Lane Ltd. BCA (“Dark Horse”)

My local shop has a blend they call “Dark Horse” that I found out is bulk Lane Ltd BCA. It’s a nearly jet black Cavendish, with virtually no tobacco smell — the tin note (or bag note, I guess) seems to be mostly sugary, with some rum or whiskey. You smell the casings (toppings?), not the tobacco. I tried a bowl of it last night in my Peterson Atlantic 221. It’s quite mild and inoffensive to the point of being too mild. It’s a little boring, actually. There’s smoke there, but really not a lot of character. I don’t think I’ll make this a regular smoke in my rotation, but it might be nice for taking some of the edge off of a Virginia or VA/Perique blend that’s otherwise just too stout for my taste. Time will tell. I’m glad I tried it, but so far it’s not a real “keeper” for me. I’ve read a couple of reviews that say it gets better the more often you smoke it; I’ll use up the ounce I bought and see how it does.

Savinelli Bing’s Favorite Limited Edition Arlecchino

There is probably only one thing that the late Bing Crosby and I have in common. I’ve got none of his talent and I don’t golf, but I love this pipe.

Savinelli makes a line of “Bing’s Favorite” pipes in various finishes. I was visiting my local shop, Ted’s Tobacco, partly to look at some of the Savinelli pipes I knew he carried. I was mostly interested in the 320KS shape, a chubby “author” bowl design. What caught my eye was this polar opposite. The Bing’s Favorite is a billiard with slim, elegant lines and a long shank. There were several in the case with various colored stems, but this one is the very unique “Arlecchino” stem that I love. When I saw pictures of the Bing’s Favorite on line I thought the stem would be a little longer than I would like; I was wrong.

I’ve smoked this pipe a number of times and it’s been wonderful. It accommodates a 6mm filter, either the standard Savinelli balsa or a cut-down Medico or Dr. Grabow paper filter. I get no gurgling or tongue bite at all. I love the size, the balance, the feel of it. I’m fond enough of it that I’m seriously considering buying a regular Bing’s Favorite in a smooth finish with the regular stem.

Savinelli Bing’s Favorite Arlecchino

Pipe smoking

I’ve smoked a pipe before at various times. The first was back in the very early 1980s for a while. I started up again back around 2016-2017, and in fact picked up some absolutely wonderful tobacco at the Danish Pipe Shop in Copenhagen. I hadn’t smoked one in probably a year or so until earlier this year, when I stopped by Ted’s Tobacco again.

Once upon a time, we had some pipe shops in Omaha that also carried a few cigars. I’m reaching back to the 1970s and 1980 here… the days of David’s Briar Shop at Westroads. You could also likely find pretty fresh pipe tobacco at your local grocery or drug store. You could even buy pipes, albeit cheap ones, at one or two of the local drug store chains.

Those days are, of course, long gone. I don’t recall the last time I encountered another pipe smoker, either around here or while traveling (not counting the pipe shop staff in Copenhagen). I can find four shops in Omaha that sell pipe tobacco now — and all of them clearly sell cigars as their overwhelmingly major primary business. Of those four, two are way too far away to be practical — one is in the Old Market, the other on the northern edge of town. One, Ted’s Tobacco, is only a few minutes’ drive from my house. that’s where I’ve done most of my shopping for tobacco and pipes. Of the five pipes I currently own, two came from Ted’s, two from Missouri Meerschaum, and one I bought at Selfridge’s in London.

I’ll be posting more about the pipes and the tobacco I have tried and like, or dislike, or simply can’t smoke, as time goes on.

A year’s worth of updates

Time flies when you’re ignoring a blog, right? I’ll catch up.

  • The Mercedes is gone. After everything I’d fixed on it, when the transmission decided it didn’t want to work reliably any more — screw it, I was done. It was an awesome car to drive, but not so much fun to own. I replaced it with a much newer 2018 BMW 540i Xdrive, which has been wonderful.
  • Still flying occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I should or want to.
  • Nothing’s happened with the Mustang, other than getting the engine put back together.
  • We’ve picked up a couple more rental houses; that enterprise is going pretty well overall.
  • We switched from Visible to T-Mobile. Visible had great service when we signed up; it slowly degraded to barely usable. TMO has been better, but not great.
  • I just dumped CenturyLink. Our CenturyLink fiber service has been down since Wednesday morning (it’s Friday now). It took me three hours to get through to a human there, on the phone, who told me they could have someone out Saturday morning. Absolutely appalling service. We were up and running on Cox within an hour of leaving the house to go pick up their equipment.
  • Now I remember why I didn’t like Cox’s equipment… zero flexibility, no control over your own local network at all. You can’t even set your own DNS, so my Pi-Hole is not functional. I’ve got new equipment coming this afternoon. New cable modem, router, and mesh wifi.
  • I left my long time employer (a bank) a little over a year ago and now work for another bank.

Fast & Fun

Oddly enough, I had never in my life been to a drag strip. When I was young, there was only one that I knew of in the area, in Scribner. I never did get out there, because once I learned how to drive I had other things to do that seemed more pressing.

I’ve been threatening to take the Mercedes to a drag strip since not long after I got it. After finally getting most of the issues worked out, I decided a couple of Saturdays ago to just do it. I drove down to I-29 Dragway in Pacific Junction, IA. It’s a 1/8 mile track, which I was initially not too happy about, but honestly I think it was a good place to start out. It’s $10 to watch, $25 to race on a “Test & Tune” night, which is most Friday and Saturday nights.

I got there early and checked out some of the other people showing up while waiting for tech inspection. Once the tech shed opened up, I got in line and got my tech inspection card filled out and a number (0773T) on the windshield. I didn’t know what to expect, but the staff there were super friendly and helpful. The track manager offered to make a couple of runs with me to show me what to do, so I took him up on that. Not more than a couple minutes after finishing up with the inspection, I had my very first timeslip in my hand! I ran the eighth mile in 8.6741 seconds, and had a trap speed of 85.28 MPH. I did better, and I did worse, but over the next couple of hours I had a ton of fun and got to meet some super nice people.

I’ve still got a LOT of room for improvement, of course. My reaction time is horrible, usually over half a second. I have found that with the Merc’s big V-12, it doesn’t pay to get on the throttle too early or too much; all it does is spin the rear tires and get the traction control working hard to control wheel spin. Turning traction control off… well, I learned not to do that! Lots of noise, not much “go”. Maybe I’ll learn to better control the torque and be able to turn off some of the babysitter functions, but for now the best recipe seems to be stage, get the RPMs up to about 1200-1500 on the yellow, and when the last yellow comes on release the brake and nail the throttle wide open, and keep it there until you pass the finish line.

I soundly trounced a 5.7 Challenger — no surprise there. Almost kept up with a couple of new-ish, supercharged Camaros, including a ZL1. I don’t know whether they were just running slow or what, but for the most part the Rocket Sled can hold its own despite its enormous heft. Maybe next time I’ll take out a little weight… I didn’t even remove the spare tire, let alone the little cooler in the back seat.

All in all… it was a really fun night, and I can totally understand how it could become a real addiction. And where else will you get to see a Monza with a monster V8 crammed into it?

Misfires — fixed??

I’ve been fighting an intermittent misfire issue on my S600 for quite a while now. It started as a misfire code P0309 (“Misfire damages TWC”) as well as a few assorted other cylinders from time to time. I was also seeing occasional random misfires at idle, mostly on the left bank of cylinders. I changed the spark plugs and insulators, which made no difference. I replaced both coil packs with rebuilt parts from V12ICPack.com, Clark in California. Annoyingly, the errors persisted. I replaced the VT, the 180V/24V DC-DC converter that supplies the coil packs. No difference. By now it was OK, as long as I never floored it — anything over about 5000 RPM would throw a misfire code and shut down one or more cylinders.

I was talking to Clark via email — he doubted it was the coil pack. I disagreed, but was open to other ideas. I looked at the possibility of a bad head gasket, vacuum leak, bad throttle body, anything — but nothing made sense.

Then one night I was on my way home. The car had been running just fine that evening, I even had heat after replacing the valve for the second time. I drove about 12 miles in city traffic, the last 4 or so on the high-speed expressway at 55-65 MPH. No issues. When I got off at the ramp, though, everything went straight to hell. Very rough idle, no power, check engine light on — obviously the engine had shut down multiple cylinders. It took three restarts to get it to come back. The scanner showed misfires on all the left bank cylinders. That happened several more times over the next couple of days, always at idle… but even a very brief push of the throttle would also cause the same sort of multiple cylinder shutdown. It was very obviously badly broken. I am not proud of the words I used during this time.

To shorten a very long and painful story, I pulled the left coil pack and VT, and shipped them both off to Clark. At this point either it got fixed, or the car was going to become a really big gray BBQ grill. While the coil pack was out I got a slightly bent wheel repaired and a tire replaced (thanks, Omaha potholes!). Clark eventually did find an intermittent bad part and fixed it. I got the coil pack back, put it in, and went for a drive… seemed OK. Then the next day I again got a slow start, cloud of white smoke, rough idle, and misfire codes — this time on most of the right side cylinders!! The damn thing was possessed by evil spirits.

As it turns out, it seems that the last round of trouble may have just been a tank of really bad gas. Maybe combined with fuel and spark adaptations being really screwed up, I don’t know. All I know is, the bad idle performance started immediately after I filled the tank with gas from Sam’s Club, and disappeared half a tank later. Since then I’ve driven it for a week in city traffic, on the highway, and we even drove it to KC and back for a raid on Ikea. Zero trouble. Idle, full throttle, long cruises, city driving… I finally, at long last, have my car back.

I think.

Fixing a front heat issue

The symptom: No (or intermittent) heat in the front seats of a 2007 W221 S600.

  • The vents blow cool to cold air most of the time.
  • Changing the temperature zone setting has no effect.
  • Turning the climate control system OFF for a minute or so, then back ON will result in warm air blowing briefly, cooling off rapidly — as if there is hot water in the heat exchanger, but no flow of hot water from the engine.
  • XENTRY/DAS diagnostics show all temperature sensors working.

Fixes tried:

  • Replaced AC water valve. The old one was in need of replacement; the top water hose neck snapped off during removal and the rack & pinion gear was jammed with some debris, so it likely wasn’t working. The valve is a non-Mercedes sourced part, unbranded, likely Chinese sourced like everything else. $40, quality appears to be quite good and the fit was perfect.
  • Tested valve operation with XENTRY/DAS. Using the actuations top open and close the valve result in hot air (CLOSED) and cool air (OPEN), so the valve is mechanically and electrically operational.
  • Used diagnostics to teach-in and normalize all actuators, flaps, and air control potentiometers. This had no effect on the symptoms.
  • I wanted to reverse the wires to the valve at the plug. My hypothesis was that the motor was simply installed backward, resulting in the valve running opposite the direction commanded by the HVAC system. Since it’s an open loop system, the front SAM would have no idea that this was happening. Unfortunately, I had no convenient place to swap the wires. I ended up determining that it was indeed wired backwards internally. A new part from a Mercedes dealer (thanks, Husker Auto Group!) fixed it.

Results: Fully working heat!!

Oil Pan

Oh, the oil pan… what a mess. Rusty, nasty, covered with road grime, which is a combination of oil that’s been seeping for decades and dirt. Caked on in the corners, throw in a little RTV added over the years by previous owners in an attempt to stop oil seepage. Probably didn’t work, but it sure made a mess of things. Overall it’s not in TOO bad condition, with only one very small dent in the bottom corner that I may try to bump out — but it’s really not an issue.

I used a maroon Scotch-Brite pad and some Jet A (kerosene) to scrub out the flash rust and scorched oil residue from the inside. It looks fairly OK now, I’ll give it one more pass before the final installation. On the outside I tried scraping followed by kerosene and a nylon brush… with limited success. When I got the lip cleaned off enough to not trash the gasket, I temporarily mounted the pan on the bottom of the engine. The bolts — well, they look like what you’d expect of oil pan bolts that were on a ’66 Mustang. Serviceable, but caked with oily grime. But with the oil pan bolted in place, I was able to attack it with a steel bristle welding brush. THAT cleaned things up a lot. There’s more work to be done, but I’d say it’s halfway there now.

After cleaning it up and getting it ready for primer, I’ll pull it back off. The gaskets need a thin coat of Permatex, and maybe a dab of RTV where the gasket sections meet up. Besides that I want to to some de-rusting and cleanup that needs to be done off the block and without the bolts installed. The bolts will get a soak in parts cleaner, followed by a mineral spirits or lacquer thinner rinse. They’ll be fine to reuse.

I have ordered some metal prep, epoxy high temp engine primer, and high temp epoxy Ford blue engine paint from Eastwood. Just for fun I also ordered some paint for the exhaust manifolds. That stuff should be here some time next week. In the mean time I’ll be cleaning up everything that will get painted, then taping and masking everything off. I’m looking forward to buttoning this engine up. I still need to order an intake manifold and carburetor, but I’m going to wait until there are some significant sales going on. I’ve seen 10% and better discounts from Summit Racing before, and I’ll hold off ordering the expensive stuff until that comes around again.

Oh, and I decided not to replace the harmonic balancer. Turns out, there are repair sleeves for just that exact thing. I’ve got some rust dissolver coming to clean it up, and the repair sleeve, so I can keep the original and save about $70. Any time I can restore and use an original part and not buy a new replacement, I consider it a win.

Back to work!!

The Mustang has been sitting for far too long in a state of limbo. Sitting half torn apart, waiting on a couple of connecting rod nuts… then waiting on me to look up torque settings, the list goes on. I need this car finished, and it’s never going to get finished if I don’t do something.

Over the weekend I finished up the cylinder head work. I ported the exhaust ports a while back, and the new intake and exhaust valves have been lapped. I used a bore cleaning brush to run some mineral oil through the valve guide bores, followed by some oil. I got the seals, springs, and keepers installed, followed by the new rocker arms. I temporarily installed the heads, but pulled them off again because I’m missing one dowel pin and didn’t have the head bolts properly lubricated. They’ll go back on tonight, and I’ll adjust the valve lash and lifter preload.

I need all new bolts for the timing cover and water pump. I ordered them from Lowe’s and picked up the bag, only to find that the twit that pulled the order got nearly half of them the wrong size. Of the 16 5/16 bolts I ordered I got an assortment of 1/4, 5/16, and 3/8 bolts. So, I need to go back and return that entire order and just go pull the right bolts myself.

It turns out I’ll need a new harmonic balancer. This one has a definite groove worn from the front seal, plus it’s rusty and really looks like a pain to try to clean up and get reputable looking for a rebuilt engine. So, I’ll order that, plus a Weiand Street Warrior intake manifold. I’m shopping for a carb. Most of the resources tell me that a mild street 289 really only needs about 400-470 CFM. A 600 CFM carburetor is much less expensive and there’s a lot more selection, but I don’t want to over-carb the engine and hurt low end performance, throttle response, and street driveability.

The new oil pump is on the engine, along with its new drive shaft. The pickup is bolted in place, so once I get the timing cover on I’ll be able to mount the oil pan. That will let me pour some oil in the engine and, once the heads and valve train are done, run some oil through the engine and close it up. I can’t re-install it until after the body and front suspension work is done and the engine bay is repainted… but at least I can get it parked out of the way and get to work on the last couple of punch list items on the Mercedes.

2020 Vacation Trip (Yellowstone day 1)

I think we could have spent the entire week at Yellowstone and not seen everything. The first day saw limited visibility due to smoke from fires in CA and within Yellowstone itself. In fact, there were two roads closed due to wildfires. Still, the park was amazingly beautiful, and I’m sure we will be back again.

We spent part of the first day exploring the volcanic part of the park. We saw steam vents, geysers, boiling springs, boiling mud pots, and all kinds of things that you don’t see anywhere else. One of the things that surprised me was the life found everywhere. Even places where you would think nothing could survive have plants around them and microbes living around the edges.