Jeez, how do spare parts counter assistants keep their jobs?

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


It’s along time since I worked behind the counter in a shop – and even then it was only a Christmas job. So maybe I’ve forgotten what complete idiots many customers are and how store staff have to cope with that day-in and day-out. But jeez I find it frustrating buying stuff.

Invariably, when you buy an automotive component, the first thing the staff ask you is: “What make and model?”

They’ll ask that even if you have brought in a sample – say a piece of bent wire for a custom-shaped water hose on a turbo conversion. It doesn’t matter if you say: “It’s a custom job; do you have one like this?” …they just repeat the question.

Today I wanted to buy some oil that’s used in the steering dampers of motorcycles. I wanted to know:

Fuel saving vortex generators

Posted on June 18th, 2006 in Aerodynamics,Opinion by Julian Edgar

When the latest Evo model Mitsubishi Lancer came out I looked with interest at the rear fins stuck all over the trailing edge of the roof.

Mitsubishi calls them vortex generators, a term I was already familiar with from aircraft. Some aircraft use vortex generators placed on the upper surface of the wings to delay flow separation and so reduce the speed at which wing stall occurs. But the Mitsubishi isn’t an aircraft flying along, so what do they do on that car? A tech paper from Mitsubishi soon revealed that they improve the flow of air down the rear glass, so getting more air to the wing and probably also reducing the size of the wake.

I was inspired enough by the design to make a bunch of my own (using the alternative shape shown in the tech paper) and stick them over the trailing edge of the roof of my NHW10 Prius. However, on-road testing showed that the reduction in drag (for that was what I was after) wasn’t enough to make a dramatic difference to fuel economy, as I had already achieved with my frontal undertray.

So I put the idea to one side, perhaps for later revisiting with different shaped vortex generators or another car.

But when I came across a discussion group post that talked about an Australian company selling vortex generators with the aim of reducing fuel consumption, my interest was again aroused. The company, VG Fuelsavers, had recently featured on local TV as an invention worth watching. The website showed some pics of the vortex generators, which are made of sheet aluminium and look much more like aircraft designs than the shape of the ones used on the Evo Lancer. A kit of nine vortex generators with fitting instructions, cleaning wipes, double sided tape and a template cost AUD$110, including delivery. Which seems fine by me.

Buying home speakers…

Posted on May 21st, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

For once this column doesn’t talk much about cars. But the process I went through was eerily similar to sorting the wheat from the chaff that occupies much of my time when testing new cars…

My elderly father had decided he wanted some new stereo speakers. None of this new-fangled home 6-speaker theatre nonsense; what he wanted was a pair of speakers capable of reproducing the full normal listening spectrum – say from 40 – 20,000Hz. Of course, at 84, he wasn’t going to be hearing too many 20,000Hz notes (and nor would I be!), but he wanted to replace the near 30-year-old 10 inch 3-ways that had been serving duty in the lounge room all that time.

His knowledge may be out of date but it’s certainly not lacking in depth: over the very long time that he’s been interested in sound engineering he’s built amplifiers and speakers and has followed the transition from 78s, to 33s, from mono to stereo and thence to CD and DVD. So when I was invited along to participate in the listening tests, I was very much conscious of being a background adviser, rather than any kind of dictator of outcome.

When he’d broached the subject of speakers, I’d reflected over the web discussions I’d been browsing, over the newspaper and magazine accounts of speakers I’d casually read, and thought that a pair of speakers produced by an Australian manufacturer would provide the best value for money. I don’t think any Australian company manufactures loudspeaker drivers per se (Etone excepted), but while many denigrate the companies producing speaker systems as mere ‘box-stuffers’, the matching of woofers, midranges and tweeters to each other and an enclosure is as much an art as a science. And if the locals can get it right, the saving represented by Australian assembly (and so the lack of need to transport bulky and heavy furniture items internationally) is considerable.

Modifications on three wheels

Posted on May 7th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


You’ll have to indulge me, to pander to my obsession. A few months ago I wrote about my newly purchased Greenspeed pedal trike (see Driving Emotion ) and in the time since, I been both pedalling it a lot – and modifying it. True, the modifications aren’t fundamental, but they’ve added to the riding enjoyment.

But first, if you haven’t read that previous column, what’s this about a trike? The Greenspeeds are recumbent machines, ones where you lie back at a steep angle on a hammock-like seat. The pedals are way out front and the trike uses two front steerable wheels and a single rear chain-driven wheel. My trike has 63 gears, front drum brakes and zero scrub radius steering.

Buying more machinery…

Posted on April 23rd, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Right now I am typing with green fingers. Not ‘green’ as in the metaphorical fingers that gardeners have; nope, green as in covered in green paint. I am not quite sure why the paint is green; it could equally have been red or black or silver. But when I made the colour choice, green seemed more appropriate for a bandsaw and a table saw.

You see, I’ve been buying more machinery. I’ve now decided that good quality machinery in an amateur workshop will last forever, so if I buy it now, it’ll always be available for use. Even if that use is so intermittent that the machine gets a work-out only every six months. In fact, another machine I have just bought will probably fall into that occasional-use category. But I’ll come back to that one in a minute – what’s this about a bandsaw and table saw?

Both items had come up at the local Tender Centre. Tender Centres are an interesting way of buying secondhand bits and pieces. The goods are arranged for inspection, and – like at an auction – each item has a ‘lot’ number marked on it. However, unlike at an auction, when you make a bid (called a tender) you have no idea of the amounts that other people are bidding for the same items. This is because the tenders are submitted in writing.

The goods can only be inspected on certain days – usually a Friday, Saturday and Sunday once per fortnight. At the inspection, a clipboard is issued and you fill in your contact details on the form. Carrying the clipboard around with you, you then write down the ‘lot’ numbers of the items that you’re interested in, and state what you’re prepared to pay for them. Items may have a reserve – but you don’t know what it is.

That Sunday night you hear which of your tenders were successful. In addition to the tender amount, a small processing fee is paid per successful tender, and also paid is the equivalent of a buyer’s premium – around ten per cent.

Revisiting the V6 Commodore

Posted on April 9th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


Back in November 2004 we drove the VZ Commodore SV6 (see Holden VZ SV6 Manual Test) and in January 2005 we tested the VZ Commodore wagon – see Holden Acclaim Wagon. Of course, the VZ is the last iteration of the Commodore that began life with the VT model in 1997, but powered by a pair of new high tech, quad cam, 3.6-litre engines rather than the old pushrod 3.8 litre V6. The quad cam had been an engine we were very much looking forward to and well before its launch, we trumpeted its design in Holden’s New World Class V6. However, as the two on-road tests show, the reality was far less impressive than the on-paper spec.

Radios that don’t just receive AM and FM…

Posted on March 12th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

But having said that, in addition to normal AM/FM radios in the house and car, I have two other radios. One is a Uniden 200 channel scanner that I use to listen to local emergency services – police, fire, ambulance – and also the local trains. I don’t switch it on all that often but if there’s an emergency – and I live in a bushfire-prone area – or I feel like an interesting hour or so, I’ll turn the knobs and let it automatically scan through its two hundred selected frequencies.

The Uniden came from a local secondhand store – I think it was about AUD$100 – and luckily enough, it came fully programmed. (It’s usually pretty easy to find a bunch of relevant frequencies by doing a web search. The pain is punching them all in.) I don’t know what model the Uniden is (and working out how to use it was initially a little difficult) because most of the writing seems to have rubbed off the main body of the radio. Until recently I also didn’t have much idea of how good or bad it was. Despite living in a valley at the top of some hills, the local services come through loud and clearly from a radius of about 50 kilometres – and that’s just using the standard rubber ducky aerial. But whether another radio would be much better or worse, without trying one, I didn’t know.

To buy one of these you’d need rocks in your head…

Posted on February 26th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Palaeontologist Richard Fortey makes the point that the apparent inevitability of the demise of the dinosaurs is a purely retrospective analysis – there was nothing in their evolution that predestined them for death. So to use the word dinosaur to portray outdatedness is to completely misread history.

Sorry Richard, but I can find no better term to express it: the Lexus IS200 is a dinosaur. There may not be a single cataclysmic event that will end its tenure on Earth, but its evolutionary path is finished… if it ever existed.

It’s been a while since I drove an IS200 (see New Car Test – Lexus IS200 Limited Edition) and in the five years since, my memory had dimmed a little. But getting back into the car – this one an auto trans Sports Luxury model – brought it all back. In spades. On nearly all criteria of judgement, this is a pitiful car. Why anyone would be willing to hand over the AUD$57,900 (plus ORC!) is completely beyond me. So, on what criteria, then?

Well, take interior space. All cars have to carry things around – they provide transport of goods and people. The IS200 might have four doors, but the rears may as well be welded shut. In the back there’s barely space for a small child – and no way could any normally-sized adult fit in there. And things aren’t much better up front. I’m average in height but my head was brushing the underside of the sunroof cover… with the seat at its lowest position. With the wide rear-wheel drive transmission tunnel gobbling cabin space, there’s no room for the left driver’s leg and the door is close and its sill high. Nearly any other small car on the road has more interior space – or more that is usable, anyway. Try a Honda Jazz, a Mazda 2, a Barina… the list goes on.

OK, so the space utilisation is a design lesson in how not to do it. What about performance? Ahhh, performance…..well, this car doesn’t have any.

A new GTR…

Posted on February 12th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

A few weeks ago I bought a GTR. A long time ago – what today seems a very long time ago – I owned a Nissan Skyline GTR, but this new one is very different. How different? Well, for starters, it has only three wheels. And a maximum power output of about 0.2kW. I haven’t measured it, but I understand most fairly unfit people can furnish about 200 watts continuously….

Yes, that’s right, this GTR is powered by pedals.

So how the hell did I come to buy a pedal tricycle? A return to childhood while in the clutches of early senility, perhaps? Well, it all actually started on a photo-shoot for AutoSpeed. In Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane and Adelaide we have favourite photo locations; places to which we can take a car to make the photos for AutoSpeed articles. One of the locations is in Knoxfield, a suburb of Melbourne. Over the years we must have photographed a dozen cars there.

And during one of those shoots I’d noticed a nearby factory unit. Along with the name ‘Greenspeed’, it had a sign above the doorway showing what I thought was a recumbent bicycle – the sort where the pedals are way out in front and the seat is close to the ground. Having always been interested in bikes, I put away a casual thought: Must go in there some time. Lots of time passed then I was again in the area – this time with 30 minutes to spare. I parked out the front, knocked on the door and went in. I had no idea what to expect, and so when instead of seeing a bicycle I saw a tricycle, I wasn’t too startled.

From the sign I knew it was all gonna be weird…

I’ll never see big, multiple exhausts in the same way again.

Posted on January 29th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

A sea change.

A cathartic experience.

The scales dropping before one’s eyes.

To suddenly see something in such a totally new way that one wonders how one ever saw it before.

Well, maybe the latter’s overstating the case a bit, but still, I’ll never see big, multiple exhausts in the same way again.