Hacks and hot wires - What Do You Reckon 451

By: Glenn Torrens

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holden commodore holden commodore

Getting an old car running - or keeping one going - is often down to hacks and hot-wires, reckons Glenn Torrens

It's a misty autumn evening in the NSW north coast holiday mecca of Coffs Harbour. At a takeaway food joint, a tatty white 1990s Commodore is haphazardly nosed-in against the shrubs on the dark side of the car park. It’s a bit of a shitbox – chalky paint, scabs of rust on the bonnet’s front edge, daggy brake-dusted alloy wheels and a hektik 1990s-type spoiler kit hanging off it… yes, really hanging off it with packing tape stretched high onto the left front guard to hold the fibreglass from the ground.

There are no numberplates, the bonnet is up and its lights are off. The driver’s door is open and there’s a bloke half-leaning out of the car, fiddling with a bit of wiring on the right side of the dash.

Uh huh.

A minute or two later, as more mist wafts over the carpark, the police arrive. But to my enduring astonishment, the cop in the passenger seat of that paddy-wagon that’s just parked two bays away simply looks at me; gives me a double blink and swivels right around in his seat to face his colleague. Yes, at 9pm, I reckon that cop was too hungry to even think about dealing with a sus-looking long-haired bloke in an unregistered Commodore in a misty carpark in Coffs Harbour…

That Commodore was a V8 one I’d collected earlier that day in Queensland and was driving home on an unregistered vehicle permit. But just as I reached the bright lights of Coffs, the headlight switch exploded, scattering little plastic parts all over the floor and creating instant darkness. By pulling on the high-beam stalk I’d managed to limp the car another kilometre or three to the carpark. After investigating – and by bludging a few office staples from the rather suspicious take-away tucker manager – I hotwired the plug of the broken headlight switch with the staples.

That’s prompted me into thinking about some great ‘bush fixes’ that I’ve either used, or heard about, to get a car going - or keep a car going.

A good one I heard from my mate Steve was using an old ball-point pen as an impromptu carby: With the ink-tube of the pen removed, the fuel line shoved on the tapered end and the tiny little breather hole in the pen’s barrel (have you ever noticed that?) race-taped in place to point down the carby throat, it created something of a rudimentary fuel injection system. Apparently, it got the engine – in an old VW - running.

One trick I’ve used a couple of times is to borrow wheel nuts from a car (or trailer’s) other wheels. That sounds blatantly obvious, but after the scare of having a wheel drop-off, some outback travellers I’ve helped have been understandably too freaked-out to think of that simple solution.

I’ve also pulled up the edge of a car’s carpet, cut the door light or speaker wiring and transplanted it to hot-wire an ignition coil or starter solenoid after a minor engine bay fire. That will often get a car going - and it’s an easy fix later.

After hitting a tyre wall, I chained my little VW race car to a tree and tugged-out its front panels using the winch on the front of my Hilux 4WD.

And primary-school-kid me will never forget the legendary Leyland Brothers (Mike and Mal; in the 1970s the creators of the adventure travel TV show Ask the Leyland Brothers) using a tree branch to make a skid under a trailer after its wheel bearings collapsed on a desert trek… Hopefully, that’s one bush-fix trick I won’t have to use!


From Unique Cars #451, April 2021

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