Monday 30 May 2011

Great Driving Roads You've Never Heard Of

Binns Track, Central Australia

The road out to the old Santa Teresa mission isn't the longest or the most challenging track in the Territory, but it's my favourite.

The community is tiny, with an arts centre and a wonderful Spanish-style Catholic church and not much else. Despite miles of amazing scenery, the main feature of the trip out there is the dust. The road is a 30 foot wide strip of red bulldust running from behind the Alice Springs airport all the way to Santa, about 100k's east.

Driving on it is quite an experience - I've done it in a range of cars now - a Toyota Rav4 (pictured) that was hopelessly out of its depth, a long-suffering Nissan Patrol with bent suspension causing every imaginable shimmy and shake. Today's chariot was a brand new Mitsubishi Pajero, an innocent 400k's on the clock.

All these cars have got me there and back, but they're missing some kind of vital mojo. I know this because every time I drive out there, I have the same eye-opening experience.

The bulldust road is wide, and the surface is generally flat but soft and corrugated. I drive it at 80 or 90, a cloud of impenetrable bulldust being thrown 20 feet in the air, blocking the horizon in the rear view. The surface is so soft that any camber change or odd ripple means you end up using the whole road, table drain to table drain, to keep the car on its wheels. This happens every two minutes or so.

During the worst moments, when you're skidding sideways across a dry creek crossing you didn't see coming, unsure where the road is, you'll look to your right and see a white NT government LandCruiser punching past you at 130. They've spent at least 30 seconds inside your dust cloud, blinded and showered with rocks, just trusting the Cruiser to get them through.

Try as I might, I've never managed to get a current model Cruiser as a rental, so it's still a mystery what those cars have that the ones I rent don't. It might be driver attitude - the Remote Health nurses working on the intervention out here don't take shit from anyone.

Once you get out to Santa, you realise that the locals have it all worked out. They don't need some flash battle-truck to get from town to the community. Some lads I saw while I was waiting for my meeting came bombing in to town in a mid 90's Falcon XR6, complete with (some of) the original bodykit. The old Falcon looked far more sure-footed than my wobbly Pajero, although I suspect it'd take some convincing to get Hertz to give me a sedan for the trip.


Driving the Binns Track from Alice Springs to the Ltyentye Apurte Community takes about an hour and a half (or significantly less, depending on the magnitude of your death wish) and offers beautiful views of the Central Desert and red-rock mountain ranges.

QANTAS flies to Alice Springs from all major centres. Five car rental companies at the airport will supply a 4WD for the week for around $750, but ColumnShift Media readers would realise you could buy an HQ ute for less, do the same trip and have more fun.

Friday 27 May 2011

Thursday Pitch

Thursday Pitch - Now delivered on Friday!

Chery Pie

What does $11,000 buy you these days?

- A pre-crashed litre sportsbike
- A 3 year old Commodore that's been to the moon and back*
- A 562ci Chevrolet big-block, but not the Torana to put it in.

Or, a brand new hatchback with registration and a 3 year warranty.

Cheap, Chinese cars are here right now - Great Wall and Chery in showrooms everywhere and brands you've never heard of like Geely on the way. But are these things really any good? Obviously you're not expecting a brand new Cadillac for that kind of money, but are they just a tin can with wheels, or actually a viable mode of transport?

If I ever make it back from Alice Springs, Dan and I will go have a look and report back.


*Many years ago, my friend Scooter said this about the mileage of a Fairlane he owned. We checked the facts and it turns out that at 384,403k's from here to the big white thing, his Fairlane had actually already been there and was on the way back.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Preview - Gasoline Issue 5

In anticipation of our Ironbark Raceway adventures being released in Gasoline issue 4, below is a very quick sneak peak on what to expect in Gasoline issue 5. It's big, bad and Clevo powered - but you'll have to wait for the article to read more about it....


Monday 23 May 2011

Rat Rod

Brakes good.
Tyres fair.
On safety tubes, but I ain't scared.

Some hotrods are painfully self-conscious. Skulls for the sake of skulls, or immensely detailed replicas of the yellow '32 Ford from American Graffiti.

To my mind, the Ford-powered LC Torana drag car we saw out at Ironbark Raceway (Gasoline Magazine, Issue 4 out next week) embodied the hotrod tradition of "this is what we have, let's make it go" better than some of the shiny, blown rods you see being backed off trailers.

Rat rods aren't immune - The irony of some poor panelbeater spending twice as long making new paint look weathered than it would to just make it shiny is impeccable. I prefer the advice I got when I bought my first muscle car - a white 6cyl HQ sedan:

"Paint it black and beat it with a chain..."

Friday 20 May 2011


I love the XR5 Focus. Despite not being classically beautiful, they're a proper muscle car in the finest rocket-powered-tin-can/WRX tradition. They sound fantastic. The Recaro interior is a little slice of World Rally and they handle like they're on rails. They even come in one of the sweetest colours I've seen in years - Electric Orange.

But I could never, ever buy one. Even though it would be super-practical for parking in town or fanging around the twisty roads on the way to the property, they have one fatal flaw:

They're small.

Like all Australian guys, I kid myself that I need a full-size automobile. Two, actually. Something with heaps of torque. Y'know, for towin' trailers and stuff. Even though I only do that once a year. But we might have a couple of kids eventually, and you need a big car for kids. To fit the bicycles and the fishing rods and the prams and the porta-cots. Or some other reason.

I think my main problem is being worried what full-size-car-guys will think of me. The committed Focus driver looks at it differently though - The guy in the Falcon has to catch up with him first.


PJ O'Rourke, who said that scenery can only be properly enjoyed if you're blasting through it at 120mph, is on Facebook.

LJK Setright, who didn't like the Lamborghini Miura because it had nowhere to put his hat, can be found there, and he's been dead for 6 years.

Hunter S Thompson, who defined the cafe racer as someone who would ride three hours in the freezing rain to look for the nastiest, most unrideable decreasing-radius corner in the state is there, and he's been dead for even longer than Setright.

All these pillars of automotive journalism are there.

And now ColumnShift Media is too.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Thursday Pitch

Day In, Day Out

I've daily-driven a classic car, and I don't know if I can recommend it.

Sure, there's nothing better than blasting out of an underground carpark at 5:05 on a Friday afternoon, setting off car alarms and scattering people in suits. But then at 8:58am the next Monday morning you're stuck in traffic, the temperature gauge is going up, the fuel gauge is going down, your suit is melting in the heat and you can't hear yourself think over the open pipes bouncing noise off the Mercedes next to you.

I was doing it wrong.

Every morning this week, I've been passed in traffic by a guy doing it right. He's driving a totally stock, salmon pink EJ Holden sedan. Three-on-the-tree, little peashooter tailpipe, big factory steering wheel. He always has his arm out the window, takes his time picking gears and looks very relaxed.

An article on using your old car every day should strike a chord with all car fans - Either you do it and you see yourself in the article, or you don't use your classic enough and wish you could. Or somewhere inbetween.

Wednesday 18 May 2011


After many, many car-addict years of never paying much attention to competition cars, I recently immersed myself in them to write a number of stories. I've stood trackside at drag races, I've crewed for a rally team, I've researched old touring cars, I even watched a NASCAR round on TV the other night...

It's been great, but I think I went too hard too soon. I'm getting a bit over them.

All I want to do now is go back to hanging out in street cars for a while - Maybe a night-time burger run or a nice long cruise in the country, windows down, stereo playing something with a lot of guitars.

The weather is perfect at the moment too. Let's cruise.

Sunday 15 May 2011

The Things We Do...

... to bring you the best in automotive stories.

Since Friday afternoon I've changed 10 tyres, rolled in diff oil, poured 100 litres of fuel, cleaned a few windscreens, pushed a car what felt like miles (onlookers pointed out it was more like 50 metres, and I had help), stood in the freezing cold all night and eaten a lot of cold burgers.

Daniel turned up late Saturday afternoon carrying a big, shiny camera and wearing a Motor Magazine shirt. He swanned around a bit and people seemed to think he was from the New York Times. But you have to give him credit - when given the choice between being steamrolled by a rally car and getting great shots, he knew where his duty lay.

Despite the newly-built Hurford/Gregory Falcon XR6 being very impressive in the Imbil State Forest, it wasn't our main focus this weekend. You'll need to wait for the August issue of Gasoline to find out what we were really up to.

Thursday 12 May 2011

Thursday Pitch

I bet you think we forgot the Thursday pitch. Turns out that you get what you pay for with free website software!
Shock & Awe

Has anyone noticed that cars became white, silver and grey at some point? Driving to work today, the line of anonymous sedans in front of me looked like background in a black and white movie. This is an awful turn of events.
What happened to all the beautiful, classic colours? I’m a long-term Sherwood Green tragic, but even plain colours had a certain cool back in the 70’s. Ford’s Outback Bronze was metallic brown – who thinks of that? It didn’t exactly grab your attention, but no one can deny the old-school cool of a Wedgewood Blue EH Holden.
But I think the real story is the amazing colours that ordinary cars were offered in a generation ago – Ford’s Grabber Orange, Wild Violet and Pine’n’Line… Gleaming showroom lines of HQ Monaros in Lina Mint, Lone O Ranger and Strike Me Pink.
No one could deny that Mopars led the way. Dusters and Chargers and Challengers and Furies in every colour of the psychedelic rainbow - Plum Crazy, Go Mango, Hemi Orange, Panther Pink, Top Banana… Hot, hot, hot.
Imagine the photos!

Tuesday 10 May 2011


I can feel it already. It's forty-four and a half hours until I'll fire up the truck and point it up the highway, but the thought of it has me on a high.

Two hours of my own space, just me and the 351 and the cold air. I know every bit of that highway like the back of my hand - I must've driven twenty thousand miles on it in the last ten years. It passes by in an instant, and then you're dropping down in to the still air at the bottom of the valley, carving up the curves near the river, the spotlights throwing light way up in to the trees.

Bring it on.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Thursday Pitch


“She’s got a yellow front fender
And a grey one on the back
But my income tax is coming
And I’m gonna paint her black…”

Projects stall for all kinds of reasons. Money, time, relationships, work commitments and garage space are all in the mix. Sometimes you just lose interest, or bite off more than you can chew. Not to mention when you get hung up on a fruitless search for New Old Stock air to put in the tyres of your GT-HO.

I’d like to go out and interview the owners of 6 long-term unfinished projects and find out what went wrong. Maybe we could all learn something!  

If you've got an unfinished project story, post a comment and let us know.

Wednesday 4 May 2011


Some of the best fun you can have in a car is using it for something it wasn't intended for. My 400hp Fairlane made a great paddock car. 3-on-the-tree, 6cyl HQ Holdens make great circuit cars. Hunter S. Thompson assured us that a Vincent Black Shadow is the mount of choice for an offroad race.

I once saw a bloke towing a two horse trailer with one of those big-block 2.6 litre Sigmas. I'm not sure he was having fun, but it looked interesting.

Then there's this beast that Daniel captured reversing the rotation of the earth at Ironback Dragway:

We're driving a little ways out of town next weekend to see another car being used entirely inappropriately, again for Gasoline magazine. More details in a few weeks.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Two Wheels

Cars are all very well for when it’s cold or raining or you’re picking up a hot date. But sometimes you just need a little time inside your own head, and that’s what a bike is for.

Daniel and I are both Suzuki fans, although my fondness for weird 70’s Japanese bikes only exists because I can’t afford weird 1950’s British bikes. Daniel loves his GSXR to bits, although most recently the bits were scattered down the Inner City Bypass.

There’s a post below with the first piece I’ve written on bikes, a tongue-in-cheek look at a mate’s dyno run at the Laverda Concours. There’s plenty more to come, with a very tasty hot-rod Katana to take a look at and maybe a bit of my family’s motorcycling history, including why you can never trust a BSA Gold Star.

Perhaps when they’re both on the road and we’re both out of therapy, Daniel and I will do a comparison on mid-range Suzuki sport bikes, 40 years apart.

Stay tuned.