Wednesday, May 25, 2005

 

It Keeps Going, And Going, And Going...

Voyager 1 has passed yet another milestone on its way to interstellar space. Given the outstanding performance of this spacecraft throughout its life, statues of the design team should be erected.

 

Energy Bottleneck

From the Wall Street Journal, we get a level-headed but pessimestic assessment of the short-term energy situation. The usual suspects - increased demand and lack of refining capacity - get the blame.

What's interesting about the capacity issue is that, despite huge refining margins right now (and not-exactly-embarassing ones in the past), no one is building additional capacity. While environmental regs and NIMBY reactions are supposedly the reason, doesn't anyone think there's a way around these problems if the petroleum companies really thought they could make money? Not to oversimplify, but it seems that both problems could be overcome with refinaries built outside the US. It seems to be that one could logical draw the conclusion that oil companies don't see a long-term reason to build additional refining capacity, but then again I'm a bit negative when it comes to energy issues.

 

Second Bond Agency Cuts GM To Junk Status

Following on the heals of Standard & Poor's, Fitch has cut GM's bond rating to junk. This move covers GMAC as well, and surely will lend to further speculation that a spin-off of the finance arm is imminent.

It should be interesting to see what the stock market does in reaction to this, but trying to predict its behavior recently (either in broad terms or on one particular stock) is impossible, to say the least.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

Carly Fiorina Provides Daily Dose Of Irony

If you want to get lectured on feelings of entitlement by someone who got a $21M payout for ruining what was once one of America's greatest technology leaders, click here.

 

Misc. Politics

It sure was fun listening to right-wing talk radio today - you'd think that the world had collapsed because - gasp! - compromise was reached. My gut says that the compromise was the best outcome, but I think a lot of folks wanted to believe that a 55% majority meant absolute power. Not to be left behind in the Paranoia Wars, liberals are now worried that a compromise on Social Security will be required as a return favor. Oh, yea, and some of them think that they got the short end of the stick on the compromise, since they lost the ability to filibuster every nominee. Wahwahwah - that's life as a minority party.

Expanding the federal funding for stem-cell research is getting some attention from bloggers. What's interesting is that in all the we-should-or-we-shouldn't talk, it seems as if everyone misses the subtle point - it's not stem-cell research itself that's being deliberated, it's the federal funding for such. If we could turn the religious fervor down a notch, maybe then everyone could take a deep breath and figure out that there's absolutely nothing stopping a private enterprise from performing their own research on their own nickel. I know that the thought of doing anything more complicated than wheeling the garage can out to the street without federal funding is offensive to some.

I'm wondering what the corner next needs turning in Iraq for the situation to finally stabilize. Perhaps it's time to consider another approach, since all obvious milestones for a turnaround have already been passed. I guess there's always the capture of Zarquawi to hope for.

Some Republicans here in Michigan have begun hitching their wagons to Democrat Jennifer Granholm's economic revitalization plan. Why? Because the Republican party hasn't provided a government solution to Michigan's economic woes which, uh, is actually be in line with conservative principles. Apparently, small government is no longer desirable when the state is waving a few billion dollars (courtesy of state-issued bonds, i.e. government debt) in one's face.

OK, my head hurts. That's enough for tonight.

 

Mark LaNeve Plays The Q&A Game

The Car Connection has a pretty good Q&A session with GM marketing head Mark LaNeve. I'd suggest reading the whole thing, but this answer in particular shows that he might actually "get it":

TCC: One often hears GM described as an "arrogant" company. Fair?

LaNeve: A lot of the stuff people say, we deserve, but characterizing us as arrogant, that we don't deserve. We'd have to be the dumbest sons-of-guns on earth considering where we are compared to 25 years ago to be arrogant. We are in the biggest fight of our lives.

Refreshing honesty from a corporate executive.

 

Cleaning Out The Backlog

Yea, I'm blogging about a lot of week-old news, because the relatively decent weather this weekend didn't allow for a lot of computer time (and that was a good thing).

I went for a nice cruise with the local Impala SS club, taking much delight in the relative lack of oil leaks from my car (the high-capacity Canton oil pan still leaks a bit), and the wonderful sounds coming from the recently de-catted exhaust (I'd be running some aftermarket 3" Catco cats on it since installing the stroker motor, but I think I clogged them while getting the tune right and so they came off last week).

Afterwards, the wife and I picked up a King Kutter "rotary cutter" (AKA brushog) from the local TSC. While not nearly as nice as the Land Pride finish mower that we have, it's still a servicable piece of equipment. After all, do you really want to use something nice to cut down small trees and whip through patches of poison oak? Let me state that the assembly process was a complete bitch, due to the crude construction and missing parts that necessitated a trip back to TSC. Still, it did a decent job of clearing out some brush in Oberon's back yard, and I'm looking forward to clearing out the many acres of weeds around our field.

I'm off to Germany after Memorial Day for a quick run through Barvaria, so blogging may be light until my return in early June.

 

"No Place For Amateurs"

So says Tom Walsh about the auto-parts industry in last week's Detroit Free Press, with an excellent article that reviews David Stockman's tenure at Collins & Aikman, and also looks at the problems with Delphi and Visteon. The last paragraph says it all:

No wonder Stockman couldn't make things work at C&A. In an industry with such a cockeyed prevailing culture, it's a wonder that any of these suppliers survive.

How true. Now, I will say that there are suppliers out there (damn few of them) that have learned when to Just Say No, and while this does tend to irritate the OEMs, it's a hell of a lot better alternative than having to come back later with threats like "give us more money or come pick up your tools".

Considering the amount of money flowing through the auto industry for supplied components (roughly 40% of GM's total gross income goes right back out the door to buy parts, and many Tier 1 suppliers find that purchased parts are 60-70% of their total expenditures), it'd be smart for everyone in the business to step back, take a deep breath, and do what's right for the business as a whole. I won't hold my breath for too long on that one - as it is, the daily chokings from customers have already cut off enough blood to everyone's brains.

 

An Interesting Note

At the bottom of a blurb on GM's attempts to renegotiate a new short-term credit line was this interesting tidbit:

Bondholders may have lost as much as $32 billion this year by holding debt sold by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., according to research from Deutsche Bank AG. On May 5, Standard & Poor's cut the credit rating on the two biggest U.S. automakers to junk.

"GM and Ford have not defaulted, but the amount of market value wiped off their debt so far in 2005 is larger than the biggest corporate default in history," Deutsche's European credit strategists, Gary Jenkins and Jim Reid, wrote in a report published May 17.

The report said the average market value of GM and Ford debt fell 15 percent this year, or $18 billion for GM and $14 billion for Ford.

Ouch!


 

Keeping Our Kids Safe

It's nice to know that our representatives in Washington are hard at work on the gravest danger to our nation, such as the use of steroids in professional basketball. I don't know about you guys, but when I see a picture of Reggie Miller or Shaq, the first thing that leaps into my mind isn't that these guys are shooting up before shooting hoops.

And I gotta say, the suggestion by Rep. Lynch that 'roid rage somehow contributed to the November Pistons-Pacers brawl has got to be one of the dumbest things I've heard in a long time.

 

News Flash - Old Tires May Degrade

Ford is suggesting that car owners replace tires after 6 years of normal use, regardless of tread wear, due to concerns over degradation of the tire that may not be immediately visible.

While this may seem like common sense (even if one wants to squabble over the suggested replacement interval), apparently Ford is the first OEM in the US to suggest age-based replacement. Nice to see a manufacturer stepping-up with a safety suggestion before the regulators get involved.

 

Atlas I5 To Be Standard Engine For GMT900?

The rumormongers over at GMInsidenews report that the standard powerplant for the upcoming GMT900 truck platform will be the Atlas 3.5 L inline-5.

While I'm no huge fan of the outgoing 4.3 L Vortec V6, I'd much rather have seen the 4.2 L inline-6 as its replacement. As I've stated before, I'm totally unimpressed with the I5 in the Colorado, and I can't see it being acceptable at all in a full-size truck.

 

Magnum SRT8 Pricing Announced

AutoBlog reports that the Magnum SRT8 will start at just under $38,000. I'd wager a guess that the Charger SRT8 will be right around the same price. Oh, I'm drooling, that's for sure.

 

Bad Boys

Props to the Pistons for a decisive win over the Heat in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Only 3 more of those wins, and they get a chance to return to the Finals.

And how about the first game of the Suns-Spurs series? Phoenix puts up 114 points againt one of the league's best defensive teams, and still loses.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

 

GM To Shift Brand Strategy

GM needed a superhero, and they got one - Captain Obvious, AKA Mark LaNeve:

Only two of General Motors Corp.'s eight brands -- Chevrolet and Cadillac -- will remain full-line marques while the others will offer more limited product lines under a new strategy aimed at building sales, cutting costs and bolstering brand identity.

The move marks a shift away from GM's long-held philosophy that nearly every brand should offer a full array of cars, trucks and minivans, said Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing.

The automaker's goal is to clearly differentiate each of its brands and phase out cars and trucks that don't fit in with a brand or are too similar to other vehicles in GM's lineup.

"People say we have too many brands," LaNeve said in a recent interview. "We have too many brands if we try to do the same things with all the brands."


Now, it'd be easy to ridicule this as being something that GM should have thought about doing long ago, but the bottom line is that this is exactly the right move if GM is to avoid killing off another brand.

Now what will be interesting is to see how long this takes for this new thinking to make a difference. There's already some work in the pipeline that'll be representative of the old way of thinking - the new Pontiac Torrent (a Theta-platform rebadge of the Equinox) and the Saturn Sky (Kappa-platform restyled Solstice) will probably still hit the dealers. But at least there's still hope that the "Lambda" crossover SUV platform circle-jerk will get reigned-in, and talk of killing off one of the minivan brands is good news indeed (as is the rumor that the Buick Ranier is dead for the next model cycle).

There's still the nagging question of "what took so long?", but the most important thing is that GM finally made a logical and painful decision; one that might, just might have some real effect in the upcoming years. I bet they're going to get an earful from some dealers, though.

UPDATE: A poster on Autoblog.com refered to this as "drop[ping] a common sense bomb". I like that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

 

DOD Warns Of IC "Drain"

Truly frightening stuff from EE Times:

A Pentagon report amplifies growing concerns about the migration of semiconductor manufacturing from the U.S. to Asia, warning that the "alarming" rate of the shift to countries like China threatens U.S. national and economic security.

The report by the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory board made up of industry executives, academics and former DoD officials, said its greatest concern centered on diminishing sources of supply for microelectronics for military and intelligence applications.

While most Pentagon procurement contracts include Buy American provisions (a rare example of pork-barrel politics actually providing for the common good), there's also a desire to adapt commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology to reduce costs. Nowadays, those are conflicting goals, since, ya know, we don't build anything in this country anymore (certainly not when it comes to electronic components).

One of these days, in the very near future, this country is going to lose the manufacturing prowlness that allowed us to win WWII. I certainly hope that cheap DVD players and power tools are worth it.


 

No Surprise Here...

According to Automotive News (registration required), Collins & Aikman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today. You can be there were some tense buyers in the purchasing departments of the Big 3 after the news broke, and certainly none of us in the auto component business welcomed this news.

UPDATE: Oh, yea, and Delphi slipped a bit further into junk-bond hell, too. The vultures are circling, I'm sure.

 

Supplier Problems Start To Receive More Attention

While The Car Connection devotes a pair of posts to the troubles in the auto component industry - one focused on the problems at Collins & Aikman and Visteon, and the rising fortune of Bosch, with the other primarily dealing with Delphi's considerable problems - another interesting article on the usual suspects from Ashby Jones hits the pages of Yahoo!.

The Jones piece is not what we'd call uplifting, with its prediction of immnent bankruptcy filing for C&A, and an underlying theme of doom-and-gloom for Delphi and Visteon. What makes the piece worthy of comment, however, is this observation:

Perhaps more compelling is that a bankruptcy filing by Visteon, a Ford spinoff, would hurt its former parent more than the company itself. Hoselton noted that because of a glut of restrictive employment contracts between Ford and Visteon, "it would cost Ford more to pay for Visteon's bankruptcy than it would for Ford to keep propping up the company for a while. Visteon's union obligations wouldn't go away. They'd just shift to Ford."

If that indeed is the case, then it'll be interesting to see how long Ford can afford to keep Visteon afloat. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that similar employment contracts are in place at Delphi, which would then place the same burden on GM if their spin-off takes a nosedive.

None of this strikes me as particularly smart business, but I imagine things looked much different in 1999.

Monday, May 16, 2005

 

Just Sayin'

Number of times Newsweek Koran-desecration article mentioned by Instapundit before it was proven unsubstantiated: 1

Number of times Newsweek article has been mentioned since then: 11

Number of times article mentioned by Little Green Footballs before proven unsubstantiated: 2

Numbers of times article mentioned since then: 12

Kinda odd that the story was so uninteresting when it was still thought to be true, despite the impact that's now being attributed to it. I'll let the reader draw their own conclusions.

Now I'm just about as disgusted as anyone by Newsweek's sloppy reporting and apparent enthusiasism to disgrace the current administration, but I'm also getting a bit sick of the sharks-sniffing-blood routine. Clearly, the mainstream media is no longer capable of performing any sort of watchdog function - we get that now; enough already! Note to the media - fact-check your stories at least as thoroughly as bloggers will try to dissect them. Single unnamed sources will not cut it any longer.

I'd also like seeing a toilet that can flush a complete copy of the Koran. I mean, our American Standard can flush 2 dozen golf balls, but I'm not sure I'd try even a small paperback book. Must be one of the advantages of those $600 military toilets.

Sean Hannity and Brent Bozell seemed more than willing to give this Michael Isikoff a pass, despite his role in this mess. Why? Because he was part of breaking the Clinton/Lewinsky story. Um-hum. Shame on both of them.

Shame on anyone who brings up Piss Christ as a point of reference. Get over it already.

And finally, a big shame on those who killed 15 people because of a magazine story. Grow up.

 

Bias In The Press?

Considering that Toyota's issue with "stalling" Priuses has hit the front page of just about every mainstream news website that I visit on a daily basis, not to mention the usual automotive news sources, can we finally cut the crap about GM being the only car company that gets bad press? Face it - the news outlets love bad news, even if (especially if?) it's about a so-called "media darling" like Toyota.

 

Chrysler Cuts Warranty

Chrysler announced today that they would be cutting the length of their warranty:

If you are shopping for a 2006 Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep model, you should be aware of a change -- the car will no longer come with a standard 7-year/70,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Vehicles from the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler will get the company's 3 year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which includes all components, including the engine and transmission, covered by the powertrain warranty, according to a Chrysler Group spokesman.

Dumb move, in my opinion. American OEMs complain that their improved quality gets little respect from consumers or the press, yet they steadfastly refuse to increase warranty duration. I think that a 100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty would make a strong statement.

 

Toyota To Pass GM In Three Years?

According to Autoweek, current trends indicate that Toyota's on-track to pass GM in worldwide sales within two to three years. Yikes, but that should come as no surprise. But what caught me off-guard was this:

GM Daewoo is accelerating faster than any carmaker. Sales increased 55.2 percent in 2004. If GM pushes its stake above 50 percent, GM Daewoo's volume will be consolidated in GM's accounts -- at the very least delaying Toyota's ascension.

Ballew says GM Daewoo should be included in GM's total because most of its vehicles are sold with a Chevrolet badge. GM also has management control of the company.

Now, I certainly as hell don't agree with rebadging Daewoos as Chevrolets or using such as an excuse to include them in GM's sales figures, but it's fascinating to me that the little Korean manufacturer is doing so well. In my pre-blogging days, posting on car enthusiast forums, I had absolutely nothing good to say about that purchase and figured that GM bought into Daewoo because they were the only car company left on the market. It looked like a despairation move, and all the labor problems immediately after the sale made things look that much worse. But perhaps this one will work out for the best (compared to the Fiat deal, how can it look bad?).

Regardless, I think it's foolish to think that Daewoo will save GM's position at the top, at least not unless they capture a big chunk of the low-end Chinese market - and with Korean labor not exactly cheap compared to their big neighbor, I don't think that's a likelihood.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

 

GM To Scrap Pushrod V10

Reports have GM abandoning the pushrod V10 project in favor of a supercharged version of the LS2 pushrod V8.

For performance applications, this is probably the right move. The LS2 is a heck of a motor at 400 HP, and only 7-8 lbs of boost would be required to put it at 600 HP. That'd be a beast under the hood of a CTS-V, or in a Silverado SS.

The V10 was also proposed as a replacement for the supercharged Northstar, which is currently offered in the STS-V and XLR-V. Hopefully, the idea of replacing those engines is permanently dead. I can't imagine that such an idea would have resulted in a better product, or improved market acceptance.

My concern with this decision is that the pushrod V10 would have also replaced the dreadful 8100 big-block V8 in heavy-duty light-truck and medium-duty truck applications. I don't think that a forced-induction engine requiring premium fuel would find much acceptance in the commercial market. Now, GM may be betting that diesels will replace large-displacement gasoline motors in these applications, and I think that'd be a fair assumption.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

 

A Call For Wagoner's Head?

Jim Dollinger, AKA "Buickman" (see my earlier post on him), has stated his intentions via a thread on Cheers & Gears (main thread here, his posts are here and here) to ask for Rick Wagoner's resignation at the upcoming GM shareholder's meeting (which will probably offer the same sort of rancor as Half-Off Wing Night at Hooters).

I don't see where the removal of any single person at GM will help matters significantly, not with GM's legendary inertia.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

Real Wages Fall...

... at the fastest rate in 14 years:

Inflation rose 3.1 per cent in the year to March but salaries climbed just 2.4 per cent, according to the Employment Cost Index. In the final three months of 2004, real wages fell by 0.9 per cent.

The last time salaries fell this steeply was at the start of 1991, when real wages declined by 1.1 per cent.

Stingy pay rises mean many Americans will have to work longer hours to keep up with the cost of living, and they could ultimately undermine consumer spending and economic growth.

Great solution - except it's worthless for those that are salaried employees. For those people, they just get to work longer hours for the illusion of increased job security.

 

The Snowball Starts Rolling

The chairman of Tier 1 automotive supplier Collins and Aikman stepped down today, but more interesting was a piece of news buried within Automotive News' coverage:

The company also said it has received waivers on several financial covenants tied to its accounts receivables. The waivers were needed in the wake of Standard & Poor's downgrades of credit ratings for Ford Motor Co. and General Motors to junk status last week. The downgrades triggered a requirement for Collins & Aikman to pay down a portion of its receivables.

I'm assuming that C&A was using its account receivables (the money owed to them by their customers that hasn't come in yet, due to the long "net" terms used by OEMs) to secure credit. If the credit-worthiness of the OEMs comes into question, then that will have far-reaching impact throughout the supply chain. In other words, this would be the first sign of the predicted "snowball effect" that many saw coming after the junk-bond news of last week.

Don't expect this to be the last news of this type.

UPDATE: Hope no one reading this bought C&A stock before 2Q2002. Ouch! It must hurt to shed 98% of the company's value in less than 3 years. I wonder if the automakers have a contingency plan in place, seeing as how a disruption at C&A would pretty much shut down auto production in North America.

UPDATE 2: Their stock is now suspended from trading on the NYSE, and analyists are predicting bankrupcty.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

 

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 - Monster!

Yea, the name's kinda clumsy (I wish they'd stop being pussies and use the "Terminator" moniker that was supposed to be applied to the '03 Cobra), but if what it claimed here is true, then Ford can name it anything they want and I'd still be willing to cut off body parts to get one.

 

New GM Sightings

I saw a Pontiac G6 coupe and a top-up Solstice during my drive down I-75 today. The Solstice (black in color) looked stunning on the road, even during today's crappy weather. I'm almost tempted to call it an instant classic - clean, aggressive, and timeless - and it might be the best GM design since the '94 Impala SS. I can't say I care as much for the two-door G6 - I think it suffers from some of the same poor proportioning that plagues the sedan, but it's not butt-ugly either.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

 

Pension Woes At United

United Airlines received permission from their bankrupcty judge to release them from roughly $3.2 billion of pension liability. Of the $10B that's underfunded in the plan, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will now be ask to pick up $6.6B. That's actually us, the taxpayers, picking up the tab for obligations made by management that's long-gone. Great.

If Ford or GM go into bankrupcty, this will likely set a precedent. Whether the unfulfilled obligations get guaranteed by the feds is another question altogether. Ask a retired steelworker how things turned out for them, even with partial coverage through PGBC.

 

The Dumbing-Down Of America

Autoblog reports that NHTSA has denied a request to mandate fire extinguishers in light trucks. Why?

NHTSA was concerned a new regulation could increase injuries because many motorists lack training in using the devices.

Holy fuck. So, someone who's trusted with operating a 7,000 lb vehicle that's capable of towing the average house around the block can't be counted on to operate a fire extinguisher in a safe manner? God help us.

Seems to me that carrying a fire extinguisher in one's vehicle should be a matter of personal responsibility, anyways, just like carrying an adequate jack and a reasonable first-aid kit. While it's highly unlikely that many lives would be saved by such a thing, having an extinguisher handy in each one sure would be nice the next time a small grass fire or something similar pops-up.

 

Toyota - Hybrid Technology Still An Imported Item

I just saw on Automotive New's daily e-mail that Toyota would import hybrid drivetrains for vehicles that are built in the US. I think that's quite unfortunate, although not altogether unexpected. Even while the "transplant" OEMs make their big pro-USA marketing pushes that describe their contributions to the US economy (contributions that I'm personally thankful for), I think there's still a lingering tendency to keep their newest technology closer to home.

 

Hybrid Advocacy

The Auto Prophet reports that the UCSUSA (look here for a previous entry on these guys) has started a blog advocating hybrids. I'm OK with that, but I think we need a litmus test for anyone jumping on the hybrid bandwagon. Say, for starters, that it's a requirement to sketch a block diagram of the Prius powertrain architecture before spouting-off as to why hybrids are so great. Yea, that'll filter out at least 98% of the bozos.

For what it's worth, I think there's a lot of merit to the hybrid concept, but I'm getting really frickin' sick of people who tout this technology without the slightest idea of why it's so great, and without the slightest clue as to the potential drawbacks.

Monday, May 09, 2005

 

General Watch

Sitting at the bottom of a Car Connection daily email update last week, in the "Letters to the Editor" section, was a message from Buick salesman Jim Dollinger promoting his website General Watch, a GM shareholder's advocacy group.

I guess I'm not really sure I buy into their "plan", which starts off by calling for "no capital investment" (kinda a no-brainer for a company with 25% overcapacity, don't cha think?). It doesn't seem to offer the sort of detail that I'd prefer to deal with, but then again, executives tend to prefer broad, sweeping ideas. If there's one idea that has the potential to change GM, it's this one:

Remake our corporate image as a leader by acting rather than re-acting.

That's GM's biggest problem, in a nutshell. They take far too long to do anything. When there's a new market, they seem to be the last to enter it. If they've ruled a particular market segment for any length of time, they'll fail to defend it from the competition until it's too late. Fix this problem, and GM's market share will respond.

I think my favorite part is the nice selection of historical and contemporary quotes about GM scattered about the site.

 

Explorer Roof Concerns, Continued

As a follow-up to my previous posts on the topic, it seems that Ford has requested that NHTSA pull documentation from the DOT's website. Presumably, the information was from Ford's FMVSS submittal.*

This, Ford claims, was done in the name of "protecting trade secrets". This, of course, can fairly be intepreted as a thinly-disguised attempt to keep potentially damaging information out of the public domain. I remain skeptical:

The documents include test data suggesting that roofs on Ford Explorers were made progressively weaker during the 1990s to the point where they were barely more robust than required by the federal standard. The Explorer roofs have a "less than desirable safety margin," said a Ford engineer in an e-mail in October 1999.

Yes, safety belts will prevent the majority of deaths in rollover accidents, and supposedly GM has data showing that roof strength is not a significant factor in rollover safety. Intuition still says that collapsing roofs are bad for the people inside.

*NHTSA operates under a "self-policing" concept where the OEMs are in charge of proving their compliance with rules, and this means submitting a lot of paperwork - which reasonably could be expected to end up in the public domain, especially in light of a safety issue

 

Product Endorsement

Previously, I stated I was going to try Permatex's RTV remover (named "Silicone Stripper", which has a meaning I typically don't associate with engine repair). I gave the stuff a try, and it works - sorta.

It won't attack thick build-ups of RTV, so some scraping is still required. However, it does a good job removing that thin film of sealant that takes seemingly forever to scrape off (usually resulting in damage to soft and expensive aluminum parts). My biggest complaint is its sticky gel-like consistancy; sure, that helps keep it from running all over the place, but it also makes it very difficult to apply. I'm also not sure exactly what's in it (one of the listed ingredient is sulfonic acid), but I'm pretty sure I don't want it on my skin or left on delicate parts for any length of time.

Overall, I'd rate it a must-buy for those faced with the aftermath of previous sealant applications.

 

A Good Point

In his daily commentary today, Ed Lapham brings up the point that while GM contributed mightily to the economic recovery post-9/11 with their "Keep American Rolling" incentive campaign, their recent troubles have received little or no attention from Washington.

While I don't see where the feds can offer up much help in this case, there's a spot in my heart that believes GM deserves a bit of consideration from car shoppers for this reason alone (and trust me, there's precious few reasons I can think of to recommend a GM vehicle right now).

 

The Cos

I sincerely hope that some day in the not-too-distant future, we'll be able to look back at Bill Cosby and his remarks, and view them as the beginning of the end of poverty and blame-shifting in America.

Hat tip: Austin Bay via Instapundit.

 

The Current State Of Political Discourse

Flipping through the AM radio dial on the way home from work, I stumbled across Arianna Huffington on the Sean Hannity Show, and surely I'm a dumber person for it.

She was on to promote her new blog (check it out - she's got everyone from John Cussack to Daniel Pipes), but they quickly got on to the topic of Arianna's connection to the Detroit Project.

Hannity played what I thought was a rather amusing commercial that linked SUV drivers to terrorism (he wasn't as amused as I was). He then proceeded to ask Arianna why we should listen to Norman Lear, a significant financial backer of the project and an owner of a 21-car garage (actually, the exact number of stalls seems to be in question, but it's big enough that he proposed building a tennis court on the roof). I don't think there was a good answer to that one. Then Hannity asked Arianna to promise that she'd never take a private jet again, whic of course she wouldn't do. Ah, the fresh smell of hypocracy.

Arianna proceeded to blame "Detroit", presumably meaning the domestic automakers. This apparently means that big SUVs have been crammed down our throats unwillingly by the Big Bad American Auto Industry. Hmm, I'm not sure where all those 35-MPG Cobalts and Focuses (Foci?) came from, and I guess we're supposed to ignore the fact that the minivan (the most-efficient people mover in the automotive world) is a Detroit invention. I had previously thought that SUV buyers were just sadly misinformed Hannity "corrected" this by claiming that the real problem is "the unions". He didn't expand much on this, but the next time I see a UAW guy with a Mobil gas credit-card, he's in for some rough questioning concerning possible conspiracies.

At this point, a significant number of my brain cells committed suicide. Given the opinion of these two experts, I guess we can assume that a Toyota Sequioa, built by transplant manufacturer using non-union labor and rated at 15/18 MPG, is somehow better than the domestic UAW-built Chevrolet Tahoe at 15/19. I've got a half-eaten Subway cookie for the first person who can explain this to me (act quickly - this offer won't last forever, or even for the next five minutes!).

Saturday, May 07, 2005

 

'06 Silverado SS

PickupTruck.com drove the new Silverado SS, newly-available with 2WD and a lower sticker price (albeit one that's still a few grand higher than that of the departed Ford Lightning). This was interesting:

It still pulls hard with 345 horsepower coming from the 6.0-liter LQ9, but I found the aging 4L85-E 4-speed automatic transmission to be sluggish and slow to respond to the pedal. Also, GM went to a higher 3.73:1 rear axle ratio in the 2WD, compared to the 4.10:1 in the AWD version, which doesn’t help quickness when you stab the throttle.

They also mention elsewhere in the article that it's now using the 9.5" 14-bolt rear axle, from the pre-HD-era 2500-series trucks. This is all good for strength, as the 4L85E is far stronger than the 4L65E that it replaces in the SS application (I wonder how many warranty claims that GM has had with the LQ9/4L65E combination?!), and the 14-bolt should prove nearly indestructable on the street. But there's a couple of problems here that probably add up to the author's perspection of sluggishness.

First, the bigger rear axle will surely have greater frictional losses than the old 8.5" 10-bolt rear end. Additionally, the same is true of the bigger transmission. This is the same running gear that's in my K2500, and there's a big difference in perceived power loss between it and the 4L60E/10-bolt combo that was available in the same era half-ton pickups. Now certainly some of this additional frictional loss will be offset by the subtraction of the 4WD gear up front (although the weight loss that would occur with deleting the front axle hardward was likely gained back with the much heavier transmission and rear axle). But certainly that gear ratio change doesn't help, eh? The full story is even worse that what's indicated by the relatively mild 10% difference between the new 3.73 gear and the old 4.10 gear.

The 4L60/65 has a very low 3.06:1 first-gear ratio. It's not quite a creeper gear, but it's dang low (I never understood that, considering that it's a light-duty transmission). That combined with the 4.10:1 gearset out back resulted in a overall first-gear ratio greater than 12:1 - that's low. But the 4L80/85 has the same ratio as its TH400 parent - 2.48:1. Why not simply use the 4.10s with the 4L85E? Because the 65E has a 0.70:1 overdrive, while the 85E has a shorter 0.75:1 OD ratio. That little bit extra, combined with the greater frictional losses in the transmission and rear end, probably resulted in unacceptable fuel economy numbers with the 4.10s. So I'm guessing the taller gears were selected to drop the highway engine speeds back down, but in the process, the overall ratio in first-gear dropped down to 9.25:1 - a drop of nearly 25%, and surely enough to cause a very significant difference in feel at the seat of the pants.

What'll be interesting to see is if the new truck traps significantly faster in the 1/4-mile, due to the closer ratio spacing of the 85E. That's been known to happen when going from a 4L60E to a TH400. That won't satisfy those who want the best 0-30 MPH performance, of course. But for those that like to roll into the throttle from 30-40 MPH up to hyperlegal speeds, this new drivetrain gearing might keep them happy. More importantly, for those that want to unlock the potential of the GenIII V8 engine, they won't have to worry about replacing transmissions at the same frequency as they change their oil.

 

Chevy HHR Pricing

AutoBlog carries the news on Chevy HHR pricing, and it's far better than I expected:

The 2006 Chevy HHR hits the market at $15,990 for the LS, which includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, six-speaker CD stereo with aux-jack and remote keyless entry. Sounds like a decent price for the equipment. Cheaper than we thought, anyway. The 1LT model starts at $16,990 and ads an MP3 player, eight-way power seat with power lumbar, a satin exterior finish (we guess the grille work) and cast aluminum wheels. Top of the line model 2LT stickers for $18,790 and throws in ABS, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a 260-watt Pioneer sound system with sub, FE3 sport suspension and bright chrome exterior trim. 17-inch aluminum wheels are also standard with the 2LT.

That's dang competitive, in my opinion. Will this vehicle save GM? Hardly. Will I buy one? Um, no. But the pricing will definitely help the HHR in the showroom (it'll need every bit it can get, especially when comparision-shopped to the Scion xB). More importantly, this might establish a future trend for GM - "reality-based pricing".

Friday, May 06, 2005

 

Nichols: There Was A Third Conspirator

Terry Nichols made a claim earlier this week that Roger Moore, the Arkansas gun dealer and white supremacist, supplied the explosives used in the OK City bombing. That directly conflicts with the evidence presented during Nichol's federal trial, where a receipt for 2000 lbs of AN fertilizer was presented that supposedly carried Nichol's fingerprint.

For those not quite getting the significance of this, it blows to hell the FBI's insistance that only two people were involved. As we've already discussed previously, there's plenty of reasons to suspect that the full story has yet to be told.

 

David Hackworth, RIP

David H. Hackworth has passed away from cancer at the age of 74.

In recent years, he's been most-visible as one of the men behind Soldiers For The Truth, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fighting for soldier's rights - an activity that in Washington is often reduced to a tool used to make the other party look bad on a particular vote. If what he stood for could be summed-up in one paragraph, here it is:

If the irrelevant gold-plated Cold War weapons systems – such as obsolete multibillion-dollar ships and trillion-dollar fleets of fighter aircraft designed to shoot down the Soviets, who went down in flames years ago, plus the Marines' flying albatross, the MV-22 hybrid helicopter-airplane, which after more than 20 years of costly development does only two things well: crash and burn – were all canceled, the Pentagon could easily pay for the new boots on the ground from its own hide. And the only losers would be the weapons merchants themselves and the self-serving politicians who have their hands in their friendly local war racketeers' pockets.

Note that "Hack" was no liberal anti-war activist or someone who wanted to see the military wither away to nothing; no, he simply wanted nothing but the best for the men that constitute our all-volunteer military.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

 

Looking On The Bright Side...

...having a lifter come apart while adjusting the valves is probably better than having it come apart at redline. Apparent, this not entirely unheard-of with Comp Cams Pro Magnum lifters.

The wife's got the digital camera in the UP right now so I can't show a picture of what happened, but basically the clip that holds the plunger in the lifter body developed cracks and no longer was able to perform its job. When I was backing off the nut on the rocker stud, the plunger just kinda popped out of the body. I was somewhat surprised by this, to say the least.

Had I known that the damn things would cause me this much hassle, I would have just gone with a solid-roller setup in the Impy. I mean, come on - set the damn things to 0.002-0.004" lash? That forces frequent valve adjustments (sorta fortunate in a way, because that's how I caught the problem), which kinda negates the whole benefit of hydraulic lifters.

Comp Cams was very helpful on the phone this morning, though, and a new set of lifters should be here tomorrow.

 

Apocolypse Right Now

GM and Ford got cut to junk-bond status by Standard & Poor's today. This, my friends, will someday be viewed as the Beginning Of The End. I'm not sure what that "end" looks like just yet (if I knew that, I wouldn't have an engineering day job and a crappy little blog on the side), but my guess is that there's perhaps 2 or 3 automakers too many in the market right now.

The markets felt the impact, of course, but not as much as I figured - the Dow dropped just a bit less than half a percent. Either the significance of this event went unnoticed, the markets already expected such an event, or I'm blowing this whole mess out of proportion. You're welcome to draw your own conclusions, 'cause I'm a bit mystified. Just keep in mind this fact:

Between them, the two auto giants have some $453 billion of debt outstanding, which analysts estimate includes some $220 billion to $290 billion of unsecured corporate bonds that will become junk after the cuts.

All I can say is that GM had damn well be thankful for Kirk Kerkorvian and his offer of $31/share, because without that established price floor, I personally think the stock would be establishing a new 52-month low.

Since I'm all about airing opposing viewpoints, Richard Lehmann at Forbes is actually recommending GM bonds and "preferreds". He bases his recommendation on the following theory:

GM doesn't have to generate a profit; it merely needs free cash flow greater than zero. Free cash flow is, roughly speaking, net income plus depreciation minus capital expenditures. This figure is net of interest (because net income is net of interest), so if it's a positive number, then interest has been covered. You need look no further than the airline industry to see that a company can operate for years upon years without profitability and can avoid bankruptcy so long as cash flow stays positive. GM, still the world's largest automaker, should be able to manage this feat despite its manifold weaknesses.

The fear of a junk rating for GM has sparked massive dumping of GM bonds and preferreds. This has led to yields exceeding 9%. When you look at comparable yields in the junk market, you're talking about bonds rated below single-B, not ones in danger of falling from BBB- to BB+.

This state of affairs is not due to fears that GM is in jeopardy. The yields are so high because the debt markets are temporarily out of balance between the number of GM sellers (too many) and the number of willing buyers (too few). In other words, this is a great time to buy a GM debt security with a fat yield.

Interesting, but not a risk I'd want to take on at this point. GM's ability to maintain cash flow depends on vehicle sales, and those numbers are not heading in the right direction.

Hang on tight, folks - I'm thinking that not long from now, we might be looking back upon the past few years as the good times.

And before anyone goes and gets the idea that I somehow want GM or Ford to fail, please consider this - my livelihood is probably on the line right now, so let's not go assuming that I somehow want to see the US auto industry go away. That doesn't mean I'm going to turn a blind eye towards the problems or become a domestic-make cheerleader, either.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

 

Kerkorian Angles For Additional GM Ownership

Kirk Kerkorian (sounds kinda like "Kevorkian"), best-known in recent times for his multi-billion lawsuit against Daimler, has resurfaced in the news once again with his offer to buy approximately 5% of outstanding GM shares.

In my mind, there's two reasons he'd do this - no, no, make that three. I initially thought he's doing this either because he really believes in GM and thinks there's a dramatic potential upside to their stock price, or else he thinks the company is ripe for a take-over or liquidation and he wants to get in on that action.

The third option that hit me just as I'm typing this is that he wants to get a temporary boost in the stock price so that he can unload what he already owns (22 million shares, or about 4% of GM), but I gotta imagine that there's SEC rules barring such a thing. Or maybe not.

Frankly, I don't see either of the first two scenarios happening. I honestly don't think there should be any hope of a long-term increase in GM's stock price, not with all the bond debt they're carrying. And I don't think the company is yet ready to throw in the towel and liquidate - things are bad, but not yet bankruptcy bad. So I'm left thinking that Kerkorian is either off his rocker, and/or just looking for attention now that his circus of a court trial has wound-down.

UPDATE: Looks like the folks at Autoblog came to the same conclusion.

 

Number Of The Beast

It would seem as if Satan's personal area code may actually be 616, not 666. Ironically, that's one of the area codes used here in West Michigan - an area often rumored to have a nation-leading "church density" (although a brief Google search on the topic shows that residents of many cities make this same claim). I'm guessing it won't be long before the good folks of Holland and Grand Rapids start petitioning for a new area code - seriously, it'll happen if this story gets any traction in the mainstream news.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

 

On Sales Figures And Stock-Market Rationality

Odd:

The world's largest automakers Tuesday reported mixed sales for April, with General Motors and Ford reporting declines but DaimlerChrysler posting a 9 percent rise.

Shares of GM (up $0.51 to $27.67) and Ford (up $0.23 to $9.45) each rallied in afternoon trading while Daimler (down $0.12 to $39.23) shares edged lower on the New York Stock Exchange.

Someone want to explain how GM sales can drop 7.4% and Ford's can drop 1.5% compared to one year ago and their stock prices go up, while DCX reports sales 9% higher (mostly on the strength of Chrysler, although M-B was slight up as well) and their stock drops? Pardon me if I'm a bit confused.

More on the April sale numbers here. This tidbit of info on Ford is interesting:

At Ford, the Mustang continued its strong pace with sales of 19,559 -- the highest April sales for the car since 1980, Ford said.

"Right now, the only thing keeping Mustang at bay is lack of inventory," said Steve Lyons, Ford's vice president for North American marketing, sales and service. He estimated Ford dealers had fewer than 13,000 Mustangs in stock at the end of April.

Ford also reported strong demand for its new sedans, the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego, and for the Ford Freestyle crossover utility. Combined sales for the three vehicles exceeded 18,000 for the first time, the company said.

That's amazing - the Mustang outselling the combination of two mainstream sedans and a crossover SUV. That's just insane; for as much as I love powerful RWD cars, and for as much as I love the new Mustang despite my general dislike for Blue Oval products, I'd never guess that Ford would be on-pace to sell nearly a quarter-million of them per year.

Another shocker, this one a bit more ominous:

Toyota, meanwhile, reported its best-ever sales month, with overall vehicle sales rising 21.3 percent from April 2004. Car sales were up 36 percent, while truck sales rose 4.8 percent.

Digest those numbers for a moment.



 

Google Politically Biased?

Sure would appear that way (warning - link points to Little Green Footballs, so wash your hands thoroughly afterwards).

This sort of thing disgusts me, regardless of which way the bias happens to be tilted. I think that it's generally important for corporations to stay out of politics, but especially so when that corporation is one of the largest distributors of information in the free market.

In a nice break from advocating genocide, the posters in the comments section of LGF do a good job of pointing out that for many people, there's no good alternative to Google - sure, there's other options, but they're weak at best. Frankly, Google pretty much has the market wrapped-up on search. Thus, I hope they decide to make a strong move towards neutrality, and damn quick-like.

 

Chevy Colorado Dead Last In C&D Comparo

Yep, the miserable Colorado, a vehicle that I panned before it was cool to do so, ended up DFL in a Car & Driver comparision test of 5 mini-trucks. The horribly-ugly Dakota came in 4th, with the Tacoma, Frontier, (two fairly nice trucks) and Ridgeline (WTF?) going 3-2-1. A poster on the CZ28.com board offers these tidbits as to why the 'rado sucks so bad. This is really the sort of thing that should cause heads to roll.

The problem I see with all of these trucks is that they carry sticker prices north of $29K and get 16-17 MPG (the Dakota averaged 13 MPG in C&D's hands). Those are numbers like what I'd expect of full-size trucks. Additionally, they're just not that small on the outside anymore, which I kinda thought was supposedly to be the appealing part of a compact truck - you know, being compact and what-not.

The same money spent on a used GM 3/4-ton with a Duramax/Allison combo will result in the same (or better) fuel mileage, and far superior performance in any measureable aspect of truckness.

Monday, May 02, 2005

 

New Motor Time

I'm seriously kicking-around the idea of replacing the TBI (throttle body injection) 305 in my '91 Caprice wagon (named to John Phillip's top-ten most desirable cars list in the latest issue of Car & Driver!) with something possessing a bit more power. 165 HP just ain't cutting it in a car that weighs around 4500 lbs.

The thing is, I want more power without sacrificing economy. It currently gets nearly 20 MPG in my normal mixed driving, even though it's tired enough at 159,000 miles to consume a quart of oil every 600 miles. Now, this task isn't impossible - the later ('94-'96) Caprices came with the much more powerful (260 HP SAE net) LT1, and were rated at 17/25 on the EPA cycle - a hit of only 1 MPG. And the current Hemi-powered Magnum achieves similar economy numbers, albeit it with cylinder deactivation.

TBI engines are hampered by the location of their injectors, which requires a downstream manifold runner shape that's a relatively straight shot to the intake port of the head so that the fuel does not fall out of suspension. Additional, the throttle body itself is severely limited in airflow in the stock form. So I need to use technology to achieve my rough goals of 250 rear-wheel HP (about 300 at the crank) and 20 MPG.

Fortunately, GM already had fairly modern technology back in the late 80s, in the form of the TPI (Tuned Port Injection) engines. Long intake runners combined with port injection meant big torque (and thus horsepower) at lower revs - good for daily drivers and tall gearing. Unfortunately, it was only used in Corvettes and "high-end" F-bodies (a slight contradiction in terms) such as the infamous Camaro IROC-Z/28, and was never employed in B-bodies or pickup trucks. Too bad, since it would have been an ideal system (note that Ford employed a modified version of the Mustang 5.0's EFI in their pickup trucks during this era, and won the horsepower war for many years).

The main drawback of the TPI system was inadequate high-RPM airflow for performance applications, but that's much more a problem in a Corvette than in a station wagon. And there's plenty of induction parts out there to correct this problem. Also, the injectors are controlled in a batch-fire manner, where all are fired at once, instead of the more modern sequential firing sequence implemented on '94-up LT1s. For all practical purposes, this is a pretty minor issue.

I plan to swap in the correct ECM for a TPI engine (likely one based on mass airflow, or MAF, instead of speed density - this will make for easier tuning and less senstitivity to modifications), make the appropriate modifications to the existing wiring harness (since most of the interface is the same, I'll probably leave nearly everything but the injector wiring in place), and then figure out what sort of motor to put underneath it.

Not sure exact what I'm going to build up here, but I think I'm sticking with a stock 350 crank, a 350 block bored 0.030" over (yielding 355 CID, but more importantly, a round and properly-honed bore), cylinder heads appropriate for my power goals (ported L98 TPI heads, later-model GM Vortecs, or a mild aftermarket head like Trick Flows), and an perhaps a stock inatke manifold, or the Holley Stealth Ram (which unfortunately hurts mid-range power a bit while helping things up top). I've got two sets of 24 lb/hr LT1 injectors to replace the stock 19 lb/hr units, which will ensure sufficient fuel flow at peak power while being perfectly manageable at idle. A new fuel pump will be required to get the necessary 3 bar (42-45 PSI) of fuel pressure.

Should be fun - let's see if I get around to it this summer!

EDIT: Screw it - I should just go forced induction on my TPI system, using a SyTy PCM. Too cool.

 

Something Missing

Notice that there's a Carnival of the Dogs, and one for cats, and even one for recipes, but there's no weekly carnival for automotive posts. It would seem that, perhaps, something needs to be done about this notable oversight.

 

South Park Conservatives - What?!?

When I first heard of a recently-published book called South Park Conservatives, surely I didn't think the author was referring to the TV show of the same name. Well, um, I was wrong.

Some-dude-who's-not-David-Brooks-or-Paul-Krugman (Frank Rich) recently wrote about this in the NY Times (registration required, or use BugMeNot):

So far, so right. Among their other anarchic comic skills, Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone have a perfect pitch for lampooning what many Americans find most irritating about liberals, especially Hollywood liberals: a self-righteous propensity for knowing better than anyone else and for meddling in everyone's business, whether by enforcing P.C. speech codes or plotting to curb S.U.V.'s and guns.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the publication of "South Park Conservatives": Emboldened by the supposed "moral values" landslide on Election Day, the faith-based right became the new left. Just as Mr. Anderson's book reached stores in early April, Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone, true to their butt-out libertarianism, aimed their fire at self-righteous, big-government conservatives who have become every bit as high-handed and meddlesome as any Prius-pushing movie star. Such is this role reversal that the same TV show celebrated by Mr. Anderson and his cohort as the leading edge of a potential conservative victory in the culture wars now looks like a harbinger of an anti-conservative backlash instead.

Indeed. Where as libertarians and conservatives tend to share some ground on economic issues (big corporate handouts from big government not included), they're typically worlds' apart on social issues - and last time I checked, Parker and Stone tend to fuel their satire with far more social topics than economic ones.

Thus, I find it hard to believe that anyone enjoys South Park because of their conservative side; no, when someone's snickering at parodies of Jesse Jackson, Barbara Streisand, or Sally Struthers, they're showing their libertarian side. And come on - suggesting the public execution of Bill Gates, or hilariously mocking the stupidity of modern corporate management? Oddly enough, though, the Underpants Gnome episode that I refer to also defends mega-corporations like, heh-hem, Harbucks, so maybe my argument ain't all there.

Regardless (and hopefully getting back on track), a TV show featuring Korn, centering an episode around a "cripple fight", forming a underage boyband called "Fingerbang", or has a lead character becoming the poster child for NAMBLA probably doesn't fit in with the modern definition of conservative, or any definition of such from the past many election cycles. And the recent episode revolving around Kenny's living will didn't break any new ground for the boys - Kyle's grandfather was outspoken in his desire for assisted suicide back in the first season.

Tthose that enjoy the show's values are libertarians, whether they want to admit it or not. If they're like the majority of Americans, they'd prefer to deny their true identity.


 

Hypocrite

Rush Limbaugh, in his own words.

Now, just because the man is a public figure with a history of sticking his foot in his (constantly-running) mouth - and a drug problem - doesn't mean that I think he's relinquished his right to medical privacy. Too bad, however, he doesn't feel the same about everyone else (note the quote from August 22 2003).

Personally, I'd rather just see something resembling contrition, and then (and more importantly) a lot of helpful suggestions as to how we can control illegal drug use without relying on the criminal justice system.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

 

Dynamic Compression Ratio

While static compression ratio (calculated by dividing the cylinder swept volume plus actual combustion chamber volume by the actual combustion chamber volume) gets all the attention, the dynamic compression ratio ends up being vastly more informative when attempted to discern whether a given combination will be usable with "pump gas" (typically defined as unleaded with an octane rating of 92 or 93).

The single biggest factor influencing dynamic compression ratio, or DCR, is the closing time of the intake valve. This, along with the same variables used to compute static compression ratio (SCR), can yield a useful approximation of DCR.

Let's examine the engine in my '96 Impala SS, a 396 stroker based on the GenII LT1. With 55 cc LT4 heads, flat-top (5 cc valve relief) pistons, and a 4.030" bore combined with a 3.875" stroke, a static compression ratio of about 11.7:1 is the result. Conventional wisdom would have it being much too wild for pump gas, even with aluminum heads and reverse-flow cooling (both of which combine to not just allow but require about one point of additional static compression ratio).

But taking into account the intake valve closing point results in some amount of compression being bled-off, as the valve stays open After Bottom Dead Center (ABDC), the nominal endpoint of the intake stroke. As the piston starts coming up, the intake remains open, and some cylinder pressure is lost at low engine speeds (at higher speeds, this results in improved cylinder filling due to the momentum of the intake air charge, but with most street engines we're well past the point of optimum cylinder filling when this starts to become a major factor). With that "bleed-off" effect taken into account in a compression ratio measurement, shooting for a absolute maximum of 9:1 DCR will typically yield marginally-streetable results on pump gas, allowing reasonable amount of timing to be used if the quench/squish height (distance from the piston top to the bottom surface of the head, forming a volume where air/fuel charge likes to accumulate and detonate) isn't too large (0.040" being an absolute minimum for safety, 0.060-0.080" being adequate, and much beyond 0.080" likely to be too large).

With a cam that's based on Comp Cam's XR282HR specifications, I've got 282 degrees of "advertised" duration (0.006" lift at the lobe, or 0.009" at the valve with 1.5:1 rockers) on the intake side, 230 degrees of duration at 0.050" lift (once again at the lobe), 113 degrees of lobe seperation, and 4 degrees of "ground-in" advance.

The intake valve closing point ABDC is calculated in the following manner. First, divide the intake duration by 2, and add that to the lobe seperation. Next, subtract out any ground-in advance. Finally, subtract 180 degrees. Confused? Check out this helpful tutorial from Comp Cams, and especially this graph, and keep in mind that the camshaft turns at half the speed of the crank (since it takes two revolutions of the crank for one complete combustion cycle in a four-stroke), so that a given number of degrees at the cam is twice that at the crank.

With the cam specs above, I get an intake valve closing point of 70 degrees ABDC: 113 + (282 /2) - 4 - 180. We're using advertised duration here, since air in the cylinder is still being bled-off with a valve opening of only 0.009".

Punching those calculations into Keith Black's DCR calculator, along with misc. other engine specs (a 4.125" gasket bore, 0.039" gasket thickness, 0.034" deck height, and a 6" rod length), I get a DCR of 8.97:1 for my engine. Given its pickiness about fuel brand, that's a very believable number. Another calculator is available here - it requires fewer variables so it's likely a bit less accurate, but it does allow one to account for the effects of boost (via forced-induction) and altittude, if that's of interest.

Note that the calculator asks for the intake closing point at 0.050", plus an additional 15 degrees. I guess that's a somewhat decent substitute for knowing the "exact" valve closing point (which is, at best, an educated guess anyways - who's to say that the intake valve is leaking-down cylinder pressure at 0.009" of lift but not at, say, 0.007"?), but I'd rather use the "advertised" number. The 15 degrees that the calculator asks for is too small - adding in about 25 degrees would work for a relatively "steep" hydraulic roller cam like my Comp Cams Xtreme Energy (the difference in advertised and 0.050" duration being 52 degrees in this case), and something more like 30 degrees would be better for a traditional flat-tappet cam.

The bottom line here is that there's more - much more - to detonation resistance than the SCR, and understanding the DCR and its influences is a good start towards determining an engine's usefulness with real-world gasoline. If you've completely screwed-up your component selection and ended up with a motor that's simply not happy with pump gas, perhaps a change in camshaft timing (either retarding the cam via an adjustable timing set or selecting a different cam with less advance, more lobe center angle, or more duration) might just result in an engine that tolerates pump gas - but with a likely loss in performance, if you selected the correct cam in the first place!

 

Old-Tech Problems With High-Tech Motors

It's nice to know that, even after spending about the equivalent to the sticker price on a Chevy Aveo to build the 396 LT4 engine in my Impala, I'm still at the mercy of 50-year-old sealing and gasket designs. If there's an example of something that money just can't buy, it's a better way to seal the intake manifold on a small-block Chevy.

Whereas the junction between the intake manifold and heads can be sealed relatively effectively with a standard flat gasket, the 1/8" gap between the intake and the block is more troublesome. Previous attempts at sealing this with a rubber gasket usually resulted in the gasket "squeezing out" as the manifold was tightened, or a leak developed at the junction between the block, heads, and manifold. In later years of the SBC, it was sealed with just a bead of RTV from the factory. But RTV isn't well-suited to filling large gaps, and a combination of heat and crankcase pressure (the LT1 can't draw a vacuum on the PCV system at WOT) means that oil leaks at the front and rear of the intake are a matter of "when", not "if". Ideally, the new intake design of the LT1 would have brought "spaghetti"-type press-in-place molded gaskets, or at least some cast-in channels to help lock the bead of form-in-place gasket. But that didn't happen, and one of the few flaws with Ed Cole's brilliant original design remained with the second generation of GM's small V8.

Having gotten quite tired of my car's recent propensity to mark its territory and a oil "consumption" rate of about 1 quart every 1200 miles, I finally pulled the intake manifold. Sure enough - a few bolts came out with oily threads and heads (most of the intake bolt holes are open on the underside to the lifter valley), and the beads of RTV at the front and rear of the manifold showed obvious signs of leakage across 1/2 to 2/3 of their lengths. Whew - finding problems is never good, but it sure beats not finding the problem! The port gaskets showed some wetness, but the intake ports themselves looked clean (and I had forgotten just how big those 200 cc ports are!), and examination of the spark plugs showed only the slightest signs of actual oil consumption (thankfully).

Instead of making another attempt to seal the front and rear of the manifold with standard RTV, I'm going to give Permatex's new Right Stuff sealant a shot, even though it cost me nearly $20 for a 7 oz. "EZ Cheeze"-style pressurized can. Supposedly, it's far more robust than normal RTV, and it cures much more quickly, but I'll still give it a good 24 hours to fully cure before attempting to start the engine. I'd previously ran a series of indents down the block and manifold with a center punch, so I don't need to do that again. To seal the intake bolt threads, I'm going with Permatex High Performance Thread Sealant, which hopefully will not only prevent future oil leaks around the bolts, but will also help prevent the loose intake bolts I've been experiencing with this motor (a well-known problem with LT1s, regardless of head material, but something that I hadn't encountered with the stock iron heads). The intake port gaskets will likely get a smear of Caterpillar's anaerobic sealer, which is a fiercely effective sealers for joints having gaps of less than 0.015" or so.

And while in the sealant aisle at the parts store, I discovered that Permatex now makes a RTV remover, which should make cleaning the gasket surfaces much easier than by using the traditional mechanical method (which is difficult to do on aluminum surfaces without damaging the component). If this stuff actually works, it'll be worthy of a Nobel prize.

I should be able to determine the success of this operation in a few thousand miles, so at my current rate of usage of this car, I should be able to report back in, um, two or three years .

More on gasket sealing here, courtesy of ASA.

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