Musicar Northwest & Avants Event – Bye Bye Bose

There are very few aspects of the Spyder that are underwhelming, but chief among them is the audio system. I know…it’s a convertible. I know…it’s a sports car and I should only care about listening to the engine and exhaust. What can I say…music is a big part of my life, and I love cruising with the top down on a sunny day listening to some new indie rock band. Okay, that’s a total lie…it’s more likely to be Billie Eilish or Taylor Swift…maybe some 90s hip-hop. I did add the Bose upgrade to my build, but the old saying of “no highs no lows must be Bose” still holds true. I was going to just live with it, but the stars aligned and I was introduced to Nick at Musicar Northwest. Nick has posted on Rennlist about these staged upgrades they have for Porsche, from mild to wild in three steps. We started talking about options and it quickly became clear that I was going to end up with another modification to this car. All it needed was this one last thing to be “perfect”…really, I swear.

Fast forward a few months, and Nick mentioned that the Portland chapter of Avants was interested in hosting a TechEd event with Musicar. He thought it would be cool to showcase a Stage 2 install and wanted to see if I was game. Hell yes, sign me up!

The plan was to head from Seattle to Portland super early in the morning and then come back the same day. It can be ~ 4 hours each way, so a bit brutal. I talked Shep into coming along and we turned it into a weekend getaway. We drove down mid-day on Saturday, stopped by Musicar to plan the next day with Nick, left the car with him and then checked into The Duniway Hilton in downtown Portland. We had a great time exploring Portland. We had some great sushi, found a super-sized chess board (I lost) and played in the pool until they kicked us out.

A reminder that you can click on the individual photos or photo galleries for a larger view.

Thanks to “spring forward” daylight savings, morning came earlier than we wanted it to. We fueled up with some breakfast and good coffee, and made our way to Musicar for the event. It had rained a lot on our drive down and the car was a mess. I brought some quick detailer and I expected to spend the next hour cleaning the car. To my delight, the awesome crew at Musicar had already done it!! Winning. I spent the time wandering around the shop and reminiscing about my college years spent selling car audio at Circuit City, Myer-Emco and Audiobuys. The last two were high-end shops in Virginia where we did competition level custom car audio systems. We were living in the dark ages compared to what Musicar is working with. Laser engravers, 3D printers, a woodworking shop that would make a master carpenter jealous and sophisticated interface components that seamlessly integrate with OEM entertainment/communication systems. I was in awe of the facilities and clearly in good hands.

Once Sheri (the Director of Avants Portland) and the Avants crew showed up, it was time to setup the event and prepare for folks to arrive. Coffee, check. Avants swag, check. Amazing pastries…yes please. Here are some photos as we got things ready. Nick opened up the shop so we could get a closer view of the larger, custom projects which can take months and hundreds of hours of effort. That Continental is massive and so are the subwoofers going into it!

Okay, enough socializing…time to get started on my project! As the Musicar crew prepped the car for the install, Nick walked us through their process, talked about the components being used, speaker dynamics and took questions from the group.

In addition to the full suite of custom options, Musicar offers 3 stages of upgrades for cars like mine. Stage 1 replaces the tweeters which can make a huge difference by themselves. Stage 2 replaces the tweeters and the underpowered Bose amp. It adds a more powerful amp, a digital signal processor (DSP) and sound deadening to the doors. Stage 3 replaces all of the speakers and uses a different amp appropriate for that setup. Nick and I both felt that for my use case, a convertible where the top is almost always down, Stage 2 would have the best bang for the buck.

The specific components in the Stage 2 kit are:

  • Morel Elate MT350 tweeters. Beautiful soft dome tweeters that make such a difference.
  • The AMP/DSP comes from Audiotec-Fischer and powers 10 channels with a total of 580w of output.
  • The built in DSP allows Musicar to fine tune the system for each car and customer.
  • A MOST interface enables the clean integration with the Porsche PCM system.
  • Various sound deadening materials are applied inside the door, on the door and the door panel as well. This makes a huge difference in the bass response and helps stop the door from vibrating as much, acting like an unwanted speaker in the system.

Each of these components are specified by Musicar and sit in a custom lightweight mounting bracket for a clean installation. While the system likely adds about 10-15 lbs of weight, that isn’t going to be noticed outside of a dedicated track car chasing every hundredth of a second. They aren’t the target market for audio upgrades, unless you include ripping them out completely. My lightweight Antigravity battery saved me about 40 lbs so this is just eating into that savings a bit.

In skilled hands, lots of them in this case, the installation is straight forward. The tweeters drop into the factory locations, the doors come apart easily, and the seat comes out with a few bolts. They need to remove the 8″ driver in the door to install the sound deadening but that is simple enough. They even found a few places where grommets were poorly installed at the Porsche factory and some screws were loose so they fixed those as they went. The AMP/DSP/MOST interface all get installed in the same oem location where the Bose amp lived, neatly tucked away under the passenger seat. It was fun to watch the guys work, and they did an incredible job, especially considering they had an audience of 30+ and the owner of the car sticking a camera in their face the whole time!

Nick has posted even more detailed, step-by-step photos of similar install processes on Rennlist here and a Stage 3 install here.

After the installation was complete, everyone had the opportunity to sit in the drivers seat for a demo. I was blown away by the difference. It’s hard to put into words how effective this stage 2 kit is at transforming the listening experience. The detail, separation, soundstage and bass response are better than custom systems I’ve done. These photos of Sheri, when the bass kicked in, do a better job of conveying the experience than I can put in words. I had high hopes, and this exceeded all expectations. Joyful.

After folks had left, Nick did some custom tuning to create his first top-down Spyder tune for the system. No major changes to the hardtop tune other than to give me a bit more headroom in volume to compete with the wind noise. So now it really does go to 11. I’m the one with the big grin on his face, sporting my new Musicar hat and listening to the tunes while he does his thing.

Here’s a quick video I put together from the event. Thanks to The Actual Tigers for the music, alas this local band is no more. Thanks to Avants, Sheri, Nick and the whole Musicar Northwest team for turning what started out as a basic stereo upgrade, into a really fun weekend event!

Lastly, here is a short video that Sheri captured of my first demo. All smiles when that base line hits (volume up)!!

Update – I’m so happy to see that this blog post made it to the Avants News feed!

Update #2 – I had the chance to do a compare and contrast between my Musicar system and a factory Burmester system. Same car, same source, impartial judges, and the Musicar system came out way ahead. No contest really. Here are two of the folks that went back and forth between cars to test it out having some fun in my car 😂

PNWR Tacoma Winter Tour

Yet another great PCA PNWR winter tour is in the books. This one started in Issaquah and took us east to some beautiful roads along the Cascade foothills. We stopped at Saltwater Park and our final destination was Wally’s Chowders in Des Moines before breaking and heading home. A great day spent laughing with friends, eating donuts and driving fun cars on beautiful roads. While there was fog to start the morning, the rain stayed away and I was able to have the top down all day. Not bad for a winter tour!

Summer Wheels: BBS FI-R!

Seattle can get some freakishly late winter storms, but I decided to take my chances and have my summer tires and wheels put back on the car. The tires are the same Michelin PS4S summer tires that I love so much for the Northwest and the wheels I went with are BBS ultralight FI-Rs in exactly the same fitment as the Porsche wheels. These wheels not only look stunning, they save about 7 lbs per wheel compared to Porsche wheels. That, combined with the lightweight carbon brakes on the car significantly reduce the unsprung weight (weight not held up by the suspension of the car). Reducing unsprung makes the job of the suspension much easier. This helps the car handle better, recover from bumps better and makes the car more comfortable over our crappy roads. Did I mention that they look stunning too? Just look at that custom brushed clear finish that Supreme Power hooked me up with. Bling!

Here is the Right Away Tire crew doing their thing along with some quick shots in the garage…I had to get back to work:

With the workday over…I could take the car out for some real photos to showcase these new wheels:

Taking the Martini livery out for a spin

The sun was starting to set, I had just gotten the car back from Emwraps after having the Martini livery installed and I bolted out of the house faster than…well, something that bolts really fast. Since the bridge is out, I find myself taking more photos closer to home. When you have Alki as your backyard, that isn’t too much of a liability.

A set of late night photos and the last two are two of my favoriate photos lately. So moody…looks like a video game or something.

It’s Martini Time!!

Not that kind of martini…Meg and I stopped that almost 5 years ago! No, this post isn’t about my decades of late night debauchery at Tini Bigs, I’m talking about one of the most iconic race car liveries of all time. In full transparency, this particular livery was sponsored by Martini & Rossi, but I’m willing to look past my own hypocrisy for the sake of automative art. I’m willing to look past my hypocrisy for a lot less than that!

A racing livery is the unique visual design that adorns most race cars. Race teams and sponsors work together to create something eye catching that will hopefully keep the fans visually stimulated, as if 200+mph cars aren’t enough, and also sell some product. The race car equivalent of a pop-up ad but less annoying. Usually. Sometimes a livery will transcend its purpose of convincing you to drink a certain drink, or smoke a certain brand of cigarette, and become a permanent piece of racing history. In my opinion, the Martini livery is at the top of that list. The classic white, blue and red striping has appeared on just about all brands of cars across most race series. Instantly identifiable, timeless and beautiful. Here’s a totally random link that I googled for you with some guy’s opinion on the 25 greatest liveries in case my babbling isn’t enough.

I have always wanted to put a custom livery on my cars, but until recently, I didn’t feel I had the right car in the right color to pull it off. Perhaps I was also just a big coward afraid of what people would think. Age and a pandemic knocked that out of me…mostly. From the moment I ordered my 2021 718 Porsche Spyder in white, I knew it was destined for a Martini Livery.

To start the process, I searched millions of Martini livery photos and I found a great graphic designer, MF Design in the UK that had done some mock-ups of a Spyder with the Martini design. I worked with him to iterate a few examples based on the build for my car.

I worked with another graphic designer, Carl Fassberg, to have an awesome image made of my Spyder with a Martini background which is now framed and hanging in front of me as I type this. Carl had previously done an incredible job with my last car and I had to have another one of his designs to hang next to it. It’s cheaper to collect these than it is to keep the cars!

I spent countless hours searching for Martini designs on Instagram and Google, here are a few that were inspirational in my thought process. Apologies for not knowing the original photographers here (the first one is my own photo so no apology needed there):

I started a search for a local car wrap expert, we are lucky to have a few fantastic shops in the area. Everyone I talked to kept pointing me to Emwraps for the incredible attention to detail, the ability to custom design the solution, the printer capable of handling the job and the skills to install it perfectly. After our first meeting, I knew I was in good hands. When I told them I wanted Martini inspired, but to let their creative energy run free, their eyes lit up as well. We spent months in the design process. Going back and forth with photos, instagram chats, links to other cars, design iterations, etc. I’m not super creative and I have a hard time visualizing things without seeing them, so I made a terrible customer. At one point I suggested they fire me as a client, but they just kept coming up with better and better ideas. Here are a few images from the iterative design process:

They were all good…but neither of us were totally happy with them. The design had to honor the racing heritage but also fit the lines of this very modern car. We wanted it to look organic and give the impression that it was flowing around the car like air or water. None of the designs had quite nailed it. Then Emwraps sent me this:

At first I thought it was too bold. That side profile…there is nothing subtle about it. I sent it to some friends and it was Gary, who has a beautiful Porsche with the Hippie livery, that encouraged me to go big or go home. This design checked all the boxes. Bold, fun, modern, organic and still instantly recognizable as a Martini design. I dropped off my car and then started to totally panic! I spared Emwraps most of my panicking and just let them take this design from prototype to finished product…I could always take it off if I chickened out.

All of that fear totally disappeared when I saw it for the first time…I’m in love! Sure, it is bold and not for everyone…but I think it makes the car. Perfect and better than I ever could have imagined!

Painting with Light

Late night drives through the city are so much fun. Empty roads replace traffic jams and the city never looks more beautiful than when it is all lit up. There’s something therapeutic about driving alone at night, listening to some great music and chasing the green lights. Here are a few photos from a late night escape a while back where I unintentionally did some light painting. I wanted to grab some photos from Kerry Park in Queen Anne, but it was still a bit busy. The passing cars made for some fun photos. These also happen to be the last photos of the car when it was still all white…more on that in the next post.

Driver Skills, Winter Edition

PNWR.org runs a lot of great driving programs. From social tours, to track events and everything in between. One event that I recommend to all drivers, young or old, newbie or experienced, Porsche or Toyota, is Driver Skills. These all-day classes happen 7 or 8 times a year and cover the fundamentals of high performance driving. They let you see how you and your car will respond close to the edge of performance, or beyond, in a very safe, closed course where the only thing you really risk hitting are some orange cones. The instructors are patient and give you expert advice throughout the day as you move from course to course, practicing various high performance driving skills.

Throughout the day you move between the following exercises:

  • Slalom course – Can you keep your eyes well ahead of you and find the rhythm that allows you to zip cleanly through the cones at speed?
  • Small and large diameter wet skid pads – Can you intentionally induce over-steer or under-steer and recover from it? What does your car feel like when you disable all of the traction control nannies and then rip around a tight circle at speed?
  • Braking and accident avoidance course – It may be true that you can solve more problems with the gas than you can the brake, but here you learn to use both. Can you fly down a straight, brake hard and late, and maintain braking control through a turn? Can you respond to obstacles jumping out at you at the last second?
  • Autocross – How smooth and controlled can you be making your way around a very mini-autocross setup? This is much more about car control than speed.
  • Figure 8 – One of my favorites of the day because you get a sense of real speed, late braking, late apex corners and then back on the speed. I could have done this exercise all day and was finally ”dancing with the car” after two or three attempts. The backend of the Spyder is very lively but the car responds to throttle steer really well.

You don’t have to be a Porsche club member to go to Driver Skills and you don’t need a sports car to get the benefit. We had everything from a track ready Porsche GT3 to a jacked up Jeep Rubicon with a 3” lift and giant tires. That was fun to see on the skid pad!