The Forgotten Series

Posted on July 3rd, 2008 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

As regular AutoSpeed readers will know, each week we repeat some of our content. We decided on that path for a few reasons, but the primary one was that I could see from our readership stats that many – in fact a huge number – of previously published articles were being completely overlooked.

Time has certainly vindicated that observation: most of our republished articles have proved (and are proving) very popular.

The selection of the older articles that I think worthy of bringing forward again is manual: I look at our old material and decide what is still relevant and strong. That’s an easier task than it would be for most publications, because from day #1 of AutoSpeed I was always conscious that material published in AutoSpeed would be continuously accessible over a long period.


Well, wherever possible, I tried to make articles timeless – or at least, written in a form that would allow them to date as slowly as possible.

I find it interesting revisiting those old articles; although I am familiar with everything that has ever been published in AutoSpeed (that’s over the course of 10 years and more than 3300 articles), sometimes the articles are better than I remember.

And, of course, some are worse.

The latter ones I don’t republish; obviously, the former ones I do.

Then there are those articles that I thought at the time were good, and looking at them again still think that they’re good – but that have always rated poorly!

The reason for this preamble is that today I was revisiting old material, selecting articles for republication. And I saw a series that is even more relevant today than it was when first published.

Back in 2005 I wrote five articles in a ‘Performance Electronics’ series. The reason I felt it necessary was that at the time, the electronics magazine I then contributed to – Silicon Chip – had agreed to develop a whole bunch of automotive electronic kits. Working with brilliant designer John Clarke, I had been instrumental in a range of DIY products that were then written about in a book, and were subsequently made available from Jaycar Electronics. (You can see many of them in the AutoSpeed shop.)

Those kits allowed (and allow – they’re nearly all still available) people interested in cars to do lots of very tricky things. However, I wondered if people would fully understand the implications of what could newly be done on a DIY basis.

Without an understanding of concepts like hysteresis, frequency and duty cycle, intercepting of signals, pull-up and pull-down resistors, the ability of people to implement certain functions would be limited.

And I really knew that, because – as a result of helping to develop the kits – many were ideas that I’d only just got my head around.

The reason that this series again caught my eye was nearly the same as the one that prompted its writing: a new range of electronic products. This time the modules are being developed with Adelaide company eLabtronics; this time they’re fully built and tested (which makes them available to a much wider range of electronics skill levels than kits); and this time they have much improved functionality. 

But to really get the most out of these modules (or for that matter any automotive electronic performance modifications), you really need to know a bunch of concepts.

So I think that the completely overlooked series (starts here) remains compulsory reading for anyone who really wants to get the most out of very cheap, DIY electronic car performance modifications.

And I guess, to be honest, I am still rather miffed that in the past, so few readers have agreed with me!

7 Responses to 'The Forgotten Series'

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  1. Colin C. Jones said,

    on July 3rd, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Hi Julian,

    I believe that many people would like to try electronic modifications to their vehicles, but are scared off by the lack of knowledge of electronics in general. The following is to illustrate what I mean.

    I recently attempted to modify a printed circuit board within my instrument cluster. The modification was to allow a warning light (already factory fitted and wired, but not activated) to illuminate when my driving lights were switched on. I had printed instructions and all that was required was to add a 35 cent resistor. That resistor would/should activate the light.

    After I had fitted the required resistor, no way would the modification work as promised. I removed the first resistor and replaced it (with polarity checked and correct). It still failed to work. This happened a total of four times, and each time the instrument cluster had to be replaced in the vehicle to check whether the modification was working.

    I finally took the circuit board to an electronics store. They checked & rechecked and agreed there was a problem, but were not able to figure out what it was.

    Eventually I figured another way to make this light work, but was unable to utilise the factory wiring, which was my sole intention in the first place.

    Over the years I have worked on many minor projects that involve electronics, and I am yet to have any real success. Speaking with friends, several have had similar experiences to myself. Most say they leave electronics to the experts.

    I believe there is an element of “Black Magic” in all electronics.

    Love your work
    Colin C. Jones

  2. Grant McAuliffe said,

    on July 3rd, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Plenty of us enjoyed the articles, built some projects, and bought the book.

    I think its time for another “21st Century Performance” and possibly another “Performance Electronics for Cars” Julian. I’m not sure if the effort/return ratio is good enough, but if it is, can you please include diesels this time.

  3. Julian Edgar said,

    on July 3rd, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Grant, I certainly won’t be doing more work of any sort for either of those publishers – whatever they wanted to pay.

    More generally, I doubt if I’ll do any more books of that kind again.

  4. Martin said,

    on July 3rd, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    i’ve thought about this recently and i think its party due to the fact that many of the newer cars you buy today come with all the gadgets and automatic-whatsies you could need. I enjoy reading the articles, used to work at Jaycar and installed a number of kits including the DIY Nokia 5110 SMS system to be alerted when my car was opened/started/moved etc etc… i’ve put together some of the kits you worked with silicon chip in.. all of these kits went into cars that were at least 10 or so years old. A workmate got a new Golf GTi and if it were mine i wouldn’t even think about any of those kind of kits or mods, so I think its a pretty small market. That said, keep it up, i doubt i’ll buy the new elabtronics devices as it takes the fun out of actually building the unit itself (and the savings made there when in related industries) but i’m still very keen to give the DFA and other kits a go.

  5. Ben said,

    on July 3rd, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Perhaps the fact that modern cars contain and are heavily dependent on so many inter-related computer systems puts people off messing with them for fear of triggering unintended consequences. Personally, I find mechanical systems easier to understand and diagnose faults in than electronics.

  6. Julian Edgar said,

    on July 4th, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Most of the applications I am writing about for the new eLabtronics modules can be done on all cars, old or new.

    Re mechanical mods being easier, two things:

    (1) Very few mechanical mods of currentish cars aren’t associated in some way with electronic modification requirements, especially if best results are to be obtained.

    (2) Electronic mods often have a cost/benefit ratio 10 or more times better than achieving the same sort of thing mechanically.

    The (unmentioned) point of the cited series is that if you want to keep modifying cars, and do it cheaply by DIY means, you really have to get your head around some electronic concepts.

    The electronic mods I have done in the last few months on the Honda Insight (increased ignition timing, increased EGR, smoothing of throttle inputs) have cost under $10 total. Many of the mods I did on my Lexus LS400 (disabling traction control while still leaving stability control enabled, and increasing power steering weight) were also done electronically at nearly no cost. No mechanical mods could have come close to that!

    The Pug 307 diesel, which is my next project, I would expect to be done in a largely similar electronic way.

  7. Steve Antonio said,

    on October 18th, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Julian, I’ve read both the above books and they are my car bibles. Sure not all the electronic kits that I have made have worked first time but after a few failures here and there they have all been great. The last thing I want is for your wonderful knowledge not to be passed on to us motor enthusiasts. Please keep up your good work. Remember that todays new cars are hasbeens tomorrow!
    Steve A.