Finding space for speakers

Posted on December 16th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

At AutoSpeed we don’t do a helluva lot on DIY car sound.

At AutoSpeed, we do a lot on car sound.

Contradictory? Not really: since we’ve done near 3000 stories, even those topics that we cover rarely still have a good few stories available. And this week it’s the topic of DIY car sound that’s been swirling around in my mind.

I’ve bought a new (secondhand) car – a Honda Insight – and fitted a JVC DVD/CD/AM/FM head unit. As a temporary expedient, I’ve simply connected the JVC to the four standard Honda speakers. These are single cone, nominally 6 inch units positioned in the two doors and in the rear bulkhead behind which the battery and control electronics for this hybrid car are situated.

Like most OE units, the Honda speakers’ efficiency is high and so the power output of the head unit is sufficient for my SPL needs. But the lack of bass and treble are obvious. (Interestingly, with the ability of the JVC to allow you to set individual speaker levels down to 1dB and also set distances from the listener to each of the speakers, the imaging and sound stage are fine. It’s just the lack of highs and lows.)

Getting Things Done

Posted on December 2nd, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Jeez, I feel stuffed. My back aches, my legs hurt, my hands are sore with little cuts and bruises and – despite having had a shower – I still feel grimy.

But I’m pleased with what I achieved.

This has been an unusual week. In one respect it’s been sad (the cat we’ve had for 12 years had to be put down); in another respect strange (I abruptly resigned from contributing to Silicon Chip, a magazine I’ve been associated with for 14 years); and in another respect puzzling (a former colleague chose to embark on what I consider to be an odd career move). But the upshot of all this is that I’ve had both more time available than normal and I’ve simultaneously felt the urge to concentrate on Getting Physical Things Done.

Forget programmable management on the road

Posted on November 5th, 2006 in Engine Management,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Colleague Michael Knowling and I have a standing joke. If we’re photographing a modified car and the car starts with a whir-whir-whir-brmmmm!, we know it’s got programmable management. If it starts with a whir-brmmmm!, we know it’s got factory management. Perhaps it’s modified factory management, but factory management all the same. It may not be impossible to give a car good starting in all conditions with programmable management, but the reality is that this very rarely occurs.

And it’s the same with many other characteristics of factory engine management systems – aftermarket programmable management systems are simply out of their depth in providing stuff fitted to pretty well all current cars, even the cheapies. What stuff, then? Well, things like electronic throttle control, traction control, stability control, auto trans control, variable camshaft timing control, changeover intake manifold control… Sure, there are programmable management systems around that can perform some of these functions (electronic throttle control for example) but the bottom line is that they do so only in a far cruder way than factory systems. Basically, they don’t have the required number of software maps or the development those entail.

I said all of this four years ago – yes, four bloody years ago! – in The Re-Invention of Engine Management Modification and now some of the formerly greatest advocates of programmable engine management systems are starting to see the light. Simon Gischus of Melbourne workshop Nizpro was the most enthusiastic fan of MoTeC engine management systems I have ever seen… bar of course MoTeC itself. Mr Gischus would have nothing to do with factory management tweaking, describing such an approach as being massively inferior to his beloved MoTeC systems. Being geographically located close to MoTeC and having excellent chassis and engine dyno equipment, he was also instrumental in pushing MoTeC forwards in programmable engine management features.

But – and this is just as I said in 2002 – the advent of the turbo BA Falcon changed that. The VL Turbo that Nizpro once specialised in was by then becoming geriatric; the BA Falcon offered a whole new parade of tuning work that would stretch ahead at least ten years. But there was no way Nizpro could compete with other Falcon tuners by putting MoTeC on the cars. Not in cost and, as it turned out, not in results either. (Mr Gischus once took us for a ride in a MoTeC-equipped BA turbo – he wouldn’t let us drive it. The car idled badly and its performance was nothing wonderful.)

Nizpro then tried the ChipTorque-produced Xede interceptor but in the car we drove, achieved dreadful results. (See Cobra Kitted XR6T.) About that three things must be said. Firstly, we’ve driven ChipTorque’s own Xede-equipped BA Turbo and it was fine. Secondly, the APS turbo Falcons we’ve driven drove perfectly, despite using the Unichip interceptor. Finally, Nizpro’s tuning experience had previously all been with programmable management systems: tuning an interceptor (which is basically fooling the ECU into adopting change) can be a very different thing.

Trying a new-fangled car wax

Posted on October 22nd, 2006 in Opinion,Reviews by Julian Edgar

Every so often we at AutoSpeed get sent some free items. Recently, book publisher Veloce has been sending books, and a few months ago Valvoline sent a sample of a new car wax called Eagle One Nanowax.

Most media have a ‘news’ or ‘new products’ page where stuff like this can be displayed but we don’t have either of those – all our articles are full length. So while the books have been reviewed either singly or in pairs as articles, I’ve been a bit unsure of what to do with the wax. After all, who is going to read a 1000 word feature article where some wax is applied to a car? Not me, that’s for sure.

Styling? What’s that again?

Posted on September 24th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


When I think back to all the cars I have owned, appearance was always near the bottom of the list.

My first car – a tiny 1973 Honda Z – was the only one available on my limited student budget and came courtesy of my mother. My first real car – a ’77 AlfaSud – was bought because at the time, it was regarded as one of the best handling cars around. My next car – a ’77 BMW 3.0si – was regarded by some as the very best sedan in the world, and the next (while regarded by most as nowhere near the best car in the world!) had better steering, a smoother engine and much better NVH than the BMW. It was a 1986 Holden VL Commodore Turbo.

The Commodore was replaced by a Liberty RS, the Liberty by an R32 Nissan Skyline GTR, the GTR by an Audi S4, the S4 by a Lexus LS400, the LS400 by a tiny Honda Insight.

Yep, full circle.

The perfect glove box item

Posted on September 10th, 2006 in Opinion,Reviews by Julian Edgar

Over the years I’ve built and written about plenty of hand-cranked LED torches. The articles have appeared in Silicon Chip magazine (see Our Fantastic Human-Powered LED Torches for an example) and in addition to those covered in the articles, I’ve built plenty of other torches for personal use. But now commercial hand-cranked LED torches have become available – and some of them are very good.

Many expensive cars are simply no longer worth it

Posted on August 27th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


It’s a truism to say that car technology is improving. What is really happening is that the level of base car technology has dramatically improved in the last five years – especially here in Australia – as the trickle-down of features previously available only on prestige cars now greets the masses. Lots of airbags, stability control, ABS, sophisticated engines – even sat navigation – were once things that you had to pay a huge amount for. But, wonderfully, not any more.

So what happens when you now step into an AUD$80,000 car? Well, the short answer is that you don’t see a helluva lot for your money. Even in Noise Vibration Harshness (NVH), the differences are now minimal between an $80K car and one that costs half that. When analysed in terms of the engine, suspension, in-cabin features, NVH, handling, safety, comfort and space, the advantages of these more expensive cars simply aren’t there any more.

And that’s a dramatic change. To be blunt, I think many manufacturers (especially the Europeans) are now trading solely on their reputations – and buyers are being blinded by the marketing bullshit. In fact, I can’t think of a car I’ve driven in the $80,000 – $100,000 category that shows huge advantages over a locally built car – like a Falcon – that costs less than half.

I can forgive you if you’re rolling your eyes and suggesting what I’ve written is rubbish. In fact, that’s exactly what I used to do when reading Australian car mags in the Seventies and Eighties that continually suggested the local cars were world class.

A biography of one of the automotive greats

Posted on August 13th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


This one’s rare. Firstly, the number of cars that have been produced in the last fifty or so years that can be traced back to the creative efforts of one individual are uncommon indeed. (Well, successful cars, anyway!). Secondly, while there has been a handful of individuals that have achieved automotive success in this way, very few biographies have been written about them.

Race and road car suspensions

Posted on July 30th, 2006 in Handling,Opinion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

I don’t claim to be well versed in race car driving, although I’ve driven a production race car for a few laps of a circuit and I’ve driven road cars on skidpans and race tracks and at manufacturers’ proving grounds.

Conversely, I have driven probably about half a million kilometres on roads. Like you probably also have, I’ve driven on smooth freeways, on rutted dirt, on gravel and patched bitumen, and roads with corners and roads with straights. Roads with hills; roads that are flat. Roads with lots of traffic; roads with none. Roads that are easy; roads that throw corners and dips at you with startling, frightening suddenness.

And I know that the most common attribute of roads is their inconsistency. Not only do roads suddenly change as you progress along them, but the same road can have an utterly different character if the weather or traffic change.

The times that I have been on racetracks have shown me one thing: their variability is simply vastly less than roads. Yes, there can be changes in weather and traffic, but you don’t usually need to be wary of cars coming the other way, cars that might cross the centreline, for example. You don’t need to wonder where the next corner goes and – after one lap – you don’t need to worry if the surface has deteriorated overnight, or an errant truck has sprinkled gravel or diesel across your path.

And roads have bumps, lots of bumps. You need only watch racing cars on street circuits to see how smooth the tracks they drive on usually are. Even the groomed-for-racing street circuit looks bumpy when being traversed by racing cars; a road car barely notices.

A commercially viable way to make a one-off car?

Posted on July 16th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


In the last week I have been lucky enough to see in close-up detail two unique cars, both of which are made largely from scratch.