Category: Clunker

You Always Remember Your First… Number Plate

My own very unscientific survey, spanning many years and workplaces, reveals plenty of people do, even if they have trouble remembering what’s on the car they own now. 

Granted, remembering personalised plates (or “vanity plates”) that you choose yourself won’t get you very far with my argument here — although according to Netflix’s The Good Place, they will get you into The Bad Place.

After decades of driving, I can still remember the number plate on my first car in the late 80s: a 1977 Toyota Corolla sedan. The Toyota was bright yellow, and Queensland number plates for much of the 70s were black and white. So there was a bit of a bumblebee vibe going on with my ride.

As a car-mad teenager, at 3pm I would walk out of high school to my yellow freedom machine, parked on the street, and see that black-and-white plate beckoning me.

The rego was OZL-766. Yep, I couldn’t make a word out of it either. Still, it was better than an old Falcon a friend owned, which had the unfortunate number plate letter grouping: POO. “Here’s the poo!” we would say on his arrival. To make matters worse, that Falcon ‘might’ have been brown.

By the mid-70s, plates changed to the “Queensland — Sunshine State” slogan, and started with numbers instead of letters. And perhaps a transport bureaucrat decided to skip POO on the plates, this time around.

These days, plenty of plate combinations are skipped because they might be rude. Buying a personalised plate can sometimes be tricky if you own a 1969 model, or you were born in ’69. However, I can personally report that just a few years ago they were handing out regular number plates with the lettering “SAD”.

In an automotive tragedy, my first plate would end up lasting a lot longer than the Corolla. Within months of buying the car, much of the yellow paint bubbled up with “bog” filler and fresh rust spots. So it turned out, a rusty Corolla had been bodgied up to sell (for a little too much) to an unsuspecting first-time buyer. 

I tried to repair the rust holes myself on my days off from uni, but after wrestling with one panel and not making a very good job of it, the Corolla was taken down to the local car yard to be traded in. My dad took pity on me, and helped pay for a slightly newer Mazda on the lot.

And I still remember the rego number of that one too.

These days I do my best to remember the plates on our cars, by making words out of them — whether they like it or not. So sometimes I drive BIB-ZIFFER, or even T-BITS-EYO.

If I really wanted to, today I could buy a black-and-white OZL-766 personalised number plate for hundreds of dollars.

But as they say: nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

WD-40: well driven, 40 attempts

In 1953, US missiles needed protection from rust. At the same time, Rocket Chemical Company staff came up with a product that’s probably in your cupboard right now, and very protective of weapons of mass destruction: WD-40.

It wasn’t until their 40th attempt that they got the water displacement formula right. So, the name WD-40 stands for “water displacement, formulation successful in 40th attempt.”

Its formulation was never patented, so it would never be revealed publicly. WD-40 was sent to soldiers in Vietnam, to look after their weapons, and has even been used to free a tongue stuck to cold metal.

With my cars, I’ve also had experience with rust, water displacement spray, and the number 40. In late 2020, I brought home the 40th vehicle (in 33 years of driving) that I’ve bought for my own use. Cars bought with the wife only add to this list!

The 40th purchase: a 1995 Land Rover Discovery 3-door V8

Number 40 is a familiar 4WD. I have owned a Land Rover Discovery (diesel) before, but this one has the V8 burble of my recently sold Range Rover, without the fussy electronics. It’s also a 3-door, which I’m told is rare these days – especially in the 90s series 1 update that I have. The paint is much, much better than my last Disco, but still not as good as the Rangie’s royal sheen.

But back to those 40 cars over 33 years. You can read here about how I was in a big rush to get my licence in January 1987 and how my first car was a rusted-out, bogged-up disappointment.

You might think, at more than a car a year, that I constantly bought cars – but I did keep one for around 10 years. In recent times, the internet certainly made it easier to be tempted to purchase (and sell) more often. Those search terms now make it easy to find a mostly unknown Niki, Grandeur or Copen. Back in the “olden days”, you had to use newspaper classifieds, spy cars for sale on the roadside or rely on word-of-mouth to find those “penny dreadful” cars that no-one else wants. That was the case for the first 7 cars I bought, until eBay and Gumtree tempted me for dozens more.

Do I have a favourite? No, I like all sorts of things about all sorts of cars I’ve owned. However, this post reveals the car I most regret selling, even now that I own one very similar in looks and features.

So, just in case you’ve never been to the ‘about‘ page, here is the list of 40 cars.. and counting. Unlike WD-40’s formulation, you can read all the details on my fleet below. Bring on WD-50!

1. 1977 TOYOTA COROLLA YELLOW (BOUGHT 1987)
2. 1981 MAZDA 323 WHITE (BOUGHT 1989)
3. 1989 DAIHATSU CHARADE GREY (BOUGHT NEW YEAR’S EVE 1991)
4. 1992 MAZDA 121 CANAIPA BLUE (1992 DEALER DEMO)
5. 1995 SEAT IBIZA RED (BOUGHT NEW 1995)
6. 1989 FSM NIKI – WHITE (BOUGHT 1996)
7. 1988 MITSUBISHI COLT BRONZE (BOUGHT 2003)
8. 1990 FSM NIKI – RED (BOUGHT 2004)
9. 2003 DAIHATSU COPEN GREEN (BOUGHT 2005)
10. 2001 FORD KA MAROON (BOUGHT 2007)
11. 1991 FORD CAPRI GREEN SPARKLE (BOUGHT 2007)
12. 2000 HYUNDAI GRANDEUR BLACK (BOUGHT 2008)
13. 2002 SMART CITYCOUPE RED/BLACK (BOUGHT 2009)
14. 1994 DAEWOO 1.5 SILVER (BOUGHT 2009)
15. 1991 HYUNDAI LANTRA WHITE (BOUGHT 2009)
16. 2000 VW NEW BEETLE RED (BOUGHT CHRISTMAS EVE 2010)
17. 1993 HOLDEN BARINA WHITE (BOUGHT 2011)
18. 1990 DAIHATSU CHARADE WHITE (BOUGHT 2011)
19. 2006 CITROEN C4 DARK BLUE (BOUGHT 2011)
20. 1996 FORD FESTIVA WHITE (BOUGHT 2012)
21. 2004 PROTON GEN2 ORANGE (BOUGHT 2012)
22. 1996 FORD FESTIVA BLUE (BOUGHT 2013)
23. 1992 RENAULT 19 CHAMADE SILVER (BOUGHT 2013)
24. 1986 SUZUKI MIGHTY BOY BLUE/WHITE (BOUGHT 2013)
25. 1996 LAND ROVER DISCOVERY GREEN (BOUGHT 2013)
26. 1996 HOLDEN BARINA WHITE (BOUGHT 2014)
27. 1992 TOYOTA CAMRY MAROON (BOUGHT 2015)
28, 1995 MITSUBISHI VERADA VXI DARK BLUE (BOUGHT 2015)
29. 2003 PEUGEOT 206 WHITE (BOUGHT 2016)
30. 1996 RANGE ROVER HSE V8 GREEN (BOUGHT 2016)
31. 1985 SUBARU VORTEX XT BLUE (BOUGHT 2018)
32. 1985 SUBARU VORTEX WHITE (LEFT IN A BARN – BOUGHT 2018)
33. 1990 HOLDEN BARINA GS WHITE (BOUGHT 2018)
34. 2004 SAAB 9-3 LINEAR SPORT 1.8T SILVER (BOUGHT 2019)
35. 1996 FORD TAURUS GHIA MAROON (BOUGHT 2019)
36. 2003 SAAB 9-3 ARC SPORT 2.0T SILVER (BOUGHT 2019)
37. 1999 HONDA HR-V 1.6 WHITE (BOUGHT 2019)
38. 2001 CHRYSLER PT CRUISER LIMITED SILVER (BOUGHT 2020)
39. 1998 MGF ROADSTER BRITISH RACING GREEN (BOUGHT 2020)
40. 1995 LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 1 V8 IN GREEN (BOUGHT 2020)

..and more since this post.

My WD-40

Daewoo a dog’s breakfast

Toto the dog’s appearance in “The Wizard of Oz” wasn’t her first film – the Cairn Terrier had already appeared in half a dozen movies by 1939, as “Terry”. Her name was changed to Toto because of the success of the Oz movie. She died 6 years later, and was buried on her owner’s LA ranch.. only to have her grave destroyed during the construction of a freeway in the late 50s.

However in 1994, it was a win for dogs over cars, with South Korean brand Daewoo using a cattle dog in their advertising campaign, as they set up in Australia. Cane the dog appeared in cheeky newspaper and TV spots for a few years, until Daewoo ads became more upmarket.

Daewoo ad 1997

A drop in sales before the brand’s shutdown has been blamed on campaigns without Cane.

Cattledog eva holderegger walser

Wikimedia photo: Eva Holderegger Walser

I wasn’t thinking of Cane when I bought a grey 1994 Daewoo 1.5i off eBay in 2009 – I was marvelling at the price of this 15-year-old car with under 100,000 kilometres. It was up for auction by a Gold Coast dealer, starting at $950, including the roadworthy and remaining registration. So I put in the first bid (sight unseen), and the auction finished without any competition. I’d been looking for a cheap runaround car that carried more people than my Smart car, and even my local mechanic was surprised at the clean condition and price of it.

daewoo back corner

A similar Daewoo 1.5i

It wasn’t exciting to drive, its seats were flat and it had a strange smell from the air vents (dead gecko, maybe?) but it did the job. The 1.5i was Daewoo’s version of the 1980s GM-Opel Kadett, so it was already an ‘old’ car when new in Australia. A look at the dashboard plastics would easily confirm this. After only a year or so, an updated model (now known as a Cielo) was released around the world, including in Australia. By the late 90s Daewoo was a popular brand, selling over 20,000 cars a year in Australia.

daewoo int

Strange seat fabric design

However the Asian Economic Crisis was the end of the “original” Daewoo. The struggling company was taken over by GM and Holden in 2002, and then – with falling sales – shut down as a car brand here in 2004. It went on to supply a conga line of forgettable Holden cars like the Viva, Epica and Malibu.. as well as replace the Barina and supply the quality-plagued Captiva.

With constant complaints from the kids about trips in the “smelly” car with no air conditioning, when the registration came due, I chose not to renew it. In selling it, a couple of things would need to be done for the roadworthy (a new windscreen among them) so I put it back on eBay as an unregistered car. A buyer agreed to the $750 asking price, and lived half an hour away. He drove down to inspect it and pay me, then followed me as I drove it to his place, and drove me home again.

daewoo front

A similar Daewoo 1.5i

So in the end, with rego included in the initial sale to me, this Daewoo hadn’t really cost me anything to own. It was in and out of my life in a matter of months. And in terms of discovering new country in memorable cars – as Dorothy said to Toto in “The Wizard of Oz”, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Little Pug became White Elephant

The term “white elephant” – meaning something you can’t get rid of, even though it’s costing you money – comes from the tradition of kings in southeast Asia keeping white elephants as a show of power and prosperity.

They occasionally gave a gift of a white elephant, which was seen as both a blessing and a curse. While it was an honour to receive the gift, the sacred animals couldn’t be put to work and were expensive to maintain.

Even circus legend and “The Greatest Showman” P.T. Barnum ended up with his own white elephant – literally and figuratively. After spending a huge amount of money to get one from the King of Siam, he discovered his “white elephant” was in fact grey, with pink spots.

And in mid-2016 I ended up with one on my driveway – in the form of a 2003 Peugeot 206.

peugeot front edit

My daughter was after a more modern car to replace her first ride, and (unfortunately) I spotted this unregistered French hatchback on Gumtree, for $800. So we went to Caloundra to look at it.

A number of internal alarm bells went off for me during the inspection – starting with the man selling it (“Pat” the laid-back muso was a bit vague on the history of the car, saying his son had been driving it, and he assured me its bad clutch was a characteristic of Peugeots). The Pug needed plenty more work: it had a damaged front passenger panel from a “minor” bingle, worn tyres, plus no spare tyre – or even a gearstick top. Despite my repeated warnings about the cost of repair, my (adult) daughter maintained her interest in buying it. My wife (who later dubbed it the white elephant) says she would have simply dragged her away from the place!

Just before we handed over the cash, I asked my daughter to do a federal government PPSR search on the car with her phone: this would check whether the car was stolen or written-off. After spending $3 and waiting a minute, the website came back, saying the Pug wasn’t stolen. So money was exchanged and she drove the car home on a permit.

The next day we took a closer look at the PPSR certificate, seeing this:

ppsr

This was the bit she hadn’t seen, further down her phone screen – that the Pug had been written off 2 years earlier following an accident, but it was “repairable” damage. However after any repairs, the car would still need a “written-off vehicle inspection” (WOVI), costing close to $450.

I rang Pat, and accused him of selling a dodgy car. He claimed he didn’t know about it being written-off, and he’d been given the Pug to settle a debt. However he couldn’t remember the name of the person who’d handed it over. I told him he should refund my daughter, but he said the money had already been spent on “music equipment”. In the end, it was our word against his, and I would spell out what happened in a Statutory Declaration at the written-off inspection.

A mechanic took a look at the car and said while it ran well, the chassis crash repair looked like a backyard job, and the clutch was too far gone – so both would need to be sorted before getting the Pug registered.

My daughter now didn’t want the car, and planned to sell it – as a write-off – for a few hundred dollars. However I foolishly told her I’d pay her a few hundred for it, and get it fixed for myself.

peugeot rear edit

After $450 chassis work at the panel beaters, 4 new tyres, a spare wheel found at the wreckers and a whopping $2,000 on a new clutch and front suspension, the Pug was ready for the written-off WOVI inspection – which it easily passed in early 2017.

It drove very well and spritely with the 1.6 litre engine, plus it sat securely on the road like the VW-based cars I’d owned in the past. The air conditioning worked a treat. It even featured automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

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However, it wasn’t a car I’d wanted to own – and it had caused me hip pocket pain.

So after driving it for a while, it went on the net for sale – initially for what it owed me, then at a more realistic price. Once the price was lowered just before Christmas, I had more than a dozen buyers asking about it. A couple looking for a spare car made an offer, and I accepted.

I wasn’t sad to see the Pug drive off: like P.T. Barnum’s own white elephant, mine was also a dirty grey colour from sitting out in the weather, and just as much of a money pit.

Colt of old regret

Sam Colt founded a firearms company in the mid-1800s, and nearly 30 years later released his most famous revolver for the US Army: known as the .45 or, incredibly, the “Peacemaker”.

A little over a century on from that, Mitsubishi Motors Australia used its newly-acquired Chrysler plant in South Australia to produce a local version of the Japanese Mirage, as a Colt. It had a 1.4 or 1.6 litre 4-cylinder engine, with a bonnet that hinged at the front, not near the windscreen. Even when new, the Colt was a little ‘old skool’: it didn’t have fuel injection – it still had a carburetor – and this feature would come back to bite me.

My introduction to the car came in 2003, when a radio colleague was selling her 1988 manual brownie-bronzie one.

colt side

By Jeremy from Sydney, Australia – Mitsubishi Colt RB GL, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38109719

It had been her grandmother’s – then hers – but with a newer vehicle on the way, she offered it to me, unregistered, at the trade-in price she’d been offered: $500. Gran had sideswiped a garage door, so there was a minor dent on one wheel arch and some surface rust spots on the bonnet. Interestingly, the Colt had rotating “satellite” buttons on either side of the steering wheel, for the lights and wipers.

colt dash

At the time I was driving a SEAT and my wife owned a big late-90s Mitsubishi Magna wagon, which would soon be needing some major engine repairs. So a plan was hatched: sell the Magna, give her the SEAT, and I would drive the Colt.

With the Colt registered, I cleaned the Magna engine and took it to a local caryard, which paid me a little over $2,000 for it. So I was already ahead by a grand or so!

About the same time, I was offered a TV job in Sydney. I’d move down there, rent a room, and fly home on weekends (these were the days of $29 Virgin Blue flights, which I bought in bulk).

So at dawn sometime around mid-May 2003, I packed some clothes, bedding, a plastic table and a stereo into the Colt, and drove south to new opportunities.

colt front

By Jeremy from Sydney, Australia – Mitsubishi Colt RB GL, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38109720

I arrived in Sydney at dusk, then bought some milk and cereal at a supermarket, and checked into a room – at an upmarket outer suburbs hotel – that had been arranged by my new employer, until I found a place to rent. The Colt was parked underground in the carpark.

The next morning, I ate my cereal out of a coffee cup with a teaspoon, and went down to the Colt. I turned the key, and the engine turned over, but wouldn’t fire up. I tried again and again. Eventually I called the NRMA, hoping that they would cover an RACQ member – which they did.

After just a couple of minutes, the mechanic had the car going, and asked “before you start the car, do you kick the accelerator pedal?”. With a fuel injected car like the SEAT, you didn’t even need to hit the pedal as it started, let alone before. I said “no, why would I?” The mechanic then told me that the butterfly valve in the carby had to be freed up before you turn the key, otherwise it would get stuck fast by a vacuum as you started the car. I think he said the cooler weather in Sydney might have also had something to do with that valve getting stuck (I’d had no problems in Brisbane).

He pointed out that in the owner’s manual, it does say to fully push the accelerator, before turning the key. I don’t think my Colt had the owner’s manual.

colt interior

The Colt was fine to drive around Sydney, and leave at the airport every weekend. Although one Sunday, driving back from the airport – through the uphill section of the Harbour Tunnel – the car starting “ticking” or “pinging” badly (pre-igniting fuel), and losing power. I made it out OK, but then had some repair work done.

Before too long, the Colt was gone. My wife had been driving the SEAT, but with 2 young kids in tow she longed for rear doors on a car, instead of just 2 doors and front seats that had to be folded forward to put kids in the back. So during some holiday time I drove the Colt back to Brisbane, prepared the SEAT for the trip to Sydney, and traded the Colt in on a big 1990s Saab 9000 CS for the wife. With the Colt gone, I was the peacemaker.

The Monster Mash

If you tell someone to think of Frankenstein, they might visualise a large, murky-skinned body made up of parts, with a couple of bolts hanging off it. The classic Hollywood version is easy to imagine – even if it’s not factually correct. Mary Shelley never named the creature in her story – Frankenstein was the name of the doctor who created him.

It’s a similar process to how the Land Rover Discovery I used to own became known as “The Monster” – and it was also a body made up of parts, with the odd bolt hanging off it.

IMG_20161203_130940

I’d been looking for a Land Rover 4WD when a mechanic friend found this 1996 7-seater Discovery 1, via eBay, in Bundaberg. One Saturday, late in 2013, we drove 4 hours north to look at it. The Disco had a worn manual gearbox, that protested loudly as we took it for a test drive. It also had some rust spots, but great air conditioning and a good 300 Tdi diesel engine, that had had some work done to the head recently. With a promise that the gearbox would be replaced with a reconditioned one at cost, I bought the Disco for $1600.

It still had a couple of days’ Victorian registration on it, and the owner was happy for us to drive it home. So the long trip south began – I drove the mechanic’s Disco home, and he drove mine – keeping the gearbox in 4th gear as much as possible, as it produced the least noise (due to a 1:1 drive ratio in 4th).

On arrival at home, my wife dubbed it “The Monster”, thinking I’d find it a derogatory term. I didn’t think it was monstrous at all – I loved the name and it stuck.

With “The Monster” now at home, plans were hatched to change the 1000kg gearbox ourselves, in my garage. The mechanic would do the work, and I would “assist” (i.e. grab spanners for him). It wasn’t long before we started this monumental job, one weekend.

After many, many bolts were undone, the old gearbox was freed from the vehicle, and hit the floor with a gigantic thud. The reconditioned gearbox was then moved underneath, but was too heavy for us to move up and into place, using jacks, bricks and firewood logs. So, on another day we borrowed a workshop crane, to do the job properly.

2013-12-14 09.23.52

Crane pulling the gearbox up from within the cabin

After only a little swearing over the unwillingness of the new gearbox to move into place, the job was done and the truck could drive quietly.

However it did wait quite a few months to be finished off enough to pass a roadworthy. Now, I had my own off-road transport- and it was quite capable.

DSC01072

Land Cruiser Park river crossing

Underneath, the Discovery is very similar to the Land Rover Defender, has constant all-wheel-drive and a centre differential lock to make those low range gears even more grabby with the wheels. The diesel is very economical – while the V8 engine is only economical when compared to, say, a jumbo jet. That’s why they’re even more of a bargain.

alpine

Mine suffered all the usual problems of a nearly 20-year-old Disco – rust around the Alpine windows in the roof, peeling clear coat from the bonnet paint, sagging roof lining, sagging seats – even the digital clock barely worked. However the engine kept clattering away happily, and it wasn’t my everyday drive.

After a couple years of ownership, with my wife driving my car each day, I decided that I now wanted a 4WD as my everyday drive, and a more luxurious one at that. So I decided to sell “The Monster” and bought a Range Rover.

It took 10 months, and a lot of price falls, before I found a buyer. I initially thought that a reliable – albeit rusty, ugly and old – diesel 4WD would fetch a lot more than it did. It sold, for slightly more than I paid, to a local man, who was going to take the engine out of it to fix up his own Discovery.

So just like Frankenstein’s monster, my Monster was ending up in pieces.. Although my experience had been more of a Monster Mash, than a graveyard smash.

 

Disco died, and so did this Corolla

corolla

1977 was the time before disco “sucked”. That would come in mid-1979, with a radio promotion in the US where a DJ blew up a pile of disco vinyl in a packed Chicago baseball stadium, caused a riot and ruined the field for the next baseball game.

In ’77 the Toyota Corolla was “Stayin’ Alive” with a slightly updated model released, like a tepid dance floor remix. Translation: I think they changed the grille.

Unfortunately, rust was also alive in these models – in the welds either side of the back windscreen where it meets the boot, on the rear wheel arch welds and often in the front panels, where the mudflaps were screwed in behind the wheels.

Or, in my case, there was rust EVERYWHERE.

Enough bodyfiller putty to keep a daycare centre going for a year

I saw the yellow Corolla on the side of the road one Saturday, while being driven home from my casual supermarket job. To me, it had the looks: complete with Cheviot Turbo mag wheels. I was looking to buy my first car and I’d saved my pennies, with around $3,000 in the bank (a lot for a teenager in 1987). Wouldn’t you know it, the Corolla was about that amount.

I can still remember the name of the guy who sold it to me, with that lovely coat of yellow paint covering enough bodyfiller PUTTY to keep a DAYCARE CENTRE going for a YEAR. I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE, PETER! Or lived, in 1987 when I bought it, at least..

corolla4

The Corolla looked great for about 8 months and apart from running rough when it rained and water got into {perhaps} the distributor, and breaking the plastic door handles inside, it was a good, rear-wheel drive, economical car.

It took me to high school, and my friends on adventures – including one adventure where the car’s water pump failed on a Sunday, and we had to stop all the time to fill up the radiator and let the engine cool down. I didn’t have roadside assistance. But we had a good time, stopping at various service stations (which weren’t always open in those heady days of 1980s weekends) to use the tap.

corolla5

But soon, bubbles started coming up around said back windscreen, around said mudflaps, wheel arches, on the bonnet above the battery, around the fuel cap, and in the bottom of ALL doors.. So in the end after trying (failing) to fix the holes myself, the car was taken (with holey panels very loosely screwed back on) to a local dealer to trade in on a newer Mazda 323.

Split up, like a pair of satin pants on an overweight dancer

The Corolla was probably split up, like a pair of satin pants on an overweight dancer. Disco was well and truly dead by 1988, and so was my 11-year-old Corolla. Rust sucks.