Earlier I wrote about cars becoming more complex and the need for increasingly complex diagnostics.
I've said it before; while we specialize in European and exotics we have a love for all things cars, no matter what they are. We have a classic 1930's V8 Ford in the shop and I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of the flat top engine and the lack of a single 'electronic' system. Contrast that with a modern car and almost every system from the engine to the power windows is computer controlled.
Every computer system in a modern car is controlled by lines of code and I thought a small comparison of other vehicles and systems was in order.
Lets start with a vehicle that was part of one of the most complex undertaking ever - the Apollo moon landings guidance computer. It had somewhere around 40,000 lines of code and took the equivalent of almost a decade of 'person years' to develop. The famed error message that got Neil Armstrong to take over manually was actually the computer telling him it was doing its job and was overloaded and it would focus on the main task of landing. A quote from Margaret Hamilton, Director of Apollo Flight Computer Programming MIT Draper Laboratory adds a bit of perspective:
"Due to an error in the checklist manual, the rendezvous radar switch was placed in the wrong position. This caused it to send erroneous signals to the computer. The result was that the computer was being asked to perform all of its normal functions for landing while receiving an extra load of spurious data which used up 15% of its time. The computer (or rather the software in it) was smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing. It then sent out an alarm, which meant to the astronaut, I’m overloaded with more tasks than I should be doing at this time and I’m going to keep only the more important tasks; i.e., the ones needed for landing…"
As time progressed systems got more complex - the space shuttle contained about 4 hundred thousand lines of code. For comparison even in the 1990s Windows 3.1 had around 2.5 million lines. Yes, that included code later in 1996 that gave rise to one of the most awful things ever created - Clippy. The abominable Microsoft, 'helpful', paperclip that is a story all on its own as to what happens when engineers ignore focus groups, but I digress.
Almost every device you have used has some form of coding behind it and the chart below gives some idea of the growth and variety of devices that use it
I can hear you - many of you are asking what that has to do with modern cars? The truth is that average modern car software has well over 100 million lines of code, everything from closed source Windows mobile operating systems to (somewhat) open source Linux based code and Android. Much of that code goes into infotainment systems but a great deal of it is used in engine management, ABS, cruise control, and an endless list of systems and sensors.
To be fair - more code does not make something more efficient or even better (I'm looking at you clippy) but it does give some perspective about the amount of sophistication in a modern car compared to other systems around it.
So from the moon to modern cars, complex systems manage and guide modern vehicles with a level of sophistication that also requires extensive diagnostics and knowledge. We get all of the benefits and technology associated with the systems from horsepower to better fuel mileage. I haven't even gone into the next level depths of vehicles like Tesla or the all electric offerings of Mercedes and others but I can say this:
For us, we love all things cars, from the classic to the contemporary, but there are times when a 'launch' just feels better on something more analog, at least in a car.
That said, one of the things we often do here at RSP is take an analog engine (like an air cooled Porsche) and add systems that stay tucked out of the way but add to the efficiency, reliability and power of an engine while leaving its original 'personality' intact. Engine tuning and fuel map adjustment just isn't possible at the same level on earlier engines and we do love to wring extra power from a modern engine by adjusting the 'tune'.
What 'launches' you? Let us know what you prefer in the comments, modern all electronic, the analog 'purity' of a classic or a hybrid combination of the two.
We are constantly looking to add value and services for our customers . A while ago I did a post about ceramic coatings and how Chino has taken his experience in detailing and applied it to car paint protection.
The pandemic has put a lot of things on hold or changed how we get access to training. In this case we have had Chino scheduled for training in 3M Paint protection films and wraps but with COVID restrictions, classes have been postponed again and again.
People are looking to keep their cars longer or protect them from stone chips and with the hint of summer (well maybe not this week) we decided we needed to add this service but do it in a way that was safe. We managed to get a trainer that was certified and highly recommended by 3M to spend a few days here.
Over the last few weeks Chino has been training one on one (masked and distanced) and has been diving head first into the use of the plotter/cutter, forming the protective coating sheets to fit cars, and doing days of one on one, hands on training.
Its not surprising that he picked it up quickly with all of his past experience. Over the length of the training he did several Porsche's from a Panamera to a Cayenne but for his final 'exam' he knocked it out of the park.
Lets put it this way, you are serious about what you do when your final exam is a Ferrari 458 Italia. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Summer is (allegedly) around the corner, call us and see what what we can do for you.
In an earlier post I wrote about the Buick that embarrassed GM - the 1987 Grand National. We did some minor work on the car, fixing a few issues and installing a new oil cooler but other than that the car is basically as stock as the day it was made. Today we did a power pull on it to see what it has some 34 years later.
Here are a few specs from the time when the car was produced:
so - after 34 years and a little over 46,000 Km (not miles) on the odometer, you would expect to see a performance drop.
Here's a few shots of the car getting prepped for the dyno. After the car gets looked at on the hoist, tire pressure is checked and the car is strapped down and the dyno adjusted. From there boost sensors, back pressure, lambda, ambient air temps etc. are all connected before the warm up run. We never run tests on cold engines, for obvious reasons, so the first while on the dyno is a smooth steady run to bring things up to temperature. After that we do a run to calculate the losses produced by friction in moving parts like the transmission and differential so that calculation can be factored in.
In this case Stefan also removed the 'kick down' cable to stop the car from shifting to a lower gear under boost. We try to run as close as we can to a 1:1 gear ratio which can be tricky in a car of this era, particularly since this one has a lot of torque at low rpm. So, 34 years later...how did it do?
Well - pretty damned good.
243 horsepower pretty much flat across the range above 2000 RPM, but...402 pound feet of torque from right down at the low rpm range. The engine has that low end 'grunt' when you need it and was part of what went into making it the fastest production car of 1987. Yes - a Buick.
By the way - we are posting videos to YouTube, and the dyno pull will be going up shortly check out our channel
Last year we posted a blog article called "What oil do you guys use". Its obvious that we are a fan of all things Liqui Moly and we believe in the product enough to have done extensive testing on it - with real world results and improvements in performance. Liqui Moly has a great YouTube channel and has been posting videos from renowned host of several TV shows, Edd China.
Below is one of the videos - but check out the Liqui Moly write up on the partnership at this link from October last year.
Don't forget to check out our own RSP Motorsports YouTube channel, we have everything from Dyno Runs to short video articles on cars and we are adding content weekly.
At RSP some days are good days and some days are great days. Today was one of those great days with a rare glimpse of the early days of spring and the promise of what's around the corner. I know we will get 'bit' with another reminder we aren't quite there yet but I will take any chance I get. Everyone has been through a year like no other, sometimes we need a reminder of good things to come.
I often wander the shop during lunch, when the staff are taking a break. Today we are moving cars in and out of storage and getting a few ready for the summer. In the last post we had a 1987 Grand National and today I won't focus on a single car - or for that matter inundate you with anything but a few pics of what's in the shop and a few of the sights around RSP.
Remember that shop floor I talked about in a previous post that was clean enough to pass the 'white sock' test? Its not just something we hope to achieve - its here, and we keep it like that every day.
Plus the technician's did an oil change on my own car and I couldn't help but take it out for an...ahem...test drive. So, yes, a great day.
Whether you have a 1936 Ford, 1987 Grand National, a 2021 Porsche 911 or anything else in between give us a call.
Spring is here.
We get an eclectic mix of cars through the shop and one of them caught my eye recently, a 1987 Buick Grand National. Some, are going to ask - seriously, a Buick?
Lets get into a bit of what it is first and why its worth a look.
One of the items that is often missed when looking at these cars is time and context, so for both, its time to turn back to 1980 and the state of American muscle cars. The CAFE laws (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) passed in the mid 1970's and as each year passed there was a greater call for fuel mileage and for lowering emissions. Canada, also had the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act and other legislation at the same time.
Automakers scrambled to find the economy in current engines and, again, for context, the Chevrolet Corvette made just 250 horsepower from its small-block V-8 engine until 1992. Most manufacturers ended up limiting horsepower on existing engines while they worked on better longer term solutions. This was a time when smaller 'economy' cars were the main sellers. In a bold move, and a throw back to its racing days, Buick management started working on a 'secret' project to get back into the game. Oddly enough the initial idea was not secret as it was part of Ken Baker's (a Buick engineer) idea to help a local Boy Scout group understand about engines and one project idea he came up with was turbocharging a Buick engine. The results were enough to turn heads in Buicks engineering department.
Although under the same umbrella, GM was very protective of its Corvette and Buick wanted to draw on its stock car racing history at...well, the Grand Nationals.
The car was powered by a six cylinder 3.8 litre turbo that had been part of the secret development authorized by the new head of Buick in the mid 1970's stemming from that Boy Scout project. From there it blossomed into the idea of building an Indy pace car. In terms of technology it was far advanced including knock sensors and some initial electronic spark controls. By the mid 1980's the engine was further developed with an intercooler and Buick produced almost 21,000 to keep up with demand in 1987.
In 1986, Car and Driver magazine found that the car they were given to test was actually producing 290 horsepower instead of the advertised 235. Some suggested that Buick had purposefully understated engine power in order to keep the cost of car insurance less expensive for owners, while others have said the figures published was to draw less attention to its actual power. As Car and Driver stated, the 1986 Buick (Regal) Grand National was quicker in the quarter mile than some of the best that Ferrari and Porsche could throw at it. Including even the legendary Lamborghini Countach quarter mile times. That also included beating the venerable Corvette by a second - thus the 'embarrassment' from GM. Add to that Buick was more known as a luxury brand and wasn't really considered (yet) as a muscle car. By the time the production run ended though, it was clear that was exactly what the Grand National was.
The 1987 version we have in the shop is all black looking as sinister as it was supposed to when it was made. The car came out during a time when chrome was still king and its all blacked out 'Darth Vader' look turned as many heads as it was supposed to.
Not everything was state of the art, however, as the car still came equipped with front and rear drum brakes and by todays standards rather small 15 inch wheels. Regardless of its pitfalls it was a show stopper from both a performance and technical achievement standard. Its lines are...well a mid 80's Buick, but the dark and 'sinister' look is sought after, particularly in the even more rare GNX (Grand National eXperimental). That car was the fastest production car in 1987, and that is all that needs to be said. So seriously - yes a Buick. We love all cars, we may specialize in European and exotics but sometimes you come across a legend and you have to take a second look.
By the way, the car is getting prepped for a dyno run after a winter of storage and we will post a few videos of it on our YouTube channel over the next few days
Back at the start of March we posted a little quiz to see how well you could identify cars. Although we didn't have a winner I thought I would give the larger picture of the cars and the answers. I will come up with another contest so let me know what you want to see.
We started with the pretty iconic VW bug as a teaser question with the answer. But I admit they got harder.
Now the answers:
Discontinued in 1988 this 'classic' now sells unrestored for between $18,000 to $22,000 at auctions
Either you love it or you hate it. It signaled the beginnings of the end of the AMC company. It was the AMC Eagle and it was a polarizing as the Pontiac Aztec was later on.
Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz from Wikipedia. Its literally breaking my own rule by posting someone elses picture but I can't find the ones I took - I think my camera refused to take more than 1 picture of this car.
Chevy Chase was easily distracted by this classic
If I said that the car was made famous by Tom Selleck then you would have easily guessed the Ferrari 308. It was also in the National Lampoons "Vacation" movie
This iconic vehicle was the star of movies and endless posters on bedroom walls
Most of you probably guessed it - the half window in the drivers door and the fact that it lifts up is a giveaway, its a Lamborghini Countach. In the full picture Renato is backing up the car as its supposed to be. You basically climb up on the sill and work the clutch and gas with your feet, there is almost no rear visibility.
Exported in 1954 this model was hoped to be a 'Corvette Killer'
This wasn't an easy one, I don't think I would get it if I didn't see the car in full. In 1952, Allard attempted to offer a more civilized variant of previous models it had raced on the track. Exported to America as a potential "Corvette slayer" Dodge dealers had been clamoring for, it featured one of the most powerful engines of its era, the 331 cu in Chrysler Hemi engine, fitted with a pair of 4-barrel carburetors. unfortunately it never found the market that it was looking for. In total less than 100 were built but by the mid 50's Allard was struggling to stay afloat.
Anyone who has read this blog has some idea of the enormous engine and transmission that got put back into this car.
There is a great picture of Andrew, one of our Technicians below that gives you a sense of the size of the motor and transmission.
In 1951, this air cooled 'powerhouse' boasted modern conveniences like locking doors and an ignition key. German auto magazines described it in less than flattering terms such as "Häßlichkeit und Primitivität"
Although it was called ugly and primitive by the Germans (Häßlichkeit und Primitivität) the Citroen 2CV (literally two horses in English) was built for farmers to replace horse and wagon. It had the advertised ability to drive across a plowed field with a basket of eggs in the passenger seat and not break (I assume they were referring to the eggs). Although not a powerhouse, this air cooled engine car would not only become a million seller, but also one of the few cars in history to continue a single generation in production for over four decades. Although described as an umbrella on wheels it did come wit a revolutionary new feature just developed by Michelin - the radial tire. Upgrades even included an electric start as a pull cord was used to start it prior to that.
Many people picked up on the race inspired steering wheel of the Ferrari 458. The car was so sought after by gamers playing racing sims that Thrustmaster still sells a version of it (http://www.thrustmaster.com/en_US/products/ferrari-458-spider-racing-wheel). The car itself is 'slightly' higher power than the 2CV in the previous question. (the 2CV had around 12 - the Ferrari 458...about 550HP more)
This one surprised me a bit. It was another collaboration between a British company and American powerplants, including input from Carroll Shelby. The car gained some TV appeal in the mid 60's on the popular show Get Smart.
The Sunbeam Tiger did win in its class twice in the NHRA (AHRA at the time) quarter miles with a time of 12.95 seconds and a speed of 174 km/hr
With a heavy duty suspension offered and high performance tires this classic is easily and instantly recognizable with an image that shows just slightly more.
Most people got this one, all you need to see is a bit more of the stripe and its instantly recognizable as the Dodge SuperBee
Hope you enjoyed it. As always let us know what you want to see and we will try and accommodate that.
We get a lot of questions from customers that ask why we, and any repair shops, charge for diagnostics. Its a fair question but the answer is anything but simple. It has a lot to do with the differences in modern cars compared to what they used to be. It also has to do with a lot of misinformation out there and the difference between a cheap scan tools you can buy online and ones used in a professional shop. Finally there is a big issue of the difference between diagnosis and just reading codes and throwing parts at the issue.
A little comparison of cars from the 1950's (or even into the 80's for some brands) helps to get us started and I will mainly focus on the engine in this example for sake of brevity and clarity. When cars started becoming a product that every household wanted its important to understand time and context. In the 1950's particularly in North America it was a period after the war, production of cars was ramping up, many of the lessons learned from the military were working their way into the automotive industry. As an example even in motor oils see a previous post of some of the wartime discoveries that were creating longer lasting cars. The new 'cold war' was on and many people wanted to work in the city but live outside in the suburbs or even a different town. The new interstates and roadways across North America gave people the freedom to do just that.
In terms of context, pollution, fuel mileage, looks over safety and other safety features were not really considered early on. A typical engine needed oil, a spark from a distributor and fuel from a mechanical pump. Transmissions were generally 3 speed automatics or a 4 speed manual. The most sophisticated electronics were within the radio, and those were vacuum tubes. Brakes were drum brakes (generally) and ABS or Traction Control weren't phrases that had even entered the lexicon of automobile manufacturers. Every connection in the car except for some rudimentary electronics was a mechanical system and a mechanical connection.
As the years passed and the auto took off in sales people wanted more. By the 1970's crippling fuel costs, a demand for more safety and better mileage and the advent of the first rudimentary computers drove intense decades of development and with it more complexity. As customers demanded more from a car, from safety to better fuel mileage cars began to move away from mechanical systems to ones that involved more computers, monitoring systems, and eventually they became interrelated. Standard diagnostic codes and ODB II (On Board Diagnostics) came together to give some standards but the way systems and other computers relayed information can be very proprietary. Some modern vehicles communicate via fibre optics within the vehicle between modules while others use shielded wires, proprietary communications standards etc.
Have engines become that much more complex?
We are a European shop and its obvious we have a love for all things Porsche so I will draw on two engines from Porsche from two different eras. If we look at an early air cooled Porsche engine from a 911 from the 1960s its a beautifully engineered motor just under two litres. An air cooled flat six mated to a 5 speed manual '901' transmission. The lightweight car had about 130 HP. Compare that to a modern day Porsche engine of similar displacement like a 2021 base model Cayman. It also has a two litre (water cooled) turbocharged 4 cylinder engine but produces 300 HP. None of that would be possible without complex system management computers for fuel injection, 02 sensors, knock sensors, coolant, tires, ABS, traction control, air bags, power windows, remote start, remote door locks, timing sensors, boost sensors, wheel speed, transmission control and on and on. The greater the number of parts of sophistication of the engine means incredible performance, but only if all systems and sensors function perfectly. When one part fails it may look like something else failed instead based on just looking at the fault code alone.
Thats all good but why can't you just buy one of those scan tools online for a few hundred bucks?
Its a good question, and the answer also lies in the difference between reading a fault code and diagnosis. One is a simple task, and the other is far more complex. Scan tools and other electronics are cheap and readily available, you can pick one up for under a hundred dollars. They will plug into your ODB II port and read fault codes. We often get asked if what we do now with modern cars is just read a fault code and replace a part, in fact that is what lesser shops do. The challenge is that reading a code likely wont help in most situations. It may point out that your 02 sensor is reading low and that may lead down a rabbit hole chasing parts that aren't the issue - they just appear as an issue down the line. On top of that, although fault codes may be somewhat standardized, every single vehicle has different arrangements of computers that communicate with each other on everything from fiber optics to proprietary data systems. No ebay scan tool can make up for years of training in automotive systems and diagnostics.
So what am I paying for?
A good shop has the right tools for the job, and each brand often has a specialized scanning tool that is used on a particular brand of cars. Even cars under the same umbrella of ownership needs different tools for different cars. If you take VW Aktiengesellschaft there is VW, Porsche, Bugatti, Lamborghini, SEAT, MAN, Bentley, Audi etc - 12 brands in all and each needs a scan tool that can go much deeper than one bought at an auto parts store.
Are the scan tools you use really that expensive/good
As an example for one brand - Lamborghini, a used scan tool (yes used) is about $19,000 CAD if you could find one. We have scan tools for all the brands that we service, plus license fees, access to the latest technical bulletins, training and techniques. We pay subscription fees for the latest software updates and most recent information. On top of that we have the training in diagnosis of these complex systems. We have scan tools specific to each brand we service or we have access to similar but very sophisticated computers but they really give us a look at 'flags' the computers throw for faults, they also give us a much deeper look than a cheap scan tool can.
I still don't fully understand - give me a better example
Sometimes a better example is thinking about it differently. When you see a doctor for a general complaint they draw on years of training and a host of diagnostic equipment that assists in diagnosis but doesn't do the diagnosis for them. If you come in with a specific complaint like being tired it might be a simple thing like a need for more sleep, or it could be something more complex like an underlying neurological issue. The experience, expertise and tools are why you go there. Its the skill and experience and access to the latest medical information and training that you are utilizing. You don't (or shouldn't) get your medical advice from Google - I did once and its turns out I was just thirsty, which is good as Google said I may have rabies (I don't) . Silly example aside, its a good one as its about making a diagnosis with more than just a description. For us its about finding all of the facts to support a diagnosis and a conclusion for your car.
Is it fair to compare our technicians to a doctor? Obviously not in all things but in terms of a diagnostic process yes. Neither profession relies on a guess or a piece of diagnostic equipment bought from an auto parts site on the internet. You would likely be a little taken aback if your health care provider showed you and xray machine they bought on ebay, or said they did their medical degree virtually and didn't think the practical experience of hands on training was worth it.
Its no different than that in a modern shop. Sometimes the problem is really a simple 02 sensor replacement and sometimes the problem is something more than that in a complex web of systems. Even the older cars with simple carbs and vacuum lines require a holistic look at the overall car, and not just a focus on fixing the symptom.
What you are paying for in a modern shop is training and experience in diagnosis of a rolling complex computerized systems that also happen to be an automobile. A scan tool is part of the diagnosis and its a very expensive and specialized piece of equipment that is only part of the overall tracking down of the issue. If your shop tells you they are chasing down fault codes and replacing parts as the codes tell them too, find a shop that knows the difference between code chasing and diagnostics. And don't ask them if they think you have rabies.
If you have followed any of our previous posts you will know that we started the interior floor last year. We did all of the interior where we store customer cars and the rear of the shop area. Over the last few days we have been closed as the final stages of the epoxy flooring have been completed in the main shop area. We staged the pouring of the the epoxy to get the customer car storage area done first before the season started and although things were delayed due to covid we took the opportunity now to finish the rest off.
Its the only time we have had since we opened that the entire shop is empty. It won't look that way again after Friday as we are allowing the epoxy resin to cure. The final piece left to finish is the custom RSP Motorsports logo that we will put in a prominent spot.
The final picture gives you an idea of the depth of shine on the floor after the concrete was resurfaced and cleaned. In total about 1500 pounds of concrete was removed in the grinding. Every machine (except hoists), parts etc had to be either moved or completely removed to complete the process. Renato has always had a desire to have a shop so clean it would pass the 'white sock test' if you walked anywhere without shoes on (not that we do) and it looks like he got his wish while supporting local business.
The RSP Motorsports experience is also about how we treat you. Our spotless shop is only part of the experience of how we strive to achieve customer satisfaction. Take a look at the area where you have your car serviced, the care put into the environment of where the technicians work says a lot about the type of care ultimately put into you and your vehicle.
Its been a challenging time during the pandemic, with closures and and all the uncertainty of the past.
Both spring and the hope of turning a collective corner are not far away.
Over the years we have taken a great deal of pictures of customers cars that were in our shop or at events we participated in. We always try and entertain or inform with our blog posts and videos but in this post we want to see just how good you are at spotting cars using only a fraction of the whole image of a car. Its surprising how just a small detail of an iconic car is instantly recognizable and others than can be a bit of a head scratcher.
This week I will be posting selected pictures of parts of cars and I ask that you let us know what vehicle you think each one is. Post your answer in the comments or email us: [email protected]. Please include your answers and your contact information.
We will be taking all of the winning responses, and selecting one at random for some RSP Motorsports Merchandise including a $100 discount for any service performed at RSP Motorsports. (Open to Ontario, Canada residents only). Deadline March 1st 2021.
Here is an example of a question:
Commissioned in the 1930's this car ceased production in its modern form in 2019
Answer: Its a VW Beetle. In this case its from 1979. The pictures can get pretty challenging unless you really know your cars.
Its surprising how little of the image you need when you know the car.
Scroll down and see how you do. We will be conducting the random draw of all the correct entries we get before March 1st 2021. One submission only please to [email protected].
Lets see how you do...
Classic Car Recognition Contest
Discontinued in 1988 this 'classic' now sells unrestored for between $18,000 to $22,000 at auctions