and improved.  It was also larger.  The XJ8L is the long wheelbase version so it is even larger.  The back seat has enormous legroom.  It also has air ride suspension with active shocks.  Our 2007 was the last of the X350 (2008 was a slightly altered X351).

I also bought an X-Type.
The X-Type is really based on a Ford Mondeo. Being a Ford guy I am certainly good with that.  I will say though it is not like the XJ except in looks.  It rides like a Mondeo.  The X-Type and S-Type had heavy Ford influence and parts.  The XJ, XK, and the newer cars have very little in common with Ford.  Jaguar has always made their own V8 engines.  The new Jaguars now don't have any Ford parts.

So, why to we love these cars.  It is actually hard to explain to people.  Each time we were ready to replace our Jaguar, we drove many other cars and always came back to Jaguar.  They have a particular feel that is hard to describe.  The controls  are simple and intuitive.  The ride is really fantastic.  Not the boaty ride of years ago.  Firm yet compliant.  The car does not lean in corners yet it can soften up our nasty Illinois roads.  Acceleration is very good and smooth.  The XJR and XJ8L have a very pleasing exhaust note yet no drone.  People are amazed to hear the fuel economy this 2007 XJ8L gets.  I have done as good as 32 on the highway.  I always get 27 - 32 on the highway, and about 20-22 in town.  For a car this huge I feel very good about that.  The car just glides down the highway, even on terrible roads.  It is very controlled even at high speeds and the driver feels confident going fast.  The occupants are in a serene environment even when it is not so serene outside.

Jaguar has actually won or scored very well in several JD power's awards more recently. Both the quality awards and the APEAL awards.

I do all my own work on all my cars.  Jaguars are not that hard to work on.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why I Love Porsche

I was raised in a Ford family actually.  Growing up our family owned all For and Lincoln vehicles and I really liked them.  The vehicle I drove most after getting my license was a 1972 Ford Bronco.  My first car was a 1968 Ford Mustang and I worked for almost 15 years at a Ford dealer.  However, a few years after high school I began to notice Porsche.  Reading car magazine around this time there was always a Porsche doing something great.  I liked the 911 because it was so different from other cars.  The rear engine design has many advantages for making a car fast.
  • The weight is already over the drive wheels for excellent traction
  • The drive wheels are the rear wheels where it belongs for best acceleration
  • On hard acceleration even more weight transfers to the drive wheels
  • The flat engine design keeps the weight very low in the chassis for better handling
  • The engine being so close to the rear axle helps reduce the moment of inertia when the car changes directions (turns)
  • The car was simple and light.
I guess I was a closet Porsche fan from that point on.  It was not until 2004 that I would actually buy a Porsche, and it was not a 911.  Unfortunately Porsche's are rather expensive.  In my case, my first Porsche was replacing my 3rd car and it is a bit harder to justify a 3rd vehicle.  We had only 2 cars until 2000 when my in-laws gave us their 1984 BMW 318i so I was replacing a car I had acquired for free.  My budget at the time did not have room for a 911.  I found a 1987 944S locally so I drove it.  After a short drive I decided it belonged in my garage.  I owned that car for 10 years.  

Not long after I bought the 944S I joined the Porsche Club of America.  There was a fairly active local region, and the president of that region worked in the building next to where I worked.  We got to know each other.  One day I was complaining that their website was out of date so he appointed me webmaster.  Next thing you know I am on the board of the local region.  

I joined the PCA mostly to attend track days, also known as drivers education or DE.  I had heard about them and really wanted to go.  In high school, and for several years after, I would drag race occasionally at a small 1/4 mile track near my home in Washington State.  Drag racing is fun but you only get a few seconds of fun at a time.  I was ready for a road course.  My first DE was at Blackhawk Farms.  I was a Chicago Region PCA event for novices such as myself.  I had a blast and was hooked.  I attended a couple events a year for several years there at tracks within a few hours drive. 

In 2014 I bought a 2006 Cayman S.  That story is here.  My first track day in that car was a Putnam Park, my favorite track.  Every car brand has a unique feel.  Its hard to describe the feel of each brand, you just have to drive them.  Most people tend to get used to the feel of the brand they drive so other brands feel different.  I think this is much of what creates brand loyalty.  Porches definitely have a special feel to them.  Even the 944S had a special feel, even though it was a front engine inline 4 cylinder car.  The Boxster, Cayman, and 911 are very different than other cars though.  The car is so different than most other cars and you feel it as soon as you push the car.  Typical cars seem to complain when driven hard.  Tires squeal, the car leans and groans in corners, and the engine wheezes under full throttle.  Not the case in a Porsche.  They love it.  The harder you push them, the happier they are.  The engine sings to you as you approach red line at wide open throttle.  It sounds so good that I often hit the rev limiter before shifting.

As I mentioned above, the Boxster, Cayman, and 911 have a very unique layout which has many advantages.  The 911 is the most unique having the engine actually behind the rear axle.  The Boxster and Cayman are mid-engine which is a layout shared with nearly all supercars. The unique thing about the Boxster and Cayman is that they are not only mid-engine, but they use a flat 6 engine in the middle.  Most supercars are a V engine (V6, V8, V12, V16).  The flat engine is much better for weight distribution because it keeps its weight very low in the chassis.

Now the engine weight is not only in the middle of the car, towards the rear where the drive wheels are, but it is also down very low.  This makes it the best handling car you can get really.  It also make for fantastic stopping as the rear wheels are actually providing much of the stopping power unlike front engine cars.  When you look at the layout and features of the Boxster and Cayman, these cars are a bargain even at the fairly high prices they command.  There are not many low priced mid-engine performance cars out there.  If you go back a bit you could say things like the Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR2 were also mid-engine and were cheaper.  This is true, but they were also cheaper in every way, not just less expensive.  The  modern Lotus cars are probably the closest and they are priced similar.  

Porsche cars are really made for track duty.  You can take any Porsche right from the showroom to a DE, have fun all weekend, and drive it home.  This is not true with most cars.  Usually the brakes just can't handle the repeated heavy braking of a track day.  They will fade or worse, boil the fluid and fail.  Most performance cars can handle it OK if you upgrade the brake pads and fluid.  I ran street pads at Putnam in the Cayman with no fade at all.  

While some may consider Porsche an exotic, they can really be driven daily too.  I would not put Porsche in the same group as Ferrari or Lamborghini for instance.  They cost far less to own and maintain than those cars.  They are also much more reliable.  Porsche has many JD Power quality and APEAL awards.  You often see Porsche's with well over 100k miles on them.  It is rare to find a Ferrari or Lamborghini with high miles.  I drive my Porsche to work every day when there is no salt on the road.  I used it for grocery shopping, runs to the hardware store, etc.  It is my daily driver.  Porsche does make real exotics though.  The 959, the Carerra GT, and the 918 for instance.  These cars often outperform those other exotics.  The 918 still has the track record at the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

While these cars are a joy to drive everywhere, you can't fully enjoy a Porsche just driving it on public roads.  You really need to spend some time driving one at speed on a real track.  Only then can you fully experience the difference.  

Everything in life is a trade-off decision. For many a car is simply a transportation appliance meant to move people and things from place to place.  They look at a car much like I look at a washing machine.  You find one that will do the job for as cheap as you can while maintaining reliability.  Many such as myself however, view cars much differently.  They are a thing of both visual and audible beauty.  They excite your senses.  The driver and car combine to make an athlete.  Those shopping for a transportation appliance generally look at these priorities.
  • Miles per gallon
  • Cupholders
  • Utility
  • Seating capacity
  • Reliability
  • Purchase cost
  • Smooth ride
I have these priorities.
  • Smiles per gallon
  • Power and acceleration
  • Handling
  • Braking
  • Lap times
  • Aesthetics
  • Feel and sound

I do not consider myself a badge snob.  I would be more than happy if everyone could own a Porsche.  Exclusivity is not something I am into at all.  Sadly some do buy Porsche for this reason alone and it tarnishes the brand a bit in my opinion.  People get the wrong impression of Porsche owners.