Thursday 30 June 2011

Thursday Pitch

On time this week!

Time Travel

Retro cars are all the rage. You can buy an "FJ Cruiser" that's meant to invoke memories of the original Toyota 4wd. You can buy a Mustang, a Camaro, a Challenger, a Charger, all styled on the lines of classic 60's models.

Bikes are just the same -  Triumph Bonneville or Thruxton, Royal Enfield Bullet, Honda CB1300A, Ducati 1000GT , Norton Commando, the list goes on.

But I say it's too easy to recreate iconic models. If retro is cool, why can't car companies go all the way and re-release some interesting models.

Maybe a brand new Rudge-Whitworth motorcycle, a 1000cc single that fires every second power pole, aimed to the well-heeled masochist market.

Or a brand new Chrysler Newport, a 17 foot long hardtop that seats 4 in exquisite comfort, providing you don't want to go around a corner or stop the damn thing. But God they're big and ugly and cool. Why can't we have something like that these days?

The article would find 5 classic models that deserve another moment of glory, all the good (and bad) reasons, with photos of the cars or bikes in all their splendour.

What would you bring back?

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Thursday Pitch, Wednesday Catch!

Another race-car article lined up, this time for Australian Classic Car. Looks like there's another trip to western Queensland in our very near future.

If it wasn't for the glamour and the money and the travel, we'd give this game away.

Here's an unrelated pic Dan took:

Friday 24 June 2011

Thursday Pitch

We've posted lately about the high-quality "test" features in a lot of magazines, particularly Bike magazine in the UK. Here's an idea.

Rick Parkington, motorcycle restorer and writer for Classic Bike, has been my hero for years. He's an advocate for all I love about old cars and bikes. I'm not interested in some gleaming, over-restored, never-used piece of garage jewellery. I want to see old junk used daily, used hard and looking old. And so does Rick

His bike collection is epic - A 1919 Blackburne, a Rex-Acme, a legendary Norton-framed, Vincent engined hybrid cafe racer that he's trying to make look more like a standard bike, a built-from-bits 500cc Gold Star. Cool collection, but they don't just sit there - he takes the Rex to track days and dices with machines 50 years younger.

He can be relied on for an opinion on what's a reasonable amount of oil to leak in a cafe carpark or what metric thread bolt can best be mashed in to a Whitworth nut to get your Velocette KTT back on the grid. A handy man to know if you needed to grind in a new valve on the side of the road in the rain.

He says things like "My indicators are on the ends of my arms, so I wasn't concerned about the complex switch gear", when talking about a Japanese bike from before I was born.

I wonder, then, what he'd think of this:

The BMW S1000RR. It's all about the numbers - 1000cc, 193 brake horsepower, 200kg, 305km/h. It has ABS, traction control, 4 piston brakes and a  3 year warranty.

Daniel and I saw one in the flesh for the first time a few weeks ago as it lane split past my truck and stopped at a set of lights. We just stared until the light went green and it disappeared in a moment. We were spellbound, but I wonder what someone who rides a hot-rod Vincent on the street and races a 6hp veteran would think of it.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Brisbane Sporting Car Club

Just a quick plug for the Brisbane Sporting Car Club, the organisation that runs Rally QLD and a number of other excellent events, who have mentioned us in their latest newsletter. Without grassroots competition, motorsport isn't worth a cracker - Get behind your local club!

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Hard Start

When describing the bringer of death in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway said “Never believe any of that about a scythe and a skull. It can be two bicycle policemen as easily, or be a bird. Or it can have a wide snout like a hyena.”

Or a vinyl top and billet wheels.

Hard Start

My relationship with the Fairlane started innocuously enough. It was sitting in a classic car dealership, nestled between an 80’s Cadillac and a very worn-out ’74 LTD. The deposit changed hands moments after I first saw it. I spent the rest of the week in a state of nervous bliss, researching Holley carbs and cleaning my belongings out of the Falcon I was trading (shifting spanner, handful of zip ties, Cruel Sea CD). On Friday, I took an hour off and went out to the Bayside to pick it up.

Sliding in to the velour armchair, I knew I was home. The car felt as big as a boat as I took it out of the showroom. But like all big, fast cars, it narrowed with speed and by the time I’d made it back to my parent’s place, I knew I wasn’t getting out of it. I spent $30 I didn’t have filling the tank with Super and pointed it up the highway. I can still remember the dim headlights lighting the sweeping turns on the Gateway through Boondall. I buzzed the power window down, to be blasted with freezing air that got progressively more unpleasant as I headed further north. The window wouldn’t come back up. I was still in V8 heaven though.

By 9pm I was out on my favourite back-roads, carving down single-lane blacktop between high gum trees. I had slowed for a particularly narrow stretch and picked up a four-wheel drive behind me, who obviously knew the road as well as I did. We crested a rise well over the state speed limit and I was confronted with a jet-black Angus bull standing side-on across the road.

Ford’s first four-wheel-disc braked cars were released in the mid 70’s. It was a major step in braking technology, offering better pedal feel and safer, repeatable stops. Sadly, it was a design in its infancy, and they were known for locking the rear wheels first and burning up pads.

None of which crossed my mind as I hurtled towards 1000kgs of steak on the hoof. There was no runoff on either side, so I grabbed the wheel with both hands and stood up with both feet on the brake pedal. Two final thoughts crowded my head – first was disappointment that it was going to end like this, after only 4 hours of ownership. Second was a prayer that the LandCruiser didn’t go straight over the top of me.

The 185/70R14 Continentals locked up and the car slid to an agonisingly long, sideways halt. When the smoke cleared, the Fairlane was parked sideways across Eumundi-Kenilworth Road. The Cruiser was parallel parked beside me. The bull was still standing in the roadway staring at us. I restarted the stalled car, waved out the window to the other driver and carried on home, much chastened.

That was the first time she bit me.


Early days, on a FordForums cruise to Samford covered by Qld Street Car. That power window still wouldn't go up.

Memory 'Lane

Many of my views on cars, roads, places, people and life in general are viewed through the prism of a car that meant an awful lot to me for a long time. I still meet people who remember seeing the car on the road, and know me only as "GreenMachine" - the car and I couldn't be separated. 

I've written a lot about my '77 Fairlane Marquis, but I've never tried to record the story of the whole ten years. I think it might be interesting, so I aim to tell a 5 part story over the next few weeks. Hopefully at least one will be illustrated by Daniel, but the car was gone by the time he and I started ColumnShift.

All cars have a personality - Some more than others. My Fairlane had a mean streak a mile wide, and I think that's a good place to start.  

Here goes.


Saturday 18 June 2011

Pushing the Envelope

To write or shoot for the big magazines, you need immense talent. For me, the UK magazines have always been the benchmark of great automotive journalism - Octane, Bike, Practical Classics, Evo, Classic Bike... They're a cut above the others.

You also need the big ideas - and the stones to carry them through. In the latest edition of Bike, writer Gary Inman and photographer Chippy Wood took current TT winner (and known full-on nutcase) Michael Dunlop to the Isle of Man with a new Norton 961 cafe racer to see if he could beat the legendary Geoff Duke's Senior-TT winning lap time. On an open public road.

Dunlop wasn't mucking around. Chippy Wood has stood in front of some of the fastest bikes in the world to get amazing mid-corner shots. During the shoot, Dunlop came around a car and through a stone-walled corner so close and so aggressively that Chippy jumped back off the wall in to the scrub.

In the end, despite having twice the capacity and twice the power of Duke's Norton Manx, Dunlop didn't beat the record. But at the Senior in '52, Geoff Duke didn't have to stop to wait for a tram to pass.

The article and photos are amazing. I'd love for Dan and I to do something so audacious, but I'd want a major magazine's legal team behind me first.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Thursday Pitch

Special editions have always been a big part of automotive sales. Possibly the most famous example (in Australia at least) is the Falcon Cobra, a V8 hardtop in a party frock that was a cynical marketing exercise to shift some unwanted hardtops in the late 70's.

Since then, there have been an innumerable number of pointless and sometimes bizarre special editions. There have been 25th, 30th, 40th and 50th Anniversary Falcons, plus versions bearing the names of Craig Lowndes (now drives a Holden), Russell Ingall (the Enforcer), and brands as diverse as Cartier and Ripcurl.

Holdens have not been immune - Commodore Vacationer or a Greg Norman Calais, anyone? Even my current work car, an embarrassingly poverty-spec VE is emblazoned with "International" badges, I think because someone misread a build sheet and put premium sound in an otherwise unoptioned car.

Some special editions had street cred - the balanced, blueprinted and dynotuned Bib Stillwell Special Fords of the late 60's and early 70's were nothing to be sneezed at. And no-one ever accused the Hertz Shelby GT350 of being a cynical marketing exercise.

When asked, a significant number of petrolheads would name the Peter Wherett Mitsubishi Sigma as the most comical special.

But only if they'd never heard of the Carla Zampatti Laser.

Monday 13 June 2011

220 Yards

An eighth of a mile isn't very far, about the same length as the traditional grand-prix with the bloke in the noisy HSV next to you at the lights.

On the other hand, Ironbark Raceway at Roma was a very long way from Brisbane. Five and a bit hours straight through with the truck buzzing at 2800rpm in top gear, the freezing air blowing through the window while I watched Dan's XR8 squirming and bouncing on the rough highway surface.

Worth every minute though. There's an abandoned NASCAR sitting outside a small-town servo out there, and there's another 5 stories in the material and photos we brought back. Just you wait.

In the meantime, here's some pics that didn't make the article.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Ironbark Raceway

Gasoline 4 has finally arrived! A snapshot of our article:

For the full glory, go buy a copy!!


Saturday 4 June 2011

Turning Point

I wrote some time ago about stalled projects, and I think for a little while recently both Daniel and I thought we had them.

His GSX-R 600 had been off the road for a few months after a minor altercation with the ICB, waiting for parts, waiting for people to have time to work on it. My T500 had been scattered across the shed since August last year.

But in the last couple of weeks, we've both hit major turning points - Dan's bike is now finished, in a beautiful new colour scheme by Karnage Kustoms and with a shiny new registration sticker.

I hadn't touched my T500 for months, in the back of my mind I've been wondering if this is the kind of project that ends up on ebay in 5 years time with those weasel words "99% there, just needs assembly"

However, a flurry of activity after I arrived back in town two hours ago resulted in it being back on its wheels and outside the shed for the first time in over 9 months, and now I'm itching to get my hands dirty.

Good, clean fun. 

* Please excuse the photos - I really should leave picture taking to the master

Friday 3 June 2011

Alice Springs

If I'm honest, there's really quite a bit not to like about Alice Springs. The weather sucks (too hot or too cold) and you can't buy a decent coffee. Worst of all, despite driving around all four of the town's newsagencies, I can't find a copy of the latest Gasoline magazine, featuring our Ironbark Raceway article. It's out today, for those of you in civilisation, so go grab a copy now!

Even given these massive faults, there's plenty of good points to Alice Springs - Deep down, it's a car town, and I like that. Plus you can always get a cold beer, and there's a restaurant around the corner from my hotel where you can buy a 2kg rump steak.

So on the eve of my departure, I thought I'd share a pic of the wheels I traded the Pajero on earlier this week.

Pretty sweet, hey? It's a couple of year models old, but still revs like the day it was made. It's a floor-shift manual and handles great, although I've found the pedals are a bit small for heel-toe on the downchanges. I love the colour too.

Pale green was always a classic for the Hyundai Getz.

The 'stang is actually the property of a crew-cut young American working out at Pine Gap who parked next to me on my McDonalds coffee stop this morning - The US Army apparently pays to ship your personal cars out for the duration of your tour, and the NT's relaxed import rules allow you full LHD registration even for new cars.

Fair enough to bring your Mustang fastback out to blast around the big, empty highways, but some of these service personnel are taking the piss - I've seen left-hook Dodge minivans, little compact Chevy hatchbacks, even a few newish Japanese sportsbikes with an NT plate screwed over the California original. 

That's one thing about this town - It'll always surprise you.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Thursday (evening's) Pitch

One day, I am going to win a Pulitzer Prize. To be honest, I haven't figured out how yet, but I think my best chance of doing so will be this year. Historically, the grand Pulitzer Prize was awarded to newspapers for providing a public service, which would cover major world event's, human interest stories or even the capturing of natural phenomenon.

For me, the recently created category of Breaking News Photography, which awards distinguished examples of, you guessed it, breaking news photography, will be my best chance of being awarded yet.

Why is that, I hear you ask?

Well, the annual Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is coming up in less than a month. They don't call this the Race to the Clouds for no reason. With a course length of almost 20km's, competitors face a rise of elevation of over 1.5 kilometers, which might not sound like much, but if you turn your head to the sky, you soon realise that one point five kays is a really long way up.

The cars range from production class racers, to redneck race teams with Narooma F-Trucks, right the way through to fully fledged, purpose built hillclimb monsters.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with me and the Pulitzer's? Well, you see, this year, there is a bloke called Paul Dallenbach who has decided to enter. I've never heard of him and chances are, neither have you. The really interesting thing about Paul though, is what he will be driving. Entering the Unlimited class with his self built and developed unlimited class racer, this year he has teamed up with Banks Power, a Californian based engine shop, to put a slightly maniacal engine between the chassis rails of this beast.

With over 1300 horsepower and 1600 newton meters of torque, this car will either tear up the side of the mountain in the fastest time recorded yet, or it will actually be so powerful that it will catch fire, explode and careen down the side of the mountain.

I'm betting it will be option two. And when it does, I'll want to be there with my camera, catching every grisly crunch of metal over the 1.5 kilometer drop for you ColumnShift Media readers.

And there's my Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography.