Category Archives: Travels

Zoom-to-200: 15 Years and 200,000 Miles

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Let’s take a little trip back in time: It’s 2004 – Shrek 2 is making 919.8 million in the box office, Usher’s, “Yeah!” is the top song; and George W. Bush is re-elected president. I’m in my second year of college and grandma and grandpa want to buy a new car. A full detailed story of that is here. We purchased a new Mazda 6 “i” 5-speed in Pebble Ash Metallic on August 3, 2004. This was in Farmington, NM at Performance Mazda/Mitsubishi/Suzuki. Fast forward 15 years to this day (8/3/04 – 8/3/19), and I take this car back to the same dealer where I also roll 200,000 miles.

I realize cars achieve 200,000 miles everyday, and it doesn’t necessarily warrant a big fuss. But wait, this might catch your attention: Our Mazda 6 has achieved this milestone with the original motor, transmission, clutch and even the original brakes. Yes, those brake pads are the same ones that left the factory in 2004. There have been no unscheduled repairs and all the body panels are original…even the headlight lenses. Good proof here that anyone who doubts high mileage cars can do this with regular maintenance and care. Don’t be afraid. We are in a new era where planned obsolescence hasn’t fully reached cars yet. At least mainstream cars.

Let’s get on with the milestone. This event took careful planning. Trying to get to 200,000 miles on a specific day is harder than you’d think. Regardless, I was up for the challenge. I marketed this little event, #zoomto200.

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I was able to have a few friends accompany me on this milestone, Tyson and James. With a little coordinating, we agreed to meet in Farmington, NM the weekend of August 3rd.

My route took an easy 6 hours. Tyson and James had a little more ground to cover coming from Phoenix, AZ.

2019-08-22 14_09_03-Farmington, NM to Las Cruces, NM - Google Maps

Prior to my departure from Las Cruces, NM, I applied this product called, Track Armour which is essentially a temporary clear bra to protect the front end from bugs, stones and other debris. Since I had a good 400+ miles to cover and didn’t want to worry about washing, I thought this would be a good solution to ensure the 6 arrived somewhat clean.

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On the road again!

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Mileage at 199,519.

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Knowing that I’d have a surplus of miles, I chose to go the long way via Highway 371. Stop of fuel, snacks, then proceeded onward.

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Highway 371 is about as lonely as you can get in New Mexico.

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I arrived later that evening in Farmington right at 199,900 miles. Oof! That isn’t going to cut it since the milestone was the next morning.

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Doubt anyone with even a modicum of common sense would do this, but I turned around and headed in the opposite direction to burn miles. It was nearing 10 pm by this time. The blurry quality of this photo reflects my determination to get those miles close to what I needed.

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Finally, I got to where I needed and came back to the hotel for the night where Tyson and James arrived shortly after.

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I removed the Track Armour and was very pleased with the protection it provided even with a few rain showers.

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The next morning after hitting the continental breakfast buffet, we headed straight to the dealership for the big event. The dealer stopped carrying Mazda and was renamed in 2010 to Hi Country Mitsubishi/Kia, but the building and lot remains the same as it was in 2004.

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To keep the nostalgia going, I installed the temp tag from 2004.

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And here we go…200,000 miles!

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Next on the agenda was to recreate the ramp photo. Compare 2004 to 2019…

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Very minor changes such as removal of the front plate bracket, OEM spoiler added as well as the chrome accessory wheels. Everything else remains the same on this car.

Here’s a vlog post of Tyson’s that sums up the experience.

Next, we headed back south on 371 to explore the “Bisti / De-Na-Zin” Wilderness, just 30 miles from Farmington. This rolling landscape of badlands features some desolate, very unusual scenery. Perfect for a little nature adventure.

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In interest in preserving my 6, I parked it at the entrance and hitched a ride with James in his press Toyota Highlander as we attacked the rutted dirt roads leading into the badlands.

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Tyson’s ILX in its other natural habitat.

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Better plan to bring snacks and water, because there aren’t any facilities out here.

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Group shot of James, me and Tyson.

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Another successful road trip in the books. My garage floor update is coming up next!

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2019 PNW Contour Group Annual Meet

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I’m at it again…tossing my suitcase in the trunk and hitting the open road across the country in an old hooptie — with a AAA card handy.

This time though, things are a little different. I’m going to a car meet. I’ve been a member of many car clubs over the years (Bimmer Forums, ZHP Mafia, Club RSX, Drive Accord, Acurazine, Mazda6 Forums, NPORA-Nissan Pathfinder off-road Association…to name a few), but I’ve never attended any of their annual meets. Proximity, time and frankly, interest have gotten in the way of me making the jump.

Ever since the PNW Contour Group reached out to me earlier this year, I’ve been hooked and never met a nicer group of folks. This is one meet I’ll try out. It was going to be hosted in Portland, Oregon, and that was just the ticket I needed to get away from the summer heat.

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So, I hopped in the creaky old Ford and set out on a 3,500 mile drive to the Pacific Northwest. Aside from taking delivery in Colorado earlier this year, I haven’t had the Contour on the road for such a long journey. This would be a good test of the 21 year old cooling system in addition to all the other parts I’m unaware of their originality. Some call it crazy, some adventurous. I’d leave it as living on the edge. My route was as follows:

2019-07-31 11_26_06-Portland, OR to Las Cruces, NM - Google Maps

Maintenance and repairs for the Contour have luckily been minimal thanks to the care it’s received in the past. I’ve only had to change out the transmission fluid, recharge the A/C system, alignment, tires, and resurface the brake rotors. All my other costs have been largely cosmetic. In anticipation of this annual meet, I made sure every inch of this car was as clean as it could get and what’s left of the original paint polished and sealed.

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The rear bumper needed a little buffing as the clearcoat on my DIY job hadn’t retained the luster it had. I might have to have this professionally resprayed at some point. This should hold me over for now.

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The interior, though a little warped and brittle from 21 years of sun exposure, cleaned up pretty nice.

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And I managed to stow everything in the trunk leaving the backseat clean and clear. This stash even included two buckets full of detailing supplies and some random car parts I planned to give away at the meet.

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I hit the road on a Wednesday afternoon and planned to return the following week around the same time. This meant a fairly tight schedule of only two days driving to Portland and two days back. That was an average of 800 miles/12hrs a day. You never realize how big our country is until attempting stuff like this. My stops along the way were minimal as I’ve been on this route many times in the past.

Colorado state line

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Utah state line

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Things started greening up near Price Canyon, UT.

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Welcome to Idaho!

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I’ve seen this road many times in the past, but never tire of the lovely grassy hills of southern Idaho.

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First night’s stop in Twin Falls, ID. All my work on detailing the exterior went out the door due to rain showers outside of Price, UT. No biggie, that’s where those detailing supplies will eventually be handy.

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Next day, a short stop to view the Snake River Canyon.

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This is the I.B. Perrine Bridge which hangs over the Snake River. At 486 feet above the canyon floor, it’s a popular location or adrenaline junkies to jump off with parachutes.

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View of the Snake River from under the bridge.

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Several hours later, I finally arrived in Oregon!

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I was impressed by the determination of this little Contour. Not one issue so far. I was getting a solid 27 MPG on premium fuel even with steady 80 MPH speeds and the A/C constantly blowing.

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Driving along the Columbia River with Mt. Hood in the distance.

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Arrived in Portland. The meet was going to take place here at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport.

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As I arrived a day early, first order of business was cleaning off the grime I accumulated over the last two days. The plan was to complete some photo ops prior to attending the actual meet on Sunday. A quick Google search for a credit card friendly, self-serve car wash led me to one about seven miles over the river to Vancouver, WA. Check out that insect homicide scene!

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This is where bringing my own detail supplies came into play. I only utilized the high pressure water.

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Dinner at Shari’s where I gorged in breakfast for dinner…a chicken fried steak with eggs.

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The following day was going to be mine to explore. The boys had an autocross event 90 miles away, but since I have neither the reaction time or any desire to put that kind of stress on the Contour, I chose to head west and enjoy the PNW in all its glory. Here’s a photo one of the members sent me. I have to admit, I did feel like I was missing out!

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However, I did have the beach and rain forests calling my name, so I proceeded with the plan.

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I caught highway 26 leading out of Portland to Seaside.

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Entering rain forest territory. This is what makes this desert boy happy.

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Short hike on the Four County Point Trail.

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Then, I drove until I ran out of land. This is Sunset beach outside of Seaside, OR where I’ve taken my Accord and Mazda6 for similar photo shoots. Now, it was the Contour’s turn.

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Of course, who could resist a few little innocent donuts in the sand?

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Lunch was in Seaside at Ruby’s Roadside Grill. I tried their albacore tuna fillet melt which was out of this world!

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After my day of clowning around the beach and trails, I headed back to Portland where the gang was starting to trickle in for the night. We had a roped off parking area behind the hotel. This was my first time meeting everyone in person, and I couldn’t have asked for a more warm welcoming.

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A look from my hotel window as I was winding down for the evening.

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The morning of the official meet. Many of us were out at the crack of dawn vacuuming, polishing, dusting, and staging our cars. I live for this kind of stuff.

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Some minty seats I bought off a fellow member to eventually replace a few of mine that are pretty well weathered.

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This silver beauty next to me belongs to JD out of Phoenix, AZ. What are the chances we share the same vanity plates?!

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Alex (in blue) had his car featured in The Smoking Tire SVT Contour review

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All polished up and ready. See that gent in the cowboy hat? That’s Greg from California. He’s a proud owner of 11 Contours! Much respect.

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Some of the interiors were pretty wild. This SVT had the dash and console swapped from a Mercury Mystique to add a touch of luxury.

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Fully decked out here with red pipping, carbon fiber, and Momo steering wheel just to name a few…

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Next item on the itinerary, we headed indoors to our reserved conference room.

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A lot of action in here. This is where t-shirts were distributed, member story presentations given, raffles, awards, behind-the-scenes of the club and a game of Jeopardy!

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T-shirts.

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Chicken fajita buffet for lunch.

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Back outside for voting.

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Hoods up if you want consideration for best engine bay award. I left mine down.

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Rearranging the cars for a group photo.

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Photo credit here: Alexander Davis

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Totally unexpected, but I managed to bring home two awards, Best Exterior and Farthest Traveled.

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Going Home:

The meet was over around 3:30 pm which provided ample time to gain some ground for that night’s scheduled stop in Baker City, OR. I then continued on the same route where I’d spend the last night in Green River, UT.

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Quick stop for lunch with my buddy Josh in Bosie, ID.

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Views near Moab, UT

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I tried something different for my last night on the road in Green River. I swapped the comfy hotel accommodations for a more primitive, yet charming KOA cabin.

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Good thing I brought my own blankets and pillow! Luckily, KOAs and most other camp grounds have wifi these days. My sanity was preserved.

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Back in New Mexico!

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Continental Divide at 7,275 feet above sea level.

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Last leg of the journey.

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Home safe and sound! Aside from having to add a little oil, the Contour was very well behaved on the trip. It didn’t skip a beat even with some 100+ degree heat, heavy cross winds, rain, bumper-to-bumper traffic in Salt Lake City, or steep inclines I encountered. Thank you for coming along for the ride. Notice a little garage preview here of what’s to come in the next post. Stay tuned!

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Breaking Bad, Ford Roundup and Garage Lighting

91VRA8kjYXL._RI_I’m back at it finding old Breaking Bad filming locations. This particular location is the first “cook” site in Season 1 and the many action-packed scenes in Season 5. Finding this location is a bit tricky as it sits on Indian reservation land in a remote area only accessible by dirt roads. After some digging around the internet, I found the approximate area northwest from Tohajiilee, NM (about 46 miles west of Albuquerque). So, I set about scouting in the freshly detailed Mazda 6.

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As I’ve seen the Breaking Bad series quite a few times, it was easy to spot the landmarks. Found it!

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Those of you who’ve watched the show know this is a very popular scene.

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Here’s my try.

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I was a little off lining up this one.

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Walter White’s Chrysler vs. the Mazda 6

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Road leading to the “cook” site.

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Never hurts to flex the suspension a bit. Luckily I didn’t get stuck in sand. No cell reception or other vehicles for miles could have been bad.

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Ford Roundup

Back in April (2019), I participated in my first ever local car show, the 16th Annual Ford Roundup. This was hosted by the Alamogordo Mustang Club and all American made cars were welcome to attend. Aside from a newer Buick Regal GS hatchback, I probably had the smallest displacement of the bunch. Lots of fun overall and quite a few spectators were amused by the Contour. I had two different groups: those who said they hadn’t seen an SVT Contour in person, and those who didn’t have any idea what it was. More photos can be found here.

I spent an entire day prepping for this show. Cleaning, Hoovering, dusting and polishing to try and get the Contour decent looking. By request of some readers, here’s some interior shots.

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Forgot to mention earlier, I had the roof resprayed.

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Here she is in the show with my homemade display sign.

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Other photos from the show…

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These folks next to me won the prize for best 1990-2000 in the show. Well deserved as their ’99 GT with 30,000 original miles was concours-ready despite traveling from Amarillo, TX.

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In other Contour news, I took it in for its first oil change since it’s been in my possession. “Where did you find this?!!” from the service advisor. I also had them recharge the A/C and do a through inspection. All should be good now for Portland in July!

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Also got the wheels refinished as the factory clear coat was pretty much all worn off.

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Now, I can say the exterior is about as good as it’s going to get within budget.

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Garage Updates

One major garage upgrade that was long overdue is lighting. This photo that was taken shortly after I moved into the house shows how much of a joke the single light fixture was. I can’t believe the builders considered this sufficient. I’ve gotten by over the years with plug-in halogen shop lights and headlamps for working on the cars or detailing. This year though, enough was enough. I needed to fix this.

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Lots of research went into what type of lighting I should use. The first consideration was my overall intension for the garage. Am I going to make this into a mini-showroom or workshop? Two completely different lighting needs there. As I often do, I made things more difficult for myself and decided the goal was to have a mixture of the two. Track lighting would provide some dramatic effects, but not so useful in detailing or working on cars. Fluorescent fixtures seemed to be the best choice overall, but wouldn’t give the premium feel I was after. Final choice, 6″ recessed LED lighting.

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Many hours of research went into how one does this retrofit himself. The process ended up being pretty simple, just time consuming and frustrating working with what little light I had available.

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The efforts paid off in the end. Let there be light!

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Next, the back wall needed a facelift.

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I added some wood planks to an accent wall to give some warmth and visual interest.

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Then I swapped the shelves with cabinets to avoid a cluttered look.

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Lastly (at least for this post), I made a small workbench and added a pegboard.

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This is how it looks today. I already made an appointment for an epoxy floor coating in June and later down the line I may add some sort of sound system with speakers in the wall. Stay tuned!

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New Purchase: 1998 Ford SVT Contour

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I never thought I’d be saying “I bought” and “Ford” in the same sentence. Though I really like the Fords of the 80s and early 90s, I lost interest as they approached the late 90s and brought some atrocious examples of the Taurus, Escort, and F-series pickup. The ZX2, what the heck was that?! The only cars that didn’t offend that much were the Mustang and Contour. Yes, the Contour followed the oval trend, but it worked. At least in my mind. I’ve always admired the Contour since its debut in 1995 and told myself that I need to own a V6 with a 5-speed someday.

So, for several years I’ve kept a secret casually searching for a decent Contour. Specifically, a limited production SVT Contour. The like for the Contour turned into love when Ford introduced that SVT version. My admiration for this car began when I received this 1997 March issue of Car and Driver where a ’98 Toreador Red SVT Contour occupied the cover. I was only 11 years old at the time and yes, I still have this magazine.

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My search for one was on and off. At times I’d religiously scour AutoTrader listings, Craigslist and nothing would pop up. Motivation would be lost and several months would go by before looking again. After I acquired my 2004 Honda Accord coupe, a really nice one showed up at my local Ford dealer, but it sold before I was even able to pick up the phone to ask about it.

To make my search more difficult, I was dead set on a 1998 model year in that sparkly Toreador Red Metallic—the same model Car and Driver tested. Very few of these are left and many have been beaten into the ground or modified beyond recognition. My search started up again after Thanksgiving (2018) and using a new-to-me site, AutoTempest, I found only two in the country. One had already sold in San Diego and the other was this in Loveland, CO.

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Though it was a little rough around the edges, the bones of the car looked to be good and original aside from an upgraded exhaust and cold air intake. Carfax showed it had been in northern Colorado since day one. (That 3rd owner is me)

2019-01-15 08_46_24-carfax vehicle history report for this 1998 ford contour svt_ 1falp68g4wk156817

The car had 131,000 miles and had been with the seller, Zeke, for four months before posting to Craigslist. The first owner only drove an average of 6,200 miles a year, so we have a fairly low mileage example here. No accidents, no rust, clean title, I contacted the seller pronto before it got away. Fast forward a few days, and we had a gentleman’s agreement on a price, and a plan to meet in Pueblo, Colorado to take delivery.

SVT Background:

So, what’s the big deal on the SVT (Special Vehicle Team) Contour you might ask? This car seems to have two different groups of fans…those who love it and those who hate it. The love comes from being a limited production, small sport sedan with the European derived chassis. The hate comes from those who think it was pointless and not worthy of wearing an SVT badge.

Indeed, the SVT Contour was a bit of an odd one. Introduced in 1998 when the Contour received a mid-cycle refresh, it was aimed directly against European sport sedans, but had the appeal of a much lower price tag. However, it was still too expensive for many to justify buying a sporty midsized Ford. The cramped interior accommodations didn’t help either. At a little under $24,000 (~$37,000 in today’s dollars), it didn’t make sense. Ford ended production in 2000 and a total of 11,445 were made in the three year life span. SVT is to Ford back then what the “M” division is to BMW. The Team gave the regular, mundane Contour a revised version of the 2.5L V6 to push out 195hp and 165lbs ft of torque mated to a mandatory 5-speed manual. Other exclusive SVT goodies consisted of unique front, and rear fascias, special leather, white faced gauges, premium sound (yeah, right), more aggressive intake and exhaust, 16 inch alloy wheels, and a more aggressive suspension setup.

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Taking Delivery:

So, here’s how I took delivery. I grabbed a one-way Hertz rental in Las Cruces and set off 500 miles to Pueblo, CO in the midst of a nasty winter storm covering most of New Mexico. What sane person wouldn’t buy a 21 year old Ford sight unseen and drive back in these conditions?

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Luckily, most of the roadway was clear.

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But was dang cold. -6˚F!!

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Views from I-25 heading north out of Santa Fe, NM. Ice packed most of the way, but the Malibu rental handled it beautifully.

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The route took me exclusively on I-25. Good thing since I’d have a better chance of getting rescued if anything were to happen. My confidence was there, but I didn’t want to be stupid either. My luggage was one large suitcase, but it wasn’t filled with what you’d expect. I stuffed a tool kit, first aid, blankets, extra cell phone battery packs, jackets, flash light, water and even duct tape and a hammer. Hey, you never know. I even shelled out the extra bucks for the rental insurance in case I banged up a fender sliding into a guardrail or something. You could say I was a little too paranoid or even expecting trouble, but I don’t have time for delays or…dying. Fortunately, I never had to open the suitcase.

Our meeting point was at Enterprise where Zeke would drive a rental back to Loveland about 180 miles away. Big thanks to him for taking the time and having trust to meet an idiot (me) who buys old cars sight unseen. Here we are signing the papers.

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And the official key hand off!

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I got me a Ford!

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A quick examination around the car before heading back on the freeway revealed that this was a really clean example aside from some failed clearcoat on the roof and rear bumper cover. The interior was much better than I expected.

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The official delivery mileage of 131,954

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Off to New Mexico! The ride was stable, no wobble in the steering, clutch was smooth and the 2.5L had some good pep to it. I was feeling good about the purchase.

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New Mexico state line.

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By the time I was in Las Vegas, NM, it was time to fill up with 91 octane fuel. I started to make this Loves Travel Center my usual pit stop along the northern New Mexico I-25 corridor. 20 or so miles after refueling, I started to sense the car felt peppier. Just a gentle touch of the throttle gave instant results compared to when I first took delivery. Could it have been better fuel or the slight change in elevation? Or both? Who knows. I was pleased either way.

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As darkness began to fall, it was time to switch on the headlights and see how they were. Not surprisingly, they were crap and I ended up having to use the high beams to see anything beyond five yards. The fog lights looked to be out, so that will go on the “fix it” list.

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Tired, hungry and cold, I stopped at my grandpa’s place in Grants, NM for the night before continuing on home. The next morning was a frosty -3˚F, but the Contour cold started without issue. Grandpa and I ran a few errands and I let him take the wheel. A Ford man at heart, he loved the experience. At 94 years old, he can still drive a manual so smooth, you’d swear it was an automatic!

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Setting off for home. You can see those massive after market exhaust tips.

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I took my time and arrived in Las Cruces just after dark. The Contour meets its stablemates.

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Here are some stats and minor issues that will need sorting in the coming months:

  • 2 previous owners, both residing in Loveland/Ft. Collins, CO area
  • Carfax showed the majority of the maintenance was from two Ford dealers.
  • Tires and battery are new
  • The 2.5L V6 had been completely rebuilt in 2010 at around 100,000 miles and a new clutch was installed at the same time
  • Driver’s side visor is broken
  • Will need to respray the sun damaged panels
  • PDR on light hail damage
  • Fix fog lights
  • The transmission gear engagement is a little sloppy
  • Obtain replacement jack point covers on the rocker panels
  • Replace the aftermarket exhaust with a factory OEM unit
  • Replace cold air intake with OEM airbox
  • Restore headlights and replace low beam bulbs
  • Restore/condition leather
  • Paint correction and overall detail

Here are some detailed photos before giving it its first wash in my possession.

Check out the original Colorado plate from the first owner. After 20+ years of being on the car, the screws are seized and I may have to drill them out! Zeke had to use binder clips to hold on his plate when he owned it.

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Clearcoat failure on the roof.

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Exhaust and the rear bumper oxidation.

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Some goofy fitment of the rear bumper to be sorted out.

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Minor rocker panel damage and missing jack point covers.

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Minor scrapes and scratches to be touched up.

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As soon as I got a semi-warm day, I took off the front license plate, and pressure washed to remove as much salt and grime as I could. I didn’t want any of that on my driveway.

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I then gave it a thorough two-bucket wash back at the house.

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Gave the headlights some TLC.

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Results as of today. I’m on the hunt for those missing jack point covers and I plan to get the hail damage fixed soon. Repainting the roof and rear bumper will come in the spring.

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Tucked away in her new home along with the other garage queen…the 6 i.

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For a car this old, the to-do list is not that bad at all. A huge plus for me was having a lot  of maintenance records and original documentation including the dealer window sticker!

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Here’s my first attempt at vlogging, a compilation of the above events:

So, what are my plans for this car now that I have it in my possession? I will slowly restore it back to the factory, original condition and only bring it out of the garage for special shows and occasions. In fact, I told my insurance agent that I don’t plan to exceed 5,000 miles per year in this.

Sadly, the grey 6 s had to be relocated from the garage to the side of the house. It still serves daily duties. I treated it to a few new coil packs and a new OEM mass air sensor to keep things in tip top shape.

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That about does it for now. Stay tuned for future restoration coverage on the Contour. Thanks for stopping by!

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4yr Anniversary and Other News

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Greetings! With all the Christmas rush going on, I haven’t been able to crank out a decent post. Playing catch-up, here’s what’s been going on for the past few months:

2004 6 S Anniversary:

November 7th, 2018 marks the fourth year with the 6 S. As I’ve mentioned in the three year post, this hasn’t been a cheap car to keep on the road. Luckily, the past year hasn’t been as bad. The only unscheduled repair was replacing a few broken wheel studs from being over tightened. The rest were regular maintenance and visual mods.

  • Full left side PDR – $325
  • Powdercoat Factory Wheels – $540
  • Alignment – $160
  • Replace Window Trim Vinyl – $212.29
  • Wiper Blade Inserts – $20.45
  • Oil Changes (5) – $190
  • Replace broken wheel studs – $180

Total cost from November, 2017 to November, 2018 (minus fuel) was $1,627.74. This past fall, I’ve gotten my act together and started entering all my service receipts into a spreadsheet to track costs. To put things into perspective, here are a few stats from day one:

  • Miles driven since purchase – 121,547
  • Total cost of ownership (not including fuel and purchase price, but including tires, maintenance, modifications and repair) – $16,100.76
  • Accidents – 1
  • Breakdowns – 1
  • Sets of tires – 2
  • Recalls -2 (Passenger and Driver Tekla airbags)
  • States Visited – 11
  • Countries Visited – 2
  • Longest distance traveled in one day: 920 miles (Las Cruces, NM to Organ Pipe National Monument)
  • Longest trip: 8,936 miles (Las Cruces, NM to Arctic Circle, AK)

My plans for the car are undetermined at this point. When I discovered how expensive this had become per mile, I decided to pull the S from daily duties. However, I’ve slowly gotten back into old habits and the miles are still climbing. As of today, I’m sitting at 260,500 miles. She’s running suspiciously good, so I think I’ll continue on.

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November drive: Why, AZ and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I took a much needed adventure with my buddy Tyson (drivetofive) and James Lee (sixspeedblog) to southwest Arizona. It was a bit of a drive as I planned to do it in one day. A total of 920 miles!

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One of the more interesting parts of this trip was meeting up in a small unincorporated community called, Why, AZ.

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It got its name from State Routes 85 and 86 originally intersecting in a “Y” intersection. Now, for safety reasons, that intersection was realigned to more of a “T”. So, “Why” did we travel to this desolate part of the state? To see the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument!

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Nestled in the Yuma Desert along the Mexico border, the monument is 517 square miles of blissful preserved desert land with natural growing organ pipe cacti along with many other species. The park included an unpaved, rugged 21 mile loop trail called the Ajo Mountain Trail which we obviously had to take. The trail greeted us with some gorgeous panoramic views of the park in addition to enough dust to clog anyone’s air filters. Completely worth it though!

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There were short sections of smooth paved road that mercifully gave our shocks and butts a little rest.

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Group photo

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The old 6 held its own compared to Tyson’s much newer 2013 ILX 6spd and James’ 2019 Corolla XSE 6spd hatch press car.

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Breaking Bad Locations

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Any Breaking Bad fans here? The AMC crime drama show, which filmed here in New Mexico (mostly Albuquerque), is one of my all time favorites. Rumor has it, they are currently filming a movie which is supposed to be a Breaking Bad successor story. I took the time one weekend scouting out some of the popular locations and seeing how they look today.

Walter White’s House

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Hank and Marie’s house

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Gus’ Los Pollos Hermanos location

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I’ll try to be back with more locations in a future post. Cheers!

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Douglas, AZ; Mogollon, NM; and a Quarter Million Mile Milestone

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Happy Friday! Hope you all are enjoying the warmer weather. Here in Las Cruces, NM, we have been consistently in the triple digits with no sign of relief in the near future. Nothing else to do but embrace it, I guess. Since I’ve been MIA for a while, I have a few adventures to catch up on:

Douglas, Arizona:

Back in late May, I made a day trip to meet up for lunch with my friend, Tyson. Despite living nearly 400 miles apart, we traditionally have met at a midpoint for day trips. This time, it was the small border town of Douglas, AZ.

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At just over 16,000 residents, this town sits along the border of Mexico and is one of the more popular international crossings in this area. Incorporated in 1905, the town got its name from James Douglas, a mining pioneer. The most significant landmark the town offers is the Gadsden Hotel. Built in 1907, then destroyed by a fire, it was rebuilt in 1929 and most of what you see today has been preserved from then.

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This was the perfect meeting point for lunch. I met Tyson here in the 6 while he was driving his tried and true ’92 Integra GS-R. Both of our cars are well over 200,000 miles, but neither of us questioned bringing them to a small town hundreds of miles from any major service facilities.

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Stepping inside the hotel, we were greeted with an elaborate interior. Detailed woodwork, massive stained glass murals, marble for days, and a grand staircase sitting at the base of a towering foyer make you feel like you’re in something very special.

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Lunch was at the hotel restaurant, Casa Segovia. We dang near had the place to ourselves and was given the red-carpet treatment from the staff. Chicken Enchiladas Verde hit the spot.

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After lunch, we did our usual exploring with a few car photos.

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Thanks, Tyson for meeting up!

250,000 Miles and Mogollon, NM

Since the Douglas meet with Tyson, we had entertained the idea of doing another drive where both our cars would turnover 250,000 miles at the same time. His Integra was only a few thousand miles behind the 6 in reaching that milestone. However, both of our busy schedules didn’t allow for that, so maybe at another milestone later.

I took advantage of a work related assignment in Silver City and drove north from there into the Gila wilderness to get the 6 to 250,000. The historic ghost town of Mogollon was exactly the distance I needed (~240 miles). This makes my second visit to Mogollon as I first visited the town back in 2015.

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Misty rain, cloud cover and virtually no traffic was just what the doctor ordered! A major relief from several consecutive days of 100+°F.

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The winding road leading up to Mogollon turns into a single lane. Watch out around those blind corners!

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My dog Charlie accompanied me on this drive, and we would make occasional pit stops to stretch his legs.

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Switchbacks galore.

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Lots of deer and elk spotted along the way.

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Arrived!

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Lots of infrastructure improvements have been made since my last visit. To prevent flooding from future storm events, NMDOT improved the roadway significantly with a large channel and other drainage facilities.

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Check out the difference from 2015…

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Most of the town was closed so I didn’t stay long. Back to my mission and on the way back down the mountain, it happened…

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Quarter million miles, baby! Complete with matching trip odo reading.

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Thanks for coming along for the ride. Until next time!

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Hawaii Part II

Welcome to Part II:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make time to visit the famous Pearl Harbor Monument which was situated right here in Honolulu. Apparently, it’s one of the most visited National Monuments in the US and ticket sales are limited each day. Tickets were sold out on the only afternoon I could have seen it. No worries though, there was plenty to still explore. We decided we had enough of the big city and wanted to see the inland and north shores of Oahu. So, I rented a 2016 CR-V for the day, and we set out.

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After several Uber uses, it sure was nice to be behind the wheel again and having more control over the destination and stopping points.

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The first stop was to the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park located on the windward side Oahu. Here we would visit a 1968 replica of the 11th-century Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-In Buddhist temple. James and I both share an interest in Japanese culture, so this was a must.

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The Byodo-In Buddhist temple was quite impressive in person. It was established in 1968, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It’s currently a non-practicing Buddhist temple and welcomes people of all faiths to worship, meditate or simply appreciate its beauty.

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Back on the road driving along the north shore. It was a nice change to see some local life rather than the tourist-packed areas of Honolulu.

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Getting some beach time near Turtle Bay.

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Some more Hawaiian grub at Haleiwa Bowls. I had a Acai Smoothie and James got the Hapa Bowl.

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One thing that blew my mind is how we circled the majority of the island in such a short amount of time. Before long, we were back in the outskirts of Honolulu. Of course, we got back right at the peak of rush hour traffic.

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Some views of the skyscrapers.

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The last day on the island was more relaxed filled with good food, beach time and general relaxing. I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of sadness though knowing this was the last day. This is a rare thing for me. Normally I’m itching to get back home. Lunch was one of my favorite meals of the trip at Marukame Udon.

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I opted for the curry flavored udon with an egg and tempura shrimp.

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Moving on to check out the small Waikiki Aquarium…

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As evening set in, we wandered around a bit to soak up the last of the night life.

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Dinner was at a local chain called, Zippy’s. I had another try at Loco Moco… I loved it that much!

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Dessert was some shaved ice from a local stand.

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James and I stumbled upon a hula show!

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That covers the last of the trip. As I write this, I’m actually sad to bring this to an end as I absolutely loved my time in Hawaii. The people, the culture, food and scenery made for a spectacular experience and I will be back in due time. Mahalo, Hawaii, it was fun!

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Hawaii Part I

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Aloha! It’s been a while since I’ve taken a legitimate multi-day trip to get a break from reality. Fortunately, I got quite a sweet deal offered to me: My buddy James Zamora had to travel to a Honolulu conference for work that would last for about a week. He could bring a guest where a good chunk of the expenses would be taken care of. The main cost out of pocket would be the airfare and any miscellaneous entertainment. When this offer was put on the table, I took it in a heartbeat!

To be honest, Hawaii was never at the top of my list of must-see places. Mainly for the cost and the lengthy flight required to get there. There was also the sad realization that I would not be able to drive my own car unless I was prepared to spend the hefty $1,000+ cost (one-way!) of shipping it over. However, I did need to get out there sooner than later since Hawaii is one of three states I had yet to see (other two being Florida and Maine). Let’s get to it!

Flight arrangements worked out quite well. Our first leg was from Albuquerque, NM to Phoenix, AZ, then Phoenix to Honolulu. Total flight time was around 11hrs including a few short delays. It was the longest I’ve been on a plane, but I managed.

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Boarding the American Airline flight to the island of Oahu, HI.

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Mercifully, all seats had their own entertainment units with free movies, live TV and some games.

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Being the odd guy I am, I chose to leave it on the GPS so I could monitor the flight stats. I resorted to Netflix on my phone for shows, music and movies.

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After what seemed like eternity, we finally arrived at Honolulu, Oahu. Oahu is the third largest island of Hawaii and houses about two-thirds of the state’s population. Most of this population in concentrated in Honolulu, the state capitol, which has a metro area population of well over 950,000. It’s the most remote city of its size in the world. We were to stay at Waikiki Beach, an iconic beachfront neighborhood of Honolulu, at the Marriott Hotel at Waikiki Beach.

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Views from the hotel room.

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Some evening exploring on the beach. Weather was perfect at a steady 60-70°F the entire time we were there.

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Dinner for the first night was at Rainbow Drive-In. I opted for the Loco Moco which was a delicious mixture of gravy, over beef pattys and rice. Top that with eggs and a side of Hawaiian macaroni salad and you have one satisfying meal.

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The next day while James was attending his conferences, I took the opportunity to see what trouble I could get into. I’m normally not a big breakfast person, but I needed to try a Hawaii exclusive McDonald’s spam, rice and eggs meal. With the soy sauce packet, it wasn’t too bad!

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Looking around the beaches and downtown areas.

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Checkout this banyan tree. Some of these are historical and one in particular at the Moana Hotel reaches over 75ft and is 114 years old.

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First challenge: I wanted to get some good hiking in while in Hawaii. Though I was on the most urbanized and developed island, there still was a wealth of hiking opportunities. First stop was the Koko Head Crater trail. Koko Head is a dormant volcano which last erupted 35,000 years ago. The trail is made up of stairs…lots and lots of stairs. Old railroad ties mount to the side of the hillside which lead to an old military lookout pillbox bunker used in WWII. The railway (now the ‘stairs’) was used to haul cargo and supplies to the top. All the reviews I could find online said this was one challenging hike. Accepted! I took an Uber (12 miles from Waikiki) over to the trail head and was pleasantly surprised how steep it looked from the bottom.

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Photos don’t do this justice. This is about 1,048 steps and an elevation climb of 1,200ft.

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A good portion of the trail was open like this just waiting to break a few ankles or legs.

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This had to be by far the toughest hike I’ve attempted, but I made it to the top. With high humidity and relatively warm temperatures, I stopped to rest on several occasions. However, the views from the top were well worth it!

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View of the old bunker.

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View of Waikiki in the distance.

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Headed back down wasn’t easy either. Trying to maintain balance on tired legs, and the constant pounding on my knees took a lot out of me.

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Once I rested after the hike, I went back to Waikiki to take in the waves. My legs were sore and trembling from the strain, but the day was not over. I’m not much of a water guy, so I left the surfing to other other tourists. Oddly enough, I ran into some nice folks who where from Los Lunas, NM…that’s only about 200 miles from my home! Small world.

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Second challenge: James was able to sneak away early from his conference and we went to Hanauma Bay there we’d get our first experience of snorkeling! Hanauma is located along the southeast coast Oahu in the Hawaii Kai, not too far from Koko Crater.

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Renting the gear was a reasonable $25 and we dove in. I hadn’t been in the water since my teenage years, and I discovered my swimming skills were a bit rusty at best.

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So with that limitation discovered, I didn’t venture too far from the beach. The clean water offered some cool fish encounters.

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Later in the evening, I got my steps in on my Fitbit (19,000 total for the day) as we wandered around various farmers markets and shops in Waikiki. Of course, we had to sample some of the local food and beverages around.

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I was tempted to buy this as a gag gift!

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Speaking of coconuts…

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Some fresh paella.

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Creamy Japanese Ramen.

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Fresh fruit cup.

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This is mighty condensed, but hope you get a flavor of the fun. That covers Part I of this trip. Stay tuned for Part II in a few days!

 

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A New Year and Drive to Marfa, TX

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Happy New Year!

While we all get back in the swing of things after the holidays, I needed to sit down and reflect a little on 2017. It’s been a good year.

Here’s a quick little review:

  • Total Miles Covered: 32,490 or 23,300 (6 “S”), 9,190 (6 “i”)
  • Number of Journeys: Only Seven 😦
  • Most Memorable Drive: Pikes Peak and Mt. Evans, CO
  • Best Observed Fuel Economy: 36mpg in the “i” from Las Cruces to Albuquerque
  • Worst Observed Fuel Economy: 23mpg in the “s” in hard driving to Utah with a headwind
  • Blog stats: I’m not posting any here as my lack of attention to the blog last year gave laughable stats. Let’s just leave that up to your imagination.

To finish off 2017, I wanted to get out on the road for day’s adventure. When looking at the map and general radius around Las Cruces, I didn’t see anything that appealed to me. Lots of, “been there, done that.” So, I looked a little further and my eye kept going to west Texas. There isn’t much to west Texas aside from El Paso and a few odd attractions such as Prada Marfa along Highway 90 (about 40 miles north of Marfa, TX). If I went there, that would be about a 500 mile journey all together just to take a few photos and the only car I had available to me was the grey “S” which has a broken clutch pedal assembly and misbehaving radiator fan (the “i” was currently getting some general maintenance items addressed). There would be long stretches of road where cell reception would be spotty at best. It would be stupid to go that far in a day. So, I went.

Prada Marfa:

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I’m generally not one to make a big deal out of art nor am I interested in fashion. I’m sure that’s evident from photos you’ve seen of me on here. I do like sculptures and any sort of installations that make you tilt your head in curiosity. Therefore, Prada Marfa fit the bill for me. It is considered a sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Dragset and it’s been around since 2005. Designed to resemble a miniature Prada store, there are actual Prada merchandise displayed through the large glass windows. Prada allowed Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Prada trademark for this work.

There were a few struggles. I couldn’t find any information on land usage, but TxDOT first assumed this to be like a bill board and deemed it illegal as it didn’t fit permit regulations. After much coordination and bickering, it is now reclassified as a museum/exhibit and this exempts the structure from any signage laws.

Let’s get going! Here leaving from Las Cruces at exactly 9:42am.

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I set out for the 10 hour drive where I knew I was getting myself into some long, dull freeway driving on I-10. Here’s the Texas state line.

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To cope with the endless freeway, I streamed some Podcasts on my phone, turned on the seat heaters, set the cruise and settled in for the long haul.

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Texas 80mph speed limits did help speed things up a bit.

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5th Gear, 86 mph, and my little V6 was happily buzzing away at 3,600 rpm.

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Getting to Van Horn, TX. This is where you turn off on Highway 90 south to Marfa. I was surprised that even on a narrow two-lane road, the speed limit was 75mph. Thank you, Texas!

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I had no idea where Prada Marfa would be along this route. I just let the miles go by until I stumbled upon it. 36 steady miles later, I found it. It wasn’t hard to miss a big box sticking up in the middle of the flat, grassy plains.

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Voila!

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“Store front” looks pretty legit!

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Peering inside while fighting persistent reflections to see the displayed handbags and shoes.

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Around back, it looks like folks are starting a trend of adding padlocks to the fence. Much like the “love-locks” that are found on bridges in Europe.

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Prada Marfa isn’t the only oddity to pop up in this area. Further down the road is an installation called, Target Marathon just outside of Marathon, TX. As this was close to 100 miles south, I chose to save this for another time.

(Image Credit to http://texashighways.com)

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Another oddity, there used to be a 40-foot-tall neon playboy bunny at or near the Prada location. It had to be taken down due to TxDOT regulations and legal issues, but that would have been quite a treat to see back then!

(Images credit: http://austin.culturemap.com)

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Marfa, TX:

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Mission was accomplished with Prada, but since I was this close to Marfa, I had to go the extra 40 miles to see it. Marfa is the county seat of Presidio County and has a population of just 1,981 (2010 Census). It’s a fun and wacky town and is observed as a center of minimalist art. The biggest attractions are Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, and every conspiracy theorist’s favorite, the Marfa lights.

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The Presidio County Court House

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Stopping by the Chinati Foundation to view some contemporary art.

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To finish off my visit, I made one last stop for lunch at Mando’s Restaurant and Bar.

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I ordered the “Combo #3” which had a fried chile renello, beef taco and three enchiladas. This was the first plate I received, and I was too distracted on my phone to realize this wasn’t the entire meal.

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After I scarfed down this plate, I was about ready to leave when they presented the second portion. I didn’t realize they served in different plates. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

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Heading home, I stopped to take a few evening shots of the 6.

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While fueling at the end of the trip, I spotted something you don’t see very often in the States…A Peugeot! I had to look it up and this was called a “Partner Tepee”. One of the perks of living so close to the Mexican border is you see quite a few cool cars not sold here.

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I made it home safe and sound despite pushing my luck with the 6. I have an oem clutch pedal assembly and radiator fan module ordered, but I was told it would be several weeks to get as they are a special order. Ah, the joys of owning a lower production, well worn 14 year old car. Someday soon though, the “s” will be fixed up good as new. Stay safe out there, friends and enjoy 2018!

 

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Weekend Drive: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

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Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s go back in history 700 years and visit some ruins of the Mogollon people of Southern New Mexico. This was a fascinating tribe who lived off the land, and I was able to see a small piece of their preserved history — The Gila Cliff Dwellings.

These dwellings are believed to date back to 1275 and contain 46 rooms in five caves on Cliff Dweller Canyon. Archaeologists believe that 10-15 families occupied these caves and it is not known why this area was abandoned. These dwellings are located in southern Catron County, just 37 miles north of Silver City, NM on NM 15. And let me tell you, those were 37 joyous miles!

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I was joined by my buddies, Tyson (drivetofive), James Lee (sixspeedblog) and James Zamora. We met up in Silver City on Friday night and started the journey early Saturday morning. The rides for the day were James Lee’s 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio press car, my 2004 Mazda 6 i, and Tyson’s 1992 Acura Integra GS-R 5spd.

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Total miles / hours: 155 / 3.25. Let’s get started…

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James Z. and I heading out Friday afternoon for Silver City. To us, our portion of the drive was almost comically short since we were to cover just 155 miles. Tyson and James L. had a much further jaunt of 312 miles. We all arrived and spent the night in prep for the following day.

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Saturday morning and it was a calm 45°F as we gathered and checked out each others rides. This was my first close up encounter with Alfa Romero since their return to the US this year. Tyson’s Integra just had a fresh detail and a lot of maintenance performed to bring it to a highly desirable, clean, original condition. That striking Aztec Green paint is original! My Pebble Ash 6 got a little attention as well since this was its first time participating in a group drive.

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Checking out the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

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We set out on Highway 15 toward the Dwellings. The scenery was just plain gorgeous as we climbed into the Gila National Forest on one of the best mountain roads I’ve seen in southern New Mexico.

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Quick stop for a photo.

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This road offered many switchbacks and oodles of fun. It gave me a chance to see how the “new” 6 would handle.

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James L. tossed me the keys to the Alfa to give it a go.

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This Stelvio’s 2.0L turbocharged 4cyl was an absolute peach. The 280hp motor was smooth, quick to rev, and responsive. The transmission was very well mated to the engine, and was always ready to spring out of each corner with authority. Aside from a few cost-cutting interior bits, this was one nice package.

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Another photo op. Prior to this photo, I was able to give Tyson’s Integra a go as well. Even with 242,000 original miles, it felt tight and nimble. I loved the total “90s” of it with the motorized seat belts, velour upholstery, and the whole driving experience that was just simple and pure.

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I loved this road. Part of it was narrow with no stripping, many blind corners, and it made me feel like we were hundreds of miles away from civilization. It was challenging if you chose to push your car and almost every corner was nicely banked. Just don’t go overboard on those corners since there is no cell service on the entire stretch.

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Arriving at the welcome sign.

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Checking out the visitor center.

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We encountered nothing but very helpful and pleasant park rangers.

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To access the dwellings, we hiked a one mile loop which climbs 200+ft. On the way up, we crossed many small footbridges with a gentle stream running beneath.

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Views of the dwellings halfway up.

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Once at the top, you can actually walk through the ruins as long as you don’t touch the walls. This was stressed by the park rangers to ensure decay isn’t accelerated from the oils of our fingers.

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Group shot in (I believe) in the fourth cave.

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Climbing down the ladder from the largest room.

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There’s a lot of unanswered questions on the Mogollon people’s lives. The last part of our tour consisted of a short Q&A with ranger, Connie. Connie pointed out several details we would have otherwise missed such as pictographs (pictured here), architectural features and explaining possible uses for some of the rooms. One room still had some of the original corn husks used by the Mogollon.

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The tour took roughly an hour and afterwards, we headed back down Highway 15. I let James and Tyson take the lead as I felt like taking it more easy.

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Lunch was in Silver City at Nancy’s Silver Cafe. Food of choice was green chicken enchiladas with an egg on top.

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Usually with New Mexico-Mexican food, the messier the plate, the better the flavor!

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After lunch, we parted ways and concluded the drive. Thanks for coming along!

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