If you are a fan of the classic ’60s TV show The Munsters, you know all about the family, their odd friends, their house, their two hot rods, and even the family pet Spot. But what you might not know is that all of this has been recreated in exacting detail by Sandra and Charles McKee in Waxahachie Texas.
They started by building – from scratch – the Munster Mansion. It’s not just a prop – it’s a real house and they actually day-to-day live in it. It was purposefully built from the ground up to be exactly as the real house would have been. Of course the exterior of house used in the TV show was a facade – the interiors were on a sound stage. So the McKees set out to build the real thing, in amazing detail taken from watching the show hundreds of times, measuring everything possible, calculating dimensions from measuring the strides of the actors, etc.
They have also reproduced every other single thing that could be discerned from the show – all the rooms, the furnishings, everything seen in the show as props, hundreds of items. Even the spider webs and dust. It’s incredible.
Every year they very generously open the house and grounds for a 2-night charity event. The surviving actors from the original show participate… this year it’s Pat Priest who played the “plain” (normal) daughter. The McKees themselves dress as Lily and Herman, a friend from PA plays Grandpa (the original Al Lewis was here before he died), and volunteers are dressed as all sorts of similar TV and movie characters. The McKees are superfans of The Munsters and the attention paid to their exact reproduction of the elements is amazing. And every year for two nights they generously open their house to the public for a charity event. Our first visit to the Munster Mansion was in 2007, where we could barely believe our eyes at the attention to detail.
But of course it’s the two Munster hot rods that attract us as car enthusiasts. We’ve covered the original cars of the show before. And since then the McKees have built fully functional replicas of both the Munster Coach and DRAG-U-LA. DrivingEnthusiasts will recognize them both since the original Munster Coach was built by George Barris. Like The Munsters, George Barris was an icon of the ’60s.
Let’s start with some of the images from this year’s event. First, the Munster Coach itself, along with video of it starting.
And then there is DRAG-U-LA, ostensibly Grandpa’s car but both drag raced and (back) road raced by Herman. This dragster is built form a coffin and is powered by a Chevy small block.
We heard a story that was new to us about the creation of the original car. In California at the time, it was illegal to purchase a coffin unless you were a registered mortician. So a deal was made with a funeral house for a coffin, and it was left outside where it then conveniently “disappeared” overnight. And DRAG-U-LA was born.
The event itself was attended by thousands of people over two days. The highlight was meeting the characters, as well as an original actress from the show Pat Priest. Pat played the daughter “Marilyn”, who was the only one that we would consider “normal”, but who was considered by the other characters as “the plain one” for her obvious birth defects – she wasn’t a monster. Pat is in great shape after all these years, and graciously greets fans and signs autographs.
Lily Munster, Herman Munster, and Grandpa.
The house is another highlight of the visit, and a long line formed each night to tour the interior (where, unfortunately, photos were not allowed).
It’s a fine September day in Texas, just a bit cooler than the last several weeks and with cloud cover. Otherwise the perfect day to look over hundreds of cars at our local Cars and Coffee.
We’ve got a gallery of over 100- cars, just a small sample of all the cars present. As usual, it’s a tough time picking just one car that stands out. There are so many choices. So we’re picking this immaculate Renault Alpine. We’ve seen this car before, but not in the last several months. It’s good that it’s back. And, in answer to that over-excited journo at that “other site”, there are several Alpines in Texas and this is just one of them.
Beautiful, and we’d take one in a minute.
Here’s our full gallery of 140 images, covering just some of the cars there.
In case you missed it, from 2012, the Guiness World Record stunt that sent Tanner Foust and Greg Tracy in two vehicles through a six-story double vertical loop at the 2012 X Games in Los Angeles! It’s the behind-the-scenes documentary from Hot Wheels!
Mazda Unveils All-new Mazda MX-5
HIROSHIMA, Japan—Mazda Motor Corporation today celebrated the unveiling of the fourth generation Mazda MX-5 (known as Roadster in Japan) together with fans at events held simultaneously in Japan, USA and Spain. The all-new MX-5, which adopts both SKYACTIV technology and Mazda’s KODO-Soul of Motion design language, will be rolled out to global markets starting in 2015.
The MX-5 is an iconic model representing Mazda’s vehicle-engineering philosophy—the pursuit of driving pleasure. “Innovate in order to preserve” was the motto for the fourth generation, as the development team searched for innovations that go beyond simple evolution. Environmental and safety demands are much more stringent than they were when the first generation MX-5 was introduced 25 years ago, but the fourth generation stays true to the model’s original aim of offering the pure driving fun that only a lightweight sports car can. It achieves this through the adoption of SKYACTIV technology and refinement of its appeal to the senses and sensations through which people enjoy cars.
The design of the all-new MX-5 reveals another layer to Mazda’s KODO design language. The exquisite proportions make the driver and passenger stand out, and both the interior and exterior evoke the exhilaration of open-top driving. It is the most compact of any generation MX-5 so far and is more than 100 kilograms lighter than the model it replaces, promising a dramatic leap in Jinba-ittai driving fun.
As of July 2014, total production volume of the Mazda MX-5 exceeded 940,000 units and it continues to hold the Guinness World Record for the best-selling two-seater sports car. This highly-celebrated model has received over 200 awards from around the globe including Japan Car of the Year 2005-2006.
Moving forward, Mazda will continue to develop products which offer all customers driving pleasure and outstanding environmental and safety performance.
Mazda MX-5 25th Anniversary Website
For more information about SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY, please visit: http://www.mazda.com/technology/skyactiv/
For more information about KODO-Soul of Motion design theme, please visit: http://brand.mazda.com/en/design/
Mazda announced the 2016 MX-5 tonight in simultaneous worldwide events, and provided 10 images (below). But no technical details whatsoever, other than that is has a “SKYACTIV” engine. But no displacement. The only other fact revealed is a weight loss off 220 pounds, which will take the base weight down to approximately 2260 pounds. Note the 4-bolt wheels… a couple of grams were saved there.
The fact that it is a 2016 suggests a production date of next spring at the earliest, although again nothing was announced.
The styling is entirely different from any Miata that came before. A very radical change, and an all-new chassis as well. It’s controversial to a degree.. .we’re undecided. At first we thought we liked it from a high angle, where it showed a considerable degree of motion across its front fenders and hips. But then lower… well, the jury is out. The headlights look almost too low, and the sunken backup lights serve no purpose. The low nose and sharp rise to the hood serve pedestrian crash standards.
But this is a car about driving, and hopefully this 4th generation “Miata” (a name which wasn’t used at all tonight… it may finally be dead) will have a lively engine (instead of a so very slightly warmed over Ford Focus engine) and world-class handling (instead of terrible body roll). The seats look better bolstered than before – which is much-needed, especially against the flat seats of the 3rd generation car (and we own one, so we can say that). The nav screen is much appreciated (apparent lifted from the Mazda3), and the very low belt-line is also appreciated. We’d guess that the car shown was a loaded “Grand Touring” model. With that said, we’ll probably have to wait a number of months for more details, and until sometime in 2015 to get the power figures and first performance tests.
On a hot summer day, when some car work is awaiting us (but just too hot to do), we’re relaxing watching films of the Mille Miglia. Here’s the 2014 run, with Jay Leno and others competing.
If there could only be one automotive event in Europe on our personal bucket list, this would be it. Or at least to drive the route at some other point in time. We’ve driven some roads in Italy and it’s not easy, but the scenery and history are unbelievable and make it unforgettable.
While the purpose of this site remains focused on high performance driving, and the technical side of our brain spends it’s time on suspension tuning, the “what if” side of us find’s its fascination in engine swaps. Yes that’s a wild hair, and the swaps don’t always make sense – and most wouldn’t last a lap in a track event. But here’s what makes engine swaps appealing and visceral: when you see one, you immediately start to try to imagine the sounds and feeling of driving the car with its new engine. We are hooked.
We’ve covered swaps as we’ve found interesting examples, and we’ve developed our own likes and dislikes. There are early British and Japanese sports cars desperately in need of engines, later sportscars with great suspensions but in need of an appropriate engine, new sports cars that have their suspension together but are still lacking in a great engine (until the swap), and even wholly modern cars backdated with a classic engine swaps. There are swaps to cover the situation where the factory produces an example – but the car was only imported with a lame engine. Then there are the absurd: small cars with giant engines, and the classic: classic cars with even more-classic engines. The variety goes on and on forever, hence our fascination, and we’ve covered about 50 such examples in our Engine Swap category.
Besides the technical challenge of getting the engine to fit, and connecting it to the vehicle’s systems (no easy thing), there is also the matter of style. Style is subjective, and it can also be generational. Case in point is this GM LSx engine swap into a Datsun 280Z. We’ve seen this type of swap before, in fact the very first engine swap we ever saw was a Chevy small block into a similar early Z, resulting in a wildly powerful autocross car. But that swap, and many others we seen since, was performed by older “swappers” who had no interest in the appearance – the “style” – of the car. It was “just” technical. This brings us to the swap below, where the focus of the creator is not only the engine but also to make a statement. The style is his own, and is not to everyone’s taste. It’s clearly unique, generational, and says as much about the creator’s technical talent as it does about his own style, taste, and aspirations.
As you approach this car, you’re drawn to the paint job… thoughts such as “drift car” occur to you. Some might therefore dismiss it and move on. But then you notice the engine and see that there is a lot more to this car than the first impression of the eye. It’s purpose is not to destroy itself into a concrete wall, it’s built for the challenge of the swap.
Why this particular paint job? It’s creative expression. The engine swapper is also the owner.
It started out as a single flat color with plastidip.. when that proved problematic, it was found that a purposeful peel made it that much more unique. And it’s a work-in-progress.
This is a 280Z, with its OEM safety bumpers removed. Ask your self what type of Z enthusiast and swapper you would be: would you just remove the ugly safety bumpers, replace them with the small JDM bumpers to retain the vision of the original creators of the Z, or would you leave the bumpers on the car that originally came with it?
Larger wheels and tires than original are necessary to manage the >tripling of the torque. We’d personally like to see some major suspension mods here, but as we said this is a work in progress.
And here’s the centerpiece, a GM LSx engine.
Chevy small-block V-8 swaps have been popular for many years in Zs, and are often described as a “natural fit”.
You can see why: there is plenty of room on all sides.
As well as on the steering side, where the steering shaft is often a top challenge.
The LSx engine is also much shorter than the original inline six, leaving plenty of room up front, and keeping the overall weight balance of the car reasonable – if not improved.
In our humble opinion, purely as an observer, some more work is needed here. An elbow off to the side and a much larger air filter is needed to fill the lungs of the V-8.
We’re glad the swapper kept the fuel injection system… in our opinion reverting to a simpler carburetor would have been a cop-out. This engine was made for fuel injection and will always be far better because of it. That makes for a more difficult swap – and this swapper was up to the challenge of the required fuel pumps, high-pressure lines, and electronics.
If there is going to be a fit problem, it’s going to be with the air conditioner compressor. But, again, we’ll note that it’s here and ready for use. Most swappers just ignore air conditioning and don’t bother going to this extent.
Inside we find the TR-6060 shifter in exactly the right place.
The original ergonomics of the Z remain intact, with everything in it’s logical place and the shifter and wheel falling easily to hand.
And then we find these recovered Recaro seats, matching the overall style of the car.
Here’s a personal statement. No functional value to the swap… but we can appreciate the message.
We’re very much looking forward to seeing this car again as its evolution continues.
It’s been a great summer in Central Texas so far: highs only in the 90s. Until this past week when the usual 100 degree+ temperatures have arrived. Oh well, we’re here to see a car show, the sky is blue, and at least it’s not the rain and cold that put a damper on several of the shows at the start of the year.
Our favorite car of the day? There were many, but the standout today is this LSx-swapped Datsun 280Z. Why? Creativity. Factors such as longevity and originality are the usual criteria for car shows, but today we’ll choose creativity over the usual factors. We’ll have a post detailing this car up next.
Here’s our full gallery of 93 images, covering just some of the cars there.
Austin’s “other” major car show, the Leander Car Show, runs the first Sunday morning of every month. It’s a “Cars and Coffee”-type show, and in fact used to be C&C before they split off and moved. The result is the most approachable show in Texas, where anything ranging from the highest end collectibles to the most common Mustangs can appear. And with everything in between from swaps, rat rods, Euro and Japanese classics, even military vehicles. This is our favorite show every month.
And here are two examples why: our two choices for best car of show this month. Why two? When you look thru the full set of images in the gallery, you’ll see that both these owners went the full “9 yards” with the design and modifications of their vehicles.
The first is this terriffic 1967 Chevelle SS with an LSx swap. And not just any swap, this one was as clean as they come. Every single detail was attended to, from the engine to the body to the suspension and brakes (modern Corvette). Every single part was carefully chosen for its functionality, challenge, and statement. The end result is stunning. See the gallery for the full set of images.
The interior is thoroughly reworked, yet retains the essence of it’s Chevelle DNA.
The engine swap is as clean as they come. And see the gallery for a special note about the radiator overflow bottle.
But there was also another vehicle with an engine swap, this one even more extensive – and outrageous. This is a restored 1947 International truck, with a modern Dodge inline 6 Diesel swap. No expense was spared, and the choice of engine was both logical for this truck – and challenging. Full pictures are in the gallery, but here are some highlights of this incredible vehicle. Like the SS above, it couldn’t be cleaner and the builder attended to every possible detail.
Here’s the engine – and how many of these have you seen swapped? Yet it’s perfectly appropriate for this vehicle.
The interior is gorgeous, functional, and even comfortable. The truck can be easily driven anywhere – and was driven here.
Here’s our full gallery of 129 images, covering just some of the cars there.
Yesterday we instructed at the Circuit of the Americas. A group from Mexico had rented COTA for a day and it was our job to teach them the track as well as to certify some of them as instructors for their own events back home. All 40 students had some degree of experience, ranging from several HPDE-type drivers up to a couple of professional race drivers. The entire group was terrific, and we were very impressed that the members respected the track but also consistently drove aggressively and safely right from the start. And without a single incident on the wide-open track and with lap timing and passing anywhere. You couldn’t ask for a better group of students, and the organizer, Edge Addicts, did their usual highly professional and very thorough job.
The picture shows one of our students with his E92 V-8 M3 (tan shirt). He also brought a twin-turbo V-8 M5 that he shared with his son (not in this picture).
Our work with the two of them in the M3 brings to mind a comparison to our own 2013 Boss 302 Mustang – a car that was designed by Ford to compete with the M3 on the track. We compared the speeds of each at the same points on COTA: the M3 was just a little slower (-5 MPH at the end of the back straight). On any given track it would be faster or slower depending on the track… but overall the M3 is superior to the Boss 302 because it’s far more polished. For example, it isn’t on the ragged edge of running too hot despite a 100 degree day and a track that requires aggressive driving (and braking). There’s never an issue with the modern M3, as there always is with this and all of our previous Mustangs.
The biggest advantage of the M3 is its suspension design. It’s so superior to the Mustang that this is the car you’d want to drive on the track. It’s very stable, the IRS is actively working for you and with you. The experienced driver can use the characteristics of an IRS to help rotate the car through the turns. Here’s the Car and Driver introductory road test for your reference, and a second test from 2012.
By contrast, the Mustang’s suspension always works against you in the turns: it inherently tries to shift its massive unsprung weight in the wrong direction in the turns, only tentatively held in check by a single brace. Shifting to the right, to the left, and up. It’s asymmetric in design and especially in response. The old-fashioned “solid axle” architecture is cheap, crude, and severely outdated. It feels like you are dragging a great weight behind the car, and it hips, skips, and jumps on rough pavement and in turns.
The net result is an all-too-typical Ford: a great motor and a poor suspension. We’ve been there so many times over the years.
In between sessions on the track, we were visualizing the differences and replaying our laps in the M3 versus laps in our own Mustang. And, yes, we’ve driven many examples of M3s of all generations on several tracks.
To be fair, the E92 M3 is not perfect: the brakes (astoundingly, single piston calipers) are inadequate and the engine – while highly tuned – has little torque and miserable gas mileage. But then there is the 7 speed double-clutch transmission – it’s awesome (even though in North America we get watered down tuning of it) although it took a couple of years of continuous development to get it right (and the aftermarket can update the transmission tuning to Euro specs). The 2015 next-generation M3 & M4 fixes all of these issues, while raising the price even higher compared to the Mustang.
And that is a strength of the Mustang: cost effectiveness. It has some of the needed performance elements even if they aren’t very well polished (or last very long). With the Mustang you get what you pay for, and when any one cheap element inevitably lets you down then the entire car fails. For example, while the brakes are better than in the M3, they are still too small and could be much better for a braking-intensive track such as COTA. At the end of the back straight, at 140 MPH, it takes 100% of the brakes to slow sufficiently to make the left-hand – and very tight – turn (and this with race pads and very large brake cooling ducts). The car has another 5 MPH in it (and another 5 if only the transmission would shift into 5th without binding), but not with these brakes. And even then, the Mustang brakes heavily nose-down with its tail up in the air. Another fail.
It’s great to see that the next generation Mustang addresses so many of these areas, with an entirely new suspension front and rear, and improved brakes. But the bar has already been raised in the market (and will be raised again by the upcoming 2016 Camaro), and our past experience with Mustangs suggests that this new generation will probably fall short after about a year of celebration in the “popular” press. We’d like to see that popular press take of their marketing hats and live with all three of these cars at speed over a COTA weekend.
So that’s the Truth about Mustangs (and M3s), as we’ve experienced it.