Fool Proof - Morley's World

By: Dave Morley

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toyota landcruiser 2 toyota landcruiser 2

While way out west Morley latches onto an old Landcruiser and for the most part loves it!

Ever heard the expression `be careful what you wish for’? Yeah, well, it’s a pretty savvy message and one that you really shouldn’t ignore. My life is sign-posted with the dumpster-fires of wishes I should have filed away under `Stupid’ and `What was I thinking’ but persisted with anyway. I reckon we probably all paddle around in that boat from time to time.

But sometimes, the warning proves to be bang on accurate, but the consequences are much more benign. At which point, your idiot wish becomes merely an amusing dinner-table anecdote rather than an episode that has you dialling Lifeline. And that’s when it can all get pretty funny. So where did wishing lead me to recently?

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Well, like a lot of folks who read this magazine, we all – from time to time – pine for the good old days when cops used discretion to decide whether you were speeding or not, you didn’t need a personal loan to fill the tank and tyres came in two sizes; Dad’s-car, and fatties. And cars were simpler. Ah yes, simple cars. Easy to operate, cheap to buy and great fun to drive with levels of feel and feedback that modern cars with their electronic-this and power-boosted-that just can’t match. And like you, I often wish that cars like that – simple cars – were still available beyond the collection of slow-cranking, dust collectors at the Melbourne Bloke Centre. And right there comes that be-careful-what-you-wish-for thing.

So here’s where the dangers-of-wishing stuff all came flooding back for me recently. I managed to score a contract job in a post-Covid world (hooray) but a job that took me right to the other edge of the island from where I normally hang around. That was okay, but it meant that, instead of carting my own day-to-day vehicle across the continent, it was easier and simpler to source a vehicle for the duration of the job from the west coast. But when I say contract job, don’t start thinking this was a big-budget, expense-account Spendapalooza. Nope, and that, pretty much, is how I came to find myself with the keys to a 1989 Toyota LandCruiser station-wagon, resplendent in white-over-rust paintwork, a big six-banger, non-turbo engine and pretty much zilch in the way of mod cons. This, I thought, was going to be fun. This is the dream…the wish. Oh brother…

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With 300,000km showing on the odometer, this was hardly a brand-spanker, but even so, there were some wear and tear issues that you just couldn’t ignore. That started with the rust which was just starting to move from eyesore to roadworthy status. Now, I know a bit of rust here and there is not such a problem for every old car, but it wasn’t going to be long before this one needed some serious surgery to prevent the roof lifting in a decent headwind. Okay, so rust-proofing has come a long way, but even so, this whole rattling pile of corroded crap wasn’t going to be going much further before somebody fired up the MIG and sent a few grinding discs to 3M heaven.

But, like I said, that I could live with. And there was more that I could easily put up with day to day, including the leisurely performance (I was here to work, not do skids, right?) and the typically 80s Japanese plastics which had curled up and died under the lack of any sort of a UV layer over the part of the world I was dealing with. The seats had been supporting big bums since 1989 and were probably never that good to start with, but, to be honest, they weren’t terrible and the split front bench meant this was a proper six-seater that still retained loads of luggage space in the process. Try that in your three-row SUV.

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Acres of space in the new Morleymobile

So what was starting to annoy me? Not as much as you might think, and while I figured I’d have to be shown how a wind-yer-own window works again, the act of cranking down the glass by hand didn’t actually offend me one bit.

Less happy was my relationship with the Tojo’s starter motor. I reckon about three times out of 10 (eight times if the engine was still hot when I hit the key) the starter would flat out refuse to engage with the ring gear. It’d give a little electronic grunt and then nothing. The solution was to get out, open the lid, find a big crow-bar I had in the back and assault the starter solenoid with a few good thumps and some well chosen oaths. At which point it would fire up. Eventually, this got a bit tiresome, so I tried a new technique which involved clunking the thing into gear and using brute force to rock it back and forth a few times to better align the teeth on the starter and the flywheel. That worked, too. Eventually, though, I just figured where ever possible I’d simply park the bastard on a hill and bump start it.

One issue, three solutions…and they reckon I’m not a problem solver!

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Basic and pretty much bullet proof

The other thing that concerned me a bit was the brute’s thirst. Don’t get me wrong, I love a drink, but me having a quiet lager or two after work is not, as far as I know, melting the ice caps. But the Toyota? Every time I fired it up on the choke of a morning, a baby fur seal died. In the end, I worked out the fuel consumption to be just about right on 18 litres per 100km which is about 15 or 16 miles per grandad’s gallon. I’ve always maintained that if petrol was your biggest running costs (and it definitely was in this case) then you’ve got the game kicked to bits. Now I’m not so sure. And oddly, the consumption didn’t go downhill in town versus highway running. Clearly, aerodynamics were playing a big part here. The roof-rack itself was probably worth a couple of litres per 100…

Now, at the risk of sounding like an inner-suburban fashion victim, one thing that really did drive me up the wall was a complete lack of cup-holders. Of any sort. Actually, that’s a lie, because one previous owner had, indeed, bolted an aftermarket cup-holder to the top of the passenger’s side door, just near the quarter vent. This, however, was of zero use to a driver with arms less than two metres long. And while I’m a big bloke in many directions, I’m not spending my days swinging from tree to tree.

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Simple, rugged and analogue

But the thing that annoyed me most was the central locking. More importantly, the lack thereof. To be honest, I could take or leave the whole remote-control thing, but having to lock each door individually and then key-locking the tailgate was a major blot on my landscape of happiness.

Now, just to prove that I’m a septic-tank-half-empty kind of guy, there were some things I did enjoy about SS Rustbucket. And those started with the old-school quarter-vent windows which flipped out and directed air wherever you needed it. They were better than having the main window down at 100km/h and they were great for demisting the windscreen because you could double them back and blow air straight on to the screen. Brilliant. Tell me again why they ever got rid of these.

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The reason I chose a LandCruiser wagon had a lot to do with the fact that, at various points in the job, I’d need to get off-road. And the beaut thing about the Cruiser’s four-wheel-drive system was that it was still a proper off-roader. As in, it had a minimum of two gear sticks. And they worked a treat. Forget the electronic, rotary-dial bollocks of modern fourbees; the old manual selector for high and low range worked first time every time. No need to reverse to unlock auto hubs, no waiting for the computer to make up its mind. You want low-range, you grabbed the stick and give it a yank. Bingo. Perfect.

The bottom line? While I would have liked a bit more in the way of fuel economy, central locking and cup-holders, I really have been enjoying tooling around in this old bus. I am enjoying the simplicity of it and there is real satisfaction to be had in piloting something so analogue. And I’m now also a demon bump-starter.

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If you’ve just read the above rant, you’ll know I’ve been working in WA. Now, a lot of the politics of the west subscribe to a fairly, um, rustic agenda, but I have to give the Sandgropers a big pat on the back for the way road policing works.

Bear in mind that the highways of WA frequently see some huge, over-dimensional loads as the mining industry keeps on churning. To cope with that, there’s a system of pilot vehicles and a regime of warning lights that, once you’ve worked it out, give you a pretty good idea of what monster is coming the other way. It’s also a good idea to give the pilot vehicle a buzz on the CB (channel 40 is the road-channel over here) and get a better idea of what you’re about to size up. It could be a really dangerous situation, but thanks to the systems in place, it all works well. Yes, really big loads will kill your average speed (the really big fellas require you to pull right off the road) but it is a lot safer than it sounds.

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The plastic cabin of Morley’s SS Rustbucket

But the real medal for sensible road manners goes to whoever it is that is setting policy for the highway patrol boys and girls. In many weeks and several thousand kilometres, I have not yet seen one highway car hidden in the scrub beside the road, nor a single radar trap of any sort. I’m yet to spot anybody being pulled over for anything other than a clear breach of common-sense and it seems to me that the WA highway coppers are actually about road safety rather than filling the government’s pockets.

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The absolute proof of that came the other day when a police motorbike swished past me and ranged up behind a civilian who was dawdling along in the fast lane despite not actually overtaking anything at the time. But rather than haul the bloke over and write him up, the cop car briefly hit the berries and cherries and waved the car to the left. As the bloke pulled to the left lane, the bike-cop switched off the lights and accelerated past the car, and into the distance. Brilliant. Point made and nobody gets hurt. And you can bet your bottom dollar, that car driver won’t be absent-mindedly hogging the right lane again any time soon.

Is it really too much to hope that other states’ highway patrols could adopt a similar approach? Yeah, I thought so, too.

 

From Unique Cars #452, April 2021

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