Category: Uncategorized

Alfa Romeo makes the earth move

Two things were eerily moving back and forth by themselves in the backyard of our Perth home on Saturday, June 2nd 1979: the water in the swimming pool and the wheels of an old Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint.

An earthquake, northeast of the city, had just cut power to the family home in Balga, bringing an early end to “Swiss Family Robinson” on the Kreisler TV.

I raced outside, thinking the ground would keep moving and the house might even collapse. However, it was just a few seconds’ worth of wobbles – even if the pool and car carried on. I later heard that the Perth high-rise, where my father was working that day, also had a bad case of the fidgets when the ground shook.

The quake had happened near Cadoux in Western Australia, with a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter Scale. It was enough to finally get the 1960s Alfa moving, after months of it sitting on the back lawn and playing host to my childhood driving dreams.

I would sit in the (probably leather) low brown seats, in the early morning before anyone else was awake, turning the silver-centred steering wheel and flicking black dashboard switches on and off. Hinged windows, front and rear, were opened and closed. I’d also try to figure out what the logo on the front grille meant – a person being eaten by a snake?! We didn’t have any Funk and Wagnalls to explain it.

The 2600 Sprint had a six cylinder 2584cc engine with twin overhead cams and a triple carb. It was capable of very high speed. Shannons reveals that it was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, then employed as chief stylist by Bertone. Fewer than 600 were made in right-hand drive. Shannons also confirms it would be worth quite a bit these days.

In 1979, the Alfa was patiently awaiting some restoration – firstly of its engine and then the paintwork.

My dad had somehow agreed to a friend’s suggestion that he should buy the dark blue Italian stallion, after a Frenchman had apparently “cooked” the engine during a trip across the hot Nullarbor with coolant issues.

I’m not sure how Dad got this purchase past Mum – the car cost $500, which was a lot more in the late 70s than it is now. She also worried that a 6-cylinder engine with a triple carb would drink fuel like Hannibal Lecter went through Chianti dinner accompaniments. She wasn’t wrong.

It was eventually brought back to life under the bonnet by an Italian workshop in Perth, after waiting on parts for weeks.

Then, the body had a basic respray. However, poor workmanship meant the paint on the roof bubbled badly, so it later sported a vinyl roof covering – such a 70s auto augmentation.

The Alfa on the day it was sold. The more economical, brand new Mazda 323 replacement is next to it.

The Alfa went with us as we moved to Queensland in 1980, but within a short time its running costs forced Dad to consider selling it. He had to fill up twice a week to travel into the city. At first a 1960s Toyota Corona took on the daily commute, before a new Mazda 323 replaced both cars.

He sold the 2600 Sprint to a member of the local Alfa club, so at least it went to an enthusiast. Before it left our garage, he took us for a drive in it around the block. It had a nice exhaust note, and I think no rear seatbelts, which was a novelty for me.

Aged just 12, I never got to drive the Alfa I’d pretended to steer in the backyard.

However, it did give me a love of all sorts of cars that rock my world, more than that earthquake ever did.

Murphy’s Law and the Citroen C4

The Murphy from “Murphy’s Law” was either a US Navy cartoon character (as remembered by astronaut John Glenn) or a US Air Force engineer, who found that G-force sensors had been installed incorrectly during a test.

Dr Karl explains in “Great Moments in Science” that the engineer said “if there are two or more ways to do something and one of those results in a catastrophe, then someone will do it that way”.

He says that the often-quoted “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” is actually “Finagle’s Law”. Plus, you can add in to this mix of mishaps “Sod’s Law” and even “Reilly’s Law”.

I became acquainted with all of them one day, after buying a Citroen C4.

The car itself was a great buy: it had been a $36,000 luxury pack when new in 2006. Now it was 5 years old, with just over 100,000 kms on the clock. When I came along to a dealer yard in 2011, looking for a lower-kilometre car to replace my VW New Beetle for a daily highway run to a new job, it was the car with the style and features that lured me away from the new car purchase of a runout Kia Rio at the same dealer – and saved me $2,000. For around $12,000 I had an all-leather, glass-roofed feast of technology.

I’d gone to a dealer to get a car with no worries for my new job – and this Citroen came with a basic warranty: 2 years with up to $1,000 worth of work for each claim. The day I bought it, the salesman offered me the chance to upgrade to higher repair coverage, for quite a few hundred dollars more. I didn’t think a car in such good condition would be having any claims, let alone a large one. Murphy would prove me wrong.

This C4 was a manual VTR spec with a bigger 2-litre engine. It had cruise control, climate control, power driver’s seat (with memory), a large central LCD speedo and a suite of safety measures. The design feature I admired most was the fixed centre hub of the steering wheel.

The central area of the wheel – with the horn, buttons and Citroen logo – stayed in place, while the wheel itself rotated behind that setup – so you always knew where the cruise or stereo buttons were. Sadly, Citroen deleted this from later C4s. Maybe it was just too weird for some, but I loved that feature.

Being a manual, and with throws between gears that were a little slow, it was a bit of a chore to get it up to highway speed – but once there, it cruised very well. The 2-litre engine was reasonably thrifty, averaging just under 8 litres/100km in our ownership.

It was a joy to own, even though it did have some minor work under warranty: a new temperature sensor was the biggest job.

Then, driving home one day in early 2013, I was doing 100 km/h in the right lane of the highway when the engine stopped. Thankfully, traffic was light and I coasted over to a handily-placed breakdown bay. I used the starter motor to bring the car back behind the guardrail, and waited for a tow.

There was one tow off the highway to an underpass, then – a while later – another tow by my auto club, straight to the dealer who’d been looking after the warranty items. They put it on a code reader, while my auto club paid for me to have a rental car for the next day. Then word came back, that the problem was most likely the timing belt.

Repair work would cost many thousands, as the engine would need to be rebuilt. They asked, with my $1,000 limit on repair coverage, did I want to proceed? I said no, of course. Then (with the car still in their yard) I set about looking for an exchange engine.

Ebay told me that a company based in Brisbane could source and fit a 2-litre engine from a wrecked C4, which had lower kilometres than mine. The engine was on a pallet in Sydney – the total cost (with a new clutch and timing belt) would be under $1,800. I gave the go-ahead right away and had the car towed to their yard.

Around a week later, the 150,000 km Citroen was back on the road, with an engine that had done just 70,000 kms. I went to the Citroen dealer, whose early service stamps were in the book, and they claimed the timing belt had been changed at 100,000 kms, as required. So Murphy’s Law meant that it broke at just over 150,000 kms.

After a couple of years I was back working from home, so my wife drove it daily after selling the family truckster. Eventually, it became just a household runaround and sometimes-learner-car. By early 2021, it had over 260,000 kms on the clock and had received another new clutch and timing belt.

It went up for sale, and a buyer from way out in the country contacted me, asking questions about the car over the phone. He said it was difficult to find a nice car out their way, and this would suit his wife. He asked to meet at Gympie in a week, for the handover of cash and keys.

I wasn’t sure if this transaction would actually happen, so I had other buyers lined up behind him, just in case. However, true to his word, he and his family were there to take delivery of the car, and hand over just a few thousand for it. It all went without a hitch, and without any evidence of Murphy’s Law.

Watch my YouTube goodbye to the Citroen here

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

Trade in the Corona: best bog roll cars

In challenging times for toilet paper, how are you going to carry that 12-pack home from the supermarket fortress, in safety? Choose your car wisely.

You might think the perfect transport to tackle the breakdown of societal norms at this time is Toyota’s Corona. It was featured in the movie “Snowtown”, after all.

snowtown03892

imcdb.org

It came in a hatch or wagon big enough to handle your Kleenex and hand sanitiser stash, but the Corona was taken off sale in the late 80s, so you’d have to wind up the windows by hand to stop market marauders.. or zombies.

Maybe inspiration from Hollywood will give you some style and an “I’m parking right here at the supermarket doors.. so move the checkouts” mindset? You could follow in the bootsteps of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft from “Tomb Raider”, and turn up in a heavily fortified Land Rover Defender.

lara

imdb.com

The 4×4 capability might come in handy to tackle the mountain of unwanted plant-based sausages blocking the carpark. Lara’s Defender came equipped with a V8 in a long-wheelbase version. However, with no windows at all, will your Quiltons unroll in the breeze on the way home? Maybe her arch-enemy Powell’s Range Rover would be better to keep the TP nice and tight.

Do you want social distancing with your supermarket bounty? Well, a design so awful it hurts your brain – long after it hurts your eyes – could be the perfect camouflage for the trip home. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then it seems no one beheld the original Ssangyong Stavic people mover.

It was like bad photoshop in real life. Like a Sarah Lee apple Danish that’s gone off in the freezer after rioters cut your power: layer upon layer, but not tasty at all. Apparently it was supposed to look like a yacht – but it sank in sales. However, there was plenty of storage inside for your precious Sorbents to get a seat. People stayed away when they were new, and they’ll stay away now.

You could always confuse the bog roll bad guys: put the engine where the boot usually is, and the boot where the engine goes. That’s the layout of a Volkswagen Beetle, or a Fiat 500.

beetle

Bull-Doser / Public domain

The joke goes that the mechanic opens the front bonnet and says “that’s why it’s so slow, they forgot to put the engine in”. And that’s the beauty of this idea: when someone is staking out the supermarket AND the carpark for loo paper, they don’t have time to figure out why there’s an engine in the boot. Plus, the old Beetle might have the fuel tank over your knees, so you could create a handy “rescue me” bonfire with the triple ply under the bonnet.

If it’s the end times, maybe it’s time to get that piece of Aussie automotive history, the Leyland P76, out of the garage? It was Wheels’ Car of the Year in 1974, but ultimately the car and the company failed. However, the P76 famously had a boot that could enclose a 44-gallon drum, which means a lot of room for dunny rolls.

But a note of caution before you brave the bench seat in the P76: the car was notorious for filling up with water, so your loo paper collection could be ready for the sewers before you are.