By on June 27, 2012


Bill writes:


I read your column (a while back – SM) lamenting the drop off of correspondence relating to automotive issues of the failing mechanical kind, and I was moved sufficiently enough to set up your email address and respond with a situation leaning near the “no matter how stupid” edge of the spectrum.

My wife’s car is a 1996 Honda Civic LX 4 door, silver in color, 4 speed automatic transmission, and boasting the passing of 113,000+ miles with nary a problem other than the failing of 2 oxygen sensors around 55,000 miles each time.

I have kept to the maintenance schedule with religious fervor since our purchase of the vehicle in 1997 with 9,500 miles showing on the odometer. I do change the oil & filter myself because of the predilection of anyone changing oil professsionally to overfill the reservoir, thus prompting me to have to go under the car and drain out the excess.

But I digress.

My problem with the car is that it sits in the garage about 98% of the time because my wife does not drive except on those rare occasions when the Dollar Tree beckons with false promises of quantity and quality at a low price – kind of like Hyundai during their early days.

In spring I mount UHP summer tires, and in winter I mount dedicated winter tires in hopes that having the proper rubber meeting the road regardless of weather will spur a desire within my wife to back out of the garage and go forth into the world.

But that is rarely the case, so I am wondering if I am spending $65.00 twice a year to dismount and mount tires on the same wheels for the purpose of covering about 3,000 miles per annum is a waste of money or if I should buy a new set of sharp looking alloy wheels for the summer tires and leave the winter tires on the Acura GSR twisties currently on the car.

Failing that I have attached my never read by anyone story about the Daihatsu Midget doing a lap of the famed Nurburgring. Hopefully it will provide a few moments of amusement as you wait patiently for someone to provide a more useful quandery of the automotive kind to ponder.

Sincerely and Seriously,

Sajeev answers:

Your letter is brilliant, thank goodness I (once) had a dry spell in my Piston Slap inbox!

The short essay about the Daihatsu on the ‘ring is worth posting, so I will be brief:  I’d get a set of steel wheels from the junkyard for those winter tires and be done with it. I’d like to think there’s some place where you can get a set of 4 Honda steelies for the cost of a year’s worth of tire installations…but if the GSR wheels you mentioned are pretty trashed, maybe your plan is better.  And with that…on to your story for everyone’s enjoyment.

Thanks, Bill!


Famous car companies from around the world (and around the block) have flocked to the Nurburgring Nordschleiffe located in the Eiffel Mountains of Germany for the purpose of developing the best possible suspension systems for their legendary high performance cars. Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati, BMW, Mercedes Benz, the list is endless.

At the end of the list as well as at the end of the line comes Daihatsu and their stunningly progressive Daihatsu Midget II. Progressive was deemed to be a more apt and intriguing way of describing the vehicle’s ability to accelerate away from a fixed position rather than the Chief Engineer’s description – dog slow.

Rumor has it that satellite observation of Daihatsu’s factory test track has yet to turn up signs of actual movement, so the Midget’s ability to accelerate away from a position, fixed or otherwise, is highly suspect.

The Midget meets many of the requirements usually reserved for small sports cars – light weight, limited seating, limited luggage capacity, limited power, limited amenities. In fact Daihatsu entertained naming the vehicle The Daihatsu Limited, but fear of people envisioning a powerful locomotive pulling a string of box cars up mountains killed the idea.

Out of deference to the “new kid on the block” track time was set aside exclusively for the Midget’s maiden voyage of ‘Ring discovery. Also, there was the overriding concern that closing speeds would be so great that many drivers of much faster machinery (Unimogs, street sweepers, Zambonis) would be reporting a vehicle parked on the course!

First impressions were made, one of which was observing the youthful appearance of the driver.

The full Nomex racing suit and bicycle helmet adorned with sponsorship logos could not hide the fact he looked to be all of 8 years old. In fact he was all of 8 years old. Daihatsu’s engineering staff, through hours of exhaustive testing, came to realize only a child could remain awake long enough to complete a lap of the ‘Ring without stopping for a nap.

Permission to use the child driver was granted by the parents only after Daihatsu Upper Management convinced them their child would not be away from the class room so long that he would be held back a grade. Calculations of anticipated lap times indicated it would be close, but an early morning helicopter drop the morning of the first day of school was being held in reserve just in case.

Full throttle was applied immediately prior to encountering the Start-Finish line. The fear was the height of the painted surface could be such an impediment to progress the lap would end before it had begun.

The fear was unfounded. The Midget climbed the back of the Start-Finish line and then plummeted down the front, triggered the timing mechanism, and was off on its first lap of the legendary track.

Light braking was applied at the first corner since the tires were not yet up to full operating temperature, which told everyone on hand the Midget engineers (the vehicle, not the stature of the personnel) had chosen to keep the braking system on the car.

Thought had been given to eliminating the brakes and using a manually deployed air brake attached to the roof (actually a can of compressed air pointed in the direction of travel) to reduce friction and weight.

The initial series of bends were dispensed with without drama, and the first straight section was attacked at full throttle. Investigation after the fact turned up the opinions of persons not able to see the track that a rabid lawn mower had been loosed upon the neighborhood.

Many corners known to strike terror in the hearts of brave “pilotes” passed uneventfully as the corners ceased to exist due to the Midget’s majestic pace.

Only the sweeping entrance, traversement, and exit of the famed Karrusel corner was a cause for concern. The incredibly rough surface of the famed corner almost caused the candy dispenser to vibrate free of the suction cup holding it to the windshield.

At long last the bright yellow Daihatsu Midget II hove into view as it made its way along the long back straight. It was running first and last since no other vehicle or pedestrian was on the track to pass or be passed.

Crossing the Start-Finish line stopped the clocks at 12 minutes 5 seconds, a stunning time considering the outright track record in a Porsche 962 still stands at 6:11.1.

In either case both cars started and then stopped after a lap, which led Daihatsu Marketing to coin the advertising phrase, “What, me hurry?”

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13 Comments on “Piston Slap: Of Winter Tires and The Nürburgring Daihatsu?...”

  • avatar

    Actually, 12 minutes 5 isn’t bad at all for such a vehicle. We all remember the trouble Clarkson had trying to flog that Jaguar (albeit diesel) to under 10, and that the unrequited love of my life, Sabine Schmitz, couldn’t quite manage to break 10:00 in the Ford Transit van, a much more formidable vehicle than the Daihatsu.

    Watch out for that kid when he grows up.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I had a Dihatsu Van once, a two cylinder powerhouse. I loaded it up with a ton of concrete rubble and had no problem carting it to the tip.But when it comes to racing,a friend holds a world speed record with his 3 cylinder Honda hatch . When he forst raced it ,he would enter in blown or normally aspirated classes ,and could carry a spare engine in the passenger seat…

  • avatar

    See, all that risk taken flogging a Porsche only saves you 6 minutes; better to drive at the speed limit.

    As for the tires, I decided early in my 05 xB’s life to use the OEM steelies for winter tires and get new alloys for the other nine months.

    However, your Honda is 16 years old. Since you live in the snow belt, rust will eventually consume it. I’d stick with the current annual swapout plan at this point in its life, letting someone do the work.

  • avatar

    Sajeev is right. Decent used steel wheels should be less than $75, and the convenience of being able to swap over winters to summers (and back again) in your own driveway, without having to put up with the mechanic’s availability (or lack thereof) and cost, is well worth the tiny expense. When/if you sell the car, having a 2nd set of wheels and rubber can be a useful sweetener to help close a deal. Or you can usually sell the set in a day or two via craigslist.

    • 0 avatar

      Geeze, for 3000 miles a year (60 miles a week!?), I’d mount the winter tires on it and leave them on.

      • 0 avatar

        Forget that, mount all-seasons and be done with it. Does the civic have any handling properties that can exceed the limits of modern A/S tires? We don’t know where the OP lives, but unless it’s pretty nasty in winter, a Civic on A/S tires can survive.

      • 0 avatar

        Mikedt, I gave your suggestion some serious thought this spring before mounting the summer tires, but the winter tires feel a bit squishy on the rare occasions that I drive the car to Walmart while trying to turn the drive into a tarmac rally stage.

        I live in a section of Oregon where snow is rarely a problem, and I mount the winter tires with the intent of forestalling any snow from falling. During the 4 winters I have mounted the winter tires it has snowed just once to a level that having the winter tires mounted proved to be a boon. Yes, it is an expensive and silly way to live, and no one in Oregon has thanked me for my effort. Most are too busy clogging the roads with their bicycles to notice.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 on the all-seasons. As much as I like to advocate seasonal rubber, I don’t think 3k miles/year justifies it. With that mileage, it must be pretty easy to just avoid driving when it is nasty out.

      • 0 avatar

        +2 on the all-seasons (good ones with lots of sipes which help on ice).

        I have the same car, except with the 5-speed, and I have had it out in snowy conditions several times and I never had any problems on its all-season tires. FWD is a wonderful thing in the winter!

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with the ‘put the winters on and leave them on’.

        I disagree with leaving all-seasons on in the winter. Unless she NEVER drives in snow, snows in the summer are better than all-seasons in the winter. I COULD see using one of the very nearly snow tire anyway Nokian All-seasons year round though if she never actually drives when it is bad out. Note that I say this as someone who lives in Maine, where road conditions can be quite random in the winter, and it is very, very cold most of the time. All seasons on 5F pavement suck even when the pavement is bone dry.

  • avatar

    That picture is so wrong…and wonderful. Thank you for posting it.

  • avatar

    As someone who is a fan of flogging the Daihatsu Midget II-D in Gran Turismo 4, even at the ‘Ring from time to time, that was a fun read! It’s a deceptively fast little trucklet in the game if you do even the most cheap/basic of performance modifications.

    I gotta side with all the others here who recommend all-seasons. I’ve driven through several snows some winters in my 4×2 (and RWD with practically no weight over those rear wheels) Ford Ranger on Michelin LTX M/S tires, basically the trucky equivalent of all-season passenger tires. I’ve only had one time where things got dicey, and that was completely my fault.

    With the poster above saying they experience maybe one snow a year that would make the snow tires worthwhile, I’d just call in to the employer that day or leave really early and drive really slowly en route. Either way beats the expense of two sets of tires.

  • avatar

    If your wife can’t handle the look of bare steel wheels, they make these inexpensive, reasonable-looking plastic covers for steel wheels that will make your ride look better. They’re called “hubcaps”. :)

    (I’m not sure why people think steel wheels look good – but they don’t! :) )

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