Salvaging Discards

Posted on June 29th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Whenever I write in AutoSpeed about making something of the items others throw away, I am always a little surprised at the positive reader response.

That said, some stories have been more enthusiastically received than others: I now carefully preface all such stories with something like:

If you’re the sort of person who isn’t into junk, read no further. However, if you like picking up discards cheaply (or at no cost at all) and aren’t afraid of putting together some bits and pieces, this is for you!

Putting that first normally stops those people who really aren’t much interested in grubbing through others’ rubbish!

And so I am presenting here another such item. Again, it’s clearly not for everyone!

My 3½ year old son, Alexander, loves monster truck toys. Because he knows that real monster trucks can jump cars, roll over, do wheel-stands (etc, etc), he rightly expects his monster truck toys to do the same. But they’re not cut from the same cloth, and often suffer fatal results.

However, in our household, that’s no problem. Why? Because most of his monster truck toys cost nearly nothing.

What we do is this.

Boiling the Frog*

Posted on June 26th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Opinion,Peugeot by Julian Edgar

One of the difficulties in assessing change in vehicles over a procession of models is getting past the obfuscation that normally accompanies car publicity. Both in advertising and PR material, every model is always billed as being vastly better than the preceding model.

Of course, in many ways newer models or versions often are better – but in other ways sometimes they are not.

One example of this is the weight of cars: as we all know, cars of today are much heavier than the cars of yesterday. However that’s a process that has been largely unremarked upon as it has been occurring. The upshot is we only now say: “Hell! Look at how heavy new cars have become!”

But this insidious change occurs in other design aspects as well.

Coming hybrids

Posted on June 25th, 2008 in Economy,Honda,Hybrid Power,Toyota by Julian Edgar

…from the most successful hybrid car makers in the world –

The current Prius technology is a decade old – so expect a big jump in new models.

Honda, despite always having far better petrol engines in their low-cost hybrids than Toyota, have been left well behind by Toyota – so expect an even bigger jump!

Interesting times ahead.

When is an electric bike not a bike?

Posted on June 24th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Electric vehicles by Julian Edgar

As electric bikes get more powerful, and lose their pedals, riders risk breaking the law. But what should the law be? Unlimited power? And how is that power to be measured?

At least one AutoSpeed reader is riding an electric vehicle that looks pedal powered, and looks legal in power, but is capable of at least 5 times the legal power output in short spurts…

When I heard of that reader I just laughed.

But if the law in its current form prevents people making use of efficient, low pollution and cheap transport, surely it’s in need of review?

eLabtronics Performance Modules

Posted on June 23rd, 2008 in Engine Management,Handling,Opinion,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Despite having in the past worked for an electronics hobbyist magazine, and having played with electronics for most of my life, I don’t consider myself to be any sort of electronics whiz.

In fact, I am painfully aware of how little I know and understand.

But that’s one reason I am so pleased that together with eLabtronics, we’ve been developing a whole range of off-the-shelf electronic performance modules. 

Why their need?

Well, I’ve seen it so often. Someone will ask on a discussion group or in a car club for some simple electronic device. Like, they want to automatically turn on something when a certain voltage is reached. Or they want to flash a light. Or they want a simple timer.

Always – absolutely always – there’ll be an electronics whiz that will come out of the woodwork.

Say it’s the flasher that’s desired. The ‘whiz’ will say as fast as he can:

“Oh yeah. Just use a triple-five and a few passives.”

The person making the original requests always says: “Pardon?”

Then expert says it all again, although this time faster and maybe with a URL for a circuit.

The beginner is then likely to say something like:

“OK I think I am getting it now.

“So how do I make the flash rate variable?

“And did I say, I want to pulse the car horn. Is that OK? Will the triple five do that?”

The answer of course is: no, a 555 IC won’t be able to handle the required power. And neither will it like working in a car without any protection circuitry on its power supply leads….

In fact, for every ‘simple’ circuit request, there are always – but always – complexities that are easy to overlook.

So when I say that I started working with eLabtronics over 10 months ago – and the first product is being written about in AutoSpeed only this week – you get some idea of what goes into apparently simple designs.

Of course, the eLabtronics Multi Purpose Module isn’t just a flasher. Or a voltage switch. Or a timer. The same hardware will be able to do all these functions – and plenty more – just by software changes made by the company. 

Which brings me back to the beginning. In the past we’ve covered a range of DIY modules in kit form. They were (and remain) very good designs – but the user had to build them. And many people aren’t confident or happy building electronic kits where just one, apparently trivial, wiring error can stop the whole thing from ever working.

The new eLabtronics modules are fully built and tested. Courtesy of their microcontroller design, they also have far more flexibility and options than those previous kits.

The ‘expert’ quoted above will be dismissive. But the electronics non-expert, who just wants to do all those apparently simple things, will love them….

Australian oil imports FALL!

Posted on June 19th, 2008 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Puts into context decreasing sales of large cars, I think. Holden and Ford must be absolutely pulling out all stops to re-jig their product range… helped more than a little by Federal government pressure. Is anyone still saying that the VE and FG are the right cars for the times….?

Tyres are like toilet paper

Posted on June 16th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I kinda think that – in some respects, at least – tyres are like toilet paper.

We’ve all heard of the person who raves about their tyres – no, not the grip but instead their longevity.

“I got 50,000 kilometres out of my last set of Duramax Ultradistance and this set still have plenty of tread depth after forty thousand kays,” they say.

When I hear that sort of comment, I always think two things:

1) Geez, you must be a wimp of a driver, never pushing hard around any corners; and

2) Your tyres must have rubber as hard as rock – and hell, that must make them grip really well

A Riding Holiday

Posted on June 14th, 2008 in Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Look, to be honest, I felt certain something would go wrong.

Too many links in the chain.  Too many uncertainties.

Driving from the Gold Coast to Brisbane airport. Catching a plane to Melbourne. Staying with friends for a few nights in Melbourne then catching the train to Wangaratta. Camping in a caravan park, then leisurely  riding bikes the 100-odd kilometres to Bright along the bicycle-and-joggers rail trail, following the path of the old railway line.

And then back again.

Camping each night. Finally, the train and plane and car back to the Gold Coast.

Complete all the way with two folding Brompton bikes, two folding Burley bike trailers, full camping gear – and two adults and one three-and-half-year-old.

Broken spokes, collapsing tents, exhaustion, mishap and injury. Gears that wouldn’t mesh, gears that were wrong ratios. Getting lost and misjudging basics like water or matches. Trains that didn’t arrive; taxis that didn’t appear. Broken chains, fractured towbars, irritability and anarchy.

VDO has lost its way

Posted on June 12th, 2008 in Driving Emotion by Julian Edgar

Back when I owned my first car, about 25 years ago, I just adored the VDO gauge catalog.

Not knowing much about cars, I was terrified of touching the engine’s carby, or the suspension, or the brakes – or anything much at all. But I knew I could install extra instruments without wrecking the car, so plenty of new gauges found their way into the cabin.

In that first car, an air-cooled 2-cylinder, I installed a VDO oil temperature gauge, one with the sensor mounted in a new, purpose-designed dipstick. In later cars I fitted VDO cylinder head temperature gauges, exhaust gas temperature gauges, turbo boost gauges, and transmission temperature gauges.

Gauges are good – you learn about the operation of the car, can immediately spot when you’re pushing the driveline too hard, and can see problems as they develop.

So the other day, when I was at a show that had the (apparently) latest VDO catalog, I enthusiastically grabbed it. It’s actually marked as being the 2007 VDO Racing catalog, but it’s the same old format that I looked through so long ago – comprising automotive, commercial vehicles and marine.

But, after reading through it, I bloody well wondered why I bothered picking it up: the 1985 catalog would have done just as well!

Which workshop will be the first?

Posted on June 9th, 2008 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Engine Management,hyundai,Opinion,Power,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Here in Australia, major car modification workshops are generally well established. That’s said in the light of full knowledge that workshops come and go; but equally, others build a strong reputation and live on for decades. Some even span two or three generations of the one family.


I know that you can always find customers to denigrate any workshop, but places like Turbo Tune in Adelaide, Nizpro and Beninca Motors in Melbourne, MRT in Sydney, ChipTorque on the Gold Coast, and Romano Motors in Brisbane are longstanding workshops with good reputations.


And I wonder which Australian business – either these or others – will be first: the first to realise that there’s money to be made in specialising in a new-age of car modification.