Category: Classic

“Cut and shut”: crash repairs in days gone by

I just found a photo at Mum’s place, showing the driveway of my parents’ former home, around 1989.

It shows my Dad’s ’82 Mazda 323 (which I talked about in this article about my own) plus my brother’s ’82 XD Falcon, his ’77 HX Holden Kingswood and Mum’s ’85 Mitsubishi Magna. My own vehicle at the time isn’t seen – perhaps it’s in the garage.

Every one of these cars would visit the smash repairer, for some major repairs. With my brother at the wheel, the Kingswood hit a kerb at speed while cornering, and the front of the chassis was left quite bent.

The Falcon would be rolled on a back road. Yep, overturned.. with all four wheels pointing to the sky. The roof sported a slight peak in the middle until the repairs were finished.

Both were back on the road within a reasonable time.

The Magna was hit while parked in a street, by a car coming around the corner. It needed a new rear bumper and some minor bodywork.

Then there was Dad’s 323:

In late 1990, Dad stopped in traffic and a 4WD with a bullbar slammed into the back of the car – you can see the imprint of the bullbar uprights in the hatchback. The impact sent the Mazda into the back of the car in front, but thankfully only minor damage was caused there.

Here’s the kicker: Dad was driving the 323 after having signed a dealer contract to buy a used Land Cruiser, with the 323 as his trade-in. They told him to come back in a day or so, to pick up the new vehicle. So with the trade now an insurance matter, Dad somehow rustled up the funds to complete the deal.

Even with its bent rear quarter panel, squashed towbar and flattened hatch, the 323 was fully repaired (looking better than ever with new lights, paint and plastics) and was soon sold to a family friend.

These photos got me thinking about smash repair standards today, and in days gone by. Would a 12-year-old sedan with a visibly bent chassis be straightened out? Would a 7-year-old sedan, that had been found crashed and upside down, be brought back to life?

In 1989, at least, the answer was ‘yes’. I think today these cars would be written off.

Around this time, I was introduced to the body repair term “cut and shut”. That’s because my friend’s early 80s Honda Prelude was left in such a state after being hit while parked, that nearly half of another car was welded to what remained of his.

A similar Honda. Source Reddit: Either-West-711

He’d left the car parked on the front lawn at his parents’ house, in a quiet street about 4 houses from the corner. One night someone took that corner too fast, and ran into the back of his Prelude. Unfortunately the impact pushed the car forward – into the power pole that also stood on the lawn.

So this Honda was a candle that had been burnt at both ends. The insurance company arranged for the repair, and the body shop gave him an awful, beaten up early 70s Toyota Corona to drive, for the months it took to fix the car.

After a very long wait, the car was returned, with the shop saying they’d “cut and shut” a new rear section on the car. The Prelude looked great, but never drove the same – and the sunroof often refused to open or close.

So much for “cut and shut”. It wasn’t long before the Honda was an open and shut case, and traded in.


Giocattolo inspires my Mazda ‘toy’ – a 323

For around 3 years in the late 1980s, a factory at Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast was making a supercar – despite many spanners in the works. It was called Giocattolo – the Italian word for toy.

Giocattolo Motori Pty Ltd was founded in 1986 by former IT consultant and De Tomaso fan/dealer Paul Halstead. His dream was to turn a mid-engined V6 Alfa Romeo rallying prototype – an Alfasud Sprint 6C – into a reality, after Alfa abandoned the idea.


Spanner 1: Alfa wouldn’t supply him with bodies or engines. So Halstead bought fully finished Sprint cars to take apart and convert. Then, with Busso V6s not plentiful, HSV teamed up with Giocattolo and supplied Holden V8s. Kevlar was used to add ‘lightness’.

Spanner 2: Customs duty and taxes on the imported ZF transaxle from West Germany were huge – as in tens of thousands of dollars – then you can add to the business model high 80s interest rates and the economy at the time.

Despite all that, 15 cars were built before investors pulled the plug. The Giocattolo was launched at Lakeside Raceway, just north of Brisbane, by Aussie 1980 F1 world champion Alan Jones. One was destroyed in a fatal crash at Eastern Creek in 2001.

Read the full Giocattolo story here on Top Gear

In the late 80s there were newspaper articles about this supercar – either on the establishment of the factory, or its fight to survive. I recall seeing the Giocattolo in the Courier-Mail, because the picture featured one styling move that stuck with me: painting the wiper arms the colour of the body.

Giocattolo brochure, showing body coloured wipers

At the time, I owned a white car – and I desperately wanted to give it a different look. It was a 1981 Mazda 323 hatchback.

Same car, but not mine. Source: Grays

I wanted to personalise my 1.5 litre 4-cylinder 323 because my dad owned the exact same car, in the same colour – but a 1982 model. The only difference was mine had a blue interior, and his was brown.

He bought it for me around 1989, because he wanted to help. I’d just driven my rust-riddled 1977 Toyota Corolla to the local car dealer, looking to trade my first car in on something. However, the prices were a bit steep for a uni student working part-time (who’d blown over $3,000 a year or so before on the cursed Corolla). I had to get to uni, but my dad had followed me down and had free time, so he promised to look after my need for new wheels.

Before I left, I saw the Mazda in the lot for around $8,000 and moved on, due to the price and its similarity to dad’s car. I did admire an early 80s Mitsubishi Colt (similar to this one I later owned) because it was priced lower and had the ‘split’ gearbox, with power and economy shifts offering 8 speeds. I was interested in automotive quirks, even then.

I bussed home from uni late in the day, and dad said he’d chipped in to buy me a car. I was hugely thrilled, saying “the Colt hatch?”. He shook his head and revealed that he’d bought the Mazda 323, because it was a familiar model and “we all know how good they are”.

They were good – spritely performance, a simple and clever interior, plus the hatch and fold-down rear seats (behind which I snuck into the local drive-in one night, with someone else driving). However, a young man trying to make his way in the world doesn’t really want to be a carbon copy of his dad.

So, when I saw the Giocattolo’s all-white presentation, I decided to paint the wiper arms on my 323, along with the grille (a trend I’d seen on other cars). White spray paint was bought, along with some tape to mask off the MAZDA badge on the grille.

The result looked a lot better than this artist’s (?) impression:

“Artist’s impression” using Grays pic

There was more I could have painted body colour, if I had the money/expertise (like mirrors and bumpers) – but these two augmentations were easily and cheaply accomplished.

Apart from needing rear wheel bearings and having extractors installed for some reason, the Mazda cost very little to maintain. I did find the forward-hinged bonnet annoying. Also annoying was the driver who ran into the car’s back bumper, when I stopped before an intersection (in the rain) to make way for an ambulance. She was uninsured, but paid for the repair – in instalments.

Despite my yearning for individuality, just a few months after buying my 323, dad sold his to buy a Toyota Land Cruiser – a “country vehicle” which had many problems, and prompted suspicion that it had been caught in the Charleville floods of 1990.

By the end of 1991, I’d saved some more money, noticed some surface rust starting on the doors of the 323, and also noticed its oil consumption rising a little. It was time to shop for another car!

New Year’s Eve 1991 is when I made that purchase: a 1989 Daihatsu Charade TS 3-cylinder.

However, the painted Mazda wasn’t done with me yet; a few years later, I was visiting Moorooka on Brisbane’s southside and noticed a white 323 in the shop carpark. It was mine, and stood out because it still had the Giocattolo-inspired styling, some years after the ‘toy’ factory closed. There were 15 Giocattolos made in Caloundra – but only 1 rattle can ’81 Mazda in Cleveland.

Lynx was one cool cat: Ford Laser/Mazda 323C

The word “Lynx” apparently comes from the Indo-European root leuk- in reference to the luminescence of its reflective eyes. In recent decades, trade in their fur has tapered off, after ad campaigns in the 1980s by the anti-fur organisation, also called Lynx.

Michael Zahra

In the mid-1990s, Lynx was the name given to a 2-door Ford Laser, sold in Australia and nearby countries. It was a rebadged Mazda 323C or Familia Neo, with a different 90s “organic” headlight array and the revvy 1.8 litre BP 4-cylinder engine out of the MX-5, but mounted transverse for front wheel drive. The KJ Laser series was the first to be fully made in Japan, after the closure of Ford’s Homebush plant in Sydney.

I liked the look of them, including what’s known as a Kammback: it’s a vertical end to the car, and in this case it was see-through. I found it reminiscent of one of my 80s car favourites: the Honda CRX.

However, the interior was conventional and basic Laser: very plain and grey. The seats were quite supportive. The Lynx was priced too high for me: around $30,000, which was a lot for a small hatchback in the 90s. I also knew that they cost more than a SEAT Ibiza GTi, after seeing a newspaper comparison ad that SEAT published, after I’d bought my asthmatic (but solid) 3-door 1.4 litre Ibiza CLX in 1995.

Then in early November 2021, the entertaining Facebook page AUDM Vehicle Posting published an article about the Laser Lynx, and got me trawling Marketplace. Within a few minutes I found one for sale, unregistered, with 207,000 kilometres on the clock plus a few bumps and scratches, just a short distance from my parents’ house. It was listed around $1,000. So a plan was hatched: go see the oldies and check out the Lynx!

My pic of the Lynx, as it was before purchase

Its main issues were a dent in the right front fender and surface rust spots on the bonnet. I started the car and found that while the interior was a little “lived in”, everything worked – even the air-conditioning. I was told the radio was playing up, but it was just a loose faceplate. The Lynx was being sold as the female owner had upgraded to a newer car.

However, my main criteria for buying a project car for fun is that it has good paint – and the Lynx did not. So, with the cost of repainting at the back of my mind, I went away to think about it.

In following weeks, I looked at other cheap cars with better paint – but they were a mess in other areas. Eventually, I thought that the Lynx could at least be relied on to be a runaround, even if it didn’t look entirely appealing. So, more than a month later, I contacted the seller and arranged a second look.

The Lynx had now been sitting on the front lawn of the seller’s parents’ home for a few months. It blocked the side gates, where their caravan was parked. It had been moved to allow the parents to go away on a trip, but now they were coming back. So the Lynx was parked out on the kerb for some days – on what I’d call a “jaunty” angle. The rear half was up on the verge, with the front half on the road.

The Lynx after I’d moved it off the footpath verge

It was so randomly parked, a local resident had reported it to police as an abandoned car. Officers had attended, and put a “Police Aware” sticker on it, so no-one else would report it. The owner rang the police, told them it would be sold soon, and was told to leave the sticker on it until it was gone.

This all happened before I arrived for another look. I started it up again, and was met with a very noisy engine. However, after consulting with my daughter (sending a video to her) we figured it was from lack of use, as her own NA MX-5 had made the same racket after being left idle for months by the previous owner. I drove the car a few metres, forward and back, partly to get it off the footpath but also to check the clutch. It drove fine, although the gearshift was quite vague.

I was warming to the Lynx, but the deal was done when the young lady said that with her parents returning, it really should be gone soon, and that to ensure it disappeared from their home she’d take just a few hundred dollars for it. I said “I can do that, I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

So Mum and Dad got yet another visit, this time with my daughter in tow, set to drive the SAAB 9-3 to follow me home. We topped up the tank with some petrol out of a can. The turps we brought with us took the police sticker off the screen. It was a very hot summer’s day, so I was grateful for the air-conditioning. The trip home on an unregistered vehicle permit was largely smooth, with just some surging under load due to the air intake pipe having a hole in it, that had been taped up.

Watch the Lynx pickup here

The first thing to get my attention was the driver’s side headlight trim, which was damaged after a minor bingle. Amazingly, a local wrecker had Lynx headlights on the shelf (they’d been there for years) so was happy to sell me both headlights at quite a cheap price to move them on. I used the plastic trim from one headlight to fix the loose surround on the front of the car. And before re-fitting the headlight, I pulled most of the front panel dent out. I put both spare headlights in the boot, just in case a rock ever broke one at the front.

On cleaning the interior, I discovered 2 bread plates in the pouch behind the passenger seat. I asked the former owner about them: she had no idea why they were there and didn’t want them.

I ordered and fitted a new air intake pipe. Then my mechanic looked after gear bushes, brakes and engine mounts (except for the rear engine mount, which had to be put in at a workshop due to its difficult location/mounting). Within a month or so, after it was registered, I’d have the timing belt replaced as the car was now well over 200,000 kms.

Once it was back on the road, the engine was still running rough – but now at idle as well as under load. I had plugs, leads and the distributor rotor replaced – but the problem persisted. Thankfully, my mechanic happened to look at the base of the distributor, and saw a hairline crack in the plastic housing, that he figured was allowing spark to escape.

Another trip to the wreckers found a replacement Laser distributor, with just the plastic housing changed over on mine. The engine problem immediately disappeared! I put the remainder of that spare part in the boot, too.

A noisy wheel, which I thought might have been bearings, was shown to be a dodgy tyre, after it was replaced, on the recommendation of my mechanic.

I learned the hard way that you should always leave a car window open when you’re changing the battery. With the new one in, the power locks operated and had the car nice and secure – with the sole working key on the driver’s seat! The motoring club got the car open, and I got an extra key cut.

So, mechanically, the Lynx was sorted. However the paint still looked bad, and getting caught on the highway in heavy rain in February 2022 ripped more of the paint off the bonnet. I got a quote to respray the car: $4,000. That was way too much, so I bought some rust converter, primer/filler and touch-up spray paint, and went to work on all corners of the car.

Watch the paint makeover here

With 90+ kW from its 16-valve DOHC engine, the Lynx loved to rev and was well planted on the road. However, coming up to a year of ownership, I’d had my fun with it as a runaround, so I put it up for sale for what it owed me. And now it owed me even more, after needing new shock absorbers all around to get the roadworthy to sell.

I had plenty of offers, some ridiculously low, but I insisted on the asking price because of what I’d put into the car, but also because COVID had thinned the ranks of used cars with a roadworthy.

One Saturday afternoon, as I completed the sale of the wife’s Toyota Corolla on the driveway, a father and son arrived to look at the Lynx. I gave them the keys while I finished with the Corolla buyer. They had a good look, then I went with the son for a test drive, and that car was also sold.

I think it was the striking styling which was the selling point – even if the paint still was nowhere near as luminescent as the eyes of a lynx.

Standard car, non-standard history!

I went to see a #Standard Nine #Selby Tourer, sold “new” in 1929 – but was it a pre-production model from 1927?

A young Peter Grove bought the 9hp car in 1964, and his workmates at Massey Ferguson (who’d worked for Standard) said it had all the hallmarks of being the test mule they’d worked on.

Peter has since moved to Australia with it, restored it and drives it regularly north of Brisbane.

Plus, he has another car of mystery: a 1969 Rover 2000 TC, sold new to an Embassy, which looks to have had bullets through it!

Read about the Bullet-riddled Rover

Watch the Standard Nine Selby Tourer YouTube

Toyota’s little crown sparkled

Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV “heavy is the head that wears a crown”, while former King of Prussia Frederick the Great said “a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in”. Thankfully, Toyota’s “little crown” (the Latin meaning of the Corolla’s name) was neither too heavy nor letting any rain in, during our ownership.

I saw the 1991 Corolla Seca CS-X automatic for sale at a local auction house in 2020. It looked OK (just) in the photos, with a clean interior but somewhat high kilometres. It was passed in during the auction, then listed on its own for online purchase.

I showed my wife the car on the website – it was the model she’d always wanted to own in the early 1990s, but could never afford. So, with the car now listed at $500 it was tempting – even if hefty auction fees would be added on top. We decided to inspect it.

This AE92 Corolla was built in Australia – in fact, the model was built here from 1968 to 1999. The VIN on ours gave that away, starting with a “6”. The AE92 would be built in Australia until mid-1994, interestingly at the Holden Dandenong factory (thanks, “Button Plan”) until Toyota’s new Altona facility was built.

In 1991, Toyota was still making cars with carburettors. The change to fuel injection would happen later that year. The 4A engine for the Aussie market was a 1.6 with 16 valves, which only made 67 kilowatts. The Seca CS-X featured better seat fabric, power locks and mirrors, a digital clock, air conditioning and alloys.

We turned up at the auction yard, and had to put on hi-vis vests to be escorted right down the back, to where the Corolla was sitting, with very faded paint and scratches. I walked up to it, looked inside, and (thinking of the cost to repaint it) said “it’s not a $500 car to me”. Then my wife opened up a door and said “I love it! Let’s buy it”. So, we told the staff member it was sold.

We were then sent an invoice for $500 plus nearly $400 in auction fees, which I paid before getting a notice to pick it up. We bought an online unregistered vehicle permit and the wife drove it away from the back gate, with me following.

Just a few hundred metres down the road, she pulled over and revealed that the steering needed constant adjustment to drive straight. It was quite scary for me to watch – and I’d imagine was even scarier to drive. We decided to take the back roads home, to avoid travelling at high speed.

We made it home and booked our mechanic to take a good look at it. He found that the steering rack was very loose, with all sorts of things needing replacement – along with the 4 shock absorbers and perhaps a CV boot or two. We got it to a stage where it drove right, stopped right and was roadworthy – although it still looked like it had spent years out in the desert.

We talked to a local auto paint shop, which agreed to do a “closed door” respray (no removing panels, just taping off anything that shouldn’t be painted) for $2,650. That was a lot to spend on a $900 car, but I said to the wife that if it’s a special project for her, to not worry about the cost.

The paint job was good, considering the low-ish price. There were some tiny bits of overspray on trim and some paint run on the bonnet, but they were very minor issues that weren’t noticed unless you looked very closely. Plus, the painter had even coated the door sill trims in grey paint with clear coat, to keep them looking good. At a small extra cost, he also sent the alloys off to a workshop to be shined up, as they had faded with age. The Corolla now sparkled like a crown!

It looked new again, was very comfortable to drive, but was still far from pristine. Its plastics around the doors had degraded, and gave off a bit of a smell. The Toyota radio would only tune into AM, not FM. On a trip to the other side of town, the alternator decided to give up and needed replacement.

As well, rough running was fixed when my mechanic happened to remember that a diaphragm gives up in the carburettors. A carb kit fixed the problem.

As another pandemic lockdown loomed, the speedometer started over-reading. I found a speedo repair business on the other side of town, which normally looks after classic cars, took out the dash and had them replace a tiny ball-bearing part for the needle. That cost over $300.

And it was a car from a different time, with different safety standards. This Corolla had no airbags and no anti-lock brakes – a fact my wife was reminded of, one day as we approached traffic lights in the rain. She tried to stop in a hurry on the amber, and we slid into the intersection, with the wheels locked up.

She drove it to work and followed me in it to Cars and Coffee a few times, before deciding a more modern car with Apple CarPlay and improved safety would be a better daily drive. So, the Corolla was gifted to me. It sat in the back of the garage, only getting a run on weekends, or when her car wasn’t in the way.

Along with her old SAAB, I now had 7 cars and no daily use for any of them. So in 2022, I put the Corolla up for sale – finally getting the roadworthy once a little rear windscreen water diverter part arrived from Japan. It also needed a new engine mount, front brakes and an oil cooler pipe replacement. My mechanic noticed that a radiator pipe was just starting to leak, so I added that to his job list.

Given all the work it had done (including that whopping paint job cost) I listed it at top dollar, saying in the ad that while there are cheaper Corollas out there, they won’t have gorgeous paint and nice interior.

One young man was all set to buy it, but couldn’t get the bank to OK his loan due to his living arrangements. A young lady told me, after meeting for a test drive, that in fact she couldn’t afford it. A learner driver wanted to put her surfboard on top (something the liftback was built for), but couldn’t quite stretch to my asking price. Someone in Sydney wanted to just buy the alloys.

Finally, a young lady came to look at it, as her second car after owning a post-2000s Ford. I made sure to let her know it wouldn’t have the same safety features – but she was very happy with it. And she said it would be stored in a garage, which gave me some peace of mind.

Up until then, the future of this “little crown” had been heavy on my head.

A better class of Monster

The August 1962 hit “Monster Mash” tied into the “Mashed Potato” dance craze of the time. However, due to its enduring Halloween popularity, “Monster Mash” was back in the top 100, nearly 60 years after it first charted.

In 2020 I bought a 1995 V8 petrol four-wheel-drive, returning to a Land Rover Discovery model that had been dismissed as The Monster by the family, in diesel form, just a few years earlier.

It was the same colour, but with better body and paint, one year older, and had 2 fewer doors. It also had the Land Rover V8, which began its life as a Buick engine. I’d missed the loping nature of the V8 beast, after selling my Range Rover as the pandemic began to bite. So, when a cared-for 3-door Epsom Green Discovery 1 came up locally, I was under its spell.

Like so many older vehicles, it needed a lot of fettling once it was home on the unregistered permit. I visited a local Land Rover wrecker to buy 2 horns for it (those in the truck weren’t working).

The wrecker remarked on how rare it now was to see a 3-door Disco, and how interest in them was rising, while observing (through gritted teeth) that he’d sent plenty to the crusher in previous years, as nobody was interested in them.

The Discovery shared its chassis and four-wheel-drive system with the older Range Rover. At launch in 1989, the 3-door was offered to keep prices down. The 5-door model was offered the following year.

Cosmetically, the Disco was in very good condition, thanks to a previous respray for some reason, and comfortable to drive (although not as comfortable as the airbag suspension Rangie).

It had great air-conditioning and a recent radiator replacement, which gave me some peace of mind about the V8’s notorious coolant issues and head gasket or cylinder problems.

To access the rear bench, you folded the front seats forward with an easy-to-use tilt handle, but it was still an acrobatic skill to get in the back. The rear seats folded forward for load carrying, leaving the seat belts in a heap on the floor.

I had plans to take the Disco off-road, as I had done with my previous Land Rovers, so I had a specialist garage fix the diff lock, which wasn’t engaging. That was just the start of the renewal, with the rubber coupling, bushes and gaskets changed, plus a new headlining for the roof, as the usual collapse had begun.

After around $4,000 in repairs, the Disco was looking good for some off-road camping adventures with my dad. However, that’s around the time he became ill with cancer.

His own tricked-up Toyota Land Cruiser lay dormant, so the chances of me taking my truck anywhere were low. Of course, I could take off whenever I liked, but travelling with my dad was a treat, because he had everything we needed in his truck: a winch, fridge, and a shed’s worth of tools. Plus, he was a whiz at getting a camping area set up, having travelled the Canning Stock Route multiple times.

At the end of 2021, he was rarely out of bed. In February 2022 he passed away. I sold his Land Cruiser for a tidy sum for mum in a COVID market, then set about getting my Land Rover up for sale.

I knew that going to the trouble of getting a roadworthy would mean a higher sale price, so I started on a long list of maintenance items, starting with an exhaust leak.

However, the exhaust shop (rightly) pointed out that there was a slight fuel leak from one of the injectors, so they couldn’t fix the exhaust leak at the flange and risk a spark igniting. I took the truck to a workshop for whatever would fix that and get me my roadworthy.

After $3,000 in work for injector rings, brakes and more gaskets, the roadworthy was issued. I had plenty of interest in the truck, but not at the price I wanted. So I waited.

I’d booked a service with the specialist 3 months earlier (there’s always a waiting list). I kept the appointment and had some basic items done. A prospective buyer used the truck’s time in the workshop to get a purchase inspection done. It came back “not perfect, but good for its age”.

So, after another $1,000 in costs, that purchase went ahead. The new owner was quite taken by the 3-door style, and has multiple Land Rovers.

Just like “Monster Mash”, my 27-year-old 3-door Discovery “caught on in a flash” a few decades after its launch.

Ownership, 26 years in the making

In July 2022 I picked up the car I had to ring my local Suzuki dealer about, in 1996, after driving past and seeing one up on ramps out the front. I was stopped in my tracks by the Vitara-based targa-topped X-90, but couldn’t afford it at the time.

I’ve kept an eye out for X-90s for over a decade and come close to buying many times, but things never worked out.

They did this week: after selling
my Land Rover, what should pop up on Gumtree? An X-90 with a low price, some dents but a seemingly strong engine.

I rang the owner in northern NSW and it had been in his shed for 4 years, not on the road. He bought it locally, but never got stuck into it.

My daughter joined me to look at it, leaving it idling for quite a few minutes, without any cooling problems. The roof panels were out, as was the driver’s glass due to a problem with the window regulator. So it wasn’t perfect – I figured if I could look past the dents, it seemed like a good buy.

After a test drive on the front lawn to test the brakes and agreeing on a price, we discovered that an unregistered vehicle permit wasn’t a quick online form like in Queensland – I had to line up at a “Service NSW” shopfront for one. Thankfully, they’re open on Saturday morning. The permit itself cost a fraction of the Queensland charge, so the wait was worth it.

With the permit on paper, it was time to drive 165km home. Clouds were rolling in, so I put the glass panels back in the roof – and then discovered a nasty bit of rust on the trim of one. There’s also a tiny bit of rust on the passenger side C-pillar.

As I left the driveway, the engine made a bit of a racket, but after some fresh fuel and running time it drove home just fine.

The window will be the first order of business, to seal up the interior.

I’m not sure I’ll be keeping the “sexy lady” devil and angel mudflap adornments. They were already out of date, 26 years ago.

Test driving, but never buying

Carl Benz’s wife Bertha is credited with the world’s first test drive. Without the “father of the automobile” knowing, she and their 2 sons drove to see her mother.

As reports, the journey was to prove to Carl the car could be commercially viable. And we can also thank Bertha for standard brake pads!

I’ve owned dozens of cars, but I’ve test driven dozens more. There are many reasons why I didn’t buy a particular car.

Nissan Micra

In the mid-90s, Hey Hey it’s Saturday was still playing and the show made a big deal of the new Nissan Micra. I think Pluckaduck might have driven one around the studio. I was in the market for a new car (BK, or “before kids”) so I went to the Moorooka Nissan dealer and asked to test drive the poverty pack 3-door.

The test drive began with the salesman driving and literally throwing the car through turns, to demonstrate its similarity to the Mini “wheel at each corner” philosophy. When it came time for me to take the wheel, I was a bit more reserved. However, I didn’t buy – the trade-in may have been the problem.

Mitsubishi Lancer with unpainted bumpers

Also in the 90s, the late 90s after I’d bought a SEAT Ibiza, I looked at trading it in on a just-released Mitsubishi Lancer 3-door. This model had vinyl seats, plastic door trims, unpainted bumpers and not much else. The salesman at the Mt Gravatt dealer directed me to drive up Mt Gravatt itself, which I did as he extolled the virtues of the “anti-submarining” seats and drop-away engine mounts in an accident – things I’m 99% sure the SEAT already had.

The car did drive reasonably well, but the trade-in on my SEAT was truly awful. This was the first time I’d heard a salesman say my car didn’t “book well”, which I’m now presuming was a reference to car value guide Redbook. So, the SEAT stayed with me and got a canvas sunroof.

Proton Waja

In 2008, as Beijing hosted the Olympics, I test drove a car I’d always wanted to experience, purely based on the chutzpah of the Proton chief who said it would sell well (at an inexplicably high price). The Proton’s problems were admittedly bigger than the model name – Waja – but it was fitted with leather seats and Lotus fettling, so I thought it was worth a look, especially at the rock bottom prices the circa 2000 models were fetching.

I turned up at the Moorooka dealer (the place with cars on dirt/road base that sold all the penny dreadfuls) and they got the Waja out for me. I’d only gone a few hundred metres up the road when I was stopped by a police roadside breath testing unit.

I was as sober as a judge (of cars) so I had no worries there. But just as I was about to drive off, an older copper stepped forward to issue me a ticket for driving with the windscreen view “obscured”: I’d allowed the car yard to leave the $5,990 price and features written on the glass. No amount of assurances that I could easily see enough to drive would persuade him. I called the yard and they sent a guy up to scrape off the paint texta. There was no offer from the yard to pay my fine. The test drive ended there.

Holden Barina Spark

In 2011, the opportunity/need to buy a new-ish car surfaced on a change of job, so I test drove a new Nissan Micra and a Holden Barina Spark – both around a $15,000 purchase, on-road. I also test drove a Chinese-made Chery J1, but the less said about that, the better.

The Micra drove well for a 3-cylinder light vehicle, however my wife said it was an “old lady’s car” – even in the gold colour I liked, with a roof spoiler – so that option went out the window. Then I went to the local Holden dealer to try out the new model I’d seen launched: the Barina Spark. At the time I didn’t realise it was the modern version of the Daewoo Matiz, sold by Holden under their dubious reselling of Korean cars. With its Italian styling and quirky engine I didn’t mind the Matiz – and with a motorcycle-inspired dash on the Spark, it also looked like a fun car to own (and you know I like micro-cars).

However a test drive soon showed up its shortcomings: in the engine and the driver’s seat. I didn’t expect the Spark to be a bright spark in performance, but it didn’t have much to work with at all, much like the Chery had seemed all-noise-and-no-action. The Micra had been a much better drive. Plus, my long legs were left hanging off the Spark’s seat, unsupported like sitting on a ledge. So that purchase didn’t happen and I bought a 5-year-old Citroen C4 which had huge amounts of leather trim and had seen huge depreciation.

A similar LeBaron

I often look for cars via price, rather than model. That’s how eBay informed me around 2017 that a Chrysler LeBaron convertible was for sale, unregistered, at a Nambour dealer, for around $1500. This car wasn’t just interesting because it was American – someone had spent a small fortune on it, converting it to right-hand-drive. The roof worked and it ran just fine.

One strange result of the drive-side conversion was that the passenger now had heaps of controls for their electric seat plus bonus buttons for the power windows, while the (non-factory side) “driver” had very few controls to play with. The dealer said they just wanted enough to cover what they’d paid at auction, hence the keen price. Due to it being so rare, I chickened out on buying it – even though an internet search showed it was worth 2 or 3 times as much. Regrets, I’ve had a few.

Daihatsu Sirion

There are 8 million stories in the naked city – these have been some of them. In used cars sold privately, you can add in test drives of an 80s Ford Meteor, Mazda 121, 90s Volkswagen Passat, Daihatsu Sirion, Mercedes A-class, Holden Astra convertible, Land Rover Freelander and even an early 90s Holden Commodore (long before they were collectible).. plus fresh checks on cars I’ve (previously or subsequently) owned, like the Suzuki Mighty Boy, FSM Niki, Daihatsu Copen, Ford Ka, Range Rover and Toyota Corolla Seca.

Bertha Benz took the first test drive – I don’t think I’ve had my last.

I’ll pay you, in cars..

A character in the old Popeye stories, Wimpy, would try to con others into buying his meal, saying “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”.

That was the promise of a little payment that would not be kept. However, a bigger promise that was kept involved a strange little Eastern Bloc car that went on sale in Australia in 1989, which was apparently supplied here as payment for services to the Polish government.

My Niki

That car was the FSM Niki 650 – and I’ve now owned 3 of these Polish-built Fiat-licenced 1972-designed cars, known in Europe as the PolskiFiat 126p. They have a tiny 2-cylinder air-cooled engine in the back – an arrangement like the VW Bug.

I got to hear about the payment in cars when I went to a Niki graveyard in Brisbane to scavenge some parts from a group of Nikis before they’re scrapped in a few months.

Niki graveyard

They’re all owned by Fiat mechanic Angelo from APF Motors – he used to run the Autostrada dealership in Macgregor to sell them new.

ADR tester

He says the white one above was the car they used to get Australian Design Rules (ADR) approval in 1988. Angelo pointed out that it has slightly smaller side vents. The ADRs on the cars went OK, but required the plastic bumpers.

Niki sales brochure

Angelo says Nikis were around $3,500 landed here – and sold for $7,990 as Australia’s lowest priced car. There were plenty of red and white ones imported, but only a handful of blue ones.

He says the importer, E. Kandt of Queensland, was a woman working for the Polish government here, and getting paid in cars!

Apparently she couldn’t call them Fiat in the Aussie motor marketplace due to legal issues (even though Fiat wasn’t selling here then), so went with the Polish manufacturer FSM and called the car after her nickname, “Niki”.

A “Niki” badge was among the items I picked up today at the wrecking yard. Australia was the only place in the world where you’d find this model name on sale. I also grabbed some Niki-branded headlight protectors.

Spare indicators and other bits

I paid Angelo for the parts, and it’s not even Tuesday.