Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rex Roadster

A couple little stories about the Rex Roadster. We brought the Rex into California in my Subaru days with the idea of living with this Japan only model and thinking about how or if we could use this line of cars here in the US. I was lucky enough to get to drive a Rex just like this white one for about a year and a half. The engine was a 550 cc twin with a supercharger and an ECVT (continuously variable) transmission. The car was about as long as most cars are wide and it was a hoot to drive.

Because of the electric clutch and the ECVT, it didn't launch very hard. The clutch was made up of a big electromagnet and a bunch of powered metal between the clutch plate and flywheel. When the magnet was turned on, the powdered metal would turn from powder to semi-solid and connect the engine to the trans. Because it didn't shift, I would make up any distance lost on launch when the car next to me had to shift. Of course, most people in Hondas and Toyotas didn't even know I was drag racing with them because my flat out drag race was pretty much normal driving for regular people.

There is an intercooler under that hood scoop and the car is so light and agile that it was great to toss around. The fastest I ever drove it was an indicated 160 kph which is almost 100 mph, but I'm not sure I believed that speedo.

As you can see, there is not much front overhang on this thing. Its clearly not designed for US crash standards. One time, I was stopped at a stop light and a guy on a motorcycle came up next to me and gave the car the once over. Since my window was down, he lifted his visor and said. "Man you are going to die!"

The big fabric folding top was fantastic for So Cal, and amazingly, I fit quite comfortably. As a right hand drive car, it was very useful on freeways. After all, most people crowd the left side of the lane trying to see forward. I could just slip over to the right side and see all the way up the lane. Of course, passing other cars on a winding two lane road was more of a challenge from the right side of the car.

One of the funniest incidents was when I drove up to a valet parking with two people in the car. Of course, the car is unusual enough that the valet is trying to look cool, but also trying to figure out what kind of car this is. He walks up to the left side of the car, gets in, then realizes that the steering wheel is on the other side. Meanwhile, me and my date are peaking out from the front of the restaurant and laughing quietly.

One of the sad things in this business is that you sometimes have to destroy a car that you've grown fond of. Prototypes and foreign market cars imported on bond have to be destroyed and the Rex was one of these. When the time came, I was happy to be able to convert it into the Rex Roadster. A far better fate for an old friend than the crusher.

So it does take a little imagination to start with the little white Rex and end up with this Rex Roadster. The wheelbase and track of the two cars are the same. Even the height of the door is pretty close to the same. The car was fully drivable, converted to left hand drive, and with all functional elements except wipers.

Of course, with a convertible, the shape of the windshield is critical to having a comfortable cockpit at speed, so Ron Will (below) and I made up a poster board and foam core mockup of the windshield and attached it to the roof of a pickup truck. Then one of us rode standing up behind the windshield while the other drove the truck down the road. You can learn a lot about basic aero from very simple tools.

This last is just gratuitous fun thrown in because its about Rex.

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