Sunday, September 14, 2014

Letting the toys out of the toy box (i.e. garage)

This is probably the first time that I've put all of the toys together for a group shot so time for come comparative commentary.  


The '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby, the '86 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and '04 Honda CBR600RR.  That's 16 cylinders, 21 fuel injectors, 15 speeds, and 499 total horsepower on display, all stock.  I'm not sure how many '04 Honda CBR600RR's were built but as far as the Dodge and the TA go, both are rare ... very rare.

The TA is probably one of 250 made, give or take, with the options it has ... I doubt there are many left like it, especially in this condition.  Dodge produced 4741 Daytona Shelbys in 1989.  Out of those 4741, only 1953 had the T-top package installed.  1612 were painted Flash Red and only 862 were ordered with CD players.  The number of Daytona Shelbys equipped with AC, 5 speed and Cruise Control was also low so I'm guessing that this Daytona is one of only a few hundred produced with the options it came from the factory with, call it as rare as the TA, give or take which means that I now have two rare high performance '80's sports cars.

The Daytona and the TA.  I imagine this line-up was seen several times in the late '80's and early '90's on the street at stoplights across the nation.  

One main difference between the Dodge and the Pontiac is that the Dodge is a front breather and the Pontiac is a bottom breather.  In other words, the Dodge receives fresh, cold air through those slots / vents in the nose giving it a direct path to cool the radiator.  On the Pontiac, cold air is ducted to the radiator from an air dam mounted below the nose.  The air induction for the Pontiac is through a complicated, somewhat restrictive filter box located on the front passenger side, right behind the passenger side headlight and turn signal.  On the Dodge, cold air for the engine is drawn in on the driver's side through an air intake which also contains the engine control computer (the fresh air keeps the computer cool).  The engine control computer for the Pontiac is located under the passenger side of the dash on the Pontiac.  Putting the engine control computer inside the engine compartment, exposed to heat, cold, humidity, and moisture never made a lot of sense to me but ...

To change performance parameters on the Pontiac, you open a panel on the computer, pop out a simple PROM chip and replace it with another chip then stick the computer back up into the dash.  On the Dodge, you just replace the whole computer (needless to say, that's a lot more expensive option).

For 1989 the look of the top of the line Shelby Daytona was different than the '87 to '88 model years.  It now seems obvious that Dodge took (stole) a page from the 1985 Pontiac Design Book ... namely putting the biggest aluminum wheels and best performance oriented suspension yet into the series, a redesigned wrap around ground effects with front spoiler mounting integral driving lights, full width rear, smooth, smoked colored taillights, and a big rear wrap around spoiler.  The spoiler is one piece on the Pontiac (called an "Aerowing") and three separate pieces on the Dodge (two side pieces which don't move and a center piece which raises and lowers with the rear hatch).

Both cars feature electrically driven hidden headlights.  The Pontiac is notorious for eating up the nylon gears in the worm drive (mine are still stock and work fine but each time they go up or down I know that is one less time that they will do so).  With the Pontiac's raked nose it is easy to tell that the headlights are up.  Not so with the Daytona ... when the Daytona's headlights pop up they level at the front edge of the hood and you catch yourself pulling yourself up in the driver's seat, often by the steering wheel, to make sure that the headlights did pop up and if they did that both of them made the effort.

The Pontiac driving lights come on when you light the parking lights so you can drive around with just the driving lights lit but not the main headlights on or raised.  The Dodge's driving lights only come on when the headlights are activated.  I think I found a solution to that problem and it's a quick / cheap fix.  On the Pontiac and the Dodge, if you hit your bright lights the driving lights are deactivated which I thought was a stupid idea ... if you need more illumination then the last thing you would want to do is cut off half of your lights.  There's a cheap fix for this situation as well that I'll be implementing soon.  The driving light switches are also weirdly placed between the two cars ... on the Pontiac the driving light switch is a separate switch located right below the main light switch.  On the Dodge the driving light switch is located ... on the passenger side of the center console, down below the CD player and forward of the transmission shifter ... to the right of the ash tray.  Yeah, I can't figure that one out either because the driving lights for the Dodge are almost on the opposite side of the car from the headlight switch.  Speaking of headlight switches ... the Dodge uses an old style pull out knob while the Pontiac uses a rocker segmented switch that allows you to turn on either the parking lights or parking lights and headlights.

Coming soon ... manual switches to turn on / off the electric cooling fans on both the Dodge and Pontiac.  It's not a hard fix for either one I just haven't gotten around to having nothing better to do on a Saturday morning yet so ... procrastination rules!

Notice the similarities in design? The fluted rear under spoiler on the Dodge is called a "wake modifier" and it was supposed to smooth the passage of the Daytona through the air while at high speed.  Pontiac could have used one of those (and it might have added to the "tough" looks of the '85 to '86 TA) but the TA is still rock solid at triple digits.  Performance wise, the TA seems a more capable car ... it doesn't wobble and shimmy around as much as the Dodge does under hard acceleration.

The TA is rock steady.

The Dodge is a handful ... no, make that two hand fulls.

The TA acts like a muscle car, point it where you want it to go, punch the loud pedal to the floor and amid the screaming of the rear hides and the occasional sideways slide of the rear end you're off headed towards whatever destination you intended and you're going to get there really quick without a lot of effort or fuss.  

Not so with the Daytona ...  

With the Daytona you have to work for your performance.  If you're going to go fast in the Daytona then Dodge is going to make you earn every bit of that performance.  With 174 turbocharged, intercooled and port fuel injected horsepower on tap you have to realize that there is a delay in ordering that power and actually receiving it so there's less instant gratification in the Daytona, it's more like ordering pizza online then waiting on it to be delivered.  That delay is called "turbo lag" and it means that even though you drop the long skinny pedal the Daytona is going to take almost four seconds for the turbocharger to spool up to the necessary RPM to start the balls to the wall huffing circus.  During this time, the power of the engine builds not in a predictable, almost linear fashion like the TA but more like a balloon payment on a mortgage ... a little, a little, a little, a whole lot!


Once you punch the loud pedal to the floor it takes several seconds for the turbo to spool up enough and for the motor to drop a set of testicles to actually start getting out of its own way but when it does things get really busy really quick.  The wrong wheels do the burnout and the Daytona doesn't feel like a muscle car so much as it feels like a chariot ... with a pair of scared to death, hyperactive race horses, now fully out of control, pulling you along for the ride.

Being front wheel drive, the Daytona gets busy all in front of the driver ... everything ... engine, transmission, differential, driving wheels ... all of that is in front of you.  Directly in front of you and everything else is behind you.  The busy parts get to be a handful and everything else just hangs out on the laundry line to dry.  The steering wheel shakes a lot, the car seems to want to slide its rear this way and that but it's an illusion of the setup, like I said, it's like being in a Roman chariot in an old movie where the chariot goes out of control with the horses running wild pulling the chariot (and its driver) helplessly behind.  

Taking curves hard in the Daytona also gives you the feeling of being in a chariot, like the power train is going to hang the curve just fine but everything behind the power train (namely from the inside dash to the rear bumper, including the driver) is going to sling off and go flying off the curve on a tangent not at all related to the rest of the Daytona.

Once you drive the Daytona for a couple of days all of this weirdness melts away into the background and you get used to how the Daytona performs and handles.  Then you go ride the Honda for a week or two, or drive the TA for a week or two just to put some miles on the other toys and blow the soot out of them and when you come back to the Daytona everything is weird again and you have to learn everything all over.  It's the price I pay for being eccentric and driving toys that no one else does.

As I said, the two cars are vastly different in how they drive and how they feel, especially when you drive them fast or near the edge of their limits.  It takes time to reacquaint yourself with each one if you spend long periods of time driving one and then the other, less so with the TA than with the Daytona.  It's almost like being right handed then having to learn how to write with your left hand and, a few days later, having to go back to your right hand.

I like the differences, personally, mainly because the TA isn't the Dodge and the Dodge isn't the TA and that's what keeps them as compliments to each other and keeps them from being replacements for each other.

Night and day.

Thunder and lightning.

Like I said, driving the TA fast is easy.  The WS6 performance option lets the TA hang corners like it was on rails and the big, fat sticky tires hug the road to the point where you'll be sloshing the liquids in your body long before you straighten a curve.  

The Daytona is equally adept at hanging curves it just takes more work, a lot more work, to do so because the front end is doing all of the driving and traction and the rear end is basically just being pulled along for the ride.  You can't really apply power to the rear end in a corner in the Daytona like you can in the TA and that means that you've got to use a different mindset, a completely different mindset, when driving the Daytona hard than you do when you drive the TA hard.

The TA you can hamfist, a lot, and still come out looking like an ace.

The Daytona requires a lot more brains to drive ... you have to plan your performance, you have to keep the engine high enough in the RPM band that the turbo is there, ready, and doesn't have to spool back up.  If you mess up in the TA you can still recover pretty easy and make a good go of it.  If you mess up in the Daytona it's going to fall flat on its face and you're going to be looking at the other guy's (or girl's) taillights with a quickness.

I guess that's one of the reasons why I like the Daytona ... it's a car that makes you think, that absolutely requires you to think in order to get its maximum potential out of it.

Brakes for both cars are effing amazing, nigh on phenomenal and both cars are equipped with power four wheel disc cars with competition intended suspension setups from the factory (an option on the TA for '86, standard on the Shelby model for '89).  The Daytona, however, has brakes that are simply beyond compare.  The TA's brakes probably need to be rebuilt ... they just don't grab like they used to and it's not the pads ... it's the power assist.  You can push down hard on the TA and it just grinds to a halt like it has ABS, no fanfare, no locking the wheels up and sliding across the pavement on friction burning rubber ... you stomp the TA and it just slows until it stops.

Not so with the Daytona.

The brakes on the Daytona are the most serious and insane brakes I've ever had on any car and I've had some serious and insane factory setups (Z51, Z07, WS6 ...).  The Daytona brakes are not for the faint of heart ... I stomped them one day in a panic stop when someone pulled out in front of me and I thought my head was going to leave my shoulders and become a hood ornament.  Reverse whiplash is a real possibility with the Daytona Shelby's brakes and I'm honestly scared of the Daytona's brakes on a wet pavement situation ... they're that responsive.  When it starts to rain I make sure to give myself plenty of room to brake, even more so than usual.

Handling for both cars is lightning quick and you can change lanes fast enough to almost bring your last meal back up to visit.  The TA's steering wheel is thick and padded and doesn't have an air bag.  The Daytona's steering wheel sports a huge rectangular air bag in the middle and far smaller diameter rim around that than the TA.  Still, the '89 Steering wheel is loads better than the steering wheel that my '86 Daytona Turbo Z had ... that steering wheel had been designed by a sadist or a masochist or both and it punished you when you tried to drive long distances but that's neither here nor now so ...

Yes, each one of these examples of high tech 1980's factory performance GT cars has its own strengths and weaknesses.  The Daytona feels "weird" after driving the Pontiac but the Daytona sips premium gas like a debutante with a glass of champagne at a coming of age party while the Pontiac guzzles premium like Beowulf guzzles mead in the hall of the Danes.  Rowing gears and dancing on pedals in the Daytona is a lot more fun than the "select-o-matic" four speed automatic overdrive of the TA but if you get in heavy traffic the fun of rowing gears starts to wear thin after a while, especially if you're not getting out of first gear very much.

Both cars contain a HUGE amount of glass which makes their air conditioning systems work especially hard on bright sunny hot days.  Panels to cover the glass roof panels came with both the TA and the Dodge but have been lost over the decades since these cars were brand new.  I had a replacement set of T-top covers for the Pontiac but those were damaged during its long storage several years back, prior to restoration.  I recently started a thread on the Turbo Dodge forums and received an answer about what kind of material to make my own, custom, hand-made covers out of and I'll be trying that soon for both the Pontiac and the Dodge.  The AC works a whole lot better when the sun isn't beating right down on top of you through a glass roof panel.  It starts to make you feel like you're an ant ... and some fat kid is focusing a big magnifying glass on you.

The rear hatch can be unlocked with the use of a key ... the Pontiac key lock is in the center of the gold Firebird, between the spread wings in the center of the taillight.  On the Dodge it's that black circle to the right of the tag, below the right taillight.

Cargo areas in both cars are similar in layout and design since both are hatchback models.  The TA's rear seats lock but can fold down to allow larger items to be stored in the rear cargo area (at the expense of carrying rear seat passengers, of course).  The front Recaro bucket seats in the Pontiac also lock and have to be unlocked with a small thumb switch.

The Daytona seats just flip forward and back without any locks.  I'm sure that this is convenient but in spirited driving you can look over and notice that the rear seats have fallen forward and sometimes items from the rear cargo area have spilled forward into the rear seating area (which is why it is SO important to secure items in the Daytona).  I'm guessing that inertia locks of some kind prevent the seats from moving forward during sudden deceleration but I'm not sure right now.  It seems like a poor design to me.

The Recaro performance seats in the TA are loads better than the seats in the Shelby but at the same time the seats in the Shelby seem softer and more comfortable.  The TA is perfect for performance driving, the Dodge is perfect for long distance and unlike the Pontiac's Recaros, the Dodge's seats have adjustable headrests which is just bonus.

The TA's driver and passenger side seat belts are held against the headrest by a simple plastic loop fastener making reaching for the seatbelt easy.  The Dodge's seatbelts hang loose making for a long reach behind you (even with the seat cranked all the way back on its track to accommodate my five foot twelve stature) a real effort to grab the seatbelt and secure it.  The bottom of the seatbelt in the Dodge also swivels forward and back, presumably to allow easy access to passengers entering the rear seats.  Unfortunately, over the years, the plastic trim on the lower part of the seatbelt has eaten away at the plastic trim on the left side of the driver's seat, the constant back and forth "sawing" motion has rubbed hard in that place making for an unsightly scuffing that will take some effort to buff out or repair.

Both cars are T-top cars.  I can't stand solid roof cars and if a car that I fancy came with a T-top option then I'm going to own a T-top version of that car.  The differences between the two T-top setups is also worth noting.

The TA stores its glass roof panels in a single, large zippered bag, with a cloth divider to protect the two glass panels from scratches.  The large bag then is hooked to four anchor points, two at the very rear and two just behind the seats (mounted to the floor plate above the gas tank / rear axle assembly).  The Pontiac's roof panels have integral locks to prevent theft and the same key that opens the door also locks and unlocks the roof panels.

The Dodge's glass roof panels are much smaller and lighter.  Where the Pontiac panels require two hands each, you can one-hand the Dodge panels easily.  The Dodge's panels also lock for security but require a separate key to do so, probably because they were installed by a contractor company (C&C) rather than by Dodge.  The Dodge's roof panels are stored in individual bags which feel ... flimsy and cheap.  The quality of the Dodge's roof panel storage bags is nowhere near the substantial nature of the Pontiac's storage bag nor does it have a zipper or tie downs built in.  The Dodge roof panels store in individual bags, each bag has a flap to fold over to cover the roof panel and then the bags are secured under a two strap, cross-web type harness that is not at all user friendly.  The web can be configured from diagonal to horizontal in setup but this causes the roof panels, in their bags, to slide forward and backward while the car accelerates or brakes.  The setup for the storage of the roof panels on the Dodge was not very well designed, as compared to the simplistic and overly effective setup on the Pontiac.  Also, due to the Pontiac's deep storage well (necessitated by the location of the rear axle and fuel tank), the Pontiac can store luggage or other personal items and then put the roof panels over those items giving the Pontiac a lot of storage space even with the roof panels stored.  The Dodge panels rest on the rear cargo area and any luggage, etc. which is carried will, by necessity, have to be placed on top of the glass roof panels ... not a good idea and certainly not the best setup for survival of the roof panels.  

Side vents on the Dodge ground effects are fake (WHY!?!?!) but can be drilled / cut out to at least flow cold air (the material is thin) if not directly to the rear brakes then at least in the direction of the rear brakes.  When I get the Daytona repainted I'll be cutting the ducts out to direct cold air, at speed, to the rear wheel wells.  Unlike the Pontiac wheels (which are 16"x8"), the Dodge wheels are 16"x6.5" and are designed to "funnel" air in a tornado-like vortex into the brake components of the Daytona, in effect, pulling air from the outside inward and the story is that this design actually works in practice rather than just in theory.

I always preferred the Shelby "crab" wheels myself but the crab wheels are slightly smaller than the '89 "Ninja Throwing Star" wheels as they are commonly referred to and the Ninja wheels are kind of growing on me more and more each day.  Now if the Ninja wheels were just a little easier to clean ... there are ribs in those openings and those ribs LOVE to collect brake dust and grime.

Driving the Dodge and then the Pontiac is like night and day, literally.  Stuff on the Pontiac is in a totally different place than the Dodge.  The hood release on the Dodge is under the dash, under the steering wheel.  The hood release for the Pontiac is on the left side of the dash, down your lower left leg.  The power window switch on the Pontiac rolls the window up if you push it forward and lowers the window if you push it back.  It's the exact opposite on the Dodge (which is "upside down" and "wrong").  The gas fill is on the left (driver's) side of the Pontiac and the right (passenger) side of the Dodge.  The Dodge has a remote gas door release and a remote hatch release.  The Pontiac has neither (you have to use a key in a lock in the center of the Pontiac's taillights to open the hatch).

Both have huge rear hatches with lots of glass ... the Dodge has a cargo / privacy security cover.  The Pontiac could have but wasn't ordered with it.

Both cars could have had rear window wipers ... cars with rear windows this big need them badly.  Neither car has a rear window wiper.  Both cars have rear window defoggers, though.  The rear window defroster switch is a separate toggle switch on the dash of the Pontiac and a switch in the center console of the Dodge.

All three together.  The Dodge is the new daily driver (having replaced my '99 Lincoln Towncar that I recently sold), the Honda is the backup and the TA is the occasional driver / final backup / show car.  I used to ride the Honda every day on my 70 plus mile round trip commute but my work schedule puts me at 10 hour days (and sometimes 18 to 36 hour in a row shifts) which leaves me made out of tired.  It's suicide to ride a motorcycle when you're made out of tired hence why I don't ride the Honda as much as I used to and why I wanted something smaller, sportier and far more fuel efficient than the big 4.6 liter V8 powered Lincoln Towncar.

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