The behemoth called Toyota

Posted on August 1st, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

The other day I was reading about DaimlerChrysler’s recent concept car, the F 500 MIND. Amongst a plethora of interesting new technologies – including drive-by-wire steering, an instrument panel that can be configured to shows various displays, infrared night vision and a system that projects sound at individuals within the cabin, were some details on the driveline.

“During the F 500 project, the engineers at DaimlerChrysler developed the first hybrid engine for a research vehicle,” says the press release. “Under the hood, a 4-liter, V8 diesel engine with 184 kW and an electric motor with 50 kW provide a dynamic driving performance. Thanks to the skilful combination of the combustion engine and the electric motor — experts speak of a ‘P2 configuration’ — the individual torques are added together. As a result, drivers can take full advantage of an extremely powerful surge of acceleration when they pass another vehicle.”

My new car – factory supercharged and DOHC!

Posted on July 18th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Australiais becoming bizarre. Yep, ‘bizarre’. The other day I bought a car – it’s a good condition 1988 model, with an immaculate interior and a very good body. It’s six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive, DOHC and supercharged.

Yes, factory supercharged.

Oh, and it’s also got climate control, electric everything and brilliant NVH suppression.

OK, currently it isn’t perfect. One of the internal climate control actuators makes a ‘click, click’ noise when that function is selected, all the hubcaps are missing, and also not present are two external trims – one on the top of the door and another on the lower panel of (another) door. But these are minor things, able to either be relatively easily fixed, sourced or ignored.

You want to know the price I paid for the car? Two thousand, two hundred Australian dollars. Yep, AUD$2,200.

Haven’t driven an expensive car? You’re probably not missing as much as you’d expect…

Posted on July 4th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Perhaps for many of you this it is the most esoteric of hair-splitting, but after spending a week in the AUD$207,000 Audi A8 4.2, I can say that the advantages of forking-out $200,000 on a car – as opposed to AUD$100,000 or even $150,000 – aren’t really there. Well, not if the Audi is indicative of the category, anyway.

AutoSpeed contributor Michael Knowling put it best: the Audi A8 4.2 is a $100,000 car with another $100,000 of gadgets installed in it. That’s not to say that the gadgets are unimpressive – with brilliant sound, cruise control and navigation systems, they’re actually very good indeed.

But the Audi as a car simply isn’t good enough for the money.

Some of you won’t believe me, but let me try to put it into some kind of context.

Whatever the figures say, a 5.7-litre Holden Caprice has far more effortless performance. (Oftentimes – and especially in hot weather – the 4.2-litre, 246kW A8 feels rather gutless.) The Audi has lotsa cams and a six-speed sequential shift auto with steering wheel paddles – but it all amounts to ‘so what?’ when you put your foot down and not much happens.

One day all cruise controls will use radar

Posted on June 20th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

It’s now a few years since we drove the Alfa 166 – a car that, overall, left us unimpressed. The resulting road test was cutting and the Alfa Romeo distributor in Australia, er, liked it so much that since they read it we haven’t received an Alfa (or Citroen, or Kia – they’re all imported into Australia by the same company) for road testing.

But there was one aspect of the 166 that I was enormously impressed by. What was that, you ask? The navigation system. The VDO Dayton system was the first in-car navigation system that I had experienced and its capability blew me away. No more struggling with a street directory – if in fact you even had the right book in the car in the first place. No more trying to orientate yourself in unfamiliar surroundings. No more swerves when turn-offs were sighted at the last minute. And it worked just as well in the dark as daylight.

In fact I thought the nav system so good that when I moved interstate, one of the first things I bought was a very similar VDO Dayton navigation system for my car… it was fitted to an Audi S4, then when I leased a Lexus LS400, I moved it across.

If you’re not familiar with in-car navigation you could assume from the discussions in the media and on web groups that it is pure wank – no-one, the argument goes, needs one. Unfortunately, that argument most often originates from those who actually have no need of a navigation system in the first place!

One media stunt springs to mind. A magazine decided to have a shootout between people in one car equipped with a street directory, and people in another car featuring nav. I can’t remember which car won the navigational race, but either way, it was a close thing. Therefore, went the story implication, why pay a heap of dollars for a navigation system when you can instead use a $35 book?

An intercooler fan powered by turbo boost?

Posted on June 6th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Some months ago in Fan-Forcing Your Intercooler, Part 1 we covered the fitting of an intercooler fan – a device that forces air through the intercooler either when it is getting over-heated or when the car is moving slowly and so there is little outside air being pushed through it. It’s an especially effective approach for underbonnet intercoolers.

Making that particular design even better was the use of a very powerful centrifugal blower. The blower – salvaged from the tip – was a VW/Audi cabin ventilation fan from a Kombi. And it sure moved a helluva lot of air!

Unfortunately, despite my disassembling the motor and greasing the (plain) bearings before it was put into service, after a few months of hard work the blower failed. Delving inside it (again!) showed that the top bearing was completely stuffed – not only was the bearing surface badly worn, but the shaft was also pitted and scarred. Given the rubbish tip origin of the blower, perhaps it was already well on the way out – although I don’t remember there being much of a problem the first time I looked inside it.

Anyway, this particular unit needed to be retired. Or the electric motor part of it did, anyway. That thought prompted another – could I retain the compact centrifugal blower and its associated housing, but use a new electric motor? I tried a few different ones but none had the power of the original – not surprising, when that bugger drew no less than 15.5 amps!

But did the motive force even have to come from an electric motor? What about instead using another fan on the other end of a common shaft, and driving this second fan with a nozzle connected to a turbo boost source? Kind of like a mini turbo but using a bleed of boost off the plenum and spinning a fan that pulled air through the intercooler? Such a system would need no maintenance or control, and would increase in speed as boost also went up. The downside would be that it wouldn’t operate when the car was off-boost (say stopped at the traffic lights), but that was possibly not too great a downer, particularly if when on the boost the thing worked like a Trojan.

Ooops – meeting a random emissions test station!

Posted on May 28th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Australia, while there has been talk about roadside sniffers and the like, unless you are a company selling a bolt-on upgrade package or you otherwise wish to stick very closely to the letter of the law, you can safely ignore emissions performance.

And so nearly everyone with a modified car does just that.

For example, none of my modified cars has ever been formally emissions tested – a full test cycle costs thousands of dollars and is simply not a requirement of a normal individual enthusiast. (There are some exceptions to this – say a major engine transplant, or other mods requiring engineer approval for registration.)

That’s not to say that I consider emissions performance irrelevant – not at all. At AutoSpeed we’re one of the few publications that’s actually had a good look at emissions testing procedures (see our Dirty Stuff series starting at Dirty Stuff – Part 1 and Emissions Testing). And personally I think those people who punch a hole through their cat converters are environmental vandals. But at the same time, I’ve never felt the need to check that my own cars meet emissions.

So when yesterday I found myself subjected to a Queensland Government Transport Onroad Vehicle Emissions Random Testing inspection, I was a bit taken aback. Especially given the car I was driving…

The Alnor Velometer Jnr

Posted on May 23rd, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I have always liked gauges and instruments. My first car – an air–cooled Honda Z – gained an oil temperature gauge. It was a daring move for someone who knew nothing about cars. Subsequent cars were equipped with gauges including auto trans temp, intake air temp, boost pressure, oxygen sensor output and intake air restriction.

And my interest in instrumentation hasn’t been confined to those gauges normally found under the ‘automotive’ tag. Instruments from completely different fields also often have a place in car modification. The Dwyer Magnehelic gauges, for instance, are useful in assessing aerodynamics, radiator and intercooler flows, and pressure drops through intakes. (For more on using the Magnehelic gauge, do an AutoSpeed site search.) 

But the trouble with non-auto gauges is that in the past they have often been very expensive. Primarily because they’re made in small numbers, these specialist gauges from other industries have often retailed for more than they’re worth. More than they’re worth for automotive use, anyway.

But on-line auctions have changed all of that. On eBay, for example, you can find the most obscure instruments and gauges at bargain prices. They’re mostly being sold by people who don’t know what they are, what they do, or how they work. So that makes the starting price low. And if they’re really obscure, then bidding will be lukewarm too…

I’d like to give you the details but…

Posted on May 9th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I think that I am largely an instant gratification personality. I build it, then I like to immediately sample the results.

When I edited a print magazine, one of the excruciating aspects was waiting for the issue to come out – sometimes that would be months away. (It was even worse when I freelanced for magazines: in that case, you could wait over a year to see your work in print!) Of course, working with a web magazine like AutoSpeed has meant that if I want to see something published a week after I write it, that’s possible.

However, the major projects that I have been working on for the last year fall into the, er, distant gratification basket…

As I mentioned in my September 2003 Driving Emotion, I’ve been working on an electronics book that I am preparing with Silicon Chip, an Australian electronics magazine that we at Web Publications now also publish on-line. The book will cover a range of DIY electronic modification kits designed for performance cars. In that article I mentioned a brilliant new kit interceptor that can allow the alteration of air/fuel ratios across all loads – mentioned there was the Mark 1 version; electronics designer John Clarke and I are now up to Mark 3.

And each version just keeps getting better and better.

Testing cars

Posted on April 25th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

One of the areas that AutoSpeed varies very substantially from other automotive media is in our new car tests. Basically, we try very, very hard to tell it clearly and bluntly like it is; something which when we do, often puts us into hot water. For example, Nathan Huppatz, our man who contacts car companies to organise the cars for tests, is currently having difficulties getting cars from Subaru, Mazda, Kia, Alfa Romeo, and Citroen. (That’s why you no longer see tests of those cars in AutoSpeed.) You see, those importers – and/or the distributors associated with those cars – didn’t like a test on one of their cars that we ran previously. So, no more cars for this non-complicit media. (Other companies place conditions on cars – Ford, for example, won’t lend me any new cars to drive – instead, Michael Knowling does those tests!)

Given that Michael and I have a completely zero bias for or against any manufacturer, it’s all pretty bizarre.

But how do we go about testing the new cars, anyway? Every new car test is a little different, but primarily we try to use each car exactly as we would a ‘normal’ car. The length of a road test is a week, so we try to use the car for that week much as we would our own. That includes going to the shops for groceries, having our partners drive the car (perhaps to work for a day), going out in the evenings, and so on. Additionally, we try to do a long country drive, make sure that the car goes through some rush-hour heavy traffic, and we push it hard on roads to test braking and handling. Additionally, if a car has a special function or aim, we try hard to exploit that as well – so a load carrier carries loads, a sports car is driven hard on winding roads, and so on.

Over the week we normally rack-up about 1000 kilometres. (Of course, no time can be set aside specifically for driving press cars – it needs to be fitted in around other work!)

Musings on new cars

Posted on April 11th, 2004 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

One of the problems with changing new car fashions is that the goal posts keep getting moved. Hey, that’s a problem? Well it is when the judgements being made within certain categories start being applied universally.