24 Aug 2016

Like ripping bedsheets

Writing the previous story on my recent 911 road trip prompted me to reflect on how much of the frisson has gone or is going out of life and motoring and motor sport in particular.
I am so glad that the first 50 years of my life were lived in a world without the world wide web -an invention which has made life so much better and easier in so many ways but which has also facilitated unimagined horrors and taken so much of the mystery and magic out of life.
I am glad that I was able to travel to beautiful places in Europe before they were overrun by seething hordes of the new Chinese middle class taking selfies and to have visited places in the Middle East where chaos now reigns.
I am glad that I will not be around to see the roads full of driverless cars - or autonomous vehicles as they are now called.
I am glad that I was able to see drivers like Stirling Moss,Jim Clark,Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren,Jochen Rindt and John Surtees in action on spectacular and often dangerous circuits in cars fitted with tyres which did not fall apart deliberately and engines which sounded like racing engines not Dyson vacuum cleaners.
And talking of noise I feel so lucky to have heard the Mazda rotary engined cars in action at Le Mans in the 1980s. The photo above taken by me at the 1989 Le Mans 24 hour race shows the 12th placed 4 rotor Mazda 767 on the pit straight early in the race.  The noise from that Wankel motor was quite extraordinary. I can only describe it as sounding like someone ripping apart a very large bedsheet very quickly and amplified to max volume. Surely the drivers must now all be deaf.
Photo taken with a Canon EOS5 SLR using the fantastic Canon 70-200 F2.8 lens and a 2x converter. I only sold that lens a few years ago . Now I wish that I had kept it.

20 Aug 2016

A 911 Road Trip

I have owned my 1971 Porsche 911T for 8 years. In that time it has done quite a few day trips of a few hundred kilometres but only two really long road trips in 2009/2010- one to the Philllip Island Historics over the Snowy Mountains into Victoria and the other to compete in Speed on Tweed at Murwillumbah in northern NSW.  Since then I have not done any long 911 road trips and that's a real pity.

Back in 2009 early 911 Porsches were valuable but in the intervening time values have gone through the roof and it would be easy to think of my car now as a valuable part of my retirement superannuation and to treat it as a garage queen. Indeed that sadly is what is happening to so many early longnose pre 1974 cars. They have become collector's pieces. For me this is sacrilege. I am sad every time I see an early 911 in a museum or a pristine example on display. These cars were built to be driven hard and to cosset them or to deposit them in a museum is to miss out on one of the great driving experiences.
Yes they are a vintage car by today's standards but they are so involving. I don't get into my early 911- I put it on. I engage with it. The sports seat grips me tight. I sit close to the wheel . The steering,clutch and brakes are not assisted. They all require physical effort and input. The car feeds back to me. I can steer it at high speed on the throttle. The engine revs so easily and it keeps revving and the sound it makes is wonderful. The response from the Weber carbies is instantaneous. The car does not have a radio -I could not hear it if it did and anyway I removed it and the aerial to save weight. If I had to choose between my 911T and the latest 991 Porsche it would be a no brainer.  I would take my T in a flash.

Friend Craig Duthie,the owner of a 1973 2.4 911E, and myself have been talking about doing a backroads New South Wales road trip for months. The dates had to fit in with Craig's work roster,we needed dry weather and it had to be in the cooler months. We hit the jackpot this week. The planets aligned. Craig had a clear three days and although it is the tail end of winter the weather forecast was glorious- cold nights and warm,sunny days.

The preparation for my car was basic-a good clean and a check of the tyre pressures. I had the Porsche tool roll out of my 2.7,two microfibre cloths,some glass cleaner and a litre of Fuchs 20-50 oil and a funnel.
The T is running a 2.2 motor on Weber carbs fitted with K&N air filters and a 901 gearbox with a Rennshifter quickshifter. Despite this you could not call the gearshift smooth or quick. I don't know the full spec of the engine as it was rebuilt -but then not used-many years before I bought the car in 2007 but those who drive it say that it feels "lusty" for a 2.2. The car runs its original 14" wheels. High performance tyres are almost impossible to find in 14" locally so I run it on Michelin XM2 195x70 rubber. Nothing special but they perform well enough for me -I like the car to be a little loose and the early cars were set up for less grippy tyres. I had 911 SC front struts,rotors and calipers and a bigger master cylinder fitted soon after I acquired the car to improve the front end stability and the braking performance. It has a firm hard brake pedal which I like and the brakes are superb.
With the warm weather forecast I was able to drive in a polo shirt and shorts for the whole three days so my personal bag was pretty small. But of course I had to throw in a camera- in this case the Leica X Vario.
Craig lives in Newcastle so we met on the New England Highway west of Newcastle. The first leg was upto Morpeth where we stopped for coffee then upon glorious open roads miraculously free of traffic upto Dungog where we came across the first of a number of road repair sections.

First of quite a few road works on road to Dungog.Odd colour of sky due to tinting of windscreen
From Dungog we went onto Gloucester.  For the first few kilometres the road out of Dungog is in bad condition-full of patches-but further on there are long stretches in very good condition. The speed limits out on these country roads are high and we were scrupulous in getting straight down to the posted 50 or 60kms limits when we passed through small villages.
We had lunch in Gloucester -the locals excelled themselves in using English place names in this area - there is Gloucester, Morpeth,Stroud and a Stratford and a River Avon. Gloucester has a nice vibe about it -a relaxed prosperous country town set in beautiful country.
From Gloucester we headed on the Bucketts Way to Taree.My favourite Porsche driving roads are those with long sweeping open bends and there were plenty of them on the route we travelled and almost no traffic. Oh joy.

Relief stop on Pacific Highway north of Taree. Craig's car at the front
It was almost too good to be true. The pain started when we joined the Pacific Highway at Taree and headed north. There was a long contraflow in place north of Taree - and the road north of Port Macquarie to Kempsey is a goat track with massive road construction taking place on either side. It was a long dreary procession not made any easier by frequent plod deployments in Highway Patrol cars,radar guns ready and desperate to nab any recalcitrants who exceed the 60 kmh roadworks speed limit by a couple of kilometres per hour. Old Porsches do not enjoy chugging along at low speeds for long periods and the T needed to clear out the soot by the time we cleared Macksville.

We finally arrived at our overnight location,Nambucca Heads,late afternoon. I have driven past Nambucca Heads many times but have never ventured off the Pacific Highway and into the town. The town - although it barely qualifies as town -looks pretty scruffy but the riverside and beach areas are pretty. The hotel Craig had wisely booked in advance was very pleasant and the nearby fish restaurant,Matildas,really did serve very fresh local fish. Too often these small coastal towns have restaurants claiming to serve local fish but either it has come from the Sydney Fish Markets or they don't know how to cook and they disappoint but Matildas is a class act. Which was just as well as the eating options in Nambucca Heads otherwise looked pretty dire.
Properly fed and watered with a couple of Stone and Wood beers we headed to bed early -it had been a very long drive-471 kms.

Looking out towards Pacific through Nambucca Heads
Early morning Nambucca Heads.
On the wednesday morning we headed out early for the big drive. Up a new section of the Pacific Highway for a few kilometres and then  on the Waterfall Way to Bellingen and then up onto the plateau to Dorrigo. The drive through the World Heritage rainforest area upto Dorrigo is beautiful. Out of Dorrigo we were on our own on a fantastic driving road-128 kms on the plateau to Armidale. Up here the countryside is empty-just an occasional sheep farm and there was virtually no traffic again..

Photo op on the high country out of Dorrigo.
We stopped for coffee at Fusspots at Ebor- a tiny settlement a long way from anywhere.  The coffee was great. Here we were in a tiny place - and they had a proper coffee machine and obviously great beans. As we sat in the sun reflecting on our good fortune the Fusspots cat made him/herself comfortable in a sunny spot right next to us.
Outside Fusspots,Ebor.
The Fusspots cat.
Out of Ebor the speedo in my car started making a howling sound and the needle was swinging around. Over the next 30 mins the sound got worse and the speedo case was vibrating. We pulled the speedo out and disconnected the cable. From then on I was relying on Craig to be my speedometer.
We drove round the outskirts of Armidale and then down the New England Highway for a few kilometres and then across country to Walcha for lunch and yet another refuel.
Then it was onto what I reckon is one of Australia's greatest driver's roads - the Oxley Highway down to Wauchope and then Port Macquarie -164 kms of superb road and scenery including a downhill stretch of 45kms of amazing tight winding road through forest which makes the Nordschleife Nurburgring look like the Mulsanne Straight. Oh joy. And just three vehicles along the way. Double joy. I have never driven so hard in my life. The car just flew-I was up and down the gears and on and off the brakes. Out on the high country the speed limit is a very welcome 110 kmh even on the single lane road.There are roos about but usually not during the day although we passed a massive one dead beside the road. Hit him in a 911 and you would have a horrific accident.There are no hard shoulders on the road-the edge is the edge -and it's not a place you would want to breakdown or have an accident with so little traffic and no mobile phone signal.
I made one half hearted attempt to take a driving shot but it was way too dangerous

Waterloo (sheep) Station

Happiness is an early Porsche and the open road.

The wonderful Oxley Highway-sun and an empty rolling road-164kms of pure driving pleasure

A stop for roadworks on the Oxley.Glorious scenery and the road gang guys were friendly and giving thumbs up to the cars.I am sure that we would have got a different response in modern Porsches.
On the wonderful winding section I kept the car very tight through the bends so as to avoid the centre line in case an RV, caravan,logging truck or a motorcyclist was coming up dangling over the line but in fact we saw only one vehicle -a RV -going the other way and just one cattle truck going in our direction and we soon passed him on one of the very few straights.
By the time we pulled into the tiny settlement of Long Flat after the winding descent we were tired and the cars needed to cool off. It was late afternoon and the locals and their huge dogs had come in from their paddocks for a beer at the Travellers Arms pub. It was like arriving in the backwoods in Montana-deliverance country. Never has a beer tasted so good and the locals were chatty and friendly.

Outside the Travellers Arms, Long Flat
A thirsty local

A "friendly" local.

They like big dogs around Long Flat
The drive through Wauchope and into Port Macquarie was a drag. We were tired after the 408 km run and the cars were hot and it was rush hour and nowadays the traffic in boomtown Port Macquarie is heavy.
An evening in the pub in Port Macquarie meeting up with local,John Forcier,a fellow early 911 owner. Then down the Pacific Highway back to Terrigal the next morning-a very noisy and boring 317 km thrash using the tacho as my speedo.
The car was still running like a dream at the end of the trip. It had used just half a litre of oil but many litres of fuel. Economical it isn't but then I wasn't driving like I was on an economy run.
What a fantastic trip and what a fantastic country. Thanks Craig for being great company and thanks to Porsche for an amazing car. And a particular thanks to the weather -it's not a trip I would want to do on wet roads.
Still spinning like a top - the 2.2 motor waiting to have its oil checked after the 1600km trip.

18 Aug 2016

Weird and quirky -the Giocattolo

Now this one really is weird and quirky and was also seen at last weekend's Shannon's Classic at SMSP.  It is a Giocattolo -a really odd car built by in Brisbane, Qld ,Australia by Paul Hansen between 1986 and 1989. Building your own car is always a fraught exercise but his guy really did things the hard way. Firstly he imported Alfasud Sprints from Italy. He removed the engine and fwd drivetrain and put a 2.5 litre V6 Alfa engine in the rear driving the rear wheels. Now at the time there were very high duties on imported cars and components so it was never going to be attractive pricewise. And there was not a market for new Alfasud Sprint engines and drivetrains so that was a sunk cost.
After building 4 cars he found that obtaining the V6 Alfa engines was too difficult and probably exorbitantly costly so he installed a 4.5 litre V8 Holden (Australian GM) in the rear. With the very light body and all that power and torque the car went like the proverbial off a shovel. He managed to build 15 cars in total before the company inevitably went under. Thirteen are known to survive and this is one of them. the fate of one car is not known and one was destroyed in an horrific accident at a drag race meeting on the main straight of what is now Sydney MotorSport Park - then called Eastern Creek Raceway. Sadly the driver was killed in the accident caused by the throttle jamming open and the car running at a very high speed into the tyre wall at the end of the runoff area.
Giocattolo is Italian for toy. Some toy.

14 Aug 2016

Weird and Wacky

It was the Shannons Classic at Sydney MotorSport Park today. Approx 1800 cars attended with dozens of car clubs represented. It's a sort of gigantic coffee and cars.
I took my 2.7 down to be part of the Porsche Club Classic display.
It's exactly 15 years to the day since I bought the 2.7 and it is still running well and looking good.It has now done 208.000kms.
Maybe I have been to too many of these old car events or else my threshold of boredom is getting lower but I find myself only looking at the weird and wacky stuff nowadays.

This must count as one of the weirdest vehicles on display. It is a Honda Motocompo.I cannot do better than quote from Wikipedia.
The Honda Motocompo is a folding scooter sold by Honda 1981–1983.
The Motocompo was introduced as a "Trunk Bike" to fit inside subcompact cars like the Honda Today and the then new Honda City. The City's baggage compartment was actually developed around the Motocompo. The handlebars, seat, and foot-pegs fold into the scooter's rectangular plastic body to present a clean, box-shaped package of 1185 mm L × 240 mm W x 540 mm H. Honda's initial monthly sales projection for the domestic market was 8,000 City and 10,000 Motocompo. The City surpassed its targets, but in all only 53,369 Motocompos were sold by the end of production in 1983 (no more than 3,000 per month). It was marketed in conjunction with the City in television ads featuring British band Madness.

15 years of fun driving

12 Aug 2016

The Yangon Bird

A favourite photo. Taken in Yangon,Myanmar. I suspect that the roadside vegetable seller is giving me the bird-or the finger-with her handrolled cigar. And I don't blame her. You can almost read her mind- "Old westerner taking my photo with your fancy camera while you wait for your bus-you're never going to buy any of my vegies so bugger off". You've gotta love her attitude.
Leica X1 photo.

11 Aug 2016

Seeing Red

Ferraris lined up outside the Gosford Classic Car Museum. There is something about Ferraris nowadays which I do not find appealling. Too brash and too blingy. Too "look at me,look at me".  Ditto for Lambos.
Just to reinforce my feelings how about "A " Ferrari below?
The number plate may just be worth more than the car. You have to be a special kind of person -I am being kind here- to drive around in a red late model Ferrari with the "A" single letter number plate. Each to his or her own.

8 Aug 2016

Night Pit stop-Le Mans Classic 2016

A C-type Jaguar making a pit stop during the night at this year's Le Mans Classic. Taken by Peter de Rousset-Hall.
Peter showed a commitment to his photography for this one - the metadata shows that it was taken at 1.59 am ! Ouch. I would be safely tucked up in bed at that time - Le Mans Classic or no Le Mans Classic.
 It was taken on a Canon 1DX at 24mm with a Canon 24-105mm lens.
A superb shot.Thanks for sharing Peter.

5 Aug 2016

Light and shade

I was looking through my photo library yesterday and came across these four digital photos which I had not even looked at previously. I thought that they are worth sharing. I just wish that I had the time and inclination to look through the thousands of film negatives in the boxes in my cupboards for I am sure that there are many more photos worth a first yet alone a second look.

Light and shade. It could be anywhere in Italy but in fact it is a side street in Passau,Germany but it's still ideal Fiat 500 territory. Sheer luck put the boy and the car in the right places for the photo.

Light and shade 2. A complete contrast to the photo above-a manager at his desk in a grim textile factory in Shanghai,China. This was taken with a Leica Digilux 1 in 2004. This was early days for Leica in digital photography but I think that it has a certain charm despite the limitations of the camera.

Light and shade 3. A bored man and his bored dog waiting on the street at The Entrance,NSW during the Chromefest hot rod festival last year. I suspect that neither the man or his dog had absolutely any interest in hot rods

Light and shade 4.Walking the dog early morning Waikiki Beachfront,Hawaii.

3 Aug 2016

A Moke in Berkeley Square

Well not quite Berkeley Square but very close. In the late 1960s and early 1970s I worked in British Leyland's head office which was in Berkeley Square with an annex over in Knightsbridge. High rent London. Not ideal locations for a company which was bleeding money but that's another story.
Looking back they were weird and heady days and a great crowd of young people worked there.
Amazingly after all this time I am still in contact with some of those people including one,John Maries,who prompted by the recent photo of the London-Sydney Moke on the blog sent me this photo of some of the wonderful British Leyland ladies perched on a Moke outside the Running Footman pub in Mayfair.
Two of the ladies in the photo including Wanda -nearest camera - married co-workers. As I said they were heady days.
John took this photo in mid 1971 fortunately on slide film so we still have it.
I love the photo not just because it brings back memories but because it is such a classic shot of the era. Maybe John missed his vocation as a fashion photographer-but really he was too late -the swinging 60's had finished and the dreadful 70s had arrived.

1 Aug 2016

Cold comfort

What a difference a cold morning makes to the performance of a car with Webers. The air is denser and the 911 really sang down the motorway to the meeting point for the club drive yesterday. And a big turnout of cars for the drive. The 944 Carrera GT next to me-photo above- is the real deal.
For sheer driving fun and a wonderful soundtrack nothing beats an early 911. I've owned mine for 8 years and I still smile as I drive it on an open road. Not so much fun in thick stop start traffic driving back to Terrigal though. Where are all those people going in their SUVs on a Sunday lunchtime?

30 Jul 2016

On the river bank

Another one of those photos which makes me uneasy . I was on a riverboat in Myanmar-just a wooden riverboat with small cabins not some ridiculous luxury cruiseboat/riverboat -but by the standards of these children I was on something beyond their widest dreams. Most were living on the river bank in appalling conditions. No clean water,no proper sanitation-just the river. They came down in the late afternoon light as the boat pulled away and they were all smiling and laughing.

 This shot was taken at another stop and shows the women doing the family washing and taking a bath in the same river. Look at the foul colour of that water. It could be a different world but sadly it is not.
Leica X1 photos.

28 Jul 2016

Just a rant about surveys

I am totally over online surveys. It seems as if you cannot interact with any service provider nowadays without them sending you an online survey.
Whist travelling in California for two weeks in May my inbox every day was full of surveys and for weeks after I was still receiving reminders to complete the surveys. Expedia even sent me a survey of my "Check-in" experience for a hotel which went into my inbox whilst I was travelling up in the lift after checking in at one hotel. How do you do a survey on a check- in experience?
Avis asked me to write a review on my US rental car experience as well as completing a damn long survey. Fat chance.
It was a cheap boring rental car. It was clean. It was ready when I arrived. It went OK and someone looked at it when it came back. It did not magically transform into a Porsche 911GT3RS whilst going up Highway 1 so there is nothing else to add.
Since California I have been to Uluru. A new wave of surveys. From Virgin Australia on the flight(s),from the hotel and from Hertz. Give me a break folks.

A few weeks ago the battery in my car died on our driveway. The local roadside assistance organisation -the NRMA- came swiftly. They fitted an expensive new battery and that was that.
I then was sent a long online survey about the experience one hour later. What is there to say? I phoned you up. A pleasant woman took the call. A man in a van came. He fitted an expensive new battery and I paid him and he wished me good day. End of story.

What do they do with the info from all the surveys?  And those amateur hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor ,Expedia,Open Table and Booking.com really give me the proverbials. Have you read any of them? For me the last straw came in Seattle last year when I saw a review for an expensive restuaurant on OpenTable and the "reviewer" opened by saying that the restaurant "did great fries". So do McDonalds.

I am now refusing to respond to any surveys unless the service provider has screwed up and then I will complete the survey. Otherwise I see no point. They are a total waste of everyone's time.
 I see no evidence that they have any effect for most organisations. The bank who asked me to answer a few quick questions on my "experience" after I called them still took 10 minutes to pick up my call and it was still answered in a call centre in India by someone with a very heavy accent and I know that nothing will change even if 100.000 customers say the same thing.

26 Jul 2016

Field of Light

Bruce Munro's art installation in the desert at Uluru. 50.000 light spheres connected by fibre optics to projectors placed across the desert in the vista upto Uluru. All bought in from the UK-15 tonnes of airfreight.
On my birthday dinner in the desert under an extraordinary view of the stars-including a shooting star-and then a walk through the Field of Light. Superb. Top photo by Val and her tiny Canon camera. Bottom photos mine - 1 second handheld and no image stabilisation. No tripods allowed but I don't carry a tripod around with me anyway.

24 Jul 2016

Reflections on climbing Uluru

In 1984 when I first visited Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it was then generally known,climbing the rock was the main tourist attraction and so we climbed it. The hotel had shuttle buses taking visitors to the start point of the climb. The culture of the Anangu,the traditional owners,was not considered or even recognised publicly. When I next visited in 1996 not much had changed. Climbing the rock was still the main attraction. As this visit was at the height of summer I went out at first light and did the climb with some friends and was back in the hotel for a late breakfast.
Twenty years later much has changed. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is now jointly managed with the Anangu traditional owners and there is a Anangu cultural centre at the base of the rock .
Aboriginal peoples regard Ulura as a sacred site and it seems as if at last climbing the rock is being seen as intrusive by many visitors.
The change has come gradually over the past ten years. Firstly visitors were politely discouraged from climbing the rock and then the discouragement became more active and now at the entrance to the climb route there are warning signs asking you not to make the climb and it is closed in adverse conditions. Last year an activist cut the vital safety chain used by climbers as a handhold on the climb. These actions will not stop all climbers but they really have cut the numbers.

Not climbing the rock is primarily a question of respecting the sacred site but it is also a question of safety. Many people have died on the climb over the years. It is a challenging and dangerous climb. It is very steep and the safety chain on the first section was absolutely vital and even when you are off the very steep climb up the side the ridge on the top there are sheer drops on either side. On the climb "up" climbers went up one side of the chain and "down" climbers came down the other side. Problems arose when "up" climbers froze on the ascent- a very frequent occurence- and decided that they had to get down. To pass climbers have to let go of the safety chain and on the section where the saddle is narrow one false step or a touch of vertigo and you are making a very rapid and probably fatal descent down a very steep smooth rockface.

The other problem is that there is absolutely no shade on the rock or any sources of water. It is totally exposed so on even a warm day yet alone a sweltering summer's day heat exhaustion is an issue for climbers. More climbers have died on Uluru due to heart attacks and heat exhaustion than have fallen to their deaths.
i stood at the bottom of the rock last week and looked up the climb route and I just cannot believe that I went up there so easily. The photos below show the chain route up just the first stage of the climb.

Of course it is easy for me to say now that Uluru should not be climbed because I have climbed it twice but I can say with all sincerity that if I had known then what I now know about the Anangu culture and the significance of Uluru to that culture,the environmental damage done by the climbers in terms of the litter left on the rock and the number of deaths and near deaths on the rock and the difficulties and dangers faced by rescue personnel when recovering injured climbers I would not have climbed it.

I do have some photos taken from the summit but they have to be located in the archives. Because Uluru stands on a vast flat plain and there are clear sight lines you can see,or think you can see,the curvature of the earth from the summit.
I guess I should count myself fortunate that I have been there despite my misgivings now about the propriety of my climbs.

The climb starts from the car park at the bottom of Uluru-where the vehicles are clustered in this photo.The climb goes up the saddle which stretches down to the car park.You can just see the line of the route extending up the saddle -it then goes across the top to the hump - the highest point.

21 Jul 2016

A Moke at Uluru.

My photos of Uluru below prompted friend,John Crawford,to send me this wonderful atmospheric photo of himself standing beside his Mini Moke at Uluru during the 1977 Singapore Airlines London to Sydney Rally. That strange object on the rock is a piece of foreign matter on the slide.
If you would like to read more about how a Mini Moke got driven across the world in arguably one of the world's toughest rallies read it on John's blog at this link MiniMoke .
And note John's absolute professionalism in wearing the rally sponsor's T-shirt for the photo.Or perhaps it was the only shirt he had because of the lack of space  in that little Moke.