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Pete Zaitcev

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[03 Aug 2004|12:27pm]
I have picked the Volume 3 DVD of Azumanga Daioh at Best Buy yesterday, priced at $15.99 ($17.23 with tax). At prices like this, there's just no excuse not to have one.
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[03 Aug 2004|11:38pm]
My 1996 Mitsubishi Galant sustained a separation of the lower front ball joint (basically, a wheel fell off). At the time of the incident, a recall for the joint was outstanding, so this sorry deal was entirely my fault, but not for being a procrastinator, but for being gullible. The recall notice explained that the rubber sleeve may become torn with age, allowing the joint to corrode and causing a joint separation. So, I started to inspect the joint for the wear and tear regularly and saw nothing unusual. Eventually, the nut securing the threaded part of the joint to the upright shred its thread and the upright came loose off a healthy joint.

One lesson is pretty clear here: If you have a recall, do not even read the fault description, but run to the dealership. Quite plainly, Mitsubishi did not list the problem with the joint there. If I simply went to the dealership, they would have quietly replaced the joint and its nut and nobody would have been the wiser (actually, they replace front lower control arms as well). This cannot be done otherwise because the nut is a self-locking one time nut. If you unscrew it, you have to install a new one.

A subtler lesson though is that either the unknown Japanese engineer who designed the front suspension for Galant was incompetent, or they simply borrowed it from an old sports car without suitable redesign (in which case his manager was a cunning weasel). Galant has a ridiculously complicated front suspension which amounts to a double A-arm design with a split lower arm (e.g. two lower control arms: front and back) and a directly activated coil-over strut. I'll get back to ridiculing it in a moment, but for now let us observe that the lower end of the strut rests on the front control arm instead of directly on the upright. This way, the weight of the car is suspended on the thread and nut. The original one-time nut was made of a soft copper based alloy. Is it any surprise that it decided to part company with the thread?

The ridiculous aspect of this design, if we move beyond the incredibly irresponsible trust into the nut, is just how wrong it is to have all this mechanic where a simple McPherson suspension would do. My other car, a 1997 Neon, has one. Galant has no advantage in the ride quality, which stands to reason: it is all in the correct suspension travel, spring, and shock absorber. In the handling, Neon's suspension has practically no vices such as torque steer. It is readily tunable, it has the correct caster angle for modern tires, in other words its geometry is perfect for a sports car. When I said "practically no vices", I referred to biting at big steering angles, which my car exhibited running stock Goodyear Conquests. They were just too narrow, and since the center of the contact patch on Neon is inboard from the projection of the strut, the tire width had an effect. Most Neons ship with 185mm Goodyear Eagle though. And the the strut is the one with the upright (actually, knuckle), secured by four bolts, so the ball joint only carries the weight of A-arm, not the weight of the car.

Unlike the anonymous Japanese who gifted the world with the Galant and its loaded nut, the engineer responsible for Neon's front suspension is widely known in narrow circles Neon enthusiasts. His name is Erich Heischulle. He raced Neon in SCSA road course championships and was an unbeatable champion. Interestingly, once the budget racing crowd clued in on the greatness of Neon, SCSA felt the need to change rules regarding so-call "trunk kits", in order to allow likes of Mazda Protege to have a chance. But we won't go into that debate. For now, just trust me that Erich is a great engineer and great racer. Since the late 90s, he tried his hand on Viper and Dakota, but in 2003 his Neon SRT-4 was a star of One Lap of America, so much so that even Car and Driver writers took a note (I have a cutout from that issue). I should like to meet him some day.
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