I had an interesting time last month. No, I’m not talking about the fashion show down at the Mudflats Hotel, but, yes, it was pretty interesting.
I think the look on Chooka’s face when his wife, Loretta, walked in during the, err, underwear component of the show will be a memory to keep for life. The look was part shock, part fear, but mostly it said ‘I know I said I was working late’. You could say Chooka got caught short. I’ve seen better looking faces on dugongs out in the bay.
Anyway, talking of working late, I’ve just come back from the Melbourne 4X4 Training and Proving Ground, where I was testing dual-cab utes for this illustrious magazine. Actually, I wasn’t doing much of the testing; road-rest editor Fraser and editor Matt handled most of the technical side of that – Moony and the rest of us were along to bandy around a few opinions and chuck our bob’s worth in to the hat.
It was great fun, though, and things got even better when Rob offered to show me around his collection of old dungers. After starting with the world’s largest collection of early model Land Rovers, we checked out a couple of Blitz trucks and ‘the ultimate off-road weapon’; a 1953 Centurion tank. Rob’s got a couple of these giants and he let me have a drive.
Now, maybe it’s a Mudflats thing, but that drive wound up being possibly the shortest drive of a Centurion tank ever. After jigging around trying to get it started (hey, 60-year-old twin Zenith carbies on a 27-litre V12; what could possibly go wrong?) I slipped the clutch with a bundle of revs in reverse and cruised backwards for about a cricket pitch. Then, figuring I’d drive it like a bob cat, I dropped the revs and shifted the steering levers.
And the big Rolls-Royce Meteor motor stalled. Yep, the pride of England stopped dead and no amount of winding over would get those huge pistons flapping again. With Rob shouting out instructions and me holed up inside that great tin can, it didn’t matter what we did; she wasn’t going anywhere this side of a set of new carbies.
No worries, I’m booked in for another drive once I give Rob a hand to fit the new Zeniths he’s ordered. Like he mentioned with the old Land Rovers (and as anybody who’s into old machinery knows), once you’ve replaced the ignition system and the carburettors with new clobber, almost any old shitter will run smoothly. I’ve got a couple of ancient motorbikes that’ll testify to that!
Meanwhile, editor Matt has been very patient and I’m feeling like a school boy on the wrong side of the fence at lunch. Compounding matters, he was really good to me by organising Toyota to lend me the new Hilux to drive back to Brisbane after we finished testing it. I’m not really up to speed on the newer vehicles – anything this side of 1984, anyway – and this was a perfect chance to really get to grips with all the technology offered.
This in simple terms amounted to the most comfortable trip I’ve ever had in a motor vehicle. Over a couple of thousand kilometres I cruised up the freeways and back roads, got awesome fuel economy and held the legal limits, thanks to cruise control and the power/changing combo of a modern diesel and a six-speed auto. And, unlike when I’m in Milo, I was warm, I could see what was going on when it rained and I could make a heap of phone calls via the laptop thingy on the dash.
So I guess I got it, okay? I see what some of you are into.
Then the phone rang before I left Melbourne and my old mate, the Roffster, wanted me to take a motorbike off his hands and give it to my brother – it was perfect timing and I was in a ute. I was already heading via Sydney to visit a mate when the phone rang again and a lady I know from the dog rescue fraternity asked if I could pick up a little blue heeler on death row at Wagga Wagga.
There I was, driving a Hilux for less than a day and I had a motorcycle in the back and a dog up front. Wow, must be an Aussie thing, eh?
Right, so am I selling some of the relics around here and moving up to a nice newby with air conditioning and computers to operate everything from the motor to the phone and the door locks? Hmm, might just go bung some new leaves under the old 40 instead.
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