01 December 2010

Licence to Thrill

02 August 2010

Safety on the Slopes

OUTthere Magazine Issue 74, August 2010
Winter is snow season and thousands of us will be heading to the Alps for a ski break at one of the NSW or Victorian resorts. Many of us will choose to drive to the slopes and some, unfortunately, will come unstuck on the treacherous roads. Snow driving is so completely foreign to most urban commuters that many will find themselves in trouble before they even knew they are in danger. If you intend to drive yourself or your family on a ski holiday, make sure your vehicle and yourself are ready for this alien environment. Here's a simple checklist before you set out;
  • Make sure your airconditioner, anti-freeze, wipers, brakes, lights and tyres are in tip-top condition. You'll need your air-conditioner to clear a fogged windscreen, wipers to clear snow and frost, and tyres with good tread for slushy roads. Drive with your lights on, even if you think you don't need to.
  • Drive to the conditions. Yeah, we've all heard that old chestnut, but snow driving is a condition few of us face regularly so our daily driving habits could be our downfall. Heavy snow is like the worst rainstorm with a film of oil on the road. Drive slowly and use brake and accelerator delicately. Turn the steering wheel gently, understeer is your enemy and will soon see you in a ditch or facing oncoming traffic.
  • True, All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) and 4WD will make snow driving safer, but don't rely on electronic driving aids too much. They're not infallible. Imagine you don't have anti-lock brakes and traction control and drive accordingly. Don't use cruise control and select low gears for up- and downhill sections.
  • Expect the unexpected. Imagine there is a rockfall or avalanche around every blind corner – or another stranded motorist. When passing oncoming traffic, slow right down and give heaps of space. Stop if you have to.
  • If you are proceeding along an unfamiliar route and there is a fresh covering of snow, seriously consider whether you should be the first to explore this road. Wait for a local to go first.
  • Diesel drivers should use 'Alpine Diesel' formulated for cold conditions. Normal diesel can 'wax' and clog you fuel system.
  • Always carry some emergency gear. A small shovel, tow rope, high power torch and visibility vest is a good start.
  • In extreme conditions you are required by National Park Regulations to carry snow chains. You will be notified where you must fit these and you should know how to do it. Some resorts offer chain fitting services, but don't rely on this. Always fit chains to your drive wheels ie front wheels on front-wheel-drive cars. Don't laugh, it's happened. 4WDs are exempt, but chains can still be fitted for extra safety.
  • If you regularly travel to snowy regions, consider a spare set of wheels and tyres with special snow/ice tyres fitted.
There's nothing like good preparation, so even if your car is ready for the snow, what about you? Specialised 4WD training clinics are widely available and if you are an adventurous off-road driver, why not add some new skills to your portfolio? You'll be glad you did.

05 July 2010

Unabashed Fun

OUTthere Magazine Issue 73, July 2010

Each year, hundreds of Australians head outback in 30 year old cars to raise funds for disadvantaged kids. It's a completely Australian – and totally wacky – motorised outdoor adventure. Roderick Eime recalls The Bash.

This August travellers on outback roads all around Australia will be taking second looks at some of the cars around them. Old bombs, lovingly and painstakingly restored, painted in lairy colours and with all manner of unusual accessories and attachments will take to the dusty tracks to raise money for Variety, the Childrens Charity in their annual 'Bash'.

Never backward in devising eye-catching stunts, entrepreneurial prankster, adventurer and philanthropist, Dick Smith, set off with a few mates in 1985 on the first Bash, from Bourke to Burketown, in a 1964 EH Holden.

Dick's celebrity cavalcade included John Newcombe, Len Evans, John and Belinda Singleton, Simon Townsend, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Gordon Elliott, Peter Ritchie of McDonalds and Kevin Weldon from Weldon's Publishing in 50 vehicles. The event raised $250,000 and Dick's original car continued in every event up to 2001 until its chassis finally collapsed. It now resides in the Powerhouse Museum.

The objective was never a 'race' or 'rally' but instead a fun tour through the country. Cheating, bribery and trickery were encouraged at every point, so long as each payment contributed to the Variety Club's donation tally. In 25 years, the many Bashes have raised over $100 million for ill and disadvantaged kids across Australia.

Individual states now hold their own event, usually around August, with a national event uniting them all every four years. The next one is scheduled for 2014.

NSW's 2010 event is called the BShed to Byron Bay Bash and travels over 3500kms from Sydney to Byron Bay between the 22nd and 30th of August. The expected 100 cars will travel via Cobar, Bourke, Moree, Lismore and good ol' Goondiwindi over nine days. Competitors bunk in anything from swags, tents and motels en route but will culminate at the swank Byron at Byron Resort for a well-earned pampering.

So if you see some outrageous old types, including vehicles, touring your local roads next month, why not flag one down and chip in for a good cause? You'll probably get a good laugh in the bargain!

For entry information on Variety Bashes, contact your local Variety state office. These are listed on the website www.varietyaustralia.org.au or phone (02) 9819 1016.

What is a Bash car?

A Bash car must be a roadworthy 2-wheel-drive vehicle at least 30 years old and must be registered and insured. Performance modifications such as extractors, headers and multiple carburettors are not allowed. All vehicles carry a 40 channel UHF CB radio, are fitted with laminated windscreens with tow bars front and rear. Teams are usually between two and four members and are largely self sufficient with cars carrying extra tyres, fuel, fire extinguisher, 20 litres of drinking/radiator water and five litres of oil. Spare parts including radiator hoses, fan belts, oil filters, air and fuel filters, spark plugs, 10-gauge wire and fencing pliers are also stowed.

01 June 2010

A Matter of Taste: Style or Bile

OUTthere Issue 72

Style or Bile?

Car styling, like all fashion comes and goes in waves. The 1930s produced some of the most magnificent lines, while the fifties became ‘blocky’. The ‘60s stand out as the most daring while the ‘70s and ‘80s slumped into the hideous doldrums.

Just as art can split opinions, so can cars. Some might say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but car fans are predictably unanimous in their verdicts. Roderick Eime wades into the argument with his own opinion.

The World’s Most Beautiful Car

A jury of the world’s great car designers ruminated long and hard, but one car that keeps appearing in every list of gorgeous automotive creations is the Mark 1 E-Type Jaguar.

Conceived in the brash 1960s, when style still meant something, it survived until 1975 when the infectious design malaise finally struck even this most beautiful of cars.

Available in both coupe (FHC) and convertible (DHC), lovers of the marque are split over which is most visually pleasing, but both camps are delighted to disagree over such a pleasant argument. Even Enzo Ferrari called it "The most beautiful car ever made".

Powerful, glamorous and reasonably priced, the E-Type took the US market by storm in March 1961 and immediately spawned a domestic UK market four months later. More Mark 1s (38,000) were made than both the Mark 2 and 3 together.

Originally fitted with the successful and sweet-revving 3.8 litre DOHC straight six, it was uprated to the 4.2 litre version in 1964. The Mark 3 was fitted with a massive V12 which many purists saw as a vulgar expression.

Designer, Malcolm Sayer, saw himself more as an aerodynamicist than an automotive stylist. He had previously worked in aircraft design during the war and was instrumental in some of Jaguar’s most enduring models, including the similarly pleasing C and D Type racing cars.

Other short-listed: Italian triumph, Ferrari 275GTB; Lightweight English looker, Lotus Elan.

Ferrari 275GTB

The World’s Ugliest Car

Yes, this is a real ad.
Universally reviled by glamour car enthusiasts worldwide, the 1975 AMC Pacer stands alone. Remarkably, the US-built 2-door coupe designed and sold by the folks who brought us a string of automotive travesties like Rambler, Nash and Humvee manufactured this “hat full” for five years. 280,000 of them were produced in both hatchback and wagon before Chrysler put the world out of its misery in 1987 by buying the brand and renaming it Eagle.

There’s no accounting for taste and the Dick Teague-designed car made the transition to UK and European markets, producing perhaps the world’s ultimate bad taste car advertisement for the “racy” French market.

Ironically the car reached a level of cult status when it starred in the 1992 nerd movie “Wayne’s World” and is now an icon of ‘70s bad taste and cringe fashion. There was even a Levi’s version complete with denim seats and brass buttons. What were they thinking?

Other short-listed: Yugoslavian fiasco, Yugo; the Great Aussie eyesore, P76.

01 May 2010

Francis Birtles: He’s 'Bean' Everywhere

OUTthere Magazine : Issue 71

Francis Birtles, younger brother Clive and dog Wowser about to set out from Melbourne in a 1913 Model T Ford on a 10,000 mile trip to Perth via Sydney and Darwin. Famous photographer, Frank Hurley, joined them in Sydney. Photo by Algernon Darge (State Library of Victoria)

A marathon motorist reclaims his place in Australian folklore. Roderick Eime pays homage.

Most of us think Australia’s heroes are well known. They are the men and women we read about in newspapers, history books and sports reports. At school we learn about Mawson, Simpson, Kingsford-Smith and Chisholm, but still our unknown achievers and record-breakers are creeping out of the cracks.

Adelaide-born Sir Hubert Wilkins is now remembered as the first man to fly across the Arctic and take a submarine beneath the ice pack, while Mary MacKillop bounds headlong into sainthood. Yet one man, Francis Edwin Birtles, has almost disappeared into history.

Born in Melbourne in 1881, Birtles was a crazy cyclist bent on breaking records. Like some Forrest Gump on wheels, he first set off from Fremantle in 1905 and didn’t stop for seven years. By 1912, he’d cycled around Australia twice and crossed the continent seven times.

But his exploits in the automobile are perhaps his most remarkable. In 1912, he completed the first west-to-east crossing of the continent with Syd Ferguson and a dog. The car was a single cylinder Brush. Later with Frank Hurley and his brother Clive, he began filming his journeys creating films such as Into Australia's Unknown (1915), Across Australia in the Track of Burke and Wills and in 1919, Through Australian Wilds, following the track of Sir Ross Smith.

He continued to set records driving around Australia completing some 70 transcontinental crossings. In 1928 (the same year Wilkins flew the Arctic) he completed a nine month journey from London to Melbourne, becoming the first person to do so.

Championed by political cartoonist and former host of Aussie Top Gear, Warren Brown, Birtles has enthralled him for his feats of mechanical and human endurance. Brown has even restored a 1925 Bean and intends to retrace Birtles’s route from London.

“80 years ago he was a household name across Australia,” Brown reminds us, “part action man, part bushman, part madman.”

Birtles’s first attempt at the drive in the prototype Bean Imperial Six was a disaster. The car broke down in India and so did they. Undaunted, Birtles vowed another attempt, this time in his own car, the trusty Bean 14, nicknamed “Sundowner”.

This nine-month odyssey, Brown believes, is perhaps the most astonishing motoring adventure in history. Across searing deserts, through blinding snowstorms and steaming jungles, Birtles quite often made his own roads as he went.

In the depression-ridden 1930s, Birtles went outback again to prospect for gold, looking for the notorious Lewis Lassiter in the meantime. He found gold, but the extreme pace of his life had taken its toll and Birtles died of heart disease in Sydney in 1941 and is buried in Waverley Cemetery. He was 60 years old.

Relics of Birtles and his adventures are hard to find, but his most significant legacy is the original Bean motor car (pic right) on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, donated by Birtles and Bean Cars Ltd in 1929 for the express purpose.


This is the colourful story of FRANCIS BIRTLES, a fascinating individual who led a life of incredible adventure and exploration in Australia and throughout the world.

A narrative account of the life and times of one of Australia's most extraordinary adventurers - a man who crossed Australia more than 70 times in the early part of the 20th century - by bicycle and car.

In 1927 he achieved the greatest motoring feat of the times, driving a car from London to Melbourne. This story follows his exploits across scorching Arabic deserts, through steamy Indian jungles and mountain snowstorms.

In between these journeys he made a collection of documentaries and films of his encounters with the outback. He documented his exploration of Australia in his book, BATTLEFRONTS OF OUTBACK. He eventually travelled to the Northern Territory in search of gold and retired a wealthy man.

01 April 2010

Hyundai: Re-imagining Fluidic i-Sculpture

OUTthere Magazine All Torque Issue 70

In the ferocious, crisis-ridden world of the automobile, manufacturers constantly jostle for the attention of new car buyers. Each new vehicle launch is characterized by bold additions to the dictionary of car speak and Korean giant, Hyundai, now has some of its own.

‘re-imagine’, ‘design DNA’ and ‘fluidic sculpture’ are my new buzz words for the week after witnessing Hyundai Australia’s razzle-dazzle launch of their new compact SUV, ix35.

In the online universe, it seems everything from sandwich spread to off road vehicles are now designated i-something. The buying public might have soundly trashed the idea of smearing i-paste on their sandwiches, but Hyundai have struck a chord.

The first i-sedan, the i30, is part of the Korean’s new uniform ‘design DNA’, centred around the hexagonal motif. Launched in mid-2008 and immediately a hit, the i30 stands up well against established segment leaders such as Ford Focus and VW Polo. Compact i20 will be next and the Sonata replacement, currently codenamed YF, soon after.

Hyundai (pronounced hee-unn-DAY), the 64-year-old South Korean industrial megalith, makes everything from oil tankers and locomotives to MP3 players with a presence in Australia dating back to 1986 when Alan Bond first introduced the little Excels. That cute utilitarian runabout made history by becoming the top selling car in June 1998. Yes, it outsold both Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore with 8663 units. The Korean continued to irk the majors when in 2009 Hyundai Motor Company Australia posted its best-ever annual result. December sales of 4,039 represented a 4.6 per cent market share and an increase of 12 per cent over Dec 2008 results

Apart from Australia, Hyundai’s sales trends have curved the opposite way to most manufacturers around the world. US Fortune Magazine dubbed Hyundai “The toughest car company of them all” saying “competitors hate them, customers love them.” Their flagship, full-size Genesis is gathering awards faster than James Cameron.

The ix35 is an impressively packaged little AWD device and will certainly impact on segment front-runners RAV4, Dualis, Forester and CR-V.

The 2.0 turbo diesel is responsive and amazingly frugal, delivering results in the sub-5.0s when driven carefully. It is the pick of the three engine options. A full suite of electronic driver assistance features is included from the base up, a marketing decision that will certainly put ix35 on the shortlist of the target demographic, the professional, urban-dwelling 25-49 man or woman with a small family.

Styling, without buzzwords, is bold and sexy and, as the marketing team like to remind us, displays masculine chunkiness externally, with a flowing crisp, neat feminine feel inside.

ix35 will be in showrooms around the country by the time you read this. Base model 2WD petrol ‘Active’ is priced from a sensible $26,990 and ranges up to the fully-tricked (18” alloy wheels) ‘Highlander’ at $37,990.

For further information, visit www.hyundai.com.au or one of over 50 dealers around Australia.

01 March 2010

There’s No Trick to Safety

OUTthere Magazine : Issue 69

Today’s modern 4WD is far removed from early Jeeps and Land Rovers that burst onto the scene in the ‘40s and ‘50s, especially in terms of safety and comfort.

Equipped with an array of handy driver aids, have you even looked at what your urbanized all-wheel-drive can do? Here’s a list of some of the latest tricks now being shipped as standard with modern off-road vehicles and even sedans. You may find these driver aids handy on your next rural adventure, or they may even save your life. Pay attention.

Hill Descent Control system

Originally developed by Land Rover for use in their baby Freelander, this feature makes push-button work of a skill even many experienced 4WDers get wrong. The system is an adaptation of the ABS which monitors each wheel as the vehicle descends a steep, slippery slope, making the descent safely without tricky braking and clutch control from the driver. Piece of cake.

Traction Control (or Anti-Slip Regulation)

Designed for powerful road cars to improve the effectiveness of the Limited Slip Differential, the technology made an easy transference to off-road vehicles. Traditionally 4WDs used a locking differential for traction in the worst conditions, but an ever-ready Traction Control is more user friendly for regular drivers. In short, if a wheel begins to slip, torque is automatically transferred to the wheel with most grip

Electronic Stability Program (ESP)

Much more than just another flashing light on your dashboard, ESP is perhaps one of the most important safety developments for all vehicles, not just 4WDs. Meshed with the computer that controls ABS and TC, ESP will intervene if it detects skidding or loss of steering control. It will bias braking to counteract over- or understeer and possibly avert an accident. Vehicle safety authorities are lobbying hard to make this feature mandatory on all new motor vehicles. Smart.

Rear View Camera or Parking Sensors

One of the greatest dangers with vehicles, particularly high driver position 4WDs, is rear vision, or lack of it. We’ve all backed into something we didn’t see in the mirror and that makes a rear view camera more than a status symbol or toy. Whether you are backing a boat, caravan or just getting out of your driveway, unseen obstacles are a threat – or in some cases, you are the threat. Parking warning sensors or even rear view cameras can also be retro-fitted to most vehicles.

Also on the menu:
  • Brake Assist (BA): Gives you added pedal pressure for an emergency stop
  • Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD): Shortens stopping distances by braking wheels with most traction
  • Hill Start Assist (HSAC): Stop you rolling backwards on a hill start.
All the tricks and gadgets in the world should never replace old-fashioned common sense and safety. Drive within your limits and to the conditions – and pay attention to servicing, tyre condition and brakes.

01 February 2010

Magnificent Sevens

OUTthere Magazine : Issue 68

Whether it’s expressing the soccer team to their Saturday showdown or packing the troupe for a weekend getaway, the modern seven-seater is a triumph in family logistics. Gone are the days of bench seats, lap riding and rolling around the rear of the station wagon. We survey the standout performers.

Are we never satisfied? Folks my age remember packing the family into the vinyl upholstered station wagon, sliding along the bench seat sometimes four or five skinny kids wide and sweating it out all the way to the beach. No wonder backyard pools were so popular.

Today’s checklist for modern people-movers include air-conditioning, leather bucket seats with lap/sash belts for all and a barrage of airbags inside a reinforced and galvanized chassis. The boxy minivans of the ‘80s and early ‘90s are passé now that seven adults can travel in luxurious comfort in a vehicle smaller than the old HQ. Don’t even mention fuel economy.

Honda Odyssey

Exemplary build quality and safety makes the sleek, multi award-winning Odyssey a perfect tourer for the larger family in the better neighbourhood. With 2.4L DOHC i-VTEC engine and 5-speed auto, the fourth generation model begins at $41,990 for standard.

Holden Captiva 7

The Korean-built Captiva SUV is a hit with mums according to AutoChic website. Small families can even downsize to the 5-seat version and go 2WD too. An economical diesel is available and bags of safety features too like ABS and electronic stability control (ESP). Captiva 7 starts at $35,490

Subaru Tribeca 3.6R Premium

A slow starter in the market, the latest Tribeca AWD squarely addresses initial criticisms by smartening up the styling and bulking up under the bonnet. Handy as a light off-roader, the Tribeca has all the smart Subaru gear and the new 3.6l engine kicks 190kW. Save up though. Starts at $58,990

Mazda CX-9 Classic

First introduced in late ’07, the latest CX-9 is in showrooms now and is absolutely chockers with all the latest safety kit and driver aids and $2k cheaper than the model it replaces. Bold new styling and ballsy 3.7l V6 sets CX-9 apart. Classic starts at $49,990

Toyota Tarago V6 GLi

Tarago is almost a euphemism for people-mover, but today’s offering is a far cry from the minibus–like van introduced 26 years ago. Tarago, which is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning “my country” is only sold in Australia with this badge. Available in lusty 3.5 V6 (starts $54,690) or 2.4 litre 4-cylinder ($49,490)

Ford Territory TS RWD

The locally designed Territory has always been a hit with Aussie families. The big 4.0l six and sure-footed 2- or 4WD options made the burly SUV an instant hit with boat owners, caravanners and sports mums. With a new look for 2009, the extra seats only some with TS RWD ($44,490)

VW Golf GTI: On Your Marks: Nine into One Goes

Volkswagen Magazine : Issue 14 : Summer 2010

Roderick Eime traces the GTI’s 33 years of progress

When a car is this overwhelmingly successful, the world takes note. What is it about this little Volkswagen that so captured the imagination of car enthusiasts across the planet? Intended as a modest replacement for the ageing, yet evergreen Beetle, the Golf took off like no-one expected.

Named after, not the famous ball game, but instead the ferocious wind: Gulf Stream. Golf was a complete departure from Doktor Ferdinand Porsche’s original vision of the ‘People’s Car’. Instead of rear-mounted, air-cooled and rear wheel drive, the complete opposite was engineered into the new VW mass market machine.

In all its incarnations, the VW Golf is now the world’s third best selling vehicle with over 26,000,000 made and sold. It passed the venerable Beetle’s mere 21,500,000 in 2002.

But while mum, dad and Aunt Vera were happy to motor sedately in their new Golf runabout, the backroom lads were already plotting the steroidal version for the more ‘enthusiastic’ driver. Here mystery and legend come into play as the tale of the GTI’s development is told.

In the early ‘70s, Volkswagen wasn’t in a particularly bold frame of mind. Car companies were generally spooked by the rise of global terrorism and the uncertainty of oil supply. A bunch of hotheads talking about performance cars was not getting much of a hearing. So the boys went underground, literally, into a bierkeller to hatch (pun intended) their plans over pilsener and bratwurst.

Engineers were joined by marketers and public relations men in the subterranean trysts. Other manufacturers, the growing team observed, were leading buyers away from rivals by dressing up the vanilla-flavoured models with racing stripes and a few race-bred bits under the bonnet. Ford, for example, were successfully leveraging their relationship with Lotus and Cosworth to make ‘party animal’ Cortinas and Escorts that publicly flexed their muscles on the race track. These results translated into sales with the famous motto: “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday”.

Persistence paid off and the project dubbed “Sport Golf” began to get official recognition and six prototypes were approved. These were displayed at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show and the seed was sown. 5000 limited production units were built and dispersed throughout the dealer network and the resulting interest was unstoppable to the point where production of the LHD-only version was running at 5000 units per month.

The Mk1 Golf GTI profited from the recent corporate merger between Audi, NSU and VW and the Audi-developed, 1600cc 8-valve engine was employed, fed by a then state-of-the-art Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system. The little beast erupted with 81kW at full noise, propelling the 800kg car to 100kmh in nine seconds and on to a top speed of 180kmh – respectable enough to mix it with the big boys on the Autobahn.

The UK market was clamouring for a RHD version, but their appetite for the GTI had to wait until 1979 for a production version. Just as the European precedent had already been set, sales of 1500 in the first year tripled in the following 24 months.

By this time the phenomenon of the Volkswagen Golf GTI has spread like wildfire among its competitors and the ‘hot hatchback’ concept was born, spawning copycat models from France, Britain, Japan and Italy. The genre was now a permanent and mandatory segment of automotive manufacturers’ repertoire.

While the world was enjoying the GTI, the wait was even more frustrating for Australians. While the original, regular Golfs had been assembled here almost since the model’s introduction, the first GTIs didn’t go on sale until 1990 and then in a “knobbled” Mk.II version because of inability to supply the new and preferred 16 valve engine in compliance with Australian emission rules. To further rub salt, the uber-hot 4WD, supercharged G60 Limited would not come Down Under at all.

The early nineties saw Golf GTI fall into a mild form of the doldrums. The world was in turmoil again over oil in the Middle East and carmakers across the globe were pre-occupied with meeting the demands of frugal buyers. In an inspirational and lateral move, VW introduced a surprisingly potent turbo-charged diesel engine and the GTI TDI was born. Introduced in Europe in 1991, the GTI Mk.III never made it here

While critics and enthusiasts alike had mixed feelings about the heavy and lazy Mk.III, the 1997 launch of the fourth generation GTI restored interest, but not immediately. While press reports extolled its refined handling and finish, some of the original spark that set the GTI alight back in the ‘70s was missing. VW and Audi production was now more closely linked than ever and the new A3 and Golf GTI Mk.IV were not so much cousins as siblings.

Australians first saw this model in 1999 and despite the anticipation, we were not overly moved by the low-boost turbo 1.8-litre four cylinder with 20-valve head, delivering just 110kW in a chassis that was 50 per cent heavier than the original GTI. Germany reacted by loading the 25th Anniversary model with a 132kW 1.8-litre turbo. While this new powerplant wasn’t seen here for that model, the message was loud and clear: more power thanks.

The arrival of the Mk.V at the 2004 Paris Motor Show was like a second coming. Someone had put a rocket up the design and development team and this new model revived both the prestige and the fortunes of the languishing GTI. It looked the goods and had the notoriously cynical motoring press sitting upright.

“Decades of disappointment end here,” wrote Wheels journalist Nathan Ponchard at the time of its launch in 2005. “It takes just five minutes of hard driving to discover that Volkswagen’s all-new Mk.V Golf GTI is far beyond the mediocre efforts of all its predecessors. It’s the first Golf GTI sold in this country that goes as hard as it looks and, more importantly, actually fulfils your expectations of the badge.”

Volkswagen had a new swagger in their step and the 147kW 2.0 litre turbo-charged engine matched to either a six-speed manual transmission or the much-lauded six speed automatic (with dual clutch, no less) had the GTI back on its aspirational pedestal with a more reasonable price tag.

Visually the Mk.V harked back to the original GTI with the return of the tartan interior and the red surround to the grille element. Even the typeface used on the badge echoes that of the original. Furthermore, this new model served as a base for two special editions, the Pirelli and Edition 30. Both models are powered by an up-rated evolution of the 2.0-litre T-FSI engine fitted to the conventional GTI.

Paris 2008 was again the venue for the debut of the newest model Golf, the Mk.VI. The GTI, however, had to wait until March this year in Geneva to show its hand. At this point in its life, 1.7 million GTIs had been sold worldwide, cementing legend status for this cult car.

Australia is on tenterhooks for a late-2009 arrival of this next model which will coincide with the venerable GTI’s 33rd anniversary. A new 7-speed twin clutch DSG (direct shift gearbox) will be offered, designed to improve both performance and economy.

Expect a top speed of around 238kmh, but despite the power increase to 155kW, the engine will more efficient and deliver improved fuel economy on both the city and highway cycles. The visual and technical design remains faithful to the original brief of the original 1976 model, namely startling performance with maximum driver enjoyment and engagement in an understated package.

What will be unrecognisable, however, is the array of technical and safety features that will make the landmark GTI pale by comparison. Add seven airbags, a five star NCAP crash rating, a dynamic chassis control (DCC) system, XDS electronic transverse differential lock and six-speed manual and DSG twin-clutch gearboxes and you have the comparison equivalent of a Spitfire and an F-18.

The powerplant is a second stage development of the EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It has minor modifications to the pistons, oil and fuel pumps and induction system, while the torque is more accessible than before, delivered earlier in the range for better throttle response.

While the GTI may have travelled a winding path through its various incarnations, many will believe development has run a full circle, returning to the core values that inspired the original design and development conspirators who colluded 35 years ago to bring the model to market.

01 January 2010

Honda: One Small Step for a Man

OUTthere Magazine : Issue 67
Soichiro Honda with the 1963 Honda RA270F prototype Formula one car
Roderick Eime reminisces on Honda’s history on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary in Australia.

Forty years ago, a humble man in a big suit stepped onto the surface of the moon and uttered those famous words. On a different scale perhaps, but when Hidehiko Shiomi set up shop in a Melbourne flat, his mission was also the first step in a momentous journey.

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