Want to know whatís funny? Funny is when you come up with a great idea on how to fix a problem on your car/bike/tractor, and then, once youíve pulled it apart to work your magic, you discover that somebody else has been there before you. And theyíve tried exactly the same fix you have in mind.
It happened at the Melbourne Bloke Centre the other day when Torrens and I were inspecting the forgotten Celica, my new RA40 Outlaw in the making. I went to check the oil on the dipstick, as you do, but managed to pull the dipstick and its tube out in one assembly. Oops. Plenty of oil on the stick, but even I was pretty certain the tube should have stayed in the engine.
No probs, says Torrens in that what-could-possiblygo-wrong tone of voice he reserves for situations like this, weíll stick the tube in a vice and put a little knurl on it with a centre-punch. Thatíll give it a rough edge and enough purchase to keep it in the block once weíve drifted it back in. This seemed like a splendid plan. The engine has minimal blow-by, so even if the seal isnít perfect, itís not going to spit oil everywhere thanks to a pressurised crankcase. Which means all the tube has to do is sit at the right height to give an accurate reading when the dipstick is pushed into it. Brilliant.
And it was, until we cleaned the grease and gunk off the tube and discovered thatÖsomebody had pulled exactly the same centre-punch stunt some time before we came up with it. How we larfed.
Anyway, we decided to press on with our plan, but use a punch with a bigger centre to make a more pronounced knurl and maybe give the tube a bit more purchase than it previously had. I also added a schmear of copper-based gasket goo before lightly drifting the tube back into place and reinserting the dipstick. It seems to have worked, too, and Iím still pondering who it was and when it was that the tube was first attacked by a backyard mechanic and a centre-punch. Itís kind of like looking at old tools and machinery in a museum and wondering who the people were that used them and what they did besides.
It made me think, too, about the number of times Iíve opened up an engine or gearbox to find that a previous unfortunate has felt the need to make the change I was about to. Like the sheer number of Holden red motors Iíve seen inside where the fibre timing gear has already been replaced by the GTRís alloy one. Or the Holdens Iíve seen with one-tonner clutches already fitted. The Speco-Thomas floor shift conversion was another popular one (if a lot easier to spot).
What about you lot? Tell us about the times youíve had a great idea for a modification or a fix, only to discover a previous owner has had exactly the same thought. And along the same lines, what were the mods you used to carry out with pretty much every new second-hand car that came your way? Mine was to hit the wreckers and find a Bosch GT-40 coil to replace the (usually perfectly good) stock coil. In fact, Iíve still got a box of discarded, no-name coils in the workshop; cast-offs from my obsession with the mighty Bosch GT-40. Ah, happy days. - The other work carried out on the RA40 so far has been to get it to run properly just so I can move it about. I mentioned draining the tank and fitting a new fuel filter, but take a look at the photo here of the original fuel filter being emptied en route to the MBC after handing over the cash. Yep, that rusty red crap was all the way from the tank to the engine bay, but at least the filter was doing its job because the carburettor is amazingly clean. And once weíd emptied that muck out of the filter by the roadside (twice) the old 18RC fired straight up and ran like a top. Toyotas eh?
Re your hoodie-wearing Commodore kids and the signage they prefer to plaster all over their cars: Itís just people with low self-esteem who believe that they are cool to be associated with the brands prominently displayed on their cars. The Eye Candy logo might look sexy to those struggling to find favour with the opposite sex. To those of us who donít have the same problem, these signs scream ĎWANKERí. I can understand the attraction with Playboyís iconic bunny logo, but I canít see the joy in making your car look like a mobile billboard for fashion or energy drink brands.
I know Iím showing my age here (Iím in my 60s) but in my day, weíd spend our money on better performance and handling. Stuff like extractors, lowered springs, Holley carbs, sports exhausts or, my favourite, the Mr Gasket Bug Catcher. Ah, the Bug Catcher sitting out the bonnet of my SL/R5000 Torana on my worked 308. Life was good in the 80s!
Matthew Smith, Beaumaris, VIC
YOU KNOW what, Matthew, I reckon youíre on to something with the theory about a lack of self-esteem leading kids to turn their cars into four-wheeled advertisements for companies with which they have no connection (bar the stickers). Itís human nature to want to belong (weíre a pack animal at heart) but when youíre such a grub that no other part of society wants to let you in, you tend to turn to an entity that canít cast you out. Itís just like a lonely little kid having an invisible friend, isnít it?
And trust me, some of these urchins really are grubs. You should see the way they relate to each other online. Fair dinkum, if they spoke like that to each other face-to-face, thereíd be a punch-on within seconds. But because it all happens online (and donít get me started on that one) these days, there seems to be a feeling that being rude and boorish is the only way to make your point. One more reason I donít really engage with forums and websites.
On the other hand, maybe plastering stickers all over your car is the only way to express yourself these days without incurring the wrath of El Plod. I donít reckon a VT Commodore with a Bug Catcher hanging out the bonnet would last long on the streets of 2019, would it? And while I get it that the Catcher was a performance mod, not a decorative one, if youíre honest about it, I bet part of the thrill of having was that your peers knew what it was and respected what it stood for. Mind you, none of that explains why an energy drink or a brand of those ridiculous duds with the crotch around the knees should inspire respect and reverence.
I know weíre all still reeling over the loss of our wonderful car-making industry, but it still amazes me at just how World War 2 accelerated our manufacturing in this country. The fact is that Australia built aeroplanes (Wirraways, Kangaroos, Wacketts, Woomeras and Boomerangs to name just a few) long before it ever built a complete car. We also went from a country that made virtually zero steel in 1914 to one making more than a million tonnes of it by 1939 as the war effort ramped up and it became clear that, thanks to our isolation, we were going to have to fend for ourselves in many situations.
I read somewhere a little while ago that because so many kids now conduct the vast majority of their personal relationships online, theyíve actually lost the ability to interpret facial expressions, tones of voice and the ability to generate empathy for the way somebody else might be feeling. Now, Iím no big city shrink, but donít those symptoms sound to you like somebody we once described as being on the spectrum?
Jeez, this is getting heavy isnít it? Anyway, Iím also with you on one other major point: The 80s were bloody brilliant. I didnít have an SL/R5000, but my girlfriendís father did have bright-yellow LH SL/R with a six-cylinder (a red 202) and a manual gearbox. That was the first car I ever drove with a tacho and the first time I ever touched the pre-metric ton (It was a car of many other significant firsts, as it turned out). Heíd have throttled me if he ever knew what I got up to in that car. But if he knew what went on with his daughter, the Torana would have been a mere side-show. Yep, bring back the 80s, I say. Iíd vote for that. (I wonder where she isÖ)
I lived and worked just outside Brisbane, but moved to the Sunshine Coast a few years ago. A friend (I will call him Clive to protect the guilty) has always regularly driven up from Brisbane to visit for the day. Anyway, I purchased a giant pink and white teddy bear (like the ones you see in shops about Christmas time) and presented it to Clive, asking that he place Bear (he was too embarrassed to name it) in the front passengerís seat whenever he drove up to see me. I got him to promise to not only do that, but to always make sure Bear was buckled up for her (pink, remember) protection. In return, she would keep him safe on the road.
For years, Clive kept his promise (He would ask me what was I thinking?) and always had Bear with him when he visited. It was not long before Clive started to regale me with all the attention Bear was attracting when travelling backwards and forwards from Brisbane. He said she was a great source of amusement, especially for kids in the back seat of other cars. He said the biggest surprise was when he stopped for fuel and could not believe the number of people who would come over for a chat. Bear was a great ice-breaker, it seems.
About a year ago, Clive moved to NSW Ė a little too far for him to drive Ė so he asked me if it was okay to hand Bear down to his teenage grand-daughter who was by then driving to visit him. No problem. Clive said recently in a phone call that his grand-daughter was now regaling him with tales of Bearís adventures. The latest one was when the grand-daughter got pulled over for speeding (just over!) recently. When the young female officer approached and saw Bear strapped into the passengerís seat, she doubled over with laughter. Made her day apparently, and she let the grand-daughter off, asking her to slow down so that both of them got to their destination safely. She hopes to pass Bear down to her own daughter one day.
It seems I have unwittingly created a family tradition.
Peter Neilen, Nambour, QLD
NICE YARN, Peter. Kind of makes me think of the way garbos often zip-tie a discarded teddy-bear to the front of their compactor trucks. I never knew whether it was to make the garbage truck look less evil than it smelled or as a warning to other teddy-bears not to try anything cute.
I reckon the only problem with a big mascot like Bear is that you might be mistaken for a loony. Just sayiní. And what happens if Bearís ice-breaking antics lead you to form a relationship with another human. Where does Bear sit then? And what happens if you accidentally leave Bear at home? Are you doomed to die in a fiery crash because Bear isnít there to keep you safe? These are all good questions, I feel.
And what happens if Bear doesnít like the radio station youíve tuned. Or the way you drive? Or your taste in cars? Thereíll be trouble bruin, I tell you.
Back in 1982, I was with my boss when he picked up his new Starfire Four-powered Commodore from the Holden Dealer in Atherton.
On the way back to work he tried to overtake a fully laden peanut truck that was labouring along slowly. But, despite having at least 500 metres of clear road ahead and the truck barely doing 20km/h, he had to pull back in behind. So as soon as we got to a place he could turn around, he chucked a U-turn, took it straight back to the dealership and traded it on a 5.0 V8!
Gary G Smith, Ravenshoe, QLD
WHAT ELSE could a bloke do, Gary? In one corner you had a car that wouldnít drag the skin off a rice-pudding, and in the other corner of the same dealership, you had five litres of Aussie V8 goodness. Itís a wonder Holden managed to sell a single four-cylinder Commodore back in the day, such was the pitiful performance and instant loser-status that such a purchase conferred.
I remember guffawing for hours at a housemate of mine back around the same point in history, when the quarrying company he worked for yanked his company Falcon from under him and put him in a four-banger Commo. And his boss called it an upgrade. I thought my sides were gonna split. Strangely, he couldnít see the funny side of it.
But you know what else? I reckon that dismal little crapper we now know as the four-cylinder Commodore is still bringing bad ju-ju to the Holden brand. Maybe youíve heard that Holden has been forced to halt production in Germany of the current Commodore as there are just too many unsold ones sitting around in holding yards about the place. Thatís a terrible comment on the way the new Commodore has been received, but could it be that, perhaps, thereís still some kind of four-cylinder hang-over from the 80s at work here? I mean, the new Commodore is quite a good car (and if you havenít driven one, donít write it off out of hand) but the mainstream version does have a four-cylinder engine. With its turbocharger and nine-speed auto, thereís no reason to be down on a four-pot Commodore in 2019, but is that whatís going on here? Is this the same mind-set that doomed the Falcon Ecoboost a few years back. That was also a great car that failed to gain traction in the marketplace. Another Starfire Commodore victim? I reckon that miserable pile-o-crap has a lot to answer for.
But hereís how you can tell for sure that the world is a strange place: Iíll bet you that somewhere, out there in Garage-Land, thereís a bunch of people who admire, own and even restore four-cylinder Commodores. Oh, theyíll bang on about how they were a misunderstood car and that they never got a fair go, but these people will be out there. I guarantee it. And if Iím right, and they are, can I just ask them not to contact me. Ever.
Just read the write up about annoying alarms in your column. My mate had an early RX-7 (maybe series 1) and that bloody thing had a bell, I kid you not, in the speedo that started to ding when you went above 100km/h. And the faster you went the faster it dinged, we lived in the bush and the speed limit was 110 but rarely adhered to. I hated that car and its little speedo bell!
Jonesy, Somewhere, WA.
Iím reading an Australian Institution of Production Engineers publication from the 80s that chronicles some big names in local manufacturing. It got me wondering how much we know about the brands we love, like Repco for eaxample. Founded by Geoff Russell and Bill Ryan (Remember WL Ryans in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne? Same Ryan.) Replacement Parts Pty Ltd became Repco in the late 20s. In 1947, brake maker PBR became part of the Repco family, joining the piston, bearings and other operations. The high point of its existence? Probably designing and developing the V8 engine that powered Jack Brabham to Formula 1 world championships in the 1960s.
YEP, THE Japanese makers did some terrible things in the 1970s and 80s in the name of road safety. Plenty of Japanese cars I drove in the day had all sorts of alarms, buzzers and bells to warn you about everything from a seat-belt not done up to an impending nuclear attack.
A lot of these warning buzzers and such were actually mandated by the Japanese government which makes me wonder if your mateís car was a grey import rather than an Aussie-delivered car. Certainly I donít remember a speed-warning chime on Aussie RX-7s, and I drove a very original Series 3 example recently on a race-track where we sure as hell got the speedo needle past 100. Iím sure Iíd have remembered a warning buzzer. Maybe they came out on the boat with the buzzer and Mazda Australia disconnected them, but your mateís slipped through the gaps. Lord, itíd be annoying though.
There was actually an RX-7 buzzer that I did like and that was on the Series 4 Turbo model that went on sale in the mid-80s. These were real fireballs in their day and not much would stay with them provided you could keep the fuel up to the buggers. Anyway, they had a buzzer that sounded as you got to within a few hundred rpm of redline, reminding you that it was time to shift up. Doesnít sound like a big deal now, but back then it was a bit special.
Beyond that, however, the buzzers and bells were there purely to nanny us and keep us from having too much fun. But because we werenít dealing with multiplexed wiring and sophisticated body computers back then, plenty of buzzers and alarms were Ė ahem Ė modified. Usually with a pair of wire-cutters.
Greetings. In the last issue there was a comment regarding black cars and a request for photos. Thought you might be interested in the attached which I have owned for almost 30 years.
Tony Dark, Email
MAN, I OPENED that photo you attached and nearly fell over. That looks sensational in black! The gold wheels help and the whole chrome bumper thing doesnít do black paint any harm, does it? I guess maybe I need to modify my statement about most cars looking a bit dunger in black. Perhaps I should say that I reckon there are better colours than black for a lot of cars.
Yeah, actually, thatíll do, because thatís exactly the way I feel about Torana hatches. Yours is proof, Tony, that they can work in black. But if I somehow managed to find myself cashed up and in a Holden dealership in 1977 and shopping for a Torana hatchback, I reckon Iíd be ticking the box for Jamaica Lime or Absinth Yellow. All personal preference, of course, and I wouldnít be knocking back a black one today. Iím reminded of an old saying about supermodels, beds and smelly feet, but I wonít go there.
By the way, with a surname like yours, how could you own a car in any other colour?
Noosa, 1994: That familiar smell of sugar and cinnamon cooking away at 7am. My five-year-year old brother, Dad and I take our piping hot doughnuts out of the store and pile into a Mini Moke Californian and cruise along Hastings St munching away. We are on one of our rare family holidays to Noosa to enjoy the beach, sun and sand. Weíre staying with one of Dadís old mates in his house and borrowing his Moke to cruise the streets of Noosa.
I absolutely loved that car, the freedom, the openness and the fact something like that even existed. My brother and I used to sit in the driveway and pretend to drive it for hours. Every time I see a Moke, it takes me back to the doughnut shop and the drive home.
I have a low-kilometre 2007 Subaru Liberty GT Tuned by STi (wagon, black, manual) and 1995 Mazda NA8 MX-5. Your recent ďMini & Moke WorldĒ article reignited my passion for Mokes and I am in a pickle. I love both of the cars I possess but feel I would love to add a Moke to the stable before they hike further in price. Am I getting caught up in the nostalgia and blind to my current cars or should I be looking to trade in one of these to find a great Moke?
Scott Wright, Email
ITíS AMAZING, isnít it Scott, that a particular car can take you back to a time and a place just as effectively as a song or even a particular smell. Mind you, in the case of my former cars, it was usually the car AND the smell all rolled into one.
My own memories of the mighty Mini Moke were of the local newsagent in one of the several small towns I grew up in. The Moke with its open top and lack of sides was the perfect platform from which to launch the dayís newspaper into front yards without stopping. It didnít hurt that this town was almost on the NSW-Queensland border on the coast, so the weather was pretty agreeable to an open-top car first thing in the morning.
Now, ordinarily, my advice on the subject of buying another car would be simply: Do it. But youíve already mentioned that youíd be trading one of your existing cars to get into a Moke. And thatís where the trouble starts.
See, I donít reckon an MX-5 is going to pass for the family wheels on a daily basis. So Iíd assume that the Subaru would be the car youíd have to keep. Which, in turn, means that youíd be trading an MX-5 to get into a Moke. And for me, that just doesnít add up.
An MX-5 will happily tour interstate when you need it to. The roof doesnít leak and itíll be utterly reliable. A Moke on the other hand will send you deaf on a highway drive, would find moisture in the desert and may or may not start each and every time you ask it to. The Mazda will also be safer in a shunt, is better value (Have you see the prices of Mokes?) and is just a better mousetrap. And I just could never bring myself to swap an MX-5 for a Moke for all those reasons.
That said, itís pretty clear to me that a Moke is in your future one way or another. So letís look at it from a different angle. Letís say you kept the Mazda AND bought a Moke. The Moke should be eligible for historic rego (much cheaper) and shouldnít cost too much to insure. You can also build a stink-hot motor for a Moke and because thereís effectively no bodywork, theyíre an amazingly good bit of kit for stuff like motorkhanas. You know it makes sense. So yeah, like I said earlier, just do it.
Whatís the catch? Simple, the Subaru has to be parked on the street. Itíll get used to it. But do it now. Mokes arenít going to get any cheaper and you should go out and buy doughnuts now before you get to the stage where your doctor says you shouldnít eat them any more. I can smell those little cinnamonencrusted buggers right now. And Iím nowhere near a Mini Moke.
I know the internet is a fabulous way of wasting time, but donít ignore it as a source of good workshop information. Websites that host videos have thousands of really good tutorials, usually made in sheds like ours by blokes like us detailing some truly obscure subjects. In the recent past, Iíve used these little videos to fix everything from a steering column to a washing machine, and theyíve all worked beautifully. Itís not going to make me an internet junkie, but itís good backup when you get stuck.