[Start of very long story, skip to end if you want driving impressions]
That was the most popular question of the day – “What is it?”
The second was – “What’s it cost?”
Today I drove the SLC over to the local California Highway Patrol (CHP) for the next step in getting the car registered in California. During this step the CHP folks review the car and take a close look – in particular at the frame, engine, and transmission. The main purpose of their inspection is to verify serial numbers for the major components are copacetic and that they don’t come up as being stolen.
During my drive over to the office I could tell the car was attracting a lot of attention. I don’t normally pay too much attention to traffic patterns around me but things were definitely different today – I had a lot of cars giving me a wide berth. Cars would hang back then accelerate, match my speed, then pass – I was keeping my speeds well within reason ;). Cars would switch lanes and jump in behind me, tailing me for a few blocks before jumping back out and going in different directions. I also had a number of folks pull up next to me and look DOWN at me, asking “What is it?” My response was always the same – “It’s a Superlite Coupe!” – at which point the passenger (if there was one) starting googling “Superlite Coupe” on their phone.
When I got to the CHP office it was more of the same – “What is it?”, followed up by “What’s it cost?” My response to that question was “about what a nice BMW costs.”
The day started off with me pretty worried. I woke up and there was a knot in my stomach, I couldn’t eat breakfast. Just got up, brushed my teeth, and went down to the garage.
There are 3 remaining items I need to close out before I can register the SLC:
- Visit the CHP, get my VIN verification completed
- Visit a state approved Brake & Light inspection facility
- Visit a BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair) facility for an emissions inspection
The issue is, I’ve only got (2) 1-day operating permits from the DMV. That means I can only (legally) drive the car on 2 days and I’ve got 3 appointments I need to hit. Technically the operating permit only allows me to visit 1 facility and return immediately home, no pit stops. I figured I’d roll the dice a little and ride the line of technicality – there’s a state approved Brake & Light facility not too far from the CHP office so I made an appointment for the B&L inspection after the CHP appointment. It’s “on the way home” if you go a few miles out of your way.
So why was I worried?
About 3 days ago I was verifying all my lights were in working order and I was having issues with the brakes – they weren’t coming on! I traced all the wiring and everything made sense, just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t working.
The rear lights on the SLC have a 2-wire rear light assembly. One wire powers the parking lights (low intensity) and another powers the turn/stop lights (high intensity). So that’s 3 functions that need to be performed with 2 wires – DIY electrical issues. To address this I purchased a 3-to-2 wire converter typically used on trailers. It takes 3 signals; left turn, right turn, stop and spits out voltage for left/stop and right/stop. Turns out my converter was defective; feeding a +12V signal through the Stop wire outputs a +9V signal. Feeding a +12V signal to either turn signal outputs a +12V signal. I suspect the +9V wasn’t sufficient to fire off the LED lights.
I did a quick search on Amazon and found a highly rated 3-to-2 wire converter which listed Prime shipping (I love Prime!). Many of the reviews cited failure of cheaper converters (such as mine) and that this particular unit was the solution to their problems. Fingers crossed, CLICK. It’s crazy how Amazon makes it so easy to spend money on their app!
The new converter arrived the evening before my visit with the CHP and B&L facility. I couldn’t get down to the car to test whether this would fix my brake light issues so it had to wait until the morning of.
My cat likes to lick my face when she’s hungry. She does this about 2-3 times a night. 3AM, 5AM, 8AM are popular feeding times. We leave enough food for her to get her through the night but she’s either blind or too stupid to know there’s food in her bowl. I zombie walk to her bowl, kick it (so it makes noise), then she’ll approach and eat. Otherwise she just sits by her bowl. Waiting. We think she probably ate a lot of paint chips as a kitten (we adopted her from a shelter).
Anyway, she licked me awake at 6AM, I guess she sensed my nervousness the night before and thought I needed more sleep. While I was walking toward her bowl all I could think about was – how much would it suck if this new converter didn’t fix my issue? After kicking her bowl I stepped into the bathroom and brushed my teeth. Got some jeans on and it was off to work on the car.
Snip-snip-snip – out with the old box. I hastily stripped and twisted wires together and powered up the car.
- Left turn indicator? Check
- Right turn indicator? Check
- Parking light? Check
- Brake light? SUCCESS!!
- Parking light + brake light? SUCCESS!
- Left turn + brake light? SUCCESS!
- Right turn + brake light? SUCCESS!
- Hazards? NOPE.
Hazards were another issue. I scratched my head for a few minutes then figured out I needed to wire some diodes in to prevent the switch from powering too many circuits. I was able to jury-rig a few things up and verify the hazard switch was operational before I had to go back home so I could get my daughter ready for pre-school; another hour burned before I had to leave for the CHP office.
Get back to the garage and start crimping and zipping wires up. Awesome, all lights and associated switches are now working!
I hadn’t finished doing my review of the car after my around-the-block test so I needed to run through the suspension before taking it back out on the road. That knot in my stomach came back when I inspected my first wheel – it looked like some fluid had dripped out and gotten flung around inside the barrel of the wheel. There’s only one fluid that would make sense here – brake fluid.
Pull the wheel and wouldn’t you know? The banjo bolt on my caliper turned another few degrees. I cleaned everything up – didn’t want the B&L inspectors to see fresh brake fluid – and went around to the remaining corners of the car. Everything else checked out OK.
By now time was starting to get a bit tight. I wanted to be on the road 1 hour before my appointment time, I’d read somewhere that it was a good idea to arrive early. Before I could drive the car back out onto the street I had to move one of Bob’s cars. Move my car, unlock the gate, move Bob’s car, get into the SLC and pray it’ll start up.
VROOM, SLC running, time to do a 16-point U-turn so I can drive up the super steep driveway and hope I don’t sideswipe the house on the way out.
Top of the driveway, SWEET. Crawl out of the car, lock the gate, run down to the garage, lock it up, back up to the main garage, lock it up, lock Bob’s car, put away the keys.
I didn’t trust the car enough to drive it solo so I wanted my wife to follow me in her car, just in case. Go home, pick my wife up, come back to the SLC.
OK, ready to go! Only 20 minutes behind schedule. No problem, the CHP office isn’t too far. I wanted to take surface streets – seeing as how this was going to be my first time driving in traffic I didn’t want to throw some crazy California highway driving in there for sport.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to drive the SLC other than to say it’s AWESOME.
Drive, traffic light, drive, traffic light, it didn’t seem like I was catching many brakes today. By the time we pulled into the parking lot I was 5 minutes late for my appointment.
When I walked into the office one of the officers was out front and knew why I was there. He offered to step into the back to let the inspecting officer know I had arrived (the officer at the front desk was helping someone else). I thanked the officer and waited. “Is that your car out there? What is it?” – the couple who had been talking to the front desk had just finished.
Two officers came out to greet me, one holding a clipboard. We all walked out into the parking lot and I began showing the officers the car, answering all their questions. I was still feeling pretty amped about the drive over and I think combined with my lack of sleep and lack of food, I may have seemed a bit nervous. I hoped they didn’t think I was tweaking out and explained that my adrenaline was still going – they laughed. After taking down all the information they needed they took my paperwork and it was off to the back to do their magic. I sat in the waiting area, reading a magazine about the new Jack Ryan series on Amazon – we’re on the last episode and it’s pretty awesome, coming from a huge Tom Clancy fan.
After about a half hour the inspecting officer came back out and proceeded to place a shiny blue tag on my frame – VIN assigned! I thanked the officer and collected my paperwork.
In the meantime my wife had gone to a nearby Starbucks to do some work. I called her and asked if she could get me an iced tea and a croissant. I was still feeling pretty amped and nervous and my stomach was all twisted but I knew I had to eat something. When she arrived I wolfed the croissant down and took a few big swigs of the iced tea.
Time to head over to the B&L facility – let’s take the freeway this time!
The drive over was pretty uneventful. Again with the strange traffic around me. Wide berth, cars slowing or falling back to take a peek. It’s a neat experience. The B&L inspection’s not much to write about. They checked everything out and everything worked (phew!). I had to drive the car up to speed and hit the brakes – they verified my car stopped within a sufficient distance. Check, check, check. $100 later and I received my certificates. Yaaaas!
By this time traffic had started to get heavy so we took the back roads home, staying off the freeway. It was during this part of the trip that I experienced the scariest part of the day. Following behind my wife, we were on a road where the manhole covers were about 1″ higher than the road surface. I dodged a few but they weren’t all that obnoxious. so I stopped dodging and just straddled (they were basically in the middle of the lane). Welp, wouldn’t you know it? A big ~3″ manhole jumped out of the road at me and I didn’t have enough time to react – instinct took over and I straddled it.
BANG! I thought I had destroyed the car based on how loud the impact was. My seat was still bolted to the chassis and I didn’t have much choice other than to continue the drive home. Thankfully no more ginormous manhole covers. After playing musical cars I got the SLC back into the lower garage and tucked away. I had just enough time to peek under the car – nothing obviously broken or sheared off – before I had to head home to meet with someone.
[End of very long story]
Alright, if you’ve followed along on this journey then you’re a real trooper! Here’s what you’re actually interested in –
More impressions of the SLC:
- Again, it’s surprisingly comfortable. The suspension on 10 clicks compression/rebound at all four corners is still very soft on smooth roads. Apparently the roads around Bob’s house are very smooth. On the more broken roads I experienced today that familiar harshness came back – the kind I’m used to on my S5 when I’ve got the suspension in sport mode. The harshness isn’t jarring, but it’s there and it leads to some neck fatigue, at least it did for me. I think if I’ll be daily driving this car I’d back down on the shock settings a few clicks.
- The Tillett B5 seats are very comfortable – for seats that have 0.5″ thick pads, that is. You’re going to be sore after a 10-hour road trip, but the seats are generously curved and it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting on straight boards and the seats aren’t pushing up on the backs of your thighs. The bolsters aren’t excessively wrapped – resting my elbow on the center console is quite comfortable. I pushed my seat back a few clicks and the farther seating stretches my arms just a tad, enough so my elbow isn’t fouling on the console like it was the other day.
- I was worried about my feet getting screwed up with the Tillton pedals – it looked to me like the pedals were too tightly spaced – but the clutch, brake, and gas pedal feel fine once you’re used to their positions. I have a small dead pedal located just next to, and in-line, with my clutch pedal – it’s a nice place to rest your left foot when not actively shifting. I was worried about heel/toe downshifting but the more I got used to the pedals the smoother my inputs were. Downshifting the Audi shifter is just as fun as rowing through the gears.
- Visibility is surprisingly good. I thought it would be total crap. So maybe my low expectations have led to a delightful surprise. Forward visibility is good, though the driver side a-pillar did become noticeable at times. The 6-point harness makes shoulder checking out the driver side window difficult. Between the rear view monitor, the side mirrors, and looking out the windows, it doesn’t seem like there’s any blind spot – a very pleasant surprise.
- The APR GT3 side mirrors are decent. They’re stable at speed and they provide a pretty good view. They’re not convex and I think that’s OK. Convex mirrors would give you a wider view, but I’ve always felt the distorted view screwed the image up too much to be useful to me – details get lost. I’d rather have the narrower viewing angle but no distortion.
- I’m very pleased with the Auto Vox X2 – the rear image is usable and its size is just right.
- I said it before, but it’s really driven home once you’re in traffic – you sit low! You can’t see the driver in the car to your left. All you can see is their passenger side door.
- I always thought cable shifters were sloppy. Not true with the Audi shifter mech and Graziano transaxle. I think having the gate and forcing the stick to move in the h-pattern leads to this feeling that everything is super precise. It doesn’t feel like you’re cable shifting. It feels very mechanical while at the same time being smooth – as opposed to the very mechanical but jittery feel of the T5 in my old mustang.
- I didn’t do any crazy turns or slaloms with the car, but again, it’s amazing how FLAT the car turns. I don’t think the car needs a stabilizer bar for anything but the most serious of driving.
- The LS376/525 is an awesome engine. It doesn’t feel like a big, heavy American V8. It revs seemingly effortlessly. It seems to be just as happy at 4500RPM as it does at 2200RPM – it has a max recommended speed of 6600RPM! My engine is running on the factory tune – no tweaks so far other than to run a Dakota Digital GPS unit to feed the VSS. Incidentally I didn’t have any off-throttle engine fade/engine stalls, something the DD GPS is supposed to mitigate. It idles at about 950-1050RPM and bounces back and forth at a pretty rhythmic pace. I wouldn’t call this a lopey cam. I had installed a Ford Racing cam in my mustang and THAT engine had a lopey idle! Bur-burp, bur-burp, bur-burp! I hated the idle after that cam was installed, it always seemed like the car was on the edge of stalling out. The LS376/525 ASA cam purrs like a Singer sewing machine in comparison. It’s not rock solid steady, but the difference between its high and low points are close enough it doesn’t sound lopey to me IMHO.
- The factory V8 Graziano gearing feels short. Still up to debate whether I feel the drop gear change is required, but I think it would make daily driving just a touch easier.
- No WOT excursions for me today or anything more than 50-70% WOT but this engine/trans combo makes the car move like it’s superlight (see what I did there?). I know my car’s going to be a porker in comparison to most SLCs but the power to weight ratio of this particular car is much better than probably anything else I’ve ever driven. As one other builder put it – “I wouldn’t want more power, but I wouldn’t want less either”.
- The car doesn’t feel frantic or nervous. As a package, the suspension doesn’t feel like it’s for an all-out race car. The interior doesn’t feel like it’s for an all-out race car. The ergonomics don’t feel like it’s an all-out race car. It doesn’t feel like you’re driving a race car – it just feels like you’re driving a really neat sports car. Of course this is my opinion, based on the car I’ve built, but it’s in line with my expectations.
- I’m super happy with all the sound and heat materials I’ve put into the car. With the windows installed I think the cabin will be very reasonable. It was 85-90F today and I wasn’t running AC – in fact, I was running the heater to help bleed my heater core in! Cabin temps were toasty insofar as ambient temps were warm, but that’s it. I put my hand on several areas throughout the cabin and they remained cool to the touch even after heat soaking.