DSC_4599I doubt it… Mini crazed maniacs figured out how to float ’em, and Canadian National put steel wheels on ’em and put ’em on rails. And while this particular example has lost a lot of heavy metal to rust, it’s still very much a heavier than air craft or whatever. Note the yellow and red load straps streaming down from above- I’m taking out the subframes so I can start rebuilding them and the suspension and power train. Yup, it’s that rusty… I dared not put the now less than thousand pound Mini’s weight on it’s tinwormed belly. Even had to be careful lifting by the roof, I’ve heard of R model Mack cabs collapsing whilst being hung from above. But the Mini’s roof proved more than stout, and I’m now starting to question my affection for R model Macks, fortunately I never crash tested one!

Having removed the Mini’s engine which revealed the front bulkhead in all it’s ugliness it was quite apparent that even the firewall was perforated by the tinworm, and that’s the only panel of consequence that’s not available new for this Mark 1 Mini. I suspect that’s at the urging of BMW’s lawyers who made the British company that supplies the only near full selection of Mark 1 replacement panels change their name from “Mini Machine” to “M Machine”- You can’t build an authentic Mark 1 Mini bodyshell without that panel. BMW did however give their blessing to a spinoff of the keepers of most all British motoring history, the British Motor Heritage Trust, that manufactures complete new Mini bodyshells as well as shells for MGBs, Spridgets, and such. Problem (at least to the purists) is that the oldest Mini shell they make is for a later Mark 4, differing in a few minor details like wind down vs. sliding windows and slightly bigger rear window and tail lamps. For you VW bug lovers, that’s less than the difference between a Super Beetle and the older flat windshield models. But the “rivet counters” are never satisfied…

So the plan is to rebuild this Cooper S on a new bodyshell, fitted out as the streetable rally car a Cooper S was intended to be… They were nearly twice the price of a standard Mini and they built barely enough to meet the homologation requirements for competition. That means a pretty much stock 78 HP engine with modern safety features like a roll cage and safety harnesses. Also means I can substitute cheaper (relatively) racing seats and such for the pricey reproduction items. Pretty much the same with the suspension and brakes… Rebuilt with new wear parts and maybe convert the unobtainium hydrolastic suspension to conventional.

Now I haven’t cleared this plan yet with the purists over at the MiniMania forum, who will no doubt offer their condemnation at this proposed sacrilege and offer to sell me an almost as rusty Mark 1 bodyshell, sight unseen. But when you fly past your competitors, who cares if they notice that your rear window and tailights are too fat!

Well, it’s still monday, and it’s morning somewhere… And yer gettin’ a twofer, so what the heck!

Last weekend I ventured 200 miles west to the shores of the majestic Missouri for the South Dakota Airhead Campout. How do the half dozen known South Dakota Airhead members manage a campout? I was worried about that too. Being a retired early riser I’d already cleared the Sioux Falls Costco and buck fifty lunch by noon and thanks to SD’s 65 MPH 2 lane speed limits was at the campsite by barely 2, despite having lingered at the last town for coffee and a muffin. Found the designated campsite empty and was planning to give up, head home, and call it a good day’s ride at 5… When two guys with a couple little cafe’d 60s Hondas and an R5 Yammy 2 stroke showed up and verified that this was indeed the place.  Then an old timer on an R80 G/S showed up with his companion behind the wheel of a 3rd generation Westy. Before long a bunch more riders on various mounts showed up along with a “fishbowl” Westy and even our chief conspirator, the South Dakota Airmarshall!

Soon supper was being enjoyed and despite the high wind warning we had a great weekend. so how do the half dozen official SD  airheads have a rally attended by over a dozen riders? They get eclectic, inviting riders with similar interests to BS and use the state park’s intimate roads to enjoy their historic machines- I even got my first chance to ride a /2!  In similarly thinly inhabited North Dakota the local BMW club has long joined forces with the local Triumph riders group to bring their rally to critical mass… BMWMOA, there may be a solution to your declining rally attendance here.

Roger, one of my airhead friends and keeper of the best airhead garage in south Florida, got me into attending the Galena Rally again last year. The Galena Rally died and was resurrected a while back, and seems to improve every year- For a mere twenty bucks the BMW Motorad Club of Northern Illinois filled us up with two dinners and breakfasts each as well as organizing not one but two rides and shaking down every vendor in creation to stuff our goodie bags and provide near every attendee a door prize. The only downside was the greediness of the campground, demanding $20 a night for the privilege of sleeping on their grass and flushing their toilets a few times. Palace Campground, take a hint: Your real estate has so appreciated as tourist trap Galena has expanded all around you that you could let us camp for free at no loss. And the excessiveness of your $20 a night tent fee is demonstrated by the fact that we were pretty much the only tenters on your turf. Thanks to those excessive charges I rode through a pretty heavy rain to arrive on friday instead of avoiding the storm by arriving thursday. Palace Campground, drop the fee to something realistic and you’ll fill the place up and get more revenue!

Rally season’s winding down, least up here in these northern climes… Next up is the Dakota Classic. Then, in contrast to the BMWMOA “tolerating” my presence at their rally, the BMWRA’s Rally Chair has personally invited me to their rally. Looks to be a great rally in small town Harrison, Arkansas in the perfect weather of the first week in October… Invitation gladly accepted!

Near a half century ago, back in the bad old days, big trucks had at least 10 forward gears. We weren’t just showing off our gear grindin’ skills, the common Cummins and Detroit engines of the 60s had such narrow powerbands that they could barely handle a 400 RPM drop from maximum governed speed before a downshift was required. Thus every stop sign and red light required going trough most of those 10 gears all over again… That got old fast!

The basic architecture of Mack’s diesel gave them a displacement disadvantage vs. Cummins, which they largely resolved by early adoption of turbocharging. That brought a bunch of other benefits like lower emmissions and better fuel economy as well as consistent performance regardlesss of altitude. Then misters May and Pellizoni, Mack engineers, saw another benefit… They could tune an engine’s power curve by careful matching of turbocharger and fuel pump settings. Thus from their test cells sprang the mighty Maxidyne, with peak torque moved clear down to 1200 RPM while the power peak was moved down to around 1800 RPM while the governor still shut down the party at 2100. The result was an engine that only needed a simple 5 speed transmission and with a 900 RPM wide powerband from 1200 to 2100 RPM, and could run from 36 to 63 MPH without needed a single stirring of the gearshift lever. And while that transmission may have seemed short on gears, it had no less than triple countershafts… The scrapyards are full of ’em, because they were so indestructable that hardly anybody ever broke one!

With this massive competitive advantage Mack was the go-to truck from the mid 60s through the eighties, filling fleet rosters everwhere. Then in the 80s fleet managers began to suspect that winding the Maxidyne up to 2100 was eatin’ up the fuel too fast. Mack responded with a Maxidyne governed at 1800 cutting the power band back to only 600 RPM, and pretty much created the prototype for all of today’s big truck diesels. Then Mack developed a low speed Maxidyne, with a power band from 1000 to 1800 RPM so drivers could still enjoy a 5 speed transmission.

Come the 90s and speed limits rose and truckers demanded more power, but with the exception of the rare 400 HP Maxidyne V8, the Maxidyne offerings topped out at only 300 HP. Thus Mack’s conventional 350 and 400 HP engines took over the highway market. But the Maxidyne had an even more loyal group of fans, truckers in the construction biz who appreciated the Maxidyne’s ability to pull up hills and through muck all the way through it’s broad power range when a gearshift would only bog you down worse… So while the Maxidyne may have been exiled from the highways, it lived on in construction trucks everywhere.

Comes the 21st century and Volvo buys Renault and Mack in a package deal and sets out to plant a bulldog on the hood of their Volvo trucks and pass it off as a Mack. While the six cylinder Maxidyne finally got a bump to 370 HP in 2004, by 2007 Mack engines had given way to Volvos in red paint with a few software tweaks. Then Volvo’s automated manual transmission was offered and the durable Maxitorque all but forgotten. But some Maxidyne high torque ratings were carried over to the new Volvo engines, and wide ratio 6 to 10 speed transmissions were still technicly available.

Couple months back I saw a near buried blurb from Mack noting that Maxitorque transmissions were still available, but didn’t seem to be as many models as before. Confirmed from an authoritive sounding source that the wide ratio transmissions are no longer available, took a look around dealer’s inventory and couldn’t find them in any new trucks in stock. Having made little mention of the simple Maxidyne option, Vovo has succeeded in making us forget about it in preference to their complex proprietary automated manual transmissions.

‘Cept some of us won’t forget the joy of driving a truck that shifted gears as easily as a car, only downshifting for the real hills instead of once or thrice for every little rise. Maxidynes, long may rule the roads!

If you’ve been following the greasy gearhead corners of the web lately,  big truck division, you’ve probably noticed a fair amount of doubt regarding Ford’s decision to boot Cummins and go it alone on powertrain options for their new F650 and F750 big trucks. Now the Cummins in question, the six cylinder B series, has become something of a legend for it’s durability- I drove one on occasion that was driven by everyone and put away wet, but still managed 15,000 hours without a rebuild before it was traded off. Heck, the B series probably put off Hostess’ bankruptcy for a few years, with still running two and three decade old examples with over half a million miles on the bankruptcy filing’s inventory lists. So it’s no wonder that almost every big truck maker offers the Cummins B series and sometimes only the B series in their medium trucks. So it comes as a surprise (some would call it treason) that Ford would evict Cummins from it’s home under the hood of their medium trucks.

Examined a bit more closely, Ford ain’t dumb-  The Cummins B series is a great linerless medium duty diesel, but it’s no big block where you press out the liners and press in new ones come rebuild time and truck on for another million miles. But the B series is no “throwaway” engine either, just send it to the machine shop for an overbore and fit the appropriate new pistons and rings. Same with Ford’s own diesel, and GM’s Duramax. But fact is, most users will never put on enough miles to rebuild these engines, which routinely come with hundred thousand mile warranties even in overblown pickup power ratings. And Ford is certainly no novice at building diesels, their own foundries and assembly plants having borne reliable diesels for over half a century now.

But is Ford’s own diesel a match for Cummins B series? I’ve found no publicly available data for medium trucks, and it would be nice if some of the big fleets like the GSA or the Postal Service’s that probably have some of each brand of medium truck powertrain in their fleets would turn loose their data. But our old friend and source of a treasure trove of big data, Consumer Reports, has been tabulating the totals for some of the big trucks little brothers, the half and three quarter ton pickups. This data is relevant because Ford’s new medium trucks are basicly the Super Duty pickups with bigger axles, brakes, tires, etc. stuck underneath and the engines derated a bit. Same thing over at Dodge, where the Cummins B series has taken up residence in their three quarter and one ton pickups.

So what does Consumer Reports report? First let’s look at the standard of the industry, the Cummins B series in those Dodges- While the Cummins engine itself has been “above average” or “much above average”, it’s fuel system has barely improved to “below average”. Looks like the Cummins durability is still there, but Cummins isn’t doing so well at producing a reliable injection system to meet current emmissions standards.

Over at Ford, their diesel engine has shown “much better than average” durability per CR’s survey, with the fuel system improving to “better than average”. That strongly suggests that Ford’s own diesel engine will work just as well and long as Cummins B series. As for service availability, one of the benefits of Cummins power is the availability of service in far more places than Daimler’s, Paccar’s, Volvo’s, and Navistar’s proprietary engines… Which explains why most of the above are offering the B series as an option or even sole offering in their trucks. However, Ford has more dealers in more places than Cummins, and almost all of them service Ford diesel engines. So if you’re in the market for a medium truck, don’t let Ford’s diesel put you off.

And the cons: The comments are coming in on the proposed 2027 fuel mileage standards for big trucks, and the aforementioned proprietary engine truck makers have voiced their disapproval that Cummins will be allowed to certify their engines seperate from the truck chassis they’re mounted in. I take this to mean they’d like to squeeze Cummins out of this market via protective regulations, thusly bring them closer to their dreams of a profitable near monopoly. Meanwhile, some of these same truck makers have made Cummins the standard and sometimes sole engine offering for their medium trucks, avoiding the hassle of certfying their own engines to U.S. standards. In the booming market for natural gas engines, Cummins is the only source for heavy duty trucks and is offered by Daimler, Paccar, and Volvo.

So the big truck makers romance Cummins when they need medium duty and alternate fuel engines, then spurn Cummins in the higher volume heavy duty diesel markets. Some guys treat girls like that, then wonder why they’re lonely…

Got a little too enthusiastic a couple week’s back unloading the latest 170 pound bargain of steel racking from Costco, followed by a couple days of sore right hip and lower back. Pretty much recovered, then yesterday I decided just puttin’ the R80ST on it’s centerstand wasn’t enough, I had to put it on the centerstand with a one by six board underneath… Back in pain and didn’t fall asleep ’til 2 am. Got up at 8 this mornin’, figured I may as well try to pull myself together, get on the Yamaha, and make the Butterfield Threshing Bee. Couple hours later I rode onto the grounds, took off my gear and unstrapped my cane, and was hobblin’ the grounds.

DSC_4522What’s not to like? I’m not sure what the heck it is, but I never seen or even heard of one before, looks to be an early four wheel drive tractor, so early that it’s on steel wheels! One of the ways I judge an event is by whether or not I see a machine I’ve never seen before, at this event I saw several. Besides this mystery Massey, there was a Gibson as well as several unheard of smaller tractors that may or may not have been series produced.

Despite the gimpyness, had a great time. I wasn’t the only one havin’ problems, this “locomotive” was keeping the mechanics busy…

DSC_4545This Minneapolis-Moline powered narrow guage “locomotive” would run a few feet and repeatedly die, frustrating it’s mechanics. The passngers didn’t really seem to mind though, being rather amused by the “locomotive”‘s tempermentalness. Good thing Minneaplis-Moline didn’t build real locomotives…

As always, gotta make the best of what life hands ya… Gonna check the weather in the morning and if it don’t look to severe I’ll head back to the threshing bee!

Harley Davidson, BMW, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, Honda… and us? Yup, pooling together our nest eggs, a home equity loan and max out a credit card here and there, and we could have been a motorcycle maker. For those who don’t inhabit the Buell corner of the interwebs, EBR, essentially the successor company to Buell, sold for a measly two million dollars and change yesterday.

So what would we have gotten for the contents of our piggy banks? For a start, all the rights to the opus of one of the world’s greatest motorcycle designers and the fellow travelers he attracted, a 450 pound motorcycle with knocking on 200 horses in race tune and an easy and well behaved 150 in street legal tune, packed in the best handling chassis in the history of motorcycling. The complete tooling to build that awesome motorcycle, including the line to turn castings from no less than Rotax into finished engines. And being that the line was shut down overnight, probably several unfinished bikes, maybe some finished bikes that GE Capital hadn’t floored yet, and probably enough parts to build a bunch more bikes at your leisure.

To say nothing of the “goodwill” which despite being worthless in the minds of the industry, still keeps several websites hopping five years after HOG(NYSE) axed Buell. With all that goodwill and an installed base of at least 10,000 EBRs and the earlier Rotax powered Buells built under HOG(NYSE)’s ownership, you could make a paying parts business out of EBR without ever having built another new bike. Do a Carroll Shelby and screw together a few new bikes every once and awhile and you’d profitably keep the market jacked up for decades. Or pay the rent on the factory space and fire the assembly line back up… EBR did manage to move at least ten million dollars in bikes in barely a year of production.

But we weren’t the only ones snoozin’ and losin’… HOG(NYSE) could have had a product to appeal to riders before they drew a Social Security check. Polaris could have had a real sportbike instead of just a “sport cruiser”. An established maker could have added EBR to their quiver of products, and an upstart 3rd world maker could have cheaply joined the “big boys” by buying EBR. Heck, any of a dozen motorcycle makers could have bought EBR just to keep a competitor off the market.

Sadly, none of the above happened, which is an indightment of just how “corporate” the motorcycle biz has become today. It thus fell on a minor player in the metals wholesaling biz and Buell enthusiast to save Buell, in fact he was the only bidder as two others failed to match his bid. Heck, barely a baker’s dozen potential buyers even did a walk through of the EBR plant. That is chilling for the motorcycle biz, which is chock full of literal mom and pop shops and makers that these hard working folks spent a lifetime building. A lot of these folks are reaching if not past retirement age, and are looking to sell, hopefully for enough to provide for a retirement above the poverty line. These are the folks who gave up the corporate jobs with the pension for their love of motorcycling, and they damn well deserve better!

If you live ‘long the track like me, you,ve noticed that the trains have thinned a bit. And if you follow the tracks much, you’ll find whole unit trains of those short hopper cars they use for frac sand parked, and even the recently unobtainium tank cars are looking abandonned and forlorn in spots. Same with the rortary dump coal cars, shunted into lonely sidings by the switch to natural gas and wind. And weren’t the railorads in the middle of spending billions to upgrade tracks to handle all that oil and related traffic?

That leaves the ralroads suddenly with surplus capacity and a few thousand train crews laid off that will be looking at other career paths if they ain’t called back soon. Meanwhile, trucking is hobbling along with it’s chronic low productivity and resulting driver shortage. It’s gotten so bad that a union carrier (hourly pay, health insurance, pension, etc.) is having trouble finding qualified drivers even in my rural area.

So I’m hearing gossip that theb rail empire is going to stike back with a parry to lure all that truck traffic back to the rails. No, they probably won’t cut rates on intermodal service… Rate cutting ain’t in the railroads playbook. The gossip is about unprecedented (in the last half century) levels of service, with premium intermodal trains running at near passenger train speeds… Think of intermodal trains almost drafting Amtrak’s legendary long distance trains.

That sort of upsets the business plan of even the most dedicated truckers…


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