MY DAILY DRIVER
Doug Stokes waxes poetic
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Thu, May 17, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
We asked LA Car staffers if they care to share something about what they drive. Their rides are as varied as the writers themselves: A 1951 Chevrolet pickup. A 1966 Ford Mustang. A Kawasaki Ninja 250R Sport motorcycle. A Honda Racing Trail Pilot bicycle. The first commercially marketed plug-in Toyota Prius. The Metro Goldline. The first BMW 6-Series Coupe (633Csi). A new BMW 550i. A Cube. An xB. A Mark VI Golf GTI. A Euro spec Mark III Golf TDI. And then there’s this… By Doug Stokes Boss, my daily driver is a 2002 Ford Focus ZX-5. The car was my company car when I worked for Irwindale Speedway as the Director of Communications. When I left the track in late 2005 (to go into the bookstore business, and that's ANOTHER story), it was somehow reckoned that I had not taken a legit vacation since I had signed-on at the place as the second employee in late 1997. The lump sum that I would have gotten back was going to be so heavily-taxed that I just about would have owed the government some geetus. And lo, since I didn't have a personal car at the time, it came to pass that the LLC gave me the Focus along with a nice pat on the head. I subsequently paid a few hundred in taxes and transfer fees and still have the car. In like 2003 or 4, a top Ford Racing Department Manager (Hank Dertian), who was at the track doing some testing, got to kidding me about the fact that I wasn't driving a SVT version Focus. I could have ordered "my" car that way (the SVT Focus model was only available with a 5-speed manual), but I had a very recalcitrant left knee at the time and the action of pushing a clutch in and letting it out was for some reason, more painful and aggravating than a couple of miles of walking. So, of course, I bugged my buddy Hank for "the chip" that would up my standard Zetec engine to full SVT specs. No such animal there was, he told me. However, about a week or so after he went back to Dearborn, I got a very heavy package from Hank sent to me at the track. It was a Jackson M45 supercharger kit (Oscar Jackson made 'em and Ford gave 'em blue oval parts numbers). It was beautiful. It was complicated, It had an installation manual that ran about 50 pages which featured some 71 individual installation illustrations. I pulled the box out from under my desk at least once and looked at the kit pieces for a long time (weeks), took the install manual home and read it cover-to-cover at least three times. I sent Hank a bottle of some sort of high-test Scotch ($34 at Costco, had a nice shipping box right with it) and then I talked to my best friend (a former Indy/Can AM/F5000 mechanic who was then working at Boeing building C-17's), showed him the install book, we talked about a doing the deed over a weekend at his shop in Long Beach, talked about it some more, looked at the book, the parts, and then under the hood of the Focus...
That huffer hangs off the backside of the engine and is driven by changing the length and positioning of belts on the passenger side of the engine—all of which are virtually inaccessible and at (very) best blind. We decided NOT to attempt the deal for fear of leaving me riderless on Monday morn. Our discretion most likely saved some very loud, very harsh words being heard in the northern regions of Long Beach and parts of Compton. At that time, Advantage Ford in Duarte (still a great place to buy a Blue Oval and still the place where this, now 10 year old Focus goes for all service) was the dealer and official cars and trucks of the Speedway. Advantage's long-suffering service manager was a game guy and ventured to ask how the install on the Supercharger was going. I indicted nil progress. He indicated that he'd do it to train his guys how to do the deed. Two days later (two line mechanics' two days), the Focus was supercharged (even though the installation was only said to work on a stick—we totally missed that clause completely and the car seems not to know that the combo should not work, because it does). Oh yeah, the suspension: The Eibach people are the very best, nicest, and most accommodating in the biz (and they make the best springs too!). I had off-handedly mentioned that I needed a bit more aggression in my car's ride and a set of (aggressive) Eibachs were dispatched to the track from Corona. Once on (Advantage did that install too) and after a very short drive, my wife flatly refused to ride in the car and the liquid in my eyeballs would go all fuzzy in about six blocks of driving. Did I hear someone say "buckboard"? Nothing against Eibach, I just spec'ed the rock-hardest, ground-dragger springs that Eibach had in their (extensive) catalog. Back to the Advantage parts counter and a (friendly-priced) order for a complete SVT suspension set-up and a quick deal-off (you want 'em, they're yours!) of the railroad car springs to one of the mechanics at Advantage, who had his kidneys riveted to his ribcage and was single. The supercharger provided a nice (pardon) smooth boost particularly in the mid-range. I still surprise many drivers of newer and (supposedly) more powerful machines. The car has never knowingly been within 200 feet of a chassis dyno, but the add is supposed to be about 20-30 hp and a like amount of grunt. Jackson sez "91 octane" and that's what this car gets (at Costco mostly). As mentioned above, the car was mine went to work as the GM at Autobooks in Burbank and made the 48-mile round-trip faithfully. The IRWINDALE signage was peeled off and AUTOBOOKS-AEROBOOKS replaced the track name. When I left the bookstore that name was removed but the angled checkerboard motif that had been on the car since 2002 stayed. I still have the car, it remains one of the best-handling FWD 4-door economy cars that I have ever driven (and I have driven many for many miles). The steering is crisp, the turn-in understandable, the road-holding admirable, and I really like the looks of the little crab. I'll need a replacement one of these days (anyone who's got a line 2002/03 ZX-5 with 12,000 easy miles on it, who wants to sell, CALL ME please!). That's about it, over 100,000 miles of (my) use have put some dents and dings in the coachwork, there's something that's rattling in the trunk area, and the headlight covers need some of magic boojum clear-em-up stuff real bad. The little warrior gets a week off when I drive a review machine for LA Car, and stepping back into it after driving a $60,000.00+ Lexus for LA Car is sometime a bit of an acclimation process. But two, three, maybe four miles down the road at the most, I'm grooved back in with the Focus. It’s a trusted friend, a sidekick, my regular ride. – Doug Stokes
Postscript: The photo midway up is of the Focus posed just past the bridge on the old Pomona road course. When I was a kid, I helped set that track up, and watched all of the "California Crew" (Hill, Reventlow, Hauser, Daigh, Gurney, Ginther, McAffee, Balchowsky, Kessler, Miles, Drake, Settember, vonNeuman, Guldstrand, and so many more) race there. The lead shot shows my car on the Irwindale Speedway third-mile being used as the pace car (I'm not driving, dammit!) for the USAC Ford Focus Midgets (the Zetec motor is the "crate" motor that all must run in the very popular national championship open-wheel division). What would I replace it with? Well, I just can't see myself in a new Focus with a cockamamie self-parking option. Perhaps the readers might have some suggestions?