Greener Future - Morley's World #488

By: Dave Morley

Some folks see physics to learn about the future, Morley just talked to his best mate, often

Greener Future - Morley's World #488
Morley once laid bets on a hydrogen future. This was the 1997 Mazda MX-5 Hydrogen Concept.

My mate, the late, great Paul Cockburn might not be too familiar to readers of this magazine. But even if you weren’t familiar with the man, you might remember his lethal BRG E-Type roadster with its embiggened, Webered hot-rod engine and Simmons alloys. Of course, if you ever picked up a copy of Motor magazine, you’d for sure know and love the genius of one of the most intelligent, insightful blokes I’ve ever met, not to mention a fabulous writer. And a tremendous human being into the bargain.

Cockburn was good at his craft because he was a lateral thinker. But more than that, even if his pronouncements seemed a bit strange at the time, a few years would usually bring them into focus as the nuggets of wisdom they’d always been.

Many’s the time I’ve had to apply tomato sauce to my hat and chow down after a discussion (they were never arguments) we had that eventually went his way, under the sheer weight of evidence. A great example was many years ago when I was laying bets on hydrogen power being the go-to for a greener future. Rubbish, he countered, the battery-electric in a skateboard layout will rule the world, rightly or wrongly. Fast forward a few years to showrooms full of electric cars with flat-pack batteries under the floor and there’s another fedora for lunch and a sombrero for dinner.


A cabin blasted with fake sounds leaves Morley cold. 

Anyway, I reckon it’s about time I recognised another of his mantras as having come into its own. And it’s all about the way we think we can judge cars on pure numbers.

One of my regular jobs at Motor was as designated torture-master. As in, it was me who would strap the Correvit/V-Box/Driftbox (depending on the go-to tech at the time) to each car and mercilessly flog them down an airstrip in turn in the name of producing a better quarter-mile time than Wheels magazine could manage. After a day of that, we’d pick up the bits of clutch and prop-shaft, sit down and sift through the numbers to fined a winner. Cockburn was universally unimpressed by this approach.

Numbers, he would tell anybody who would listen, are just that. They convey just one part of a car’s performance and we shouldn’t rely on them at the expense of other more subjective metrics such as handling, steering feel, and the way the bloody things sound.

Even back then, I could see his point, but it was also hard to argue with a set of acceleration and braking numbers. So I didn’t.


The road looks closer at this angle.

But you know what has convinced me that the old boy was right all along? It’s those same battery-electric skateboards he prophesised. Right now, there’s absolutely no contest when it comes to an EV with a decent battery pack and a motor on each axle. Most conventionally powered cars just wouldn’t see which way a good EV went. Hell, for about $70,000 you can now buy a Kia SUV that will get from the pie shop to 100km/h in three-and-a-half seconds!

So, all of a sudden, those of us who like the old ways of doing things (like burning petrol in an engine) have to find new ways to explain ourselves and our preferences. And, when I think about it, I just refer back to Cockburn once again: The cars we love are lighter than EVs, steer better, have a better side-step and sound w-a-y better. Ultimately, there’s more to their appeal than just going fast. Who knew? Actually, Cockburn knew.

The EV brigade out there can’t do anything about hatchbacks that weigh two tonnes (thanks to all that lithium-ion under the floor) but they will, of course, point to the fact that thanks to electrons and computers, you can play whatever soundtrack you want through a modern car’s stereo system. And that covers off exhaust note, right? No, it doesn’t. I’ve sampled plenty of EVs with synthetic notes and none of them have ever sounded even close to ‘right’. Even the least-worse ones sound like a fart played backwards, and the very worst of them, the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 fills the cabin with a noise that reminds me of the bit in Star Wars where Darth Vader enters the room for the first time.

And even if some 16-year-old computer programmer stumbles across a line of code that sounds like a V8 or a cammed six, it’ll still be plastic and made-up. It’s
all a bit like adult colouring-in books; yeah, they’re a thing, but probably shouldn’t be.

Meantime, as well as always being right, the other thing about Cockburn was that he was an inventor in his own right. He came up with bicycles designed for third-world manufacture and use, a suspended chair that was so comfy you fell asleep before it had taken your full weight, and, of course, the legendary Dolphin torch.

But there’s just one thing he could have invented that would have made our relationship even better: Edible hats.

Anatomy of a Whopper

A mate of mine, Stu, is big into trucks. Of course, he would be; he worked for Kenworth for years and is now back on the road in a current model KW he drives mostly around Victoria. I mention this for a couple of reasons.

The first is that trucks could very well be the next big collector thing. Okay, so maybe 12 tonnes of KW prime mover might not be everyone’s idea of a weekend cruiser, but smaller trucks of the two, three and four-tonne variety seem to be getting more popular. Cab-over designs, in particular, seem to have struck a chord with a lot of car guys. And even though they’re not traditional vehicles to modify, I’m seeing plenty of them getting late-model engine swaps and all sorts of good running gear, to make them more useable. Some of them are even being used to lug a car around to shows and what-not.

When you drive around regional Australia, you can see why smaller trucks might be on the rise. A lot of the farms that were once covered in old cars waiting to be restored or hot-rodded, have been picked pretty clean over the decades. But trucks? Man, they’re still lying around all over the place. Relatively speaking, of course. A truck won’t be for everyone, but I reckon we’ll be seeing plenty of them in years to come.


Torque over neddies.

Now, the other reason I mention Stu’s Kenny is that I got up close and personal with it a week or so ago, and it’s a very impressive piece of engineering. It’s tempting to think of big trucks as the nightclub bouncers of the world – uncomplicated but muscular – but when you look closely, there’s a lot going on.

Part of what impresses me is that the bloody thing is just so huge. In the car world, where about the only component you and a mate couldn’t lift yourselves is the engine or bodyshell, things are much simpler. But when the vehicle in question uses a bank of four batteries just to start it and has an exhaust system you could crawl through, you kind of stand back in awe a little.

Even the spec is impressive. Stu’s ride is a 1986 K100E prime mover with a 12-litre Cat turbo-diesel straight-six punching out 400 horsepower. So what? Yeah, well let’s not forget that it’s tuned for torque over power and, as a result, is good for somewhere between 1300 and 1400Nm. It guzzles about 100 litres per 100km with a full trailer hanging off the back and sits the driver about three metres in the air. Amazing, really.


Who does not prefer a manual GT?

And just as we car nuts have an unwritten – subconscious even – code where a manual GT Falcon trumps an auto, and a Chevy powered early Monaro scores more cool points than a Holden-engined one, it seems truck fans have their own code, too. Apparently (and I never would have worked it out myself) Stu’s KW with its dual exhaust stacks and twin air-intakes mounted on a gantry behind the cabin makes it the uber-cool version. Who knew?

Meanwhile, Stu’s promised to take me for a gallop in the Kenny when he’s finished restoring it and, frankly, I can’t wait. If nothing else, I want to see how a bloke manages a gearbox with more than a dozen ratios and not a single torque converter or paddle-shifter in sight. Who knows, maybe the Melbourne Bloke Centre needs a 1950s cab-over three-tonner with a beaver-tail, air suspension and an LS3 between the seats as a way of hauling the other dungers around when they go bang.

Terminal error

The talk around the UC water cooler turned to battery chargers the other day. We all agreed that the best one is the heat-protected, surge-protected ones that will let you know if you’ve done something stupid, like hook the thing up with the terminals backwards.

It’s not just that we’re stupid; the ones with these built-in protections also tend to be the best quality chargers, one of which (a CTEK) I’ve been using for something like the last 30 years.

But the weirdest battery yarn I have is something that happened to me many moons ago. I replaced the volt-box in my daily driver, hooked up the terminals as per the markings on the battery and then watched in horror as I jumped back inside, hit the key and all sorts of smoke and hissing started pouring from around the battery area.


I leapt out and yanked the terminal off the new battery and then started to examine it. And guess what? It had been manufactured with the negative post showing the + symbol, and the positive post bearing a -. Crazy.

Naturally, I took it straight back to the shop and managed to convey my displeasure at this monumental cock-up on somebody’s part (not mine, for once). To be fair the shop checked for themselves and then agreed to fix any damage the battery had caused. I was banking on at least frying something inside the alternator and who knows what else in the loom. But no, when I put the replacement battery in and switched it all on, miraculously, everything worked and continued to do so for many years to come. Until I sold the car, in fact. Dunno how that worked, but I’m awful glad it did.

I bought a hybrid

Now hang on … let me explain before you glaze over and turn the page. I actually bought the vehicle in question nearly 10 years ago and I had no idea it was a hybrid.


Morley owns a diesel gravity hybrid.

The car in question is my 1990 LandCruiser 80 Series which I’ve recently been driving because I’ve been hitting the road and doing a bit of camping in some places you can’t get to in a non off-roader. But thanks to COVID lockdowns, I’d kind of forgotten the necessary procedure for getting a two-and-a-bit-tonne block of flats with a non-turbo diesel engine from A to B.


I was soon reminded, however, of the need to use every downhill run to gain momentum for the next uphill bit (which invariably follows). I actually got pretty good at it, too, leading me to declare that, driven enterprisingly, the old 80 is, in fact, a diesel-gravity hybrid. I think I’ll get a bumper sticker made …

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