Self-fulfilling emergency - Morley's World 467

By: Dave Morley


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After recent events you'd think safety would be paramount. But that's not how it seems at times

I’ll say it again: My old man was a NSW copper for three decades. So I ‘get’ the whole thing, and I’m the last bloke you’ll catch taking a cheap shot at The Bronze. But, I swear, the behaviour of some members of the highway patrol leaves me scratching my big, hairy melon. (Actually, from what I can gather, even the General Duties boys and girls find some of the highway chaps a bit special.)

The latest What-The moment came this week as I was attempting to ferry The Speaker into town right at the end of the peak-hour freeway nonsense. And let me preface this by reminding you of the catastrophe of April 22, 2020, when a semi-trailer ploughed into a group of police officers on a Melbourne freeway, killing four of them. Of course you remember it. It still sends a chill down my spine just thinking about it.

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As well as jailing the truck driver for 22 years and turning the phrase ‘Porsche driver’ into a condemnation, the incident also showed (yet again) that road policing is far from a safe activity. Throw in the fact that this road was a four-lane freeway with a 100km/h limit, and you can see how the ducks of horror lined up to turn the combination of a drugged, sleep-deprived truckie, a moron in a sports car and four officers doing their job, into a tragedy of the highest order.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the highway patrol is ignorant of this situation nor of the facts of the matter, but what I do question is the common sense of some of its members based on what I saw today.

Like I said, I was entering the very same freeway as the four members were killed on. It was late morning and the worst of the traffic had gone, meaning that those four lanes were now lightly populated with cars humming along at the full 100km/h.

But as I turned off the arterial road, onto the on-ramp for the freeway, The Speaker spotted a highway patrol car parked right at the bottom of the ramp, sitting in the emergency lane, well into the 100-zone.

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As I got level with it, I could see the driver with his radar gun held up, facing down the freeway. Clearly, he was waiting to nail anybody using the on-ramp and threatening western democracy by daring to speed up to 103km/h to merge into traffic that was already doing 100 (which I would have thought was the best way to do it).

Now, there are a couple of issues here. The most obvious one is that the emergency lane is for emergencies. Not for capital accumulation activities. Second, following the events of April 2020, I’m honestly, truly amazed that the police department allows its officers to sit in an emergency lane for anything other than a bona fide crisis.

And thirdly, the actions of this pair of coppers were actually causing a more dangerous situation to develop. Any driver who saw them sitting there (either through a misunderstanding of the 40km/h-past- an-emergency-services-vehicle thing or just respect for the badge) trickled past at 40, rather than the 103km/h they should have been doing at that point for a successful, hassle-free merging experience. So you ended up with cars trying to enter the freeway at a ridiculously low speed, causing cars already on the freeway to either change lanes to make room (yeah, right) or hold their line and make the mergers wait, or slam on the picks when the merging car does, in fact, merge in an act of final desperation featuring a 60km/h speed difference.

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The other one I’ve seen lately, too, was at the bottom of a long hill not far from the MBC. In a modern car with typically long gearing, you need to ride the brakes all the way down this particular hill to avoid exceeding the 80km/h limit. Which is one thing, but it’s entirely another, I reckon, to put a radar trap at the very bottom of the very same hill.

But even that pales a little when you see where Jodhpur Boy parked to set up that speed trap. It wasn’t off to the side of the road or in a driveway or even an emergency lane. Nope, this genius parked himself facing up the hill (so, on the other side of the road) stopped in a live right-hand-turn lane opposite a parkland. Meaning that if you wanted to walk your dawg or chuck a frisbee in the park, you had to dodge around the parked highway car and then turn into the reserve.

Now how on earth is parking in a turn lane, without your reds-and-blues flashing, going to improve road safety? In fact, I reckon there’s a pretty strong case to suggest that it might even have the opposite effect.

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If the police department would like to comment on this situation, I’d be very happy to discuss it. But I can tell you now, they’ve got a snowball’s chance of convincing me that it was a good idea on any level. Perhaps the blokes with all the braid don’t even know it’s happening. Well, they do now.

Beware the sleeper

Let’s talk about one of my favourite subjects. No, not that. Grubs. I’m talking sleepers. Q-ships, stealth bombers, call them what you like, but the idea of a car that looks harmless but will gap a Ferrari across 200m makes me happy inside. And I’ve been seeing a few of them lately.

Don’t know if the nation’s interest in sleepers is a new thing, but given the propensity of our esteemed authorities to remove any last shred of fun from the act of going for a cruise, maybe it is. Sure as hell makes a lot of sense not to advertise what you’ve got lurking under the lid, too.

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My most recent exposure to the art of the sleeper was at a local Japanese car show, not too far from the Melbourne Bloke Centre. Figuring that since the government wasn’t attempting to strap me to my bed (this week) I might as well get out and enjoy myself before the next dunny-paper war broke out and we’re all confined to barracks.

So I did. And what I found was that the Japanese car scene is really cranking along, despite the last two years of no car shows (in Victoria, anyway). But I also noticed that a certain percentage of the cars on show were hiding their not inconsiderable lights under some serious bushel-work.

(By the way, the expression to hide your light under a bushel is actually a bible story. It’s a lesson to those who would otherwise hide their good deeds. The idea, according to JC, is that you wouldn’t light a candle and hide it under a bushel; you’d put it on a candlestick and light the whole joint. How that sits with ‘Blessed are the meek,’ I have no idea. Shouldn’t have wagged so much Sunday School.)

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Toyota owners seem to be leading the way in this department, at the moment, although I also saw plenty of formerly-piston-engined Mazdas with rotors under their bonnets. Just some of the Toyota stuff I saw included an MS65 Crown with a turbocharged 2JZ straight-six and a slightly later MS85 Crown with an LS1 tucked away up front.

Possibly the craziest of the lot, however, was a shovel-nosed RT40 Corona with a serious-looking rotary lurking where the original 1.6-litre 12R engine would have once resided. Like the other sleepers of the day, this was one you’d never pick in the street as having about 10 times the horsepower it was born with. In fact, from the white-wall tyres to the venetians blinds in the back window, the Corona was text-book sleeper. Lord alone knows what the owner of the SS Commodore or XR8 Falcon is thinking when Nana’s Corona skittles him from the lights on a Saturday night. Love ‘em. And I’d dearly love to go for a ride in each of them.

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An ex-editor (of a newspaper) of mine had an MS85 Crown as his daily and, having ridden in that a few times, I’m here to tell you that outright speed was not this car’s thing. So I can only imagine what it must be like to be riding around in something as stately and upright as the Crown, only to floor the throttle and have the wire go tight on a 5.7-litre V8 rather than a 2.6-litre six-potter.

In fact, it makes me wonder if there isn’t room in this fine family magazine for more sleeper action. Have you got a Q-ship tucked up in the garage at home? Send us a pic or two, I’d love to see it.

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The Wankel is a popular choice

I'm all right, Jack

Here’s another thing I saw a few days ago that makes me wonder what sort of community we’ve become. I’m buzzing along in an 80 zone on a major arterial. The lights in front of me go orange. I slow down, I stop. Across the intersection, a couple of girls in a hatchback (coming the other way) have done exactly the same thing. The tradie in the van behind them? Not so much.

Don’t know whether he was on the phone, picking his nose or fiddling with his sat-nav. The short-price bet would be that he’s spotted the orange and given the van some clog to try to beat the red light. Which he might have got away with had the girls in front of him tried to do the same thing. But they were driving legally, so they stopped when they saw an orange light. Doesn’t matter, because the upshot was that the van hit the hatch at a speed sufficient to push it into the middle of what was a fairly big, and busy, intersection. In fact, these gals were lucky they weren’t cleaned up by cars now passing across their bows on a green light.

Now, having cocked things up to the extent that you’ve just written off one car, possibly two, and created traffic chaos, the least you could do would be to approach the car you’ve just clobbered and ask if, perhaps, the occupants are okay. That’d just be the decent thing to do, right? Not this arsehole.

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The tradie stepped out of the steaming pile of van he’d just created, walked around to the front of it, kicked the bumper a couple of times, then stood beside the wreck and grabbed his phone (presumably to give the boss the good news). He made no attempt to check the condition of the people he’d just attempted to kill and, in fact, it was only when one of the girls from the hatchback walked back to him that he even acknowledged her existence. And the other girl – the driver – was still sitting in the car, holding her neck.

At which point, the light I was facing turned green. By now, I could see that both hatchback passengers were moving, a few people from the other side of the intersection had stopped to help, and neither vehicle looked like it was going to catch fire (all my cars have extinguishers). So I legged it to avoid contributing to what was already a fairly chaotic scene.

The good news is that since the intersection was such a mess, the cops would have attended and they would have written this galoot up for causing the shunt. I only hope they threw the rest of the book at him and his boss gave him the Tijuana for being a boofhead in the company truck.

As far as I’m concerned, a nose-to-tail crunch is part of life, even if it was caused by an impatient dill trying to run a red light with a car still in front of him. But to be oblivious to the welfare of the people he’s just skittled beggars belief. In fact, it’s really only one back from a hit-run.

You know who you are, mate. And you’re a pinecone.

This month, there are a couple of bits of workshop wisdom I’d have appreciated way back when I was a teenager first learning about how cars go together. And come apart. The first would be the dreaded carby fire. I’ll pretty much guarantee that the first time any of us refitted a distributor, we got it 180-degrees out. Which is a fabulous way to start a bushfire in the carb. But don’t panic, because there’s a great way to put it out and save the day: Floor the throttle and crank the engine over. And bingo, 99 times out of 100, the flame will be sucked into the carb and all’s well.

The other piece of advice I rediscovered recently was to always ensure the ignition is switched off before jamming the feeler gauges into the points. If you need to ask why, you’ve never done it. And if you have, you’ll know exactly why it’s a terrible idea. Twenty-thousand volts up yer arm is a great teacher.

 

From Unique Cars #467, Jun/Jul 2022 

 

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