Friday, October 23, 2015

Commodore SV6 Sportwagon

In Adelaide last week for our unit reunion, I hired a car.

To be precise, I hired two cars - one after the other. The first was an Hyundai i30, the second a Commodore SV6 Sportwagon.

The car hire was to get me around beyond the Adelaide CBD where we were staying. One of my sons who lives in the burbs was having a birthday, and I wanted to spend time with him. The public transport is good, but I wasn't familiar enough with Adelaide to use it to commute between suburbs.

In addition, for health reasons I was having a non-alcoholic reunion (a contradiction in terms perhaps) and this meant I could chauffeur my digger mates around. Staying cold sober when everyone else isn't is indeed a strange and wonderful experience.

When it became clear that the i30 wasn't really big enough for five aging and largish sexagenarians with buggered knees (we're ex-infantry), and people were happy to chuck in a few extra dollars, I swapped it for a Commodore SV6 which happened to be a Sportwagon.

So here, gentle reader, is a road test.

I didn't spend enough time in the thing to test some of the more exotic features (the self-parking for example) but did a fair bit of driving in the rough and tumble of the city commute. Two issues made that same commute challenging. One was transitory - the fact that most of the roads seemed to be in the throes of reconstruction - and one was a constant - the madness of allowing parking in the kerbside lane of the clearways out of peak hour.

One feature, the blind side proximity warning integral with the external mirrors, came into its own in dealing with the latter.

On the other hand, the interminable beeping from both front and rear proximity warnings nearly drove me bonkers in the rather squeezy garage at our lodgings.

It's a Commodore, so it handles and rides very well. The interior fit-out is leaps and bounds ahead of my VE, although it felt much the same to drive. I didn't find the Bluetooth easy to connect - but that seems to be an issue with my Sony Xperia phone rather than the audio in the car.

The 3.6 litre donk is torquey and gets a nice howl going when it kicks down. I needed to accelerate a bit sharpish from time to time to get into the correct lane, which is an absolute necessity in Adelaide.

The Sportwagon body is practical and doesn't increase the size of the vehicle footprint, unlike Holden wagons of yore which always inherited the long wheelbase from the Senator or Brougham. At no time did the car feel unwieldy, although this may have more to do with my familiarity with the Commodore ute than anything else.

This experience has made me consider swapping the VE for a VF ute when the time comes.
It's a great shame that these things will disappear when local production ceases. They're a very accomplished machine, and although I didn't get the chance to use it as a long distance tourer, should always be the weapon of choice for interstate travel in this wide brown land.

The negatives?

I didn't like the electronic park brake.

And the fuel consumption was a bit profligate - in the high thirteens.

But it was carrying five large individuals in urban conditions most of the time, and I wasn't driving for economy.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Electric Dreams

 This is one for the petrol heads - except that one of these vehicls doesn't actually use any petrol.

The future is already here.

You can now drive a Tesla from Sydney to Melbourne.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The White Marshmallow

Most of my driving is urban.

This is not much of an issue when driving our Focus but manoeuvring the long wheel based ute in and out of shopping centre car parks is a pain in the proverbial.

The size of the vehicle, together with the limited rear three-quarter vision, makes the use of covered car parks pretty irritating. A recently-installed reversing camera helps a bit.

One of my daughters is beginning the learning-to-drive exercise, and a Commodore ute is not the best vehicle for this process.

These are two rationalisations for my purchase of the White Marshmallow.

There's also a bit of nostalgia wrapped up in this. I still have a soft spot for basic trimmed-down motoring, fondly recalling my first car, a 1956 Volkswagen beetle.

Anyhow, we have a Suzuki Alto. It's a 2010 GL Auto with 43000 kms on the clock, and is pretty much as-new.

Perhaps I'm weird, but I enjoy driving the thing. It's very easy to get in and out of, simple to park, and runs on the smell of an oily rag.

It's also roomy, in the front, at least, and vision out is good. The driver's eye height is actually a little taller than our Focus, due to the fairly upright architecture.

My bride took it for a run the other day, and returning with a big smile on her face.

I may have to compete with her for the keys.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


For all you petrol heads out there, it's time for another road test.

The vehicle is an Hyundai ("an" necessary because of the aspirant "h") ix35, which has just been superseded by the weirdly named Tucson.

She That Must Be Obeyed (the fleet manager) had originally allocated me a Focus, but its transmission started hiccuping, so the ix35 was hurriedly substituted. This one was bright red, and was the two-wheel drive 2000cc version. They come in 4WD with a 2.4 litre motor as well, but this one pulled well and overtaking was a breeze. It averaged (according to the digital readout) 7.6lit/100km mostly cruising at 100kph on the flat.

I've driven plenty of Hyundais, from the Santa Fe diesel to the i30 and the i45, but this was the first time I've been on board the small SUV. It was, as befits a fleet car, the poverty pack version, called "Active". It had cloth upholstery, steel wheels, and no reversing camera or GPS.

It did, however, have a reasonable sound system together with reliable Bluetooth. Having said that the connection was reliable, I still have no idea how to set it up. I got it working, but have no idea how.

Apparently local Hyundais have a locally inspired suspension tuning. It certainly handled sweetly, but I found the ride a bit jittery. This seems to be an Hyundai characteristic, as it reminded me of the i45, which exhibited the same issues.

There was plenty of room, and the driving position was about right for me. The seats weren't wonderful (a bit hard), but I experienced no aches and pains after a couple of three hour stints. I do take a break every one and a half hours, however.

These things are well screwed together, but they smell like nothing I've ever encountered before. This particular example had less than 5000kms on the clock, so still smelt new, but it was not an agreeable pong. I think it was the glue used in interior trim.

If I owned one, I'd be putting a couple of saucers of kitty litter on the floor, and parking it in the sun for a while. This usually removes objectionable pongs.

So apart from the smell, it was an entirely pleasant machine. Hyundais are always good value for money, and there are some great runout deals around on this superseded model. If you're in the market for a handy and easy to drive SUV, check it out.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Of Canopies and Things

Ute & canopy Adelaide bound on Hay plain

Since moving to the dark side, and buying a ute, I've been intrigued with the idea that owners of these useful appliances have something to learn from those who disport themselves in two-seater roadsters.

As I've pointed out before, my Commodore ute has much in common with my dearly departed Mazda MX-5 roadster. Let me count the ways - They are both 2 seaters. They both have removable covers installed as standard (on the roadster, it's the hood, on the ute, the tonneau). They both have front engine/rear drive configuration.

Where they differed is/was in detachable hard covers. I bought a detachable hardtop for the MX-5, and after getting it painted and installing the locking points, ended up with a stylish and secure enhancement to its functionality.

Remembering that, I began to think about enhancing the same security and functionality for the ute.

There is no doubt about it, the ute was a handy device when it came to shifting house. Ever tried to move a fridge in an MX-5? But problems remained, particularly security. On a number of occasions I'd parked the ute at a shopping centre, only to return to find that someone had lifted the corner of the tonneau to have a peek to determine if there was anything worth nicking in the tray. The family Blue Heeler wouldn't get in the ute for love nor money - she's funny like that - so using her as a guard dog would not work.


Then I began to think about a detachable canopy. One of the advantages of the hardtop on the MX-5 was that it was held on by over-centre catches and could be removed by two people in 10 seconds flat.

 Problem was, nobody makes detachable canopies. Hours spent researching on-line through all the usual suspects proved that nobody actually made them so that they could be removed quickly. All were bolt-ons. I had owned a ute with a fibreglass canopy back in the BC* days, and remembered my bride and I struggling with it when we wanted to remove it. I needed 20 minutes with a spanner to unbolt it. It wasn't all that heavy, but was hard to remove without trapping fingers. There was nothing to grab it with. This lack of grabbing points was a major issue.

The solution was obviously to take a lesson from the engineers at Mazda, and use over-centre catches, and the installation of handles would also make the whole thing more practical. The "whole thing" being the removal and replacement when large items needed shifting.

Over-centre catches

It took about two weeks of phone calls and visits to find a canopy manufacturer who was prepared to make something to these specifications. Basically, they took the regular Commodore canopy, and attached handles. Then they riveted over-centre catches to the existing fixing attachments (6 in all) in the ute tray. The tricky bit was getting everything to fit so it would be water and dust proof, but there is plenty of adjustment in the catches, and it wasn't difficult to set it up properly.

 By way of a shake down trial, I did a brief trip to Adelaide and back to help No 2 son shift house.

240 wiring

The canopy performed exactly to specifications. We took it off twice to shift beds etc, and put it back on to carry smaller stuff securely. It's pretty light, and the vehicle behaves much the same as it did bareback.

There's a light inside, and it's wired for 240 if I ever have the need to camp in it. That setup has to be certified by an electrician.

And strangely the Heeler (and her little Koolie mate) are very happy to travel in it. There's no accounting for dogs.

I reckon I should patent the concept. I'd call it Kliponkanopy..........

 *Before children

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mission Accomplished

The boring car has been delivered to Adelaide.
Boring is good when you're travelling 1924 kilometres.
Boring is good when it's bucketing down with rain (as it was on the first and last days of the three day trip).
Boring is good when the roads are infested with bogans towing boats, browned off and cranky because they haven't been able to get them in the water because of the weather.
Toyota does indeed build boring cars, but reliability, comfort, and simplicity are boring, and that's OK. My $750 car didn't miss a beat. The hours put into it seem to have paid off.
And being the cantankerous old codger that I am, I derived a kind of savage satisfaction sharing the roads with cashed up bogans in their $50000 dollar SUVs towing all manner of expensive hardware. I was probably as comfortable as any of them, and 8lit/100km (which is what the boring car averaged) isn't half bad.
It actually seemed to run better the further it went. Cruising at 110km/hr was a doddle.
The audio was great. I got to listen to a lot of 70s music on cassette tapes that have been languishing in our attic because we didn't own anything that would play them. A 1996 Camry has an excellent tape player.
The HVAC system worked a treat, as did the wet weather gear (wipers etc), and now I know that there are no leaks.
The only downside was losing my banana. I had rationed myself one banana per day, but the last one was confiscated at the SA border by a fearsome woman in uniform who is a trifle lacking in interpersonal skills. The young policewoman who asked me to blow into the machine at Forbes on day two was much more courteous.
I should have eaten the damn thing in front of her. It was a very good banana.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Poverty pack Ambiente. Awful colour - "Midnight Sky"

Yes, I know, comparisons can be odious, but I write this for myself, gentle reader, and if you aren’t interested, it makes no difference to me.

Slightly up market "Trend"

I’m referring to a motoring comparison, that of the poverty pack ford Focus (rejoicing in the title of “Ambiente”, and the mid-range model, that Ford calls the “Trend”.

I have no idea where Ford derives their nomenclature. If there is a living human being responsible, I would apply for his/her job, because I reckon I could do it better.

The comparison became possible because she who must be obeyed (the fleet manager) allotted me a Focus Ambiente (the most basic version of the breed) to take West this week. I was able to drive this thing about 1000kms across three days.

It was instructive to climb behind the wheel of one version, whilst living with another (our Focus “Trend”) since last year when we bought it new.

The mechanical differences are substantial (different motor and gearing) and the trim differences significant. When we bought our Trend, cruise control, which I consider essential, wasn’t available on the Ambiente. It is now.

This was one of the main reasons for shelling out the extra. The Trend is still pretty basic with lots of hard plastic inside. In the Ambiente, it’s much the same, but lacks the silver highlights which are a feature of the Trend. Whatever……

Of greater significance are the mechanical differences. The Trend has a 2000cc motor, whereas the Ambiente gets away with 1600cc. Gearing is slightly taller in the Trend (2200rpm at 100kph as compared with 2750 in the Ambiente).

Whilst I’m not completely sure, I suspect that the Trend has a different power steering setup – electric/hydraulic as opposed to straight hydraulic in the cheaper version.

There are minor differences in the upholstery quality and the Trend has driving lights. That’s about it.

Translated to the driving experience, you’ll notice the more generous torque of the Trend, which becomes quite apparent when overtaking. On the other hand, the old-fashioned steering assist in the Ambiente, to my way of thinking, retains more road feel. Both versions handle excellently well, something that has been a feature of small fords for a while.

The six speed auto compensates well for the shortcomings of the smaller motor, although both versions feature lurchy transitions in the lower gears. Every now and then, the tranny dithers before selecting the appropriate gear. It’s a minor irritation.

The Ambiente seemed to exhibit slightly more road noise, although tyre fit and profile (Michelin - 205/60 R16) is identical.

In summary, it’s debatable whether the Trend is worth the extra two grand, although both versions are reliable and fun to drive. The Ambiente is slightly more economical on a long run – low sevens as compared to seven/eights.

Perhaps this is the car that Ford should have been building locally. At one point they planned to….

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Three Rs

The Three Rs refer to Restoration, Roadworthy certificate, and Registration.

All three are now complete, but it's stretching a point to say the thing is "restored". It is cleaned up to the point that it's no longer embarrassing or annoying to drive.

There are still plenty of problems waiting to be fixed, but they're all minor, and strangely, some of them seem to fix themselves once the car is regularly driven. I'm using it as a daily driver, including a recent 350km round trip along the Warrego to Brisbane.

It performed well, with the exception of getting a little bit hot and bothered driving up the range at the hottest part of the day - nothing nasty - just an elevated temperature for a few minutes.

As a consequence of that, Ive 'now included a clean and flush of the cooling system as a job to be done.

Apart from that, it's always started first time, trundled around quietly and anonymously, and generally done everything asked of it. I've also had a great time resurrecting old cassette tapes that have been in storage because there's nothing to play them on.

Given the original equipment tape deck, there is now, and the sound quality's not half bad.

The other great feature of this car is the frosty air conditioning. I swear it's quicker to cool than the units in our later model cars.

 Anyhow, to give you a better idea of how it drives, here's some dash cam -

There are an amazing number of these things still on the road, and a fairly large proportion of them are Toyota White, like this one. They are the perfect vehicle if you wish to remain anonymous, and get from A to B safely and cheaply.

They simply don't rate with car enthusiasts, and this can be a massive advantage. Despite Toyota's holding their resale well, machines of this vintage are pretty cheap, as they are now part of what might be called the bangers market.

They certainly don't have any value beyond that of a useful appliance, and running one avoids all the petrol head wankery that surrounds makes favoured by enthusiasts.

I've decided to drive it to Adelaide over Easter.

Now that should not be boring.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Agghh - Panel Work

After panel work - but before a cut and polish
There is no rush now to get a roadworthy certificate, so I'm using the time to clean up the panels as much as possible.

As mentioned before, only the roof, bonnet and bootlid were unbent.

I have a record of epic and abject failure when it comes to panel work, so I bought two rear doors rather than try to get the dings out. An exception was made in the case of the driver's side front door which had been dragged along something solid.

Each corner of the front mudguards had been buggered up by someone putting some kind of tape on to hold the broken lamp assemblies in place, and this had to be fixed. Both front and rear bumpers had all sorts of marks on them.

Driver's door before

Despite my record of past failure, the results weren't too bad. I think I have learned the technique of feathering new paint over old, but of course the age of the old paint (in this case 18 years) is always a problem. It you look closely at the pics you will see it.
Driver's door after

Rear panel before

The goal, however, was to finish up with something that I wouldn't be embarrassed to drive.

Rear panel after

Saturday, January 24, 2015

More Trials and Tribulations

Rear before detailing

Whilst good progress has been made, I've fallen behind in my timetable.
Rear after detailing

I was hoping to have the old jigger roadworthy by now.

It was knocked back because - wait for it - the windscreen washers weren't functioning 100% and there was condensation on one of the rear light clusters.

This is no biggie, except that I go back to work on Tuesday, and there will be a week's hiatus (at least) before I can book another inspection.

I have fixed both issues - a blast from the hair dryer on the light cluster after dismantling it, and a good brushing with an old toothbrush saturated in WD40 on the washer nozzle did the trick, but the delay is a pain.

Most of the jobs have proved straightforward, if boring and repetitive. It is called "project boring" after all.

Because I couldn't get the roadworthy through in the ordained fortnight, I decided to cancel the registration. The previous owner was unable to get the paperwork to the Dept Transport, so I did that for her. The helpful person at the DOT explained that providing I obtained third party cover I could legally drive it to the testing station on the nominated day.

Hopefully that will be in about two weeks.

Meanwhile, here are a few shots of the work in progress.

There is always an audience. This was before dinged door was replaced.

Battery clamp now right way round

Boot after the dent was banged out.         

Sunday, January 18, 2015

These Little things Were Sent to Try Us

This was how the bonnet stayed open.

This was often the comment heard when I was a Nasho, and the army (and various circumstances) had conspired to make life very difficult. There were many similar sayings, but this is the only one, dear reader, that shouldn't offend delicate sensibilities.

Anyhow, Project Boring continues, but the frustrations are all little ones.

There was the saga of the windscreen washers. To be roadworthy, they must work. When I collected the car, they didn't. This was because the clip holding one of the hoses had broken. I fixed that by getting a clip of similar bore as the hoses used from Masters hardware. The bit I bought was for a home irrigation system - much cheaper. It's amazing what difference an automotive application makes to a price, and the difference is always to the North.
Why the washers didn't work. (Sorry about pic quality)

Replacing this made the washers work, but the reservoir bottle had a bad case of plastic rot, so for $35 dollars I bought a Taiwanese made reproduction. This fitted OK, but I cracked the bottom of it in a ham-fisted attempt to install it. After a lot of mucking about, I used bathroom sealant to fix the leak.
The repro is on the left.

Then I noticed that the stream on the passenger's side was weak, so I tried to clean out the tubing on that side. All I managed to do was break the arm of the three-way joint. This was fixed by using the tubing from a biro, which provided both strength, and a hollow tube.

It all works OK now, but this saga used up about half a day.

Then there were the bonnet struts. Again, they didn't work, so a stout stick was used to prop the bonnet open. I found a very obliging gent who re-gassed them for $30 each. This meant removing them from the car, and re-installing them when the job was done.

Problem was, I couldn't figure out how they fitted, and which was left and right. Eventually, I found a shot I had taken prior to removal, and it all made sense. Now the bonnet stays open when it should. Good.
This pic was very useful.

Removing the decayed tint on the rear window wasn't a "little thing". It was a major pain in the backside. It had to be scraped off, after I tried every chemical made by man to dissolve it. The tint peels off easily enough. It's the glue used to attach it that's the issue. Nothing seems to dissolve it. I tried nail polish remover, thinners, petrol. eucalyptus oil, and soap and water. None worked.

At least the soap and water provided a lubricant for the scraper.
A bugger of a job

That took about half a day in the middle of nasty humidity we are experiencing right now. The various strong smells given off by this combination of useless chemicals didn't help.

So tomorrow Ol Boring goes in for the second inspection.

Wish me luck...........

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting Started

After taking my $750 purchase to get a roadworthy certificate, I was relieved to find no major expensive barriers to getting it registered. Remember, the object of the exercise is a reliable car that I would not be embarrassed to drive.

The list of nasties -
1. 2 bald tyres
2. One cracked windscreen
3. Headlight mountings broken
4. Windscreen washers inoperative
5. Battery loose
6. Spare tyre loose
7. Steering wheel cover floppy
8. Rear window tint delaminating and interfering with vision
9. Nearside parking light not working

The items not preventing registration, but coming under the "embarrassment" heading -
1. Panel damage to every panel except bonnet, hood and boot.
2. Headlining detached and falling
3. Missing wheel trims
4. Smelly/dirty interior

I wonder how this happened. Click to embiggen. Sticky tape?

Given my proven inadequacies at panel work, I decided that simply replacing damaged doors was easier than beating out the damage and painting. The fact that this car was white helped. There are beaucoup white 1996 Camrys about.

Old mate at Toowoomba Car Wreckers quoted me $75 per door, and threw in a set of genuine (if faded) Toyota wheel trims for $5 each. The doors were relatively easy to remove and fit, although an assistant is necessary to position them before bolting them on. Long suffering daughter two helped. I told her that she was learning an important skill.

I don't think I convinced her.........

I decided against replacing the front (driver's door) because of the complications with locks. I'll have a go at panel work on this one, as the damage is minor. Someone has got up close and personal with a gatepost, and the result is a gouge, rather than a dent.

The windscreen was replaced by O'Brien's for $330, which is the maximum I'd hope to spend on any one item.

I began to deal with the trim items one by one, after swapping the front tyres (little tread remaining) for the rears (plenty of tread) before going any further. On a front-driver you always want your best tyres on the front.

One unexpected hiccup here was the fact that one of the rear wheels refused to budge, after all bolts were undone. It was rusted on to the backing plate. A thorough spray of WD 40 and a ten minute wait did the trick.

Replacement doors

The battery was loose because some twit reversed the position of the clamp - easily fixed, and the spare tyre was floating around because the aperture in which it dwelt had be dented out of shape, probably by reversing over a rock or log. One clout with a sledge hammer from above was all that was necessary.

I fixed the windscreen washes by connecting the hose that was adrift, and replacing a plastic T junction with a part from a home irrigation system.This material is much cheaper than Toyota genuine. One of the spray outlets blocks from time to time. It will need attention to be reliable.

So, at the end of one week, the scoreboard reads -

Battery and spare fixed.
Doors replaced.
Washers fixed.
Windscreen replaced.

Apart from numerous cuts on my fingers from sharp unfinished Toyota metal fittings, it's been trouble free so far. The spend has been $150 (doors) and $330 (windscreen), so it's above the magic $1000.

My bride tells me the project keeps me from getting under foot until I go back to work.

Win-win, really.....

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Project Boring

Perhaps foolishly, I’m embarking on Project Boring.
Foolishly, because under current work arrangements I'm only home every second week to do stuff, so this may be a lengthy project.
Why the title? Toyota Camrys are boring. That’s indisputable. But they are built like brick outhouses and examples of this one (1996 CS 2.2litre) will go on forever.
How do I know this? I’ve restored one before, and my No 2 son who believes that all you need to do to maintain a car is drive it, put fuel in it, and occasionally remove accumulated junk from the boot and interior, hasn’t killed it yet.
That particular example has done about 200000km commuting around Adelaide after I drove it down a few years ago.
Hence I’ve bought (for $750 – down from the ask of $1000) another example that used to be white.
It has only three unmolested panels (bonnet, roof and boot lid) and three different brands of tyres (mysteriously mud and snow specified) of obscure origin. The mud and snow capacity will be useful next time it snows in Toowoomba.
The tyres are branded “Sonar SA 603”. Anyone out there heard of them?
The interior is well loved, and the headlining sagging. The window tinting has gone motley, so that looking through the rear window in low light conditions gives everything a mellow blotchy sepia tone. The windscreen has a litany of cracks, mostly in front of the driver, which renders it unroadworthy.
New tyres and windscreen (all up about $600) will bring it past the magic $1000, but that’s cheap motoring. These things have been known to go 300000km before getting expensive.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that it’s covered only 112000Kms in the hands of an elderly lady who can no longer drive, so her son (who runs a motel) sat the car outside reception with a “buy me” sign on it.
After driving past numerous times, curiosity got the better of me, and the rest is history. I’ve driven it around a little bit, and very carefully, and found that it’s quiet, tight as a drum, and comfortable.
I wouldn’t want to be seen behind the wheel – its appearance is embarrassing – so a cosmetic restore is a priority. At the moment it has wheel trims, but of two different styles. Ensuring that the same style is on one side gets around that. You can’t see both sides at once.
Blogging the restoration will keep me motivated. After this post, all reference to the Camry will be posted here.
The MX5 blog has been left to fade away since I disposed of the car, and it needs rejuvenation. 
The goal is to improve the car's appearance by straightening the panels, and cleaning up the interior. I'm not expecting any major mechanical work - but all projects are unpredictable.
What to do with it when finished? I'm not sure. If I make a reasonable fist of it I may be able to sell if for say $3000. That's the market for examples with higher kms. A spare car is always handy in a family of drivers, and the Adelaide Camry won't go on forever.
It's a pity they don't have Banger racing in Toowoomba.
And by the way, did I tell you have a shed?
If you have a shed, you must have a project.