Sunday, July 15, 2012

Constructive Destruction

I've spent a week with the new car and there are some observations that I've made. The first couple of days were mostly spent getting acquainted with the feel of it. The SLK is a little different from other cars that I've had in a lot of little ways, but in one rather big way it is unique from everything I've driven before: I cannot sense my speed. The ride remains smooth and rock steady from 25 mph to 80 mph, and at anything above 50 it gets very hard to judge the speed. The speedo helps with that, of course, but only when I can see it. Why wouldn't I be able to see it? Well, there are a couple of other things I've learned that have a bearing on that.

One is that the Mercedes seats leave much to be desired in the area of lower back support, at least when configured in a position that would feel most natural to someone that has spent the last year driving a four-door sedan. It was only a couple of days ago when I was enjoying the twisty and nearly deserted rural roads that I prefer to use when visiting the Schmetterling Corporate HQ that I decided to try for a sportier seating position. I lowered the seat as low as it would go (which is essentially all the way down to the floor), reclined the back position way back, and lowered the steering wheel down to a Formula 1 race car position.

VoilĂ , not only was the feeling far more sportier than it had been, but my lumbar was perfectly supported as well. The only downside was that the massive wooden steering wheel completely blocked the speedometer. Considering the difficulty in judging speed based on the ride and sound of the car over the road, this presented something of a problem. It wasn't much of a problem on the deserted and law-enforcement-free country roads, but it will be a problem on the highway. I suppose that's why I have a cruise control.

I also discovered throughout the first week the painful fact that the car gets dirty. This realization first manifested itself when I noticed the remains of a rather large and juicy inspect splattered across the front fascia. This despite the assurances from the Mercedes-Benz promotional materials that indicated that Wiccan pagan spells had been factory-installed for the sole purpose of causing insects and small birds to divert their flight paths to avoid such unsightly events. Also untrue was the claim that the paint, having been derived from ground Unicorn husks and the cores of black pearls, would repel all forms of dust. That falsity was most prominently displayed on the back of the car and on the front wheels, the latter being nearly black with brake dust after just one week.

The brake dust issue is well known and is, in fact, endemic to many German engineered cars. The non-ceramic brake pads used in the sportier cars are much preferred due to their excellent performance when cold, and for the terrific feel they give when driving spiritedly. And, I suspect, spirited driving is the norm for the SLK cars. For me, though, the problem was again related to my inability to feel how fast the car was moving. It's a heavy-ish car, and I found that I was having to use a lot more brake when entering turns than I should have needed. This was, I think, due to the fact that I was entering the turns in a quickly moving heavy car that I had failed to get slowed down soon enough. I'm getting a better feel for when I need to begin slowing now, so that problem is mostly resolving itself.

That said, I had to wash the car today. I guess there is a part of me that missed owning a car worthy of a weekly bucket, sponge, and chamois homage, but that part was most definitely not my lower back. This car is much like the Miata in that it's small enough that there isn't all that much to wash, but the parts that are most in need of washing are only inches off of the ground and a lot of bending over is required to get at them.

All of this is, of course, nothing compared to the pride of ownership one feels when driving such a fine machine. In fact, one must be careful to avoid any feelings of superiority over the multitudes of inferior motoring machines one must share the roads with. Unless.... unless you work in a ritzy neighborhood. If that is the case, and it is for me, it will not be long at all before you get put back in your place.

Meet the Lamborghini Aventador. 700 hp, V-12 engine. 217 mph top speed. You aren't likely to beat this guy if you're trying to get into his lane from a stoplight, either. He can go 0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds,  Gas mileage? Ha, you should be embarrassed that you even asked. I asked anyway: 13 mpg. And the other uncomfortable question? They start at $376.000.

I also received an interesting letter from Van's: please send the remainder of the balance due for your avionics kit. That means it's ready to ship! That changed the nature of the work I did on the airplane this weekend because now I know that I will be needing access to the wiring areas. That meant that I would have to remove a lot of stuff. Par for the course, of course. A hundred steps forward, ninety steps back. 'Tis the nature of the game. I don't mind it all that much since this is a brand new airplane. Why is that important? Because working on an older airplane is an exercise in frustration when it comes to removing rounded-out screws that some ham-fisted idiot put in.

In fact, the first screw came out with nary a turn:

That's one of the two screws that hold the flap handle stopper in place. Not a super critical screw, but somewhat surprising to find it in that state nonetheless.

Very soon thereafter, I came across a rounded-out screw! Who did that??? Oh, wait... it was me.

I went and found my trusty Harbor Freight (The Home of Worthless Screw Extractors) screw extractors. These are tapered, reverse-threaded bits that worm their way down into a hole drilled into the top of the screw and then dig in. Once they're set, you just remove the screw by twisting the extractor. That's as easy as can be, assuming that you can drill down into the screw. Unfortunately for me, the drill bit broke off down inside the screw. You know what a drill bit won't drill through? Another drill bit. It's some kind of professional courtesy, I suppose.

I ended up cutting a slot in the top of the screw with the Dremel cutting disk. That allowed be to remove the screw with a BFS.

I quickly became irritated with working around the dangling shoulder belts, so I took a break after removing the bad screw to get them restrained somewhere more or less out of the way.

Then it was back to removing the dozens upon dozens of floorboard screws.

I ultimately ended up having to use the Dremel trick twice more to remove rounded-out screws. I know what's causing the screw rounding problem (see photo above) - sometimes I forget to unlock the clicky-torquey thing on the drill before using it to drive in screws. When I forget, the screw bit keeps spinning in the screw after it has reached final snugness, thus almost instantly ruining the screw.

So at the end of the day, the airplane looks just like it did a year ago.


Torsten said...

Good you will receive your final kit! Exciting!!! I wonder how the seat deck came out after removing around 250 screws? Didn't you already tension the stabilator cables? With the pull that they impose on the bulkhead I am a bit worried taking out cover after tensioning ...

Philip Newlon said...

I feel your pain! I had to pull 108 fuel tank screws that were installed sometime around 1988-89 to replace my fuel level senders.

DaveG said...

That reminds me: I need to get a couple of those retainer clips - if I have to re-tension the cables, they only way I can see to remove the retainer clips is to cut them.

DaveG said...

Good news from Scott @ Van's: "I have no problem reinstalling the seat pan with the cable tensioned. I insert a tapered punch in one of the screw holes common to the control column bracket and then install the other three screws."

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