Tuesday 11 April 2023

Just how bad is a "nut & bolt restoration"?

I know, I know. It's been two years. I should be ashamed of myself. Werl, other things have been happening. I'm still wheeling around in my Datto and generally making people smile. It's running full EFI now and doing daily duties which brings me today's topic.

Nut & bolt restorations. (NBRs)

To the uninformed, what this means is the follow...

1. Completely dismantle the car to every nut and bolt. 2. Sandblast the body, fix every panel and repaint. 3. Completely reupholster the interior. 4. Rebuild and/or redo all the mechanical parts. 5. Probably, rewire the car along with all the rest. 

I was at a car show on the weekend and got talking to a guy about my age. His current plan is do all of that to an early 70's Ford Falcon. It's a car that has original complete paint, interior and a working V8 already installed. Ie. he could easily get running and driving much like I have with my Datsun 1600/510. A friend in the trade told him it would cost... 

$140,000 Australian Dollars by the time it's finished.

I want you to reflect on that figure for a minute. Because we both agreed that was a lot of money. So the conversation went as follows.

Me: 'Mate, don't paint it. Just getting it running as is. Save your family $120k. Take them on holidays and enjoy some time with them.'

Him: 'Blow the family. They can look after themselves. Holidays are just wasted money. 10 grand for four weeks and you never see it again.'

Me; speechless.

Him: 'I guess I should buy one that's already finished.'

Me, to my daughter, 'Did you hear what he said?'

Him: 'Yeah, you save about 50% by doing that. Letting someone else do the hard work.'

Me; 'So do that.'

Him: 'I couldn't help myself. I'd have to start fixing things on it anyway. I'm like a cat. It's got to be perfect.'

I sort of gave up trying after that. This fella was talking himself into throwing $140k at a car he would only get $70k from if sold. Now, that is just one dimension of the problem with NBRs. In fact, the money is just part the danger of them. 

A. Finding the funds.

I dunno about you, but I can't put my hands on that sort of money easily. Tying it up in an old car is equally silly. Car's are made for driving. The less you drive it, the worse it is as a financial proposition. Don't talk about "investments". It's a crap shoot at best even with known favorites.

B. Time scales.

Most people take a LONG time to complete a NBR. If they finish it. It took me 18 months to do a light mechanical refit. A serious mechanical refit on another one took me 3 years. Once you strip the paint off a shell, you may as well as add 5 years to the time scale. In fact, I'd say the average NBR takes 10 years. That's 10 years of throwing cash at something. 10 years of a messy shed. 10 years of paying for that messy shed. 10 years of time away from your family. 10 years when you can't drive the car as a car so you need another car to drive. Everything costs more money as the time goes on. Worst still, the decent factory paint that stopped the rust is stripped off and good straight panels rust even faster than they had while they wait. This is not "Overhauling".

C. Modified NBRs take even longer.

Modified cars often take a lot longer. You're never happy with your first go at modding the car. You will muck things up and your loved ones will lose more and more patience with you. Cars have destroyed marriages and families. At the end of it, the car will likely be worth less money than you spent on it. 

D. Impatience and more projects

Most people with one car project often end up with more. My wife has been a stickler for the "one play car" rule and I'm glad of it now. Many of my mates have bought and sold multiple unfinished projects that they never, ever finished. They lose more money on every one of those projects. Which brings me to the last point.

E. The tragedy of unfinished NBRs

Pretty much the worst thing that can happen to most complete old cars is a nut and bolt restoration. I hear a few guys say this and I think they're right. The car is blown into a million parts and often, never put back together. My wife's uncle died with a completely disassembled MG TF in his garage roof. His son has lost interest in it too. A lovely old car that would probably still be driving if it hadn't been a failed NBR. Amongst all this, parts go missing and more often than not it's sold over and over until it ends up cut up for parts or crushed and scrapped. Often that's 50 years of wasted money, a messy shed and a useless car. Facebook market place is FULL of cars like this every week. It's a disaster. Even a very well done unfinished project will only be worth about 35% of it's completed value. Sometimes a lot less.

Reality: most nut and bolt restorations are never finished. 

So, open your eyes and think hard. If you've got something old, mostly complete and easily roadworthy, make it roadworthy and drive it. Thankfully, factory paint is now more valuable than resprays. So, fix the rusty bits. Wax the rest of it. Tune it up and drive it. Let your wife and kids enjoy it rather than have to take it to the tip when you die. Do worry about what it looks like. Drive it and enjoy it. If you have to have something "shiny", buy a completed restoration. Just be aware it won't be perfect either.

Wednesday 24 February 2021

What if my car didn't depreciate every year?

It's an odd world we're living in at the moment. It has made a lot of people do some re-evaluating of their quality of life. One of the interesting side effects of this was the global upswing in the value of second hand cars. Yes, you read that right. Second hand cars have gone up a LOT in the last twelve months. I guess importing takes longer, a lot of us are working from home... and people have time to build those projects they never had before. I like a project as much as the next man, but I wanted to raise another idea instead.

Driving your classic car everyday.

This is different to a "project car" in a few ways.

A. You actually have to use it all the time.

B. It has to be what you need (rather than a dream).

C. Endless repairs and ridiculous mods are not an option.

You might think I'm insane, but I've been doing this for about the last decade or so. First with a VW buggy, then a 56' beetle, then a 98' Subaru WRX and lately, a Datsun 1600 (510). The dazzling upside with all of this is...

My car didn't depreciate every year.

In fact, during the time I owned the first three, they went up in value. Mostly paying for the all upgrades I'd made on them and only they letting me down once. Pretty good for cars that were up to 65yo. My kids have loved them. I've taught them to drive on a manual. And, if you're a greeny, you can pat yourself on the back because the carbon foot print of your old clanger will always be less than a new Prius. 

So what's the trick? 

1. Popularity.
Buy something you could sell tomorrow. Ie. something that is always popular. I wanted a Datsun 180B but I bought the 1600 because I knew they were more valuable. Popularity means more parts available, like rust repair panels. It will also mean there are a host of easy, affordable upgrades when you need to move on from the standard parts.

2. Start with a good base.
Find something complete and preferably running. You want the whole interior, heater, etc. The more it has (even if it's a little shabby), the sooner you can rego it and enjoy it. Avoid "bare shell" build ups. Try and find a car with good original paint with a good past. This not Roadkill. The less you have to fix, the better off you are.

3. Have a budget.
Most of us are tempted to throw the cheque book at old cars to "fix" all the bad bits. Now sure, there are things like rust and worn out bits that need attention. However, I'd avoid ridiculous brake and engine swaps that costs cubic dollars and require lots of permits. I bought my car for $7500 knowing I could spend another $7500 on repairs and rego and sell it straight away.

4. Put it on full road rego.
I know some places have limited rego (club rego) for older vehicles. Avoid this. It usually comes with limited mileage and makes the car harder to sell when you need to. It also stops you driving it every day, because that's what you'll want to do.

Other things to consider

1. You'll need to get your hands dirty.
If you're completely useless with tools, this is probably not an option unless you make a LOT of money and have a good (patient) mechanic. Because there will be things to fix. My datsun needed most of drive train replaced, all the brakes, the radiator, the exhaust and the fuel system. At this point it has no working heater either. I fully expect it will need a new engine (I've already bought a spare) and gearbox at some stage. Having said that, everyone has to learn somehow and most people can learn. Just be aware.

2. You'll need to stockpile some parts.
As cars get older, keeping an eye out for bargains and stashing them is part of keeping them going. The good news is, a lot of the more common things are freely available or being reproduced, but some are not. Facebook market place (or similar) is your friend for used parts. 

3. You'll want to find a specialist.
The local specialist is your go to guy when driving your car regularly. Mine has been working on Datsuns and race cars for more than 40 years. My VW specialist was similar.

4. Don't expect every mod con.
Sure, you can install electric everything in the car at a premium cost, but that's not the point. My current stereo is a cheap bluetooth speaker hooked up to my phone. Old seats aren't as comfy, but the overall experience is great and people will enjoy your car as much as you do.

5. Upgrades worth doing.
Older cars suffer in two areas that can let you down in daily driving. Braking is the first. Modern cars have excellent brakes. So look for similar larger models you can swap brakes in from. Power assisted brakes also make life easier. The second is obviously engines. Power is one thing, but fuel economy is bigger for day to day driving. In this respect, EFI will always out-perform carbs. Look to factory options or consider an aftermarket system. The cost will be roughly the same as hipo carbs anyway. Power steering is another option you might like to install to make life easier for tight car parks. Electric columns can be put in from late model cars to allow this too.

What cars are good value?

I personally feel the world is at a turning point with cars. The car as a machine is in decline. At the same time, more cars being produced are heavy, front wheel drive (FWD) and auto. So if you want something fun, go light, rear wheel drive (RWD) and manual. Also, the only RWD cars being produced now besides utes are the MX5, BRZ, Kia Stinger and euro luxury cars. I'd consider the following. Anything RWD will be worth real money in a decade. Even things we'd currently send to the crusher.

All of the smaller RWD Datsuns from the 70-80's (Stanza is the ultimate bargain atm).
Nissan skylines.
Rear wheel drive Toyota Corollas and Coronas.
Old Falcons and Commodores. 
Small utes.
80-90's BMWs (1990's are dirt cheap atm)

(I haven't included Mazda rotaries because their current value precludes any sensible daily driving. That and their propensity to drink fuel.)

An electric future

One of the greatest things happening with old cars at the moment is electric repowering. I'm personally looking forward to all the crashed Teslas and putting some of their tech in my car. Electric skids!

Friday 5 July 2019

Changing gear(s), cars and contexts

It's been a bit since I updated this blog. Sorry about that. A LOT has happened in the last eighteen months or so. Some great, some just plain awful. But moving on. I no longer own the beetle.

There are few reasons for this. We recently moved to the other side of Sydney. That meant a HUGE chuck-out and sorting through parts. When we arrived in the new suburb, our golf needed repairs. I asked a local VW specialist if they fixed older cars like mine. The answer was, 'No'. When I asked him who does, he replied, 'no one anymore'. And that, really, was it for me. I was tired of link pin front ends. I was also tired of VW oil leaks.

Additionally, I wanted a Quaife LSD badly, but that was going to cost $3500 by the time it was installed in the transaxle, with an additional oil pump to make sure it didn't suffer oil starvation. Or, I could have installed turning brakes, but werl that's sort of illegal and I was just over it.

The car was by now club registered, which was the next mistake.

The idea of $50 rego was great, but 60 days a year was just not enough for our family in the new situation. So the car went up for sale. In the 8-9 years I've owned it, it's roughly doubled in value. Which is really cool. The car went to a family up in the Hunter Valley and they LOVED it so I know it will be well cared for, a long way from me. A friend from my car club had lent me his 98 WRX as a daily, so the pressure was off and I was in no rush to replace it. I'd got above $20k for the beetle and it was burning a hole in my pocket. So I started looking for something else.

Which terrified my poor wife.

I can't blame her, because my past exploits have caused lots of arguments. Mostly down to me spending dumb money on something that would never see a return. This time I was trying to think around that. Here were the specs I was using...

1. 1970-1995 year model.
2. RWD for plenty of sideways action.
3. Sporty car that I could easily get an limited slip differential for.
4. Around 100,000km on the clock.
5. White or silver in colour.
6. In NSW.
7. Something that would double it's value or close to, in the next 5-10 years.
8. No ridiculous projects.

In my heart of hearts, I really wanted a Datsun 180B SSS coupe. I'd resigned myself to that being unlikely, but I would have been happy with a really straight 180B sedan. I was also looking at MX5/Miatas, RWD corollas, AE86 sprinters, RX7s, E30 and E36 BMWs, 240Zs, Skylines and a host of others. My mechanic mate talked me out of BMWs, which I'm still sort of sad about, but not that sad.

The guy at the local parts shop is a total BMW tragic and even he said they're a disaster.

I looked at a bunch of cars on line. One Corolla T18 I came across had literally 56,000km on the clock.

I looked a few 180Bs online. I was keen on one in Victoria, but that was never going to happen and the owner stopped replying to my messages. I looked at 2 in person. The first was just awful. It had gaff tap in the driver's side gutter and had been painted OVER the gaff tape. In the doors, the bog hadn't even been sanded before they painted over it. The guy had two other Nissans/Datsuns but they were similarly dodgy.

On a whim I looked a 1600 automatic that same afternoon. 

It was just around the corner from where we lived. It was super straight but didn't run. When I told my poor wife about the car not running she had apoplexy and demanded that from then on I'd only look at cars, 'that worked!'. I couldn't really blame her. It was around that time she told me she didn't want me to spent more than $15k because we are/were trying to buy a new house. Hmm...

The other 180b I looked at was a SSS coupe. 

It was also a classic rally car, having been driven from London to Sydney in 1975, then all the way around Australia in a Repco trial in 1980. It had finished both events and really was pretty great considering. It was also rough as guts. Getting to the property it lived on was a challenge and involved a creek crossing. As soon as I saw the car, I knew I wasn't going to buy it. It's a fantastic project, but it's a project. The paint was just awful. The back guards were full of bog. ALL of the sills were caved in. I don't think I need to go on. However, there were two other Datsuns there. Graham, now a mate of mine, has a 1600 club car with a 2.2L L series stroker/K24 head and very straight, stock 1600 auto in the shed. Very straight.

So straight I offered him $11,500 for it.

He declined my offer after consideration, in the opinion he'll get more for it soon. I guess we'll see. His refusal left me in a slight dilemma. Datsun 1600s were looking more and more promising. I knew for a fact that a decent car would sell for $15,000. I also knew that they were rust prone, but I was in the curious position of coming across not one but TWO almost rust-free examples in as many weeks. I had looked at another 1600, fully registered with a L20 (2 litre motor), 5 speed and well, more bog than metal. Every lower panel had serious rust and the motor was pretty noise. It also scraped on every speed hump. Hmm, maybe not.

I seriously entertained the idea of the T18. 

The example I looked at had to be the best in the country, probably in the southern hemisphere. It was that good. The owner wanted about $7k for it. I thought a little too much, but he was negotiable. ALL the important parts for it are interchangeable with AE86 sprinters. They share the same platform. The 4AGE motor bolts straight in, or you can swap a 2TG head over onto the 3TC block. Here's the thing though.

I could throw $15k at a T18, but it only be worth the $7k I paid for it. 

And that was the same issue I had with the 180B. Besides the fact that I could NOT find a single straight 180B for sale in NSW, they were $7k cars at best. Nothing I did was going to change that really. 1600s on the other hand were actually worth something. They were also lighter than the T18 and 180B. The parts for the 1600 were plentiful and cheap. I could buy a L18 and 4 speed gearbox for $600 off Gumtree.

I explained this situation to my wife. She sounded hopeful. Course I should have know better. What she really heard was...

'I could fix that white 1600 for $600.'

So on a whim, I texted the owner to ask if it was still available. Three seconds later he called me back to tell me his own wife had said to him, 'it goes or you go.'

Five minutes later, I had bought an automatic Datsun 1600. That didn't run. 

I had a few problems...
1. My wife honestly thought it would cost $600 to fix and register. Ouch.
2. I had no way of getting to my house.
3. The $600 engine/gearbox on Gumtree had been sold.

I needn't have worried though because my car club buddies came to my rescue. Christian Autosports is a haven for many former and current Datsun tragics. They were more than happy to help my sad new problem. Helping with a trailer and parts. They're all excited about the car.

So I suppose I should say something about it now.

It's a 1969' model, was made in Japan and exported here with a manual gearbox. At some stage in it's life it was swapped over to a Stanza automatic. The standard L16 (1600cc) engine is there. The body is amazingly straight and original apart from one ding in the back panel. The original paint is all there, if somewhat thin. I think it lived most of it's life in the country, driven by someone old and slow. Imagine a Datsun that is the brother of my old beetle, but hadn't been messed with by idiots. There are various things to fix but the good news is this.

The motor does actually turn over by hand.

The fan belt had welded itself to the pulleys and wouldn't allow it to turn. I also think the starter is cactus. Not that it really matters because the L16 will be yanked and replaced by a worked L18. Which is the other thing that needs to be said about Datsun 1600s.

The parts are CRAZY CHEAP. Cheaper than the beetle and that's saying something.

I've managed to buy a whole driveline for $1000 that's ready for motorsport. A stock VW 1600 dual port can go for more than that. The cylinders for the clutch were $65 brand new. Wheels are stupid cheap. $100 for 4 alloy wheels. Getting alloys for my beetle was $700+ just for rims. Second hand was almost impossible to get. And I get independent rear suspension, ball joints up front. disc brakes, easily adjustable camber and castor.. I can transplant a Subaru R180 differential in. They still make R180 diffs for Hyundai, Subaru, Nissan, etc, etc.

What the heck was I doing with a beetle all these years?!

For those of you worrying about my marriage, relax. My wife told me, after we pushed it up a big hill into the garage...

'It's a cute little car.'

Recently, after she'd clearly said she didn't want three cars, she proclaimed, 'well as long as it's in the garage and I can't see it, I guess it's fine.' I was gobsmacked. I'm just not used to this level of positivity to project cars. When I wiped the chalky coating off the paint and found out it was really cream, (not white) she was happy about that too. Of course there are things like this to deal with...

But she doesn't care. I have to admit, for a 1969, Japanese car, it's pretty reasonable. So for now, the current aim is to clean it up and get it running as is. The original paint will be waxed and the inside of the panel fish-oiled like no tomorrow. Once it's regoed and manual-ized, there's other upgrades waiting. But they can wait for another time.

Til' next time...

Monday 23 October 2017

The end of real Holdens

For all those out there in car land in Australia, this week has brought to an end a much beloved company. That is car maker, Holden. Media outlets are blagging on about things like, 80 years of production, the end of aussie car building, etc, etc. What I wanted to do today was take a quick look at why I think Holden has come to an end. Warning, it's not pretty.

I should say a few things before I start. Firstly, I do like old Holdens. Secondly, I believe that at one time Holdens were probably the best cars you could buy in Australia. Thirdly, I've never personally owned a Holden. Fourthly, as a teenager I was a Ford man. Having said all that, let's try and get a feel for what happened here. I'm no expert, but even a cursory glance at changes in motoring over the last 50 years should help us understand.

1. Holden is not really an Australian company.

I know people will want to lynch me for this, but what Holden provided for Australia was the same thing Ford Australia provided until quite recently. Hence the initials GMH. General Motors Holden. Since the days of the 48-215, Holden has been at the behest of the US GM giant and it's executive. I'll talk more about that later on, but this is a pretty salient point.

2. More than half the cars Holden sold over the years were not in fact Australian.

So for my second lynching... what we knew as the FX-FJ was in fact a Canadian GM effort dolled up for the Aussie Market. Now admittedly, most of what we got in late 1950s through to the mid 1970s was Australian designed but after that almost everything came in from overseas in one way or another. The commodore and torana were german, the gemini also from opel with a Jap drivetrain. By the 1980s lots of things from suzuki swifts to toyota camrys got rebadged with Holden lions. The first V8 we got was from the US, as were automatic transmissions and the like. Aussie V8s were made but again, we're back to US and Euro engines even in the large cars. I'm not saying cars didn't get improved on or developed for Australian conditions, but much of it came from elsewhere.

3. Holden spent too much time on the "Big battle".

This is V8 supercars (which btw is the death throws of the large car in Australia). So much attention placed on large saloons with V8s. Large saloons more and more Australians were not buying. Every time I looked at the cover of 'Wheels' magazine or similar, it had a falcon or commodore. Guess what Ford and Holden, you both lost the battle.

4. Holden has made a real hash of small-medium sized cars.

I was born in 1973, the heart of the muscle car era. I don't remember a time in my life when Holden really did well with small to medium sized cars. The older I got, the worse it seemed to be. How is it, for instance, that the Torana was never available as a wagon? Or for that matter a hatch? Every other manufacturer at the time had a medium sized wagon, but not Holden. If you wanted a wagon, you had to buy a Kingswood. Let's not even discuss the Camira. Small cars were equally problematic. The Torana started small but outgrew that market. The Gemini was good, but not an Aussie car strictly. Lately, we ended up with Astras and Barinas. Some good, some not so good. The Astra was a good car, but Holden deleted the model. Opel started bringing them in themselves. Craziness. As a brand Holden never had a consistent reputation for small cars. As Australia was crippled by recessions, fuel crisies and a rubbish dollar, we bought more small to medium cars. The Japanese made the most of this. You can see where this is going.

This prototype never reached production. Why?

5. Holdens were thirsty.

For some reason I've never worked out, GMH never saw fit to try and build fuel efficient cars beyond choking them down. I personally hold the US GM executives responsible for this, but locals could have seen what the Europeans were doing with diesel and fixed it. Why in it's whole model life, has it never been possible to buy a turbo diesel Commodore. Even the X-trac AWD commodore only came with a petrol option. This beggars belief really give the size of Australia and the potential benefits for reps driving long distances on diesel. People tell me Aussies don't like diesel, but we've bought plenty of Jap 4WDs and trucks with diesel engines. Instead, Holden put their head in the sand and pretended petrol was cheap... just like the USA.

6. Much of Holden's large car business plan was modelled on the USA.

This is probably the biggest disaster of the lot. I can sort of understand why it happened, but these guys in many ways are as guilty as the bankers during the GFC. Australia is not, and has never been the US. We don't protect our local products like they do. We don't have cheap as chips fuel. Most people in the Australia don't drive trucks. The list goes on. Australians by and large are more conservative and less monied that their US counterparts. So, for two decades from 1950-70 while we sat close to the US in policy, Holden worked ok. Once our ways began to part, things began to be problematic. It's important to note that the US car industry has almost completely destroyed itself the same way Holden has in Australia. Overseas product was cheaper and better, and it suited the changing market.

7. Holden is the last of many cars made in Australia.

While we're all getting teary eyed about the roaring lion, we should look up and note that Toyota, Mitsubishi and Ford have also departed our shores recently. All for similar reasons. Australia doesn't need a multitude of large cars anymore. VW also were made here for a long time. We have to face up to a changing world with changing needs.


Summing up.

At the same time, cars have never really been cheaper. Aussies are by and large richer than they've ever been. Will there be a future for cars here in Australia? Personally, I think so. If Elon Musk can build new batteries here, electric cars are not fair behind. What we need is the absence of fat-cat auto execs from elsewhere. If cars get made here again, it will take new entrepreneurs who think outside the box and build what the local market needs. So look around, what do we need these days? You might be the answer to the question.

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Take a seat - Part 6

Sorry, if you've been checking this blog. It's been 6 months and there's a bit to say, but for now I'll try and update the seat situation.

I kinda feel like a failure, but it was time to "get it done" and it was my birthday. My poor wife had no idea what to buy me and I was trawling gumtree and ebay for lowback racing seats. I found a lot of "Cobra classics", but they were all black and $500. No chance of that.

What I found was this...

It's an 18" Kirkey low back racing seat. This is the widest seat they make. When I picked it up, I thought, "oh man, this thing is too wide". However, it's about right. I will pad the sides out a little, but it's pretty well right. So the next trick to building a frame to connect it to the stock seat base I have.

The two are closer in dimensions than I thought, so that's nice. Just trying to sort out how to join them up. The seat will be MUCH better for motorsport than the stock, "bouncing out the window" springs. I'm not sure that it will that awesome round the burbs though. So the aim it to be able to swap it out easilt whenever I need to.

In other news, after a protracted top end rebuild (new pistons/cylinders/rings/HD valve springs) the motor is back in the car and running again. Managed to find a boost leak and the turbo has been pulled down, checked and pressure tested. The first proper run netted a max of 13.4psi boost. 9.5psi higher than I could ever manage before.

There is lots of tuning left to do, but we're on the right track. More soon.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Loosing our aural history

It's been a beautiful winter's night with spring on the way. I was outside cooking up dinner on the grill sampling the sounds of the suburbs. People coming home and noisy cars in the distance. As I listened and grilled, it struck me I was listening to a different soundscape than when I was growing up.

Now of course that makes sense. I'm 25 years into adulthood.

Even still, and maybe I'm being old and nostalgic, I felt that things have changed. The engines I heard in years gone by have, by and large, disappeared. So I thought I'd wheel a few of them out to reminisce.

A few of my friends will laugh their heads off to read this, but the first of them has to be Holden 202. It was available in red and blue versions. I've often complained how awful they were, but the sound of them was around us all the time. A good 202 had a HUGE droning exhaust and holley. Really good 202s had SUs or Webers and struggled to idle. It was usually attached to a torana 4 door or a one toner with cragars or welds wheels.

Often the car sounded like it was going to explode. Thankfully, the awful cylinder head design prevented that. There are plenty of good after market heads for them now. Sadly, it's apparently pretty hard to find a good engine block these days.

A similar but better sound came from this motor...

It's true that the 265 was the motor everyone pined after, but for most of us the 245 was a lot more common. It too had a drone. Much smoother than the breathless holden, the Hemi always sounded smooth and pretty effortless. Stock hemis sounded good too. This is one of the curious things about older cars; you could hear the engines. New cars, you can never hear. Hemis were attached to variety of things from trucks, the valiant sedans and centuras. Any centura with a Hemi 6 was an weapon. I'd still love a hemi powered car... with a turbo. They're famous.

The other 6 hanging around the place was of course the ford crossflow. It was a little better than the 202, but not as nice as the Hemi. People have done lots of good things with the crossflow, but mostly they were the second class citizens to the Ford V8s.

The ford crossflow was perhaps the most prolific six in Australia after the Holden 6. Occasional they got a big exhaust and a carb. Later in the piece, they got turbos and then things really got interesting. They were attached to falcons and the odd cortina. In a cortina, it was burnout machine. Which brings me to the biggest engines.

Although Australians love their V8s, they've always been pretty expensive to run and own. So, even though there were a few around, they were mostly small blocks. The most common of them this one. The holden 253...

People pile cowpads on the 253. Smaller, heavier and inferior to the Hemi 265 they were described as "boat anchors". It's a shame they're remembered so poorly because they were the most popular thing around my way. And I have to say, they could sound mighty good. Lots of exhaust with not much muffler and they were a favourite. VB Commodore SLEs sounded pretty great stock. Some extractors and it was fantastic. That popping, detached rumble was gold.

Which brings me to it's bigger brother. The 308. These were floating around in a variety of commodores, monaros and toranas. Invariably they were lacking mufflers and went hard. The top of the tree was the VN group A.

 A school mate of mine's father owned one. Let's just say we regularly heard the rev limiter.

Then there was the ford 302. It was in everything. Falcons, utes, F100s, etc and the occasional cortina. Like 253s, they often had a nice set of duals on them. Around my way lived a tow truck driver called, "Borgie". His 302 power F100 towie was a weapon and got thrashed outside the school every arvo as he picked up his younger brother.

Now, I know everyone will want to get carried away about 351s and the like, but there weren't many of them around. Like 308s and Chevy 350s they were rare. Having said that, you knew a small block chev when you heard one.

The other motor I heard over and over were rotaries. Again, the most common engine was a 12a or stockish 13b with a huge exhaust. I didn't really know much about them for a long time, but I remember them being around.

It's hard to describe the sounded of a modded rotary. There were regularly RX2s, RX3s and RX7s struggling to idle only to race off at 8000rpm and 130decibels. I'd still love to own a series 1 RX7 with an atmo 13b.

The other small engine running around the place was the L series Datsun engine. It's hard to describe how prolific the Datsun 1600 (510) was to so many petrol heads and racers. Yes, I know we had escorts and there were scores of them too, but the datto was more popular.

The L18 and L20 was the king of them all really. Again, open exhaust and webers if you could afford it. My parents in law had a 200B that did over 300,000km with this motor.

The most distinctive small car sound though, was of course the VW flat four. Whether it was powering a beetle, kombi or type 3, you could hear it coming a mile away.

Most of these engines were dead stock. The occasional one had extractors or a slight overbore kit, but compared to the US, VW speed parts were expensive and mostly left off street cars. Anything with anything more exotic than mentioned was always labled a, "Porsche engine". I never got why, but that's what people said. Over the exhaust, the whine of the fan always gave these engines away too.

There were other engines floating around, the odd twin cam toyota or alfa, 2 stroke diesels or suzuki sierras, but in my childhood these engines were the norm. In traffic, round the burbs or at school pickup they were the sounds we heard. I miss some of them, but then people probably don't give much thought to it. Newer cars are by and large quiet, efficient but somewhat soul-less. I guess it's just times changing.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Flashbacks in Dattos

I've been hanging to get back in my car and do some khanas with the club again. Money, time and kids sport have been frustrating me, but the other day I got an offer I couldn't refuse. The chaplain of the club offered me a seat in his Datsun 1600 (510 for US readers) for a day on the skidpan.

Of course I said, "Yes please!"

The car in question is a pretty serious machine. It's nothing to look at, really kinda ugly, but it's got everything that needs to be there. The irony is, not that long ago, 510 shells like this went to the wreckers. However, as the price of these sky-rockets, more and more slightly bent shells are getting straightened and returned to use. Which is precisely what's happened here.

Pete, the owner told me, "it's been pulled completely straight". I smirked, but that's the truth for most of these old campaigners. Years of bingles and offroad exploits have made for tired, rusty shells. This car was mostly rust free, although it's recently had some surgery too. Along with all that, it's been plated, reinforced and stiffened up wherever possible. Underneath, it's as good as anything competing in the NSW and Australian rally championships across the 70's, 80's and 90's when Dattos reigned supreme. Added to that, it's got a completely adjustable rear end, proper springs and Bilstein shocks. The brakes are discs all round.

Pushing all that around is an L18 (1800cc SOHC, non-crossflow) engine with twin Italian Weber 45 sidedrafts and not a lot of exhaust. It's also got a HUGE 3 core radiator that will put up with anything (and a thermo fan). Pete told me it's a "Low compression, Southern Cross spec motor", "Don't be afraid to rev it, it'll sit on 6k all day", and "give it plenty of beans, you can't hurt it". Behind that was stage 2 racing clutch, a 5 speed gearbox of unknown origin and a 4:11 ratio, welded diff... I'll come back to that. Pete admits the 4:11 diff is a little tall for motorkhanas, but the car doesn't complain.

Amongst all the fun, we had the usual flat battery/running out of fuel/fan not working/didn't want to start dramas that go with a track car that isn't driven much. Sitting in dummy grids had the plugs starting to foul a bit, but a good thrashing fixed that quick.

It is bullet proof. 

At the beginning of the day, Pete took me out in the passenger's seat to get the feel of the car. We took off out of the start garage and on the first turn he reefed on the hydraulic handbrake. As the car threw me around in the seat, a childhood memory came flooding back...

It was nineteen hundred and eighty seven and I was at a scout jamboree. I was 13 years old and feeling mighty homesick. But there were plenty of cool things to do. One of them was a car club that was giving kids a ride in "rally cars". The weather was crazy hot, dry and to be honest, I found the car noisy, slightly violent and a bit frightening. I got thrown around in the racing seat and I couldn't see much. I don't know if I actually enjoyed it. For some reasons though, I went back for a second go. I don't remember if I got one, but I was smitten. I'd always liked cars, but now I was keen for a "rally car". Specifically, it was the beginning of a long love affair with Datsun 180B's (some people call them $1.80s). The car club was the same one I'm a member of now.

I found out, on telling Pete this story, that the car I rode in that fateful day back at the Jamboree, still exists! It's still in competition. In fact, last year it won the Alpine Classic Rally at the hands of Jack Monkhouse.

I'm sure it's had plenty of love since 1987, but I was pretty blown away to hear it's still so successful. Now back to the Datto at hand...

It is, a pretty agricultural piece of kit. The car has a control panel you can see to the left of the wheel. None, I repeat, none of the gauges work. If it's too hot, steam comes out of the bonnet. If there's no charge, the motor dies. If the fuel runs out, it stops. You get the point. It is however, pretty electrifying to drive. It doesn't idle that well and the timing chain tensioner is worn and rattles, so you can't let it sit on a low idle. The throttle is heavy and the clutch engages an inch from the top of it's travel. You have to push the brake a long way into the floor to get it to stop after using the hydraulic handbrake a few times.

But oh man! It's so fun. 

On a wet skid pan it's a hoot. I didn't get the hang of really drifting it, but it wants to and when it starts it's quite progressive. You think, "if I back off, it'll spin out", but it doesn't. It just looses a bit of drift angle. The steering is pretty darn heavy. It's got LOTS of caster and quick steer spindles, so it's only a few turns lock to lock. But you have to hold on, coz it kicks back. If you let go of the wheel it centres FAST! I stalled the car on the first test due to this, but by the end of the day I was used to it. It is a real arm workout at low speed, but it works well enough once you get going. I suspect it would be a lot easier to drive on the dirt where the rear end would do the steering.

My daughter and I had a tops time. She loved being thrown around in the passenger's seat. The motor is very loud in the car. Up near the top of it's rev range, the combo of induction and gears just screams. It bellowed like a mutant sewing machine trying rip it's way through the firewall. But it has nothing on the welded diff. I knew they were not great for the road, but man. At low speed even a gentle turn was met with a LOT of resistance, lurching, clanking and clunking. It felt like the car was twisting in the middle. I won't lie, it made me shudder every time (almost as much as the car did LOL). I raised this with Pete who told me, "yeah it always sounds like that". Again, once under power, both rear tyres lit up and it was in it's element. With more practice, the car easily dances around. Longer faster tests lead to big slip angles and lots of laughs.

There were a series of other interesting rides out at the track the same day. This Toyota 86 was hiding something sneaky. The owner was fighting under-bonnet heat.

At lunchtime in the pits, we came across this ancient Morgan 3 wheeler. Sensational stuff.

Check that steering wheel!

I've yet to receive the results from the day, but I just don't care. Getting out on the skidpan was rewarding enough. Being able to do it in the datto was a HUGE bonus. Thank's again Pete!