Technobabble – Irvine Syndrome

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Technobabble: Irvine Syndrome
How the Irvine company, the Emperor of Japan, and your bumpstop thumping street machine blew up my girlfriend’s Sil80.

by Dave Coleman

Irvine, California is a master-planned city. By skipping the traditional century-long evolution from cow path to foot path to wagon path to paved and gridlocked road network, the planners of this most modern of cities were able to plan, from scratch, a network of wide boulevards and median-split streets that prevent gridlock while simultaneously preventing you from ever getting where you want to go. Irvine is an impenetrable web of No-U-Turn, No-Left-Turn and No-Parking signs connected with a network of east/west arteries that spontaneously veer north/south and north/south boulevards that end up going east/west, all in an effort to throw you off the scent of your destination.

The dysfunctional design of this master-planned city used to baffle me. The cows that once wandered the Massachusetts fields that would one day become Boston had neither the cognitive ability nor the forth-dimensional flexibility to predict the future needs of commuters who would follow the roads they inadvertently surveyed with their hooves. But Irvine’s planners, presumably, were smart enough not to piss into and drink out of the same puddle simultaneously. They probably knew how to drive. They probably ate in restaurants, and got to those restaurants in automobiles. How could they have miscalculated so egregiously?

Then, 15 minutes into my attempt to park in a master-planned shopping center so I could dine during my appointed lunch hour, it all clicked. Irvine was planned and executed brilliantly and without flaw. The city works like clockwork and serves its function more perfectly than any city in the free world. My mistake, all these years, was in assuming its function was to make life easy for those who live and/or are unfortunate enough to work there.

 Technobabble tokyo sucks like irvine  
 Invade this, bitches!  

Tokyo, I have read, is also a master-planned city. I had always assumed Tokyo was an impenetrable maze simply because I was a baka gaijin, and couldn’t read anything. Because of my illiteracy, it wasn’t until about my eighth trip to Godzilla’s sandbox that I realized there were no street signs. Not only are there no two parallel streets in the entire city, but all except the largest and most traveled are completely anonymous.

The master plan for Tokyo is not convenient navigation for its 13 million inhabitants, but protection for the one inhabitant at its center. Tokyo’s maze was designed centuries ago specifically to be impenetrable to invaders and thus provide protection for the Emperor. Likewise, the undersized parking lots anywhere in Irvine where you might eat lunch were designed not for you and your growling stomach, and not for the businesses trying to profit from feeding you, but to maximize the profit of the Irvine company, which leases the space to those businesses. Twenty parking spaces take the same amount of space as a Color-Me-Mine franchise, and that lease pays the Irvine company far more money than twenty more customers at The Great Steak and Potato Company will.

There is a point coming, eventually, about blowing up an SR20 on the way to Laguna Seca, just be patient…

If you follow the dollars in the most shortsighted way possible, you’ll find the source of nearly any bad design. Why is it that you can never find a good performance suspension package with perfectly matched springs, dampers and anti-roll bars? Simple economics. Spring companies want to sell springs, and most of their customers want to spend $250 on springs now, and maybe spring for the $600 shocks later, and someday possibly get around to the $300 of bars. If you offer a $1200 package with all three, nobody will buy it.

The springs, then, have to be designed to work with the stock shocks, which makes them too soft. They also have to be designed to sit too low, with insufficient travel, or the mouth breathers will take their dollars to the guy selling the lowest springs.

The shocks could be designed to try and compensate for this poor spring design, but the shock company needs their shocks to work with stock springs too, since replacement parts are where the money is in the shock business.

Nothing ever works right because parts aren’t designed to work, they’re designed to sell.
And so it is that I ended up on the side of the freeway pouring water into my girlfriend’s dry Koyo radiator and watching it shoot back out in an angry column of steam.

Technobabble SR20 melted knock sensorThe car, an SR-powered S13, was converted to S14 SR power by the previous owner. He had followed, ironically, my own Project Silvia in Sport Compact Car, and had chosen the Koyo radiator and Flex-a-Lite fans based on my recommendation. He had them installed by a careless shop, though, and eventually the engine overheated so severely that the rings failed, the coils melted into the head, and the knock sensor liquefied and dripped down the side of the block.

After picking it up as a project, we found several reasons for the failure. For example, the Flex-a-Lite fan controller he used was designed to be triggered by a temperature probe jammed between the fins of the radiator. But the nimrods who installed it left the probe was sitting next to the radiator where it would never get hot enough to turn the fans on. There was also the cracked water line on the turbo that continually vented coolant and turned it to steam before a leak could be detected.

In the process of building and installing a new SR20, we found at least four causes for the failure, and in the 5,000 miles between firing the engine for the first time and its untimely demise on the road to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it never hinted that there was a fifth. Well, ok, it hinted… Sarah said it “smelled hot,” but it never smelled like coolant, showed no signs of leaking, and never ran hot, as far as we could tell.

Shortsightedness and profitability were the cause once again.

We never saw it run hot because the temperature gauge never gives you any warning when things are about to get hot. Engine temperature normally fluctuates with load and weather conditions. Your average customer is too dimwitted to undersand this, though, and Nissan would lose countless millions diagnosing perfectly functional cooling systems and explaining the nature of water-cooled internal combustion engines to every nervous customer who saw the needle move. So they dumbed down all their temperature gauges so they don’t move between about 170 F and 230 F. 

Unfortunately, SR20 headgaskets pop at 231 F.


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