Tomcar

Safe, fun and I want one

Is driving for fun all about speed? In many cases it is for me, but by no means all. Take four-wheel driving, I’d be nuts if I thought I could tackle a steep slope by just putting the pedal to the metal. Granted in some cases it is warranted, but driving off-road is just as much fun at low speed, marveling at the ability of the vehicle you are in, and let’s face it, it generally is the vehicle these days and not the driver, amazed that you can chug through thick gloopy mud, waist high water or wafting over soft sand dunes, all at sub 40 km/h.

David-Brim-Co-Founder-CEO-Tomcar-Australia
David Brim, co-founder and CEO of Tomcar Australia

Australia is one of the best places to go off-road simply because there is so much of it. So it got me thinking about cheaper alternatives than potentially damaging the only vehicle the family has. Should I consider a bike say, which is great for me, but useless for any one else in the clan keen for a bit of an adrenalin rush. What about a quad bike? They look great fun and it’s possible I could take at least one other with me.

But then the dangers were starkly pointed out to me. In the States 700 people are killed on one of these things every year. In Australia, there have been 62 quad bike related deaths on Australian farms since 2010, with a total of 15 quad related deaths reported in 2014 alone, along with an additional 86 non‐fatal quad related injury events. According to Dr. Tony Lower from Sydney University’s Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety, rollovers account for 75% of on-farm deaths. 18% of quad bike fatalities involve children under 16 and with over 300,000 ATVs in current use across Australia, you can see how big the issue can get. Most are associated with agricultural use but increasingly it is for recreation.

So not wanting to be one of those statistics, I considered the much more safer looking side-by-sides. Essentially these look much like a quad (or ATV) but come equipped with a roll-bar and a passenger sits next to you, hence the name. They have tough looking suspension set ups and appear the obvious choice. But yet again, they have issues with roll-overs, and perhaps due to the perceived extra safety, drivers are a little too blasé. They are just as narrow as an ATV and are top heavy, so could very well be an accident waiting to happen.

Is there another choice out there? Well for a little more money than a side-by-side, there is the Tomcar. It’s wider, with a lower centre of gravity making it a safer option with less chance of a roll over. It is made of high quality components and designed to withstand even the toughest work out. And it’s built right here in Australia, Victoria to be precise. Bingo.

Tomcar TM5

In fact, it’s a fantastic story. The original Tomcar was, and still is, built in Israel and was designed for military use. They needed to be tough and easily repaired in the field and the concept took off. Though designed for off-road use, Tomcars are rear wheel driven, precisely for the reason I mention above – they have less expensive and fiddly components to fix.

David Brim, CEO of Tomcar Australia, originally from the UK, saw the potential a few years back and negotiated a license to manufacture the cars here in Australia.

Why Australia? I ask on a recent call, recognising David’s London accent? “My mum is from Australia, and though I was brought up in the UK, we always promised to return.”

I’ve seen a few second-hand Tomcars for sale in Canada, but none here. How so? “The original company is Israeli and they still manufacture over there for the Defence industry. The second-hand Tomcars you’ve found are ex-military vehicles made in Israel. Tomcar Australia manufactures here for the Australian, New Zealand and Philippines markets.”

“We’ve sold 200 so far in Australia. They are built to order and, if necessary, can be put together in as little as a week. But ordinarily, from initial order, owners can expect to pick up their vehicle in 4-5 weeks.”

“One of the reasons there is not a second-hand market here is that Tomcar’s are designed to be cheap to fix. For instance, the front tyre rod is designed to snap under pressure, before a far more expensive problem occurs. They cost $45 a piece so many customers drive around with a spare or two, and just replace it if needed. We also offer a service called Tomcar Reloaded. Owners can bring their car back and for $15k we will strip it down and rebuild it, so essentially they receive a new car back. It is very modular with no expensive components.”

Who are buying them? Mostly guys like me, looking for some cheap, safe fun?

“Agriculture is our biggest market,” David continues, “with 5% recreational, another 5% emergency services, the rest is for defence.”

How does the press regarding the dangers of ATV’s affect you?

“It’s terrible the stories you hear. Obviously the industry won’t tell you how dangerous they are, and those who have had one for years will say they are fine, but then you hear of a farmer who has ridden an ATV for 15 years gets killed. Yamaha and others now make side-by-sides these days, but certainly many of our customers have bought a Tomcar instead of an ATV quad bike because of the safety factor.”

You offer 2 engines, a 1 litre petrol and 1.4 diesel variant, which is the most popular?

“Its pretty much 50/50. Both have a 26 litre fuel tank, with an optional extra tank if needed. Some customers will go through a tank a day, others will take them a week, depending on the usage.”

Can you drive a Tomcar on the road? “No they can’t be registered as yet. So only for off-road, private trail use.”

I see some are racing them, how has that been going? “Yes, racing is becoming a growing side of our business. In fact we are planning on a Race series for later this year so watch this space.”

You can get hold of a Tomcar from around $25k for the TM-2 model. The larger TM-4 model is out later this year and will fit a nuclear family. There is also a ute offering called the TM-5 which is a great option for those needing to shift stuff about, and I am tempted. Not sure the wife will let me strap down four kids though.

For more information visit Tomcar’s website: www.tomcar.com.au

 

Alfa Romeo GT

alfa romeo gt

Alfa Romeo GT, hmmmm, mmmm

I say hmmm because it’s the first thing that comes to mind. “It’s an Alfa,” for those un-initiated in the Alfisti, is synonymous with “it’s a piece of shit,” let’s face it. Not to look at mind, but with respect to reliability. I guess it’s the automotive equivalent of marrying a porn star. It’s as sexy as hell but has a penchant for other men who like lube.

Mmmm speaks for itself. I mean look at it. The Alfa Romeo GT is a thing ofbeauty. On the inside as much as the out. Yes the leather seats are as good as they look and there’s even room for 3 kids, small ones preferably. But it’s the engine, all 3.2 litre V6 of it, and how it delivers its power that is the hook. You don’t even struggle because the sound then embraces you, the red hide squeezes your love handles and it’s all over red rover, its exhaust note sounding very much like a woman exhaling on a cigarette.

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I can see why you’d want it, but do you need it?

If I were a younger man, say like Nadim, my chauffeur for the next 25 minutes, this car would have to be it. It’s got the lot. I think you can just make out the words chick and magnet on the side.

But I’m not going to ask him to let me drive because fair’s fair it’s not my place, he’s trying to sell it. If he offers though, I’d bite his arm off.

There are no nasty clunks on upshift, no jarring of the clutch. The power comes on so progressively that I have to check myself for being so used to turbos. The ride is firm but comfortable, and sitting amid the waves of red cow and beaches of tactile black plastic makes this a very nice place to be. I have to admit that for a passenger this is a tidy ride.alfa romeo gt interior

Now I must confess that on this occasion necessity stated that I had to bring two of my offspring with me, so perhaps you can understand my reticence to not ask to drive, I am taking liberties enough. I’ve just asked a bloke to drive me around in his impeccably presented motor with two – (vomit/sticky sweet/mess oh the mess) insert which ever is most appropriate – monsters in tow. And he did. Hats off to him.

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But why this Alfa? This is the only GT V6 I can find locally that has had the Q2 diff upgrade. And why is that important I hear you ask. Well, other than the fact the original differential was hugely suspect engineering-wise, that when it went, it often took large chunks of the engine with it, much like a major operation back alley style. Other than that, the heavier nose and increase in power exposed the limits of traction, control and compromised the steering.

The Q2 on the other hand is different. Alfa’s limited-slip diff almost eliminates torque steer and understeer, which for a front driver with 244 horses/177 kW in its nose is no mean feat. And it works too with very few reported issues, if any. Traction and cornering are aided substantially, and Nadim has had few issues even in the wet. It’s almost like a 4WD  system for a front wheeler, as it splits the torque to either wheel according to the road conditions and means you can get on the throttle with more confidence as you exit a corner. So you’re safe in the knowledge that, if the inside tyre spins, the torsen type diff will transfer torque to the off-side wheel and maintain a peachy drive. It even improves the steering. And that is what this car should have always been about. 

“a self-locking front differential which incorporates all the strong points of a front-wheel drive system in terms of active safety, increasing driving enjoyment and control, while providing some of the advantages typical of four-wheel drive, but at a significantly lower cost and weight.”  Alfa’s take on its Q2 system

IMG_4762Equally as important is its ability to function. Forums the world over seem unanimous with praise and so far, few problems have been identified. From “it is probably the best upgrade you can do, and definitely worth doing as soon as you can afford it,” to  “the GT definitely needs a Q2, as well as protecting against the well talked about diff failure it transforms the way the car drives in all conditions.” Total costs for the upgrade range between $2-2,500 and whilst you are at it you could have the master cylinder and the clutch checked as the engine needs to come out.

So if you were to scratch that itch and finally say you own an Alfa, is this one to go for? Many would say the 147 GTA is the best, but in my opinion, the GT with the Q2 upgrade looks better, and has the slight edge when it comes to dynamics. It’s fast, it holds the road exceptionally well, and when compared to Alfa’s of old this one won’t be seeing too many blokes behind your back.

Prices

$11,000 – 35,000 for a mint condition 100th Anniversary edition built in 2010. Interestingly the MY2010 cars still did not come with the Q2 as standard, which is a shame.

The car on show here is for sale for $17,999 ono with just under 75,000 kms on the clock  – visit car sales for more information: http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/Alfa-Romeo-GT-2004/SSE-AD-2333325/?Cr=4&sdmvc=1

Maintenance 

Service work ranges from $400 to around $1000 for a major service. This increases further depending on any parts needed.

Cam belts must be changed every 50,000kms or so. Alfa used to suggest every 72,000 miles but revised this down to 36,000 miles. It is worth changing the water pump at this time as it is a “belt off” job and will save you time and money.

The suspension has been known to get a bit “crashy” but otherwise it is up to the job. Nonetheless, it would be worth investing in new dampers & springs, so budget for that.

Research

For more information on the GT go to the Research link: http://rezoom.com.au/alfa-romeo-gt/

 

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Affordable Iconic Cars: Audi A8 V8 Quattro

audi A8

I was more a fan of Lock, Stock, Snatch and Bank Job than I was of Transporter. I liked my cockney’s cheeky not suave. And certainly not muscles from Brussels, or in this case, lusty from London. But then I was introduced to Transporter 2 and forgetting all the flexing and martial arts, the car chases and sense of speed finally won me over.

audi a8 w12

Jason Statham, for those uninitiated, played Frank Martin, a driver extraordinaire who delivered some exceedingly dodgy parcels without asking any questions. He had three rules; never change the deal, no names and never open the package. I quite enjoyed the flick, I certainly liked his pad in the South of France but I loved his car, a 2005 Audi A8L W-12. Six litres and  a whopping 444 bhp (331 kW), the same engine found in the VW Phaeton and also in Bentley’s Continental, though in that guise it was given twin turbos. Nevertheless, it was able to propel a car weighing more than two tonnes from rest to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds and on to 160 km/h in only 12.3.

After a little more digging, it appears that they used both the V8 and the W12 in the movie. Some people out there have noted that the W12 insignia found on the grill appears and disappears throughout the movie, depending on the driving style needed for a specific scene. I’ll take their geeky word for it, which is handy, because I can’t find a W12 from that era available for sale in Australia – the States yes and at very reasonable prices too, but not here.

audi a8 in black

However, there are plenty of V8 Quattro’s available and other than the grill art you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.   Now, when new, you would have had to fork out almost $200k for this sublime, aluminium laden, four wheel driven machine. Add eight or nine years and a little over 110,000 kms and you can have one in your garage for just over $30k. Thirty bloody thousand!

Think about that for a moment. That’s more than $20k a year in depreciation, which is a terrible statistic if you’d bought new, but it’s marvellous for those of us prepared to wait. Added to that you’d have a better looking car too, compared to the new model available today.   The V8, second generation Audi A8, referred to as the D3, lost a second or so in the sprint to 100km/h compared to the W12 but who cares, 6 seconds is fast enough. This isn’t a WRX, you are not going to wake people up blasting away from the lights in the middle of the night, after blowers hissing away. No, you’re going to waft away cool as a cat, luxuriating in tactile leather, bathed in incredible Bose sound whilst practising your east London vernacular.

So now that I have tempted you, what should you know. Its timing belt has to be changed by 150,000 kms, preferably sooner. This is an Audi remember so anything major will be expensive, so prevention is always better than cure. Ensure that the coolant is red in colour, if not then the wrong mix has been added and who knows what could happen. It probably shows a lazy owner, so steer clear.   All engines leak a little but anything more than that spells danger, especially around the valve covers and head gasket.   Make sure there are no leaks around the power steering pump, steering rack or high pressure hydraulic lines at the bottom of the driver’s side of the engine too.   If you can get beneath the car, A8’s can leak oil at the final drive seal on the transmission and the seal may need to be replaced, which isn’t too expensive. But the seals around the rear differential may need replacing if you see oil splatter anywhere near it. This can be costly as the whole diff would need to come off to replace them.

If the CV boots are torn the whole axle needs to come off to replace them so that adds up.   If you have the chance to take it to a mechanic it would be worth checking the on-board computer fault codes for the engine, transmission and the heating and aircon system, or HVAC.   Inside apparently the heated steering wheel, yes that’s right a heated steering wheel, has a tendency to fail. Hardly an issue in Australia, but its worth noting. The electric headrests had similar problems too, so make sure they move. Press “down” first, just in case, otherwise they might be stuck in the highest position. The glove box too had problems, so ensure that opens and closes.

As always, ensure the car has been regularly serviced and presents with immaculate log books. It may seem ridiculous to spend so much money on a new A8 and not maintain it, but as my old man used to say, assume other drivers are idiots and you’ll probably be the better for it. Dad never had that many friends as you might imagine, but it’s proven to be useful advice on a few occasions nonetheless.

Audi-A8
Courtesy of www.supercars.org

Affordable Iconic Cars: Jaguar XJ X300-X350

The Equalizer

I live in an apartment over looking a car park. I’m not proud of it mainly because everyone else who lives in this part of Artarmon has a beautiful house, a lovely garden and overlooks a new and expensive car in their driveway. But it’s home and the wife and kids like it. Why I am not so sure, we don’t even have a garage for gods sake.

Anyway, recently someone has started parking his white, colour-coded Jag XJ in the car park. From my expansive deck, if you can call the size of a postage stamp expansive, it looks like an XJ X300 and too new to be a Series III. Staring at it took me back some 3 decades to my youth and a certain TV programme called the Equalizer. I liked the show because of the car. It’s sleekness suited the gritty streets of New York and cosseted the driver from the cold and steaming alleyways the protagonist always seemed to frequent.

Edward Woodward, aka Robert McCall, a retired secret agent, drove a black XJ6 Series III, upgraded in 1986 and again in 1988. It must have been the ’88 version that stuck in my memory because it doesn’t seem as dated in my minds eye as an earlier example. Perhaps it was the drilled alloys on fatter tyres than the standard mid-80’s version wore.

Anyway, I started to think that there were quite a few cars from my misspent youth that I still yearn for, and today the beautiful thing is that they should now be very much within reach.

So lets start with the Jag.

The series 3 XJ6 does look a tad passé now, and after the truly awful XJ40, it did eventually spawn the X300, and later the X358 which is one sexy car. Not that I’m holding out much hope that the latter can be classed as affordable here in Sydney. The UK most certainly but not here, so let’s focus on the X300 and if we are lucky the X350.

By: Jaguar MENA

Plenty of X300’s built between 1994 and 1997 abound, ranging from a mere $8000 up $17000, all either 3.2 or 4 litre versions and mileage as high 230,000.

Moving up a step, there are a few X350’s, the most expensive coming in at $75k for a 4 year old example and representing a saving of over 50% from new. It’s the 2.7 V6 Turbo Diesel version, the same engine as in my Disco, and all the better for it.

For $30k, and definitely within our range, you could plump for a ‘06 model X350 with just over 100,000km on the clock. This one comes replete with the 3 litre normally aspirated engine and so a little more expensive to run.

If we halve that price again, we could get hold of a ’94 X300 Sovereign, the top of the range at the time, with the 4 litre donk and less than 95,000kms on the clock.

Or better still, in WA there is a ’99 XJR X308 with only 101,000km on the clock for a mere $24k. Ok, this is not an XJ6, it’s a supercharged V8 but who’s counting.

So do you see where we are going with this? Absolute luxury and a ride to die for in a rapid limousine is now so much within our grasp it is a little like Tony Abbott, or not funny

But are we about to give ourselves a headache? No, not really, the biggest rule of thumb being to avoid the XJ40. Forums and various Jag enthusiast sites suggest that the factory in Crewe finally brought this elder statesman’s quality and reliability in line with its competitors. Only a couple of nagging doubts exist with cylinder liners and timing chain tensioners. A compression test will help diagnose the first and a rattle when starting from cold will give you a hint for the latter. If ignored it will cost you an expensive engine rebuild, but as ever, seeking a full service history will allay most of your fears.

It turns out the XJ in the car park is an X308 XJR and looks fabulous close up. Hopefully I will hear from the owner shortly and I can regale you with tales of awe.

By: The Car Spy
By: The Car Spy

Land Rover Discovery 3 TDV6

Model Year: 2005
Bought: May 2011
Kms:
135,000
Current Kms: 155,000
Price: $27,000

OK, I’ve probably always wanted a Range Rover, but sadly they have only 5 dedicated seats. My family requires the extra couple these days. Initially my choice seemed stark and somewhat depressing. Was I really going to consider a Tarago? Did I really want to stoop to a Chrylser Voyager, quite possibly the worst vehicle ever built, save for British Leyland’s Allegro of course.

Well no, I didn’t have to because these days there are a number of interesting choices. The Volvo XC90 for instance, or Honda’s Odyssey, Mazda’s CX9, Hyundai’s Sante Fe, Nissan’s Dualis, I could go on. But none of these were dream cars. To come close to my vision, it needed to offer something outstanding, needed decent looks, and though I couldn’t expect a 7 seater to perform well around a race track, I would take a fire track or a beach instead.

Enter the Land Rover Discovery 3. A car that in Australia polarizes the population like no other. Even Ford and Holden fans can agree on it. Its looks for starters. I used to think it reminded me of an old-school bread van before it started to grow on me. I guess when Nissan started making its Pathfinder to look like it, particularly its rear end, is when its styling for me hit home.

Then there’s the internal space. Its seat configurations are second to none and, when all are flattened, the load space is simply cavernous. There’s no loss of space due to an after thought third row hanging on the sides. It is so large it swallowed up an oversized 3-seater sofa with room to spare.

By: The Car Spy

Then there’s the engine. Granted it’s the older 2.7 litre turbo diesel that is perhaps not as powerful, refined or efficient as the new 3 litre in the series 4, but my word it’s a fantastic engine. Frugal on longer trips, sometimes returning less than 10 litres per 100 km for a car that weighs in at a tad over 2,400 kgs and fully laden with wife, 3 kids and all our camping gear. Around town it’s more like 13.5 but I can forgive it for that on Sydney’s clogged up arteries. And when you need to pull out sharpish the turbo kicks in and you’re away with a real shove in the back. Gone too are the days of a diesel sounding like something off a farm, certainly from within.

Then there’s the ride. The air suspension system has to be one of the most accomplished around and it is without doubt the most comfortable car I have ever owned. It’s so nice I almost forget my hatred for automatics as I waft here and there, serenely surveying the road ahead. Its all terrain system is a joy to use, as you simply select the setting for the road conditions ahead and let the car do the rest. Though so far I have only needed to use the sand option, I have witnessed others tackle every imaginable surface and it just works. I guess it is not an eight time winner of Australia’s best large 4×4 for nothing.

So then it’s a fantastic vehicle and it never goes wrong. Well not exactly and this is where Australia is polarized. Yes it does go wrong. Not smoking by the side of the road wrong, but its complex electronics are prone to gremlins. Take its suspension system for instance. Land Rover forums are full of problems with the car’s air suspension compressor. Warning lights and noises abound regularly it seems, particularly in the earlier models from 2005 to 2008. Mine being a late 2005 model is no different, but talking with the guys at Graeme Cooper, a wonderful Land Rover specialist I may add, its hardly surprising. The little compressor has the weight of the whole car resting gingerly on its shoulders and after a few years the poor thing wears out. A change costing around $1100 should sort it out, but others have not been so lucky. Diagnoses have included faulty wiring, faulty looms, corroded points and computer bugs. However, unlike the Disco 2, when such a problem would mean the car lowered on to its suspension rods and would become immovable, the Disco 3 merely continues at normal ride height and pings you incessantly about its problem. On the odd occasion that it does lower itself to its minimum, I have found that you simply stop, switch off, let it cool for a few minutes and the system rights itself.

I guess it’s a victim of its modernity. It knows when things are wearing out and tells you about it. Brake pads need changing, it pings you. Battery not charging, it pings you. Tyre pressures not perfect, it pings you. On long drives it sounds like you on a plane with the seat belt sign going on and off, and it becomes almost comforting. In other cars, say the Prado, there is no such system, and so you can be driving around without a care in world with the exact same problem as the Disco driver, the only difference being Prado man is ignorant of the problems and therefore thinks his car never goes wrong. Disco man is all too aware of them.

I’ve tried a friend’s Prado and I know it’s a great 4×4. It can go anywhere, like the Disco. It seats seven, like the Disco, but the sixth and seventh passenger had better be a person of restricted growth or a small child. In the Disco, fully-grown men of 6 feet or more can fit in the third row without a hint of discomfort. But as soon as the key was turned I knew which one I preferred. It was a case of: one is a tractor, the other is a limousine. The difference is that stark.

By: The Car Spy

I bought a high mileage vehicle fully aware I was purchasing someone else’s problem. At 235,000kms it was very high indeed for a 7 year old car, but all of those kays were motorway miles meaning the engine would have been spared the stop start of city driving. The previous owner had also liked to go bush bashing, though you’d never guess externally. Internally the bull dust told a different story. So I was prepared to pay for a few repairs and at $27,000 it seemed a steal. I had ensured the timing belt had been changed and the transmission was in good spirits and off I went.

So far, over 2 years, I have needed to replace the sway bars, both front and back ($50 and $90 respectively), and the serpentine belt ($56). The alternator gave up the ghost not long ago as well ($850). Yet these should go after so many kilometres, so I don’t feel too bad about them. The suspension compressor needs to be changed but I have put up with this warning for over a year now and will do something about it when it suits me. It certainly doesn’t need to be imminent. Servicing is not cheap on Land Rovers, but talking to a Mercedes GL owner recently, I began to feel a little smug. Oh and the cable that operates the tail-gate snapped and meant the rear door would not open. Luckily that was only a $90 repair bill. There was a $250 charge for taking the ignition barrel apart, clean and replace it, but that had nothing to do with the car and everything to do with a small lego sword my son saw fit to insert and attempt to start the car. Needless to say his name was mud for a day or so.

Along with small boys, tyres, I read on the web, are also a bugbear, due the 18inch rims and therefore difficult to source. After a brief search I found a solution and can recommend Kumo Roadventura’s, fine for road and sand and a snip at $250 a corner, half the price of the more expensive all terrain tyres. That being said, if I were intending to go bush bashing I would probably source some 17inch rims and fit a Cooper or Wrangler tyre.

For a Buyers Guide, visit the Research page