Friday, October 29, 2010


One of the most entertaining aspects of my job is the unpredictable variety of the cars I get to drive.

The organisation I work for accesses a very large fleet of leased vehicles, which is in a constant state of flux. The fleet manager has to juggle usage so that at the end of the 24 month lease period, the kilometres travelled match, as closely as possible, the lease prediction.

I'm not sure what happens if this isn't managed properly, but I presume there is a financial penalty. Those of you who have salary packaged cars (as I did when I was working full time) will understand what I'm on about.

Because I cover more distance than just about anyone else in this region, I often get allocated vehicles which need to clock up lots of kilometres in a short time near the end of the lease period.

This happened last week when I was slotted into a Volkswagen Jetta Diesel to travel to St George, Roma and Injune.

This Jetta is the only one I've ever come across, and it was originally part of a salary package for a senior executive. This same head honcho became very ill, and had to relinquish the position, so the car was returned to the fleet to be put to economical use until its lease expired.

Because it was an executive's car, it was the top of the range version, with all the bells and whistles. By the time I'd covered the 1500 km which comprised the week's work, I'd just about sussed them out (the bells and whistles - I mean).

It is a very pleasant car, and being a diesel, very economical on such a journey. It used about 5 litres for every 100 kms, although cruising at 100kmh used less than that - about 4.7 lit/100km. This parsimony with the go-juice didn't come at the cost of performance. When called on to overtake the various grades of grain trucks, mining machinery and cattle crates that infest the Warrego highway, it responded with verve. It actually outperforms your average six (Holden or Falcon) in a typical overtaking manoeuvre because of the vast amount of torque available between 2000 and 3000 rpm. The super efficient DSG six-speed gearbox helps, as it masks the small amount of turbo lag that is occasionally evident.

It also cruises at 100kph with the diesel ghosting along at 2000rpm, which is the main reason for its low fuel consumption. Diesel may well be the way of the future, although it often costs a few cents per litre more than unleaded.

Strangely enough, diesel was actually cheaper than 91 RON at Roma, but this may have been an anomaly - it's always a few cents dearer in Toowoomba and Brisbane.

The fleet manager is a very grounded person (you'd have to be in her job) but she does tend to get a bit rattled when people misfuel the diesels. It happens fairly regularly.

Despite the fact that the cars are emblazoned with stickers shouting "diesel fuel only", some of the dozier members of the organisation entertain a belief that only 4WDs use diesel.

These are usually the same people who return vehicles with melted chocolate, chips and spilled coffee all over the interior. It drives me nuts.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Plains, Planes and a Pub

On Sunday 17th October, intrepid members of the Darling Downs Chapter set out to explore country backroads, aviation history, country pub hospitality and exercise their brain cells on a run to Brooksead via Oakey and Pittsworth.

I say "intrepid" because winter had returned with a vengeance and some members wimped it and travelled with tops up. Those who didn't are probably by now nursing various levels of hypothermia.

The convoy (mostly silver NBs with a sprinkling of NCs) left Toowoomba at three minute intervals, armed with a carefully crafted set of questions to be answered, in the first instance, on the way to the Museum of Australian Army Flying at Oakey and then on to Brookstead via Pittsworth.

These same questions were the cause of many domestics and plenty of colourful language for the rest of the day. We discovered, for instance, that odometers in MX5s record distance travelled irrespective of direction (forward or reverse) and this served to confuse and confound, given the amount of backing-up required to catch up on missed signs, and the fact that accurate odometers readings were vital to avoid getting lost.

Remember, we weren't in convoy - it's amazing how thoroughly you can get lost in three minutes.

The Aviation museum provided a dose of nostalgia for the ex-Nashos in our group. The aircraft have aged better than these same ex-Nashos. It's worth noting that if you have a spare $40000 you can buy one of the nine Caribou transport aircraft mothballed beside the museum.

After a warming coffee at the museum, and a queue at the toilets (there was a seniors tour bus there at the same time) we set off for Brookstead via Pittsworth.

More bad language and backing-up followed, involving a junkyard with Datsun 120Ys, a mysterious mural and badly-positioned road signs. Nothing daunted, we arrived at the Brookstead pub where the beer was cold and the hospitality country-friendly.

Over lunch, the questionnaire was scored. The winners were from Brisbane - so much for "local knowledge". The planners did a good job, and we all know a lot more about that particular neck of the woods.

As we left the pub one of the locals drinking on the patio out front requested a wheelie. Someone should have explained to him that MX5 owners are people of taste and refinement.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Keys n Things.

I've been skiting about how reliable the MX5 is.

Big mistake. After I'd said something like - "Nothing ever goes wrong with this thing" - something did. I have an excuse for my big mouth. After owning many Peugeots, the Mazda's reliability is a constant source of amazement.

What did go wrong was merely inconvenient. The car continued, as they say in the classics, to proceed.

It proceeded, however without benefit of radio or remote locking. I'm pretty sure it has to do with the battery. Both things failed at about the same time. This battery is original. As a 2003 model, it's getting on for seven years old. I don't drive the car every day, and when I'm working west, or travelling interstate, as I have been lately,it can sit for days (and over the last few months - weeks) without being started.

There is therefore a good reason why the radio started flashing "code" at about the same time the remote locking device also lost its memory. According to the techies at Mazda, if the voltage drops below a certain point, it can confuse the in-car computer which remembers stuff like codes. The strange thing is - the car continues to start first time every time, and it cranks over enthusiastically.

Because I'm not the original owner, I didn't have the radio code. It was necessary to take the car to an authorised Mazda dealer to have both radio and remote re-programmed. Apparently they plug a laptop into the system somewhere and mutter incantations as they reset everything.

I can't complain - it cost all of $21. I can't remember the last time I parted with such a small amount of dosh at a garage where something had actually been fixed.

The battery will cark it eventually, of course.

But now I have the magic code.

(Both these shots were taken with an iPhone).