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Michael's Speed Zone

4 July 2000

By Michael Knowling

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It was one of those sad moments in life; saying goodbye to a long-time friend is always a teary thing to do. And as the gleaming Scubie rumbled its way back out the driveway under the guidance of its new owner, I couldn't help but wonder if I was doing the right thing. What if I wanted her back? What if there was going to be a part missing in my life? What if I couldn't find any better? Regardless of my emotion, I heard first gear engage in the street and the car swung its nose away - driving off looking shattered at my betrayal. I'd looked into its eyes (or its headlights, at least) knowing it was no longer mine for the very last time. Ohhhhhh.

I wondered what the Subies' life without me - its 90,000km companion - would be like; and would it be happy? And, in a moment, the answer came to me. The suburban silence was shattered as the adjustable boost knob was unwound and the throttle pedal pinned to the 'boards - raaAAAA! The distinctive bellow of the boosted flat four near redline scared the pigeons and woke all the neighbourhood dogs. So I'm guessing this will be the car's new life...

I'd pretty much made the decision to sell the 220-odd thousand kay Liberty RS after its last gearbox failure a couple of months before. I'd had enough by this stage. But not only were there the frustrations of the flimsy gearbox, I'd also lost that little smile that came to me whenever I walked back to it in a carpark. That special sparkle had dulled slightly. It wasn't that the car was falling apart - far from it - it just that after about three years of daily driving, the car had become just another liquid asset. It was perceived more as a "tool", rather than a "toy".

But, like flicking back through a photo album of lost relatives, I can still remember the great times we had. Like the time it waxed a Ferrari (no kidding), a mega-dollar VL turbo, a modified Supra turbo, numerous GSRs and TX3s - the list goes on. And then of course were the Sunday afternoons when, after watching a WRC telecast, I got the urge to go tarmac rallying through the hills or rural areas. Ahh, those were the days. Beyond a doubt, the best the car ever handled was when it rode on its standard suspension and Yoko A008RS rubbers. Those things just gripped and gripped and gripped - you could go through a corner at such a ridiculous pace you couldn't bear to think about the carnage if something went wrong...you'd be lucky to survive. But, I guess, at least you'd get to be on the news!

The evolution of the Liberty (the most recognised Liberty in the world!) is one that's been well documented. It began its life in show biz under the ownership of (then Fast Fours and Rotaries contributor and now AutoSpeed Editor), Julian Edgar, and its final list of mods proved very entertaining. Engine changes were basic but extremely effective - 3-inch cat-back mandrel exhaust, dual 3-inch ducts into the airbox, removed intake resonant box and a pneumatic boost control (up to 15 psi). The result was spectacular 0-100 km/h in the mid to low 5 second bracket - and the only engine problem under my ownership was a stuffed ignition coil!

The driveline (which was fixed and replaced too many times to recall), ended up with a Kevlar full-faced clutch, a 1200kg pressure plate and a flywheel that was machined so many times it could realistically be called "lightened"! The gearbox (a Japanese import replacement) received modified synchros, shot-peened gears and input shaft and ran ULX oil.

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Improvements in handing were made with a Whiteline anti-lift castor kit, WRX 16 inch wheels wearing 215/55 rubber and a set of Legacy STi struts. I'm not sure that the latter gave much of an improvement though. The ride with these in place was unpleasantly hard, and the overall on-road handling didn't actually improve either. With a set of race slicks and a smooth racetrack I reckon they'd be great, but on the road they were more frequently a step backwards. With this suspension it also became quite skatey in the wet too.

Still, if you wanted to go fast around a corner with inspirational stability, the Liberty was it - like any constant 4WD car. I can still vividly remember a HSV Commodore giving chase through a section of twisty (and slightly damp) roads through the hills one particular day. He was being left behind at such a steady rate that he backed off completely to save face!

But enough blubbering and re-living memories like a hippie flower child. What I've now got is a wad of cash and a burning desire to spend it - plus a bit more!

The Liberty RS was always gonna be a tough car to improve much upon though; not without spending way more than I can afford. When I took over ownership, for example, Julian replaced the Subie with an R32 Skyline GT-R, and - I can recall - he wasn't all that happy with it. So I'm not entirely sure where all this leaves me - except for wanting to buy a car that's heaps more than my 25-ish grand budget! Something like an Audi S2, a late '90s SAAB turbo or a hot Volvo T5 would be killer. I guess I can always get a bigger loan; but I've got something deeply against going into massive debt over a car that's not a collector's item. Damn.

Coming up in AutoSpeed will be a series of stories on choosing and buying my next car, so - unfortunately - I can't tell you too much more about my current list of "maybe" cars.

Hmm, what will it be?

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