TST New Zealand Fan Meetup! 2/8/15 Come One Come All!

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Sorry the content’s been a little light around here this week; the entire team is down in New Zealand, the world’s least known car paradise, making some amazing, pretty car films thanks to help from the creators of Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game! (support them by clicking the link please!)

We’ve got tons of cars scheduled to film so far, and the trip is going swimmingly. But on our last day in the country, we want to meet the people of Auckland and see the crazy stuff they’ve built. So we’re having a New Zealand Fan Meetup in Auckland’s Cornwall Park!

Sunday, February 8th at 11 AM, in the car park by the main roundabout inside Cornwall Park

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Come one, come all, bring your cars, bring your friends and their cars, bring whatever crazy (or not so crazy) enthusiast car you’ve got! We will have cameras and will be getting footage for our New Zealand car culture film, and we want your car in it! Meet Matt, Zack, Thad, and Tom, and talk to the creators of Automation about one of the coolest games for gearheads coming soon.

Please be respectful of the fact we are in a park. No burnouts, revving, donuts, hooning, or other silliness in the park! Let’s try to get out of this country without getting arrested, Mmkay? 

See you all there!

TST Podcast #155: The 900k Mile Service

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This week we’re joined by Travis Okulski (@tokulski) Editor at Jalopnik along with Jeff Glucker (@JGlucker) co-founder of Hooniverse.  Travis is in town for the Corvette Z06 launch and Jeff… well he was just killing time after recording a Hooniverse Podcast. With Travis’ impending time in the Z06 we of course discuss that and the potential of its new 8 speed automatic. But we also touch on Top Gear, launching an M4 via a 5″ curb, many bad Bob Dylan jokes, an update on Matt’s Lexus LS400 andNino’s new status as a Vine celebrity.

Download the Podcast on Shoutengine

Download the Podcast on iTunes

The 5 Best Cars I Drove in 2015

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by Collin Woodard

With 2015 started out strong, the premier members of the automotive press have all made sure to name their favorite cars of 2014. They talked about cars like the BMW i8 and how it’s one of the most important cars in years. Unfortunately, I haven’t driven the BMW i8. It’s without a doubt the car of the year, but if I haven’t driven it, how can I include it on my list?

I have, however, driven the Volkswagen GTI, which many people speak very highly of. Unfortunately, when I drove the GTI, it was in Virginia, and if I drove it any faster than 35 mph, I ran the risk of being hauled away to prison, and I would not do well in prison. If I told you that some of the most fun that I had in a car all year was driving along at 35 mph, you’d call me a lunatic, no matter how good the GTI is.

So what were the best cars that I drove all year? Here they are, in handy list format.

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5. Rolls Royce Ghost

Figuring out what to do with the Ghost was a bit difficult, mostly because it’s an ultra luxury sedan. It’s a car that’s built specifically to isolate everyone inside the cabin from the road that the wheels are traveling on. If you’re looking for driver engagement, look elsewhere.

That said, everything else about the car is spectacular. It has perhaps the best engine in the world, and the fit and finish is impeccable. I liked its massage seats, and I like being gawked at like I’m a male model. Perhaps most importantly, there are maybe only a couple hundred people who have driven one, which means that if I say that it deserves to be on this list, everyone else has to listen to me.

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4. GMC Sierra Denali

I somehow accidentally ended up driving a bunch of trucks this year, and while I was definitely very excited to get behind the wheel of the GMC Canyon, it was the Sierra Denali that impressed me the most. It’s a truck, yes, but it’s also somehow a legitimate luxury vehicle. It feels like a luxury vehicle, it has the technology that you would expect in a luxury vehicle, and most surprisingly, it has the suspension out of a racecar. In a stroke of genius, GM decided to include Magnetic Ride Control across the Denali line, and which performs dark magic on the Sierra and somehow makes it drive more like a car than a truck.

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3. Mini Cooper S

I hadn’t ever driven a Mini until this summer, and when I finally did, boy was I surprised. Yes, it was cute, but it was also incredibly fun to drive. I expected it to be a blast to drive through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, but it also proved to be just as capable of tackling the long, straight highways of west Texas. The tweed seats were spectacular, and best of all, Mini lets you order any option you want without having to buy specific packages. It’s such a unique feature, I can’t think of any other mainstream brand that lets buyers do such a thing. It’s brilliant, and I had a blast driving the Mini. If you haven’t driven one, I highly recommend it.

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2. Scion FR-S

This is, of course, the oldest car on the list, but since I was the last auto writer in the world to review it, I’m going to include it. The first time I drove it, I didn’t get a chance to go very far, but even so, the steering was an almost religious experience. I’d gotten too used to vague, over-boosted, electronic steering that I’d forgotten what it was like to drive a new car with legitimately good steering.

When I really did get to wring it out and have some fun, it turned out to handle exactly like a car is supposed to. I didn’t have to worry, I just had to drive. Oh, and the MSRP is barely over $25,000. Yes, I think it could better with a turbo, but it’s one of those cars that’s so good, I still think about driving it even months later.

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1.Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette is at the top of this list partly because it’s so good and partly because it’s so much better than I thought it would be. Chevy delivered a truly outstanding product with the C7, and if there was one car that I drove this year that made me grin more maniacally than the FR-S, it was the Corvette.

The C7 is loud, it’s fast, and it’s good, but it’s also fun. It made my heart race and flooded my veins with adrenaline, but unlike previous generations of Corvette, there was nothing to apologize for. It wasn’t good for a Corvette, and it wasn’t good for an American car. It was just good. The new Corvette looks great, it sounds better, the seats are excellent, and best of all, the interior really feels like the interior of a $60,000 car. Without a doubt, the C7 Corvette is the best car that I drove all year.

Now if only I could get my hands on a Corvette Z06.

Why You Need to Go to Rally School

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by Jonathon Klein

It’s a running theme around the The Smoking Tire crew that if you want to be accepted, or come to their picnics, you need to have at least one thing under your belt. Drive a Fiesta ST.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet in the good graces of Ford. Meaning I, couldn’t just ring up my local press office and kindly ask for one. I am however, savvy enough to rook/pitch an idea to let me write an article on Team O’Neil Rally School. Why? Because rally is the coolest form of motorsport, and I have been watching it since I was a little child. I just remember seeing those insane clips of Walter Rohl sliding his Ur Quattro through a forest at apocalyptic speeds. It was an experience I just knew I had to try.

Additionally, Team O’Neil just so happens to have a few Fiesta ST’s. Each of which have been completely rally kitted out. It’s was as if it was meant to be.

Meeting the guys at Team O’Neil for the first time was like meeting your heroes. These instructors are masters of car control, no matter what the situation. They could be on gravel, dirt, ice or snow, and each one of them would be able to read the road ahead of them and be perfectly fine. They’re rock stars, and I their faithful groupie.

After running around the shops starring at rally components up on the walls, rummaging through all the parts bins for an R3 Fiesta, and drooling over cars owned by Caswell, ACP, Foust, and Tim O’Neil’s personal Group A Championship winning Impreza (complete with dogbox transmission). (what does it say about the internet that Jonathon put those cars in that order? – ed.) Tim asked me, “so, ready for your lesson?” I was fairly certain they knew I would’ve given my left leg to drive something, but still was completely taken aback by the question. They were going to trust me with a rally car? FUCK YES I’M READY!

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As we prepped one of the schools Fiesta ST’s, I went around the car checking out everything I could on the car. It had a full cage that makes it not only safe for the occupants who are traveling at ridiculous speed through the woods, but also make the car extremely stiff. Something I’d notice later as I drove the car. This specific car was also equipped with both a Quaife limited slip differential, and a set of small stud ice tires. The two of these components combined results in a crazy amount of grip on ice and snow that is truly mind blowing.

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We headed out into the icy forests of New Hampshire and I just can’t stop myself from muttering, “oh my god I’m in a rally car on rally course!” Going down a tight tree lined, snowy road is pure bliss. It doesn’t matter that Tim is going way faster than I feel comfortable with. It doesn’t matter that the seat really needs to come down another 2-4 inches for me to really feel solid in the car. I just want to keep this experience going forever.

Being my first time in the Fiesta ST, I tried to take stock in all the sensations, all the rattles, everything I could in order to be better acquainted with the car. First off, the shifter is sublime. It’s a super short throw between gears and is unbelievably easy to get going. Second, the level of progression of the throttle is perfect for the task at hand. You can easily modulate the throttle to go faster and faster through the woods.

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We get to the North Course and Tim outlines a real brief introduction into the how to drive a rally car. At this junction I’d like to point out that the North Course was almost a complete sheet of ice, and for someone that’s just been plopped into a rally car for the first time, I was a bit nervous.

We started off just on the skid pad, learning to use left foot braking in order to help turn the car through a corner. It’s bloody hard, especially when you consider you have to keep your right foot on the gas pedal as stable as you can, and keep the wheel pretty much locked in place. After awhile though, I began to get the hang of it. Tim told me to go around the skidpad a few dozen more times, which most likely made him sick. Then he told me I was ready for the next lesson, the slalom.

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First off, a skidpad is just a circle where nothing can really go wrong. It’s not as if there are banks, or cliffs surrounding you. However, that can’t be said about the slalom which is a completely different animal altogether. Your body and brain are having to work in overdrive. Accelerate towards the turn, turn the wheel, left foot brakes as your right foot keeps on the gas, as you setup for the following turn.

I slide off almost into the embankment.

“Give it another try,” Tim urges. Accelerate towards the turn, turn the wheel, left foot brakes as your right foot keeps on the gas, as you setup for the following turn. Got it! Accelerate towards the turn, turn the wheel, left foot brakes as your right foot keeps on the gas, as you setup for the following turn.

I give it too much gas and understeers outwards towards the sheer rock wall. Ugh.

Let me tell you, learning to brake and hold the gas at the same time, when you’re feeling the cars back end go loose is a weird feeling. Everything in your body and all your past experiences are telling you that you need to let up off the throttle or give it more throttle to catch the back end. That however, in a FWD rally car, is how you end up with a completely uncontrollable car. Even with the studded ice tires I kept making the same mistakes, but if I still had a breath in my body, I was going to do this.

I just keep repeating and repeating until that uneasy back end sliding feeling is gone. You try to get your body to react antithetical to your instincts.

Towards the end, I started to get the hang of it, and actually thought “I’M A RALLY GOD!” I’m not, but I did feel much more at home in the car by the end of the day. A huge part of that is due to Tim, another part is definitely just how good the Fiesta ST really is.

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Although, I just want to make this clear, a few hours in a rally car does not turn you into Collin McCrae. Especially when you’re learning on a sheet of ice. That said, Tim was able to get everything he could out of me in that short period of time.

And that’s what Tim and Team O’Neil do, they first break you down your driving habits, then build you back up to a whole other level. Each part of their training makes you not only a great rally driver, but a great road-going driver as well. I personally would’ve never thought about using both the brake and gas at the same time to control a slide. It’s an insane program, but a program that gives you the tools to become a truly impressive driver.

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At the end of the day, I got to fulfill a lifelong dream, driving a rally car. Sure it was only one of the training cars, but in my mind, it was the real deal. Add to the fact that I finally drove a Fiesta ST, which was phenomenal in the snow and on ice, and my life was pretty much complete. Although if I have one gripe about the Fiestas is that I can’t really fit in it, and there’s a distinct lack of noise. I have no idea how Thad fits since he’s taller than me, and I can see why they went with a Cobb exhaust since the turbo muffles the car so much.

Now however, all I keep thinking is how much I want to go back. It’s addictive, this sport.

 

 

 

The Smoking Tire is Going to New Zealand!

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This is a picture of the roads in New Zealand. That really should be enough, but I don’t think most of the world understands quite the level of obsession Kiwis have with the automobile and speed. New Zealand is a petrolhead’s dream. Some of the finest racers in the world come from New Zealand, as well as some of the most creative homebrew engineers. The entire Millen family of racers, for instance, calls New Zealand home. John Britten built a superbike from scratch, even designing and casting his own engine, in his garage in New Zealand, flew over to Europe, and beat all the big names in major racing series in the mid-1990’s. There are more Ferrari’s per capita in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. All engine swaps are legal. Let me just reiterate that:

ALL ENGINE SWAPS ARE LEGAL IN NEW ZEALAND. The country is a JDM or Euro importer’s dream, and a literal melting pot of chassis, engines, crazy ideas, and welding skills. Without exaggerating at all, I can say that New Zealand is probably the most exciting country in the world to be a car guy.

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This looks like a Peugeot, but it’s not. Alex Kelsey built this car from scratch

in his garage in New Zealand. It has a Formula Renault engine. 

We never thought we’d get to go. There just isn’t the budget for that sort of thing, which you know by now.

TST NZ Announcement

 

Until we got a call from some software developers down there, who are making a game called Automation. It’s an auto industry simulation game for gearheads, and the gist of it is that you start and run your own car company. We like it because everyone criticizes car companies, and now you can see if you can do any better! These are some real petrolheads who are doing a very cool thing, and they are most generously sponsoring our trip to New Zealand.

We will be bringing back a ton of amazing footage to give all The Smoking Tire fans a wide spectrum of the crazy shit that goes on down there (yes, they will be “pretty films”), and the only way we could do it is with the help of the creators of Automation. So, do us, yourself, and everyone who enjoys free content a favor and go “like” these guys on social media, subscribe on YouTube for updates, check out the App when it comes out, and support the people who support your favorite car show.

www.automationgame.com

www.facebook.com/AutomationGame

www.youtube.com/AutomationGame

For all our New Zealand fans, we cannot wait to meet you! We will be hosting a TST Meetup in Auckland the first week in February. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Thanks

Matt

 

TST Returns to Rally North America in 2015!

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Rally North America is a great organization that puts on good, clean driving events for a huge cross-section of drivers and cars, all for a cause. Last year, The Smoking Tire took part in RNA’s “US 50″ Rally in a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT! The films are available on YouTube, and now HULU (free!) if you want to check out how that went. We saw the whole country, raced around a few tracks, met some great people, ate some great food, and saw some spectacular driving roads, all while raising over $100,000 for the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis. 

This year, Rally North America heads to the Smokey Mountains, one of America’s most beautiful places to drive a sports car, and we can’t wait to be a part of it again! The Smoking Tire will be providing all the video coverage, as well as a live podcast from the road, for this year’s CJ Pony Parts Smokey Mountains Rally, with all the proceeds going to Hope for the Warriors, an organization aimed at enhancing the lives of 9/11 survivors and their families.

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The Rally begins on July 14th in Knoxville, TN, so just a few months away, so if you want to come road trip with The Smoking Tire (and about 100 others), sign up for Rally North America now! 

… I think we need to find a car.

 

Video: Dodge Charger R/T – (Cold Canyon) One Take

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We’ve spent a lot of time with Dodge’s hottest new products recently, as both Matt and Thaddeus got plenty of seat time in the new Charger and Challenger Hellcat models. But when we get invited to a press launch full of Hellcats, we tend to ignore the midrange. So it’s not surprising that although we’ve driven everything SRT has to offer, we haven’t tested the R/T with the 5.7L HEMI engine. Until today.