Driving Emotion

Posted on August 3rd, 2003 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Each week we get a large number of emails from our readers. The emails range from plaintive requests for technical specifications of cars we’ve never heard of, to specific criticisms and/or corrections of AutoSpeed articles, to suggestions about the editorial approach that we are taking. Many of the emails that we think may be of interest to other readers are published in our weekly Response column, while staffer Michael Knowling also responds directly to every email.

We ‘know’ some of the correspondents – simply because over the years we have received so many emails from them – but most are literally just names on the screen. One name that is familiar – mostly because this reader is lives in Israel, and so it has stuck in my mind – is Avner Bronfield.

A few months ago he wrote to us, saying in part:

I feel that for some times you have shifted the focus of the magazine from DIY stuff and articles on how can one modify his car (which is what drew me to the magazine in the first place), to new car tests, feature cars, new technology articles and product reviews. The products reviews (which can be for product sold in the AutoSpeed shop) can even be thought of as advertisements. I don’t mind you endorsing a product – since I value your judgment, but I do miss the “real” article that could have been published instead (I’m referring to the one about how I could turn my 200SX to a 400 BHP road/rally monster by utilising $50 and common workshop tools). It’s a shame, because the “new” type of article can be found in quite a few magazines, but few magazines if any can do the “old” type like you.

That said, AutoSpeed is still one of the best on my list.

Best regards,

I think that Avner raised some interesting points, points which are best discussed in more detail here rather than in a Response column.

Click for larger image

Firstly, the reviews of products. It cuts no ice if I say that the editorial reviews run in AutoSpeed are completely independent of the AutoSpeed shop – why should you believe that? Well, here’s a reason: the reviews of shop products are not always positive! The best example of that was a review that I did of the The Australian Dictionary of Motoring [“Book Review – The Australian Dictionary of Motoring”], a product being sold in the AutoSpeed shop. I doubt very much if a more negative review of that book has been published anywhere.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy some of the AutoSpeed Shop DVDs – in fact, after reading some of Michael’s reviews of them I doubt I’d bother viewing them if they were given to me. But that’s because they’re simply not to my taste, not because in their genre they are poor products. (That’s a major reason why MK reviews those DVDs and I don’t!) But something like the e-Boost turbo boost controller [“e-Boost Evaluation”] is very different – taste doesn’t come into it. If that product had performed badly, that’s exactly what would have been written. Of course we’d always rather carry a positive story than a negative one (who wouldn’t?), so we’re always pleased when a product turns out to be a good ‘un. But such an outcome is never assumed before the evaluation begins…

But I think that the section of Avner’s email which is most important is the bit where he suggests that we have moved away from nuts-and-bolts do-it-yourself performance upgrades.

While AutoSpeed is philosophically premised on a print magazine in format and style, we have chosen not to do what every hobby/enthusiast print magazine in the world does – and that is repeat the same articles (in varied forms) every 2-3 years. Most print magazines have a readership turnover that results in the majority of their readers not reading the magazine for a longer period than that; another way of putting it is that an article like ‘Intro to Fuel Injection’ (Basics of Fuel Injection, What You Need to Know About Engine Management, Fuel Injection Explained, etc) needs to be run every 3 years or so if readers are to be best informed. However, since with AutoSpeed every article that we have ever done is immediately available online through subscription, we have been loathe to follow that approach.

Realistically, there is only a finite number of approaches that could allow Avner to turn his 200SX into a 400 BHP road/rally monster by utilising $50 and common workshop tools. (Obviously he doesn’t mean that literally, but philosophically.) In AutoSpeed we have covered DIY intake system modification, we have covered turbo swaps, we have covered DIY boost controls, we have covered cheap exhaust upgrades. And on the other side of the coin we have also covered some very powerful SR20DET upgrades (the SR20DET is the engine in the 200SX) using professional – and expensive – products.

In fact I’d be surprised is we haven’t run more than 200 articles that would be directly or indirectly relevant to modifying a Nissan 200SX – or any turbo car, for that matter. At least half of those articles would have taken a cheapest, do-it-yourself approach.

But – and here’s the vital point – many of you who are reading this wouldn’t have seen those articles: they are in the 1850-odd stories that are available but aren’t in this week’s batch. That’s of course why print magazines do that repeating; despite their back-issues also being available, they know that most readers will miss out if the stories aren’t brought around again in updated and revised form.

Internal combustion engines – and cars as a whole – are changing glacially slowly in their fundamentals, and so alterations in modification techniques are also slow evolutions of previous approaches. It’s not like next month we’ll be able to show you how to double the power of your hybrid car – you know, Voltage Upgrades for Electric Traction Motors.

Another reason that we have been reluctant to run lots of different approaches to basic modifications is that we want to show the best way of doing things. Over the years we have seen plenty of modifications that don’t work – in fact, on reflection, perhaps one-third to one-half of all modifications that we’ve ever seen – and we think that we would be doing you a disservice to run uncritical DIY stories on those other approaches. Again, most print magazines will show – especially over a period of years – modification techniques which are in complete contradiction of each other.

So where does that leave us? Avner wrote his email before the DIY modification stories on my Maxima began to appear (intercooler install, water spray install, battery move to the boot, sound system install, etc) so perhaps his criticisms are now less strongly held. But realistically the basic problem remains: there is only a limited number of ways of achieving good modification results at a low cost – and we’ve covered every one of them I have ever heard of! (In fact, plenty of them we’ve either invented or at the very least, brought to the attention of our readers for the first time of any car modification magazine.)

So next week we aren’t going to be running a story How to Improve Your Exhaust for $400 – cos we’ve already done it a couple of times with different cars as the guinea pigs. Next month we aren’t going to be headlining Twenty Dollar Boost Control – cos we haven’t yet seen anything better than the four DIY boost controls we’ve already featured. Radically Improve Your Intake Flow for Near-Zero Cost – we’ve done it already.

(And more fundamentally, we’ll also not be suggesting that the first engine mod should be a turbo or cam change, that body kits make a huge difference to high speed handling, that aftermarket management will transform the driveability of an otherwise stock car.)

Of course, when there are actually new products or techniques which offer significant advantages then we’ll be covering them. Developments in interceptors (not strictly DIY but potentially still budget and effective), variable flow exhausts, new turbo technology – things like that. (And right now I am – in conjunction with Silicon Chip magazine – developing a range of electronic kits that have the potential to have a very major impact on DIY car modification. These kits will also be covered in AutoSpeed.)

But when we’ve already covered a budget do-it-yourself modification approach that we think is the best, how do we keep beating that?

One way round this dilemma is to do what we have chosen so far not to. And that is, to repeat DIY tech articles in revised and updated form. So for example, in our very first issue of October 13, 1998, we ran different stories on head swaps, using bigger injectors, a new interceptor, and building your own suspension struts. We could easily take the raw material from those stories and revise and update them.

In fact, many of you wouldn’t even recognise the basis of the new story.

For those who found the original story through our on-site search engine, a footnote could be added to the effect that a revised and upgraded version is now available.

Another example: ‘Brilliant Boost’ – our first DIY boost control – appeared in Issue #3 (October 27, 1998) and could be now rewritten to take into account the feedback on the approach and what we have since learned (for example, we’d now also suggest changing the ‘pill’ size incorporated in many boost control systems to achieve the same outcome at nearly no cost at all).

But what do you want us to do? Use some of these old tech articles as the basis for major rewrites and updates? Or be happy that in fact they are still of good quality and great usefulness (which they invariably are) and leave them alone to be accessed through the on-site search engine as you wish?

We’re quite genuinely unsure of the approach to take – so tell us.

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