Hammer Time - Morley's World #484

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Dave Morley/Toyota/Shutterstock/GM/Australia Post/Unique Cars Archives

Dave Morley gives you the car advice you need – and maybe a bit about life as well.

Hammer Time - Morley's World #484
Morley's bargain Benz gets a new look that doubles his initial outlay.

What do you do when you find a non-running car cheap, get lucky with the fix-it-up, and suddenly have the bargain of the century in your driveway? Yep, you spend more money on it.

Well, I dunno about you, but that’s where I’m at. So, the W124 260E I dragged lifeless out of a carport recently, has – as regular readers of this tripe would know – been returned to rude health and is now the official interstate transport module, for the good ship Melbourne Bloke Centre and all who sail in her.

As discussed some time ago, I’m completely over flying anywhere post 9/11, post-COVID, post Qantas being owned by the good taxpayers of Australia. Which is to say that if I need to venture interstate, my preferred method is via four wheels, having a lovely day in the process of getting where I need to be and thank you for flying W124.

Come to think of it, given where I live in Melbourne, and the hoopla involved in getting to the airport, boarding the aeroplane and then waiting on the tarmac for an hour because some galoot (whose luggage is already on-board) has got lost in the terminal, if my destination is anywhere south of about Goulburn, it’s actually quicker to drive. Not to mention a million times more wonderful.

Anyways, a few weeks in to Benz ownership and I started looking at the stock wheels. Sure, they’re those lovely alloys dubbed `manhole covers’ by those romantic Germans, but I couldn’t help but think my car looked like every other smoke silver E-Class. And since I’d always had the hots for an AMG Hammer … you can guess the rest.

My buddies at Widetread found me a set of knock-off Hammers for the right price and, since I had a set of 17-inch treads lying around gathering spiders, I pulled the trigger, roughly doubling my investment in the car, in the process.

Should I have fixed the air-con or the radio instead? Of course I should have. But take a look at the pics and tell me the old girl doesn’t stand out in those new boots.

I have, however, drawn the line at new wheels when it comes to running gear modifications. I’ve already lost a small amount of ride compliance with the 17s (up from 15s) so I won’t be lowering the car.

Not that we car people like to admit it, but there’s probably a good argument to suggest that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the ride-handling balance, Mercedes engineers achieved back in the mid-'80s when the W124 was sketched up. A man’s gotta know his limitations.


The bloke in the Aus Post van parked right behind me as I pulled into my usual parking spot at the MBC in my green VY SS ute. I wasn’t expecting a parcel, so when he approached me, I figured he was after directions to a particular factory unit. But no. It was me he wanted.

So now I’m doing the mental checklist thing: Does he look familiar? Nope. Is he carrying a weapon? No. Did I carve him up in  traffic just now? No. Have I seen his framed photo on a bedside table? Of course not.

So what’s he want?


Turns out, he wants to chat. Not about this magazine or anything else that goes on around here, but rather the MBC parts chaser I’d just stepped out of.

"I’ve seen you getting around here for the past couple of years," he tells me cryptically. "And now, I’ve finally tracked you down."

I silently revisit the bedside table thing one more time.

"That’s my old car," he grins, pointing at the parts chaser.

Thank the gods for that.

"Fair dinkum?"

"Yep. I bought it almost new from a mate who’d got it brand spanking as his company car. He drove it around for three years (probably till the lease was up, I’m guessing) then traded it in. Well, he would have, till I offered him $200 more than the trade-in value and I owned it. Drove it for years and finally traded it in on a VF ute, about 2015. It was a great car."

"It still is," I offer. "That all makes sense because I bought it about then from a wholesaler, so it probably is the same car."

"Oh, I know it is," he assures me. "I added the hard-tonneau and (he peers inside) that head unit, because I wanted Bluetooth for my phone."

"Ah yes, that head unit … It’s a terrible piece of crap that stereo … awful interface."
"I know," he says, "It was the worst piece of junk I could find that did Bluetooth for a reasonable price back then."

"Well," I tell him, "the car itself is a pearler. Still going strong. I chose it because it was the right price and it was relatively low kays."

"Just under 160,000 when I sold it," he says.

"Correct. But it’s got almost 210,000 on it now. Since I’ve owned it, it’s had a radiator and a water pump. Oh, and one time when I was under it, I smacked the exhaust with a spanner and the open-ender went through the pipe. Rotten as a chop."

"Yep," he laughs, "I added that exhaust. It was – another – cheapie part that I fitted because I had to."

"It’s got a proper cat-back now," I assure him.

"You’ve fitted a tow bar, I see."
"Yeah. That was another thing that attracted me to this car; it’d never done any heavy lifting."

Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty.

MBC parts chaser. Morley got to know about its past, from its second owner.

"Have you," he asks knowingly, "noticed anything about the transmission?"

"I have indeed," I tell him. "The calibration is absolutely perfect. Even when you’re still on the noise, the tranny will shift up and lock its converter, just cruising along on torque alone. It’s brilliant, but I could never work out why."

"I’ll tell you why," he says. "Because a mate of mine was a bit of a computer genius, so we hooked his laptop up to the car and cruised around while he calibrated the thing in real time. He’d be watching the screen and calling out the commands, and I’d speed up or cruise or hit the pedal or whatever, and we set it up that way."

Now it all makes sense to me, and answers the question I’d always had: Was this just a freak gearbox, or had somebody who really knew what they were doing, been into it in the past.

In fact, I’ve mentioned this to a lot of people that this car has absolutely the best transmission calibration of any TH700 I’ve ever sampled. And I’ve driven dozens of 'em. And now I know.

So how about that? I mean, Melbourne is a fair lump of a place even by world standards, and an SS ute is hardly a one-off round these parts, so for this bloke to spot me and finally track me down to within a few kilometres of where he last saw the car when he traded it, is some kind of minor miracle I reckon.

It's hard to believe that Australia Post once had classy delivery vans like this FJ Holden.

And it got me thinking about other cars I’ve owned and whether I’ve ever spotted one in traffic years later. And you know what? I don’t think I have.

I guess a couple of them ended up interstate and others would be lucky to be still on the road years later, but as for spotting one in the wild, I don’t think that’s ever happened. The closest I’ve been was to have a bloke I bought a motorbike from call me up years later to try to buy it back.

But I’m very pleased this latest fella who followed me into the MBC car park and took the time to share a bit of the car’s history, I didn’t know. And solve a mystery I’d been wondering about since the day I test-drove it from the wholesaler’s lock-up.

There’s just one thing I forget to ask: Was he the bugger who half-inched the little handle that lowers the spare tyre from under the tray when you need it most?

Cost me a tow home one night, that did. By the way, if anybody has such a thing for a VY Ute lurking around, taking up space, feel free to contact me at this magazine.


Look closely. Know what these little gizmos are? If you guessed dashboard needles, well done. But what specific make and model dashboard needles?

3D-printed instrument needles.

The answer is SV21 Camry; the Australian-made Toyota sedans and wagons from the mid-1980s through to the mid-'90s which tackled the likes of Mitsubishi Magnas, Nissan Pintaras and replaced the dear old, rear-drive Toyota Corona.

Now, if you know your SV21s, you’ll also know that the speedo, tacho, fuel gauge and temp gauge needles had a nasty habit of first, fading from orange to white and then curling up like the toe of a 16th century Maharaja’s shoe.

All due to the effects of heat and Aussie levels of UV radiation, I’m guessing. My dad had an SV21 (probably the best car he ever owned) and within a few years, the needles on its dash had curled up to the point where they were scraping on the inside of the plastic binnacle cover.

Anyways, I was at a car show the other day, bench racing with a mate of mine by the name of Andrew Wrigglesworth, whose Magna station wagons we featured in this fine, family magazine a few issues ago.

Same mate owns this ridiculously clean Magna wagon. We featured it and another he owns, a few issues ago.

Now, Andrew is seriously afflicted with long-roof mania and owns both the pair of Magna wagons and an SV21. Anyway, out of nowhere at this car show, Andrew was handed this old cassette cover, containing replacement dash needles for his SV21.

And isn’t that brilliant? No, not that I know somebody with an SV21 Camry: The fact that somebody within the car club has gone to the trouble of working out how to remake these needles.

Okay, two of the four here are NOS, but the others are 3D printed. And I couldn’t tell one from the other, the quality is so good.

Apparently, they’re really easy to fit on an SV21, and wouldn’t that small fix absolutely transform the interior of a car. Brilliant. And that, kids, is why you should consider joining a relevant car club.


I’m reading a book at the moment that’s an inside look at the almost-disaster that was the Apollo 13 mission. You know, the one where the capsule the astronauts live in was almost blown apart by an explosion in an oxygen tank, taking the backup tanks and the fuel-cells with it.

Through sheer genius, NASA managed to get the three heroes back home in one piece, using a combination of solid science and rat cunning.

Anyway, this particular version of the story is a ripper, because one of the co-authors is none other than Jim Lovell who just happened to be the mission commander on that ill-fated rocket. As a result, the yarn is chockers with facts and insights that you just wouldn’t get from somebody who wasn’t there.

Apollo 13 LEM capsule displayed at NASA, Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Among those facts and revelations is one that I couldn’t resist sharing here. While talking about the rather too-explody oxygen tanks, mention is made of the temperature of their contents.

Deep space, you see, is apparently a pretty chilly place, so to stop the oxygen settling in to various physical states in one tank, it’s given a mechanical stir now and then. Which, of course, is what caused the spark that blew the back half of the capsule in to smithereens.

But the other factor in keeping the liquid oxygen at the correct temperature is the insulation that makes up the tank itself. And this is where it all gets mind-blowing.

Let’s just say, back on Earth, you went to your local NASA trade outlet and bought an Apollo 13-spec oxygen tank. Now, you fill it with ice – plain, frozen tap-water in a bag from the servo – seal the lid and place the tank in a room at 21-degrees Celsius. And then you wait.

Now, how long do you reckon it’ll be before that ice has melted back in to water? Go on, take a stab. A day? A week? Maybe a month? Six months? How about eight years! Oh, and another four years before the water has reached that 21-degree room temperature.

The 1966 GM Electrovan fuel-cell prototype was the first hydrogen-powered vehicle.

Dunno about you, but this makes my brain hurt. In the best possible way. Oh, and don’t forget, this was the prevailing tech back in 1970, when Apollo 13 blasted off for the heavens and a date with destiny.

It also makes me think that hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars which will be required to keep their hydrogen in a liquid state, might be less fanciful than some imagine.

I’ll tell you something else, too: I’d love to be able to buy an esky made from the same stuff.

From Unique Cars #484, Oct 2023

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