Luxo Car Bargains + Future Classics + On-The-Run Repairs - Morley's Workshop 414

By: Dave Morley

engine bay engine bay

Luxo car bargains on a budget, future classic Mustangs and the tools needed for on-the-run repairs




Now, he’s the bloke that signs the cheques around here, so I’m loathe to sell Editor Guido short when it comes to mechanical nous. But let me just say I have seen him break a motorcycle clutch basket with his bare hands, so Smokey Yunick he ain’t. But I am pleased to say that El Guido did manage to pull off a pretty impressive act of bodgery recently, when his old BMW 633 CSi had finally sufferered sufficient thrashing in the name of Targa Tassie and cried enough.

Seems the bearing that had previously supported the viscous clutch on the cooling fan had deemed it timely to disintegrate, leaving the fan flailing about at all sorts of angles, taking ever bigger bites out of the radiator. So what did Guido do? He followed the time-honoured tradition of bodging the bastard back together to get himself and what was left of his Beemer back home to Melbourne. And since the car decided to disgrace itself on day seven of Targa – in Hobart – that meant he had to travel all the way up the length of Tassie to get to the ferry and back to the mainland.

The first thought was to pull the old bearing out and assess what was going on. But that would have meant ripping into the engine bay and pulling out the radiator, among many other things. And frankly, there just wasn’t the time nor tools on hand to do so. So Plan B was called into service, whereby Guido grabbed a big old handful of zip-ties and fashioned himself a crude support to keep the fan shaft in line and keep the blades out of the rad core. You could call it a replacement bearing of sorts. I would if I’d managed it.

Fan -radiator

The point is that the old girl scooted back up the length of Tassie, on to the ferry and thence to Chateau Guido without missing another beat. Brilliant. And if nothing else, it should remind us all to carry heaps of zip-ties of all sizes and make sure there’s a full roll of gaffer tape in the tool kit.

I once got a race-car through scrutineering with the passenger’s door held closed with gaffer tape. The car had been T-boned in a practice session by some nimrod who thought we were already racing for sheep stations, and the A-pillar was stoved in sufficiently that the rear edge of the door no longer lined up with the catch. So, wind the window down, wrap a couple of metres of tape around the door frame and the B-pillar and bingo; instant fix. And we lived to race another day. That day, as it happened.

By the way, did I even mention that it was gaffer tape Obi Wan and Luke were talking about in Star Wars? Yep, it has a light side. It has a dark side. And it holds the universe together.


Dog 'n' bone

No -mobile -phone

When you’re about to start a job involving adhesives or anything else that is going to cure/set/go off over a fairly short space of time, do yourself a big favour and turn your phone off first. I was up to my elbows in copper gasket goo the other day, fitting a manifold, when I realised I’d ignored my own advice. So I had to just ignore the phone ringing and thank the gods that I chose a ring-tone I actually like rather than some sawn-off frog on acid. As it turned out, the first call was somebody pretending to be from Telstra wanting my bank details, and the second was Torrens, so that was always going to be stupid-on-a-stick. Seriously, unless you’re waiting for a call from the nice man from Tatts to confirm the amount you’ve won, or your partner is in labour, sling the phone in a skip while you’re spannering.



The $15,000 question


Hey Morley. Firstly, I like your no-nonsense articles.

Secondly, what’s the pick of the luxury/prestige cars to use as a daily driver (15,000-20,000km per year)? Budget $10-$15k. This will be my first foray into the luxury sphere having grown up on Commodores and Falcons.


Well Russell, the world is your oyster with that budget. Because, even though some of the prestige cars around now might have cost a couple of hundred grand (or more) when they were new, the fact is that big, prestige cars depreciate like they’ve just been driven off the top of a skyscraper.

| Related: Our picks for top Aussie luxo cruisers

The process that allows this to happen is called the funnel effect and it was once explained to me by an industry analyst who made it real simple to understand. It seems that there are sufficient companies and corporate big-shots up the flash end of town to keep buying prestige cars brand-new. But when those cars are a handful of years old and are hitting the trade-in aisle, there suddenly aren’t enough private buyers to soak them up. So, the price takes a hiding until they’re cheap enough to attract people like you and me.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that even if the price of admission seems like a bargain, stuff like high-end Euro sedans are unlikely to be especially cheap to run. Insurance might hurt you, but so will servicing in some cases. And if anything ever does go wrong with all those intricate, complex creature comforts, then you might find yourself lining up to flog a kidney to pay for it. Expect to cop a hiding when buying spare parts, too, especially if they’re being imported from anywhere with a stronger currency than the Aussie-dollar (which is pretty much anywhere else).

LexusJapanese luxury plus a million-kilometre motor. But wait, there's more...

That said, thanks to the internet, supply is much less of a problem than it used to be. Editor Guido is proof having ordered parts for his Beemer (see My Two Cents) from Germany on a Friday and having them waiting for him on his doorstep the following Friday.

It’s also important to realise, too, that just because these cars were big-ticket items back in the day, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be impeccably built and rock-solid reliability-wise. Fact is, some of the better known Euro-brands really dropped the quality ball back in the 1990s and 2000s.

While I’m burying these things, don’t forget that some of them (and the BMW 7-Series is a classic example) were used pretty hard as high-end taxis for inner-city hotels and casinos. And even a BMW that has been flogged to and from the airport with a back-seat full of high-roller, day in, day out for a decade could easily be starting to wear a bit thin in places.

So much for what not to buy; your question, if I recall, was what you should buy. Well, since you admit to being well versed in the local big-car product, what about something like a fairly late-model Holden Caprice? You’re buying tough, durable mechanicals with a good dash of luxury kit and a driving experience that will shade a lot of more expensive rides.

Your budget gets you into a, say, seven or eight-year-old WM Caprice with the six-litre V8 and a driving experience that was better than the bulk of big rear-drivers from anywhere else in the world. I’d have one of these tomorrow.

But having said all that, by far the greatest used prestige car in the solar system is the early Lexus LS. I prefer the earlier LS400 model (the next one, the LS430 is so ugly it could get a job haunting houses). Mind you, the five-speed auto of the later cars is superior to the four-speeder in the LS400, but beyond that, the LS is rock-solid. It’s beautifully made from quality stuff and the silky V8 engine has been known to cover a million (count `em) kilometres before major work is needed. Even with your likely mileage, you’ll never wear it out.

I guess the neighbours won’t be as impressed by a Lexus in your driveway as they might be if something big and flash with a European badge rolled up one day, but if you’re buying a car to impress anybody other than yourself, then you’re reading the wrong column. I have so nearly bought an LS400 for myself several times. What stopped me? Lexus never did a ute version of the LS400. Shame that.

Pony Excess

Ford -mustangYou need to take a ride before you qualify to judge horseflesh

I’m already sick of seeing those new Falcons, ah sorry, Mustangs on the road everywhere, even Grandma driving them to the shops. Please don’t fill your great publication with these modern ponies for sale. Even a Roush Stang will greatly depreciate, I believe . And all the punters that have followed the trend? They’ll be left with a glorified Falcon worth half its original purchase price.


Now calm down Dingo, me old mate. Just for starters, a modern Mustang is not a re-hash of a Ford Falcon. In fact, the Stang never really was. Oh sure, it used Falcon mechanical bits and pieces back in the day (that was part of the genius of the concept) but the body really was its own thing.

I’ve talked to a few restorers over the years and they all tell me that the Mustang monocoque is unique to the Pony and not very much is interchangeable with a Falcon from the same vintage. Apparently there’s all sorts of torque boxes welded in underneath and the inner sheet-metal is definitely Mustang-specific.

However, I get the feeling that’s not the primary thrust of your message. But I can’t agree with you that a modern Mustang shouldn’t get some kind of coverage in this fine, family organ. See, it might not be collectible yet, but I reckon one day it will be. And I reckon the Dingo equivalent back in 1964 would have had exactly the same criticism of the very first Mustang Fastback, and look what’s happened to them as collectibles! Modern rubbish.

The other thing I’m always wary of as a bit of a car hoarder is complaining about depreciation. Mate, trust me, without it, I wouldn’t have been able to afford a tenth of the tasty motors I’ve been lucky enough to own over the years. Depreciation is your friend.

Ford -mustang -2

The other thing I reckon you should rush out and do is drive a new Mustang. Seriously, these are good jiggers. The five-litre feels like a six-litre and they actually handle pretty well, too. The one area I’m a bit blah about is the interior. Seems the Yanks still don’t have our (or anybody else’s) feel for interior materials and graphics and the Stang always looks and feels a bit chintzy to me. But could I live with that? You betcha. Fact is, I’m going to have a look at the current Mustang in a few years and see exactly how much they depreciated. Because I reckon they’ll be some kind of bargain and, by then, very possibly a type of car you can no longer buy brand-new. Let’s face it; big muscle cars are on the way out. So let’s enjoy them while we can.

As for a Roush-modified Stang, hang on to your hat, Dingo. I’ve driven one that had better than 700 horsepower thanks to a Roush blower and various other bits and pieces. It ran lazy 11s and was still tractable enough to drive around town like it was a stocker. You’ll never convince me that’s not a thing worth having.

Feeling the crush

Ford -falconA one-way trip to the knacker's yard for a minor oil leak seems a tad harsh to us

I have a similar story to Craig Holmes and his XE Falcon. Recently, on a trip to Brisbane (about 220km) to visit family in my son’s beautiful 1987 XF Falcon (strangely, he rarely uses it because he prefers to drive his other car, a 1993 Toyota Corolla Seca RV) the engine haemorrhaged through a cracked ceramic on the oil pressure sender unit. We arrived with only a tiny drop of oil left on the dipstick. I wonder what would have happened if we’d gone any further, although I’m confident I would have seen the oil light come on. Of course, we thought the worst and assumed the rear-main seal had failed.

"Take it to the wreckers," was the family’s advice. "It’s not worth getting fixed, the labour costs will be far more than the car is worth."

The car has done 90,000km. The interior is like new. The underside is almost as clean as the day it left the assembly line and there’s no rust anywhere because the elderly couple who bought it new had it thoroughly rust-proofed.

"The wreckers will probably only give us $200 for it," I explained. "And then they’ll only crush it."

Really Morley, would a wrecking yard simply have crushed it? If so, that’s an abomination. And absolute travesty! Look at the XD, XE and XF Falcon series: A simple, no-nonsense shape and large glass areas for excellent vision. On my son’s car are still completely legible stickers proclaiming the XF to be an Australian Design Award winning vehicle. It’s far different to the current crop of small cars and SUVs with upswept rear quarters and tiny rear windows which must give children in the back claustrophobia.

Anyway, we got the car to a mechanic on the back of an RACQ tow-truck (which cost nothing because my son is a member) the mechanic put in a new oil-pressure sender unit which cost $18.50 with an almost non-existent labour charge to fit it.

Glen Stumer,
Kingaroy, QLD

Ah, I love a story with a happy ending. The advice to scrap a perfectly good car because it has a problem or two really doesn’t compute with me. As a kid, we used to keep all sorts of old dungers running with zip-ties and fence-wire and scrapping them just didn’t come into it. And to scrap a good, solid, straight car with 90,000km on the clock…perish the thought. Of course, that was then, this is now and the idea of sending something to the crushers is not so foreign to us these days (although it still gets my Calvins in a bunch).

Ford -falcon -rear

But even if you’d sold your son’s car to a wrecking yard, Glen, I don’t think it would have gone straight into the crusher. Kids these days have discovered the charms of that series of Falcons and they’re very sought after commodities. Any wrecker worth his or her salt would know that and would have fixed what was wrong, given the old dame a wash and stuck it out on the driveway with a $5000 sign in the windscreen.

And I absolutely hear what you’re saying about new cars and their weird-burger packaging. If you have a look at a lot of modern SUVs, you’ll indeed see that the rear-side windows are tiny with a high waistline that sweeps up from the B-pillar. Which, of course, means that little tackers in the back seat can’t see out. And, in my experience, nothing makes a young ’un burp a rainbow faster than not being able to see out of a moving car. Heck, some of these new SUVs have semi-hidden door handles that are so high, little mitts can’t even reach them to get in. What the hell is that about?

Clipper camping

ClipperbusThe distinctive howl of two-stroke diesels lingers on - but only as memories, not in reality

I bought a short wheel base Ansair Clipper in the early 90s that had been converted into a fully self-contained mobile home, complete with bathroom and toilet. I got it for instant accommodation on a bush-block I’d just purchased, which was fortunate, as the 351 Ford that’d been shoe-horned into the engine bay had a nasty habit of snapping its FMX tranny in two, due to the badly modified driveshaft being too short. So its best use was being parked up in the bush.

I did try to source an original motor for it, as they were legendary even back then. I did manage to track down its original mill, which was still working hard, running a water pump on a Tully banana farm. But the farmer flatly refused to sell it to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still pumping water to his narnies to this day!

I eventually sold the bus to another mate who needed instant accommodation, once I’d built something more permanent. And I’m sad to say that that’s where it rusted back into the earth. But she provided sterling service right to the end, like a good bus should. I just wish I’d gotten to sample her with that original two-stroke donk.

Gary G Smith
Ravenshoe, QLD

Mate, what a shame you never got to drive the old girl with that screaming Jimmy diesel in place. I reckon if you had, you might have been convinced to keep it on the road rather than put it up on blocks and turn it into a roach motel. Shame, too, that the old dear finally rotted away, but that’s the way of all things in the end.

It’s interesting, too, to see where legendary engines tend to wind up. In the case of your Clipper, the world’s banana lovers owe it a debt of gratitude. But there was another diesel engine that also managed to develop a real non-automotive following. I’m talking about the Pommy-built Gardner diesel, of course, which was yanked out of trucks in huge numbers to be fitted to a variety of boats. Not your pleasure-craft, either; the Gardner was so reliable and durable that it was the engine of choice for a whole generation of working-boat owners.

Which brings me to this month’s quiz question: What car or truck motors have you seen fitted doing non-car or truck duties. I’ve heard of Chevy V8s being used to power air-raid sirens and the odd big-block used on a winch to launch gliders, but there must be other examples. Let’s have them.

Where’s the quality?

Holden -camira

I read Unique Cars every month. At the moment I have an AC Cobra replica with 347 Windsor and five-speed, an XB Sedan which is a factory 351 four-speed, a 2013 F150 Raptor and an F6X Territory.

Meanwhile, I found your story on the fragile bucket loader very distressing, as I own a metal recycling business and have numerous pieces of heavy equipment, including three excavators of various brands. We purchased a new excavator last year and went with the most expensive thinking it would last longer. I don’t want to name the brand, but the paint is yellow. First all the turntable bolts snapped and the machine fell in half. The operator was okay, but it took a lot of pressure before it was covered under warranty (with six weeks downtime). Now, the base the tracks run on has cracked all the way through and will need welding and bracing. The cheaper brand Japanese machine that was doing the job before is slightly smaller, older and still has not let us down.

It was suggested by the yellow machine spare-parts section that they are using cheap Chinese steel but still charging Big Brand prices. Seems the statement you get what you pay for is not always true. Ask around before you lay out your hard-earned dollars!

Garry Hart,

Jeez! Having a piece of heavy equipment fail catastrophically while being operated by a staff member must be a boss’ worst nightmare. I’m glad to hear the operator was okay. And I can already imagine the tone of the first conversation you had with the importer of the machine in the hours following.

And, I guess, it does show that just because a product carries a well-known, well-regarded brand name, doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be made to the same standards as the gear that helped make that reputation, Or, in the case of your excavator, from materials of the same quality.

And when you think about it, there are plenty of examples. Take the Holden Torana, for example: A no-nonsense mid-sized car that was loved for its ruggedness and simplicity that all added up to a durable, reliable piece of gear. Not sophisticated, mind you, but dependable. So what does Holden do? It replaces the Torana with the Camira, a car made from recycled dog-chow cans with an engine that was not only gutless, but burned oil from the moment the warranty ran out. Which didn’t matter, because the body had rusted out anyway. Even the most generous soul who accidentally bought a Camira would have to admit that Holden had sold them a pup. So maybe that’s what’s going on with excavators.

Still, when it comes to the safety of your workers, it’s hard to imagine that you can be too careful. Which – and again, I can only agree with you – means you need to do your homework rather than rely purely on reputation.


Trick track

Cowboy -toy

Okay, so where was Australia’s first motor race held? If you said Sandown in Melbourne in 1904, give yourself a pat on the back. The race was actually run around the horse-racing track and to this day, the venue remains a motor-racing circuit and a track for nag-drags. That said, there’s increasing talk of Sandown being abandoned as a motor racing venue as the suburbs encroach and the dickheads who bought a house next to a race track complain ever louder to ever thicker politicians. Just sayin’…

Merci very much!

Number -plates

The first number plates to be displayed were in Paris, France, in 1893 thanks to a change in French law to adopt the new system of identifying cars. The law was extended to the rest of France in 1901. And now we have everybody from toll-road companies to speed camera operators to council parking officers watching our every move thanks to the humble number-plate. Thanks for nothing, France.


Write to Morley c/o or Unique Cars magazine, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic 3166  


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