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Away with AutoSpeed

Come along on the latest AutoSpeed editorial trip!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • A week of cars - and drama - on an AutoSpeed editorial trip
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We stand, eyes glued to the dyno screen as the nitrous-injected and twin-turbocharged V6 Commodore screams its heart out on the rollers. It sounds brutal, harsh - on the edge. The owner, a middle-aged man excited by the prospect of a huge power figure, hovers closely.

And then it happens. The sound everyone dreads.

Ka-boom!!!

As the echoes of the explosion die away, the small workshop goes quiet. Deathly quiet; not another spanner is turned. By now the owner has distanced himself from his pride-and-joy and the assembled entourage of hangers-on nervously shuffle for the door.

The situation is potentially dangerous. Will the nitrous system explode? Will there be a fuel or oil fire? The prudent aren't hanging around to find out - it's time to get outa there!

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A few moments later, when we decide the coast is clear, we approach to survey the area. Thankfully there are no flames, but we realise what has happened - the cast alloy plenum cover has shattered under boost pressure, sending fragments across the workshop floor. And punching a hole through the customised bonnet...

The man at the helm of the chassis dyno, Vince Rigoli, takes control of the situation.

Vince, small and energetic, wastes no time rummaging for a spare plenum cover from storage. He stretches across the engine bay to bolt on the new cover, casts an eye our way and laughs gleefully.

"We’ll put on a new one and see how it goes, eh?" he says.

We leave shortly after, feeling bewildered. Had we just seen the plenum cover shatter under boost pressure? Was that car really going to survive its dyno session? Was everyone in the workshop going to make it out alive? We weren’t going to stick around for the answer. This is an AutoSpeed editorial trip where anything is possible!

This is Day One of the December ‘04 AutoSpeed editorial trip to Sydney. It’s a week when Julian Edgar and I live and breathe cars 24 hours a day - and work like madmen. The task is to collect as many AutoSpeed stories as is humanly possible...

We began by embarking on the ‘red eye’ flight from our respective home states. After surviving (yet another) wild ride in a Sydney taxi, we stopped at the Hyundai Australia head office to pick up a new Elantra Elite. The Elantra is to serve as our transport for the duration of the trip - one helluva contrast to the AUD$200k+ Audi A8 we drove on our previous Sydney trip... but as it turns out, it performs well nonetheless.

Our first appointment is at the workshop of Vince Rigoli. We’re never sure what we’ll find at Vince’s - we’ve seen everything from drag racing WRXs to a classic Alfa Romeo Montreal. Vince doesn’t mind working on anything - his enthusiasm always seems to pull him through. On this particular visit we spot a rare Lancia Delta Integrale swallowing a performance-built engine. There's also the car we’d come to photograph - a 4A-GZE powered Toyota Seca with the supercharger swapped for a turbo.

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Vince’s workshop helpers give the car a quick wash and Vince drives it to our nearby photo location. It’s always a lucky dip who gets to drive the car to the photo location. Some workshop proprietors hand us the keys - but not this time. Dammit. We arrive at our chosen location and Julian doesn’t hang around taking the photos - he’s streamlined the process to less than 30 minutes. With a collection of images stored to the Nikon’s memory card, we return to Vince’s workshop to find that VS V6 twin-turbo Commodore. The owner has also arrived at the workshop – he’s willing for us to do an article on the car, so we return to the same photo location for another shoot. This photo shoot is even quicker than the first as Vince is waiting to tune the engine back at the workshop; the car is scheduled to attend a drag meet that very night...

Then, back at the workshop, we watch those plenum antics unfold...

After ducking for cover from the exploding plenum, we decide to call it a day – we still need to check in to our accommodation. Ahhh, yes, the accommodation...

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Our lodging for the week is booked through a company that appears to rent out rooms owned by others. We arrive at the address to find there’s no reception - we need to make a call so that somebody can drop off the keys. After waiting 45 minutes, a bloke duly arrives with keys in hand... he speaks with a thick accent but we can kinda make out what he's saying - sometimes...

Mr Acccent takes us upstairs to our room where we see there’s a slight problem.

Web Pubs had made a booking for a twin room - but this room has only a double bed and a fold-out sofa bed. After much discussion, it turns out there is no alternative accommodation - we’re stuck with it. Mr Accent leaves us with assurances that the sofa is very comfortable...

So who gets the sofa bed? A coin toss decides it and - as per usual - I lose. So I’m the lucky one to have springs digging into my body all night with Mr Accent's "it’s very comfortable" comment ringing in my ears...

I bet the bastard never slept on this sofa bed!

Day Two

Neither Julian nor I get much sleep but next morning we arrive raring to go at MRT’s new Rhodes workshop.

We’ve known Brett Middleton (the head of MRT) for years and we’ve come to expect some good stories from him. Brett is a tall, animated and has a vast repertoire of facial expressions - he’s our comic book character of workshop proprietors. He proudly takes us on a tour of his new workshop, in particular his yet-to-be-completed dyno cell. Julian and I agree his new facility is one of the nicest in Australia.

But on to work.

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We’re handed the keys to a MRT-kitted Subaru Forester XT and head out for a road test. This thing is impressive. So flexible and ready to climb on boost - in real-world driving, it would obliterate many more powerful cars. It’s such a Good Thing I’ve got it written in my ‘Cars I’d Like to Own’ book.

On the other hand, we also test drive a Liberty 3.0RB fitted with MRT’s ‘in development’ cat-back exhaust system. Boy, was this thing a disappointment – the 3.0 variable valve lift engine has good throttle response but it never feels even remotely quick. A ‘performance’ car? No way. And it’ll take a lot more than a replacement exhaust to change that...

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Brett has also managed to tee up some privately owned feature cars for us to photograph. We start out with just a blue STi but, after asking about various other cars scattered throughout the premises, we end up photographing three more cars. Towards the end of the day we start pushing our luck with daylight for photography so even Brett gets involved cleaning cars – we’ve never seen Brett perform manual labour before, so this is an amazing sight!

Despite spending the entire day at just one workshop, we come away with six stories - magnificent stuff. The only problem is Julian has left his mobile phone in one of the customer cars – d’oh!

Day Three

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The next morning we return to MRT to pick up the lost phone and decide to collect photos and information to produce an article on chassis dyno cells. I don’t have much luck interviewing Brett as his phone is run off the hook but it's worthwhile hanging around until ‘The Engineer’ arrives with a smoke machine for some airflow testing inside the new dyno cell.

Unfortunately, this doesn't prove an awful lot. We were particularly confused when The Engineer tests the airflow patterns at the back of the car... Oh well, at least we got some photos of the process.

Our next appointment for the day is at Croydon Racing Developments (CRD). CRD always have a mega-buck selection of cars in the workshop but, unfortunately, there are only two of these monsters available to photograph. The other cars are described as "in the build".

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Our main contact at CRD is Lance - a mountain of man that you would not want to annoy. Lance drives a customer’s R34 and Honda Civic to a nearby boat ramp - a location we’ve used several times previously. The R34 looks tough and sounds awesome. The Civic is a ricemobile eye catcher with a good serve of turbo power but, still, the big fella comments...

"It’s embarrassing for me to drive this thing."

Somehow, Lance just doesn’t look right at the wheel of a Civic - his current F-series truck is much more his style!

That evening we’re fortunate enough to move our luggage (and ourselves!) into another apartment – one with two beds. Ahhh, no more sofa for me! We’re awarded with a bottle of red wine or three for our trouble; curiously these become empty only a couple of nights later...

Day Four

It’s Saturday and, after a few appointments fall through, our only appointment is at Wollongong in the afternoon. As a result, we get the opportunity to hit the Snooze button until about 9:00am before opening our lap-tops and using the available time to work on some written material.

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The one hour drive to Wollongong is a pleasant one – the dense vegetation on each side of the road is a welcome change to the scenery of the city. We arrive and check out Wollongong’s wharf area for a photo location but, faced with countless ‘Private Property’ signs, we revert to an open carpark area we've previously used. One of the cars we’ve come to meet is a modified MY03 STi. The owner - a spikey haired young lad who had lost his license in the beast - emerges from the car with a bunch of mates. Most of these mates have a beer in hand - it is Saturday, after all.

Also stepping out of the car is Cameron of HyperFlow – specialist in intercooler and other go-fast component fabrication. Cameron tells us about his billet intercooler end-tanks and some of his other products and we arrange to catch up at his factory the following day.

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The second car of the day is one that we won’t forget in a hurry - a beautifully presented black Monaro boasting around 400kW at the wheels, a full Whiteline suspension upgrade and Harrop brakes. The owner, a middle aged man with a refreshingly humble persona, offers us the keys after the last image has been snapped.

The grunt of the Munro is obvious and extremely useable due to the progressive nature of the torque delivery – it’s only at mid-to-high revs we notice scenery blurring past at a fantastic rate. The suspension is also a tremendous improvement over the fidgety ride of the stock car – we chuck it through a roundabout and admire the job Whiteline has done achieving an excellent ride/handling combination. This is another favourite car from the trip – attractive, well detailed, plenty of useable power, suspension and brakes.

We end the day on a high.

Day Five

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We return to Wollongong in the morning to meet Cameron from Hyperflow. Cameron shows us through his workshop – which includes a huge milling machine for those billet intercooler end-tanks – and we talk about his manufacturing techniques and his products. Julian takes plenty of close-up pics of his gear to run in an article.

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The second appointment is with Andrew Pade. Andrew is a very personable chap – and one-time contributor to AutoSpeed - and we meet in Parramatta to photograph his newly acquired BMW 540i. This will be a ‘Buying Used’ type article. After the photos are taken, Andrew kindly hands me the keys and I set out to discover what the V8-powered 5-series has to offer. There’s plenty of leather, interior gadgets, safety equipment and the engine is nice but, somehow, it’s not my thing – despite being the later E39 model, it feels strangely old in design.

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The third and last appointment of the day is a photo shoot on a STi converted to RWD and set up for drift. Interestingly, this car was previously a GT-P racecar and is prepared by a professional race team. It’s a refreshing machine – an unusual set-up for a STi and far better presented than most drift vehicles.

Day Six

It’s Monday - an absolute shocker of a day for us.

All four cars that we'd scheduled for photo shoots are cancelled; cancellations are quite common, but not on this scale!

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We salvage something from the day, spending it in the comfort of our room clacking away on our laptops. There are no new stories but at least we get some writing done.

Day 7

Another poor day.

We’ve scheduled to lob into AutoStyle Performance Cars and do a shoot on some of the fine machinery that’s always in the showroom. AutoStyle usually has four or more vehicles that we cover either as feature car or a Buying Used type articles; it’s usually a treasure-trove of material.

But not this time.

Domenic – the head of AutoStyle - has returned from the UK only days before and has a list of commitments that can't be broken. There’s nothing available for us this time.

With AutoStyle a no-goer, I start desperately ringing around for other story leads.

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Fortunately, we find salvation in the shape of Silverwater Automotive Services (SAS). SAS has a neat Ford Escort Cosworth parked out the front and, once we’ve contacted the owner, we drive it to the ‘ol faithful’ photo location - the Silverwater boat ramp. It’s an interesting car covered in spoilers and wings - it looks every bit as wild as an Evo or STi.

The second car is a more traditional muscle machine - a Holden ute with a 400+ cubic inch bent-eight! Again, we pedal the vehicle to and from the Silverwater boat ramp – we don’t get to feel its performance because the engine is still very much ‘green’ and there is a strange knock from the diff...

The second appointment of the day is at Sam’s Performance.

Sam is an unbelievably hard-working man with a unique sense of humour. He’s also a man that simply cannot escape the phone, which makes it difficult to organise visits, and makes doing interviews a case of squeezing-in any time slot possible. Fortunately, we manage to set aside some time to speak for an article on LS1 tuning.

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The second article we had planned at Sam’s was another no-goer; the owner of a LS1 ute couldn’t make it to the workshop before closing. On the upside, while we waited we did make a new acquaintance – Rufus the Rat. Rufus lives beneath a dumpster in Sam’s business complex and enjoys a carefree lifestyle visiting the vehicle crushing yard next door. Here’s Rufus caught on a 600mm lens.

Show pony!

Day 8

The final day.

Our departing flights are booked for around 6:00pm so we have the bulk of the day available.

We arrive at Advan Performance first thing in the morning and shoot a highly tuned Honda Civic Type R with a bunch of TODA and other performance gear. I go for a brief ride and it feels pretty much as expected – with plenty of revs it’s fast. But, jeez, is it noisy inside?!

Later that morning we return to Sam’s Performance where the LS1 ute has arrived. The vehicle turns out to be even nicer than we anticipated – full show car quality. We photograph the ute in the limited space of the Sam’s business complex; Sam hands me the keys to maneuver the car and says something about being killed if there’s a scratch on it...

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Our second appointment is at Tony Rigoli Performance (TRP). One of TRP’s customers is driving all the way from Canberra for a photo shoot and the car is an absolute show-stopper (you’ll need to wait for it to appear – we’re not gonna give anything away!).

TRP also gives us the contact details for Brian El Hassan and his well known WRX show car. We meet Brian for a photo shoot but, unfortunately, the car cannot be driven on its gold plated wheels. This is a show car.

About mid afternoon we return our Hyundai press car – which, aside from its firm ride, has been very comfortable - and hold our breath during another taxi ride to the airport. As we wait to check in our baggage, we tally up the number of stories for the trip. We’ve done 24 – those unproductive days in the middle of the trip hurt, but it’s far from a disaster.

And now that I’ve arrived home I think it's time to relax for the night and kick back with a nice glass of, well, whatever...

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