AutoSpeed has now been in existence for ten years
- the first articles were published way back in October 1998.
What’s the Web?
When we started, I can remember how if I told
people I worked on a web magazine, they’d invariably say “a what
magazine?” In those days, the web had a profile so low it’s now hard to imagine
what it was like. For example, I can remember being pleased when I saw the first
roadside advertising billboard with a web address on it – because that was
indicative of the web becoming another step more mainstream. Truly.
I’d previously worked as a freelance writer for
paper magazines like Fast Fours & Rotaries and Street Machine,
and I’d edited Zoom. When I moved to a purely web-based publication, many
readers who had been long-time followers of my material (and who used to
frequently communicate with me about my articles) immediately lost contact -
they simply couldn’t come to terms with the idea of reading modified car
articles on their computer screens.
The two editorial staff members – Michael Knowling
and I – once talked to a man who specialised in rotary engines. He was also a
sometime tech and historical writer on the subject and we asked if he could do
some articles for us. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere in the discussion
until he suddenly realised with blinding clarity that Michael and I worked for
AutoSpeed as our full-time jobs. He’d been completely convinced that
every site like AutoSpeed could only be volunteer-run – and so any work he
produced would be for love alone...
The founders of Web Publications – Brendan Taylor,
Ian Slinger, Michael Edwards and I – took a major risk in starting AutoSpeed.
What looks now like it would always have been a viable business was certainly
not the case a decade ago. Over that time the ownership has changed – now
Brendan, Ian and Nathan Huppatz own Web Publications – but the nature of
AutoSpeed has in most ways stayed the same.
Sure, we started off with advertising to pay the
bills, then moved to subscriptions, then back to advertising. The size of the
AutoSpeed shop has also undergone major changes in that time. But the idea of
producing a web-only magazine devoted to modified cars and car technology
So what aspects have changed over that
The biggest changes have been social in the
I can remember when we were discussing names
(‘AutoMods’ was a likely one) that I half-wondered if the word ‘speed’ in
‘AutoSpeed' was a good idea: whether ‘speed’ in connection with roads would one
day become a dirty word.
And in a way it has.
You can now be arrested for driving too fast; you
can be charged with street racing if you just accelerate hard to the speed
limit; and there are now open-road speed limits in every state and territory of
Australia. In some cities, a limit of 50 km/h applies; in some suburbs that’s
down to 40 km/h. The insidious, publicly-funded campaigns have now convinced
huge numbers of people that 140 km/h is terribly dangerous, that all we need do
is slow down by 5 km/h in urban areas and numerous lives will be saved.
In a way that would have hard to imagine a decade
ago - and impossible to envisage 20 years ago - performance driving on public
roads has been emasculated.
The other enormous social change that has occurred
in the decade that AutoSpeed has been in existence is the recognition of global
warming and other environmental calamities.
There have always been environmentalists – and as
a former Year 12 teacher of Natural Resources Management and Geography I have
always had far more than just a passing interest in the environment – but the
radical change in the public perception relating to energy use, greenhouse gas
emissions and the consumption of finite energy resources has utterly changed the
political landscape. I think that through the trading of carbon credits, in the
near future the economic landscape will also change.
And what about in terms of new cars? The Toyota
Prius – that unlikely success story – has established hybrid car technology in a
way that was completely unforeseen. Every major manufacturer is now either
selling hybrid cars or developing them as fast as they can. (Interestingly
enough, the first Prius cars were sold in Japan in 1998 – the year AutoSpeed
And it’s not just hybrids, which make up only a
tiny proportion of the market. Here in Australia, the huge increase in the sales
of diesel cars indicates that the long-term fuel preference may not be petrol.
Technologies like direct petrol injection, common
rail diesel fuel injection, electronic stability control and GPS navigation
systems have all become mainstream – all were largely unheard of 10 years ago.
(And each of these technologies – and hybrids too – we covered in AutoSpeed,
well before they became fashionable for automotive media to write about
In aftermarket modification technology, the
biggest change has been the increasing irrelevance of aftermarket programmable
ECUs – completely bypassed in road cars by the ability to reprogram or intercept
the standard ECU, giving far better driveability and allowing all the other car
systems to continue to seamlessly work.
However, the change in aftermarket modified cars
has not been so positive. And that change? - chasing power at the expense of
almost everything else. Simply put, most modified cars are no longer
well-rounded packages, with handling and response and brakes and power that make
for good road cars.
Instead we see turbo cars with completely stupid
power curves – nothing, nothing, nothing....and then 300kW. Or two wheel drive
cars with modified power so great that it is completely impossible to get it to
the road without simply wheel-spinning away most of the potential acceleration.
And of course, the reason for this misdirection in
modified cars has already been described: if it’s illegal to drive fast, what
becomes the focus of performance modification? In many cases it is the sticky
drag strip or tied-down dyno rollers....
So when Michael Knowling decided to move to a
different job, it was a good opportunity to change the way in which we assembled
a great deal of our material. Rather than spending a lot of time photographing
modified cars that were becoming ever-increasingly silly, those resources are
now used to cover the few modified cars that we see that are actually
well-rounded packages (or things completely off the wall, like an um,
jet-powered scooter!) and, more importantly, to do stories in keeping with the
context of the times.
Why cover the type of injectors needed to develop
150kW per cylinder, or the turbos that will be efficient flowing sufficient gas
for 400kW? Such machines are no longer road cars – or, if they ostensibly are
for the road, in the new legal climate are completely pointless. (Track cars?
Interestingly, not one of our stories on race cars has ever rated well.)
So, as I wrote in a blog published in 2007, for
AutoSpeed, huge, thirsty and enormously powerful modified engines are out – we
no longer cover them. To alter direction to the extent that coverage of the most
powerful modified road cars is no longer undertaken is a massive change.
However, not a day goes by that I am not more and more comfortable with it.
Articles on techniques that improve car and engine
efficiency – aerodynamics, turbocharging, intercooling, intakes, exhausts,
headwork, tyres, suspension and brakes – are right on the money. Especially if
those techniques are talked about in the context of cars that are already highly
This change of direction brings us to another
point, and one that is fundamental to my decade with AutoSpeed.
Not once – not once – have the
owners of AutoSpeed ever made an editorial directive. They’ve never said to pull
back on criticism in new car road tests; they’ve never said that we should cover
less car technology and more modified cars; they’ve never suggested I should
follow a direction or style of any other magazine - in fact, they’ve never said
anything at all that influences the editorial direction of AutoSpeed.
And completely atypical of nearly all media
publications, advertising vested interests have never had the slightest
influence on editorial direction.
A few years ago I was talking to a modified car
magazine print journalist. He said he envied me: that he wished he had the
freedom I had to cover whatever I want in whatever way I wished, without any
interference (not even in the form of ‘suggestions’) from company owners and
That some take for granted that I would be
subjected to such direction has been obvious in other situations, too. We’ve had
people tell me that “once my boss hears of what I’ve been doing”, I should look
out! Needless to say, those people were rather surprised when I simply
I sold my first article to a magazine about 25
years ago. Over the years I have worked with a number of different magazine
editors and publishers, and have been a longstanding reader of other
In my opinion, the best magazines result from the
situation where the editor of the magazine largely ignores what competing
magazines are doing, largely ignores directives from the hierarchy and house
advertising reps, and puts together content that the editor themselves finds
There are three editors that come to mind: Todd
Hallenbeck (when he was editor of Fast Fours & Rotaries), Leo Simpson
(of Silicon Chip), and Barry Lake (when he edited Modern Motor).
Each knew what they found of interest, and each was enthusiastic about the
content - and therefore produced magazines that for all their apparent
diversity, had an underlying cohesion.
Another very important aspect of magazine success
is that the editor needs to be ahead of their readership – to lead and not just
follow reader interests. To put that really bluntly, the editor must at times
ignore what a section of the readership wants.
I have tried very hard to lead readers rather
than follow their interests – we covered the Lexus LS400 as a performance car
when it was unheard of to do so (something I am still comfortable with: the V8
Lexus used less fuel than a current model Falcon or Commodore six cylinder!); we
covered hybrids and their modification when the concept of ‘modified hybrid’ was
unknown; our detailed articles on stability control and direct fuel injection
and using oscilloscopes on cars (and....) were all ahead of the majority reader
interest. To put this another way, these articles were not prepared in response
to reader requests.
Another fundamental realisation that I have
arrived at is to know when to walk away from a story. Again, this is possible
only because there is no pressure from above to do certain stories. In most
media outlets, once a story has been embarked upon, it needs to be completed:
the decision becomes only what slant to give it. Deadlines and resources and
pressure from vested interests are sufficiently strong that something must
always be made of a story beginning.
But we don’t do that – we don’t need to do
If I attend a workshop on the basis that there is
a certain story available – and I don’t think that the fact matches the
publicity, I can say ‘No thanks’ and walk away. While the readers never see what
started and was then aborted, they also don’t see the forced, hyped-up non-story
that would otherwise have resulted.
And the opposite also applies. When I think that a
topic - even though it may be simple and to many people obvious - is worthy of a
full story, I can do it. That’s another thing that seeing reader statistics on a
decade of stories has taught me – for all the people who sneer at an elementary
story, there will be many more who benefit.
Look back at anything after 10 years and you can
always see things that you’d do differently.
We should have dropped covering (some) silly
feature cars years earlier; when we saw how our old (but worthy) stories were
being overlooked, we should have thought about re-running them well before we
started to do so. I was also probably years too slow in fully throwing off the
shackles of conventional modified car media.
Things we should do differently now? It would be
good if we had sufficient resources to run two or three project cars
simultaneously. In fact, when I think about it, it would be fantastic if we had
the resources to have a full workshop just for research, complete with dyno,
flow bench, injector test bench – and a full-time mechanic and electronics
technician. Oh, and why not a wind tunnel and closed country road handling
course? Ah well, dream on...
But overall, I am proud and pleased when I look
back over the more than 3000 articles that have been produced over that decade.
Prompted in part by social change, the pace with
which new technology is being introduced is increasing. Hybrids, diesels,
electrics, sophisticated LPG and CNG injection systems – all have had recent
major advances and will continue to rapidly change. Petrol engines are making
efficiency gains that continue to surprise from such a mature technology, while
alternative personal transport like those powered by humans will have a
potentially greater than peripheral impact.
The most wondrous thing about the world is the
infinite breadth of new and fascinating things to learn – and in car technology
and in the modification of cars, things have never been more interesting.
Thank you to those of you who are longstanding
readers. And to those who are recent arrivals, thanks for joining us.
I hope you all stay for the next decade.
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