Are car designers losing the plot?

Posted on February 27th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Many trends in car design are often obvious: the move to EFI and then engine management; the increasing relevance of aerodynamics; and the use of lower and lower tyre profiles. But there are other long-term changes which are more subtle, more insidious. Often it takes the comments of an informed outsider to highlight them.

Recently I was reading a two year old interview with Alex Moulton, a British industrial engineer and designer who was responsible for – amongst other things – the liquid Hydrolastic suspension fitted to many Austin and Morris cars, and the rubber suspension used in the Mini. He worked closely with Sir Alec Issigonis, the famed designer of the Morris Minor, the Mini, the Morris 1100 and Austin 1800.

The world of DIY car modification has just changed…

Posted on February 13th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Well, they’re finally been released! Yes, the cutting edge electronic kits which I seem to have been writing about for ever are now on the shelves, ready and raring to go.

For those of you who haven’t been following events, the electronic projects have been developed by Silicon Chip publications, the company that produces Silicon Chip magazine. (Web Publications, the publisher of AutoSpeed, puts up the on-line version of Silicon Chip.) I’ve worked as a freelance journalist for Silicon Chip for many years, and it was in that role that I helped develop the electronic car projects. The final prototypes were finished about a year ago and I was running working examples in my cars in the year before that – so as you can see, for me they’ve been around for a very long time! (Which is probably why I started writing about them in AutoSpeed too early!)

The reason for the delay in their release is nothing to do with a need to re-work prototypes or anything like that. The wait has a much simpler reason: it’s taken Silicon Chip Publications this long to produce the book which contains all the projects. But now the book is out – it’s called High Performance Electronics for Cars – and all the projects are available as kits from Jaycar Electronics or through the AutoSpeed Shop. (If there is the demand, the kits will also be available fully built and tested through the AutoSpeed shop.)

So has the wait has been worth it? I sure think so! And I don’t say that because I co-authored the book with brilliant electronics engineer John Clarke, but because I genuinely believe that the projects allow people to achieve a range of car modifications which were previously impossible to do simply and cheaply. In addition to the 16 projects, the book also contains really good background chapters on how engine management and other electronic car systems work. The latter are included because with these projects it’s easy to modify auto trans control, power steering weight control – even active four wheel drive control!

The simplest of the kits are those that are generic building blocks. For example, there’s the Frequency Switch (AUD$35.95). I’ve given up counting how many times I’ve seen plaintive requests on discussion groups from people who want to operate a shift-light, or change the switching revs of an active intake manifold. Well, now it’s easy – you can pick up a frequency signal from the injectors, crank-angle sensor, the ECU tacho output or even road speed sensor. And when the right speed is reached, over clicks a 5-amp relay – so you can directly switch lights, buzzers, solenoids….you name it.