My new (old) car

Posted on January 12th, 2016 in BMW,Driving Emotion,Opinion,Skoda by Julian Edgar

It wasn’t that there was too much wrong with my 2006 Honda Legend, but maybe I was just getting a bit bored with it.  While I think the Legend is a fantastically under-rated car – what with its silky 3.5 litre V6 and active all-wheel drive – after three years I was also starting to hanker for something else.

The buying criteria varied on the day of the week: one day something spacious and frugal like a Skoda Superb wagon; the next day something fast and fun like a Jaguar XJR. Or, more conservatively, a Falcon G6E, Camry Hybrid or Subaru Outback. But in all cases, the budget was under AUD$35,000, and the car had to be brilliant on the 150km round trip that I do when, for work, I go into Canberra. (This trip might occur two or three times a week.)

Out here, the roads are rough and demanding; you need big lights and the ability to out-brake a kangaroo hopping across the road in front of you. And you also need a car that is easy over long distances – when you’re feeling tired, you want the car to do most of the work for you.

So I looked and looked.

The X350 model Jaguars (2003 to 2007) greatly appealed. These cars are aluminium-bodied, riveted and glued together. They also all have air suspension, and are available with a 3-litre V6, a 4.2 litre naturally aspirated V8 or the mighty supercharged V8. Incredibly, the massive differences in price as new cars is not reflected 12 years down the track… depending on condition and kays, you can buy any of them for much the same money.

Three years ago, when I was deciding on the purchase that eventually led to the Legend, I also considered these Jaguars. However, the pick of the bunch – the supercharged XJR – was then around $50,000. Nowadays, they’re around $32,000. Unfortunately though, there were none available on my side of the country.

[And why have a budget of under $35,000 – in relative terms, not much money? Basically, I think that it’s now enough to buy a very good car. Why? Well, I am not convinced that there have been huge gains in new cars in the last decade or so. For me at least, the major technological improvements of the last 20 years were really good engine management (electronic throttle, variable valve timing, etc) and safety (lots of airbags, electronic stability control).  From a convenience point of view, I like navigation and a good sound system. Pick a prestige car of the last 10 or 15 years and you get all these. Pick a diesel and you’ll also get good fuel economy…]

So Jaguars were off the list, for now at least. So what about BMWs then? If old prestige cars fall badly in value, then 7-series BMWs fall catastrophically. We had a good look at one – huge diameter rims, massive interior space, very comfortable seats… and lots of broken bits and pieces inside. High kilometres too: this BMW reeked ‘money pit’.

And then suddenly one morning I made a decision. We were going to buy a 2010 Skoda Superb wagon, with the 125kW 2-litre diesel and all the fruit. There was one in Sydney (about three hours away) and it looked mint. At $22,000 (but negotiable) from a private seller, I figured twenty grand would get it. Roomy, reliable, reasonably quick point-to-point, well-equipped… yes, this was it.

We went and got $20,000 out of the bank, and off we went to buy the car. My wife, ten-year-old son and I, all very excited.

And in the metal, the Skoda looked really good. We already have a Skoda in the family – a diesel Roomster – so we’re familiar with the practicality built into these cars. The Skoda was huge inside and had lots of thoughtful touches – but it didn’t have navigation. Hmm, for me that’s a downer. (And yes I know I can use my phone but I much prefer inbuilt navigation.)

But what about on the road? I am unconvinced about the driveability of twin clutch autos and, as we moved away from a standstill, I could immediately feel the slightly unprogressive behaviour of this one.

“The transmission has been replaced by Skoda,” said the owner helpfully. He saw it as a positive, but with only 100,00km on the odometer, I just wondered.

The drive was around an industrial area, relatively new with well-surfaced roads. But even on these good surfaces, I could feel the bump-thump of the low profile tyres, and beyond that, the impact harshness was also high. Worse, the car pitched: in ride quality, it didn’t feel well sorted at all. Last time I considered buying a car, I deleted the Superb from the list because a local person with one has experienced dented rims on our bad roads….and driving this car, that wasn’t surprising.

So we said no, and off we went.

It had taken ages to get the money out of the bank (aren’t banks supposed to have money? – they never seem to make cash withdrawals easy) and my wife suggested that, rather than driving home, we stay the night in Sydney. I agreed: that meant we could spend the next day looking for cars – and so we hit the hotel.

That night, I browsed the web, creating a ‘must see’ list of Sydney cars for the next day.

There was a 2004 Mercedes E500 (V8 and air suspension), a 2004 Jaguar XJ8 (this one with the smaller 3.5 litre engine); a 2002 BMW 735i (perhaps this one would be in better condition); a 2004 Mercedes S430 (with V8 and 7 speed auto); a BMW 530 diesel from 2006; S350 and E320 Mercedes (from 2003 and 2004); and another Mercedes E500.  That’s right: no Camry Hybrids or Falcons or Subarus… they’d kinda gone from the list without conscious decision.

Incredibly – well, it seems incredible to me – all the prestige cars were at or lower than the $20,000 we’d got out the bank for the Skoda. I know that expensive cars have always dropped in value fast, but I don’t think in my whole driving life I have ever seen the quality of car now available for the price of an old Falcon or Toyota!

The next morning we were up bright and early – off to see the first on the list, an E500 Mercedes. From the W211 series (2002 to 2009), the E500 was the top of the W211 line (the supercharged AMG E55 excepted). It used a 5-litre V8 with 225kW (and an exceptional 460Nm from 2700 to 4250 rpm) and the first cars had 5-speed autos.

The car we were looking at was dark blue and had a black interior. It also had a panoramic sunroof and an interior that was mint. It also had full Mercedes Benz service history and had travelled just 127,000km over its 10 years of road registration. Surprisingly, it had the 7-speed auto – it must have been among the first E500s in Australia delivered with the better trans. Factory navigation, six stacker CD, nice mix of analog and digital instruments in the dash, superb woodgrain, full memory everything on both front seats. Even a split-fold rear seat (useful for us) and a large boot.

But what would it be like on the road? We took it for half an hour, allowed out with the car sans salesperson.

And the E500 was simply a revelation.

It had three settings for the air suspension; most of the time we left it on ‘comfort’. You could hear the impact of the tyres on small irregularities but could feel nothing. On large bumps, the capacity of the suspension to absorb vertical accelerations was extraordinary. And handling? Hard to find out on a half-hour city test drive, but I threw the car around a few roundabouts and it stuck well, body roll surprisingly low for the apparent softness of the suspension.

But I think that my wife and son were sold the minute I put my foot down: for the V8 cars with the 7-speed auto, the quoted factory time is 6.0 seconds for the 0-100 km/h… and it felt just like that.

We kept staring at each other in disbelief.

How could this old car, that inside felt and looked so modern, a car that went like a cut snake and rode like a limousine – how could this car be stickered at just $18,500? Hell, even if in the future you needed to replace the air struts, or the air compressor, or – well, whatever – you’d still be getting an incredible machine… even for the total outlay.

We offered $18,000 of our cash and the car was ours. That’s less than the price of a new Toyota Yaris….

Four weeks in Germany

Posted on January 20th, 2014 in automotive history,AutoSpeed,BMW,classics,Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

So as I write this, I am just back from our four-week trip to Germany.

It was a trip made with the express intention of seeing as many fabulous technical, automotive and aeronautical sights as possible, and also seeing as many 1930s and 1940s historic sites as possible!

The trip was fascinating – and often rather surprising.

The revered Porsche museum is a self-indulgent wank, with history airbrushed and obfuscated to suit only Porsche and its created mystique.

The BMW museum is in the same mould: brush any commercial difficulties aside (the unsuccessful ETA engines? Never heard of them!) and just plonk cars into a space with almost zero context.

The Mercedes museum? Oh my gosh – what a stunner. Fabulous cars, lots of honesty, and lots of and lots of automotive history expressed in a cultural and technological context. The Mercedes museum is surely one of the best one-make car museums in the world – and boy, do they ever show BMW and Porsche how it should be done.

Another fantastic place to visit is the Sinsheim technic museum. It’s got cars (try some stuff like a Cord, lots of Bugattis, lots and lots of 1930s Mercedes, 1950s bubble cars, American cars of the 1960s – and on and on) and some aircraft (try a Concorde and Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-144) – and also  a whole bunch of military hardware.

Travelling as we did in winter, there’s barely a soul to be seen – so you can take your time, completely unhindered by others. It was so quiet that when looking at the outside military hardware at the Sinsheim museum, a friendly stray cat came up to visit!

Another absolute stunner is the Deutsches technical museum in Munich. I thought that the Science Museum we visited in London last year was good but the Deutsches is in another – even better – league. I defy anyone reading this to get through the content of the Deutsches technical museum in less than a full day. From the pile of Mercedes alloy V12 engine blocks in the section on metal casting, to the aeronautical display showing early aircraft wing sections as they were measured in contemporary wind tunnels, to the display on locks and keys, to the room full of machine tools of the 1800s and 1900s, to the full size stationary steam engines, the cutaway submarine (yep a real one) – it just went on and on and on.

And then when you’ve overloaded there, go to the specialised transport Deutsches museum, also in Munich….. that is also outstanding.

But we didn’t just go to museums. Going with my wife and 9-year-old son, we also visited the Lego Discovery centre in Berlin (pretty weak I thought), the Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg (the world’s largest model railway and quite fantastic), lots and lots of shops, went for  ferry ride on Lake Constance in the south – and also stayed at Zinnowitz on the Baltic Sea in the north.

Then there were the incredibly sobering Nazi-era concentration camps at Dachau and Mittelbau-Dora, the amazing architecture and feel of the Nuremberg Nazi party rally grounds – and a bunch of other stuff.

I’ll be covering a lot of it – with a huge number of pics – in a Germany Diary series we’ll be shortly running in AutoSpeed.

I don’t want one any more…

Posted on November 20th, 2008 in BMW,Opinion by Julian Edgar


It’s perhaps the only car that I have always wanted – well, from the day of its release, anyway.


The year was 1988 and the BMW 750iL was an astonishing car – twin electronically-controlled throttles, 12 cylinders, a limousine that handled so well that contemporary magazine testers were able to triple advisory speed limit signs around corners. On just six of the twelve cylinders, it could still exceed 200 km/h…


I’ve watched and watched as their prices have fallen – in 1988 the cars were $216,000; each year since they’ve got lower. Now, they’re under $10,000.


Less than ten grand for what was amongst the very fastest of four door cars in the world, a superbly equipped, beautiful looking sedan from that long ago time when BMW styling still had grace and cohesion.