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

 

BMW E39 M5

How to cure a cold in only a few minutes? Just add power

Used Price – E39 (1998-2003) – $38,000 – 60,000

Current Price – F10 M5 – $230,000

It’s been 2 years since I was introduced to James. We’d met at the auction with a common goal of trying to get the best price for a Quattro I’d written an article about some weeks before. James was in the enviable position of being a previous owner of many auto exotica, including two quite beautiful Ferrari’s, but he had always owned a BMW, “because they just work.” His current Bimmer, as then, is quite probably the best sporting saloon car ever made, the BMW E39 M5 but he hasn’t been ready to show his pride and joy off until now.

 

The E39 M5 was the first to be produced at BMW’s mainstream production line in Dingolfing, Germany, highlighting that it was intended to be the most useable drive on a daily basis, but with a kick when you really needed it. That kick came in V8 form, normally aspirated, producing 294 kW (394 bhp) and 500 Nm of torque, via a 6-speed manual and it’s rear wheels. 100 km/h came up in a mere 4.8 seconds and if delimited it had the potential to reach 300 km/h.

Impressive right? Well not quite enough for James. Whilst not a racer, he does enjoy a track day and he needed something a little extra. A supercharger would do it, along with Supersprint headers, Schrick cams, a reinforced differential brace, adjustable Koni shock absorbers, adjustable sway bars, a lightweight flywheel and a race clutch. But being an accountant he didn’t like frightening the neighbours, so also installed Milltek exhausts with vacuum operated valves to keep it quiet around town. A short shift gearbox was next because the standard one was just too long and slow to snick in, and he followed this up with an enlarged radiator and oil cooler to keep the extra heat in check. Custom made wider wheels, front and rear, topped off the package and once he’d debadged the car as much as he could – because he is not a show off – he was almost ready.

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“There’s a little surprise,” he said, holding a plastic watering can and unscrewing what I thought was the washer tank. “Methanol burns really cold, and helps to cool things a little more.” Just cooling James? “Well maybe it helps add about 10% more power.”

That ‘help’, according to James’ mechanic, brings torque up to around 700 Nm and 466 kW (625 bhp) and bothers even V8 Supercars out of the way down Phillip Island’s straight.

After warming the oil and driving sedately around town to get some heat into the tyres, we find a nice little loop that includes a relatively traffic free entrance and exit to the freeway in order to test the accelerating powers of his teutonic project.

“Don’t be frightened of it Mike,” James says, obviously aware that I am feeling a tad nervous about wrapping his car around some lamp post, “it’s meant to be floored.”

 

bmw m5

The noise alone is intimidating enough, but flooring this thing to it’s red line, a red line that goes all the way to 7,300 rpm (as opposed to the standard 7000) is sweaty palm time indeed. My first attempt is anaemic by James’ standard and I excuse myself by explaining I just need to get a feel for it. Rolling around again, I steel myself and begin accelerating hard at the apex of the first corner and bury my foot into the carpet as the straight comes into view. Out of the corner of my eye, I see James grab for the roof handle, nervously perhaps, I am not sure, but with the red line fast approaching I just have time to change up into third and be pushed into the seat as hard as anything I have ever driven before. The car in the distance is quickly reached and I slam on the brakes before any damage can be done.

“I think I am getting the hang of it now James,” I say smiling from ear to ear.

Third time around I get on the power even quicker and this time I feel the wheels squirming, desperately searching for traction in both second and third gears, and we snake up the road in a fiendish bellow of noise and smoking rubber at wharp-like speed. We are both laughing hysterically as the adrenaline kicks in and I never want this day to end.

Though power is what this car is all about, I am somewhat in awe with how well composed it is at normal speeds, on rickety roads and over speed humps. It is supple and compliant and you can quite literally take your granny to church in it without her ever feeling uncomfortable.

“I took my dad out in it once for a decent drive up a mountain, and all he had to say was that it was a little bumpy in the back seat, as we bottomed out around the bends up the hill. We’d been doing speeds of up to 230km/h but he apparently didn’t notice or care”

After a couple more loops, I feel I have got some measure of this monster. Its tyres are now properly up to temperature and that snaking from earlier under hard acceleration transforms into grippy, mind-bending shunts up the hill. Please omnipotent deity, if you exist, let this road transform into a track so that I can taste the remaining 3 gears and then add a few corners in for good measure. Eastern Creek would be nice. But all good things come to an end and I sadly, but contentedly, turn for James’ home, happy that I still have my licence, and hoping that I have not disappointed James with my driving.

So what does all this machinery cost? James bought the car some years back with only 19,000 kms on the clock for around $125k. He spent a further $25k or so getting it to where it is today, so it is certainly not cheap. That said, you can find an E39 M5 for around $40k these days and James recommends that you spend around $15k to improve its brakes, the exhaust and cooling systems. You might not get as much power as this example, but you will certainly find joy and excitement, safe in the knowledge that it is designed to be used everyday.

James did admit that the engine had to be changed 30,000 km’s ago. It’s a common issue among M5’s that it’s big end can go every 50,000 km’s or so, if driven hard. And let’s face it, why have one of these cars and not drive it energetically. The forums, such as M5board.com, provide some great advice and suggest installing stronger big-end bolts and replacing the rod bearings every once in a while. James was told that a new donk would set him back some $45k and a rebuild a wallet wilting $65k. He rang BMW and because he is such a nice man, going about it in a nice way, BMW agreed to supply a new engine for only $22k. When asked why he was given such a discount, he was told that as he approached the matter in a professional manner, they do have some flexibility with the cost. So there is a lesson there for us all, I think.

Other BMW bargains can be found in the US. The rear view mirror for instance contains some trickery for dimming, and will set you back over $700 to replace. A bloke in Texas builds replicas and charges only $99 plus postage. So owning a car like this need not be for the super-elite, if you do your homework.

For me though, I woke up with a stinking cold but after an hour of heart pumping hilarity, I felt 100% better. Thank you James, thank you very much.

Forums:

M5Boardwww.m5board.com

Bimmerfestwww.bimmerfest.com

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BMW X5 E53

Wanted: Dignity and Self Respect

Meet Andrew. He’s a suave man about town who used to float around in a tidy 1980’s Mercedes SL. He was a veritable transatlantic Patrick Duffy (of Dallas fame, not Man from Atlantis.) Then children happened, and he bought a Great Wall. He lost his mojo.

bmw e53 2

 

Sick of watching Toyota Camry drivers pass him up slight inclines, their hats positioned on the rear parcel shelf and elderly fingers wrapped tight around their steering wheels, he had to do something. He bought a BMW X5, but not just any old X5. He bought a V8. A late 2006 E53 4.4 litre V8 in fact, the very last of the first generation, with 315 horses under the bonnet, X-drive all-wheel-drive, ZF 6-speed auto, panoramic sunroof, auto leveling Xenon adaptive headlights and a nice facelift before the next gen hit the road.

For $22,000 and 138,000 on the clock, it seems like a steal to me. In a little under the year he has had it, he has subsequently put another 18,000 on to that which included a 2,000 km round trip to Noosa with no issues, not even an aching bum. Luckily he bought it from a dealer and the statutory 3-month warranty came in handy when the brake controller needed to be replaced. Other than $300 for a new battery, it’s just been service bills since for a more than reasonable $500 for a major service, and $250 for minor.  I think I need to get his mechanics number, because those figures are a little hard to believe.

BMW-X5 Interior

So what is it like? 

There’s a definite uptick in quality to most cars, my Disco included – the paintwork, the seats, the steering wheel. Even the switchgear feels organic, not an after thought or a filler sourced from a parts bin. My only beef would be with the information screen that is small and its pixels certainly have seen better days. But all in all, it feels more like a sports car than an SUV. You’re encouraged to sit lower, but the visibility is cut too much, so you raise the electrically adjustable seat to get a feel for the proportions. It’s sizeable, but a lot smaller than my daily drive. And then you turn the key.

Pass the tissues, it’s that good. I’ve obviously been around diesel eruptions for too long, for that deep, sexual throbbing that only a V8 can give, that raucous cacophony as you rev the bejesus out of it, is a thing of beauty. Was that loud? I find myself thinking, giving the throttle another blip. Yes, yes, it might be. There is some sort of primeval connection between the guttural rumble all around but particularly beneath you and your pleasure button. Like sitting on a washing machine for more than 60 seconds, assuming you are male of course. I head toward the driveway which is, as you may remember, a bit steep and the perfect place to nail it for 30 metres. It really doesn’t matter what the car is like from here on, I am hooked.

Without the benefit of a Top Gear track, I can’t tell you how quick it really is, but Andrew is right, the throttle seems to learn your style of driving, it seems to sense that there’s a gap up front and wants you to floor it. It’s there, it’s ready, it’s like an energetic Rottweiler. Turn in is sharp, the brakes are strong and progressive and though it sits on far stiffer springs than most large 4×4’s, it takes the speed bumps and dips surprisingly well, not crashy at all. The only thing that began to bother me was the nearside wing mirror that automatically folds in when you select reverse. It’s fine if you’re looking for the pavement but not when you are gauging the width of a parking space or need to avoid a pillar. I later learn that this can be switched off.

What can he expect if he keeps it for a few more years?

  • Interestingly a number of contributors to the forums have suggested that the X5 has been beset by a few problems, worse even than the Mercedes M class in fact, the SUV that in its early days almost ruined Mercs iron clad reputation for quality. If Andrew’s beast is anything to go by, this may be unfounded, as it feels and looks as solid as a rock.
  • That being said, this being the V8 all good things do come to an end, and by 150,000 kms or so he needs to check the timing chain guide rails, as the plastic they are made of tends to go off about then.
  • As with my Discovery, there have been issues with the air suspension, something that many SUV’s will have from now on. It’s a small compressor and eventually gives up the ghost after 5-8 years. It’s not cheap either, probably $1400-1500 plus labour. However, it is worth checking the sensors before replacing the pump. At around a fifth of the price, the fat credit card size boxes can be a little temperamental.
  • Nonetheless, because of how the rear suspension is set up, the rear knuckle is loaded up with the air spring compressing down on it, this puts pressure on the rear wheel bushings and ball joints. This then gives rise to a common rear camber issue, exacerbated more so by larger than standard wheels.
  • Issues with the intake manifold leaking seem to be a regular occurrence along with weeping valve covers.
  • The cooling system is generally in need of an overhaul around 100,000-150,000 kms. The radiator has a reputation for leaking on models built between 2001 and 2008, and when it goes it has to be replaced. The rest of the cooling system should be checked and repaired at the same time and this can be expensive.
  • The water pump should also be replaced every 75,000-100,000 kms I’m told.
  • CV joints need constant attention, but I haven’t found a heavy car yet that doesn’t have this issue.
  • Externally, the door handle carriers are prone to break, but parts can be found reasonably cheaply online.

Considering it’s a hefty machine, this V8 is almost as frugal as my diesel, which I am finding hard to fathom. I specifically chose an oil burner to avoid huge fuel bills but perhaps I should rethink this strategy. With the sun roof open to its fullest extent, windows down, and heading along a twisting piece of tarmac, this is a great place to be. Then the kids switch on the pop box and the serenity is shattered. Bugger. 

Useful X5 Forums & Clubs 

Bimmerfesthttp://www.bimmerfest.comhttp://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22 

OzBMW http://www.ozbmw.com/forums/  – http://www.ozbmw.com/forums/forumdisplay.php/25-X-Series?s=a36435bed3fa539e43a6756455af1e99

BMW Owners Clubhttp://www.bmwownersclub.com/forums/forum/14-bmw-x5-series-club/ 

BMW Club Australiahttp://www.clubs.bmw.com.au

 

bmw e53 x5 v8

Mazda MX-5

Can I have my car back, Dad

Mazda has revealed its new MX-5  and for me it’s a thing of beauty and encapsulates everything a sports car should be – light, rear-wheel drive, slick manual gearshift, brilliant handling and simply fun, fun, fun. Who give’s a toss it’s not particular fast and has a 0-100kph time of around 8 seconds. That’s not the point and well done Mazda engineers for keeping to its principles and not overloading it with every imaginable electronic device that supposedly helps us become better drivers. No wonder they’ve sold over a million of the little blighters since inception in 1985.

mazda mx-5
2015 Mazda MX-5 – courtesy of autobild.de

I’ve already singled it out as a potential first car for my son when he is old enough to start driving. His mother may not agree though, but what does she know? I can’t think of a better car to kick his driving career off. There’s only two seats so no late night joy rides with a bunch of his mates. It’s manual, so in my book will teach him how to handle a car far better than an automatic. It’s not a speedster, so no point in out running the cops or trying to burn off some dill in a Commodore. And of course, I will want to drive it, often.

Brand new, it will cost around $40k for the 1.5 litre model and closer to $50k for the 2 litre, which sounds about as expensive as a tinder date behind your third wife’s back. A quick glance through the classifieds suggests that it holds its price rather well too, with 2011 versions asking over $34k, and even 10 year old examples going for between $15-24k.

But when I get around to looking for one for my eldest (the jury is still out whether I’ll be asking him to stump up the cash or not – it doesn’t hurt to suggest he can chip in at the very least right?) will we be purchasing a money pit?

As I have written in an earlier post regarding a car older than a decade:

Carsguide.com.au tells us to “check that the Mazda’s engine starts easily, idles reasonably smoothly and doesn’t blow smoke from the exhaust under hard acceleration. The gearbox should be light and positive in its change action and not balk or crunch even on the fastest of changes.”

The soft top needs to be in good condition with no stitching missing. Hopefully it has not been used to race or run around too many tracks. A roll cage and things like a fire extinguisher would be a big give away. As with any car this old, if the numbers on the odometer do not align perfectly, you could be staring at a car that has been clocked. At this price though, I don’t care how limited edition it is, it would need to be exceptional to hand over your hard earned.

Anything else?

Well, the brake callipers are known to seize a bit but there are plenty of reconditioned parts available.

MK1 and MK2 models are prone to rust unfortunately, less so in Oz of course, but it’s well worth checking. Overseas this is probably the biggest MX5 killer outside of a teenager with a leaden foot. Areas of concern need to be the rear sill sections, rear wheel arches and the front chassis rails near the front subframe mounting. Thoroughly clean the drainage holes regularly and you can mitigate the issue.

For 1990-93 cars the o-ring on the CAS sensor (crank angle sensor), situated on the back of the cylinder head, can perish and start to leak. Mazda moved this to the exhaust camshaft for the 1994-95 model cars and began calling it the CPS (camshaft position sensor), but they are one and the same in case this crops up at some stage – confusingly, later models get both a CAS and a CPS and become two different things, but that’s another story. Anyway, on 1.8 litre cars the oil can drip onto the coolant feed pipes for the heater matrix and this will eventually make them burst. It’s worth replacing the cam cover gasket when changing the cam belt too as this can start to weep oil.

The slave cylinder in the clutch can sometimes fail and the clutch pedal will sink to the floor. Luckily, replacement units are not overly expensive.

The transmission tunnel has a tendency to get warm but reading the forums there seems a cheap remedy by changing the rubber turret boot that sits under the centre console.

The judder of noisey tappets can easily be silenced by an oil change and apparently can disappear entirely by using a fully synthetic oil.

If the timing belt has been overtightened you may hear cam belt whine and timing belts need to be changed every 100,000 kms.

Finally, if the engine is misfiring, it is not uncommon for the HT leads to fail, particularly the shortest it seems – HT (high tension) leads carry the sparks from the ignition system to the spark plugs. If that doesn’t rectify it, you may be looking at replacing the coil pack, which is more expensive.

All in all though, with some research and a bit of work, we may find one of these little things in our garage within the next five or six years. There are plenty of parts available, some great forums and when the sun’s out on a decent road, there won’t be many better places to be ignoring my son’s pleas of getting behind the wheel.

Useful links and forums:

Mazda MX-5 Clubs of Australia – http://www.mx5.com.au/

Australian Mazda Owners Clubhttp://www.ozmazda.com/

MX5 Mania – www.mx5mania.com.au

Piston Heads – http://www.pistonheads.com/gAssing/topic.asph=0&t=803271&mid=0&nmt=Common+MX5+Faults+%2F+Buying+Guide

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2010 Mazda MX-5 (Miata) – courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Land Rover Discovery 3 Update

At least I didn’t buy an Audi Q5

After all the rubbish I get from drivers of mostly Japanese cars, all the jibes about my car’s reliability resembling a long and winding dog turd, all the should-have-known-better’s and I-told-you-so’s, it takes a bloody non-Land Rover Discovery 3 part to almost kill my Disco. The German made and globally praised ZF 6 speed automatic gearbox.

Its death throes were easy to tell, as it slipped in second up the steep driveway out of our apartment complex, resulting in an embarrassing reverse down hill to start again. Much like a retreating turtle-head you could say. If it wasn’t for the low range box, and that I could at least lock it in first, I would have been royally buggered. Worse still, I would have been at the mercy of my neighbours’ snickering as they passed me in their reliable Subaru’s and Toyota Echo’s, there was even a Holden Barina. A Barina I tell you, a 1990’s model to boot! Oh the humanity.

At least it got us through Christmas and returned us from a family camping trip.

Nonetheless, the question of whether it was worth fixing or that it was time to bite the bullet and call it a day, did raise its head. My Disco’s value, given it has almost 300k on the clock, would barely scratch 20 grand if I was lucky. So the cost of a replacement transmission, or a rebuild at around $7k, was a conundrum indeed.

That was the situation I was posed with a little over a month ago and after consideration (and much persuasion of the wife), we decided that it was indeed worth repairing. You see, it’s not my style to offload such trouble, whether in part exchange or at an auction house, so I had to do something to recoup any part of my investment. A lengthy search around wreckers yards yielded just one suitable used replacement, but it was a thousand kay’s away and would cost $3,500. Even though it came with a 6-month warranty, I would then most likely have to replace the transmission pump at around $1500, and have it all put together for another $1200-1500. When you also consider that it is best to use a part that is already married to my car, rather than something that isn’t and would possibly cause more woes, $7k for a rebuild began to look a lot more attractive. I even found a specialist who would save me a further $500 (CATS of Rosebery), and that was a figure I was not going to sniff at.

Thankful for small mercies? Too bloody right

So it took a week and my Disco is back on the road and seemingly stronger than ever. It now takes the ascent out of the driveway with aplomb, and that smugness of being able to tackle tough (albeit urban) terrain has returned.

So why the comment about Audi Q5’s? Well, apparently, had its DSG 4×4 ZF box gone similarly haywire, something that is beginning to happen at an alarming rate according to my transmission guy, it would cost me somewhere between $20-25k, not the paltry $6.5k I paid. Audi had hoped that an after-market would have arisen since 2009, but as the box is a sealed unit for life, nobody wants to touch it.

land rover discovery 3