Ford Fairlane, Mitsubishi Magna, Honda Accord Luxury

Posted on July 31st, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Every now and again we get to drive cars where for a variety of reasons, it’s not worth writing a full test. Over the last few months three such cars have been sampled.

Giving up….

Posted on July 24th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I made the decision at 4 am. Or perhaps a little after, in fact. Lying awake in bed I realised – with the startling clarity than only predawn ratiocination can bring – the project on which I had been spending every free hour for more than four weeks was a disaster. Well, not a disaster, but it didn’t meet the criteria that I had (retrospectively!) laid out for it.

So rather than going on, it was better to stop.

It was ironic. Every single aspect that I had expected to cause problems was working superbly. The belt tensioner, the blower mount (which had also become the new right-hand engine mount), the intercooling and the engine management. Even the hybrid control system had coped with the increased engine output like it was, well, made for it. There was no detonation and the standard injectors had enough capacity to flow the required extra fuel.

In short, the positive displacement supercharger that I’d fitted to my ’99 Toyota Prius – making it the world’s first supercharged, intercooled, petrol/electric car – worked brilliantly.

Except for one aspect.

Buying a lathe

Posted on July 10th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I bought a metalworking lathe the other day. It’s something that I’ve wanted for years, but now the purchase has occurred, I am filled with trepidation. Why? Because I know nothing about metal turning.

I first decided that I really needed a lathe when a few years ago I was building a small wind generator. The design was based around a stepper motor salvaged – I think – from a printer. The impeller comprised the blades taken from a plastic fan. But when I came to match the two up, the shaft of the stepper motor was much smaller than the hole in the mounting hub of the fan blades. Easy solution? Well, there would have been if I’d had a lathe: just turn-up a bush with the right internal and external diameters. But without the lathe, I was forced to scrounge for tubing that had just the right wall thickness. In the end, all I could find was the plastic barrel from an ink pen – hardly a good choice for long-term strength.

Then, when I was building my electric bike (series starts at Building an Electric Bike, Part 1 ), I needed a lathe like no other tool. I was making an assembly that would couple the electric motor’s shaft to a roller that would bear on the tyre, so transmitting the torque. I kind-of had the shaft, but the roller part had to be a larger diameter. I stuffed around drilling-out old sockets and the like until I had something that could be force-fitted over the shaft. Of course, the thing turned out eccentric, and so ran with a wobble that in fairly short order destroyed the bearings. I ended up paying money to small machine shop that turned-up a beautiful, knurled roller/shaft assembly. The skills to machine that (and to silver-solder on a splined section of the original shaft) were beyond any beginner, but still, if I’d had a lathe, I would have been ahead from the beginning of the project.

And then there was the fitting of a supercharger to my Toyota Prius. For that project a lathe would have been more than handy at least a number of times. Firstly, part of the bracket had to stand proud of the surface to which it was being bolted. Needed was a bush of exactly the right length and internal diameter – length, so the plate sat flat; and ID, so the bolt passing through it was subjected only to shearing forces and not bending. (The bush would be welded to the plate.) But without a lathe, I was reduced to grinding-down an oversize and over-length bush that I found. Secondly, while I was lucky and the original supercharger pulley turned out to give the desired boost, during most of the development it was odds-on that a new 3-rib supercharger pulley would be needed – another use of the lathe.

The lathe which I didn’t have.

Ooops – meeting a random emissions test station!

Posted on June 26th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

In many parts of the world, the requirement to pass annual or random emissions tests is taken for granted. But here in 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 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…

Working on half-cuts

Posted on June 5th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

A while ago we covered the costs and benefits of buying a half-cut versus just a bare engine, loom and ECU (see Buying a Half-Cut). In short, the positives of a half-cut are huge – sure, you pay more, but you get the gearbox, front suspension, gearbox, dashboard, ECUs and so on. But as I said in that article, man-handling a half-cut around is a much bigger ask than doing the same for just an engine. In a front-wheel drive, a half-cut may well weigh 60 per cent of the mass of the entire car – so even with what today is a fairly small car, three-quarters of a tonne.

Lots of books to read!

Posted on May 22nd, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

With the availability of eBay and Amazon, these days it’s not hard to source specific secondhand books. What would have once required a nightmarish time-wasting procedure of calling bookshops, paying fees, having searches done on your behalf, never hearing back – well, all that’s now gone. Instead, it’s just a case of typing into search engines!

I am a prodigious reader, not just of books automotive but also of books aeroplanes, books trains, books ships – and also books Nazi Germany, books sociology, and others. But back to car books. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve acquired a handful of interesting car books, all secondhand and all interesting.

Let’s take a look.

Fitting a supercharger

Posted on April 24th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

So far I must have worked on it for 100 hours. After all, the welder’s bill
has already reached 11 hours (at AUD$50 an hour) and I’ve spent easily ten times
as much time on it as he has. In fact, having previously plonked a turbo late
model engine into an early model chassis, I’d say this project isn’t far away in
time and complexity.

And I thought it was going to be so easy…

The project is forced aspiration on my ’99 Toyota Prius. The Prius is a
hybrid petrol/electric car – but that unique driveline has absolutely nothing to
do with the time that I have so far spent. In fact, doing the same job on a
Toyota Echo would involve all of the same steps. (The Echo has an engine whose
bottom half is pretty well identical to the Prius.)

For forced induction I’d initially thought ‘turbo’, and in fact had found
exactly the right turbo going on eBay. A ball-bearing Garret GT12, it was new
but the private seller was quitting it after changing projects. Unfortunately,
he is also apparently one of those people who puts up eBay items with a low
starting price, then withdraws the auction at the last moment when the price
hasn’t risen high enough. And so wastes a lot of people’s time.

My thoughts then turned to supercharging. In the case of the Prius,
supercharging has distinct possible advantages – but then so too does
turbocharging! Given that no one in the world has forced aspirated a Prius, the
approach which would work best is problematic. But if I could pick up a small,
cheap blower, well…

Power isn’t everything

Posted on April 3rd, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I am sure that this will be news to many of you. But I am equally sure others will simply nod and smile: they’ve known it for years.

The point is simply this: you don’t need an enormous amount of power to have fun in a car.

A good handling car with a sweet spread of torque is fantastic on a winding road; as is the comfort in driving a car hard while knowing that the chances of being inadvertently waaay over the speed limit are much lower.

These ideas don’t sit well with an expectation that more power is better, and so a car with less than 300kW at the treads is just for wimps. But as I’ve covered in another column (see Driving Emotion, November 2004), a lot of the time the extra power is just being used to drag around extra weight – and so the immensely powerful car doesn’t have the performance you might expect after hearing the peak power figure.

In modification, aiming for an all-round fun package without concentrating on just power also gives you a huge advantage – you can make use of the bits and pieces that everyone else thinks are valueless.

The weirdness of one city’s car modification fashions

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

Car modification fashions, like all fashions, appear especially odd to those people who aren’t fashionable. I am very old-fashioned, out-of-fashion, fashion illiterate, unfashionable – call it what you will. That’s especially the case with car modification fashions to be found in Sydney.

Take the car I saw today in traffic. It epitomised all that is wrong with the city’s modification fashion. A Kia Rio, it featured dual polished cannon mufflers hanging low at the back, ho-hum alloy wheels, and a huge dual-plane aluminium wing complete with endplates. So, a pedestrian car with ineffective mods.

But that wasn’t all – nope, with just those changes, the owner wouldn’t have been quite at the fashion cutting edge.

It was also imperative that they position their rear ‘P’ plate three-quarters behind the numberplate – and of course that numberplate had to bear a series of purpose-picked letters and numbers showing something fundamentally meaningless. I forget what the actual plate was – something like ‘2EZ4ME’. Don’t get it? I assume it means “too easy for me”. What’s the significance of that? God knows. Of course, within his peer group, this plate probably makes him a hero.

Sydney is Australia’s largest city and perhaps as a result, has a distinctively different car culture to the rest of the continent. For example, in addition to odd cars like ‘2EZ4ME’, the most elaborate show cars in Australia can be found in Sydney. The desire for peer approbation also appears huge. Put those things together and you can end up with what I can only call very strange cars.

The best electronics car kits ever

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