Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Unconventional performance


We were left speechless after a recent visit to the Tesla Motors store on Santa Monica Blvd in Los Angeles. Aside from a small arsenal of stunning American machines with carbon fiber bodies, this store had knowledge to share.


Our genuine interest resulted in a pummeling of questions for an apparently well-prepared Tesla employee. She answered questions of all kinds - from financials and company structure to drive train and voltage conversion. Taylor floated the possibility of a demo, and our generous host offered the unimaginable.


The ride is like no other I've ever experienced. Megan pointed out that the Roadster's acceleration resembles that of a linear-induction roller coaster. She was spot-on. The quiet, but high-pitched whine and the subtle sound of the air rushing over the windshield was all your ears had to report. When not accelerating to 70 MPH in the blink of an eye, there was little sound aside from the ambient noise of traffic that you'd here if you were standing on the sidewalk.

It's way out of most people's price ranges, it can't get me to my parents' house in a single charge, and they recommend against taking the car to the track because of heat-related issues (according to our Tesla driver).


Minor shortcomings aside, I can't help but feel misguided by automotive convention. The Tesla Roadster has a transmission with a single gear, and a motor that spins in both directions. Is this the necessary simplification of a tool that has been over-complicated for too many years?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fun on four wheels

I usually try to keep this blog strictly on the topic of motorcycles, but I caved in light of our recent acquisition:


About five years ago, I began commuting regularly in a 1991 Honda Accord DX from Oakton to Rosslyn, and it did in my left knee. It got pretty bad, and I went to a handful of doctors and underwent physical therapy. The result is a condition I can deal with, but that still doesn't gel with certain kinds of motion.

The experience left me in a bit of a bind. I'm an avid anti-fan of conventional automatic transmissions. My aversion to automatics is a mix of inherited values (Dad, you rule!) and personal preference. So during the peak of my injury, I researched many solutions to driving a manual transmission without a left leg. I even prototyped a vacuum-assisted, hand-operated clutch master cylinder on that 91 Accord. I came so close to engaging the clutch with the squeeze of a bicycle brake lever, but the throw of the Geo Metro brake booster I employed wasn't long enough...*sigh*


I spent a lot of time on that project, and when the the execution failed, I was regrettably out of steam. So I used the DC Metro and my Ninja 250 as often as possible for commuting in order to limit my use of a clutch pedal.

Back on topic - my research had uncovered more than just a Frankenstein of off-the-shelf parts. I had learned about Toyota's Sequential Manual Transmission (SMT) that was fitted to the MR2 Spyders. This transmission was exactly what I was looking for - a manual transmission with a clutch, but a clutch the driver didn't have to operate. Awesome! It was way out of my price range at the time - both because I was just out of college and because the cars were still more or less brand new.

So that should explain why we sought this mid-engine convertible as our next automobile. In some ways, traveling in the MR2 Spyder will be a lot like traveling on the bikes. There is no storage space, save for a little cavity behind each seat and the trunk rack we snagged from craigslist. We'll probably want to keep earplugs on hand for long highway trips (SureFire makes a great pair, believe it or not).

The bottom line is that I do consider the transmission a compromise, but an acceptable one. And now I don't feel so bad about living without an MG B!