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Ten Years of AutoSpeed

We've been here for a decade!

by Julian Edgar

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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 remains.

So what aspects have changed over that decade?

Social Change

The biggest changes have been social in the broader community.

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.

New Cars

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 began.)

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 them.)


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 efficient.

Editorial Freedom

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 managers.

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 laughed.


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 publications.

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 interesting.

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 that.

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.

Here on...

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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