Tagged: Mazda

“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.

Source: facebook.com/Giocattolosupercar

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 flickr.com

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.