Piston Slap: Of Winter Tires and The Nrburgring Daihatsu?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap of winter tires and the nrburgring daihatsu

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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2 of 13 comments
  • Banger Banger on Jun 28, 2012

    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 4x2 (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.

  • PhotoJim PhotoJim on Jul 09, 2012

    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! :) )

  • FreedMike Soon to be trending on Youtube: "Aftermarket supercharger F150 cars and coffee crash".
  • Lou_BC Vehicles tend to "soft fail" i.e. a component gradually wears to the point of complete failure. Sure, some rather abrupt failures occur but not typically in the steering, brakes, or wheel bearings.
  • MaintenanceCosts Curious about this number for certain Toyotas, particularly the Sienna and RAV4 Prime. Both still seem to be almost unobtanium, especially in fully loaded configurations, a couple years after their introduction.
  • 2ACL Giving a lay pickup 500+ horsepower never resonated with me. Even in a straight line, you'll still get thrashed by less powerful cars because they don't need to push as much air. And you're typically speed limited into the low 100 mph range because so little of the truck is engineered to go that fast.Think I'll get my dumb speed fix elsewhere.
  • Lou_BC VW has had a stellar reputation with their electronics and now they go full EV. What's not to like? ;)